Category: Been There Done That

BTDT: Watkins Regional Park, Maryland

Am I the last person in the state of Maryland who has never taken the kid to Watkins Regional Park? Holy moly, what a hidden gem.

We had Veteran’s Day off and the weather was perfect – chilly and cloudy, but warm enough for just a sweatshirt. Perfect playground weather! I’ve heard good things about Watkins Park, or the Wizard of Oz Park, but I was blown away.


It’s tucked away in Upper Marlboro off of Central Avenue and the park has camping, a carousel and even a train – but the playground is worth the trip alone.  It was closed from January to June 2015 for multi-million dollar renovations and reopened with a cool Wizard of Oz theme.  Think the ruby slippers, yellow brick road, Emerald City and Aunt Em’s farm.

I was a little worried when we pulled up and saw tons of cars, but once we go into the playground it hardly felt crowded. There were lots of parents chatting while the kids ran around being kids.  Mike was beyond excited. I recommend if you have a toddler team up with a partner and wear your jogging shoes.It can be pretty overwhelming!

A few things I liked: 

Well, it is no secret I love a theme. They even had stand alone posts with excerpts from the book at each play structure.

The bouncy, cushy ‘floor‘. What IS that material? When I was a kid we had nothing to cushion our landing or wood chips which was equally painful.

The bathroom is RIGHT THERE. I didn’t have a chance to go inside, but it is good to note for potty training ages how convenient it is.

The bells! Mike loved the huge bells. What a cool, unique activity.

The details. From the ‘faces’ on the trees to the small interactive activities to the tadpole steps. There was something cool around every corner.


Quick and Dirty:
Cost: Nada!
Age Group? Fun for all ages
Parking? I would say on a busy day it would be a tight fit, but it’s a parking lot.
Food Options? None near the playground, but fast food options nearby. There are picnic shelters to reserve. There are lots of benches for a quick snack.
Stroller Friendly? 100%
Changing Tables? I didn’t go into the bathroom, but I am going to assume so.
Safety: As safe as a playground can be.
See you there? You bet!


Been There, Done That: Cub Run RECcenter, Chantilly, VA

One of the things I am going to miss about living in Northern Virginia is the Cub Run RECcenter. I grew up in a rural area and the only ‘rec center’ we had was the armory which had a basketball court or the YMCA in the next town over. The YMCA had a lap pool, but we didn’t belong and I probably only went a handful of times for birthday parties.

We discovered Cub Run when we wanted to sign Mikey up for swimming ‘lessons’ when he was 6 months. I think the first time we pulled into the parking lot both S. and I said ‘whoa’ at the same time. It was a huge, new building with an enclosed water slide protruding from the side.


Inside the door the smell of chlorine will hit you, but the lobby is beautiful with a wall of windows looking into a very clean, spacious fitness center. The pool is downstairs and it is not JUST a pool. It’s a leisure pool with a 30-foot-high slide that snakes outside the building. It’s a 20-foot-high slide with an open tube, It’s a spa, a vortex, a lazy river, and an open shallow water area with a water playground. What’s a water playground? It’s a zero depth entry pool with a small slide and water spray features.  Basically – it’s a kid’s dream and parent’s oasis.

Of course, there is a lap pool on the other side, but for the sake of a review, let’s pretend everyone has a baby or toddler.

After paying our $8 per adult (in county fee) since we aren’t members and high-fiving that Mike’s admission is free (kids under 4), we needed to change. There is a big locker room and four family changing rooms with a personal bathroom, changing tables and a shower. During peak times there might be a wait, but in the dozen times we’ve been I don’t remember a long wait to change. Don’t forget to pack your swim diapers! It’s a rule.

Mike loves the water and thankfully it is pretty warm so there isn’t the shock of getting in. We’ve gone a few different times during the day and it is never really packed. Make sure you check the schedule though, on the weekends they are closed for lessons before noon, then it’s open swim.

Mike really enjoys putting his finger over the water sprays and trying to figure out how to run in the water. We took him around the bend to the ‘deep’ end and he enjoyed it just as much. It’s a really well laid out pool. His threshold is about an hour and a half before the water and white noise of kids makes him really sleepy. It’s a challenge to keep him awake until we get home.

At 45 minutes after the hour, the lifeguards take a break for 15 minutes which is just enough time to use the bathroom and dry off a little bit. If you don’t want to rent a locker, there are plenty of cubbies in the pool area to stow your stuff and keep an eye on it while swimming.

Cub Run RECcenter is our go-to for some fun on a cold or rainy day.

