Monday, August 18, 2014

Science Guest Blog: Why Does it Hail in the Summertime? by Dr. Joe Castanza

I am fortunate to know some really cool people in my life (people with really cool talents).  My friend, (affectionately known as 'Dr. Joe') was kind enough to answer a question for the Jersey Momma's boy, who once asked me, 'Why does it hail in the summertime?' Now my typical answer to this would be, 'Let's Google it,' but this time I thought I'd have my friend, Dr. Joe, write us a guest blog about this interesting topic.  We hope you enjoy it!

Cold Ice from the Sky on a Hot, Summer Day...What the Hail???
by Dr. Joe Castanza, Theoretical Physicist, Meteorologist and Former Airline Pilot

How can it be that ICE falls from the sky in the summertime? We call those bits of ice “hail” (which is different from sleet—sleet occurs during the winter when rain from warmer air higher up falls into colder air below).  To understand how hail is formed, we need to understand how thunderstorms form and what goes on inside.

Now, a lot of people may think that the wind only blows across the ground; that’s not true!!! Air also rises and falls in the atmosphere. We call those up-and-down currents “convection”.

Another thing that needs to be understood is that, while it may be 88°F on the ground, it can be -20°F at 15,000 feet above the ground and, even on the hottest days, -65°F or colder at 43,000 feet!!!  So, even on really hot summer days, it’s still really cold way up in the atmosphere!!!

It gets colder (normally) as we go higher up into the sky.
photo courtesy of the National Weather Service
Sometimes, on hot, humid days, the warm air rises and cold air falls very quickly… when we have that kind instability and water vapor (gaseous moisture, which we feel as “relative humidity”) in the air, the conditions are just right for the formation of a strong thunderstorm.  If it’s too windy on the ground and a few thousand feet above the ground, however, convection may be interrupted; we might still get a thunderstorm but, it will not be nearly as severe (that’s NOT to be confused with the strong gusts of winds that we see just BEFORE a thunderstorm; that’s the front of the storm passing by and it’s a sign that it’s time to go inside.)

So.  It’s a hot summer’s day… perhaps, in late July or early August.  The sun is out, the air is warm and humid, and there are large birds gliding around in circles overhead.  These large birds are able to glide without having to flap their wings because the sun is heating the ground, the ground heats the air above it; hot air is lighter than colder air and, therefore, it rises—just like a helium-filled balloon.

We sometimes call these rising currents of warm air “thermals”; these are what those big birds are gliding on; that’s a good sign that there’s convection occurring in the atmosphere.  When it comes to the formation of thunderstorms, we call these currents of rising air “updrafts”.  As these updrafts carry that moist air higher and higher into the atmosphere, the warm, moist air eventually reaches a level at which the temperature is cool enough that the water vapor condenses—it turns from water vapor (a gas) into tiny, lighter-than-air water droplets (liquid).  This is what forms clouds, as well.

BUT, the stronger those updrafts are, the higher up those tiny water droplets are carried.  When they reach the top of an updraft, the air carrying these droplets cools to the point that it becomes heavier than the warmer air around it and we wind up with a downward wind, which we call a downdraft.

Again, this continuous cycle of rising and falling air is called “convection”, and it’s required for the formation not only of thunderstorms but, hail, as well.

CONVECTION AT ITS FINEST!  In this image, updrafts are red, downdrafts are blue.
photo courtesy of the National Weather Service
As the water droplets fall with the downdrafts, they combine together with other water droplets and increase in size. Then, they end up in warmer air below and start to rise again with the updrafts.  As this happens, the speed of the updrafts continues.

Also, something else happens: Whenever water vapor turns into liquid droplets, heat is released (this is called the “latent heat of evaporation” and, it’s why sweating keeps you cool; as the water evaporates from your skin, it takes away some of your body heat and cools you down).  When that heat is released higher up in the atmosphere that causes the updrafts not only to accelerate but, also, go even higher, into much colder air.  If the moisture only goes so high to a point that the air is not cold enough to cause the water droplets to freeze, we’ll wind up with just rain.  The bigger the rain drops, the higher up those updrafts carried that moisture—the droplets had time to join together with other droplets to form really big rain drops!!!

