Categories
Education Featured Parenting Summer Camps - No School Camps

Summer Camps in Howard County for Summer 2020

26+ High Quality, “Don’t Miss This”, Great Summer Camps

NOTE 1/22/20: A few of the summer camps I am listing below haven’t put up their 2020 pages yet. I will work on updating this as soon as the camps put up their offerings. This means you may encounter old information or broken links.

Summer 2020 is approaching, and so is summer vacation–so I have made a list of summer camps in Howard County (as well as near me in adjoining counties). The list of camps includes academic sessions for the many Howard County GT students, sports, drama, arts, crafts, and music.

As a former teacher, I can tell you that summer break can do some damage to your child’s academic skills.  Every year there are too many kids who come back to school with lower reading and math abilities than they left with the previous school year.

The reason this happens will be obvious to most parents who have themselves spent their childhood summers watching TV, hanging out with friends, and avoiding anything remotely academic. Some of this is great, but not too much it seems.

[Need gift ideas for the brainy kids in your life? See my list of present ideas for toddlers, kids, and teens]

Of course, there were always a few kids who did not suffer from the summer effect and still had time to relax and be kids during summer.  These were the children whose parents were on top of making sure that some of the kids’ summer experiences would actually add to what they learned in the previous school year.

With that in mind, my friends and I have been discussing all of the fun and interesting summer camp options that are available these days around Howard County, Montgomery County, and Baltimore Maryland.

Please drop me a comment if you know of ones that I missed. BTW, I am only listing camps that I have first-hand knowledge of–these aren’t paid listings, but just interesting summer camps that I think kids will actually benefit from attending–some are learning camps for gifted and talented (GT / TAG) kids, and others are just general fun camps.

[BTW, if you’re looking for birthday party ideas for kids in Howard, Baltimore, Montgomery County, or Anne Arundel County I have been keeping a list!

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  1. Idea Lab Kids – A friendly place with loads of options. Great STEM Camps in Ellicott City. Here is their 2020 camp schedule.  They also have a great aftercare program.
  2. Glenelg Country School – In Ellicott City, this school has some amazing choices for summer learning fun including in theater, GT math, dance, chess, robotics and sports. I highly recommend checking out their offerings. The school has a wonderful campus in the forest in a rural part of Ellicott City. Camps run until the end of July.
  3. Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth – Great offerings for gifted and talented kids around Maryland including classes in Baltimore and Sandy Spring Friends School.  Students must be specially admitted to the program before they can attend the summer camps, and that won’t be possible for kids who aren’t advanced in academics.  CTY camps are renowned in the USA and we’re lucky to have them right in our backyard. BTW, if you’re looking for an alternative to the CTY camps, there is also SIG Day Program at the Woods Academy in Bethesda.
  4. Camp Invention – This is a really cool idea for kids in grades 1 to 6. There currently aren’t any schools hosting this camp in Howard County, but they may be worth some travel time or could be close to mom or dad’s office. The one that I have linked is in nearby Catonsville, at Westchester Elementary.
  5. Howard Community College – These are very popular summer GT camps and summer classes–popular like a rock concert–the registration begins and ten minutes later it’s “sold out”…Check out the options.  Many of them are very good! For 2020 registration opens on January 30, 2020. Don’t miss your chance–review the options and get ready to sign up in time! 
  6. Terrapin STEM Camp – Located in Laurel at St. Marys of the Mills Elementary School, this camp offers all day long programs for grades K-5 with before and after care. Kid’s learn about several aspects of STEM each day through fun and hands on experimentation. Activities include Zome Tools (I am a fan of these!), Lego robotics, 3-D printing, and coding,
  7. Imagination Stage – This Bethesda, MD venue is a promising place for fun and creative learning. This is definitely not in Howard County or even Baltimore, but if you happen to work out that way in Montgomery County, definitely consider sending your kids there for a week or two. Registration for 2020 now open.
  8.  Howard County Art’s Council Center for the Arts–they have all sorts of art camps, including acting. There is very limited space for these summer camps that go late June until Mid August. If your child is interested in the arts, this is definitely a “don’t miss” summer camp! Registration for 2020 opened 1/3/2020.

    [Need a gift for the brainiac child in your life? I’ve handpicked over 75 educational presents.]

  9. Club SciKidz – Space explorer, science chef and other great days of fun await your child at this camp in Ellicott City. Deep space robotics? 3-D Printing? Minecraft? Emergency Vet? YES! My kids have really enjoyed their camps. Registration is now open!
  10. Columbia Academy  (Not updated for 2020!) Columbia Academy in Columbia Maryland has some wonderful summer camps for all ages of kids. For more about Columbia Academy–see my post about private schools in Howard County.
Camp IO Hands on Science and Yoga Camp in Maryland
Great Summer Camps in Central Maryland
  1. Camp IO– Yoga and science camp in Columbia, MD for kids ages 6-11. $330/week (as of January 2020.  This camp looks great for boys and girls who love science and need more balance in their lives-mandalas and model rockets, a brilliant combination! My kids have enjoyed their camps in the past (including their School’s Out camps).
  2. Howard County Conservancy has some great camps.  They are nature themed and take place in Woodstock, MD and Elkridge, MD. Conquer the trails of the Patapsco Valley, learn about some of the amazing beasts in our forests and streams, go green! My kids have enjoyed their camps in the past (including their School’s Out camps). Registration opens January 15, 2020.
  3. IDTech  – Computer programming summer camps camps for kids and teens. In College Park and Towson. Great for gifted and talented kids.
  4. Howard County Parks and Recreation – Affordable and interesting camps for younger and older kids.
  5. Howard County Public Schools – Want to learn Chinese this summer? How about a biomedical skills camp? Only at HCPSS! In person registration begins February 1, 2020.
  6. Karate Camp – Wilde Lake Karate would be a great place to learn martial arts this summer. Check it out!  
  7. Drama Learning Center – Great camps where kids can hone their drama skills in Columbia/Ellicott City.

[Looking for gift ideas for the brilliant kids in your life? Check out my huge list of ideas for kids of all ages]

  1. Columbia Association – Columbia Association offers many nature and art camps that I have heard good things about. This year’s program looks fantastic.
  2. Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts / Toby’s Dinner Theater camp – Great way to get into some great acting skills.
  3. Walters Art Gallery – The Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore has summer camps!  Sold by the week, these camps are very interesting for kids first grade and older.  This looks like a wonderful experience!
  4. Terrapin Adventures – If you’ve never been to Terrapin Adventures in Savage (near Savage Mill), you’re in for a high-flying treat. Their camps are full of outdoor fun, exercise, science and more. This looks really cool. Very limited space.
  5. Loyola University – Reading skills for elementary aged kids and speed reading camps for grades 6-8th taking place in June and July. Call 800-834-3693 for camp information (Ellicott City, Columbia, Elkridge and Catonsville).
  6. YMCA Camp – The YMCA in Ellicott City has several options for traditional summer camps. You may also be interested in the camps at Lifetime Fitness in Columbia.
  7. Camp Oasis – Music, drama, and other fun in Columbia.
  8. Columbia Horse Center – Horsemanship summer camps for Howard County horse lovers.

Thanks for reading my list of summer camps. I also have a list of school’s out camps in Howard County.

Categories
Education Featured gifted and talented Private Schools

Private Schools in Howard County Maryland

private schools in Howard County Maryland - Glenelg Country SchoolsLiving in Howard County Maryland means that the bar is set relatively high for public schools–not to mention private schools in Howard County.

By many standards, Maryland has some of the best public schools in the USA. And within Maryland Counties, the two top contenders are Montgomery County Public Schools and Howard County Public Schools.  So this is to say that Howard County’s schools are among the best in the country.

Still, to many parents there are a multitude of issues about both Howard County and Montgomery County Public Schools that drive them to look for alternatives.

For some there’s just general dissatisfaction with public school education.  This usually includes the feeling that the Common Core Curriculum, No Child Left Behind, and Race to the Top programs have taken the creativity and real learning out of schools, and substituted it with test preparation.

For others, they worry about the quality of teaching or they believe there is a lack of individualized attention for every kid due to large class sizes, and in the various other forms that might take.  Finally, there are people who realize that although the aggregate of Howard County education is relatively high quality in comparison to other jurisdictions in the state and country, individual public schools and classes fail to meet important standards or simply ignore the individuality of each student.

So what are the private school options if you’re in Howard County?

Here are the elementary, middle, and high school private school options I know of.  This list of private schools is not meant to contain every private school in the county, but I am happy to add a school if your favorite is missing–just message me below. By the way, if your child is younger than age 5, see my list of private preschools in Howard County.

Types of schools you’ll find below:

Unaffiliated Independent Private Schools in Howard County

Maryland International SchoolMaryland International School - Private School in Howard County Md
This is a STEM-focused, Montessori school in Elkridge, Md for grades 1-12. This is the only school in the region to offer 3 International Baccalaureate (IB) programs and the only school in the USA to do so as part of a STEM curriculum. This is great news because IB programs are known for their rigor and tend to be well designed.

At the elementary school levels, they are offering a Montessori-style education. At the middle school and high school level, it’s more of a traditional-style teaching program.

This school is definitely worth checking out, and tuition is reasonable. Younger grades can attend the affiliated Children’s Magnet Montessori School which is housed in the same building.

The school is expanding and plans to break ground on a multi-million dollar athletic center with a pool and basketball court soon.

Bus transportation is be provided for an extra fee and runs in Anne Arundel and Howard County.

Glenelg Country School review Glenelg Country School
Independent college prep school founded in 1954 offering preschool, lower school, middle school and High School.   They have small class sizes and very nice campus on 87 acres of wooded land in Ellicott City.  Glenelg is the largest independent school in Howard County, and definitely one of the larger private schools in Maryland.

Here is a link to the Glenelg tuition and financial aid information page.

Both of my girls attended this school for a few years. A very diverse group of kids come from all over the area including Silver Spring and Washington DC to attend this school. Bus transportation has stops in 6 Counties including places like Laurel, Catonsville, Ellicott City, and Olney and as far away as Mount Airy, New Market, Brookeville, Gaithersburg, and Odenton (Map of bus stops for 2017-2018 school year).

If you are considering a private school in Howard County, definitely see this one.  Also, have a look at their high quality summer camps.

Columbia Academy in Columbia, Md
Columbia Academy Elementary and Middle School Campus in Columbia, MD Near Route 29 at Route 32.

Columbia Academy
My own child went to this school for a year and we were very happy with it overall. Class sizes are very small and there were some very dedicated teachers who were willing to differentiate for my daughter because she was ahead of the class in many aspects.  As the name suggests, the main campus is in Columbia although they have several other preschool centers around Howard County.