Quick and Dirty:
CostWe pay $8 per adult and kids under 4 are free
Age Group? Fun for all ages
Parking? A lot of spots in a parking lot
Food Options? Nope! Unless you are having a party or buy ice cream bars from the front desk, the pool is a no food zone.
Stroller Friendly? I am going to say yes. You probably don’t want to take it to the pool, but there is room to stow one.
Changing Tables? Yep! In both men and women’s bathrooms
Safety: Lots of lifeguards and life vests in a variety of sizes to use.
See you there? For sure.

Been There Done That: Frying Pan Park

I can not sing Frying Pan Park’s praises loud enough. S. and I have been visiting since before Mike was born because it’s just a nice place to walk around and chat. It’s easy to forget this 107 acre farm is set in the middle of Herndon – a few blocks from Shoppers Food Warehouse, Golds Gym and Babies R Us.

Since Mike’s arrival, we’ve been twice. Once when he was a few weeks old, and then more recently. Both times we packed a picnic lunch, threw out our blanket and hung out in the sunshine before walking around. Food is allowed and encouraged. Every time we’ve been there the picnic tables are birthday party ready and kids are running around the grassy areas playing games. There is a lot of room to run without stepping on someone.

frying pan

We went over to Kidwell Farm, which is home to goats, pigs, horses, cows, chickens, peacocks and the pardoned turkeys. Yes. The turkeys the President so kindly pardons on Thanksgiving lives our their golden years at Frying Pan Park. Everything is very spaced out with lots of room to walk with strollers. The barn even has step stools for the short kids and hand sanitizer for the parents. Feeling adventurous? They have daily cow milking!

Aside from living things to watch, there are plenty of replica buildings to explore – a cider press, smoke house and more. Swing by the garden too and see what is growing. The fun part of Frying Pan is it is a working farm, so what is being done there is being sold or used locally. Every so often we would get to the general store before the fresh eggs were sold.

Before you plan your trip, check out the birthing schedule and see what babies might be out and about! There are also a lot of events for all ages like riding lessons at the Equestrian Center, learning how the farm machines work and the 4-H Carnival and Fair.

On the other side of the parking lot is a working depression era carousel, a modern playground, wagon rides and a the general store.

Quick and Dirty:
Cost: Free! But the wagon and carousel ride are a small fee
Age Group? Fun for all ages
Parking? Plentiful in a dusty lot
Food Options? Pack a picnic or hit the small general store for bottled water or a Nutty Buddy.
Stroller Friendly? I am going to say yes. Wide walking paths of paved dirt
Changing Tables? Yep! In both men and women’s bathrooms
Safety: As safe as you can be on a working farm
See you there? For sure.

Been There, Done That: Yankey Farm’s Pumpkin Patch

Having a toddler is so, SO much fun! Especially now that he is walking and exploring and figuring things out for himself. Which leads us to doing more family activities on the weekend. There are lots of awesome fall festivals going on this month, but we were looking for something low key that would be fun for an hour or so and have us home before nap time. Pumpkin picking was the obvious choice.

Like I said, there are lots of fall festival and pumpkin patches, but they all had an entry fee and all I could picture was lots of people and parking lots. Don’t get me wrong – next year we will be all about that, but if I am paying $10 per person for a festival, I want everyone to have fun and for Mike, it would be too much this year.

I did a little Googling and found Yankey Farms in Nokesville, Virginia which is about 20 minutes from us (but feels like a whole other planet). They have 2 stands, and the pumpkins are at the Vint Hill Road location. At that location they also have prepicked pumpkins, a corn maze, cow train and kid’s play area with a corn box.


It could not have been a prettier day, so we headed over to Yankey Farms. We were there when they opened and grabbed a wagon to head over to the patch. It didn’t take long for us to find the perfect pumpkins since they were all as pretty as a pumpkin could be.



The maze, cow train and kids area were $2 each and well worth it. Poor S. I made him go on the cow train with Mike and from what I gather, they had a fun time. Mike was, as predicted, more interested in how the tractor worked then taking in the beautiful scenery. The ride was about 15 minutes, so well worth the cost.


The play area had a small hay maze and slide, which Mike had no interest in because they had a big corn box with toy trucks. I think this is the best idea ever – instead of messy sand, the box will filled with dry corn. Once he figured it out, Mike kept raking his hands through it.


After about an hour we headed to pay for our 3 pumpkins and it was a bargain at 49 cents a pound. The total cost was about $9, a fraction of what it would have cost if we got a pumpkin from the grocery store. The whole experience was about $20 and we had a tired, happy pumpkin hunter when we got home.