On the other hand, sometimes, those updrafts go so high that they reach air that has temperatures below freezing, and these water droplets freeze.  That’s hail—but, we’re not done yet!!! That little piece of ice will fall into warmer air, its outer parts will melt (with ice still inside) and rise again—and, depending on how high they get carried back up in those updrafts, these little bits of ice will bump into water droplets that will accrete (freeze onto) our original bits of ice, and the hail gets even LARGER!!!  In fact, the largest, single piece of hail ever recorded fell in Vivian, South Dakota on July 23rd of 2010; it was 8” across and nearly 18¾” around; it weight almost two pounds!!!  Here’s a picture of it:

The largest hailstone, EVER!
(photo courtesy of the National Weather Service)
The stronger the updrafts are and the more moisture that’s available in the upper atmosphere for freezing onto our already-frozen hail, the larger the hailstones will be.  Eventually, even the strongest hailstones will become too heavy to be supported by the updrafts and they will fall.  Commonly, they’re small stones, like this one in my hand which is only ¼” across:

A 1/4" hailstone
(photo courtesy of ISI Physics Research Observatory, 2014)

…but, sometimes, they can grow to golf ball- or even softball-sized stones and do some serious damage.  For example, look at this poor car!!   
Ouch!  Someone better call the Insurance Gecko!
(photo courtesy of the National Weather Service)
Hail can cause serious damage to cars, homes, trailer homes, tall buildings… it can even hurt or kill people!!!  Airplanes are directed around hail storms and downdrafts because hail is one of the most hazardous weather effects known to aviation; just look at the window of this Boeing 727 airliner!!!

                                          Thank God, this aircraft landed safely...
                                      (photo courtesy of the FAA)
                                                 Look at the wing of this poor, single engine, propeller plane!
                                                       (photo courtesy of the FAA)
So, to get thunderstorms, we need heat from the sun, moisture and unstable air (convection).  The higher that convection goes up into the atmosphere, the better the chances are that hail and severe thunderstorms will occur.  Hailstones can grow pretty large in those storms and, when they fall, they can do lots of damage to property, and even hurt or kill people!!!  When it starts to hail, “Get the hail inside!!!”

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A Review of Lost River Caverns, PA

The Lost River Caverns in Hellertown, Pennsylvania has always been a point of interest for me.  I would drive by the billboards on Rt. 78 and wonder, 'What is that place like?'  I asked friends for advice, searched online for reviews, and got such a mish-mosh of responses (from, 'It's cheesy and old!' to, 'It's cool!') that I figured I had to see for myself.

Yes, I still pick up brochures on the places I want to visit!

Where is Lost River Caverns?

The caverns are located in Hellertown, Pennsylvania, not far off of Rt. 78.  When we went (around lunch time on a Tuesday in the summer), there construction off of the exit onto rt. 412, but nothing that caused us any trouble.  We were coming from Hunterdon county, New Jersey, so the trip was only about 30 minutes for us.

What Will I See There?

Friends told us it was 'cheesy and old' and 'small and cool.' I found that it was all of these things.  Much like Roadside America and Northlandz, this is an attraction that has been around for decades.  And it shows.  The main lobby is dusty and the bathrooms are ancient.  It smells like a basement.  I don't know what it is about these old landmarks, but no one ever wants to maintain them.  How hard is it, guys, to dust your displays every once in a while, or to fix that toilet in the bathroom with the giant garbage bag over it?  I fear that someday these historic attractions will be no more, simply because no one bothered to maintain them over the years.  And maybe I'm naive here, and it is a challenge to maintain these places.  If that is the case, then I stand corrected.  But it seems like just some simple upkeep (DUSTING, painting dingy walls, etc.) would make a big difference.

Inside the lobby of the Lost Caverns.

When you enter the lobby of The Lost River Caverns (a tiny little building stuck in the mountain), you check in at the front desk and they inform you when the next tour is.  You don't have to pay anything until the tour is over, and as of the publication of this entry, fees were $12.00 for adults and $7.50 for kids.  The Jersey Grandpa was with us, and he was smart enough to ask for discounts (no senior discounts but they did offer a discount for AAA members, so be sure to bring your AAA card if you're a member!!).

This is my kind of place!

We didn't have to wait long for the tour (maybe 10 minutes?), so we were able to explore and take some photos.  There was a huge dinosaur/waterfall display and a gift shop to wander around in before the tour.
Lobby of the Lost River Caverns

The Lost River Caverns Tour

Our tour guide was named Andy and he was very knowledgeable and friendly.  The Jersey Momma's boy was so excited to go down into a real cave that I thought he was going to burst!  Standing in front of the cave entrance is a thrill as you stare down the path.  I mean, look at it!  How cool is that?  I actually think the anticipation at the entrance was one of my favorite parts of the trip.

