Relax in Style at Hotel Murano in #Tacoma

Hotel Murano in Tacoma

Travel consideration provided.

The whole catalyst for our Tacoma trip was our experience in 2004 stopping at a hotel in the area that was less than enjoyable. A lot has changed in the 10 years that have passed: Not only does that specific hotel appear to be out of business (I wonder why), but the entire city of Tacoma has undergone a renaissance with what it has to offer. And as I have learned, there were a lot of things in Tacoma that I had overlooked all these years because I never gave the city a second glance while driving through. I never realized that Tacoma was also home to things like great zoos and museums – and, as I happily discovered, it is also home to great hotels! After checking in to our room at Hotel Murano, I wish I had a time machine à la Bill and Ted, so I could go back in time and tell myself where I should have stayed ten years ago!

View from our room

When we walked in our room, we were greeted by a large window with a view of downtown Tacoma, with landmarks like the Tacoma Dome and Museum of Glass peeking out in front of a stunning backdrop of Mount Rainier. I never thought I would describe the Tacoma cityscape as “Beautiful”, but it is! I was proven wrong several times on this trip. One of our favorite parts of staying at this hotel was being greeted with this at sunset and sunrise:

Moon Over Mount Rainier

Sunrise in Tacoma

Hotel Murano is a very stylish place, from its chic bar where we enjoyed drinks to the comfortable room in which we stayed. The look was modern and luxurious, and we had everything we needed to rest and enjoy our evening in Tacoma.

Hotel Murano bathroom

TerraPure toiletries

Entertainment center in the room

Very stylish hotel room

Staying at Hotel Murano was the perfect way to finish our little daytrip to Tacoma. Now that we know about the great places to stay and things to do in Tacoma, we will certainly return to explore further!

Hotel Murano

Address:
1320 Broadway Plaza
Tacoma WA 98402
Phone: (253) 238-8000
Rooms start at $169 per night – for booking information, visit HotelMuranoTacoma.com and follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium: Defying Our Perception of Tacoma

Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium

Travel consideration provided.

After Jai and I arrived in Tacoma and took a tour of The Museum of Glass, we headed straight to Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. We always enjoy visiting aquariums, and since we were only in Tacoma for the day, there was no time to waste.

The road to the zoo runs along the waterfront, and it was a beautiful drive. When we got to the zoo, I was surprised to discover that it was situated on a 765 acre park. We were only expecting a zoo, but as we drove up the windy road, we passed stunning botanical gardens and hiking trails – as it turns out, there are a ton of wonderful things at Point Defiance Park! We were sorry we were on such limited time and vowed to come back when we have more time to explore – it would take at least a day to see the whole area properly.

"C" is for crab

Today, our mission was to see the zoo. We parked over by “C” for “Crab” and made our way inside!

Walrus

Sleepy!

Swimming

Birdie says "Hi!"

The zoo has lengthy outdoor grounds as well as indoor buildings that play host to a plethora of different animals.


#InstaSize @PtDefianceZoo in #tacoma is having a selfie contest, so I enlisted a new friend. #onlyatPDZA

A photo posted by Beeb Ashcroft (@beebashcroft) on

As we walked around, I noticed a sign advertising a “Selfie contest” at the zoo, so I snapped a photo of myself with one of the friendly goats at the petting area. Here’s a behind-the-scenes “Making of the selfie” photo that Jai took of me trying to make this selfie work – ahahahahaha!

But first, let me take a goat selfie

You want to know what’s funny? A few weeks later, I was in Seattle for the International Food Bloggers Conference when a colleague from Redwood Hill Farm came to a table I was sitting at and said, “Does anyone have a goat story?” So I went on camera to tell my story about taking a selfie with a goat at the zoo – because of course I have a goat story!

North Pacific Aquarium

Jai was most looking forward to visiting the aquarium, and it did not disappoint. The North Pacific Aquarium wing has a large, circular tank with life from “Around the Sound” as its centerpiece, which you can peer down at from the top level, then walk down to the lower level and come face-to-face with its inhabitants through the clear glass panes. Then you can visit the South Pacific Aquarium wing, which features six species of sharks as well as tropical fish and more.

