Friday, November 28, 2014

A Review of Gingerbread Wonderland at The Frelinghuysen Arboretum

Have you ever wondered what it would be like if all of the gingerbread cookies got together during the holidays and had a big party?  I'm sure there would be dancing cookies and palace ballrooms and colorful characters.  I'm sure it would look a lot like The Frelinghuysen Arboretum's Gingerbread Wonderland.


What is The Gingerbread Wonderland?


Running every December, Gingerbread Wonderland  (scroll down on their events page to find it) is held at the Frelinghuysen Arboretum in Morris Township, New Jersey.  You can see hundreds of gingerbread creations on display, and visit their craft show on the weekends.  As of the publication date of this entry, there is a minimal fee ($2 per adult, children under 2 are free).  They are open 10am-4:30pm daily, and Fridays till 7:30pm.  

What Can I See There?


Only the most awesome gingerbread creations ever created!  You'll walk past tables and tables of gingerbread art- from simple projects made by children, to amazing palaces crafted by adults.

                                                     


                    

You really have to stop to admire the time and detail that the artists put into their work.  Everything is edible!  (well, you can't eat it, but you can eat, if you know what I mean).  You'll also have the opportunity to vote for your favorite piece.  But how do you choose just one???


Make a Day of It

Of course, seeing all of that cool gingerbread art inspired us to make our own, so you might want to plan ahead and have your gingerbread supplies ready when you get home.  Oh, and I HIGHLY recommend pre-made gingerbread houses if you're working with little ones.  Wilton makes a pretty good pre-assembled kit that we purchase every year.



Jersey Momma Tips

  • They don't allow strollers, so leave them at home.
  • I gave my son the pep talk before we entered, which basically consisted of, don't touch anything!
  • If you're going with kids, encourage them to walk slowly and really look at each piece.  My son wanted to race through the whole event, so we walked around a few times so we could really enjoy everything.
  • There is a craft fair available on the weekends, and your admission fee allows you to attend, so get in there and shop local!
  • There is a little cafe called Matilda's on the arboretum premises, offering sandwiches, pastries and drinks.  We did not eat there so I can't attest to the food, but it looks cute!
  • Interested in participating next year?  Check out their website for instructions and applications, or talk to one of their many employees or volunteers at the event.  Everyone was friendly and helpful when we attended.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

A Review of Hershey Sweet Lights and Chocolate World (part 2)

If you haven't had a chance, please check out Part 1 of my two part blog series, Christmas in Hershey.  In Part 1 we talked about Hershey Park's Christmas Candy Lane, and The Hotel Hershey.  Here in Part 2, we'll talk about Hershey Sweet Lights and Chocolate World, both of which I love.

What is Hershey Sweet Lights?


Hershey Sweet Lights is a drive-through light display, not far from Hershey Park itself.  If you decide to stay at the Hotel Hershey like we did, the display is located in the fields behind the hotel.  You can't walk there, but you can see parts of the display at night from certain rooms in the hotel, and it is a quick drive down the hill to attend.

(Crummy picture, I know, but it happened to be pouring rain when we went!  However, this did not interfere with our ability to enjoy the light show.  It did mess up our photo opportunities, but oh well!)

Your entrance fee ranges depending upon which evening you go, but it will cost you roughly $20-$25 per car.  You'll get a small discount if you stay in one of the Hershey hotels (Hershey Lodge or Hotel Hershey).  You can even purchase a package that includes popcorn.  They gave us free Hershey snowflake paper glasses, which we all thought were pretty cool.

                   They make the lights look like snowflakes when you peek through them!

There are over 600 animated, lighted displays at Hershey Sweet Lights.  Some of them are grouped together in themes (such as a fairy tale theme or the 12 Days of Christmas).  If you visit the Hershey Sweet Lights web page, you can view a small preview video of the display.


You can make a fun evening of this- think pajamas, hot chocolate, cookies, Christmas carols!  You get the idea.