Cave entrance- cool, right?
We were fortunate to be in a small group of about 15 people, but we did pass very large groups of at least 20-25 people.  Andy lead us through the cave and told us about its history and beauty.  There were so many neat facts to learn about the cave and the 'lost river,' which you actually get to see (it's so crystal clear, it looks like a mirror).  I don't want to give everything away, so you'll just have to take the tour and learn for yourself.

Inside the cave- wowee!!

Things To Know

It's chilly down there!  So bring a sweatshirt or wear something warm.  The cave maintains a constant 52 degrees, but it is damp and being down there for 30 minutes gives you kind of a 'cave chill' after a while.  The floor is wet (I was told it is always wet) so wear good walking shoes with socks.  The walk is not dangerous or treacherous, but there are a few places where you have to watch your head or face as you're walking.  There are handrails to hold onto if you need them, but you can't touch the rocks.

It might help to bring a little flashlight.  The path is lit well enough, but the boy next to me had a little flashlight on a string around his neck and he was shining that on the rock walls to see them better.  I thought that was a cool idea (he also had a flip phone which he was using to take pictures.  This has nothing to do with anything, I just thought it was cute that he had a flip phone).  I was using the flashlight on my smartphone, which worked well, too.

The cave ceiling at Lost River Caverns

At one point a huge drop of water dripped onto my forehead and splashed right in my eyes (figures!).  They say this is good luck and called a 'cave kiss.' It won't cause you any harm, but if you get freaked out about stuff like that, then wear a hat or a hoodie.

The tour was only about 30 minutes. Some reviewers online complained that the tour was too short and that Lost River did not have as much to offer as other caves in Pennsylvania.  But for a Jersey Momma and her 6 year old boy (and his grandparents!) this was the perfect amount of time.  It was hard enough for a little boy to stand and listen intently to a tour guide for that amount of time anyway.

At the end of the tour, I noticed some people tipping our tour guide.  I didn't even realize that you're supposed to tip a tour guide and I had no singles on me anyway.  So Andy, I'm sorry if I gipped you, dude.

The Gift Shop

The Jersey Momma's boy usually despises gift shops, much to my dismay (and delight, I guess, as I don't have to worry about him begging for souvenirs).  But he liked this one.  There were a lot of funky things (and cheesy things, too, but that's sometimes the fun of it).  He really enjoyed rifling through their barrel of polished stones that were 4 for $1.00.  I liked their chocolate candy rocks and their rock collection pencil.  We also got a cave coloring book and a mini rocks/minerals identification book.

Lost River Caverns Souvenir Shop

Is It Worth the Trip?

This is another moment when we must ask ourselves, 'Will my child like this?' Because even though you might see it as cheesy, old and small, your kid sees it as...a cave!!  Which is...just plain cool!!!  

We didn't have to travel far so this was a fun, interesting trip for us.  If you are coming a greater distance, then I suggest you make a whole day out of it.  There is a nature trail outside the caverns to explore, and some rock panning you can do for an extra fee.  We skipped both of these because it was wet and rainy when we went, and the Jersey Momma's boy had reached the end of his rope anyway (that's a phrase we use often, including, 'he's out of rope.'  Ha!)

More Jersey Momma Tips

*Parking is free.  Their main lot is small but there is a larger parking lot across the street that you can also use.

*There are areas across the street where you can sit and eat or picnic, if you like.

*There are towns nearby so you can visit the local Rita's or drive a little further to find the local McDonald's.

*They are open year round except for major holidays, and the temperature in the cave is always a balmy 52 degrees, no matter what.

*The Jersey Momma is NOT compensated for any trips, unless otherwise specified.  In fact, The Jersey Momma was very grateful that the Jersey Grandpa paid our admission fee.  :)

One thing I have to add about the Lost River Caverns is that everyone working there was super friendly, respectful and just plain nice.  The front desk greeter, our tour guide, the cashier at the souvenir shop- everyone was so polite.  I really appreciate that in any establishment, so kudos to the Lost River Caverns for having such a friendly staff, and thank you for a fun day trip.  Now go and plan your trip at  Have fun!

Monday, August 4, 2014

A Robot Birthday Party and Robot Party Favors

The Jersey Momma's boy is a big fan of robots.  He specifically loves the movie Wall-E and all of its crazy characters, so when he asked if he could have a Wall-E Robot themed birthday party this year, I thought, why not?

I put together a whole party for him in our basement, complete with robot games, activities and crafts.  I didn't think all of the kids would know who Wall-E was, since the movie came out in 2008, so most of the games were named after Wall-E but were more just robot themed.

