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  • Review: Sea World San Diego

    We went to Sea World in San Diego for the first time a couple of weeks ago. The boys had a great time, and the animal performances are truly amazing. Everyone’s favorite part was the Sea Lions Live show, in which two sea lions and an otter do scenes from popular TV shows. I left wanting a small otter to take home as a pet. The host of that show was the most entertaining part of the day, and before the show began, it was fun trying to identify the TV theme song before he acted it out.

    We saw three other shows, Shamu Live, Blue Horizons, and Pets Rule. Predictably, Shamu Live has killer whales – and it just blows my mind that these enormous creatures can lift their bodies out of the water the way they do. Unfortunately, the “story” element of the show – involving some unclear theme of “believe” – detracts, rather than adds, to the enjoyment. And since the story involved a carved wooden whale tail, as we left the stadium, there was someone hawking whale tail necklaces to hit us over the head with the commercialism.

    Blue Horizons primarily features dolphins but also has pilot whales and beautiful birds. However, here too, there’s a ridiculous story that just gets in the way of the entertainment. In fact, they needed an emcee to describe the premise before the show started: a “young girl” dreams of interacting with dolphins and birds, and her dreams come true when she meets the dolphin god Delphis and the bird goddess Aurora. The “young” girl looked to be at least 30, so that was disconcerting. Delphis turned out to be a trainer whose gray wetsuit had the outline of a dolphin tail. Aurora and her bird trainers were not-quite-spectacular Cirque de Soleis style performers. There were also high divers looked like they’d reached their pinnacle in college – they were good, but not great, and one of them hit the water face first, causing me to cringe.

    You are allowed to enter the stadiums 30 minutes before showtimes, but for the most part, you’re then stuck sitting there with the kids with nothing to do. It’s not that big a deal for adults or older kids, but I recommend being prepared with a distraction with younger kids. We had snacks while waiting, which worked out because of the time between shows.

    Speaking of food, we ate lunch at the Calypso Bay Smokehouse, which was about what you’d expect from an amusement park restaurant: marginally edible and overpriced. Exercise caution if you order a large soda, because they don’t provide lids unless you spring for a souvenir cup – I ended up with soda on my plate, though it fortunately landed in an unoccupied compartment.

    Although the signs outside the park say no outside food or water, we clearly had bottled water and snacks in our backpacks when they were inspected at the gate and were allowed to bring them in. That helped keep costs down, since of course, everything is outrageously expensive inside the park. I was particularly shocked by the cold soda in reusable plastic bottles that were being sold before the shows for $8.75.

    There are a few rides at Sea World, but my boys didn’t meet the height requirement for most of them. For younger kids, the Sesame Street-themed rides in the Sesame Street Bay of Play area are great. Active kids of all ages will enjoy the climbing structure that’s in the same area.

    Right now, Sea World has a deal where you get a child’s ticket for just $5 when you buy an adult’s ticket. Regular admission is $69 for ages 10 and up and $59 for ages 3 through 9 (ages 2 and under get in free), so the $5 deal is awesome.

    Parking note: We arrived shortly after the park opened and declined the upgrade to VIP parking for an additional $5. After we parked, we were surprised by how close we were to the park (a world of difference from Disneyland), so I think you would want to pay for preferred parking only in very exceptional circumstances.

    Afternoon Coffee: Booster seats & More

    Baby Cheapskate recommends some booster seats under $50. Angie suggests skipping a high chair and going straight to a booster, because high chairs take up a lot of space and aren’t used for a long time. However, I’m glad we had a high chair because it tilted back. In the beginning, when the boys were just starting solids at 6 months, that was important.

    We’ve had the first booster Angie recommends, the Fisher-Price Healthy Care Deluxe Booster Seat,for four years now and still use it at home. It is super easy to use, and the chair wipes clean easily. However, after all of this use, I can’t get the straps and buckles sparkling clean anymore. We even got two of the cheaper versionto use at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. One word of caution here: the only chairs they have that can accommodate the booster are too wide in the back for the strap that’s supposed to go around. It’s not a big deal since the boys don’t spend a lot of time there, but it’s something to keep in mind. Disclosure: Product links are to Amazon. I’m an Amazon affiliate, so any purchase you make after entering Amazon through a link on Chief Family Officer supports this site at no additional cost to you. Thank you!

