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7 Reasons Your Family Will Love The Grove Resort Orlando

 All the amenities of home and more –  plus free shuttle service to Walt Disney World theme parks – makes The Grove Resort Orlando the perfect place for your next Florida getaway!

The Grove Resort Orlando

Image provided by The Grove Resort

7 Reasons Your Family Will Love The Grove Resort Orlando

SimplifyLiveLove occasionally receives complementary products, hosted travel, and/or compensation related to the content shared here. Many thanks to The Grove Resort Orlando for hosting our recent stay there.

mom & son winter vacation

Do you ever travel one-on-one with your kids? Family vacations are a lot of fun, but one-on-one time is amazing. Recently I took a one-on-one trip to The Grove Resort Orlando with my son, and we had a fabulous time playing at the resort, and also spending a day at nearby Hollywood Studios. If you’re looking for a family friendly full service resort near the Walt Disney World theme parks, look no further than The Grove Resort Orlando.

A trip to Walt Disney World is a dream vacation that many families work hard to afford. If you’re looking to maximize your time and money, staying off property may be the best bet. Orlando offers many options for families, but here are seven reasons why my son and I highly recommend The Grove Resort Orlando.

Three Bedroom Master at The Grove

Image provided by The Grove Resort Orlando

1. The Grove Resort Orlando = Spacious Residential Style Suites

When you’re traveling with family, being able to spread out is the key to sanity – everyone’s sanity. This is true whether you’re with one child, or with everyone. As a mom of four, you can bet I appreciate my space!

One thing The Grove Resort is not short on, is space. Featuring one- to three- bedroom suites with fully equipped kitchens, full washers and dryers, a living room, and so many fun entertainment options, The Grove can be a great way for families to get a big bang for their buck in Orlando.

grove resort collage

From playing at Flip Flop’s Family Fun Center to swimming at Surfari Water Park and boating on Lake Austin, to learning to surf on the FlowRider – families with kids of all ages will enjoy spending time on property at The Grove just as much as they will enjoy exploring Walt Disney World. And maybe they will even prefer it!

Valencia Restaurant Grove Resort

Image provided by The Grove Resort

2. Lots of Dining Options at The Grove Resort

Guests staying at The Grove might enjoy fully equipped kitchens in their suites. They’re so helpful if you’d like to prepare your own meals. It’s super easy to order groceries (or pizza) and have them delivered using The Grove’s Delivery to Your Suite service. 

Verona Craft Cocktail valencia restaurant the grove resort orlando

However, don’t feel like you have to cook! Cooking your own meals can be a great way to save a little money, but the resort has enough delicious restaurants that you don’t have to cook at all if you don’t want to! If you’re not feeling it, head down to one of the restaurants have someone else cook and clean up! Win, win. 

Ben enjoyed picking up snacks at the Alfresco Market. Featuring souvenirs, wine, a little coffee shop, candy, snacks and more – this market is perfect for grabbing a little something on the way out the door. 

Center Cut Filet Mignon from the Valencia Restaurant Grove Resort

I highly recommend trying the Valencia Restaurant while you’re here. They have great meal options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Ben’s favorite other than the Cafe Mocha I let have for breakfast one morning was the Valencia Burger with Shoestring French Fries. I really loved the Center Cut Filet Mignon and the Verona Craft Cocktail. YUM!

surfari water park

3. The Grove Resort’s Surfari Water Park

Another great feature at the Grove are all the pools. Sadly, it was a little chilly and windy while we were in Florida, but that didn’t stop Ben from spending time in the water at the Surfari Water Park. He enjoyed the water slides and the 695 foot lazy river. If you want a little quieter pool area, check out the Springs Pools. Located near Lake Austin, you’ll find another three full-sized pools, an oversized hot tub, and a children’s splash area as well!

hanging out at surfari water park orlando

It was too chilly for me to swim, but the private cabanas and pool side delivery of drinks and food  from the poolside bar and grill restaurant called Longboard Bar & Grill made sitting outside in the sun quite pleasant! The weather was so much nicer than the snow and ice back home, I really don’t have anything to gripe about! 

flowrider at the grove resort

4. FlowRider

The highlight of Ben’s day at the Surfari Water Park though, was learning to surf on the FlowRider! In his 30 minute lesson (only $30!), he progressed through holding on to the board to sitting on the board, and finally to standing on the board and actually surfing! I must admit, I was surprised at how far he got in such a short time. 

 

Watch the video and see how he did! He said it was a lot of fun and didn’t hurt at all when he wiped out. The instructors were very professional and nice and they helped Ben a lot.

boats at lake austin

5. Lake Austin

More fun water options at the resort include renting boats on Lake Austin. We were really looking forward to taking out one of those cute swan boats or having a driver take us for a spin in the pontoon boat, but unfortunately a wind advisory while we were on property kept us from enjoying these nice amenities. When you go, I hope you get to try them!

flip flop's family fun center

6. Flip Flop’s Family Fun Center

When you’re ready for a break from water activities, head inside to the 6,600 square foot Flip Flop’s Family Fun Center! You and your kids both will enjoy glow-in-the-dark mini-golf, arcade games like Air Hockey and Skee-Ball and so much more. And yes, Ben kicked my butt at pretty much everything in there except mini-golf. I still smoked him at mini-golf. 

ben at the escape spa grove resort

7. Escape Spa at the Grove Resort and Spa

Last but certainly not least, don’t forget to pamper yourself with a little spa action! The Grove Resort also has a full service spa so you can enjoy a mani-pedi, massage, or facial to really get your relaxation on! Even Ben enjoyed his first ever manicure on our getaway. He said the hand massage at the end was ah-mazing, and yes, I made him wear the robe. He was not amused. But he was a good sport. 😉

If all of this hasn’t convinced you to check out The Grove Resort, perhaps learning that a three-bedroom condo that sleeps eight costs under $300 a night will! If you have a large family or you’re taking a multi-generation trip, you really can’t beat that price!

If you’ve been to The Grove, I’d love to hear! Have so much fun on your next Orlando Vacation!

mom and son

And if you liked this post on The Grove Resort Orlando, you might like these posts too:

Top 11 Secrets to Planning a Trip to Walt Disney World on a Budget

Fun, Affordable Family Skiing at Sunlight Mountain Resort

Sarasota Bayfront Park

Robinson Preserve, Bradenton Florida

The Mall of America is the Perfect Place to Escape from Winter!

My kids have been begging to visit the Mall of America for years and we finally realized that it is the perfect place to escape from winter! There are so many indoor things to do at Mall of America -perfect for kids of all ages – plus food and shopping! Here’s why you should plan a visit to one of the biggest malls in the United States!things to do at the mall of america

SimplifyLiveLove occasionally receives complementary products, hosted travel, and/or compensation related to the content shared here. We were thrilled to collaborate with Mall of America and Bloomington MN CVB to bring you this post.

Fun Facts about the Mall of America

No trip to Minneapolis is complete without stopping at the Mall of America. I recommended that you plan to spend at least one full day there, but you could easily spend two to three days if you plan to do all the fun things. With over 400 free events at the Mall each year, you’ll find lots of entertainment you just can’t pass up. Before you go, there are a few facts you’ll want to know!

walking from Best Western to MOA

Where is the Mall of America?

Located 15 minutes from Minneapolis in the suburb of Bloomington, the Mall of America is linked to the Minneapolis / St.Paul Airport (and the Amtrak Station) by the Light Rail Train. Two hotels are connected to MOA and more than 50 hotels are located within ten minutes of the mall. 

It’s just over 3 1/2 hours from Des Moines, a 5 1/2 hour drive from Eastern Iowa or Omaha, and a 6 1/2 hour drive from Kansas City which makes it the perfect distance for a quick getaway when you need an escape from dreary winter weather or a rainy weekend.

I’m sure you could even leave your coat at home! We didn’t take ours to the mall at all. All hotels offer complementary shuttles to the mall and there are lots of great places to stay within a very short walking distance.

How big is Mall of America?

The Mall of America spans 1.15 miles on only one level and there are multiple levels, so you’ll definitely get your steps in! Home to over 520 stores, including an Apple Store and the Lego Store,  we could have spent much more time shopping than we did.