Robot Party Favors

Out of everything I planned for the party, I am most proud of the favors.  Party favors can be expensive, especially if you have 20 or more kids attending the party.  Even if you try to keep each favor under $5, you're still looking at almost $100 for favors!  That's crazy!  So I searched around Pinterest and saw some cute ideas for home-made party favors, like these snack robots from Charm and Whimsy.

And might I say that Charm and Whimsy threw an amazing robot party (from the pictures I saw on her site, anyway).  Anyway, I thank her for inspiring me to make my own favors.  This is what I came up with!

I'm a Robot Party Favor and I love you!
What You Need

In order to make a robot party favor, you'll need:

-a pencil sharpener (head)
-pencil topper erasers (arms)
-small container of "fun dough" (like an imitation Play-Doh)
-google eyes

I made 24 of these guys for less than $10 total.  Yeah!!  I bought the pencil sharpeners and eraser toppers from the dollar store (they were sold in multipacks, so I only needed one pack of each - it was awesome).  I bought the fun dough in the dollar section of Target.  They were sold in packs of 4 for $1, so I bought six.

Assembling Your Robots

The Jersey Momma's Boy actually helped put all of these robots together.  He picked out the combination of colors and I just glued everything together with a hot glue gun.  He was way more creative than I was, and came up with the idea of giving some of them one eye instead of two:

We are robot party favors and we come in peace!

The robot party favor army!
Adopt a Robot 

We were just going to have each child "adopt" their own robot at the end of the party and pick the one they wanted as their party favor, but we wound up making them part of a game during the party.  One of our game stations was "Wall-E's Bottle Cap Pick Up," since Wall-E collected trash in the movie.  Each child used a magnetic wooden dowel fishing rod to pick up bottle caps (which also had magnets glued to them).  At some point the Jersey Grandpa figured out that the tops of our favors were magnetic (because of the pencil sharpeners).  So we changed the bottle cap game to "Wall-E's Robot Rescue."  Each child had to "fish" for a robot using their magnetic pole (a wooden dowel with a magnet hot glued to the end on a string) and they got to keep the robot they rescued!  Such fun!

Other Robot Party Highlights

The Jersey Momma is fortunate to have a sister with an alter-ego of her own.  My sister runs The Pirate Cupcake.  So she came to our party in her fabulous truck and served the yummiest cupcakes ever, as well as ice cream.
Ahoy, mateys!  I mean, robots!  It's the Pirate Cupcake!
And she also made this incredible GIANT cupcake just for the Jersey Momma's Boy.  It was delicious.

Hey Wall-E, get off of that cupcake!
Maybe I'm biased, but I think it was the greatest party ever.  :)

Friday, July 25, 2014

Jersey Momma Reviews: The New Jersey Festival of Ballooning!

The New Jersey Festival of Ballooning (referred to by some as the "Readington Balloon Festival" or the "Quick Chek Festival of Ballooning") is held every summer in Readington, usually at the end of July.  We are fortunate to live very close to the festival fairgrounds (Solberg Airport) so we sometimes see the balloons fly over after they launch.  Well, that's an understatement.  One year during my son's 2nd birthday party, this happened:
Can you imagine his face?  He thought we planned it!  And all of our guests were in awe!  Can you see the one on the far right?  It was shaped like a Pepsi can.  We had just moved into our house that very week.  It seemed like magic.
Balloons filled the sky above our house, and our guests later reported that they were able to stop and help fold up one of the balloons that had landed on their way home.  So the next summer, we decided to visit the festival for ourselves and see what it was like.


I managed to snag free tickets from our local mall.  No catch, they just announced on their Facebook page that they had free tickets if you signed up for their email list!  (Seriously?  Seriously!)  So we were able to attend the whole event for free.  Otherwise, the tickets will set you back about $17, depending upon when and where you buy them (as of the publication of this entry, so be sure to check online prices for exact amount).  You can purchase tickets in advance at any Quick Chek store, too, or purchase online at the balloon festival site,

When Can You See Balloons?

The balloons launch two times on Saturday and Sunday of the event, starting around 6:30am and 6:30pm (on Friday they launch only around 6:30pm).  We were there for the evening launch on a Sunday, so I can't tell you much about the morning ones.  Although I've had friends who attended the morning launches with no problems and loved their experience.