Lobster

Striped fish

Beautiful orange fish

We were both really impressed by the scope of the exhibits at this zoo. Not only do we need to return in order to explore Point Defiance Park further, but Jai insists that sometime we need to do the shark dive that Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium offers – gulp!

Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium Hours And Admission

Admission: $17 for adults; $16 for seniors; $13 for youth ages 5 through 12; $8.75 for children aged 3 and 4, with free admission for children under 2.
Click here for opening hours.
For more information, visit PDZA.org and become a fan on Facebook.

The Museum of Glass in Tacoma: Artfully Unexpected

Museum of Glass

Travel consideration provided.

As I mentioned yesterday, Jai and I took a fun little day trip to Tacoma this summer. The trip happened in the middle of a crazy hectic month: I had just spent two weeks in California to attend BlogHer and visit family and friends; I came home for just one day before hitting the road again, driving up to Seattle to meet up with Louise, then heading to Tacoma for two days. From Tacoma, Jai drove me straight to the Portland airport, where I flew to Arkansas for 3 days, back to Portland for just one day, and then flew back across the country again to North Carolina for another 3 days.

Suffice to say, it was a busy few weeks!

It was actually really nice having a little “Time out” with Jai in the midst of my chaotic summer schedule. We weren’t sure what to expect, but not only did we enjoy spending time together during out little getaway; we also were pleasantly surprised to discover what Tacoma had to offer – like The Museum of Glass. I’ve never thought of Tacoma as being a place where you’d find much in the way of art, but once again I was surprised: Did you know that Andy Warhol once designed a roof for the Tacoma Dome? This was a new-to-me fact that I picked up during my Tacoma culture tour. (A few days later, I saw another Warhol in person during my Arkansas trip, so it was a very Warholian few days!)

Museum of Glass Hot Shop

The Museum of Glass is one of the most prominent sights on the Tacoma skyline once you get into town, with its conical design and bridge of glass being one of the first things we noticed. We decided to start our Tacoma visit there, and it was a great way to begin.

First, we explored the outdoor installations: The Fluent Steps and Water Forest.

Fluent Steps

Water Forest

Next, we made our way over the Chihuly Bridge of Glass. This public installation created a much-needed pedestrian overpass, embedded with the most fabulous glass art creations. This thoughtful blending of form and function made me rethink my dismissal of Tacoma as being an “Ugly” looking place!

Walking over the Bridge of Glass

Venetian Wall

Glasswork closeup

Seaform Pavilion

Crystal Towers

Once we had explored the outside, we actually went in to the museum and took in more exhibits.

Dante Marioni Vessel Display

One of the unique features of this museum is that it has a hot shop inside, where you can sit and watch glass works being made; this is also streamed online.

Hot Shop

My personal favorite part of the museum were these pieces created by the hot shop team, based on drawing submitted by children:

Donut Ninja!

Donut Ninja! Created by Colby, age 12

Lock-Ness Pig

Lock-Ness Pig – created by Eva, age 10. “A lock-ness-pig is a mix between a lock-ness-monster and a pig. It comes from when a lock-ness-monster ate a pig and the pig’s head became the lock-ness-monster’s head.”

The Design of Colors

The Design of Colors – created by Addyson, age 4

Polka-Doted Strange Creature

Polka-Doted Strange Creature – created by Tessa, age 9

The Museum of Glass adds culture, beauty and art to Tacoma and is definitely worth your time!

The Museum of Glass Visitor Info:
Admission: $12 for adults; $10 for seniors, students, AAA members, retired military and veterans; $5 for children aged 6 through 12, with free admission for children under 5. For information on additional discounts, museum membership, and hours of operation, go to MuseumofGlass.org/Visit or follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

Rediscovering #Tacoma: Who Knew?

Travel consideration provided.