Over 40 million visitors go to MOA every year which is more people than the entire populations of Iowa, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Canada combined!! It also makes the Mall of America the most visited attraction in the United States!

Is there tax at Mall of America?

One of the great perks of Mall of America is there is NO sales tax on clothing or shoes! I think a mother/daughter back to school shopping trip would be so much fun! Only my son is my biggest shopper. LOL! I’d have to do a mother/son trip. We only had time to explore a few of the stores, but even though we aren’t big shoppers, I know my kids would love to explore them more.

Is there a curfew for teens?

There is a weekend curfew for teens. If you’re visiting with kids under 16 on a Friday or Saturday night, they have to be with adults after 4 pm. They can walk around on their own before 4 pm, but after 4 pm they need to be with an adult.

I can tell you from experience that if your teens are off on their own after 4 pm on a weekend night (and they’re arguing with each other), they will be stopped and security will call a parent. True story. LOL!

buy mall of america coupon booklet

Food in Mall of America

In addition to lots of fun things to do at Mall of America, and a huge selection of stores, there are also over 50 restaurants to check out, from fine dining at FireLake Grill House and Cocktail Bar to Hard Rock Cafe to Piada Italian Street Food and Shake Shack in the food court. You’re sure to find something delicious to satisfy any taste or budget.

Pro tip: Make sure to buy a copy of the Mall of America Coupon Booklet. We used quite a few coupons on food and at stores as well. The kids were excited to see how much money they could save! 

blueberry drink at firelake grill

Mall of America is So Much More Than Shopping

While we did spend some times in the stores at the MOA, there are so many more things to do than just that. I can’t believe how many fun activities one mall is able to pack inside! Here are some of the fun things we did during our very busy day and a half at the mall.

Things to Do at Mall of America

We arrived at the MOA on a Friday afternoon after our Amtrak trip out to Montana. We were supposed to have arrived by 8 am, but due to a freight car derailment in Idaho, our Empire Builder train was seven hours behind. 

Instead of spending most of Friday and half the day Saturday at MOA like we had planned, we spent a couple hours on Friday, then shut the mall down on Saturday.

We were not able to fit in everything we wanted to do, so if you’re planning a trip to Minneapolis, make sure to stay long enough! I recommend at least two full days at MOA if you want to do all of the things there.

Here are the six things we really enjoyed at the Mall of America:

the escape game at MOA

1. The Escape Game – 

My kids have been dying to do an escape room, but truth be told, I was a little worried. Our family can argue with the best of them. With six strong personalities, I was concerned that we would fight the whole time. 

we escaped from the escape game mall of america

Luckily, we didn’t! We worked well during our 60 minutes together and managed to solve our Special Ops mission with seven minutes to spare! Everyone had a lot of fun and I was so impressed with how well we were actually able to work together. The Escape Game at the Mall of America was my favorite part of the trip.

Learn more about The Escape Game and buy tickets here.

nickelodeon universe at mall of america

2. Nickelodeon Universe Amusement Park – 

Did you know that MOA has its own indoor theme park? Again, I was a little skeptical of an indoor amusement park, but MOA delivers! $38 buys an all-day wristband, good for unlimited rides in the largest indoor theme park, and my kids put their wristband to great use.

on the swings at mall of america

They loved the roller coasters most of all, but there are rides for everyone, including a water ride and lots of rides for toddlers too. You can enjoy photo ops with Nick characters who hang out at the park and take little shopping or eating breaks as well!

fun rides at nickelodeon universe mall of america

3. Dutchman’s Deck Adventure Course – 

Confession. My kids were not able to get me on the Ghostly Gangplank ropes course or zipline, but they had an absolute blast! I wasn’t sure how my youngest daughter would react after getting to the top of the Barnacle Blast, but she did just fine and enjoyed zip lining with the best of them! 

dutchman's deck mall of america

In fact, she used my ticket the next day and went back for more. At 55’ above Nickelodeon Universe, the zipline at MOA is the longest indoor zip line in North America! 

Pro tip:  you do need to be 48” tall to enjoy this attraction and it is a separate ticket, but you get a discount with a theme park ticket. You’ll need close-toed shoes for this attraction. But don’t worry – if you forget, you can borrow a pair of Crocs!

Learn more about Dutchman’s Deck Adventure Course here!

flyover america

4. FlyOver America – 

If you’ve ridden Soarin’ at Epcot, you know the drill. FlyOver America is very similar. It’s an interactive ride that takes you high above the earth for a bird’s eye view of either the USA or USA and Canada. We took the USA flight and really enjoyed flying over the country. 

Not only are you really moving, you also feel the wind and the spray of water from time to time. My kids loved seeing places we’ve visited and we even found our home state of Iowa in the movie as well!

Check out FlyOver America here!

Moose Mountain Adventure Golf MOA

5. Moose Mountain Adventure Golf – 

As if I haven’t covered enough things to do at Mall of America yet, there are also a few opportunities to mini golf right in the mall! The whole family, from young to old, enjoyed our 45 minutes on the Moose Mountain Adventure Golf course. It was pretty busy, but we kept moving. We enjoyed looking out over the edge and watching the roller coasters from this 18-hole mini golf course!

minnesota sealife aquarium mall of america

6. Sea Life Aquarium – 

Don’t let the bored expression on my kid’s face fool you!  While not the biggest aquarium by any means, my kids really enjoyed the interactive nature of the Sea Life Aquarium inside the mall. How many malls have aquariums?

We spent about an hour learning about Seemore the Green Sea Turtle, Dutchess the Sawfish, jellyfish, sharks, and more. The 300 ft Ocean Tunnel was especially fun, but the highlight for my younger kids was filling out the Dive Logbook and earning a prize at the end.

Similar to the Junior Ranger programs at national parks, the ranger program at Sea Life Aquarium helps kids learn about sea life and gets them interested and active in their surroundings!

Buy Sea Life tickets online and save a little bit of money!

I’d be remiss in my post if I didn’t also mention the family-friendly hotel right across from the mall where we stayed for two nights.

best western plus bloomington mn

Best Western PLUS Bloomington Hotel by Mall of America

The Best Western PLUS Bloomington is located across the street from Mall of America. We walked over in under ten minutes. It was an easy walk to a skywalk over to the Radisson. The hotel also has a shuttle, though, so you don’t have to walk.

best wester plus pool

Perks of the Best Western PLUS include free parking, free all you can eat breakfast buffet, water park for the kids and a huge spa for relaxing in after a full day at the mall! We stayed in a pool side room and were happy that the pool noise stopped promptly at 10 pm each night so we could get a good night’s sleep!

pool at best western plus MOA

With all of the fun things to do at Mall of America, why wait to go? Make sure to enjoy all of these things and let me know about your favorite thing to do there too! 

For more information on visiting the Minneapolis area, check out these posts too!

5 Delicious Farm to Table Restaurants in the Twin Cities

30 Free Things to do at the Minnesota State Fair

7 Best Family Friendly Indoor Activities in the Twin Cities

Family Fun at the Grove Resort Orlando

Top 10 Plants for Early Spring Harvest

If you’re trying to eat local, in-season food, make sure to include these top ten plants for early spring harvest. They will yield the first food in the spring so you can have farm fresh produce as soon as possible.

top 10 plants for early spring harvest

*This post contains affiliate links which means I earn a small commission from your purchase.*

One of my long term life dreams is to eat only locally grown and produced food, like Barbara Kingsolver did in her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle {one of my most favorite books of all times}. At first thought, it sounds kind of doable, right? I mean, I have a big garden, and I have egg and meat chickens. I’ve also found a source for local pastured pork and organic, local, grassfed beef. But the logistics are really a lot more complicated than my pea-brain can handle. And it would take a REALLY REALLY REALLY big garden to produce enough food to feed my family of six. Maybe some day.

For now, I will be content to do what I can, and that means maximizing every growing season, and this post starts with spring! Enjoy my list of the top 10 plants to consider if you want to get the earliest possible harvest out of your garden.

Top 10 Plants for Early Spring Harvest

bowl of strawberries and asparagus in the grass

Early Spring Perennials

I love perennials because I can plant them once, and reap the rewards for years! It’s also a bonus that a few garden perennials produce some of the earliest food in the spring, so make sure to include them in your garden.