Parking and Getting There

Keep in mind that this event takes place in a giant field.  That means you park in a giant field and you walk to the action.  It was a bit of a hike for us, but all in all, manageable.  You can also park off-site at Raritan Valley College and take a bus shuttle to the event for free.  I don't remember having to pay for parking, but the website indicates there is a fee if you park on-site.  I couldn't seem to find a fee listed, though.

What Can You Do There?

Before you attend, check out the "map of event" on their website.  If they do not have this year's map posted, check out last year's map so you have a general idea of what to expect:  The event consists of vendors (mostly advertisers), some craft tents, small rides (extra fee), pony rides (extra fee), bounce houses (extra fee- of course!), an open concert venue and more.  There's a lot to see and do, so check out their website for all of the entertainment available, too.  You can sit on the lawn and hear the concert for free, or purchase tickets (for an extra fee) to have an actual seat near the stage for the show.  If you sit on the lawn you really can't see the performers, but you can hear them just fine.

Friday evening they usually offer fireworks, and on Saturday nights they have a "balloon glow."  Check their website for all details, because everything is subject to change based on weather.  You can also purchase tethered balloon rides and an actual experience in a hot air balloon, so if you're interested (and brave enough!) check their site for details.

This was a shot of the shark balloon from years past.  See how the sky got really gray?  Keep in mind that the balloons will NOT launch if there is a threat of bad weather, rain, or even wind.  So when you go, there is NO guarantee that you will see the balloons launch.  We were able to see them launch, but the shark, he stayed grounded.  Whether it was the approaching gray skies or the sheer size of him, I don't know what kept sharky grounded.  But it made for a good picture.  Here's a link to the special balloon shapes to be featured at this year's festival:

Anyway, I have friends who loooove the sponsor/vendor section of this event.  As you walk through, you are bombarded with freebies- all companies, businesses, organizations, sponsors, etc. who really, really want you to try their products.  The year we went we sampled new ice pops, M&M's, new flavors of Pepsi, potato chips and more.  They even give you free bags to put all of your goodies in.  So that was kind of fun.  My son skipped the rides and bounce houses because it was ridiculously hot, but he did go on a little pony ride, took his picture next to a monster truck, (free) and toured an RV (which was actually pretty cool, and free, too!).  Later on we paid $1 to have him run around inside a giant hot air balloon that was on its side so the kids could see what it looked like.  He enjoyed that, but it was really hot in there!

A Note About Food

We found the Quick Chek food tent to be really crowded and they had actually run out of a lot of things by the time we got there (we went on the final day of the festival, Sunday evening).  There were other barbeque type stands to get food at the festival but we couldn't seem to find an open one.  There were other small food stands selling lemonade and funnel cakes but they were closing or closed when we attended late on that Sunday afternoon.  Again, this is just my experience.  I have had friends attend on the other days with no problems getting food (although they did admit food was expensive).

The Balloon Launch

Eventually we made our way over to the field to watch where the balloons would launch.  It was pretty empty there but filled up quickly.  People seemed to know to bring blankets and chairs or things to sit on.  We just stood.  The balloons are beyond a fence and there is a DJ playing music and announcing their progress.  We were so hot and it seemed like it took forever, but eventually, the balloons started to fill and some of them started to float into the sky.
I have to be honest, it was an amazing sight to see.

Each year they have new shaped balloons.  These were some of ours that year.  But all of them are beautiful.
Eventually we decided to head towards the parking area, along with everyone else.  The sky was filled with balloons!
And pretty soon the parking lot was filled with people.  Because we were there on the very last day of the festival, and now it was basically over (there wasn't even a concert scheduled that night), everyone was leaving at exactly the same time.  We live about ten minutes from the festival grounds.  I kid you not that it took us over TWO HOURS to get home that night.  It was awful!  My son was hot and tired, crying in the back seat, and I'll never forget that one police officer directing traffic who just would not let us turn down the street we needed to get home.  "Please, officer, I have a little boy in the car, we just need to go down this road and we'll be home..."  Nope, no dice for him.  "You must turn that way," he ordered in a not-so-nice voice, sending us in the opposite direction with the rest of the traffic and dooming us to be stuck in a long line of cars for two hours.  Oh well.  We made it home eventually.  But sadly, because of that traffic, (and that police officer!  Hmph!), we have yet to return to the festival.  It was enough to make us not want to try again another year!  Especially since last year, during one of the festival days, we were treated to this on our street:
There were so many balloons over our house that year, my son even got to help fold one of them up (in his pajamas, no less!).  So I guess we're a little spoiled in the balloon department!