Quick and Dirty: 
Cost? Price for pumpkin, play area, cow train, maze. No entry fee
Age Group? All ages!
Parking? Plenty in the grass/dirt lot
Food Options? Nope
Stroller Friendly? Debatable. I would say skip the stroller and either use the wagon they provide or a carrier.
Changing Tables? Nope! A porta-potty
Safety: As safe as you could imagine a pumpkin patch on a main road could be.
See you there? You bet! It was a lot of fun.


Been There, Done That: Udvar Hazy Museum

One would think that living in the DC Metro Area we are ‘downtown’ on the weekends taking advantage of the free museums, live music, outside dining, and beautiful, historic monuments. Sadly, most people who don’t live IN Washington DC will tell you this is not true. Even before Mike arrived S. and I rarely made the trek downtown. The Metro, though convenient, is really a pain in the butt and, if I am being honest, the city is full of people.  In the summers, it is swarming with tourists and the rest of the year it is full of field trips. There is hardly an ideal time to hit up the museums to avoid crowds. Also, S. and I both grew up within a two hour drive of the Smithsonian Institute, so we have seen it a hundred times thanks to those exciting field trips. 
However, 10 minutes from our house is the Udvar Hazy Air and Space Museum. A taste of the Smithsonian without the Metro! We first visited when Mike was just a month old. We really wanted to get out of the house and practice maneuvering in the land of the living with an infant. We decided to go back again over the July 4th weekend – almost exactly a year later and had a fun time. 
Like all the Smithsonian, UHASM is free admission – after you pay the $15 for parking. It’s about what it would cost for the metro ride downtown and the parking lot is huge, so we can overlook it. No food or drink, but they have a McDonald’s onsite, or you can indulge in space ice cream from the gift shop. We were able to bring in one sealed bottle of water and an empty sippy cup for Mike. There is also a lot of shade and picnic tables outside if you want to take a break for lunch. 
The museum is a great size – you can walk the whole thing in about two hours. S. is a  fan of space travel, I have no interest in anything air OR space related, but it’s a great walk and interesting none the less. They have a few cool features – an IMAX for the older bunch, an observation tower linked to Dulles Airport (no strollers allowed so be prepared to leave it in the ‘stroller parking lot’) and the restoration hanger where you can watch them work on old stuff during the week. According to their site, they also have learning labs and events. 
As most people with a little one, we got there right as it opened to beat the crowds. It was July 4th weekend and though we weren’t the first ones there by any stretch, it didn’t feel crowded. 
This time Mike was awake and a few times we let him out of the stroller to toddle around. He loved it! Since not many people were there, there was a lot of open space to run around. Most of the exhibits have interactive kiosks so he found that fascinating as well.  Just keep an eye on the short kids. The exhibits have a small partition that Mike could have easily crawled under. There were plenty of big, clean bathrooms with a changing table in both men and women’s restrooms. 
Udvar Hazy is a great, inexpensive stop for families with kids of all ages. The littlest of kids will sleep while you get some exercise in, the elementary school age will like the exhibits (or space ice cream) and watching the airplanes come in, the middlers and high schoolers will find the exhibits interesting and really like the IMAX.  
You can do the whole thing in a couple hours and be home before nap time. When we were leaving the parking lot capacity had tripled, but there was no line at security.
Quick and Dirty: 
Cost? Free, but parking is $15. Additional cost for simulators, IMAX and food
Age Group? Depends on the goal. Suitable for ALL ages
Parking? Plenty, $15
Food Options? Meh. McDonalds or space ice cream
Stroller Friendly? Yes, very. Wide walking paths, big bathrooms, elevators and ramps
Changing Tables? Yep, in both bathrooms
Safety: Debatable. Plenty of security and staff milling around, but the exhibits have open railings. So a little one could get curious and duck underneath.
See you there? Yep! It’s worth a once a year trip. Expect to find us when they open.

Been There, Done That: Atlantis Water Park, Centreville, VA

When S. and I were dating, we loved going to Fairfax County’s small ‘water parks’. Especially ones with wave pools or lazy rivers. Now that Mike is a water lover it adds a whole new element to our water park journeys.