Tuition is reasonable in the $10,000 dollar range and includes before care from 6:30am (after care until 6:30pm is around $2,000 extra).  They offer preschool through 8th grade.

There is bus service available and the school goes up to 8th grade.

BTW, I have visited the pre-K center in Fulton–Very nice facilities.

Fusion Academy – I honestly don’t know much about this school beyond a few comments from other parents and what their website says, but the model is definitely interesting. The classes are ALL ONE-ON-ONE: One teacher to one student. That could be really great for certain students. Definitely check out their website.

McDonough School in Owings Mills, Md
McDonogh School in Owings Mills, MD

McDonogh School (in Baltimore County)
Very awesome school founded in 1873.

Bus transportation is available–they have buses that come to Howard County to pick kids up.  Great academics, huge pool, stables…wow!  I know some families with children here who are very happy.

Boarding is available for high school level students.  Here is a link to their tuition page.

[Looking for ideas for holiday or birthday presents for your gifted or talented child? See my list of present ideas.]

Montessori Schools

There are several Montessori schools of varying quality in our area, I found it hard to tell the good ones from the not so good ones. The schools listed here have students in at least the lower grades of elementary school. Montessori generally doesn’t go past sixth grade.

Love of Learning school in Columbia I have been told by several parents that this school is very good.  Comments welcome.

Bryant Woods – Another Montessori school that I have heard very good things about.  In Columbia. No before or after care (school hours from 8:45-3:45).

Columbia Montessori – Looks like it has some very good programs.

Mater Amoris – This school is in Olney, but not far from Howard County.  Looks like its programs are very good–I have heard positive things and seems like it may be worth the trip for some parents.  Goes up to sixth grade.

Children’s Manor and Childrens Magnet Montessori School – Locations in Elkridge, Columbia, and Ellicott City.  Goes up to 6th Grade. Children’s Magnet feeds into Maryland International School, which is housed in the same building. See above.

Christian / Catholic Schools

Our Lady of Perpetual Help – K-8 Catholic school – 2016 Blue Ribbon School of Excellence. Well regarded, and recently launched an innovative 1:1 Chromebook program for students in Grades 3-8.  Tuition information is here.

Sandy Spring Friends School – The Friends know how to teach.  If you’re comfortable in a Quaker atmosphere, this place is definitely great, and it certainly attracts a nice bunch of people.  Even though it isn’t in Howard County, it isn’t that far out of the way either.  I have heard very good things about this school.  BTW, they do offer boarding for high school level students.  Here is the Sandy Spring Friends school tuition information page.   Some bus transportation is available and they also offer boarding for older students. (There is another Friends School in College Park)

St. Louis School – Catholic K-8 education- Blue Ribbon school.   I have heard good things about it. Here is their tuition information, the rates are significantly cheaper than the independent schools listed above.

Trinity School – K-8 Catholic School in Ellicott City, Howard County.  This school is a bit unusual in that it is an independent Catholic school. That gives them some flexibility with the curriculum. If you are interested in Catholic education, this place is worth a look and has come highly recommended by some parents. No bus service provided. Here is their tuition and fee schedule.

Bethel Christian Academy– pre-K3-8th grade in Savage / Jessup.  I don’t know anyone who goes to this school but I do know one of the teachers and she speaks highly of it.  Class sizes vary.  Here is their tuition information.

St. John’s Parish Day School – k-5 Episcopal school in Ellicott City. Here is their tuition information.

St. Augustine Catholic School  Tuition and fees are low at this pre-k to grade 8 Catholic school in Elkridge.

Special Needs Schools

High Road Academy – In North Laurel, this is a school for kids with specific types of learning disabilities.  In order to attend, students must be referred by the public school system Grades 3-12.

Phillips School – In North Laurel, (Howard Co.) this school is for various special needs kids.  Grades 3-12.

Legacy School – In nearby Sykesville, in Carroll County, this school is especially for children with Dyslexia. Maintains a 3 to 1 student ratio.

Finding Out More About These Private Schools

All of these schools offer days when you can visit and see how classes are run.  You may also want to see if they have any public activities or summer camps that you can take part in to see how you like the school.

What’s your opinion?  Is there a school that I missed here? Please let me know in the comments section below!

Looking for a place to have a birthday party? See my list of over 35 birthday venues in Howard County, MD and more birthday ideas in Anne Arundel County. Also, see my list of educational gift ideas for advanced children.



Categories
Childrens' Birthday Parties Featured Kids Birthday Parties Reviews

Kid’s Birthday Party Place Ideas in Baltimore County

Are you looking for some ideas for places to have your child’s birthday party in Baltimore County? If you need ideas, here is my list of birthday party places around Baltimore County and other areas of Maryland, including nearby in Howard County and Anne Arundel County for toddlers, kids, tweens, and teens.

With each idea I try to include links to Amazon.com for some ideas for party favors and sometimes educational gifts that go along with the party theme.

Looking for some great birthday gift ideas for your girl or boy? See my list!

First, here are some of the more typical birthday party place ideas from around Baltimore County. These are popular and possibly done too often (I am purposely not mentioning bouncy parties–I am so tired of them!), but kids of the right ages will usually have a great time:

  • Laser tag
    laser tag party
    (Ages 6+)
    Red Zone Adventures in Lutherville is a great place for a fun birthday party. Although alot of kids have laser tag birthday parties–there is a good reason. They have a great time every time! This is a good kids party place for older kids and teens.
    Locations: Lutherville/Timonium
    ✳Party Favor Ideas: LED Bumpy Ring, Magnetic drawing tabletsMini LED carabiner Flashlights
  • Bowling
    birthday bowling party
    (Ages 8+)
    Bowling parties are a great idea for older kids. The younger ones who may have trouble handling the ball will enjoy it less, and may get frustrated, even with bumpers in place. I’d definitely, strongly recommend using a duckpin alley because the balls are smaller and lighter so it’s a better venue for birthdays, especially for the younger kids. There is one in Parkville that offers kid’s parties.
    Locations: Parkville
    ✳Party Favor Ideas: ✳LED Rubberband Helicopters ✳(I love these!) or Rocket Copters

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  • Movie Parties
    Cinemark movie birthday party towson md
    (Ages 4+)
    Kids love going to the movies. Most people don’t think of it, but you can host a great party at some movie theaters. A great example in Balt. County is Cinemark in Towson. The theater has a party room, and if you have twenty or more guests, you can even do a private movie screening. Pretty cool! With the right movie, this party is a good idea for any age, and it’s definitely a great party place for toddlers.
    Locations: Towson
    ✳Party Favor IdeasKid’s Card GamesMini Uno CardsPuffy Kush Balls
  • Pool Parties (Age Range 1+)
    Indoor and outdoor pool parties are always fun for kids of any age from toddlers to teens. Great for a 1st birthday party.
    If your child likes swimming they’ll probably love the idea of inviting their friends to a swim party. There are lots of options for outdoor parties in the summer, but winter/colder months will require some research.
    As far as I know, your best bet in Baltimore County would be the YMCA, for example I know that the Y in Catonsville offers birthday parties, but I am not able to find a page for this on the website.  They definitely have a great pool for indoor pool parties in Baltimore County.
    Kid’s First Swim School in Perry Hall, Cockeysville, and Dundalk offers parties that would be good for younger kids.  Same with Goldfish Swim School in Owings Mills. These are especially good for toddler birthday parties.
    Otherwise, you may want to consider places like the Columbia Association swimming pools in Howard County.
    Locations: Catonsville, Dundalk, Cockeysville, Owings Mills, Perry Hall
    ✳Party Favor IdeasWater ToysGogglesFlip-Flop KeychainsHawaiian Flower LeisHibiscus Flower Hair Clips
  • Gymnastics Parties (Ages 2+)
    These parties tend to work out great — especially for toddler birthdays and for other younger kids. Everyone has fun running, jumping, and playing on gymnastics equipment, not to mention it’s great exercise. There are lots of gyms that offer birthday parties in Baltimore County. For example Rebounders in Timonium offers great parties as does Gymboree on Rossville Rd.
    ✳Party Favor IdeasRibbon WandsNecklacesJump Ropes
  • Indoor Parkour (Age Range +)
    Kids love to climb. The Alternate Routes gym in White Marsh takes it to the next level with indoor parkour birthday parties. Kids will train in a simulated urban environment to overcome obstacles. In short, they’ll have a great time getting worn out climbing and jumping. Sure to be a great birthday party.
    ✳Parkour Party Favor Ideas: Lego Bricks, Jump Ropes, Create Your Own Bouncy Balls Kit
  • Wonderfly Arena (Ages 3+)
     This is definitely a fun kind of party for even the tiny tots to teenagers. Imagine a party in a hamster ball. Just keep in mind that keeping these giant balls moving is alot of exercise with lots of motion–meaning people who aren’t in the best shape or get dizzy might not have fun. They do have other party options though!
    Locations: Arbutus
    Wonderfly Party Favor IdeasSilly Putty Balls
  • Basketball Party (Ages 5+)
    If you’re child is into basketball, there are a few places around Baltimore County for a themed party. Freestate Sports Arena in White Marsh or Goals in Catonsville can host a basketball party.  Also see Coppermine Fieldhouse locations in Baltimore City for more sports party ideas.
    Locations: Catonsville, White Marsh, Mt. Washington
    Basketball Party Favor Ideas: Atomic Basketballs, Basketball Mini-Stress Foam Balls, Basketball Keychains
  • Chuck E Cheese’s (Ages 3-7)
    I am not the biggest fan of Chuck E Cheese, but I know many families like it. There is a location in Catonsville. Token prices are low—maybe around 20 cents each depending on which package you get. This is a great party venue for toddlers and younger children.

Looking for some great gift ideas for your girl or boy? See my list!