Rhubarb – it seems a lot of people have a love/hate relationship with rhubarb, but I love it. It’s also ready for picking sooner than most other fruits and is delicious in crisps, scones, and made into syrup too!

Strawberries – strawberries are the first berries to ripen, usually late May or early June in my area. Nothing beats a fresh strawberry right out of the garden! And since conventionally grown strawberries are some of the most pesticide laden fruits grown, we prefer to grow our own.

asparagus on a sheet pan for roasting

Asparagus – asparagus is ready for a full harvest the third year after it’s planted. It’s one of the earliest crops of spring – so delicious!! We look forward to fresh asparagus every year.

Spring Veggies to Plant before the Last Frost

Spring Onions / Potatoes – can be directly sown from seed six weeks before the last frost if the ground is workable. Onions grow quickly and the greens can be cut pretty soon after they start growing. If you leave the bulb in the ground and just cut the greens, they will even grow new greens for you!

Potatoes are generally ready for harvest a little later, but you can carefully collect new potatoes without disturbing the plant ten weeks after the potatoes were planted. We use the no-dig planting method to grow potatoes. Learn more here.

Spinach / Kohlrabi / Kale – can be directly sown from seed five weeks before the last frost date. It’s especially important to plant spinach early as it needs six cool weeks to reach maturity and bolts quickly in hot weather.

Peas / Radish / Carrots – can be directly sown from seed four weeks before last frost date. Peas also don’t do well in hot weather, so make sure to plant them as quickly as possible. Every year I have volunteer radish crops in my garden because I let some go to seed in the summer. They are some of the first fresh veggies we eat!

Forellensuss Lettuce

Lettuce / Swiss Chard – can be directly sown from seed two weeks before last frost date. I also have volunteer lettuce in my garden from time to time and love it! Fresh lettuce is just delicious.

Check your seed packets to see which varieties mature the quickest. Some radishes are ready within 25 days! And lettuce is very quick growing too.

A collage of pictures including strawberries in a bowl, forelenschuss lettuce, and a basket of eggs and lettuce harvest.

What plants do you look forward to most in spring?

10 Practical Gardening Tips and Tricks to Help Your Garden Thrive

Gardening for beginners does not have to be hard! If you want to start your first garden but aren’t sure where to start, these ten practical vegetable gardening tips and tricks for first time gardeners will be a big help.
Ten Practical Tips for First Time Gardeners

Practical Gardening Tips and Tricks to Help Your Garden Thrive

Growing a garden can be very rewarding, but there are a few things you should consider before you start.

1. Start small and manageable

Gardens take a lot of work and the work increases exponentially with the size. You’ll need to have time to plant, water, weed, de-bug, harvest, and cook, so it makes a lot of sense to learn small. You can still grow a lot of food, even in a small garden. You’ll be surprised at how much food you can grow in a 4 x 8 or even a 4 x 4 raised garden bed! Keep it small the first year so you don’t get scared off from trying again. grow veggies you like

2. Grow fruits and veggies your family loves to eat

It’s really easy to get caught up in the beautiful seed catalog and order many different types of seeds, but keep it simple the first year. If you don’t like zucchini, there’s absolutely zero reason to plant it. I give you permission to skip zucchini if you want! 

The Best Garden Seed Organizer Ever!

3. Plant these seeds directly in the garden

Some plants do fine when you plant them as seeds. And some you must plant as seedlings. Knowing the difference will make a big difference in your success and can save you a lot of money too. Seeds are a lot cheaper than seedlings. The following ten common garden vegetables can be planted directly from seeds and they will do great.

Follow the instructions on the back of the seed packet and plant them at the right time of year using proper spacing and depth. Don’t forget to water your garden after planting the seeds as seeds need water to germinate. 

  1. Carrots
  2. Corn
  3. Cucumbers
  4. Beans
  5. Peas
  6. Lettuce
  7. Radish
  8. Spinach
  9. Watermelon
  10. Zucchini / Squash

4. Plant these as seedlings

The following six plants are best if you plant as seedlings. They have a longer growing season and need to be well established in order to bear fruit. Make sure to plant them according to best spacing and depth requirements as well. You’ll want to water your plants well after planting to make sure the plant roots have everything they need to really take hold. Most plants need an inch of water a week to thrive, so pay attention to rain and water your garden as needed.

  1. Tomatoes
  2. Peppers
  3. Broccoli
  4. Cauliflower
  5. Cabbage
  6. Brussel Sprouts

Buy Tomato Seedlings

5. Buy vegetable starts at the garden nursery instead of trying to start your own.

Stating seeds is a lot of fun and can be very rewarding, but if this is your first time gardening, it’s easier and more practical to just buy the baby plants at the store. It might even be cheaper in the long run too.

6. Learn your frost free dates and garden zone.

It’s very important to plant your garden at the right time, so head on over to this first and last frost calculator, plug in your zip code, and learn when it’s safe to plant your garden. Frost kills plants so make sure you know this very important detail! You’ll also want to know what your garden zone because some plants grow better in certain zones. Go here to learn your garden zone.

7. Choose a good garden location.

Most plants need full sun (at least six hours of sun each day) so keep that in mind when choosing where to place your garden. You’ll want to avoid trees of course, and also consider tall fences or other vegetation that may cast shadows on your garden.

8. Keep a garden journal.

If you want to continue gardening, it’s important to learn from your mistakes. Keep track of what you plant, when you plant it, how it grows, and how well it harvests. This will help you plan future gardens. This is the amazing garden journal I have!

don't forget mulch

9. Don’t forget mulch

Mulching your garden will help keep moisture in and weeds out. All of your plants will benefit from mulch, so don’t forget to include it in your garden. Straw, grass clippings, and wood chips can all make good mulch and sometimes you can even find free mulch too!

10.  Spend time in your garden each day.

Make sure you head out to your garden each day to check for bugs, weeds, and other problems. Tending a garden does take devoted time each day so make sure you’re able to spend at least 10 – 30 minutes a day with your plants (depending on the size of your garden).

More awesome garden posts to check out!

5 Must Know Tips for Planting Tomato Seedlings

Tips for Planting Seedlings

How to Plant Potatoes – No Dig Method

Tips for Spring Garden Planning

Tips for Ordering Garden Seeds

How to Grow a 3 Sisters  Garden

Companion Plants You Must Have in Your Garden

My Favorite Garden Seed Organizer

If you want to start your first garden but aren't sure where to start, these tips for first time gardeners will be a big help. Growing a garden can be very rewarding, but there are a few things you should consider before you start.

Happy gardening, my friends! Make sure you check back each Tuesday for more gardening tips, tricks, and tutorials. If you liked this post on gardening tips and tricks to help your garden thrive, you may want to sign up for my weekly newsletter too!


How to Cook Perfect Dried Beans in the Instant Pot {Soaked or Unsoaked!}

The Instant Pot has been a real game changer for my family – especially its ability to quickly cook dried beans with no pre-soaking! If you want to learn how to cook all sorts of dried beans in a pressure cooker, this post is for you!

How to Cook Dried Beans in the Instant Pot {Soaked or Unsoaked!}

How to Cook Dried Beans in the Instant Pot

Do you know how to cook Instant Pot Beans? Beans can be tricky in the Instant Pot. Sometimes it seems like they come out hard and undercooked and sometimes they are cracked and overcooked. Learn how to get perfect beans every time this post. It doesn’t matter if you cook soaked beans or un-soaked beans in the Instant Pot – learn the tricks to get them both just right! While both ways are totally doable with these useful tips, we prefer no pre-soaking of the beans!

One of the things I love the most about my Instant Pot is the ability to cook un-soaked dried beans relatively quickly. My Instant Pot has transformed the way I cook dried beans. I never remember to soak beans the night before and the ability to simply omit that step is so lovely!

We eat a lot of beans here at SimplifyLiveLove. They are frugal and I always have them in my pantry. Our favorite types of beans to stock in the pantry are black or turtle beans, kidney beans, and pinto beans. I buy them in bulk and store them in 5 gallon buckets. 