I have been to animated light displays before, but none quite like this one.  Hershey tops my list for best light display, hands down!  I remember going to the light display at New Jersey's "Garden State Arts Center" years ago (and as of the publication date of this blog entry, they are running it again, now the PNC Center).  I loved it and thought it was pretty cool back then.  Hershey is 100 times better than that one, for sure.


I wish you better weather than what we had, but like I said, even in the rain, it was an outstanding display.  Oh, and the whole thing took us roughly thirty minutes to drive through, but again, it all depends on how quickly you drive and how much you linger at each display.

Chocolate World

I love, love, love Chocolate World.  Can I say it enough?  I have been there many different times of the year and I just love everything about it.  First, let's just understand a few things:

  • Chocolate World and Hershey Park are two separate places but they stand next to each other.
  • Chocolate World is basically a representation of Hershey.  There is a "factory tour" (not the real factory, but shows you the basic premise), and other attractions inside (which we'll get to in a minute)
  • Chocolate World is free to enter, and free to ride the factory tour.  There are paid attractions inside, but you don't have to purchase anything if you don't want to (but I dare you to try!)
  • Chocolate World is open year round, whereas Hershey Park has seasonal hours.
Welcome to Chocolate World!

The Chocolate World Factory Tour is awesome.  You get inside a little brown car that takes you through a make-believe version of a Hershey Factory, complete with all of your favorite Hershey candies, music, and pumped in chocolate scent.  The Hershey cows (happy, sweet looking puppets) are your "tour guides."



This ride is completely free, and my son loves to get off the ride and get right back on to ride again when he is finished.  You can even purchase a photo of yourself at the end of the ride, just like in an amusement park.  If you're lucky, you'll also get a free sample when the ride is over.  Yummy!!

Be forewarned, the ride dumps you off into the greatest souvenir shop (The Hershey Store) known to chocolate lovers.  It is one of my favorite souvenir shops (other than Disney World) and you'd best steer clear if you try to rush me through it (the Jersey Momma's Boy is not a shopper and hates souvenir shopping, and has thrown a few tantrums over my desire to peruse through this store, I assure you).

Beyond the Hershey Store is a food court.  You can get just about anything here- sandwiches, pizza, soup, chicken nuggets, etc. Also every dessert you can imagine, and ice cream, too.  Food is reasonably priced, and tastes just okay.  You know, it's food court food.

A Christmas display in the food court, constructed entirely of Hershey's candies!

A section beyond the food court completely devoted to Hershey Kisses.  You can even package your own colors at their computerized machine:


Paid Attractions


Chocolate World offers paid attractions, too.  You can purchase packages of items or purchase tickets to each attraction individually.  Again, you don't have to purchase anything if you don't want to. You can walk straight ahead to the factory tour or the store, if you choose.  Check their website for a detailed list of all of the attractions that they offer.

Create Your Own Chocolate Bar


In the many times we have been there, we loved the "Create Your Own" chocolate bar attraction (worth waiting for- a bit pricey but you do walk away with a one-of-a-kind, delicious chocolate bar of your own making).  Just note that each person who enters the experience must pay for and create their own bar (meaning, you can't just accompany your child as he/she makes one, and not make one yourself.  If you go in, you create!  You pay!).

You use a computer screen to choose what you want to put in your bar, and then you watch the entire thing being created on an assembly line.  This is a working food processing line so you have to wear hair nets and aprons!

There's my chocolate!

Your name appears on a little screen by your bar so you can follow it the whole way.

There's mine!
Then you get to design the label for your chocolate bar on another computer.  You pick up your bar when it's all done and they package it in your special wrapper and a tin box.


I must say, it is totally beautiful when finished, and tastes amazing because it's so fresh.  The only down side is having to wait to long to make it (especially if you're there on a crowded day), but I suppose you can't rush greatness!

