Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Heavenly Gondolas at South Lake Tahoe

Although our family is on a budget, it doesn't mean we can't spend money. Three activites we were deciding between were the Heavenly Gondolas ($32/adults, $26/teens), MS Dixie Paddlewheeler ($35 w/AAA discount), and renting a speedboat for two hours ($340/ten people or $34 each). While none of these was cheap, we chose the Heavenly Gondolas not only because it was the least exepnsive, but because most of us had not gone on these particular gondolas before in good weather.

The enclosed tram took us up 9000 feet to an observation platform. We experienced spectacular views of Lake Tahoe and the surrounding mountains. Blue skies reflected in the lake and we could clearly see boats, Tahoe Keys, and the casinos at Stateline. We enjoyed posing for a professional group photo ($20 for four photos of various sizes in a keepsake folder), petting a baby raccoon, browsing the gift shop and drinking hot chocolate at the snack bar.

We reboarded the gondolas and traveled further up the mountain to Adventure Peak. During the winter, skiers disembark here for intermediate and advanced downhill skiing. But in the summer, visitors can hike the trails, as well as climb a rock wall ($10), or eat at the Adventure Grill. Some of us took naps in the sunshine on comfortable Adirondack-style chairs while others hiked to a point overlooking Carson Valley. In the middle of June, snow still covered some of the trails. If our teens were younger, they would have enjoyed climbing a net maze to glide down a giant slide (free for kids 12 and under).

Traveling to the top of the mountain on the gondolas was the highlight of our trip. The great weather and scenic beauty combined with friendly rangers and amenities made for a great family outing.

Next: Dining on a Budget at South Lake Tahoe

Friday, June 25, 2010

Eight Free or Inexpensive Family Summer Activities in South Lake Tahoe

My extended family just returned from a short vacation in beautiful South Lake Tahoe. Our group included teenagers, adults and one senior. As with many families during these tough economic times, we searched for free or inexpensive activities all could enjoy. Here is a partial list of what we did or wanted to do, but didn't have time for (not in any particular order):

1) Tallac Historic Site: I never knew this existed until this year. Three estates within a short walking distance from each other are free to explore on the outside. $5 ($3 for kids) tours of the Pope Estate are given every day except Tuesdays during the summer. Picturesque ponds, gardens and historic vehicles are on display. Paved flat paths are easy even for small children. Parking is free.

2) Kiva Beach: Parking is free. We didn't go here, but saw the parking lot was fairly full.

3) Baldwin Beach: Parking is $7. We go here every time we visit Tahoe. It is our favorite beach because it is quiet, clean, and the bathrooms are close by. Pope Beach is also $7 for parking. You can puchase one parking pass and visit both beaches on the same day.

4) Watched a movie in our hotel room. We stayed at the Embassy Suites and eight of us watched Date Night for $12.99. That's $1.62 each! We also ate a free full breakfast every morning. Yum!

5) Harrah's Arcade: We found coupons near the concierge desk at our hotel for $10 worth of arcade tokens for $5. Some of us took the teenagers to the arcade while other adults gambled. I think they went through the tokens in about half an hour, then took another fifteen minutes deciding what they wanted to exchange their tickets for.

6) Explore Tahoe Interpretive Center: Between our hotel and the Heavenly Gondolas is a roundish building with a colored sidewalk leading up to it. The Interpretive Center is geared mainly for younger children, but our teens enjoyed reading and playing with the exhibits. A scale model of Lake Tahoe with points of interest lights up when you press buttons. Floor puzzles and coloring can keep young ones busy. Admission is free.

7) Cascade Falls: Near Cascade Lake. We didn't go here, but will save it for next time. A short, moderate hike leads up to a series of waterfalls. Free.

8) Taylor Creek Visitor Center/Rainbow Trail: Another interpretive center and easy, flat, paved trail. We will save for next time. Free.

Directions and other info to all these places can be found on the Internet.

Travel articles are not the usual topics of my blog, but I thought reviews of the different places we visited would be helpful for families planning a trip to South Lake Tahoe this summer. We went when it was relatively uncrowded, but as the summer wears on, the number of visitors will increase.
Next: The Heavenly Gondolas: Not Cheap, but Relatively Inexpensive

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Karate Kid Is Kicking

When I first heard they were remaking The Karate Kid starring Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan, I thought, how can they call it Karate Kid when Jackie Chan does kung fu? I wasn't planning to see it, but got to view it for free when my nephew's kung fu academy performed before a showing.

I thought the opening scene was a good way to show backstory without telling it. Young Dre (Jaden Smith) stares at a growth chart marked on the wall. Milestones in his life and the dates are penciled in. In 2007, his daddy died. He measures himself and writes "Moved to China." That's all you need to know at the beginning.

Jaden's Dre is a very likeable character. At twelve years old, he is still a very sweet-looking boy. Dre is bullied by bigger boys who know kung fu. He persuades Mr. Han (Jackie Chan) to teach him kung fu so he won't be afraid of them. I had no problem with the bullies being Chinese, after all, they are in China.

If you've seen the original Karate Kid, you might remember catching flies with chopsticks, "wax on, wax off," and the crane position. The new version pays homage to these scenes in humorous ways.

I thought the movie was good. I wasn't sure if my teenage daughter would like it since she's not into martial arts movies, but she really enjoyed it, partly because there were lots of Chinese people in it.

I can understand from a marketing viewpoint that the name Karate Kid was kept to reboot the franchise and draw people in. There was one line in the movie drawing attention to the fact that karate and kung fu are not the same. But hopefully, the majority of viewers will be made aware there's a difference.

All in all, The Karate Kid is a good family movie. There's not a lot of blood, but some of the violence may be too much for younger viewers. My husband wants to buy the DVD when it comes out.