Keeping a stocked pantry helps me cook from scratch and having rice and dried beans on hands means we almost always have something to cook in a pinch. Curious what I always have on hand in my pantry to cook from scratch? Read this helpful post on pantry essentials and grab my free checklist so you can stock your pantry too!

Besides that, beans are quite healthy. They are a fabulous way to added necessary protein to your diet, they are high in amino acids, they are rich in polyphenols, and they are lower in calories and fat than other protein sources. Learn more about health properties of beans here.

What do we do with beans?

Like I said, beans are a staple at my house and I almost always have a container of cooked beans in my fridge ready for some purpose. I add them to taco meat to stretch the meat, they’re a staple in my kids’ favorite taco soup, and we make a lot of pinto beans for bean burritos, nachos, and more. We also often have rice and bean bowls with guacamole and all the fixins. We also use dried beans in the best chili ever – also made right in your instant pot!

how to cook unsoaked dried beans in the instant pot

Time Chart for Dried Beans in the Instant Pot

I primarily cook three different types of beans: pinto beans, black beans, and kidney beans. But I have all types of beans in my pantry and so I’m sharing this handy chart of cooking times for nine different types of beans. Soak them, or don’t soak them. That’s your call. 

time chart for cooking dried beans in the instant pot (1)

Note: All times are in minutes. 🙂

How to choose a cooking time for unsoaked dried beans

How I choose a cooking time depends primarily on my end goal for the beans. If I plan to use the beans in another recipe, meaning they will continue cooking after I take them out of the Instant Pot, I will cook them for fewer minutes. 

For instance, if I’m using black beans in my taco meat, I’ll cook them for around 22 minutes instead of 27. But if I’m not putting them in another recipe, I will cook them for longer in the Instant Pot so they come out softer instead of al dente. I cook pinto beans for 28 minutes, for instance, instead of 25 if I’m making refried beans.

Water to Bean Ratio for Pressure Cooking Dried Beans 

The water to bean ratio for cooking dried beans in the instant pot is 4 cups water to 1 cup beans. One pound of dried beans is two cups, so you need 8 cups of water to cook one pound of dried beans in the pressure cooker.



homemade opt in

Let me help you Cook from Scratch! Get your free weekly meal plans by clicking here.

In addition to the beans, you’ll also need a good quality oil and salt as well. I prefer to cook with unrefined salt as regular ole table salt has been bleached and has a lot of additives that I’d rather avoid. My favorite type of salt is REAL Salt from the Great Salt Lake in Utah. I love its pretty colors and it has a nice taste and lots of healthy qualities too. There are so many different types of salt. We only use table salt for crafts.

how to cook soaked or unsoaked dried beans in the instant pot

Some things to be careful about when cooking Instant Pot beans

Make sure you do not overfill your pressure cooker when cooking beans, or it will foam and boil over. While the oil helps reduce foaming, one pound of beans (2 cups) is the maximum you can cook in a 6 quart Instant Pot. I know, that saddens me too, but it’s not worth the mess to cook more. 🙁 Also, use high pressure and a natural release for best results.

That said, I cook 4 cups of beans successfully in my 8 qt. Pressure cooker. I highly recommend the 8 qt Instant Pot if you have a large family or like to cook a lot at a time.

Yield: 12 - 1/2 cup servings of cooked beans

How to Cook Dried Beans in the Instant Pot

How to Cook Dried Beans in the Instant Pot

An easy way to cook dried beans in the instant pot. No pre-soaking required!

Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Additional Time 15 minutes
Total Time 45 minutes

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Add ingredients to instant pot.
  2. Seal the lid and cook on high pressure for the time specified in the chart.
  3. Use a natural pressure release for at least 15 minutes. You can naturally release the pressure longer if you want.
  4. Manually release pressure and enjoy.

Notes

If you have a larger instant pot, add 4 cups of water per 1 cup of dried beans.

Recommended Products

As an Amazon Associate and member of other affiliate programs, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

12

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 66Total Fat: 4gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 3gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 330mgCarbohydrates: 8gFiber: 2gSugar: 3gProtein: 2g
Nutritional information is not always correct.

And that’s it, my friends, how to cook dried beans in the Instant Pot! It’s totally worth the price of the Instant Pot to me, just for the ability to cook dried beans in a relatively short amount of time! Do you cook beans in your Instant Pot? I’d love to hear if you soak them, or skip it!

Want more easy Instant Pot Recipes? Here you go!

More Instant Pot Recipes You Will Love

homemade opt in

Let me help you Cook from Scratch! Get your free weekly meal plans by clicking here.

Here are the secrets to Instant Pot Beans. Cook dried beans, both soaked and unsoaked, with this handy time chart that will help you get perfect instant pot beans every time! #InstantPot #DriedBeans #InstantPotRecipes

 

Delicious Instant Pot Chili + 20 More Soup Recipes for Winter

Correct me if I’m wrong, but there is nothing better on a cold winter night than a big bowl of hearty soup. If you’re looking for soup recipes for winter, you will love this Instant Pot Chili Recipe (made with dried beans and ZERO pre-soaking!) plus 20 more winter soups perfect for cold weather!!

instant pot chili recipe

Delicious Instant Pot Chili + 20 More Soup Recipes for Winter

I’m excited to team up with a great group of bloggers to bring you this first ever Houseful of Soups post! You will love the comfort foods so many amazing recipe creators are bringing you today. From hearty chili to chicken noodle soup, lentil soup, baked potato soup, French Onion Soup, and more: we’re covering all of your winter soup needs in one easy post.

First up, here is my delicious instant pot chili recipe made with dried beans, bacon, and hidden veggies. Cooked right in your instant pot without soaking the beans, you will love how easy it is to incorporate heart-healthy and frugal dried beans. I love that you can make this chili all in one pot with minimal mess and clean up!

instant pot chili

Let’s make this easy pressure cooker chili!

I think chili is one of the best soup recipes for winter! Is chili a soup though?? What do you think?

And instant pot recipes are my favorite because of quick cooking time and the easy clean up. Everything is made right in one pot which means fewer pots to scrub! This recipe is pretty versatile and I hope you love it. So let’s get cooking. 

Gather your supplies! It really is much easier if you get all the ingredients out and prepped ahead of time. I can tell you from experience that it takes forever if you’re cooking and chopping at the same time, while also hunting down the ingredients. 


Turn your instant pot on saute, gather and open cans, get out all the spices, chop your veggies, make sure the ground meat is thawed. 

Once your pressure cooker is hot, cook the bacon lardons until nice and crispy. It should take about 5-6 minutes. Remove bacon from pan, then add the chopped carrots and onions and cook right in the bacon grease. Cook them for several minutes until the carrots are soft and the onions are translucent and fragrant, then add garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes.

Remove the veggies from the pan and add the ground meat, cooking until completely browned.

put chili ingredients in instant pot

Next, add all remaining ingredients, stirring to combine. Make sure to scrape the bottom of the pot to get everything nicely mixed. Lock the lid on the Instant Pot and cook on manual high for 45 minutes. Make sure the gasket on the lid is pushed back so it can seal properly. It will take the Instant Pot some time to get up to pressure, probably 10-15 minutes.

Once the cooking time is done, do a natural release of the pressure for 15 minutes, then quick release remaining pressure. I like the cover the gasket with a towel or washcloth so the steam doesn’t spew all over everywhere. Carefully open the lid, making sure to vent it away from you so the steam doesn’t hit your face. 

Stir the soup again and ladle into bowls. I like to serve chili with a variety of toppings like cheese, sour cream, tortilla chips, sliced jalapeno, green onions, avocado etc. What toppings do you like on your chili? How about queso dip?

instant pot chili made with dried beans no soaking

A few notes about the chili ingredients. 

You can use any type of ground meat you like. We buy organic beef in bulk from a local farmer so that’s what I use most often. My mom makes delicious chili with venison that my father hunts and you can’t even tell that it’s venison. Ground turkey is also delicious in this chili, or you can mix and match any way you like!

One thing I love about my instant pot is that I can cook dried beans without soaking. Dried beans are staples in my pantry. I buy them in bulk (25lbs at a time) and always have them on hand. Using my instant pot, I can cook them quickly from scratch when I need them! Learn how easy it is to cook dried beans of all kinds without soaking in this post.