And here are some more unusual ideas. These parties are possibly more memorable because they are more likely to be “one offs” that none of their classmates or friends have already done:

  • Escape Room Party (Age )
    There are a few escape room locations in the Baltimore area. The one I have experience with is Breakout Games (Timonium and Columbia). They offer several types of games. I am told that the best choice for kids is Museum Heist. They have no party room, and there isn’t really a group rate. You can just visit their website and purchase the number of tickets you need.Please note that you have to have an adult in the party and the maximum number of people is 8. So the most you can have is 7 kids. Still this is a great party, especially for older kids (Younger kids might find it frustrating rather than fun).
  • Fencing (Ages 8+)
    I am not sure if there is a fencing club in Baltimore County, however in Baltimore City there’s Chesapeake Fencing Club and then there’s the Baltimore Fencing Center in Columbia in Ellicott City, MD . Both of which have a great facility for unusual birthday parties. Guests learn the basics of fencing and can get a little practice in at the party. If you’re looking a different kind of party location, this is your place.
    Locations: Ellicott City, Baltimore City
  • Pirate Party
    Pirate Birthday Party
    (Ages 7+) on the Urban Pirate boat that sails from Baltimore Harbor.
    ✳Party Favor Ideas: Gold Pirate CoinsPirate Eye Patches, Bandanas
  • Nature Center Parties (Ages 2+)
    There are several choices around Baltimore County for Nature Center birthday parties. One of the best is Irvine Nature Center in Owings Mills. They have an excellent offering at a reasonable price. Fun for children of all ages.
    Location: Owings Mills
  • Craft Parties (Ages 4+)
    There are lots of options for this. One easy one is to have your party at either Michael’s (for example the one in Owings Mills/Reisterstown) or JoAnn Fabrics (stores in Parkville and Cockeysville). You may also want to check out Social Studio in Roland Park/Baltimore.
    Locations: Parkville, Cockeysville, Baltimore
  • Pottery Parties (Ages 6+)
    Paint your own pottery is a great idea for a birthday party. Kids in kindergarten and beyond will enjoy paint parties with their friends. In the Baltimore area, one of the best places is in Catonsville — the Pottery Cove.
    ✳Party Favor Ideas: Playdough, Magnetic drawing tabletsPutty Balls
    Locations: Catonsville
  • iFly (Ages 3+)
    An amazing new venue in White Marsh! Possibly the most unusual idea on this list, indoor skydiving would make for a wonderful birthday party place. Your boy or girl will never forget this birthday party! Be warned, this is a bit of a pricey option, at the end, each child will probably only get maybe 2 to 4 minutes of flying time. I would suggest that due to the amount of patience needed while waiting for your turn to fly, this venue is best for kids older than 7 even though toddlers are welcome.
    Locations: White Marsh
    ✳Party Favor Ideas: Parachute Cord Bracelets, LED Finger Lights
  • Rock Climbing (Ages 5+)
    Earth Treks has an amazing facility in Timonium that makes a wonderful place to host a bdp. Your kids will also definitely enjoy ClimbZone in White Marsh. Lots of great things to climb there.
    Locations: Timonium, White Marsh
  • Toy Store Party at AmuseToys (Ages 2-6)
    In Pikesville (Baltimore County). Parties in the lab are great fun. This is definitely a different kind of place to hold a birthday party.
    Locations: Pikesville
  • Indoor Playground (Ages 3 – 7)
    Kiddie Crusoe might be a good party place option for younger kids. Large indoor playground & party room.
  • Roller Skating (Ages 8+)
    There are three rinks in Baltimore County that all offer roller skating birthday parties. For example, Hot Skates in Woodlawn and Skateland in Putty Hill offer a party that is currently under $100.
    Locations: Woodlawn, Putty Hill
    ✳Party Favor Ideas: Glowing GlovesGlowing Bracelets, Light Up Finger Rings
  • Rent a pavillion at Local Park (Ages 2+)
    The tire park at the Hilton area of Patapsco State Park. This is a two acre playground made from recycled tires. Loads of fun and the nearby pavilions  for a barbeque or just to hang out and do a craft. This is an inexpensive party venue, especially if you want to have lots of children attend. This is a particularly great party location for the warmer months.
    Locations: Catonsville
    ✳Party Favor Ideas: Sidewalk Chalk, Bubble Wands, Beach Balls
  • Fire Station Birthdays(Ages 3-7)
    Many people don’t even know that you can host a birthday party at some of the fire stations in Baltimore County (Pikesville).  I know quite a few kids who love fire trucks and love birthdays…so why not combine the two. It’s fun for the kids, and they get some fire safety tips too! My only caveat would be that an emergency could potentially cut the party short.
    As an alternative, there is a Fire Museum in Towson that provides a pretty good bdp experience. It’s an interesting place for both adults and children. Toddlers are likely to get a thrill seeing all the fire equipment.
    ✳A great gift to go with this birthday party would be a pair of walkie talkies. Here is one suggestion for a pretty good pair–but please read my caveats about them in my gift ideas for brainy kids blog post.
    Locations: Towson, Pikesville, and other fire stations around Baltimore County.
  • Zoo Parties (Ages 1+)
    Wherever you are in Baltimore County, the Maryland Zoo isn’t very far. They offer great birthday party packages, and it is sure to be a great time for kids of all ages. Toddlers will really enjoy looking at all the animals, and even 8-year-olds and 9-year olds will have fun. The zoo is relatively small, which is really a plus. They do a great job of highlighting the animals, habitats, and ecology. A great place for a Maryland birthday party.
    Locations: Baltimore City
    ✳Party Favor Ideas: Zoo Animal Headbands, Cat Keychains, Magic Snake
  • Maryland Science Center (Ages 6+)
    As you probably know, the Maryland Science Center is in the Inner Harbor. They offer several birthday party options . If you’re near Towson, you may also want to have a look at Snapology’s offerings.
    Location: Inner Harbor/Baltimore City, Towson
    ✳Party Favor Ideas: Invisible Ink Pens, Rubik’s CubesAnimal Sticker Sheets
  • Day Spa Parties (Ages 4 – 14)
    Towson is home to SparTea The Pink Door Day Spa For Girls. A great place to have a glamorous spa party for your kid! You may also want to check out Twinkle Twinkle Little Spa also in Towson and Posh & Play Kids Spa (in Nottingham)
  • Aviation Museum Party (Ages 5+)
    This is a bit of a different kind of party. The airplane museum in Middle River offers birthday parties that are interesting, educational, and fun.
    Locations: Middle River, Maryland
    ✳Party Favor Ideas: Inflatable Airplanes, foam gliders
  • Port Discovery (Ages 2 – 8)
    (Located in Baltimore City near the Inner Harbor) – Always a popular place to take kids for any reason, Port Discovery makes a great place for a birthday celebration. Depending on the package you get, this can be a rather pricey place to hold your party, and you really need to plan ahead because they need 2 months notice in most cases. Still, this is sure to be a fun, memorable experience for your child and their friends.
  • Granite Rose Tea Parlour (Ages 11+)
    Located in charming Granite, Md in Southwest Baltimore County ) – If you’re thinking of an especially fancy birthday party venue, this might be the place for you. Hosted in an authentic Victorian house, kids will enjoy attending a “real” tea party.
    I think this would be a great party for 11-year olds, and older, but if say you are looking for ideas for 7-year olds…perhaps extra-well-behaved 7-year-olds, they might also find this party interesting.
    Party Favor Ideas: Tea Party Hats, White Formal Gloves, Friendship Bracelets
  • Trampoline Party (Ages 5+)
    (Timonium) – SkyZone is the place to go for a trampoline party. Great atmosphere, lots of options including “sensory” jump hours for quieter time for kids with special needs. I hesitate a bit on this one, because I am concerned about safety issues–people do get hurt at these kind of places and that can really spoil a good time, especially if it is a serious injury. Having said that, SkyZone does a pretty good job of making trampolines as safe as possible.
  • IKEA – (Ages 13+)
    This might sound a little odd, but for some kinds, a party at IKEA may be great for teens and older kids. Friends dine in the cafe, and then have fun checking out the rooms. Photo contest anyone? $5 or less cactus plants for party favors…$1 ice cream cones. What could be better?
    Location: Whitemarsh

Hopefully this list of party ideas helps you out. If you can think of any places I missed, please comment below. Don’t forget to check out my list of gifts for gifted kids.

Categories
Featured Phone Bills Review Reviews Save Money Technology

Republic Wireless Review Part 1

Republic Wireless 2.0 Review Executive Summary – Updated March 12, 2016

My customer review covers the Republic Wireless Mobile Phone Service with the Moto X gen 2, Moto E gen 2 and Moto G phones.  This review is about the Republic Wireless 2.0 plan which isn’t available anymore. They have now launched a their 3.0 plan, so the information below is outdated.

For current information please see my review of Republic Wireless 3.0 and comparison to Google Project Fi.

 

Republic Wireless Review


“Stop wasting money on high-priced yearly contract phones.  Get reliable, smarter service cheaper.”

 Get 1 gig of 3G data + unlimited phone/text/ service for $25/month–and they refund you for whatever amount of data you do not use–average refund of $8/month. Since you typically use WiFi for data, there is a good chance you won’t need an entire gig. (There are other plans available for as low as $5/month – see part 2 for complete details)

• 30 Day No Hassle Money Back Guarantee. 
• NO CONTRACT – Month to month, cancel or change your plan at any time–in fact you can even change your plan right from your Republic Wireless phone.

• The  Republic Wireless Motorola Moto X (first and second generation) is a first rate Android Smartphone that delivers speed, features and reliability. (Two more phones are also available: Motorola Moto G for $99-a great price for a decent phone and the Moto E 2nd gen for just $129.)

• Transfer your existing phone number (Click here to check to make sure your number can be transferred to Republic Wireless.) – you can even transfer Google Voice numbers.

• No Hidden Fees – There are no roaming fees, etc.

• Republic Wireless has been in business for more than a year with thousands of customers.  A division of bandwidth.com, so this isn’t a scam or fly-by-night company.  They were just rated #2 in PC Magazine’s reader’s choice among all of the mobile carriers in the USA.

•  Republic Wireless will gives you credit on your bill for unused data from your data plan. This is a new feature that only applies to certain plans, but to be sure, this is very innovative.

Republic Wireless provides low cost mobile phone service based on the Moto G 3rd Gen and Moto E 2nd Gen Android Smartphones.  Voice, Data & Texting service is provided through the Sprint network when you are on the go (roaming is included), and via WiFi when you are at home, in the office or outside of the USA/Canada.

The Motorola Moto G 3nd gen is an excellent high-end 4G LTE phone–it is very well reviewed and has a respectable list of features–this is clearly one of the best phones on the market at this time.  You must purchase your phone upfront–but you will save money in the long run–and probably quite a bit.  If you’re on the fence about whether or not to try Republic Wireless, keep in mind that they offer a money back guarantee for a month, so that will give you a chance to try out the phone service.

The Motorola Moto G is a mid-range phone that has great features.  At $199, this is a great phone to get started saving money with Republic Wireless.   The Moto G is a very good phone at the relatively unheard of off-contract price of $199, it is a steal. It has some respectable features based on Android Lollipop 5.1.  It is 3G and 4G LTE ready and it comes with 8 or 16 gigs of memory but can be expanded with a 32gig SD card.  It’s camera is a auto-focus and shoots up to 13 megapixels.  The display is 5 inches and is available in black or white.

The Motorola Moto E 2nd gen also has some respectable features based on Android Lollipop 5.1.  It is 3G and 4G LTE ready and it comes with 8 gigs of memory.  Its camera is a tap-to-focus and shoots up to 5 megapixels.  The display is 4.5 inches and is available in black or white.

Consider joining Republic Wireless to save.  They have thousands of customers in the USA and their offering is rated very well by consumer magazines including PC Magazine who gave it a reader’s choice award.