Jersey Momma Tips for Attending the Festival of Ballooning

*I honestly don't recommend attending the festival on its final day for an evening launch if you have little ones in tow.  The traffic was just too much.  I have heard that the morning launches are very peaceful and then you have the rest of the day to wander around to the tents, but I have never gotten up that early for one myself!  Or perhaps try an evening launch, but not on the final day.  Even better, look into the shuttle bus service.  That's how I would do it if I went again, for sure.

*scope out your map and food sources.  Like I said, we had trouble finding open food venues, but I think this was due to the day/time we attended.  But know ahead of time what food to look for and that should help.

*purchase your tickets in advance at any local Quick Chek and save on postage fees (instead of ordering online)

*check out the FAQ section of their website for info on the balloon launches and purchasing balloon rides yourself:

*bring your camera!  It really is a sight to behold.

Monday, July 14, 2014

How to Throw an Art Party for Kids

We're taking a little break from traveling today because we're in party mode in this house!  The Jersey Momma's Boy has a summer birthday, and every year I take extra care in planning it.

Throwing a Theme Party (at a glance!)

The parties usually have a theme.  His first birthday was a Yo Gabba Gabba motif and the whole family was invited.  I'm lucky to have a super talented sister who constructed this 4 foot tall Plex Robot to greet guests.  Here he is in her garage before the party:
Looks like Plex is just hangin' out and havin' a Coke!
Year 2 was a Robot party, complete with giant robot dude to greet family and friends:
robot cut-out
And of course the cake had to match...
robot cake

Year 3 was a Train theme, and we were so grateful that our friend Jelene let us use her adorable train graphic as the centerpiece of the party!

                                       I blurred out the Jersey Momma Boy's name, just in case you were wondering.

Year 4 was an Angry Birds party at a local bounce house place.  This was the first time I noticed that the Jersey Momma's Boy had a little bit of anxiety at public parties.

                 Angry Birds party favors
Angry Birds goodie bags and cupcakes were the highlight of the party!  The cupcake toppers were actually plastic rings that the kids could wear!  For more on how to dye cupcakes in bright colors, check out my entry on rainbow cupcakes from March.
Angry Birds cupcake toppers
And then year 5 arrived, and the Jersey Momma's Boy asked if he could have his party at home, old school style.  He really, really wanted an Art themed party.  And that's where this entry finally begins!

How to Throw an Art Party for Kids

The party was for 4-5 year olds with a couple of younger siblings thrown in the mix, so I had to come up with simple, quick projects that would keep everyone occupied.  The teacher in me went into organizing mode, so I created four centers (let's call them "stations" so we don't feel like we're in school) and figured I would divide the kids up into groups of 4 as they arrived.  The early birds could start at the coloring station so that they'd have something to do as others filtered in:
coloring station
Each station was decorated with bright colors and set up in advance with all of the necessary supplies.
art party games
 The first station was a bag decorating station (using stickers and construction paper crayons) so they would have somewhere to put all of their creations as they finished them:
The next station was a "Sand Art" creation.  It's not really sand.  I made each color using salt and chalk, which is much cheaper.  For more on how to make your own "Sand" Art, check out this entry:  DIY Sand Art, for Real!
art party
Our next station was for Home-made Spin Art.  This is soooo easy and you can find out how to do it by reading this entry:  Rainy Day Craft Break: DIY Spin Art
DIY spin art
The last station was a little rainbow craft using paper plates, markers and cotton balls.
Oh, and don't forget those little siblings I mentioned!  I had a few guests coming that were under the age of 4, and I knew they might not be able to do all of the art projects or stay focused on them.  So I set up a sensory table near the sofas, filled with rainbow rice.  Believe it or not, this actually occupied them for most of the party!  You can read about how to make Rainbow Rice here:  How to Make Rainbow Rice
art party rainbow rice

Goodie Bags

You have two options for goodie bags (well, you have as many options as you want but I chose from two options!).  My first thought was to have an Art Supply Bar, and fill bowls with different art supplies:  markers, crayons, erasers, pencils, play dough, etc.  But the Jersey Grandmomma argued that kids this age would not know to take one of each item and that they might fight over colors.  So I wound up just putting a handful of art supplies in little clear bags and tying it off with a ribbon.  This was relatively inexpensive, since you could split up one package of markers and crayons to get the supplies you wanted for each goodie bag.