Earlier this summer, I shared a vlog with you where I detailed one of my most memorably disastrous vacations, where I booked a room at a fleabag hotel in Tacoma. A funny thing happened after I wrote that post: I got an email from the Tacoma tourism board apologizing for the bad experience and asking if I’d be willing to reconsider Tacoma with a fun day trip organized by them. I was intrigued, to say the least! Who knew Tacoma even had a tourism board? To be honest, Jai and I have always though of Tacoma as being one large, desolate strip mall with a Chuck E. Cheese in the middle. We never pictured this:

Delin Docks

Turns out, there was a lot we didn’t know about Tacoma. In addition to the beautiful waterfront, there were also lovely parks, pretty architecture, museums, a great zoo, and many ant-free motel choices! ;) Exactly ten years after our disastrous stay there, Jai and I discovered a whole new side to Tacoma that made us rethink our whole perception of the area. Check out my posts below, where I share our fun Tacoma adventures:

And PS….we still totally hit up the Chuck E. Cheese on our way home, because Chuck E. Cheese is awesome. ;)

Karisma Hotels and Resorts Debut Exclusive Nickelodeon Vacation Experience

Karisma Hotels & Resorts is pleased to announce a landmark partnership with Viacom International Media Networks (VIMN) a division of Viacom Inc. (NASDAQ:VIAB and VIA) to bring Nickelodeon brand experiences to Azul Hotels by Karisma.  This collaboration marks the first time Nickelodeon, one of the most globally recognized and widely distributed multimedia brands for kids has partnered with an international resort collection.

image

The Nickelodeon vacation experience at Azul Hotels by Karisma, a premier collection of family-focused, Gourmet Inclusive® properties in the Riviera Maya, Mexico and Negril, Jamaica, are set to debut in summer 2015.  Karisma Hotels & Resorts is an award-winning luxury hotel collection, which owns and manages properties in Latin America, the Caribbean and Europe.

“We are thrilled to team up with Viacom International Media Networks to introduce Nickelodeon to our visitors – as Nickelodeon shares our dedication to offering the highest-quality entertainment,” said Mandy Chomat, Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Karisma Hotels & Resorts.  “We are confident that the exciting and interactive touch points created for Nickelodeon for Azul Hotels by Karisma will make for tons of fun and very special memories among our guests of all ages.”image

“We’re very pleased to work with Azul Hotels by Karisma to bring our fans closer to the Nickelodeon  characters they know and love,” said Gerald Raines, Senior Vice President, Global Nickelodeon Recreation Partnerships.  “These vacation experiences create yet another touch point for Nickelodeon ensuring that we are bringing the joy and fun of our brand to our fans everywhere they are.”

Exclusive to Azul Hotels by Karisma, the Nickelodeon vacation experience will include character dining’s and interactions with some of Nickelodeon’s favorite characters such as Dora the Explorer, SpongeBob SquarePants and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.   

Azul Hotels by Karisma, comprised of Azul Beach Hotel, Azul Sensatori Mexico, and Azul Fives Hotel by Karisma in the Riviera Maya, as well as Azul Sensatori Jamaica in Negril, are designed to keep all members of the family happy and engaged.  Providing something for everyone, Azul Hotels by Karisma boast kids and teen clubs, splash parks, movie nights with popcorn, suites for two adults and three young children, guaranteed connecting suites for older kids, adults-only swimming and lounging areas, and nightly entertainment. 

The Gourmet Inclusive® Experience at Azul Hotels by Karisma is carefully catered to guests that prefer quality over quantity.  From world-renowned partners catering to guests of all ages and the freshest and finest ingredients for an unrivaled culinary journey to ultimate relaxation with 24-hour room service and beach beds, Azul Hotels continuously raises the bar and sets the standard for the world’s finest family travel.

Standard rates at Azul Hotels by Karisma begin at $217 per person, per night including the Gourmet Inclusive® Experience with complete a la carte dining, premium alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, full-service concierge, and 24-hour room service.  Kids ages 12 and under are 50 percent off; kids under two years old are free.  Reservations can be booked through a GI Vacation Consultant, or by calling Azul Hotels at 1-866-527-4762, or by visiting www.karismahotels.com.