The Trolley Ride


In the summer, we took the Trolley Tour and we enjoyed it immensely.  We were really impressed with the actors who served as tour guides on the trolley.  The trolley drives you through the town of Hershey can shows you all of Milton Hershey's original landmarks and important locations.  The actors on board assume the role(s) of different characters in Hershey's life.  There is singing involved, and trivia.  Oh and lots of chocolate!

The 4D Movie


There is a 4D movie that you can see, and I really recommend this one, as it's soooo  cute!  4D means the movie is interactive- the characters on screen talk to the audience.  There are smells, vibrations and lights all pumped into the room during the movie to make for a really cool experience.  I won't give away the plot, but there are some colorful robots that my son loved.


We didn't find the movie scary or inappropriate at all, so as long as your little ones can sit through a 30 minute show and don't mind wearing 3D glasses, then you're set!

Important to note is that if you talk to some of the hosts while you are waiting in the lobby (i.e. answer their questions and give them your name), they may include you in the actual show.  Don't worry, they won't pull you up on stage or anything, but the characters might call out your name or talk to you individually during the actual movie!  Very cool.

Other Chocolate World Attractions


There are also other dessert experiences (such as the create your own dessert and the chocolate tasting experience) but we haven't tried them yet.  There is still so much to see and explore there!

Jersey Momma Tips

  • Again, plan, plan, plan.  Check out the website in detail before you go so you know what to expect at Chocolate World.  It is easy to miss what's inside because it's a busy place.  There is a map on the website that you can go look at before you visit.
  • Check the website for discounts- sometimes they offer coupons for the store or food court
  • Chocolate World can be a little confusing inside.  When you walk in, the tour is straight ahead, as well as the store.  Tickets for different events can be purchased at the kiosks in the main lobby.  If you're confused, ask an employee for help- there are usually people walking around to assist you.
  • The Hershey characters do walk around for photo opportunities, so keep an eye out for them!
  • There are usually coupons on the Chocolate World website, but they can be hard to find.  Look for links that say 'Sweet Savings.' They change their coupons monthly, and can vary from souvenir discounts to food savings.
  • If you stay at one of the Hershey hotels, they usually offer you a free ticket to an attraction at Chocolate World, most likely the movie.
  • You do not have to pay to park at Chocolate World (if you are parking in the Hershey Park lot, you do pay a fee).  If you are a hotel guest, you can take a free shuttle to Hershey Park/Chocolate World and not have to worry about parking at all.
  • I implore you to eat what you like and sample everything.  If you go there worried about your weight or your figure or how many pounds you'll gain, you'll be missing out on the whole Hershey experience.  Just go and eat and enjoy!!!
  • Click here to visit the Chocolate World website, in case you missed our link above.

A Review of Christmas in Hershey: Christmas Candy Lane (part 1)

Time for another excursion outside of Jersey!  This one is a two part series, so be sure to read my review of Hershey Sweet Lights.  First, let me start off by saying how much I love Hershey Park.  If you have never been there, I highly suggest it, and it's important to note that it's different for every season.  I have also been there in the Spring and Summer, and each trip has been significantly different.  Anyway, I decided to publish my review of Hershey Park at Christmas (known as Christmas Candy Lane) because I couldn't find out much about it when I was planning our own trip.  I hope this helps anyone out there who likes to plan as much as I do!

Speaking of planning, knowing we were heading here in December, I tried to prepare for anything I could imagine- snow, blizzards, ice, whatever.  I bought my giant Lands End puffy coat for the occasion, as well as snow boots, thermal underwear, earmuffs, arctic GPS (just kidding on that one).  What I did not prepare for was the RAIN and FOG that we experienced while we were there.  Oh well.  Ya can't win 'em all.

What is Christmas Candy Lane?


Hershey Park remains open for part of the winter season.  Check their website calendar for exact dates and times.  Only some of their rides are operational, so don't expect to be hitting up your favorite roller coaster in the winter weather.  Most of their 30 kiddie rides are open, as well as their indoor rides, souvenir shops, etc.  The park is decorated to a tee, and you'll find a plethora of photo ops!

Although our photo ops were rain-soaked...   