    Another booster Angie recommends is the KABOOST Portable Chair Booster.The Kaboost (pictured, left) slips under a chair’s feet to lift the whole chair up. I received one to review almost two years ago, and we’re still using it. (Read my original review.) I like that Alex can get in and out of the chair by himself but once in a great while, the leg will slip out of the Kaboost and that can be dangerous. Also, the kids can’t seem to help standing on it. I definitely recommend the Kaboost for older children, and not as a substitute for a high chair.

    As for other topics:

    I just finished reading The Futurist,a biography about James Cameron, the director of Titanic and Avatar. It’s very well written and absolutely fascinating. There’s a compelling anecdote on each page, from how Cameron broke into the film industry at the “Roger Corman School of Film” to how studio execs wanted Matthew McConaughey or Chris O’Donnell to play the role in Titanic that went to Leonardo DiCaprio. The story of how he came to make True Lies was just amazing. And although the book is clearly written with Cameron’s blessing, it doesn’t come across as overly skewed. If you have the time, I highly recommend it.

    Get a printable coupon for $4/1 Method laundry detergent. (Via Deal Seeking Mom.)

    Koupon Karen reports that some Shaw’s stores will have free 2-liter bottles of Diet Dr. Pepper tomorrow (2/21).

    Get a printable coupon for $1 off Yoplait Yo-Plus yogurt.

    The Children's PlaceClick on the banner for a printable coupon for 15% off at The Children’s Place. Through Monday (2/22), they have windbreakers on sale for just $10. Banner via MySavings.com

    Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate and/or referral links, and may refer to items that were sent to me for review. However, all opinions are my own. You can read Chief Family Officer’s full disclaimer and disclosure policy here.

    Quick Restaurant Reviews: Mozza2Go, Bottega Louie, Bouchon

    No Morning Coffee Post today, but here’s a roundup of some upscale restaurants in the LA area.

    Mozza 2 Go – The LA Times restaurant critic called it the best take out in town, and it certainly was delicious. Not quite as good as in the restaurant, but still excellent. My only gripe is that the hostess was a bit snotty, even after forgetting to give me one of our appetizers. She wasn’t very apologetic as she agreed to credit my card because I didn’t want to return for the item they left out. Funny how you start to get immune to bad service, though – we’ve had issues in the past with restaurants refusing to credit a card for an omitted item, so I was simply relieved at the time that I didn’t have to fight for what’s right. And although we haven’t been impressed by the desserts in the Pizzeria, the Butterscotch Budino gave us a whole new perspective on butterscotch. (I just realized that they never issued the credit . . . grrr!)

    Bottega Louie – I’ve been wanting to go to Bottega Louie for months and we finally made it earlier last month for lunch. The food was fantastic, as I expected it would be. The service was spotty at times, but considering the upscale feel and relatively downscale prices, I was more than satisfied. The entrees were on the small side, so it was surprising that the chocolate soufflé cake was so big. But I think it’s supposed to serve 2, which it certainly did – though it could have used a little more vanilla bean sauce.

    Bouchon Beverly Hills
    – One nice thing about Beverly Hills: Unlike the rest of Los Angeles, you can easily find free public parking. And famed chef Thomas Keller’s newest restaurant, Bouchon in Beverly Hills, sits right on top of a free public parking structure. (You can also valet your car. But wouldn’t you rather spend the money on dessert?)

    I was quite excited about our lunch date at Bouchon, and had made the reservations a month in advance. I’ve begun to read Ad Hoc at Home,which was one of my holiday gifts, and Carol Blymire’s first blog, French Laundry at Home, has made me familiar with Keller’s food. So I had high expectations. And they were met. The food combinations are unexpected, but work well together – like the crab crepe, which contained a filling of crab, marscapone, tiny chopped carrots, and was garnished with pink pickled onions. As a general rule, I hate onions. But I ate every piece of onion that was served to me at Bouchon. The cutting board of charcuterie came adorned with a line of pickled vegetables – adorable florets of cauliflower, tiny carrots and whole sweet pickles, radish, and more. I’m actually considering learning how to pickle.

    The only disappointment – and it wasn’t really a disappointment, my expectations were just so high – was the bread and the dessert. The bread, because it wasn’t anything special – the artisan bread I’ve been baking is just as good. And the dessert, because I ordered the restaurant’s signature bouchons – little chocolate cakes that were just that – little chocolate cakes that were like brownies with a crunchy topping, nothing very special.

    Overall, though, the food was good enough to make me put Bouchon on a very short list of fine dining restaurants I’d happily go back to again. (Pizzeria Mozza and Lawry’s being the only other ones.)