 
See part 2 of my review for a full rundown of the Republic Wireless 2.0 service.

Republic Wireless Review Part 2

Categories
Education educational tv Featured tv shows for kids

Recommended Educational TV Shows for Kids

Looking for educational TV shows for your kids to watch on Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Prime or YouTube?

[Also See My List of Other Ideas for Educational and Fun Things To Do While Schools Are Closed]

Below is a list of  some worthwhile educational shows for kids that I would recommend for parents looking to avoid all the terrible, worthless, and even damaging fluff that is on children’s TV these days. The kids shows in my list are selected because they are both educational and entertaining.

Netflix Shows for Kids / Educational Shows on Amazon Prime and Hulu

In the first part of this post, I will do my best to let you know which educational kids shows you can see  on Netflix Streaming, Netflix DVD,  HuluPlus,YouTube, Amazon Prime, or Amazon DVD.

Keep in mind that Amazon, Hulu and Netflix often stop carrying shows without much notice, so apologies if a link is broken or a show is no longer available.

In the second part, I tell you what you can find that’s worthwhile for children to watch for free on YouTube–mostly educational PBS shows that make the most sense for older kids. Certainly, there are a wide variety of YouTube kids’ shows, I am only naming the ones I am familiar with.

[Looking for ideas for things to do with your kids if schools are closed? See my list. By the way,  if you have gifted and talented kids, see my article about birthday presents and Christmas gift ideas for smart kids!]

These educational and kid’s science TV shows have various themes, so there should be something to catch any child’s attention. I feel I must add the caveat that too much TV is too much TV, no matter what the value of the material.

I am dividing the educational kids shows up by age group, but really I think all of them are appropriate for a younger kid who is willing to watch them–in other words, my experience has been that the ideal age for these shows really depends on the children who are watching them, so a show may be meant for four year olds or seven year olds, but that doesn’t mean a ten year old or a two year old can’t enjoy it.

I note one or two exceptions to this, where the language or topics might not be appropriate for younger kids (for example “The White Rabbit Project” on Netflix isn’t really appropriate for young kids due to language and violence.)

The educational and show quality rating scale is my own.  Again, alot depends on the child, where her/his interests lie, and what their capabilities are. I rate each show on a scale of 1-5 for educational value and overall quality.  (I don’t bother to list anything that’s below a 3.5):

Netflix, HuluPlus and Amazon Prime TV learning shows for younger toddlers:

  1. Little Einsteins
    (Amazon Prime) –  Introduces children to art, musical instruments and composition. Highly recommended for all kids, but kids who want to play an instrument will particularly enjoy this classic show from Disney Channel. (Animation) [Educational/Quality Rating: 4.5]
  2. Super Why
    (Amazon Prime) – Spelling and literacy for toddlers  (Animation) [Educational/Quality Rating: 4.5]
  3. Wonder Pets
    (
    Amazon Prime– Teaches about animals and geography. Several years later my girls are still quoting this show! (Animation)  [Educational/Quality Rating: 4.5]
  4. Reading Rainbow
    (
    Amazon Prime– Old, but beloved reading series.
  5. Sesame Street
    (Online, Amazon Prime / Hulu) – Alot of segments are available online on the SeseameStreet.org website.  This is a great show for young kids.  [Educational/Quality Rating: 3.5]
  6. Leapfrog
    (Amazon Instant Video) Leapfrog has several educational shows that include math, reading and getting ready for preschool.  For example Math Adventure To The Moon teaches basic counting skills. Note that some of the one’s that are on DVD aren’t available on demand. If you’re looking for educational shows for kids about math, don’t miss this series! (Animation)  [Educational/Quality Rating: 4.5]
  7. Peep and the Big Wide World
    (Amazon Prime) – Basic science lessons for younger kids.  (Animation)  [Educational/Quality Rating: 4]
  8. Zoo Clues
    (TubiTV) – Facts and information about animals for younger kids [Educational Quality Rating 3.5]
  9. Charlie and the Numbers
    (Hulu) – Charlie learns numbers while he goes on adventures. [Educational Quality Rating 3.5]
  10. Peg + Cat
    (Amazon Prime) – Great show for learning numbers. [Educational Quality Rating 3.5]

Birthday coming up for your advanced child? See my list of fun, educational gift ideas.


Netflix, HuluPlus and Amazon Prime Educational TV Shows for older toddlers and five  year olds:

  1. Martha Speaks
    (Amazon Prime)  –  Martha Speaks builds toddlers’ vocabulary.  About a dog who swallowed alphabet soup and started talking (Animation)  [Educational/Quality Rating: 3.5]
  2. Word Girl
    (Amazon Prime) – Builds vocabulary for young kids (Animation) [Educational/Quality Rating: 3.5]
  3. WordWorld
    (Amazon Prime/Netflix DVD/Hulu) – PBS show that helps kids learn to read.  Very good and highly recommended to help kids understand how reading works. (Animation) [Educational/Quality Rating: 5]
  4. Dinosaur Train
    (
    Amazon Prime) – Educational, teaches scientific method and quite a bit about dinosaurs (Animation). The show is fun and well done. [Educational/Quality Rating: 4.5]
  5. Sid the Science Kid
    (Netflix DVD/Amazon Prime) Great science show for younger kids. There’s a Sid the Science Kid movie too! (Animation) [Educational/Quality Rating: 4.5]
  6. The Electric Company
    (Amazon Prime) A redo of the 1970s classic show. [Educational/Quality Rating: 3.5]
  7. Zaboomafoo
    (Amazon Prime)- Teaches kids about animals and science in general.  Nicely done. [Educational/Quality Rating: 3.5]
  8. Zeek’s Animal World
    (Amazon Prime) – Fun show filled with animal facts. [Educational/Quality Rating: 4]
  9. Guess With Jess
    (YouTube) –  This show would be pretty good for younger kids, but for one problem–since the show is British, the accent makes it hard for some kids to understand.  Give it a try.  Jess is a cat who tries to help answer science questions.  (Animation) [Educational/Quality Rating: 3.5]
  10. Little Pim Language Series
    (Hulu) – Your kids can learn Spanish, Korean, Italian, German, and even Chinese. Great Hulu kids’ show.
  11. Curious George
    (Netflix DVD/Amazon Prime) –  This show is relatively well done. It isn’t entirely educational but always has some informational content and kids definitely enjoy it. The “monkey chatter” gets kind of annoying after a while for parents though. (Animation) [Educational/Quality Rating: 3.5]
  12. Look Around You
    (Hulu) – Explore nature with this animated series. [Educational/Quality Rating 3.5]
  13. Postcards From Buster(Amazon Prime)- This is a pretty good show for kid’s to learn about the world via Buster from the show Arthur.  Some episodes are on YouTube. [Educational/Quality Rating: 3.5]

Birthday coming up for your advanced child? See my list of educational birthday gift ideas.

Netflix, HuluPlus and Amazon Prime TV Shows for six, seven, eight, and nine year olds:

    1. Jeff Corwin Experience
      (Amazon Prime) – Jeff finds fascinating creatures and habitats to teach about.  Good for all ages. [Educational/Quality Rating: 4.5]
    2. Magic School Bus
        (NetflixNetflix DVD /Amazon Video) – Great science show from the 1990s.  Some of it is a little dated, but still very good.  Recently added to Netflix streaming. BTW, Netflix has created new episodes! (Animation) [Educational/Quality Rating: 4.5]
    3. Popular Mechanics For Kids
       (Netflix DVD/Amazon Prime/Hulu) – Very good science show that covers a wide variety of science topics in news magazine format.  My four year old finds it entertaining and does learn from it. As far as educational tv shows, this is one of the best — especially in the realm of science. [Educational/Quality Rating: 4.5]
    4. Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego
       (Netflix DVD/Amazon DVD) Not my favorite show in this list, but it does offer some social studies education and is an okay show in general–kind of a classic show. (Animation) [Educational/Quality Rating: 3]
    5. Wild Kratts
      (Amazon Prime/Hulu) – PBS Kids show:  Science, animals, Kratt brothers…what could be more fun? (Animation) [Educational/Quality Rating: 3.5]
    6. Beakman’s World
      (Amazon DVD) – This show is full of scientific experiments and  facts, but my kids don’t like this show because it is full of weird fluff and strange characters that make it difficult to watch.  You be the judge. [Educational/Quality Rating: 3.5]
    7. Bill Nye The Science Guy (Netflix/Amazon) – Excellent, although somewhat older information about science presented in a fun, entertaining way.  My five and seven year-old love this show. Also on YouTube.[Educational/Quality Rating: 5]
    8. Thomas Edison’s Secret Lab (Netflix)
      This is a great animated science cartoon. My kid’s definitely like it! (Animation) [Educational/Quality Rating: 4.5]
    9. Myth Busters
      (Amazon DVD/Amazon Instant Video)- This is a fun, interesting show. It is entertaining and includes all aspects of science, engineering and math.  [Educational/Quality Rating: 4.5]
    10. Modern Marvels
      (Amazon) [Educational/Quality Rating: 4.5] This is a fantastic show that teaches about how innovations are made and outlines the stories of various amazing feats of engineering.
    11. How the States Got Their Shapes
      (Amazon Instant Video) This is a great lesson in American history presented in an entertaining way. Better for older kids, but my 8 year old really liked it.[Educational/Quality Rating: 4.5]
    12. Liberty Kids
      (Amazon Instant Video) – Great show for kids about the American Revolutionary War.  [Educational/Quality Rating: 4.5]
    13. Biz Kid$
       (Amazon Instant Video) – This is a great show from the makers of Bill Nye the science guy–I wish all kids would watch this show. It teaches about entrepreneurship. [Educational/Quality Rating 4.5]
    14. Adina’s Deck
      (Amazon Instant Video) – This is aimed more towards middle schoolers, and is a great conversation starter about cyber-bullying, plagiarism and more. Unfortunately there are only a few episodes. It’s less that it’s educational and more that it’s just important for kids to see this!
    15. Fetch! with Ruff Ruffman
      (Amazon Instant Video) – Great, fun tv series with science challenges…a little more fluff than I’d like to see, but my kids enjoy it for the entertainment value… and there are some very important learning aspects to the show. [Educational/Quality Rating 4.0]
    16. Awesome Adventures
       (Amazon Instant Video) – The show visits cities around the world and acquaints kids with local culture.
    17. Discover Science
      (Amazon Prime) – Loads of interesting science experiments. “Spectacular experiments to sharpen your sense of science”
    18. Annedroids
      (Amazon Prime) – This show is mildly educational, but I do like it for it’s “niceness.”