It looks a lot nicer when it's not raining.  But somehow even the rain did not dampen our moods!  We left by evening, but if you stay past dark, you can view all of their lights on display.
The neon characters are throughout the park.  There are also Christmas shows you can attend, but at the time, the Jersey Momma's Boy was only 4, so he wasn't too keen on sitting through Christmas musicals.

The characters also walk throughout the park and they are adorable, but of course we don't have a single shot of them either because the Jersey Momma's boy doesn't like posing with characters.  We DID, however, get to meet Santa and his reindeer.  Here's a shot of the reindeer:


Santa was in an adorable workshop area and we didn't even have to wait in a line.  You have to pay for your photos, but what's new about that?

This is not where you see Santa, but another cute holiday souvenir shop.

The park was super clean as always, but we did notice a difference between the winter staff and the summer staff.  The winter staff, although friendly, was not as helpful and professional as the summer staff.  I think this holds true for most theme parks, so I will cut them some slack there.

Most of the food stands were open, but not all.  We felt a little cheated because of the rain, so many of their food carts were closed, including the hot chocolate and s'mores carts!!  What's up with that?!  We had even bought our refillable Christmas Candy Lane mug for that purpose, so we were bummed.

The hot chocolate was delicious!

Never fear, the dessert stands that were open were kind enough to give us double slices of Hershey's pie as retribution.  I thought I was pretty swift in sending Mr. Jersey Momma to get the pie and wrap it up to take back to the hotel.  I was so excited to get back to the room to enjoy my peanut butter chocolate silk dreaminess.  Lo and behold. Mr. Jersey Momma forgot the forks!

No fork?!  Come ON!!

What Else Can I Do Here?

ZooAmerica is actually part of Hershey Park and is open year round.  You can visit the zoo while you are inside the park as part of your admission fee.  You can also take a ride on the park monorail.  The Jersey Momma's boy had no interest, but you can plan a meal with Santa at the park or the local hotels.  You need to check the website for this info, since this is clearly an added cost and must be scheduled in advance.  Also around the area are Chocolate World (which I talk about in part 2 of my blog!) and Hershey Gardens.  We were unable to go to Hershey Gardens because of the rain, but they do offer  Christmas activities for kids, so be sure to check out their website.  Also equally spectacular is Hershey Sweet Lights, a drive through display of lights and wonder (also discussed in part 2 of my Hershey blog).  We LOVED it!

Where to Stay


In all honesty, you don't have to stay at all.  For us, Hershey Park is about a two hour ride, so you could essentially get to the park early on and then drive home.  But I wanted the whole package, so we stayed at the stunning Hotel Hershey.  It is truly a beautiful place, and we stay there every time we visit, basically now because we're spoiled and can't imagine staying anywhere else!  But you can also stay at the Hershey Lodge and the local hotels nearby.  The Hotel Hershey offers free shuttle service to the park and Chocolate World, and is also within walking distance to Hershey Gardens.  Plus, they give you a free chocolate bar when you arrive and they leave Hershey Kisses for you at bedtime!  Sigh.  The hotel was decorated beautifully for Christmas.  The service is always top notch here.  If you go, I highly suggest staying in the west wing, and the breakfast buffet at The Circular is fantastic (try the Hershey Kiss shaped waffles!).  For an in-depth comparison of both hotels, please check out my blog entry on this subject!


One of our favorite things about visiting Hotel Hershey in the winter was being able to swim in their indoor pool.  Plus we got to wear cool robes!

The indoor pool at The Hotel Hershey has been completely remodeled since this photo was taken!

The Hotel Hershey has so many other enticing features.  It is famous for its spa (which I have sadly never been to) and plenty of outdoor activities.  They even have an "ice" rink open year round! (it's synthetic):

The ice rink at the Hotel Hershey.