To stay updated and learn more about the Nickelodeon Vacation Experiences at Azul Hotels by Karisma, debuting in summer 2015, please visit:

www.karismahotels.com/nickvacationexperience

5 Most Kids-Friendly Countries to Emigrate to: This May Surprise You!

The top five most kids-friendly countries to emigrate to are going to surprise you. You probably have a few thoughts rolling around about what you might find on this list, but the very first one will be something you probably never considered. Before getting into the top five countries on the list it is important to understand the survey conducted was based on real expats living with children. They had criteria for their answers. The top five countries landed at the top because they fit the important criteria.Two kids at city

  • Safety
  • Quality of childcare
  • Outdoor versus indoor time
  • Sports
  • TV- watching less of it
  • Ability to settle in
  • Ability to enjoy new things and not miss friends/home
  • Costs of raising children there
  • Fewer video games
  • Less junk food
  • More social interaction
  • Language learning

There were the criteria used to decide on the top five places. Obviously parents want their children to be safe and have quality childcare options available. It is a plus to see their children get outside, enjoying real life rather than staying indoors with video games, TV, and being unsocial.

The countries on the list have been able to offer more social interaction with more emphasis on education and healthy living versus sedentary indoor lives or unsafe conditions.

The list:

  • Hong Kong
  • Australia
  • Canada
  • Netherlands
  • United Arab Emirates

Right now you are probably quite surprised at least with the top place to live with children and number five. Hong Kong while a part of China is still separate. It is freer than areas like Beijing and with plenty of British influence still remaining it is a country with a mixture of cultures. It has been ranked as one of the safest cities.

Australia is less surprising. Australia is still largely unpopulated in large areas. While the cities can have crime, there are also plenty of other locations that provide a safe and comfortable home. It is also not perception or myth to say that Australia as a whole is respectful, where communities come together, and outdoor activities are definitely available.

Canada is another country, which is considered safe, community oriented, and often considered to have the nicest people. No place is completely without crime, but in general Canada tends to have a decent health care system, education system, and offer safety particularly outside of the major cities.

The Netherlands is another community country with nice people who know the value of family and outdoor recreation. Many who have lived in the Netherlands as expats have found it to be extremely comfortable and safe. They have felt more a part of the community than separate no matter where they move from.

The United Arab Emirates is certainly a surprising choice. Knowing there is a hot bed of angst all around the UAE might make someone overlook it as a potential option. Yet, the UAE is family oriented, affluent, and crime is still controlled more so than other countries. Additionally, the UAE has a lot of global business helping to make it a little easier for everyone to fit in.

These are just five of the top countries many are choosing to emigrate and raise their children in.

Travel Set Go Discount Code For MomStart Readers

TravelSetGo

Discount code provided.

Planning your holiday travels? Maybe this can help you save some cash: TravelSetGo is offering MomStart readers a discount code to their site. TravelSetGo offers discounted rates at over 200,000 hotels and resorts worldwide; to check it out and redeem the discount, visit www.travelsetgo.com/momstart and enter password: momstart99. If you try it out, let us know what you think!

Get the Royal Treatment on Your Holiday

Get the Royal Treatment on Your Holiday

This is a partnered guest post.

Many people would like to take a world-class vacation but don’t know where to begin making plans. There are so many details that need to coincide to make the experience a pleasant one. One of the best ways to make sure you get the vacation of a lifetime is to find a company that will make all of the arrangements. They will know the territory and be able to offer discounts on airfares and restaurants as well as tips for each destination. If you travel with Royal Holiday, you’ll be working with one such company.

You’ll get in-depth information regarding local transportation, special events, the best restaurants and the most important sites to see. You can select the destination and let the travel company take it from there. They will even be able to help you with your packing. Many people either take along too much or too little. With some help and advice from professionals, you’ll have no problem packing the right clothing or accessories for the climate. If you’re unsure about plug adapters, formal outfits for certain restaurants or binoculars, you’ll be given a list of what you need to pack.

However you choose to travel, you’ll get tips for making road trips fun or getting through security at the airport with no hassle. If you are traveling with someone who has a disability, you’ll get all the information you need to make the travel easy and comfortable for everyone.

Letting experts handle your travel plans will ensure that you receive the best deals available for travel insurance, hotel rooms and even admission fees to theme parks and other entertainment venues. They may have access to resort properties and cruise affiliates that you might not have if you tried to book your own vacation.

If your trip is international, you’ll get the information you need about currency exchange, vaccinations, travel documents and identification papers. If you are visiting a country with customs that you’re unfamiliar with, expert travel guides will help you understand what to do in the event of an emergency as well as how to follow best practices to stay safe. These services are not just for the novice traveler but also very helpful for the frequent traveler and business traveler. If you have to meet business associates abroad, you can get useful suggestions about the best business service hotels and conference rooms as well as good restaurants if you want to invite your colleagues for a meal.