      Science Court
      (YouTube) This is an animated series that goes over science concepts. Pretty good quality, the Squigglevision animation is a bit annoying. [Educational Quality Rating 5]

    19. White Rabbit Project
      (Netflix) -This show is probably best for kids older than 12. The opening scene of the series involves guns and there is definitely some questionable language throughout the series.

      It’s a Netflix original with some of the cast from Myth Busters. They do experiments and test the boundaries of technology to prove, compare, and discuss the “top 6” of all sorts of things–from scams and robberies to g-force. Overall a fun and definitely a very informative show. [Educational Quality Rating: 4.5]

Educational Videos on YouTube for older kids (8 years old+)

SciGirls is a great educational television show for girls or boys on YouTube

Finding worthwhile shows for older elementary and middle school kids on Netflix isn’t easy. Recently, YouTube published YouTube Learn at Home, which is a fantastic list of great educational videos.

Luckily,  YouTube has lots of full episodes of shows that you can’t get on the other streaming services–for instance for older kids if you Google Bill Nye The Science Guy full episodes or SciGirls Full Episodes, you’ll find quite a few very worthwhile shows.

You tube also has some other fun things like “Its Okay To Be Smart“.  We watch YouTube shows while driving on our smartphone and on our television via our Roku box.
Show suggestions on YouTube:

      1.  Design Squad
        (More episodes on Amazon Prime)  -This is a great show to learn engineering and math from PBS. It is definitely a very worthwhile show for “makers” as the mindset of the show is to work out the best ways to build things including kayaks, peanut butter machines, and musical instruments. This is a mainly meant for older kids, but younger ones can still benefit from watching it.

        Season 1 is included with Amazon Prime (Recommended, but look for a sale!). Season 2 is available one episode at a time or by subscribing to the show. There are more than a few episodes on YouTube.

        [Educational/Quality Rating: 5]

      2. SciGirls
        (Amazon Prime) – Great science shows for girls (and boys).  Covers a wide range of science topics and presented in an interesting/straightforward way. My two girls really love this show, and it is full of educational material that gives them a leg-up in school. There have been many instances where my kids have background knowledge of a science topic at school because of watching this show. I highly recommend it. [Educational/Quality Rating: 5]
      3. DragonFly TV
        There aren’t any full episodes on YouTube that I could find at the moment, but lots of interesting short segments from the show.  If you can find more of it, definitely worth watching. [Educational/Quality Rating: 4.5]
      4. It’s Okay To Be Smart
        (YouTube) – Lots of great science and general knowledge facts in this YouTube show, put together in an engaging way. My girls love watching episodes of this show in the morning with breakfast. Fun. Interesting. Science-friendly. Better for older kids.  [Educational/Quality Rating: 4.5]
      5. Mr. Wizard’s World
        (YouTube/More episodes on Amazon Prime) – Circa 1985, Mr. Wizard is a bit old school, but still quite a bit to learn from his show.
        Engineering, Chemistry, Zoology, Geology and Physics are all topics covered on this show…they even do some actual math on the show! If your kids can get past the dated equipment and computers they will definitely like it. [Educational/Quality Rating: 5]

More Tips for Parents on TV, Reading, and Gifts

Have a kid with Autism? You must watch Autism Channel. Excellent programming for kids and parents of kids who are living with autism.

If you’re child hasn’t started to read yet, be sure and read my review of Hooked on Phonics.  Also, view my list of gifts for brainy kids (hint: In case you didn’t already know, all kids are brainy kids they just need their talents cultivated) and some birthday party ideas.

eroncohen.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. Thank you for supporting my site. Please leave feedback with any comments or ideas for other shows.

Categories
Featured kids activities maryland Recommendations

List of Fun Activities For Kids To Do Around Maryland

what to do in maryland for fun

Looking for worthwhile things to do with your kids in the Baltimore/DC Area?  I am too.  Here is a list of 27+ fun activity suggestions that I have compiled from experience with my own children.  Please feel free to add to this list by leaving a comment below.

1) Children’s museums: Visit the  National Children’s Museum in National Harbor or in Baltimore called Port Discovery.  Kids love both places.

Another great place to take kids and teens is the Natural History Museum in Washington D.C.  There are some great exhibits including mummies, gems and minerals, loads of animal and plant exhibits and an insect zoo where you can watch them feed a tarantula, see a live butterfly exhibit and more.  One of the greatest things in the museum is also the best kept secret–Q?rius is the name of a special kids science zone in the basement of the museum.

They have lots of high quality microscopes and tons of specimens and activities.  I highly recommend this for all kids but especially kids and teens interested in basic science. Rumor has it that they will soon be getting a scanning electron microscope!  See  the Natural History Museum’s website for information. Your children may also love the children’s activity center at the American Indian Museum.

Also, the Smithsonian maintains a website with a calendar of things to do for kids at all of its museums.  Check it out here.

2) In the spring, summer and fall months you can go to Brookside Gardens and see a great butterfly exhibit called Wings of Fancy (goes from Spring until October)

3) The National Gallery of Art has free hour long story time/Looking at art classes for kids on Sundays.  Get there before 11 (when the museum opens to get into the first class–usually there’s great parking spots open right near the museum).

4) In May – November, there are two great picking farms we like to go to–Larriland Farm in Lisbon, MD, Weber’s Farm in Parkville, and Butler’s Orchard in Germantown.  We especially like Larriland, they grow all kinds of things you can pick and the kids really love it.  Larriland uses a farming method called integrated pest management which significantly reduces pesticide use.

This is not the cheapest way to get your produce in the summer and fall, but it’s definitely one of the most fun. (If you are looking for cheap ways to get produce, see my blog post 6 cheap places to get produce in Maryland.)

5) Baltimore Harbor is always a fun place to go.  The paddle boats are a little expensive, but our girls really love riding on them.  Two of the most popular museums in the area are the National Aquarium and the Maryland Science Center.

Hard Bargain - Visit farms in Maryland

6) Visit Hard Bargain Farm.  For some readers it might be  a little bit far, but they have some great programs for kids there.

7) Visit the Patuxent National Wildlife Refuge in Beltsville.  Ride the tram through the forest….

8) For a quick day-trip to the beach visit North Beach, Maryland or Sandy Point State Park.

9) Patapsco State Park – Visit one of several areas in the park including the “tire park” which is near Catonsville in the Hilton area of the park.  Some great hiking and nice scenery.

10) Is it hot outside? Follow the Maryland ice cream trail.

11) Go watch hobbyists launch model rockets at NASA Goddard. Held one Sunday per month–a tradition since 1976. You will also have a great, nerdy time at the Goddard Sunday Experiment.

12) Go to Imagination Stage and see a play for kids.  This ten year old theater company produces high quality shows and presents them in a modern venue.

13) Take a trip to Great Falls and walk along the C & O canal tow path.  See the amazing falls at the overlook. Hike on the billy goat trails and visit the museum.  Take a ride on a canal barge.

14) Visit Clarks Elioak Farm in Ellicott City.  Learn about farming and see artifacts from the Enchanted Forest.  Check the website for hours.

15) Terrapin Adventures in Savage, MD or Adventure Park in Sandy Spring for some fun in the trees including zip lines and climbing.

16) The Maryland Renaissance Festival – On weekends and holidays from late August to Mid October, this is a great place to have some fun.  If you’ve never been to a Ren Faire before, expect lots of interesting spectacles — low-tech shows (Jousting, magic) and interesting food and drink.

17) The National Zoo or The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore.  The National Zoo is free, there is an admission charge for the Baltimore Zoo (at this writing $17.50 for adults, $12.50 for children).  Both zoos are an excellent experience for all ages.

things to do in Annapolis MD

18) Visit historic Annapolis – This colonial capitol town is charming and storied.  Visit the shops, museums and restaurants by the water, take a boat ride, a walking tour of the Naval Academy and more.  There are quite a few things to do and see. If you get a chance, have a look at the Hammond Harwood, William Paca House and Charles Carroll house historic sites.

19) When you take a trip to Annapolis and go kayaking, paddle  or canoeing at Quiet Waters Park.  They even offer stand-up paddle boarding–give it a try! You may also want to try Capital SUP – You can do stand-up paddle boarding right in the Annapolis Harbor in Eastport.

20) Transportation Museums – In Baltimore, visit the B&O Railroad museum – Kids love trains.  This is a chance to explore the history of the railroads and see old steam engines in person. To continue the rail theme, visit the streetcar museum.

Also in Baltimore at the inner harbor are some historic ships  including the USS Constellation and sometimes a submarine for you to get on board and have a look at. In College Park, there is an aviation museum. Another great museum is the Maryland Fire Museum in Lutherville. They have an amazing collection of old fire apparatus and plenty of fun things for kids.

21) For a bit of history, visit Montpelier Mansion in Laurel, Maryland.  This Georgian mansion is very interesting especially if you are interested in local history and architecture.

22) Also in Laurel, is the Dinosaur Park–an interesting place to learn about Maryland’s prehistoric history.  You can visit any day, but for the best experience, you want to go on Saturday’s when they have open houses (check the schedule!).  It isn’t far from the Montpelier Mansion so you can plan to visit both on the same day.

22.5) If you’re in the mood for archaeology and looking for fossils, here are two more great activities: Have a go at the National Geographic Museum in Washington DC.  Great stuff! Also, there are several locations near Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant that have fossils that can be found. My best suggestion here is to visit Flag Pond beach–you may find sharks, whales and alligator teeth and shells that are millions of years old.

23) Hike at Brighton Dam – Brighton Dam is a reservoir used as a water supply for homes around Montgomery County. They have walking trails and you can do some fishing there. Also, there is a spectacular azalea garden with 22,000 azalea bushes. Best viewed around early May.

24) The Fire Museum – The Fire Museum is lots of fun for kids of all ages. Located in Lutherville, this museum has some great exhibits. It’s also a great place to have a birthday party!

25) Do your kids like climbing? There is a super-cool indoor climbing place for kids in Laurel, MD. Climbzone is unusual because it doesn’t have your typical climbing walls. Kids can climb all sorts of nets, book cases, a Mount Rushmore replica and more. Highly recommended.

26) The American Visionary Art Museum is a little different. Located in Federal Hill in Baltimore City, this place has some great stuff for kids to enjoy. Look for their annual activities such as their whimsical moving sculpture parade and their sock puppet activity.

27) Crystal Grottoes Caverns – Discovered in 1920, the Crystal Grottoes Cavern is a great place to take kids. There are plenty of interesting and amazing formations sure to fill kids of all ages with wonder.

For a weekly roundup of special events for kids in Maryland, Virginia and DC visit Kidfriendly DC.  In the Baltimore area, we have Cool Progeny, which also is great for finding things to do.