We like to add carrots because their sweetness is a nice contrast to the acidity of the tomatoes. I’ve found that adding carrots to tomato rich soups and sauces is a great way to sweeten without adding sugar.

Last year I learned from a very good cook that you can use ketchup instead of tomato paste! Let me way I was mind-blown! Now instead of buying little cans of tomato paste and having to deal with leftovers, I just use ketchup. My favorite ketchup is Vegetable Ketchup from True Made Foods. I tried it last year at Expo West and love that it uses veggies as a sweetener in place of the sugar!


20 + soup recipes for winter

Here are 20 More Soup Recipes for Winter!

I enjoy participating in Houseful of Soups blog hop and I know you’ll like all of these recipes. Make sure you head over to check them out and them to your dinner menus!

soup recipes for winter houseful of soups button

Here are a few more of my soup recipes too!

Instant Pot Chicken Noodle Soup

Instant Pot Lasagna Soup

Creamy Chicken Stew – great for immune boosting

Effortless French Onion Soup from Scratch

chili made with dried beans

Yield: 8 servings

Delicious Instant Pot Chili Recipe {made with dried beans, no soaking required!)

Delicious Instant Pot Chili Recipe {made with dried beans, no soaking required!)

This delicious instant pot chili recipe is just what the cold winter weather ordered. Made with dried beans WITHOUT soaking, bacon, and a few hidden veggies, this chili is sure to be a hit with your family!

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Additional Time 15 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 15 minutes

Ingredients

Instructions

    Turn instant pot on saute. Once it's hot, cook the bacon lardons until nice and crispy, about 5 minutes.

    Remove bacon from pan, then add the chopped carrots and onions and cook right in the bacon grease. Cook them for several minutes until the carrots are soft and the onions are translucent and fragrant, then add garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes.

    Remove the veggies from the pan and add the ground meat, cooking until completely browned.

    Add remaining ingredients, stirring to combine.

    Lock the lid on the Instant Pot and cook on manual high for 45 minutes.

    Make sure the gasket on the lid is pushed back so it can seal properly. It will take the Instant Pot some time to get up to pressure, probably 10-15 minutes.

    Naturally release pressure for 15 minutes, then quick release remaining pressure.

    I like the cover the gasket with a towel or washcloth so the steam is spewing all over everywhere.

    Carefully open the lid, making sure to vent it away from you so the steam doesn't hit your face. 

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Nutrition Information:

Yield:

8

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 733Total Fat: 36gSaturated Fat: 13gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 19gCholesterol: 139mgSodium: 1608mgCarbohydrates: 49gFiber: 13gSugar: 9gProtein: 56g
Nutritional data is not always correct.

So, what do you think? Which of these soup recipes for winter are you most excited to try? And does chili qualify as a soup or is it in a category all of its own?

chili with toppings

Cheesy Salmon Pasta with Spinach & Mushrooms

If you’re looking for a way to eat more salmon, this cheesy salmon pasta with spinach and mushrooms is a delicious way to make that goal!

quick and easy salmon pasta recipe

Cheesy Salmon Pasta with Mushrooms & Spinach

I’m always looking for ways I can sneak in a bit of salmon to get my pickier eaters a serving of heart healthy omega three fatty acids. I like to find creative ways for everyone in my family of six to get more salmon without having to dish out $50 for dinner for us all. My family really enjoys this versatile salmon recipe, and yours will too! 

This Cheesy Salmon Pasta with Spinach & Mushrooms is a wonderfully delicious and frugal way to eat more salmon.

Not only is this pasta delicious, it also cooks up in a jiffy. Cooking salmon is actually really easy and this entire meal can be on the table in under 30 minutes.. So read on and be inspired to try something new tonight!

What’s the best type of salmon to use in this recipe?

I always recommend that you buy wild caught Alaska Sock-eye salmon whenever possible. It’s a little more expensive than farmed salmon, the health benefits are significantly better. Farmed salmon has much more fat that wild-caught salmon and it does not have the beneficial ratio between healthy Omega 3s and bad Omega 6s that are so good in wild-caught either. Read more about the differences here.

plated salmon pasta recipe


Sitka Salmon

I have found wild-caught salmon at both Costco and Aldi, I’ve bought it from Butcher Box, and most recently I was sent some Sitka Salmon to try out. Normally, I’m skeptical of the home delivery foods (I’m not sure why – we buy plenty from Amazon). But the Sitka Salmon was really nice. I appreciate the attention to the packaging too.

sitka salmon share

It included a recyclable plastic liner, compostable foam – just put it in your home compost and watch it disappear! If you don’t have a compost heap, simply dissolve the foam in water and you have a nutritious food to feed your plants! How awesome is that?

Additionally, the salmon is first rate. It’s wild-caught, just the way I like it. It’s traceable to fishermen who are paid an above average salary for their work, and the company purchases carbon offsets and promotes small-scale fisheries and conservation in Alaska too. Finally a salmon I can feel good about having shipped right to my door!

The good people at Sitka Salmon would like to give you $25 off one of their Premium Sitka Seafood Shares. Just click on my link and use SITKASOCIAL. This code is good through March 15, 2020 so don’t delay trying it out!

cook the veggies and the salmon

What type of vegetables can I use in this pasta?

That’s up to you! We really like the combo of spinach and mushrooms. If you don’t like mushrooms, feel free to leave them out. Broccoli and zucchini are also great in this delicious salmon pasta.

banza pasta

How about the pasta?

You can use whatever typs of past floats your boat. I like the organic pasta I buy at Costco, but if you’re gluten-free, Aldi has a great option for you. If you’re on a low-carb diet, I have an option for you too! We recently tried a high protein pasta made from chickpeas called Banza Pasta that is quite tasty too! It has 25 g of protein and 13 g of fiber per serving! 

delicious salmon pasta

How to Make Cheesy Salmon Pasta Recipe

Gather your ingredients, and boil a big pot of salted water for cooking your pasta. When the water is boiling, add pasta and cook according to package instructions. I like my pasta a little al dente, so I don’t usually cook it as long as the package says. Drain, and reserve pasta for later.

While the pasta is cook, heat butter or oil over medium heat in a large pot. I love my 7 1/4  qt, oven proof Le Creuset Dutch Oven, by the way. It was expensive but worth every penny!

Once the butter is melted, salt and pepper salmon fillets, then cook skin side down for 3-4 minutes. Flip salmon and cook for 3-4 more minutes. The skin should be crispy and easy to peel off after you flip it, so peel that skin off. 

If you need another tablespoon of butter, or olive oil if you prefer, add it now. Then add diced onions and sliced mushrooms and cook for 2-3 minutes, or until the onions are translucent. Add garlic and cook another 1 -2 minutes. Put the salmon back in the pot

Take off the skin from the salmon, and using your spatula, break it into small pieces. Also add spinach and mushrooms, cook for 2-3 minutes, until everything is cooked through. {By the way, I’ve found that by chopping my spinach up very small, I can claim it’s an herb, and my picky eaters don’t even notice it. If I didn’t have picky eaters, I would not chop it so small.}  By now, your pasta should be finished cooking and you can add it to the pot with the veggies and the salmon.

Reduce heat to low. Add two cups of shredded cheese and stir until melted. You should end up with an ooey-goey delightful pasta. Remove from heat and top with the Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper to taste. 

Grab a fork and dig in! I think this dish is so tasty, I don’t even need to bother with a plate. 😉

Want the printable recipe? Here you go!

Yield: 6 servings

Cheesy Salmon Pasta with Mushrooms & Spinach

Cheesy Salmon Pasta with Mushrooms & Spinach

Quick and easy pasta recipe and a great way to stretch salmon so everyone in your family can have a serving without breaking the bank.

Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 pound pasta
  • 12 ounces salmon {preferably wild caught from Alaska}
  • 2 tablespoons butter, split
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, pressed
  • 2 cups fresh spinach, chopped small if you're feeding picky eaters
  • 6 ounces fresh mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 cups shredded cheese {I used a combo of French Comte & sharp white cheddar}
  • 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan
  • Salt & Pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Boil a pot of water and cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
  2. While the pasta is cooking, heat one tablespoon butter over medium heat in a pan big enough to accommodate the finished dish.
  3. Add the salmon skin side down and cook for 3-4 minutes, then flip and cook for 3-4 more minutes. Once flipped, remove the skin from the salmon and discard.
  4. Add another tablespoon butter if needed, then cook the onions and mushrooms for 2-3 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 2-3 more minutes.
  5. Reduce heat to low, add the 2 cups shredded cheese and stir until the cheese is melted.
  6. Remove from heat, add Parmesan cheese and salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Enjoy!

    Notes

    I recommend wild-caught Alaska salmon in all my salmon recipes. Feel free to experiment with veggies based on your preference.

    Nutrition Information:

    Yield:

    6

    Serving Size:

    1

    Amount Per Serving: Calories: 540Total Fat: 32gSaturated Fat: 16gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 13gCholesterol: 108mgSodium: 612mgCarbohydrates: 28gFiber: 2gSugar: 2gProtein: 35g
    Nutritional data is not always correct.

    What’s your favorite way to eat salmon?

    salmon pasta with mushrooms and spinach

    If you’d like more salmon recipe inspiration, here you go!

    Salmon Street Tacos

    Greek Salmon Sheet Pan Dinner

    Creamy Salmon Pasta with Lemon Caper Cream Sauce

    10 Minute Greek Salmon Salad

    And don’t forget to save $25 on your first salmon order today!

    Fun, Affordable Family Skiing in Colorado at Sunlight Mountain Resort

    Located about three hours from Denver and just outside Glenwood Springs, Colorado, Sunlight Mountain Resort is our pick for most family friendly place to go skiing in Colorado. If you haven’t been there, here’s why you must go to Sunlight Mountain for you next ski vacation!

    Sunlight Mountain Resort in Glenwood Springs CO

    SimplifyLiveLove occasionally receives complementary products, hosted travel, and/or compensation related to the content shared here. This story may contain affiliate links which means we receive a small commission on your purchase.

    Last year, my family took an amazing spring break to Colorado. One of the best things we did on that trip was take our kids skiing as the guests of Sunlight Mountain. Not only were they able to take their first ski lesson, but we enjoyed exploring the mountain for three great days of skiing. Thank you to Sunlight Mountain for hosting my family. Almost a year later, the kids still talk fondly about their skiing adventures in Colorado.

    skiiing-at-Sunlight-Mountain-Resort.

    photo courtesy of Troy Hawks, Sunlight Mountain Resort

    Fun, Affordable Family Skiing in Colorado at Sunlight Mountain Resort

     

    At first glance, Sunlight Mountain might not seem like that much when compared to some of the mega resorts. With only three chair lifts, the resort is not ritzy when compared to the giant resorts in Colorado. But don’t let that stop you from exploring all it has to offer. Free parking, no waiting, small crowds, powder all day, and over 700 skiable acres are just a few of the reasons Sunlight Mountain is perfect for skiers and riders.

    ski swim stay sunlight mountain

    Affordable Family Skiing

    For about half the cost of other Colorado ski resorts, you don’t have to break the bank to take your kids on a family ski trip. With four kids, we’re always looking for ways to save when we take our kids on vacation. While we want to save money, we definitely don’t want to sacrifice fun. Luckily, you won’t have to sacrifice anything at Sunlight Mountain!!

    short lift lines at Sunlight Mountain

    Small Crowds & Short Lift Lines

    Crowded slopes and long lift lines are often the worst parts of skiing. And crowds with kids is just a real disaster as far as I’m concerned. It’s so much nicer when you don’t have to worry about people crashing into you, or your kids crashing into other people, or losing your kids in a crowd. Luckily, we didn’t have to worry about any of that, and if we had wait to wait more than two minutes for a lift at Sunlight, that was a long time!

    ski lessons at Sunlight

    Great Ski School For Kids and Adults

    I grew up skiing in Europe and when I was young, my parents enrolled me and my sister in week long ski lessons almost every time we went. Not only did they enroll us, but they took lessons as well. Lessons were pretty much the norm in Europe, but I don’t really see that same emphasis on lessons here in the States. 

    Personally, I think the best thing you can do for your kids (and even yourself) is take ski lessons whenever possible. I need to take some more myself.

    Since this was the first Colorado mountain experience for our kids, it was important to me that they have a lesson from someone other than myself. We enrolled each of our four kids in one lesson and they loved it. 

    My eldest daughter had a panic attack the first time she got off the lift and the instructor was not only able to get her down the mountain, but he also gave her the confidence she needed to go back up. I can’t wait to put them back in ski lessons! They really enjoyed the lesson and the confidence they gained from it.

    Sunlight Mountain Ski school offers one of the best values for first time skiers, called the Learn to Shine program. With 3 half day lessons, ski rental, and lift tickets –  plus you get an additional 5 full day lift ticket,once completed. For just $450 for the 2020 / 2021 ski season, this is a real steal!

    Mt Sopris from Sunlight Mountain Resort

    Runs for Advanced Skiers Too

    While Sunlight Mountain is a great resort for beginners, they also have a lot of slopes that more advanced skiers enjoy too. With 67 trails through 700 acres, there really is something there for everyone. And the views of Mt. Sopris and beyond are simply stunning!

    Glenwood Springs Hot Springs

    Ski, Swim, Stay Package Vacations

    The great thing about skiing at Sunlight is there is more than just skiing. Located Western  Colorado near the White River National Forest, Glenwood Springs is known for its amazing hot springs after all! Take advantage of Sunlight’s Children’s Center and snowmobile tours at Sunlight and so much more.

    Book a Ski, Swim, Stay vacation and enjoy everything that Glenwood Springs and Sunlight Mountain Resort have to offer! With beautiful hotel partners in Glenwood Springs, relaxing natural springs, lovely restaurants, local shops and more, your family will enjoy any vacation you book!

    Make sure to watch the progress of their East Ridge expansion project which will add a new lift and 100 acres of additional ski trails!

    Do you enjoy skiing in Colorado? Where have you been and what did you love??

    For more of our fun family adventures, check out these posts:

    Our Amazing Colorado Spring Break

    Fun Family Weekend in La Crosse, Wi

    Heidelberg Germany – my childhood home 

    Custer State Park, South Dakota

    Mother – Daughter Teen Vacation in Panama City Beach

    Family Fun at the Grove Resort Orlando

    Grab This Week’s Free Kindle eBooks on Amazon

    Looking for kitchen inspiration or a new book to read this weekend? Looking for a new free ebook download list? If you need kitchen inspiration or a new book to read this weekend, you will love this list of free Amazon Kindle ebooks – fiction, nonfiction, cookbooks, and free ebooks for kids too! Check back at the end of each week for a new list.

    free amazon ebooks 2.13

    If you don’t have a kindle, but have a computer, iPad, or smart phone, head on over to download a Free Kindle App. Or you could go here and buy a Kindle ! Make sure you check the prices as they change quickly on Amazon. While everything was free when I posted, it’s highly likely that they will change!

    Grab This Week’s Free Amazon Kindle eBooks

    Fiction - Free Amazon Kindle eBooks

    Free Fiction eBooks on Amazon

    All of Me

    Chloe-Lost Girl

    Into the Woods

    The Holly and the Poison Ivy

    The Deepest Sigh

    nonfiction

    Educational Free Non-Fiction eBooks

    The Quick and Easy Back Yard Greenhouse

    Money Management

    Home Organization: 2 Books In 1

    Stop Flushing Your Money Down The Drain

    Home Organizing: Simple Solutions For Cleaning, Decluttering and Organizing Your Home

    cookbook

    Free Delicious Cookbooks on Amazon

    Clean Eating

    Copycat Recipes

    Easy Hawaiian Cookbooks

    The Popsicle Cookbook

    Easy Hot Drinks

    free kids book

    Free eBooks for Kids

    The Worst Love Book in the Whole Entire World

    Easter Bunny: Story, Games, Jokes, and More

    Daksha the Medicine Girl

    My Fox Ate My Cake

    Digital Disaster

     

    I’d love to hear from you about this weekly free ebook post. What types of free ebooks do you most like? Is their a category I don’t cover but should? Please let me know how I can improve this post for you!