On July 4th we opted to go to Atlantis Water Park at Bull Run in Manassas. Mainly because kids under 2 get in for free (adults are $6.75) and it’s about 10 minutes from our apartment. They have a large pool, a water slide, a splash pad, a sand pit, and a kiddie pool.  We stayed for about an hour and it was well worth the price of admission.
We got there right as they opened (as per our usual MO) and there was a short line, but a lot of people were turning around and kids crying. Uh oh. Turns out the main pool had a ‘problem’ and was closed. On a holiday weekend no less. However, the splash pad and the kiddie pool were open which is all we wanted to do anyway.
There was plenty of seating, shade and room for a stroller. We immediately got into the kiddie pool and Mike had a hard time adjusting. It was windy and we think that might have had an impact on his fun level since he was shivering. He walked around with Dad in the shallow kiddie pool and then we walked over to the splash pad.
The splash pad looked like so much fun! A bell rang warning people to either run closer or run away from the massive bucket that dumped water all over anxious, laughing kids and some adults. There were places to slide down, climb up and stand under streams of water. While Mike wasn’t a fan of getting his face wet, he liked ‘helping’ pull the rope that turned the water on and got Momma wet.
The splash pad also had small water spurts that Mike liked putting his hand over.
A few things of note for your trip to Atlantis:
  • No food or drink is allowed in the park, but we were able to bring 1 bottle of water in and an empty sippy cup. They have a snack bar with the usual – hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken fingers, ice cream, etc. There is also a nice seating area where you have to eat. IF you do bring your own food, there are lots of picnic tables in the shade outside the water park.
  • Babies have to wear swim diapers and can’t go in the main pool. There is also big locker room with showers and changing tables. Plus you can buy the diapers, sunscreen, etc at the front desk if you forgot anything. Oh, and they will check their bag when you come in.
  • Each section of the park is enclosed with a latching gate. So if you have a wanderer you don’t have to worry TOO much about him finding his way from the kiddie pool to the main pool. Not advocating you take a nap in the sun while your toddler plays in the water, but you know what I mean.
  • If you are not a Fairfax County resident you have to pay to to enter the park AND the water park.
  • There was an abundance of staff members and lifeguards, even around the main pool that was closed.
Quick and Dirty: 
Cost? Affordable (1 kid, 2 adults, no extras = $14)
Age Group? All ages.
Parking? Parking lot’s free with plenty of spots and shade.
Food Options? You can’t bring your own in but the snack bar had kid friendly options.
Stroller Friendly? Very. Lots of flat, wide walkways and room to ‘park’.
Changing Tables? Yes, in both men and women’s locker rooms.
Safety: Lots of lifeguards, staff and gates.
See you there? You bet! As long as you are there when it opens.


For the Cinema Deprived Folks

I went to see Catching Fire with Mike! Yes. An adult movie. With a 5 month old. And no mean glares!

Before S and I got married we went to the movies all the time. After we got married, we went less often, but it was still something we enjoyed. In fact, we saw quite a few movies right before Mike was born. I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss seeing movies in a theater. Enter The Angelika Film Center located in new Mosaic District in Fairfax, VA.

My UU friend Rebekah mentioned that she went to a ‘cry baby’ showing of a film when Miss Vin was just a few weeks old. My ears perked up and I did some quick research. Theaters around the country realize that parents want to see movies and don’t always want to pay for a babysitter. Or stay-at-home parents need something to pass the cold days.  When Rebekah invited Mike, our mutual friend Jessica and her little one Miss Sarah, to join her to see Catching Fire – I couldn’t say no. I love me some Peeta.

I was a little anxious – what if Mike cried? What is he pooped? What if he acted like a BABY?! But the rational side of me knew it would be a theater full of babies who cry and poop, so away we went. I made sure I had bottles, pacifiers, my Baby K’Tan and wore my teething necklace. In reality I seriously over packed.

When we walked in, I had Mike in the wrap and we were greeted with dozens of women pushing strollers, drinking coffee from the ‘gourmet snack bar’. We got our tickets and went up to the theater. Sidebar: If you go to the Angelika, all seats are assigned. Which is really nice!

Inside the theater it was like a parking lot of strollers and parents chatting. The lights weren’t out, but dimmed just enough to see the movie, but not enough that I couldn’t find a bottle in my diaper bag. Also, the sound was lower than usual, but it wasn’t noticeable right away.

Mike was very curious about everything – the babies around us, the screen, the lighting fixtures …. he had his bottle, I went to change his diaper and he snuggled right in and slept the rest of the movie. A pro! And yes, babies around us were fussy, but as any momma will tell you, if it isn’t your baby, it’s just background noise. No one was hysterical or fussy for long. I left feeling rejuvenated and like an adult who did an adult thing.

Here are my tips for a cry baby movie:

  • Pack accordingly, but don’t over pack. Bring the usual stuff (diapers, bottles, etc) and a small toy and pacifier
  • Wear your baby. Seriously, I saw so many wraps and it makes sense
  • Bring a teething/nursing necklace, I like these
  • Prepare to miss some of the movie to walk a fussy baby or change a diaper

I only got one good picture from the event – Jessica needed to use the bathroom before leaving, so I got to hold Miss Sarah. Mike was quite smitten!