Categories
Blenders Featured Food Nutrition Review Reviews

Blendtec Blender Review-The Blendtec 570 from Costco

BlendTec 570 TB621 Blender from Costco

Summary: This is a review of the Blendtec blender sold in Costco (TB621 USCOST) currently being sold for $319.  Although we loved this machine when it was working, we managed to break ours 3 times in two months through just normal use. On the third time, it broke we just returned it.

Read on for information about alternatives to this blender and why we were so sad to see it go!

If you’re considering a Blendtec Blender, you may want to avoid this blender and instead go for a different Total Blender model instead (Available on Amazon new or refurbished  – Refurbished units tend to be almost as good as new, and obviously cheaper!) or the 475 (refurbished).

As you’ll read below, there is alot to like about Blendtec:

  • It is a popular brand of professional and prosumer blender
  • It’s somewhat cheaper than its nearest competitor, Vitamix
  • The blade configuration is great — makes scraping the bottom of the container very easy
  • Customer service is very good
  • Long warranties on its containers and base


We Went With Blendtec

In spite of the problems I’ll describe below, we really loved having the blender. Most of the time it did its job–and did it stunningly well. You’ll want to check Amazon for deals on refurbished BlendTec blenders (subject to availability). (In case you opt for a Vitamix, there are also factory reconditioned Vitamixes to be had on Amazon as well). Although I wouldn’t recommend the model we got, I am mostly convinced that Blendtec is a venerable blender company. They seem to have some quality issues with these Blenders. I suspect if you go with a different model, you will have better luck.

There is alot to like about Blendtec, and they definitely are the blender of choice in professional settings, so I would say that instead, you may want to consider the similar Blendtec Total Blender instead.

Below is the whole of my family’s experience using the Blendtec including the times it failed.

Comparing Vitamix and Other Blenders to the Blendtec

Before the purchase we looked at the other options both from Blendtec and other blender makers. We also considered:

Having said that though, there were three factors that made us go for the Blendtec:

  • Price–in general the Vitamixes were between somewhat more expensive to way more expensive depending on the one you’re talking about–we were specifically comparing the Vitamix 5200 (Refurbished).  This was an issue for us because we never had a high-end blender before and wanted to make sure we were really going to use it (spoiler alert–we use it constantly) before going for the best one made.
  • Size –the  height of the VitaMix vs. the BlendTec blenders.  You might not notice it as much in the store but the older VitaMix blenders are H-U-G-E. (There is a newer model which is shorter and wider…and highly recommended–here is a link to the refurbished 5300)Yes, you can purchase a smaller jar separately and that makes it more likely it will fit under your counter and in your sink/dishwasher, but once again, we were kind of interested in getting into the market on the cheaper side, so we weren’t really big on immediately spending money on a new jar after having made the investment in an expensive blender we weren’t sure we’d use that often. (Another spoiler alert–we liked the Blendtec so much and used it so often (2-3 times/day) that we did buy a second kind of blender container to do nut butters–the “twister jar”)
  • Technology–as far as creating awesome blenders that blend things as advertised, both companies do that well. On the other hand, if you want fancier settings, you’ll probably go with the Blendtec line. Vitamix is known for old fashioned knobs and dials. The Blendtec blenders have modern buttons and digital displays.
  • Power–the Blendtec has a three horsepower motor, while the Vitamix blenders have two horsepower motors. We thought this could make a difference, but really, now that I’ve had both, I would say it really doesn’t matter.

If you read reviews and discussions about Blentec vs. Vitamix you’ll find many similarities.  One important similarity is that both have long warranties of seven or eight years.  As I’ll explain later, I already tried out the warranty on the Blendtec and had pretty good results. The warranties cover the motor as well as the blending jars.  Really you should expect your blender to last for many many years.  Both have the ability to blend a variety of things and do so at very high speeds.  Both have accessories available, especially in the form of different kinds of jars.  One difference is that the Vitamix has sharp blades, while the Blendtec blades are dull and resemble the wings of a jet.  Both work very well.

Another difference is that  the Vitamix lid has a tamping rod–in fact I’d say that the tamping rod is one of the hallmarks of the Vitamix blenders  The Blendtec doesn’t have this–the Blendtec salespeople would say that just don’t need it because their jars are shaped better to make it not necessary…I can tell you that sometimes it would have been nice to have one, but most of the time you don’t need it.

The times we did need something to push food into the blades were mainly related to frozen fruits–particularly strawberries that would get stuck and there was nothing you could do but open the blender and try to move the offending item away from the blade so that it could once again spin through the mix–something that isn’t easy to do when you have a blender full of smoothie.

BlendTec blade
BlendTec’s Blade. It’s one piece and
it isn’t sharp. Very impressive.

As it turns out, the shape of the jars and blades is really important for several reasons. It clearly makes a different to the performance of the blender. This is why both Blendtec and Vitamix sell more than one type of blending container. But there is something else that you should know–now that I have used both blenders I can tell you that the WildSide jar from Blendtec is WAYYYYY easier to get stuff from the bottom of than the Vitamix.

The WildSide jar is wide, plus there are only two blades to get around.  It can be very difficult to get thick mixtures from beneath the blades of the Vitamix–and this leads to waste. The problem is that the Vitamix blenders have four relatively sharp blades instead of two (see the illustration, it is really just a dull, but effective, one piece blade) and the Vitamix default jar is more narrow at the bottom. This allows for things to get “stuck” beneath the mixing blades. When this happens, I sometimes wish for a BlendTec again, but I have a very long rubber spatula that helps.

A couple of more things to compare: The manual that came with the Blendtec is not even close to what came with the Vitamix. Vitamix wins hands-down on this front. They give you a full color, spiral bound, thick recipe book that really makes you want to use that machine. Blendtec does give you a few recipes and you won’t wonder how to work the machine itself (it’s mostly self-explanatory anyway), but the Blendtec folks are skimping on the recipe-book compared to Vitamix.

Having said that, you can get great recipes from their website, and there are certainly plenty of recipes all over the internet meant specifically for Blendtec blenders. I still subscribe to the Blendtec email list–I find tempting recipes in my inbox every week.

One more point worth mentioning is the noise level. Let me put it this way: whether you purchase a Blendtec or a Vitamix, you will NOT be able to keep your blending a secret. Both blenders are loud, in fact, really l o u d in my opinion. Blending isn’t a delicate operation. There is going to be noise. The results are worth it.

Make delicious smoothies with your blendtec blender

Using the Blendtec  Blender

When we got our blender home we immediately started making all sorts of great foods, especially healthy smoothies.  We used it 50 times in a few days (there is a counter that tells you how much you use it). We were truly amazed out how smooth the smoothies were and how it could turn any fruit, grain, nut, meat or vegetable, frozen or fresh into something smooth. Our kids loved all the great smoothies we were turning out. We stocked up on plenty of organic frozen fruits and berries at Costco including: frozen cherries, frozen blueberries, antioxidant mix with various berries, pineapple (not organic), and strawberries (also not organic).  We also got a container of baby spinach and other nutritious non-frozen vegetables and fruits.

Smoothies weren’t the only thing we made.  We also tried other things such as hummus and soups.  The soup setting on the blender relies on friction to heat the soup.  This is a great way to make a delicious soup and will compete with our beloved Instant pot pressure cooker.  We also made pancakes, dips, guacamole, and breads.

Uh, Oh, Something’s Not Right

We’re not sure what went wrong, but after a few weeks of use our blender started vibrating severely.  We called Blendtec’s support line and they helped us determine that something had gone wrong with the jar’s bearings.  They gave us some advice on how to care for the jar so this wouldn’t happen and then mailed us a brand new jar for free.  We honestly aren’t sure if there was something we did wrong to break the first jar or if it was defective, but the kind woman who was helping me get the replacement gave me a few tips:

1) Don’t press down hard on the top of the jar while the blender is working–this will stress the seal and could lead to a breakdown like the one we had.  This is harder than it sounds because for some reason, the natural thing to do is to put pressure on the top of the jar while it’s blending. (On the Vitamix this doesn’t seem to be an issue as just the act of using the tamping rod is going to push down on your blender).

2) Load liquids at the bottom of the jar (first), then put in veggies and finally put frozen things at the top.  This reduces the possibility of the blades getting stuck on fruit that might have frozen together while you were loading the rest of things into the jar.

The replacement jar arrived and we were back in business.  We happily blended away for the next few days when suddenly we realized that the small screen that counts blend time in seconds and tells you how many times the blender has been used, stopped working.  So, I was back on the phone with BlendTec and they apologized and sent me a new base.  It arrived in about a week and I just used the free shipping label to send back the original base.  I was hopeful that I would not have any more problems. Unfortunately I was wrong.

I hate to keep you in suspense, so I’ll tell you now what went wrong, even though it’s a bit out of order:  We were using the soup cycle one day and started smelling a strong burning smell.  Something went wrong with the base again.  I decided I wasn’t going to call Blendtec again, so instead I just returned the whole thing for a refund at Costco.  They gave me no trouble about it and issued me a store credit.  I will use that for groceries and plan to buy a refurbished Vitamix  on Amazon instead.

Since I still want you to know about the rest of my experience with this blender, I urge you to read on anyway in case.  Again, I think there was alot to like about the Blendtec blender, so perhaps if you’re considering one you’ll take your chances with the 570 or you may have better luck with another Blendtec model.

Some More Things We Loved About Our Blendtec

Cleaning the blender is a breeze–way easier than one of those lower priced models that you have to take apart to wash.  With the  BlendTec blenders, all you have to do is to wash out the jar.  The quickest way to do that is to add water and a squirt of dish soap and do a quick blend.  Then rinse that out and blend again with just some water.

Since we were so happy with our blender and used it so much we decided to purchase an additional jar that works better with dry ingredients.  We already had the Wildside+ jar–the one that came with the blender, but it does have some limitations–the one in question here has to do with turning out nut butters such as homemade peanut butter, almond butter or cashew butter. The Wildside+ jar that comes with the blender definitely will have some trouble making nut butters.  You may not have had any idea how taxing it is for a blender to make this kind of thing, but I can tell you it really is.  You will find that the WildSide+ jar will stall trying to deal with the thick goo.

On the other hand, the Twister jar (and mini Twister jar) makes churning out peanut butter much easier.  This jar is shaped a bit different and its lid basically has two scrapers attached to it that run the whole length of the jar. While you’re making nut butters you twist the lid by hand to keep everything moving in the jar.  It works well.  It is also great for making frozen yogurt and improves the process of making hummus, but that works pretty well in the WildSide+ jar anyway.

There are two versions of the Twister Jar–the regular size and the mini.  We opted for the Mini because it was cheaper and we felt that it would be easier to store. Plus we didn’t think we’d ever want to make large quantities of nut butters that would be enabled by the full size jar.

As it turns out, we probably could find some use for the larger jar, but we were mostly happy with the small one.  The only issue I noticed is that when you’re making frozen yogurt with it, you need to be careful not to overload it, because it can potentially make a mess if it overflows–has happened to us a couple of times now.