    Many thanks to Shelly from Frugal Family Home for her help compiling this list of free amazon Kindle eBooks. 

    This post contains affiliate links which means I may make a small percentage of the sale at NO additional cost to you. Please read my disclosure statement for more information.

    free amazon kindle book roundup 2.13

    Must Know Travel Tips for Taking the Amtrak Empire Builder

    All aboard! It’s time to consider a trip on the Amtrak Empire Builder! Vacations by rail are gaining in popularity in the United States as more people decide to travel coast to coast on an Amtrak train. If you’re curious about rail travel in the US, here’s what it’s like to ride the Amtrak Empire Builder – how to buy tickets, what to pack, how to sleep, and what to do on the train.

    Amtrak coach class empire builder

    *This post on staying healthy during train travel in the US is sponsored by Boiron. All opinions are mine.*

    Must Know Travel Tips for Taking the Amtrak Empire Builder

    Even if you aren’t familiar with US train travel at all, you may have heard of Amtrak’s California Zephyr or the Empire Builder trains. Both are iconic long distance train routes, that go from Chicago to California and the Pacific Northwest respectively.

    Travelers certainly don’t normally choose long haul Amtrak routes because they’re an efficient way to travel, but sometimes train travel makes a lot of sense. The journey to a vacation destination can be as fun as the vacation itself!

    That’s particularly true when you jump on an Amtrak train and chug through North America. Train travel is nostalgic and fun, and a great way to see our beautifully diverse country. 

    california zephyr outside glenwood springs

    Our entire family enjoys every train trip we take – we really think it beats driving and we’d love to encourage more families to take train trips as well. We took the California Zephyr from Mount Pleasant, Iowa to Denver, Colorado a couple of years ago on a spring break trip. It was a 14-hour overnight train ride and was a very practical way for our family to get to Colorado.

    Deciding on Amtrak Empire Builder

    For our most recent trip, we decided again on Amtrak to get to our family vacation in Whitefish, Montana instead of driving or flying. We boarded the Empire Builder train at Union Depot in Minneapolis- St. Paul, Minnesota and spent 24 hours on the train through North Dakota and Glacier National Park. 

    We got on the train at 10:20 pm and arrived in Whitefish at 10:30 pm the next day. While we consistently arrived at stops ahead of schedule and had longer than anticipated stops all along the route, we did end up an hour and half hour late to our final destination. I’d like to gripe about being late, but how many times is air travel disrupted??

    inside the empire builder

    Our entire trip to Whitefish was very smooth except for the delay at the end. There were very few people on the train and we had almost an entire car to ourselves! I know from past train trips that’s not normal, but we took full advantage of the extra space!

    Even though we arrived 90 minutes late, we really enjoyed our 24 hours on the train and do encourage more people to travel by train. Here’s what you can expect if you decide to take a ride on the Amtrak Empire Builder.

    union depot at night MSP

    What to Expect on the Empire Builder from Minneapolis-St Paul to Whitefish, Montana

    When we originally decided to take Amtrak to Whitefish, we weren’t sure where to board the train. The California Zephyr is what crosses Iowa and options to go north on Amtrak from Iowa are non-existent. 

    From Iowa, our choice was to find a stop along the northern route – either go to Chicago, Wisconsin, or Minnesota to get on the Empire Builder, or take the Zephyr to Chicago and change trains there. Changing trains in Chicago didn’t look like a very convenient option.

    Why we chose to board in Minneapolis

    We decided to drive five hours to Minneapolis to catch the Empire Builder there. Not only did it shave a few hours off the trip even with the longer drive, but it also saved us money on parking. It’s a lot cheaper to park in St. Paul (only $2 per day!) than it would have been in at Union Station in downtown Chicago. Another good option might have been to get on the train in LaCrosse, but we’re happy with our decision to board in St. Paul.

    Not only did we save a little bit of time on our total trip by driving five hours, but we also saved some money. And score – we’ll be able to spend a couple days on our return trip having fun at the Mall of America too!

    amtrak station whitefish montana

    From Whitefish, the Empire Builder continues on to Spokane where it splits into two west coast trains: one heads to Seattle and the other heads to Portland, Oregon. The entire trip from Chicago to Seattle is 2,205 miles and takes 48 hours. 

    Billed as one of the most scenic train rides in North America, we think more US families should take their kids on Amtrak trips through the United States. 

    If you’d like to take a trip on the Amtrak Empire Builder, here’s what you need to know

     

    How much does the Amtrak Empire Builder Cost?

    We have found train travel to be pretty cost effective. For our family of six, air travel is often out of our budget, so we generally drive. However, when you factor in hotels, meals, gas, wear and tear on your car, driving does add up. It also takes us longer to drive. The train keeps going all through the night, but we have to stop to sleep when we drive. 

    Train travel isn’t as cheap as driving, but it’s not outrageous either. It cost $1380 for our family of six to travel from Minneapolis to Whitefish in coach class, or $230 each. Just so you know, one kid rides for 50% off with each adult fare, so my price is averaged. We could have driven for less money, but it would have taken us longer. Flying our family to Whitefish was totally cost prohibitive. 

    coach class empire builder

    Coach vs Sleeper Car

    Definitely, the most economical way to travel on Amtrak is via the coach cars. The difference is pretty big – around $200 per person in coach versus much much more in a sleeper car. 

    There are three different options for sleeper cars: the Roomette (sleeps 2), the Family Bedroom (sleeps 4), or the Superliner Bedroom (sleeps 2-3 + private bath). For our family of six, we would need two sleeper rooms. 

    I have slept in a sleeper car on a train before (in Thailand) and we honestly didn’t sleep much better on a bed than we did in the seats. The included meals, ability to shower, and privacy of the sleeper car is nice, but I doubt it makes much of a difference as far as sleeping goes.

    sleeping on the Empire Builder

    Sleeping in Coach Seats on Amtrak

    You won’t get a great night’s sleep on an Amtrak coach chair, but we think it’s ok. The chairs on Amtrak trains are much nicer than coach on airplanes. There’s a lot more room to stretch out in, with footrests and leg rests as well. I’m 5’9” and I can stretch my legs from my coach seat and barely touch the seat in front of me. Imagine doing that on an airplane! There’s also plenty of overhead space to store your bags. 

    How to Book a trip on the Amtrak Empire Builder

    It’s really easy to book your trip on Amtrak’s website, but be prepared to do some research to figure out what to book. Options are often more limited with fewer trains than airplanes so you will have to be flexible.  Also, the further in advance you book, the cheaper your tickets will be. Plan far in advance when booking Amtrak to get the best price.

    Where to sit

    You don’t get assigned seats, but when you book your tickets, you have to choose the upper or lower deck. The choice is yours to make. We prefer the upper deck because the views are nicer. It’s also the only part of the train you can walk through. If you want to go to the dining car or the observation car, you have to walk through the upper cars.

    That means that lower cars don’t have as much traffic walking through, so it might be quieter. You also don’t have to walk up the narrow steps to get to the upper cars if you don’t want. A final reason to you might prefer to stay on the lower deck is that’s where the restrooms are located. There are no restrooms on the upper cars.

    Checking your Bags

    It’s not possible to check your bags at smaller stations, but if you’re getting on the train at a larger station like Chicago, Seattle, or St. Paul, I highly recommend that you check your bags. Amtrak allows each traveler to check two bags for free and it’s really an easy process. 

    Simply arrive at the station an hour before boarding and hand over your luggage. Amtrak does not have security screenings like airports and the process is pretty quick.

    Amtrak waiting area union depot

    Boarding the Train in Minneapolis St. Paul

    Boarding Amtrak is not like boarding trains in Europe. Instead of walking out to the platform and getting on the train like you do in Germany, with Amtrak, you wait in a large hall and head down to the train in a group. Sometimes, you’re assigned a specific train car before heading out to the platform, sometimes that happens at the platform. 

    The nice thing about traveling in a family or a group of four or more people is that you are generally able to head to the train ahead of the masses to help you find seats together.

    One thing you may want to be aware of when waiting in large train terminals, especially in the winter: oftentimes they are warm, dry areas in urban locations. It’s not all that unusual to see homeless people in the waiting areas as well. 

