Utah Surprise + Free Holiday Activities for the Family

This Christmas season we were blessed with a very full and happy holiday season spent with our family and loved ones, as it should be. The best part about it was that we got to spend it with both sides of our families: the Mo'o Family (my side) and the Hafoka Family (my husbands side).

So in mid-December, my Uncle and his family came to Hawaii for a visit and they spent a good two weeks with us at home. It was their first time back in 4 years so we made sure to show them a good time. We took them on hikes, we cruised the north shore, we hit up a few good food spots and played a lot of board and card games together; we had a blast! However, during part of the time that they were there, we left. We didn't really want to leave while they were there, but we felt like 4 days wasn't too long to be away and that we'd make sure we were back in time for Christmas, which was most important! Not only that, but since almost all of my husbands siblings and his parents were going to be in Utah for Christmas, we figured we'd join them for a couple of days too. Plus the family invited us multiple times, so we couldn't turn down the offer (especially when we have flight benefits and especially since traveling during the holidays will be harder for me once I'm working again).

It was a risky decision to fly standby the days leading up to Christmas, but we felt good about it and remained positive the entire time. Instead of worrying about it, we decided to focus our attention on thinking positively and hoping that it would work out so we could attract a desirable outcome, rather than focus on what could go wrong and potentially attract a negative outcome. And you know what? It all worked out. Amazingly we made it home in time for Christmas. I'm telling you, the law of attraction is real! But I'll save that for another post.

Anyways, we flew to Las Vegas on the 19th and drove to Utah to spend a good 4 days with the family there. We were in Utah from the 20th to the 24th, and although that may sound short, it was actually perfect! Not too short where we couldn't do anything, but not too long either. In this post, I'm going to share all of the things that we were able to do in that time and point out the free things especially! Utah is a good place to find free wholesome recreational activities for the whole family to enjoy.

So we drove to Utah from Vegas and the very first thing we did was surprise the kids. Spencer's brother and his family moved to Utah from Hawaii just 5 months prior and our kids had been missing their cousins terribly; always talking about them and asking about them randomly, so we put a lot of effort in to surprising them. We told them we were going to Las Vegas and they actually believed us. I think my son, Tristan, might've had an idea as we were getting closer to Utah though. I heard him saying something in the back seat as he noticed the mountains start to change, but my daughter was sure to tell him, 'No, this is Las Vegas!' It was pretty funny to hear. Then what really killed it was when it started snowing. He said, "It snows in Las Vegas?" Which I was actually kind of surprised by, but we just played along with it. Haha! We were trying so hard not to laugh and not to be obvious because we really wanted to surprise the kids; they had no idea we were going to see their cousins. 

So we drove straight to Salt Lake City and met up with the family at Temple Square. It was such a sweet reunion. The kids were surprised, the adults were happy and we shared a beautiful family moment there. Afterwards the kids didn't want to part, so our big kids slept over their cousins house. It felt so good seeing them all together again, all happy and excited.

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Now, how gorgeous is this? It's beautiful isn't it? And this is just a small fraction of the view that you actually see when you go to see the Temple Square Lights. These few pictures couldn't do this place justice even if I tried to get better ones. So if you are ever in Utah during the holidays, Temple Square is definitely worth a visit. Plus, it's FREE! It is a free walking family activity that is both indoors and outdoors, which is nice because when it gets too cold you can just go in to one of the visitors centers to warm up before going out again. There is also a Nativity Scene that you can check out, as well as the Reflection Pool (pictured above). This is the perfect place to go to to feel the true Spirit of Christmas. Nothing beats the peace and beauty you feel in this miraculous place.


The next morning we went sledding. I guess up until this point, they hadn't experienced much snow so we got lucky that it snowed as we drove in. I mean it made for a scarier drive, but a trip to Utah for Christmas just wouldn't feel complete without snow and sledding, so we got lucky! We went sledding at Rock Canyon Park in Provo, which is literally the perfect park for sledding because there is a full circle of hills to sled down on. We seriously had so much fun! I think I was the biggest kid of them all though, going over and over again (haha!), but I couldn't help it. I love sledding and in my opinion, you are never to old to sled. I love feeling like and acting like a kid at times. It's nice to take a break from "adulting" every now and then. In fact, I think us adults need to be more like kids more often than not. After all, life is to be enjoyed and we shouldn't take it too seriously. Anyways, here is a fun video clip I made of our sledding day.

After sledding in the cold, it was time to warm ourselves up and fill up our bellies with a delicious and filling lunch at none other than.....Olive Garden!! Now, if you don't already know, there is no Olive Garden in Hawaii and secondly, this just happens to be my husbands favorite restaurant. He loves pasta (it is his favorite type of food), but Olive Garden is his absolute favorite, so lunch here was a must! And it was perfect for our post-sledding activity. :)

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Then it was back to the house for naps for a few hours. After that we went to University Mall to meet up with our neighbors at the mall playground, which was another FREE activity. The kids loved the new and fancy play center in there and they loved being surprised again! They were not expecting to see their bestie/neighbors in Utah.

From there we dropped off the kids with our family and went on a date night with our good friends, the Uale's. I remember wanting to go on the Provo River Christmas Cruise before when we lived in Utah and again when we visited, but it never happened, so I'm glad we were finally able to make it happen this time. I loved the lights, the hot chocolate, the Christmas music playing and the simple ride on the river. It wasn't grand and flashy in any way, but more of a cozy small town holiday activity and I loved it. I loved snuggling up next to my hubby and enjoying time with our friends. They also moved back to Utah recently, so we've really missed them. It was nice spending time with them in Utah again, where our first memories with them were created. We were all just college students at the time so to be back with families of our own was kind of surreal. 