By the way, there are a couple of other jars that I am aware of–there is the Fourside jar, which is also a general purpose jar but smaller than the WildSide+ jar and then there are couple of jars that are compatible with the VitaMix line.  Because of the reasons I stated above, I could imagine actually purchasing a BlendTec container for my Vitamix–remember the blades are part of the container with these blenders.  It is worth noting that the blending jars that are sold separately come with a 3 year warranty.

This is Just Cool

For some fun, have a look at the BlendTec YouTube channel–particularly at the “Will It Blend” video series.  The mini-show features a man and a blender that is used to blend anything from a garden rake or office supplies to an iPhone 6.  You’ll be amazed.

Which blender do you own?  Leave comments below.

Categories
Featured Food Nutrition Recommendations Review Reviews Save Money

Why We Shop At Costco – Costco Review Part 1

Organic Blue Agave from Costco
Costco sells two 36 ounce bottles of Organic Blue Agave
for $9.89

Easy Ways to Save Money: Shop at Costco

This is part 1 of my review of Costco. [Don’t miss Part 2 here]

I know this may seem a little off-topic for this blog, but I think there are still many families who haven’t discovered the joys of shopping at bulk food warehouse stores.

Many people are turned off by the membership fees or think they just don’t need a huge box of this or that.  I submit that if you have a family of 3 or more, you should definitely look more closely–even couples can offset the membership fees with a few purchases.

The cost savings on many items is drastic and although the selection can be limited, there are other factors that offset this such as higher quality of available items and even environmental benefits of buying bulk.

Example of cost savings.  Today I purchased 40 Duracell AA batteries for about $13.   On Amazon.com, they offer a 48 pack of Duracell batteries  for much more.

In a typical grocery store, you cannot buy this quantity of batteries at all.  Instead you’d buy maybe 12 batteries per package at most and they might cost you $11.  It is a huge difference.

Many folks might say, “yeah, but what am I going to do with all those batteries?” but in this case, Duracell guarantees their batteries to be usable for 10 years…so as long as you have a safe place to store them, this is a fantastic deal.

Membership at the Costco Warehouse

I really like Costco.  Generally speaking the shopping experience is good, although I admit that sometimes it is so crowded that you feel like you could be mowed down at any moment by a wave of oversize shopping carts.

I have the executive membership that is currently priced at $110.  One of the benefits of the executive membership is that you get 2% cash back on your purchases.  So that means that if you buy $5500 worth of products there, you will make your money back on the membership purchase.

That might seem like alot ,but over a year’s time it could easily add up–especially if you purchase any of the many non-food items such as electronics, appliances, home and garden, furniture and much more (especially if you count what you can buy on costco.com).  There is also a regular membership that costs about half as much.

With your membership you get two membership cards, meant for two people who live together from the same family.  You need to present the card whenever you pay and when you enter the store. (You might be able to get away with going in on a membership with a friend who doesn’t live with you, but it is against their policy and only one of you will get their monthly coupon mailings.)

Below is my full, 2-part review of Costco. I will try to include as many of the aspects of the store as I can, starting with their Visa Credit Card.

The Costco Visa Credit Card

As of June 2016, Costco no longer takes American Express, they have switched over to Visa which means you can use any Visa credit card at their stores. You can also use a Visa or Mastercard debit card to make purchases there. However, if you’re a long-term Costco member, you should definitely consider getting yourself a Costco Visa from Citi. It is a fantastic deal, especially if you are careful to pay it off each month before interest kicks in.

The card gives you additional cash back on Costco purchases (see below) plus has other great features and benefits.

The cash back comes in the form of a check that can only be redeemed at Costco (for products or cash), but if you’re an avid Costco shopper, then it’s all the better. At this writing the interest rate is about 15.5%. You can apply online.

The features you get with the card beyond the cash back make it even more worthwhile. Here are a few of the reasons I think this is such a great card:

  • As mentioned above, you get 4% cash back on gasoline purchases from any gas station (There is a limit of I think $7,000 worth of gas, and then it goes down to 1% cash back).
  • You get 3% cash back on qualified travel and restaurant purchases.
  • You get 2% cash back on all purchases from Costco
  • You get 1% cash back on everything else

Cash back comes in the form of a voucher that is emailed to you or mailed on paper that can be used to make purchases at Costco or redeemed for cash. This really works fine for my family and I since we shop there so often. But there are also other benefits, all of which have various caveats, that make me think they may or may not work for real-life situations, but anyway, they exist, so here are some of them:

  • Travel insurance / Trip cancellation insurance
  • Rental car insurance
  • Extended warranties that include thefts and other losses

I am pretty sure this is one of the best credit card deals you can get at the moment. I highly recommend checking into it.

The “Green” of Costco – Organic and Environmentally Friendly Offerings

As I mentioned earlier there are a few reasons why shopping at Costco is good for the environment.  First of all, buying bulk items typically means reduced amounts of packaging.  Although this hasn’t held true for some items, usually you are buying much bigger amounts of an item so less packing material is needed.

Secondly, Costco offers quite a large variety of natural, fair trade and organic items.  A good example is their house brand of chocolate chips which they sell for the price of $6.99 for 3.5 pounds.  These chocolate chips contain fair trade cocoa and do not have any  preservatives.   They are delicious and much better quality than the comparable Nestle chips. (Although Costco also sells Nestle as well)

Rice Milk From Costco - Kirkland Signature Ricemilk
Cost of Organic Rice Milk At Costco

Here is another example of the savings you can garner by shopping at Costco:  If you purchase Organic Rice Milk at a regular grocery store, you might pay about 8-15 cents per ounce.     As you can see below, you will pay less than 4 cents per ounce ($1.14/quart – – on quart = 32 ounces) at Costco.  Yes, you do have to buy 12 quarts at a time, but with something like rice milk, you can definitely store it very easily and it lasts a long time.    I should mention that Kirkland is the house brand of Costco.  Most of the time Kirkland products are of very good quality and typically much cheaper than their name brand counterparts.

Kashi Cereal at Costco

As I stated, there are many organic foods at Costco.  I am excited to see Costco adding more and more of these kinds of items because when they do, their buying power has strong effects in the consumer ecosystem.  They purchase huge amounts of these things from suppliers and that helps stabilize the market and reduce the prices for everyone.

There are plenty of examples of the organic items you’ll find in a Costco store. (BTW, if you live in central Maryland, see my blog post about other ways of getting lower cost organic fruits and vegetables at wholesale prices) I have put prices down for some of them to give you something to compare to other stores–be aware that sometimes these things come and go, plus prices do change and vary around the country, so YMMV.  Here is my current list of organic foods available at Costco–unfortunately this list isn’t complete:

– Eggs (they recently stopped packaging their organic eggs in styrofoam (doh!), excellent)
– Whole and 2% Milk
– Several cuts of chicken/whole frozen chickens
– Ground beef
– Coffee
– Butter (2 lbs for $7.69)
– Olive Oil
– Croutons (2lbs/ 32 oz for $6.49)
– Rice Milk
– Soy Milk
– Frozen Blueberries
– Quinoa
– Spinach
– Kale
– Mixed Greens (Kale & Spinach)
– Bananas
– Frozen Corn
– Frozen Mixed Vegetables – (The flash frozen vegetables are great to have around for soups and quick sides.  The quality has been very good.)
– Stoneyfield Yogurt
– Sugar
– Blue Agave ($9.89 for two 36 ounce bottles)
– Frozen Mango
– Bread (two pack)
– Tortilla Chips
– Brown rice
– Edamame
– Mary’s Gone Crackers Gluten free crackers
– 18 Rabbits Granola
– Rickland Organic Trail Mix
– Next Organics Drak Chocolate Covered Banana Coconut
– Late July MultiGrain Snack Chips
– Tasy Brand Organic Wild Berry Fruit Snacks
– Hanover Organic Ancient Grain Pretzels
– Tazo Organic Iced Green Tea
– Horizon Organic Vanilla Milk
– Apple & Eve Organics Orange Carrot Juice
– Mayorga Organic Cafe Cubano Coffee
– Carrington Farms Organic Coconut Oil
– Minsley Cooked Organic Brown Rice Bowls
– Della Organic Belends Quinoa and Rice Blend
– Gluten free Organic Black Bean Spaghetti
– Organic Pasta
– Classico Organic Pasta Sauce
– Kirkland Signature Organic Tomato Paste (12 – 6 oz cans- $5.99)
– Kirkland Signature Organic canned Diced Tomatoes
– Kirkland Signature Organic Tomato Sauce
– Pasta Prima Organic Spinach and Cheese Ravioli
– Sambazon Organic Acai Juice
– Better than Bullion Reduced Sodium Beef Base
– Black Chia seeds (2 pounds for $9.89)
– Several Breakfast cereals
– Carrots
– Peanut Butter
– Nutiva Gluten Free Coconut Flour

Sometimes Things at Costco Come and Go

Just to say a bit more about a couple of things that have come and gone:  One of my favorites that they took away without warning was the organic oatmeal…they have plenty of genetically modified Quaker oats though.

So if I was going to make any complaints about Costco, one of the top ones is that you cannot count on a product to be there for “good”.  Certainly there are some reliable offerings in general, but I would say that you can mainly only count on staple foods, as I have seen all sorts of random things get removed from the lineup or replaced by a different brand over the years.

They also tend to have “road shows.” These are also temporary items brought in by Costco or 3rd party vendors that are only there for a few days, and then they are gone. It’s anyone’s guess whether they will ever be back again.

Things like suits, high-end purses, coats, bedding, jewelry, folding ladders, and a variety of food items are only there temporarily. They do have some “regular” road shows too, such as their seafood roadshow, which seems to turn up at our local store approximately once a month with items they don’t regularly sell. Also in this category to some extent are things like blenders (Vitamix and Blendtec brands) that tend to be consistently sold in the stores, but seem to run out regularly and then are restocked after a company demonstrator comes in for a few days.

They also sell “earth friendly” products of other sorts.  For example, they offer products from the Honest Company including vegan shampoo and diapers/wipes.  They also offer environmentally friendly Costco-brand environmentally friendly dish soap and laundry detergent.

Sheet Cakes and Desserts

costco sheet cake selection

As someone who thinks most supermarket cakes taste disgusting, I do think that Costco’s sheet cakes are definitely better tasting than most and at $18 for a half sheet cake that feeds 48 people, it is a good deal.

We have purchased several cakes for birthday parties at Costco and that have always been tasty (Having said that, they still use quite a bit of sugar and have some chemicals that everyone should do without).   They always have “stock” sheet cakes available that are quite nice or you can order a custom decorated cake by filling out a form.