Along with all of this planning and preparation, professionals can even offer you tips for taking the best vacation photos so your vacation memories can live on. They can also help you select gifts from almost any location that are inexpensive and welcomed by the receiver. In other words, if you want a wonderful vacation but don’t have a clue about how to get it, there is hope. Online companies can do the work for you if you give them your ideas and guidelines. They will consult you throughout the planning and preparation stages, preparing you for travel and a stay in your destination of choice.

Celebrating World Animal Day #DawnDayinTheWildlife

Travel sponsorship provided by Dawn.

Today, October 4th, is World Animal Day – a date dedicated to the worldwide improvement of animal welfare. In honor of this day, I had the opportunity to attend a special event hosted by International Bird Rescue at their wildlife center based in San Pedro, California. The IBR hosted a special tour of their facilities to give us a firsthand look at the work they do to rescue distressed birds, and got a little help from some special volunteers: Actors Adrian Grenier and Keegan Allen. Both stars are huge animal lovers and wanted to lend their profiles to this event as a way to raise awareness for the important work being done.

Adrian Grenier

The tour kicked off with a crash course from Dr. Rebecca Duerr on how to examine an injured bird. This California Brown Pelican was admitted due to a broken wing.

Adrian Grenier holding a pelican

Observing the pelican's wing

Pelican opens its beak

Pelican exam

Keegan Allen

Attending to a Western Grebe

After checking in on these bird patients, the next stop on the tour was a washing station, where one of the volunteers explained why they use Dawn dish soap to clean oiled birds. As I mentioned in my “Day in The Wildlife” article earlier this week, International Bird Rescue discovered through their research that Dawn was the best substance to use for this process. Inspired by this discovery and the organization’s request for help, Dawn began donating both its product and funds to both IBR and The Marine Mammal Center to assist with the cause.

Adrian Grenier learns about the cleaning process for birds

Dawn dish soap

Washing station

Next, we visited a feeding station where we were shown how the birds’ food of mealworms and krill is prepared. Mmmm!

Adrian Grenier learns about bird food

The volunteers at International Bird Rescue put in all of this hard work because of one goal: Getting these injured birds rehabilitated and released back into the wild. So it was a privilege that we were able to end our tour by witnessing a bird release down at White Point Beach!

Palm trees

White Point Beach

Andrew Harmon, Director of Marketing & Communications at International Bird Rescue, welcomed us to this special moment and told us about the birds that were about to be set free after being successfully rehabilitated: A California Brown Pelican, a Brown Booby, and seven Western Gulls.

Andrew Harmon

Myself and the other members of the media in attendance anxiously waited as the crates containing the rescued birds were brought down to the beach.

Press at the IBR event

Carrying crates down to the beach

Keegan Allen and Adrian Grenier were given the honors of opening the crates to release the birds.

Keegan Allen

Pelican release

Pelican release – photo by Susan Goldman

Gulls fly free!

I can’t think of a better way top celebrate World Animal Day than by seeing these birds return to their natural habitat! To get a look through the eyes of the volunteers and all that they do to prepare for this moment, check out this awesome “Virtual Volunteer” video:

I’ll have much more to share with you from my experiences this week, including an interview with Keegan Allen about his involvement with IBR, so stay tuned for more on this amazing organization!

How are you celebrating World Animal Day?

A Day in The Wildlife at The Marine Mammal Center #DawnDayInTheWildlife

The Marine Mammal Center

Travel sponsorship provided by Dawn.

Earlier this month, I had the privilege of visiting The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, California. This incredible organization is dedicated to rescuing and rehabilitating injured marine animals, and is almost entirely volunteer-run: Over 1,000 committed volunteers put in long and often challenging hours, all for the love of wildlife.

The Ghost Net Monster

We started our day off with a tour of the facility and overview of what they do. The Marine Mammal Center is dedicated to not only saving animals with rescues, but also to preventing animals from needing their help in the first place by taking care of the local habitat. TMMC has numerous educational programs in place to help people understand the impact of their actions and how they can help. One of the first things you’ll notice in the center is this “Trash art” made from recovered garbage. This piece is called “The Ghost Net Monster” and is constructed from the very same nets that kill whales when they are mistaken for food and eaten.