    Review: ING Direct

    I know I was waaay late opening an account with online bank ING Direct. In the world of high rate savings accounts, the best rates are almost invariably online, yet I avoided opening such an account because Marc and I didn’t want to complicate our finances.

    What changed our mind last year was the financial instability of several major brick and mortar banks. Suddenly, diversifying our accounts seemed more important than being able to track them in the easiest way possible. After all, even though our accounts were all FDIC-insured, we didn’t want to be in the position of not having access to enough money to pay a month’s worth of bills. It didn’t seem likely to happen, but we didn’t want to take any chances.

    A friend happened to ask for an Ebates referral and mention her ING Direct account in the same conversation. So we traded referrals: she signed up for Ebates through the link in the email I sent her, and we both got a bonus. And I opened an ING Direct Orange Savings account through the link in the email she sent to me, and we each got another bonus.

    I have to say, though, that after reading all of the positive reviews about ING Direct on just about every personal finance blog, that I thought ING Direct would be easier to use. For instance, one of the reasons I was happy to have an ING Direct account was that I knew it was possible to set up “subaccounts” – an easy way to keep track of money intended for a specific purpose. But I couldn’t figure out how to do it just by looking at the web site – I actually had to do a search for instructions (I found good ones at I’ve Paid for This Twice Already and Five Cent Nickel).

    I also opened an Electric Orange checking account in November, when there was a bonus of $50 for new accounts when you used your debit card for three signature-based transactions. The best part of the checking account turned out to be that debit card – it’s a Mastercard, so I was thrilled to have it when I needed a Mastercard to take advantage of a special promotion at CVS.com in December.

    To be honest, I wouldn’t go out of my way to open these accounts – especially with interest rates plummeting as they have over the last few weeks. The rate on the Orange Savings account is just 2.2% – better than most brick and mortar banks, and better than my credit unions too. But you can get 2.6% at FNBO, so there are still better rates out there. The rate on the Electric Orange account is a mere 0.5% – better than nothing, which is what I get for my brick and mortar checking, but I hardly keep any money in my checking accounts anyway. (They do offer up to 2.5% for higher balances, but who keeps more than $100,000 in a checking account?!)

    But overall, I’m very happy with our ING accounts. The $25 bonus I got for opening the savings account through my friend’s referral link more than makes up for any interest I’m losing by not moving to a bank like FNBO. We’ve accomplished our mission of diversifying our emergency fund, and I’ve created a subaccount to hold the money that I’d originally intended to send toward my student loans. When there’s enough in the subaccount to pay off my loans in full, I’ll send in one large balloon payment unless things have changed between now and then. And I now have a Mastercard, which allows me to take advantage of certain shopping deals.

    Note: I’m not an ING affiliate, and I have no relationship with FNBO. If you’d like to learn more about Ebates, read my original review.

    Update to Graco Nautilus Review

    As you might recall, we were rear-ended back in November and needed to get new car seats. I first tried the Sunshine Radian and hated it because I couldn’t get it to fit right.

    I ended up with two Graco Nautilus seats, which I liked. But after less than one month, the belt on one of the Nautilus seats began to fray – and since it was the belt that you pull to tighten the harness, it would get stuck and the belt would be impossible to tighten or loosen. In other words, the seat became unusable. (See photo.)

    If this had been my only Nautilus seat, or if the problem had happened with both seats, I probably would have demanded a full refund from Graco so that I could go purchase a Britax Regent.

    But since the other Nautilus has been fine, I was willing to give Graco the benefit of the doubt and assume the problem was unique to the car seat that we’d bought. I contacted them through their web site, explained the problem, offered to send photos, and asked for a replacement seat. The next day, I received a response requesting the photos. The day after I sent the photos, I received an email stating that the replacement parts had been sent.

    Since I had asked for a new seat, I wasn’t exactly sure what “parts” to expect. But I’d forgotten that the Nautilus isn’t just a car seat, it’s convertible to a booster. So what arrived was the booster part of the seat, and all I had to do was remove the back from the old booster seat and attach it to the new one. I just followed the instructions that were in the manual. It took me less than 30 minutes to remove the seat from the car, replace the booster, and reinstall the seat. Not bad.

    While I was less than pleased to have the frayed belt problem in the first place, I must say that Graco’s customer service handled the problem exactly as I would have hoped. And while I don’t love the Nautilus the way I love the Marathon, it’s almost as easy to install and use. So if you’re looking for a five-point harness seat that looks like a high back booster, I continue to recommend the Nautilus as a more affordable option than the Regent (though I look forward to personally trying out the Regent at some point).

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