    Empire Builder Lounge MSP

    If that makes you uncomfortable, you can wait in the private lounge if you book a sleeper car. It’s just worth mentioning because we’ve had to have conversations with our kids about the people at train stations.

    stanley montana from an amtrak train

    When to Take the Train

    You can take the Empire Builder train at any time of year, but there are a few things to be aware of before you book your trip. One of the highlights of the Empire Builder is traveling through Glacier National Park. 

    The East Glacier stop is closed after early October, but the West Glacier stop stays open year round. If you’re heading west from Chicago, you won’t arrive at Glacier until after 8:00pm. In the winter, it’s dark and you won’t be able to see anything. 

    Summer is probably the more scenic time for train travel. The fields are green and it’s light longer. We’ve only taken the train in the winter and spring and while we haven’t had lush green scenery to behold, we did enjoy the beautiful frosty, foggy days anyway.

    coach toilet on the empire builder

    What are the Bathrooms Like?

    The two downsides to the Empire Builder would have to be sleeping in the seats and the bathrooms. While the bathrooms aren’t terrible, they aren’t all that great either. Think airline toilets, but not as nice. 

    They are small and cramped and sometimes overflowing with trash. The good news is there are five or six toilets per train car, so it’s usually pretty easy to find an open one. The bad news is, they aren’t always very clean.

    There’s also a lounge bathroom on each car that includes a seating area, a larger sink with a stool and a separate toilet. This is where you probably want to go in the morning to clean up and get ready for the day. It’s a nice sized area, but the door to the sink area doesn’t lock which I think is strange.

    Amtrak dinner reservation card

    What about the Dining Car?

    You can buy food on the Empire Builder at two places: the lounge and the dining car. The lounge sells drinks (soft drinks, coffee, mixed drinks, beer & wine) and snacky convenience food like chips, cookies, ramen, etc. 

    dining car food on the Empire Builder

    The dining car serves meals. Breakfast and lunch are first come first serve, but you’ll need to make a dinner reservation. Attendants walk through the train to make the reservations and assign an eating time. Eating in the dining car is a lot of fun!

    Only four people per table, and they do assign you to tables with other people – a great time to meet someone new. The food can be described as edible, but not overly delicious. I’ve heard it used to be made from scratch and served on fine china, but it’s not like that these days. Nonetheless, it’s a fun experience to eat in the dining car and one I wouldn’t miss.  You can see the Empire Builder menu here.

    Is there WIFI on the Empire Builder?

    Gasp! There’s no WIFI on the Empire Builder, though some Amtrak trains do have WIFI. The Empire Builder travels through desolate areas in North Dakota and Montana, and oftentimes even cellular data doesn’t work. 

    enjoying a mixed drink on amtrak

    What Can I do on the Amtrak Empire Builder?

    Believe it or not, there is plenty to do on the train even without WIFI. Bring along a good book or magazine you’ve been wanting to read, work on your computer, walk to the observation car and check out the beautiful scenery. Try a Bloody Mary. Eat a meal in the dining car. 

    sightseeing car on the amtrak empire builder

    Some trains also participate in Rails and Trails program where national park volunteers give informative talks about the area! If all else fails, watch a movie on your iPad or try to sleep. The train provides lots of opportunities to talk to new people if you like that. If you don’t enjoy it, step out of your comfort zone and give it a try.

    train mural in montana from amtrak

    Can we get off the train?

    The train will stop repeatedly throughout your journey. Most stops are just quick in and out. Let people off, and let new people on. A few stops however, last a little bit longer, around 20 minutes. You might have time for a quick walk outside or maybe enough time to walk to a nearby bar or restaurant for a bite to eat. 

    The longer stops are in Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN; Minot, ND; Havre and Whitefish, MT. If you do a little research ahead of time you might be able to come up with a game plan for a quick activity at those stations. 

    The train cannot leave a stop earlier than the published departure time, so if you happen to arrive at stops early like we did, you will have a longer break. 

    What to Pack

    Be very prepared for your Amtrak trip! If you’re sleeping in coach like we did, bring a pillow and a blanket. The temperature fluctuates quite a lot on the train, so I recommend wearing layers. It’s easier to take off than put on after all! Here are a few more things you’ll want to bring along too:

    • Snacks – you can buy snacks in the lounge car, but you can also bring your own favorites which I highly recommend. Technically, you’re not supposed to eat food you bring on board at your seat, but every one does. Instead you’re supposed to eat your own food in the sightseeing car.
    • Drinks – According to Amtrak, you may BYO if you’re staying in a sleeper car but “private stock alcoholic beverages may not be consumed in public areas.” Alcoholic beverages are for sale on the train and can be consumed anywhere, but in our experience, discretion works pretty well too if you happen to bring your own.
    • Toiletries – if you’re sitting in coach you won’t be able to shower, but that doesn’t mean you can’t clean up. Bring your toothbrush and toothpaste, cleansing wipes, deodorant, and any makeup that you may want to wear.
    • Change of clothes – I’m sure you won’t want to wear the same clothes the entire 48 hours if you’re on the train that long! Make sure you have easily accessible clothing to change into and / or sleep in! 
    • Face mask – If you’re sensitive to light, you may want to pack an eye mask. There are curtains on the windows, but there’s still a little light. 
    • Same with noise – if you’re sensitive to noise, bring noise cancelling headphones or ear plugs too. It’s pretty quiet on the train, but sometimes you can hear the train horn, and when other trains pass, it is very loud and startling. 
    • Slippers – it’s pretty gross to sit around in your bare feet in public areas, so I highly recommend that you bring a pair of socks and some slippers for walking if you won’t want to wear your shoes all the time.
    • Electronics, charging cords, camera. Amtrak is nicely equipped with 120 volt plugins at each seat so charing your devices is no problem if you have your cords!
    • Small games – some of our favorites include  a deck of cards, Sushi Go, Dutch Bliss, and uno.
    • Reading material: Books, magazines. Wifi is not always available so make sure you have other things to do as well.

    small first aid kit

    Small First Aid Kit and Homeopathic Medicines

    The holidays are the busiest travel times of the year, right in the middle of cold and flu season. Being in close contact with lots of people means exposure to germs so I I always stock my small first aid kit very carefully during winter travel. It’s better to be over-prepared than underprepared when traveling, especially if you have kids along. Bringing along a small first aid kit is very important. I always have the following items on hand in my small travel first aid kit:

      • Tissues and hand wipes
      • Headache medicine
      • Allergy medicine
      • Cold and flu medicine – Cold Calm & Oscillococcinum
      • First aid ointment
      • Bandaids and mole skin
      • Arnica pellets & ointment for sore muscles
      • Lip balm
      • Honey 
      • Germ fighting essential oils

    Oscillococcinum ad in amtrak magazine

    Boiron Oscillococcinum for Flu

    I’ve been using Boiron products for years. I started with Arnica pellets when my kids were younger and always getting bruises. Gradually we added more and more of their homeopathic remedies to our natural medicine cabinet and I love them all. Boiron Oscillococcinum is a great homeopathic flu medicine recommended for everyone age two and up that really does work better than anything else. I was excited to see a full-page Boiron ad in the Amtrak magazine too! Learn more ways Boiron can help you stay healthy when you travel!

    Oscillo is so easy to take – simply dump the small vial of pellets under your tongue at the first sign of flu symptoms and let them dissolve. I usually pair the pellets with elderberry, lots of water, and extra rest and am able to kick the flu very quickly. I’m not alone thinking it works either. Clinical studies show that Oscillococcinum is effective at reducing length and severity of the flu.

    Just so you know, Oscillococcinum is a homeopathic medicine which means it has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. However, it has been used for over 50 years in more than 50 countries and is the best-selling flu medicine in France. 

    The most important tip about using Oscillococcinum is to have it on hand. For it to be most effective, you need to take it right away. So do yourself a favor and grab a pack right now using this $2 off coupon! You can find it at Walmart, Target, Amazon, Walgreens and more.

    Now that you know everything there is to know about riding Amtrak Empire Builder, what are you waiting for??

    Many thanks to my sponsor, Boiron, for helping us all stay healthy when we travel. Please leave your thoughts on train travel in the US in the comments below!

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