Rescue demo

Our tour guide, Mitchell, was very engaging and does great impressions! He educated us about the local marine life and gave us a demonstration of how they rescue distressed animals using this little plushie. But while rescues are a more dramatic part of what they do at TMMC, it’s just one of the aspects of what they do. Indeed, much of what the volunteers spend their time on is nowhere near as “Glamorous”.

Beeb gets ready to volunteer at TMMC!

To help give us a hands-on experience of how hard these volunteers work, we were given the opportunity to get stuck in and help ourselves. Here I am donning rubber boots and getting ready to wash down a truck!

Power washing a truck

This truck is one of the rescue vehicles used to transport hurt animals to and from the Center. If you have sharp eyes, you might notice a bottle of Dawn dish soap in the background – that is because Dawn is a big supporter of The Marine Mammal Center, donating both funds and soap to the facility. Dawn’s support of animal rescue groups started 30 years ago, when the company started getting requests from charities asking for donations of soap. Why did they want this specific dish soap so badly? After doing extensive studies on which substances worked best for removing oil from feathers, Alice Berkner, founder of International Bird Rescue determined that Dawn dish soap worked the best. After this was brought to Dawn’s attention, they decided to organize more formal partnerships with both the International Bird Rescue and The Marine Mammal Center so that they could more efficiently support the animal rescue workers in need of their help. So you’ll notice a lot of Dawn if you’re volunteering at either of these places! We also used the soap to scrub fish scales off the walls of the kitchen. Why were there fish scales on the wall, you ask? Well…

Sorting fish!

Another big job is sorting fish out of a big frozen block. The fish are removed, inspected, and either put into a bucket to be fed to the wildlife patients, or into a compost bucket. As we were shown the ropes, the volunteers explained that any damaged fish are to be discarded, as they don’t want to feed the animals anything they wouldn’t eat themselves. Prepared a little differently, I’m sure, but the point remains. ;)

Talking to the staff and helping with some of the chores really illustrated the true passion and dedication which they have. To spend hours every week voluntarily doing hard, unpaid work really underscores their commitment to animals. And we had the true honor of witnessing with our own eyes the whole reason why every volunteer works so hard: A release of rehabilitated sea lions.

Sea lion release

It was an unbelievable honor to be able to participate in this release. It is extremely rare for non-staff members to come along – only 4 “Outsiders” have ever been allowed to attend a release, so the fact that our group had the chance to do this was incredible. We took a long drive out to Chimney Rock in Point Reyes for the release, as they purposely choose isolated beaches to return the animals to for their safety.

Chimney Rock in Point Reyes

We were allowed to help carry the crates containing the sea lions out of the back of the rescue vehicle and set them down by the water for release. We were then sent up to an observation point to watch as the volunteers opened the crates and let the sea lions back out into the wild.

Animal rescue

TMMC sea lion release

There were three sea lions being released: The first was “Fritters”, a subadult California sea lion that was brought to TMMC because she was severely underweight, malnourished, and suffering heart murmurs. The other two California sea lions, “Row” and “Apostrophe”, were both yearlings and also malnourished and severely underweight. Row also had trauma on her right hind flipper due to getting a fishing hook caught on it.

Fritters

Once the crates were opened, the sea lions dashed down to the water and swam off. It was an amazing moment! Fritters was released first, and after she swam off, Apostrophe and Row were released at the same time. They were jumping around in such a playful way as they swam – it was joyous to watch them return to freedom! At one point, the pair jumped up into the air out of the water and touched noses as if they were kissing; it was the kind of inspirational moment you’d see in a film.

Chimney Rock

After we finished the release, we were able to walk down a trail to another observation point and watch elephant seals through binoculars. It was a perfect way to end our day!

Elephant seal closeup

Beeb at Chimney Rock

I will have so much more to share with you over the coming weeks, including an interview with a TMMC volunteer and video footage of the sea lion release, so make sure to stay tuned for more on my “Day in the Wildlife” along with suggestions on how you can get involved and help!