Jersey Momma Tips:

  • I was not able to find many discounts for Hershey at Christmas.  We purchased our tickets through the hotel concierge, so that was the biggest discount I could find.  The hotels also offer packages based on how many nights you stay, so look into that if you want to plan a package deal.
  • Even in the rain we had a great time, so don't fret the weather and just take whatever comes.  There is always something to do!
  • Plan, plan, plan!  Look at the websites, view all that Hershey has to offer.  I've had friends who visited and missed half the attractions simply because they didn't realize the attractions were there.
  • Wear good walking shoes.  Hershey is large and there is even some uphill walking.  If you have little ones, bring a stroller to help out.
  • I often say that Hershey is a nice alternative to Disney, especially if Disney is temporarily beyond your budget.  Check out my friend's blog over at MousePlanning for a comparison of Hershey and Disney.  But keep in mind that he is not comparing them during the winter season.
Don't forget to check out Part 2 of my Hershey experience.  You can read all about Hershey Sweet Lights and Chocolate World (one of my favorite places on Earth!).

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Let's Visit Aspen Ice in Flemington, NJ!

The Jersey Momma's Boy is now an official tiger cub scout, and one of the goals of his scout group is to attend 'Go See It' meetings, in order to visit a particular venue to learn something new.  These trips have been a lot of fun and very memorable for the boys (so far they've visited the firehouse and a historic home in town).  Last week's 'Go See It' was supposed to be a sporting event, where they could learn about the rules of a certain sport and see how it's played.  But what kind of sporting event can you take First Grade boys to that plays on a weeknight and doesn't cost anything?  I racked my brain for ideas, and then I remembered Aspen Ice.

This is a crummy picture, I know, but it was too dark outside to take an exterior shot!

Where is Aspen Ice?


Aspen Ice has two locations- one in Randolph and one in Flemington.  We visited the arena in Flemington, right on Case Boulevard.  This is directly off of Rt. 202 South.


What is Aspen Ice?


Aspen Ice is an indoor ice skating rink that is open year round.  They offer a variety of services and activities, such as Open Skate sessions, 'Friday Night Skates' with a DJ, summer camps, birthday parties, ice hockey lessons, ice hockey games, skating lessons and more.  They also have a skating pro-shop on premises, as well as a concession stand and small arcade.  Check out their website for all of their offerings and their monthly schedule of events. Here's a direct quote from their website, explaining what they are all about:  "Aspen Ice is a full size NHL rink that offers many various programs all year long! We offer many public skating times along with Learn to Skate lessons, figure skating, and hockey. We also plan some great birthday parties and group events! Fundraising is a wonderful opportunity for your club, group, organization or any non profit company seeking to reward your efforts utilizing our facility as the event location..."


The rink at Aspen Ice.

What Will I See at Aspen Ice?


When you first enter Aspen Ice, you'll find a small concession stand, a front desk, picnic table/benches to eat at, a small arcade, a pro-shop, and a party room in back.

The lobby at Aspen Ice, Flemington.

Coach Mike and the boys at Aspen Ice.

The Pro-Shop and Arcade at Aspen Ice.
You'll find the ice rink off to your right, and there are bleachers where you can sit and watch events.  It's chilly in there, so bring a jacket and dress warmly (it's ice, after all).  There is an area where you can rent skates, and plenty of safety glass up to keep you protected.  The Jersey Momma's boy was very excited to see a real zamboni.

The Jersey Momma makes a rare appearance without a ponytail!

The boys of NJ Freeze practicing at Aspen Ice

What Can I Do There?


Aspen Ice offers a lot to the public.  We have never been to an open skate session, but friends tell me it's a lot of fun, especially if you go in the summer (neat thought, right?).  Coach Mike talked to our cub scouts and told them all about the hockey programs they offer for kids (girls and boys) and adults.  He was very knowledgeable and the boys enjoyed listening to him and seeing all of the cool hockey gear.  You can visit their Facebook page to see their daily activities.



What You Need to Know


*Aspen Ice is a fun, local venue.  It's essentially like a giant warehouse, so the lighting is a little dim and you get the feel of being in a gym or sporting venue as opposed to a show arena.  There were lots of kids here who all seemed to be having a great time.