Afterwards we had dinner at Cafe Rio, another one of my fave spots in Utah. It is a stop I must make every single time I visit. :) (I get the Sweet Pork Salad. So good!) Anyways, I'm glad we made time for each other on this quick trip. Keeping our relationships with our friends alive and well means so much to me. I'm so glad this worked out and that our family was willing to help us out as well. Thank you family and thank you Mata and Travis. We love you all!

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The next day we took the kids to the Bean Museum at the BYU campus in Provo, which is another free and family friendly activity you can do in Utah. There are many exhibits and even a tree house and bear cave that the kids can play in if they need to get their energy out during your visit there. 

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Afterwards we stayed on campus and had lunch at the Wilkinson Center. We also looked around the BYU bookstore for a bit. It was nice to be on campus again eating in the very place where I spent 4 1/2 years of my life at. It is still very much the same and I loved being there. It was also so special to show the kids around and share some of our memories with them. Utah will forever hold a special place in my heart because of the time I spent there at BYU. It was also where the start of "us" began and where our family was started.

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That night we went and saw the Spanish Fork Festival of Lights. There is a drive thru you can go through and although it is not free, it is very affordable. (Only $8 per car!) They also have people selling hot chocolate and they bring it right to your car if you want it. We opted out of the hot chocolate, but the kids didn't mind. They were having too much fun blasting the music in the car and singing to it. I love that my kids got to experience this for the first time with their cousins. We had the kids split up and go in different cars according to their age and who they really wanted to ride with. They even stuck their heads out of the windows at times. Such fun family memories created that night. Afterwards the kids insisted on sleeping over at their cousins again, so that's what they did. Great night for the fam!


Our last and final day started bright and early in the morning preparing breakfast for our family White Elephant Party. This has become a tradition in the Hafoka Family over the past couple of years and although we had to make some adjustments to it this year (have it in the morning, eat breakfast instead of homemade cafe rio), it was still a good time.

Afterwards we left to go tubing at Soldier Hollow in Midway and oh my gosh, it was so much fun!! The highlight of our trip, for sure. Seriously how did I live in Utah for 7 years and never do this? That just blows my mind, but it's okay, we did it now and we all absolutely loved it! What a rush it was to speed down these little hills in tubes in the snow. I highly recommend this activity if you are visiting Utah during the winter months. You will not regret it. We also went in the late evening so we got to experience it in both day and night and we loved it both ways. So if anyone is wanting to check this place out and your schedule allows, I'd suggest going in the evening when you can experience it both ways. They are two totally different experiences that's why. Check it out! *Remember to book this early, though, as it sells out fast during the winter months.

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After returning back to Provo we all spent a few more hours together at the house before saying our good byes. We knew we would have to leave in the dark early morning hours (4am to be exact) to make our way back to Las Vegas, so that was a little sad, but how lucky we were to spend the few short days with everyone that we did. There is no better way to spend the holidays than with family members and loved ones. I don't know a better joy in this life than that and we were so lucky to be able to have that with both sides of the family this year. How truly blessed we are. Loved our quick trip to Utah! Until next time..... 

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P.S. If we had more time, there were a few other activities we would've done, but since this was all we could fit in, those will have to be saved for another time, but in case you were wondering, here they are:

  • The North Pole Express - We would've love loved to do this, however, they sell out very fast so tickets need to be bought probably months in advance. We tried booking just a few weeks in advance (maybe 2 or 3 weeks prior to the date we wanted to go) and it was already sold out. Also know that you will be paying a pretty penny for this one, but I know it is something I want our family to experience so we are one of those willing to pay the price, however, that choice will ultimately be up to you and your family and what you think is worth it or not. We all have different views on this and since I haven't experienced it for myself yet, I can't give an honest review yet, but when I do.... :) LOL!
  • Christmas at Gardner Village - This is another place I wanted to go to while on our trip, but only if we were ever in the area and had time, which none of those happened. Lol. But it's basically a cute shopping village decked out in the most extravagant Christmas decorations with homemade boutiques, candy shops and there is even a free scavenger hunt you and your kids can do. You can check out this blog link and this blog link for some pictures of past years to get an idea of what it's like. I've been once before many years ago, which is why I wanted to go again (really just to see the sights and to feel the jolly holiday spirit), but it's okay, I'm sure there will be plenty of chances in the future to go again. P.S. I've also been there during Halloween time and it is such a fun time with the family, but instead of elves, you get witches! Seriously love how fun and festive Gardner Village is. Definitely a recommendation for one of those days or nights you can't figure out what to do, but still want to do something somewhat relaxing, but still festive. You can also grab some snacks (chocolate, candy, caramel apples) to enjoy as you stroll along from their candy store, Chocolate Covered Wagon, or eat at their restaurant or bakery. The choice is yours. :)
  • There is also the Festival of Trees, Christmas at the Grand America Hotel, the Zoo Lights at Hogle Zoo (which we've done before as a date night before we had kids), you can watch the Nutcracker Ballet, go snowboarding at Park City or experience Christmas at City Creek Center. There are so many things to do in Utah during Christmas time, I doubt you'll ever be bored. Check out this link for more info on these particular places.

I hope this blog was helpful if you are planning your own trip to Utah for Christmas soon. Feel free to message me or comment with any questions you may have. Happy planning! :) Xo!