Jersey Momma Tips:

  • I had "extra" time fillers planned since I knew the projects probably wouldn't take two hours.  So we also played COLOR BINGO, danced to some favorite hands-on tunes, and took turns hitting a rainbow colored star pinata (you could also play simon says or something simple to fill time)
  • We just had cupcakes for dessert and pizza as our main meal.  The cupcakes had rainbow sprinkles to keep the theme going
  • I had a station of extra supplies, scissors and glue handy in case I needed anything at the last minute
  • Be sure to label each child's project with their name before they start making it in case they leave it behind, or in case they need to come back and get it after it dries.
  • For the Spin Art, I ran and put each painted piece outside so it would be dry in time for them to take home
  • If you can get friends to help you, it helps to have someone "man" each station.  It helps to have an adult in charge at each station to help with craft creation!
Be sure to have sample projects done at each station so you know how to make each craft in advance and so the little ones know what the finished product will look like.  Have fun!!!!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Hotel Hershey vs. The Hershey Lodge - Which to Choose? (part 2)

If you're planning a trip to Hershey, Pennsylvania and you're not sure which hotel to stay at, The Jersey Momma is here to help!  Part 1 of my blog series was a review on The Hershey Lodge.  If you haven't read that yet, be sure to check it out here:  The Hotel Hershey vs. The Hershey Lodge - Which to Choose? (part 1)  Now, on to the Hotel Hershey!
Whenever I mention the Hotel Hershey to someone, the first thing they say is, "Oh, it's so expensive!" And it is.  But it's also awesome.  And beautiful.  I've been there Spring, Winter and Summer, and I haven't been disappointed yet.  They do offer deals on their website, especially some money saving packages, and rates vary based on which nights you stay (weekends are more expensive), so do your research for your best price!

Check-in has always been fast, easy and friendly for us.  They give you a choice of a free Hershey's milk or dark chocolate bar (which I allow myself to eat immediately).  At the Lodge they gave us a free bar, too, but not a choice of milk or dark (just milk!).

The Hotel Hershey

The Hotel Hershey is located on top of a hill overlooking Hershey Gardens and pretty much all of Hershey itself.

If you walk down the hill to the Gardens, you can view all of Hershey Park.  During the winter time, you can see parts of Hershey Sweet Lights from different parts of the hotel (you can read my review of Hershey Sweet Lights here).  The Hotel Hershey is a gorgeous, old hotel, rich in history and beauty.

The Grounds

I didn't write too much about the grounds of the Hershey Lodge because there wasn't much to see.  But here, you can spend some time walking around and see some beautiful sights.  As I mentioned before, Hershey Gardens sit at the foot of its entrance (but you can take a shuttle or drive if you don't want to walk).  If you walk behind the hotel you'll find beautifully manicured decorative gardens and lawns, as well as giant koi ponds FULL of fish (and I mean FULL, they practically flop all over each other).
Can you spot the duck in there?

Head down the stone staircase and you'll find the year-round "ice" rink (not really ice but synthetic), which is available to guests year round.  It's equally pretty at night, especially at Christmas:
You'll find their kids' club and their amazingly awesome outdoor pool (but more on that later).  The grounds are just beautiful.  But I said that already, didn't I?
Harvest restaurant sits in its own building near the pool, and beyond that, even more!  The Hershey Hotel cottages (I have always wanted to stay in one of these!  Can you imagine the fun with family members?), tennis courts and volleyball courts lie beyond that.  All peaceful, quiet, well-manicured.  The fire pits for s'mores roasting sit behind Harvest, with cozy rocking chairs to chill out in.

The Rooms at The Hotel Hershey

Every time we have stayed at The Hotel Hershey, we've stayed in their west wing.  The rooms are beautiful.  Newly updated, sparkling clean, spacious.  I love the personal touches from the cleaning staff.  They leave Hershey Kisses by your bed and little fact cards about Milton Hershey or quotes from the man himself.

(Look at how they folded the Jersey Momma's Boy's blankies!)

I even love the amenities, which come from the Hershey Spa (the Hershey Lodge also has "chocolate" amenities, like cocoa scrub soaps and shampoos, but they are slightly different at The Hotel Hershey).

They also leave this amazingly soft robe for you to use (which you can also purchase).  

Activities at The Hotel Hershey

Both Hershey hotels go out of their way to make your stay special.  They have lots of activities for families and children, including s'mores roasting, chocolate bingo, games and more.  The concierge is also very helpful in planning activities.

The Hotel Hershey has a kids club and outdoor playground, as well.