*We were able to watch some boys practicing hockey (NJ Freeze) and we were extremely impressed with their abilities.  Our young scouts were amazed watching them play, and as a parent, I was blown away by the players' dedication.  The boys we watched were probably between the ages of 10-11, but they offer lessons and teams for players of all ages.



*We only watched the teams practice for about a half an hour and I was so cold by the end of the evening!  So really, dress warm, people!

*Coach Mike also told us about some special days throughout the year that are offered at ice rinks across the country (including Aspen Ice).  Kids can try hockey for free!  Check out this link to read all about it.

*Everyone we encountered working at Aspen Ice was extremely friendly and eager to help.  Their enthusiasm for hockey and skating in general was very evident in everyone we met, including the kids playing there.





Saturday, November 15, 2014

How to Decorate for Thanksgiving: Oreo Turkeys and More!

I must admit, I am not a huge fan of Thanksgiving.  There are a lot of reasons for that, none of which I will write here because they will bring down the whole mood of this post, and I'm tryin' to keep it festive and fun.  Onward.

Last year I hosted Thanksgiving for my family, and I went into full-on Pinterest searching, party planning, decorating crazy mode!  I had Thanksgiving bingo planned, a Thankfulness jar complete with questions on paper leaves that everyone had to pass around and answer.  I had goodie bags for every guest and a kiddie table that would make Martha Stewart proud.  So from me, to you, I share my Thanksgiving ideas.

Oreo Turkeys


I saw this idea on Pinterest and I thought, how hard could it be?
And honestly, it wasn't hard, just time consuming, especially since I decided, for some unknown reason, to make THIS many turkeys:
Yep, that was me.  So anyway, if you want to make these Oreo Turkeys, you'll need:

-Oreos (do NOT get the singles, they MUST be DOUBLE STUFF!!)
-Reeses peanut butter cups
-candy corn
-decorator frosting (in red, yellow and white)
-sprinkles (for eyes)
-malted milk balls (like Whoppers)

Now you need to visit OurBestBites for detailed directions on how to put them together.  You'll see I skimped and just used frosting for the beaks because I couldn't get the candy corns to stay on as beaks.  Getting them to stand up to dry as I was making them was also an issue, so I used a cookbook and propped them against the backsplash in the kitchen to harden:
(I highly recommend that cookbook for crockpot meals, by the way!  It's called Fix-It and Forget It by    Phyllis Pellman Good).  Anywho, you might notice that I stuck frosting in between the cookies to get the candy corn to stay in there.  That's because, like a dope, I did not buy the Double Stuf Oreos and I could not get the candy corn to stay in there right.  Note to self for next time!

My turkeys came out so cute!  I put one by each plate and they were the talk of the evening.  But no one wanted to eat them because they were so adorable.

Table Decor


Here's what my table looked like all set (pre-Oreo turkeys added):
Believe it or not, many of my table decorations were the Better Homes brand from Walmart.  And here's a pic of the kids' table, which only wound up having one kid at it (mine) who didn't actually want to sit there anyway.  But at least it looked cute:
The paper decor and the coloring print-out were from PaperGlitter.  I have bought so many printables from her Etsy store.  I am in LOVE with her cute characters!!!

Here are the goodie bags that each guest took home.  The bags were from Target or Walmart.  I think they were 50 cents each.
The tags, again, were made from my printable purchase from PaperGlitter's Etsy store.   The extra candy corn was for our Thanksgiving Bingo game, which I purchased from Current Catalog.

Last but not least, I gave each guest a poem, and had it printed from Shutterfly.  I had received a coupon to get cards for free, so I ordered these:
The little turkey salt and pepper shakers were from Cracker Barrel.

I have no pictures of the actual meal, would you believe that?  But I do have pictures of the week after, when I was trying to put all of the Thanksgiving decorations away.  Then, my table looked like this:
Bring on Christmas!