There are two basic kinds of cake – chocolate and white.  The white cakes are filled with 2 pounds of vanilla mousse and iced with white butter cream.  The chocolate cakes are filled with 2 pounds of chocolate mousse and iced with chocolate buttercream.   They request that you give them 1 day’s notice for customized cakes.

Costco Cake Order Form

I have created a fillable form to make ordering cakes at Coscto easier.  Click here to download the form. (If it opens up in Google’s web viewer, you need to click the download icon to get to the fill-outable/printable form. Once you fill in the details simply print the page.) This definitely helps to eliminate errors because of handwriting issues!

There are also several other types of pre-made party desserts you can purchase at Costco.  For example, there are many types of non-sheet cakes you can get–they have some really delicious choices including a red velvet cake, coffee cakes, an amazing chocolate cake, cupcakes, and apple strudel.  Availability tends to shift, but you can bet there are plenty of outrageously delicious options.  You can also find some amazing frozen party desserts, such as filled pastries, mochi and ice cream bars.

There is more to read–Don’t miss part 2 of my Costco review here.



Categories
Columbia Maryland Featured Recommendations Review Reviews

Review of Lifetime Fitness / Lifetime Athletics Gym in Columbia MD

Updated on December 1, 2016 By Eron Cohen.

This is my two part review of Lifetime Fitness/Lifetime Athletics ( click here to view part 2 ). Although this is a review of Lifetime Fitness (recently renamed to Lifetime Athletics) in Columbia Maryland, much of it applies to most of the Lifetime Athletics/Life Time Fitness Clubs in the USA and Canada.

I will try to give you my best assessment in a fair, honest way. I also mention some alternatives to Lifetime Fitness in the Columbia area at the end of this review.

tl;dr: If you don’t have time to read the entirety of this review, I have bolded the good things about the gym and some of the other reasons you may want to avoid it below along with this executive summary:

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Lifetime Fitness Review Executive Summary :

The Good:

  • High quality fitness equipment.
  • Wide variety of group classes including kickboxing, yoga, hip-hop, weight training, and tabata. Great instructors.
  • Pools, climbing wall, racquetball courts.
  • Nice locker rooms.
  • Towels, shampoo, conditioner, mouthwash, shaving supplies, and soap supplied.
  • Upscale environment (this is somewhat dependent on club level-when you sign up for a membership, you’re also signing up for a membership level that admits you into clubs that are of that level or below–more on this later!
    The important thing to note is that some clubs are more luxurious than others. Some of their facilities even have doctors and physical therapists to coordinate with the personal trainers.)
    •  

      The Bad:

    • Sometimes high-pressure sales tactics used on new members and guests of current members.
    • Dues are frequently increased (I have seen them raised more than once per year). Specific prices listed below.
    • No outside food or drinks allowed in the gym or at the pool, aside from water.
    • Monthly dues are very high compared to other clubs.
    • The gym gets crowded on weekday evenings–you may have to wait in line to use equipment. This is especially so just after new years.
    • Occasional long/slow lines to get into the gym and more frequently to drop kids off in the child center. I have spent as long as five minutes waiting in line to get into the gym and/or drop my kids off.
    • Class formats may change or can be randomly canceled and classes often fill to capacity week after week.
    • The climbing wall is not open at slower times of the day.
    • Unreliable notifications about pool closures or canceled classes.
    • You must pay extra for some group classes

Lifetime Fitness Club Overview

photo of lifetime fitness in columbia maryland

Lifetime Fitness provides an adequate experience for families with children as well as all of their members Although it is pricey (about $90/month for one single membership, about $200/month for a couples membership plus two kids–each child (13 and under) is about $15/month extra-there are also student rates available for college students–a discount of about $10/month), if it is in reach for you then you might consider joining–but please read below for more information about the club .

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There is a 14 day trial membership period, so you can try it out for a couple of weeks before you join–and they seem more than willing to let you come in as a guest for a day without much in the way of formal paperwork. There are definitely some good things and some bad things about this gym .

[See my list of great educational gift ideas for the kids in your life]

If you decide to join, tell them I referred you (Eron Cohen) , even if you’re not joining in Maryland . By the way, they regularly have new membership promotions, for instance they often give the people who are signing up for a new membership AND the person who referred the new member some extras–so it is often better to be referred by someone than not to be — see below.

First a bit about Lifetime Fitness:

  • Lifetime Fitness (NYSE: LTM ) is a chain of over 100 gyms across the USA and Canada.
  • They are based in Minnesota and were founded in 1992.
  • They have locations in from Phoenix to Dallas to Kansas City to Boca Raton. This map details all of their current destinations .
  • The experience from place to place seems to be generally consistent judging by the reviews left about other locations and the amenities available, but note that not all locations have all the same features (ie- some locations do not have a pool or a climbing wall).

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My Review of Lifetime Fitness
As a four year member of Lifetime Fitness , my observations and comments are relatively informed. I have a family membership that allows me, my wife, and two young children (age 8 and 10) to use the gym as often as we like.

General Comments
Being at Lifetime Fitness can be a nice experience–especially in the summer when the outdoor pool is open. A few thoughts:

  • The place is vibrant, fairly clean and makes you want to get in shape.
  • The facilities are modern and they are kept up with frequent refurbishments and remodeling–most recently there was a major renovation in September 2013.
  • Clean towels are provided for the pool and showers.
  • There are plenty of lockers available.
  • The staff that I have gotten to know are generally friendly and helpful.
  • The gym is open 24/7
  • There is plenty of parking on site (although many times the place is so crowded that you may have to park pretty far from the door, especially during the summer months–I consider this part of the exercise though.)

I have read other reviews that have said things to the effect that the place has “gone downhill”. I would say that either it started out better than it is now, or that they have since solved some of the problems that caused those complaints. Don’t get me wrong, this gym isn’t perfect, but it is better than that:

Price of Lifetime Fitness and Joining the Gym in Columbia, MD

We are members of an Onyx level club (second best) and we pay about $161/month for the family membership ( dues are raised frequently )–this price is no longer available since they’ve raised dues for new members–couples who join now would pay at least $180, plus junior memberships. I was told back on 6/19/2014 that single memberships are $110/month. There is a “start-up fee” which ranges for $20-200 depending on what kind of special offers or promotions you might be able to garner (again, if you come in as a referral they may reduce this fee–so tell them I referred you). Personal training at this gym costs about $70/hour as of 9/1/2016.

A Note About Lifetime Fitness Club Levels/Membership Levels

The club levels of Lifetime Fitness clubs indicate the types of amenities you can expect. In order of best to worst, the club levels are:

  • Diamond
  • Onyx (the one in Columbia, Maryland)
  • Platinum
  • Gold
  • Bronze

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More on Lifetime Fitness Membership Costs

If you happen to be in a market that has a diamond level club, expect to pay more…quite a bit more. I am told (thanks cGott42 who commented below) that you will pay $160 for a diamond level monthly membership and $340/month for a family of 4. Note that you will only be able to use your membership in a club that is at your membership level or below. I believe diamond clubs are only available in New York, California and Las Vegas.

Whichever club you join, you will have a month-to-month contract that you can cancel at any time, but when you cancel you have to pay for the next month –in other words, you have to give them a month’s notice and pay for an additional month from there. Some important things to know about this are:

  • This applies to any paid kid’s classes or swim lessons you sign up for. So if you’re kids are taking karate class there, and you cancel, you’re going to pay for the following month of classes. If you decide to start taking the classes again, your price is going to jump to the current monthly fee.
  • You also have the option of “pausing” your membership for a small monthly fee–I believe it is $19/month–the caveat, I am told, is that if you DO pause a membership, when you unpause it, you will resume your membership at current rates for membership & classes . So if you were getting your membership or classes at a lower, grandfathered rate, they will shoot to their current levels when you unpause–and given the frequent increases, this could be a big difference.
  • In the first year that were members dues were raised three times (!). The first time was for the primary couples membership which we didn’t have to pay because they told us our dues were frozen until 2014 when we signed up as a referral. But the second increase we DID have the pay–they raised the cost of junior memberships. I complained and they said that junior dues are separate and were not frozen. This was sneaky of them and definitely an indication of below board policies on their part–it definitely did not reflect what their salesman told me when I signed up for membership .

They also have this promotional gimmick called “lifetime bucks”. When you join you’ll be granted some number of lifetime bucks which you can spend on all sorts of gear, yoga workshops, personal training or even classes like swimming or karate (sorry, you can’t use them toward your membership dues).

If you refer people who join Lifetime you’ll be given additional bucks. And BTW it seems that the people who are referred are also given additional perks–so if you do decide to join and don’t know any other members, tell them I sent you. In our case, since we were referred, we got additional lifetime bucks and our “dues are frozen” (see above for why this was a misleading promotion ) for 2 years.

I’ve been using my lifetime bucks to pay for swimming lessons for my kids. So if you do get a promotional rate or use a referral, be sure to get the offer in writing and carefully monitor your bill to be sure you get what you’ve been promised.

[Looking for a birthday party idea for a child in your life? See my list of birthday party places in Baltimore County , Howard County and party places in Anne Arundel County ]

When I signed up, they made the process easy with not much pressure (the pressure comes later-see below). This was welcomed because I have had experiences in the past where you feel like you’re working with a used car salesman when you just want to sign up for a gym. The salesmen I worked with did contact me a few times while I was thinking of joining, but otherwise, I didn’t feel he was being pushy.

Having said that, when you join they will probably ask to set you up to speak with a personal trainer about the various upgrade offerings of Lifetime Fitness. They do this under the guise that they want to get your baseline measurements and weight, etc. But, basically it’s their chance to sell you some (overpriced) add-ons which you may or may not want (personal training, vitamins, protein supplements, heart monitors, etc). If you are interested in personal training, I’d definitely say take them up on that meeting, but otherwise, don’t bother — they use high-pressure sales tactics for these sessions and you’ll be able to get what you need when you decide you need it.

If you read the employee reviews of what it is like to work at Lifetime Fitness – a few of the cite pressure and sales tactics as a reason they do NOT like working there. At this meeting, I definitely DID feel like I was with a used car salesman – and again, plenty of other reviews mention high pressure at the initial meeting with the Lifetime Athletics salesperson.

One thing I can say about paying for a pricey gym membership is that it gives me one more reason to keep using it. If it was alot cheaper it would be easier to let it go. Having said that be sure and consider the Columbia Association if you live in the Columbia, MD area (see below). If you’ve read my review and still want to join, even the sales pressure won’t matter much because you probably already decided to join anyway.

Want to know more about Lifetime Athletics’ offerings? Be sure and read part two of my review !

Continue to Part 2 of My Lifetime Fitness Review >

You may also enjoy my review of Costco Wholesale and my list of birthday gift ideas for gifted kids.