Pools at The Hotel Hershey

There is an indoor pool and an outdoor pool at The Hotel Hershey.  The indoor pool was recently remodeled and I have not seen it since its refurbishment.  If you have any comments to add about the new remodeling for 2014, please add them below!  Before the refurbishment, the indoor pool looked like this, and you could even reserve a room that had indoor pool access (a door leading right into the indoor pool area):
(Notice I'm wearing that awesome robe I mentioned?)
The outdoor pool is incredible.  It boasts a GIANT waterslide for kids Reeses height and up (Hershey Park bases their rides on a height system- kids 42" and taller are considered Reeses).
It has zero entry, fountains, and a mushroom water umbrella.  Towards the deep end there are water "cannons" for the kids to play with (like water guns mounted on the side of the pool)
Beside the pool you'll find a sprayground with fountains to play in for the little ones:
You can rent a cabana here for a sum, and poolside bar service is always available for all patrons. 

Beyond the main pool there is an adults only pool, as well (you can guess that I didn't get to use that one, being the Jersey Momma and everything).

There is a large locker room with attendants to help you as needed.  There is also a locker room at The Hershey Lodge but it is smaller.

In my humble opinion, this incredible pool is one of the main draws of The Hotel Hershey.  This is a 5-star pool and is part of what you pay for with your room rate.  You can spend all day in this pool and then some.  Relaxing, comfortable, fun- I can't say enough good things about it!

Dining at The Hotel Hershey

The Hotel Hershey has five restaurants.  The Cocoa Beanery (a small coffee shop serving coffee, light breakfasts, sandwiches and beverages), Trevi 5 (an italian restaurant with outstanding thin crust pizza), The Iberian Lounge (not quite as kid-friendly, a bar atmosphere serving food and drinks), Harvest (the restaurant outside the hotel serving local fare and fresh food- delicious!), and The Circular (which boasts an outstanding breakfast buffet, or try their Hershey Kiss shaped waffles with chocolate butter-YUM!).
(outside view of The Circular- see it?  It's circular!  lol)

Shopping at The Hotel Hershey

There are six shops at The Hotel Hershey.  You can find them all listed here.  I'm a souvenir shopper, so I LOVE this about the hotel.  If you have some leisure time, it's nice to sneak down to the lobby and check out the shops.  It's one of my favorite things to do if I get a moment to myself.  The Lodge has one souvenir shop, which suited my husband and son just fine.

The Spa at The Hotel Hershey

Would you believe in all of my visits to the hotel, I have never been to their world famous chocolate spa?  Yes, -insert tiny violin playing here- I have walked past it, peeked in, read all about it, watched documentaries about it, but never set foot in there myself!  I have friends who have gone and they say it's amazing.  I'll have to take their word for it.

Shuttles and Transportation at The Hotel Hershey

As I've said before, one of the best things about staying at the Hershey hotels is their transportation system.  Shuttles run constantly throughout the day and into the night.  They literally take you right up to the entrance of Hershey Park/Chocolate World.  The shuttles are air-conditioned and comfortable.

The shuttle ride to the park from the Hotel Hershey (and back) is significantly shorter than the ride from the Lodge to the park.  The Hershey Hotel sits right above the park and is a quick drive up the hill, whereas the drive to the Lodge can take more than ten-fifteen minutes, depending upon traffic and season.  This might not seem like a big deal, but when you are tired and hot, or toting little ones around, sometimes you just want to get back to that hotel ASAP!  It's also nice if you want to take a "quick" trip down to Chocolate World to do some last minute shopping at night, like my mom did.  She was there and back in less than an hour.

You can also take the shuttle to the gardens and other attractions at Hershey, right from the hotel.  Check with the front desk about which shuttles to take and when.

Off-season the shuttle schedules vary, so always ask ahead about when to catch your ride.

Other Jersey Momma Tips

*Guests of the Hershey hotels receive perks at Hershey Park.  Check with concierge at check-in, but some guests are able to have early access to the park or can select a free preview of the park after a certain hour.  On our last visit we were able to preview the park for free after 6:30pm, then use our regular ticket the next day.  It was almost like being able to visit the park twice for one price!

*I once visited the Hershey Hotel off-season, in April.  Hershey Park was not yet open for the season, but lucky me, a private group had rented the park out for the weekend, thereby entitling hotel guests to visit the park as well.  I will never forget the sheer excitement of this, and how empty the park was, and how amazing it felt to ride the roller coasters practically all alone!

*You can also read my review of Hershey at Christmas: Candy Lane (part one)  and my review of Hershey at Christmas:  Hershey Sweet Lights (part two).