The excitement of a new year -- with all the fresh energy and opportunities it brings -- is just what we need after the dazzle of the winter holidays. And 2016 promises to be a great year for interesting, educational and downright fun travel experiences with the family. These are our top picks -- choose one and start planning!

Written by Diana Lambdin Meyer

National Parks

The biggest birthday party in the country in 2016 is reserved for the National Park Service. It’s been 100 years since Congress enacted legislation that created the parental body of more than 360 parks, monuments and historic sites. And each one is doing something special to celebrate.

Rocky Mountain National Park, for example, has developed a 100-year Anniversary Coloring Book available at the Grand Lake Visitors Center. Families who have visited before are invited to upload photos and their favorite memories on a website created for the occasion. One of the Grand Canyon’s many celebrations will be the Star Party, June 4 to 11. This educational evening program is designed for the astronomers in your family. And mark your calendars for April 15 – National Junior Ranger Day. Each park will have special programs for kids.

At Yellowstone, the nation’s first and most beloved national park, five new eco-friendly lodges with a total of 409 guestrooms allow guests greater access to the park. These have replaced the old Canyon Lodge and Cabins, built more than 50 years ago.


2016 is also the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500, with lots of things still under wraps for the celebration that will consume much of Indianapolis. However, the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, widely recognized as one of the top children’s museums in the world, will celebrate the racetrack’s birth with a summer-long Hot Wheels – Race to Win exhibit. Real Indy race car drivers will make multiple appearances to talk about what makes cars go so fast. A pit stop for family participation is just one of the many interactive elements of this exhibit that is touring the country for the next five years, but spending its summers in Indy at The Children’s Museum.

Also new at the Children’s Museum is Beyond Spaceship Earth, a permanent exhibit that traces NASA’s space exploration. The coolest feature is a recreation of the International Space Station, built for the museum by David Wolf, one of the astronauts who helped build the real space station. A new Astronauts Hall of Fame accompanies Beyond Spaceship Earth.


If you love penguins (and who doesn’t), book a trip to Detroit for the world’s largest penguin facility at the Detroit Zoo. It’s opening in March and will include more than 80 penguins. Gentoo, Macaroni, Rockhopper and King penguins will make their home in an iceberg-shaped facility, where you and your kids can watch the birds dive and soar through a 25-foot deep aquatic area and play in a 325,000-gallon pool.

Just about the same time the penguins come to the zoo, a new Legoland Discovery Center will open in the Great Lakes Crossing Outlet Mall, located in the suburb of Auburn Hills. In 2014, a new SEA LIFE Aquarium opened in the same shopping center.

San Antonio

The DoSeum is the newest children’s museum in Texas, and one in which your kids will want to spend several hours (or an entire day). The emphasis is on science, technology, engineering and math, all presented in a fun and engaging way. For example, Baxter is a robot that kids can talk to and program to do as they wish. A musical staircase is another treat for those with artistic inclinations. Outside, the huge playground includes an ADA-accessible tree house.

Another educational treat in San Antonio is the five San Antonio Missions that have recently been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The churches, which include the Alamo, were built in the 1700’s and greatly influenced the culture of Texas and much of the Southwest.

After all of that education, take a break at the J.W. Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort. The hotel is expanding its River Bluff Water Experience with two new body slides, an additional pool, increased cabana space and a bigger pavilion party place -- all set for completion in the spring of 2016.

Riviera Maya

The newest hotel in the Riviera Maya is the Grand Hyatt Playa del Carmen Resort, a 314-room property with the brand’s popular Camp Hyatt and a pool overlooking the beach. The Grand Fiesta Americana Coral Beach Cancun recently opened a new kids’ club called “The Coral KidZ Club.” The 40,0000-square-foot club is the biggest and best of any children’s program in Latin America. Perfect for kids 3 to 12 years old, the KidZ Club offers cooking classes, live theatre and more than 40 indoor and outdoor activities, including remote-controlled toy vehicle competitions.

Camp Woodward, the largest action sports camp in the world, has a new location at the Hard Rock Hotel on the Riviera Maya, as well.


Downtown Disney continues to evolve into Disney Springs -- a fabulous shopping, dining and entertainment mecca -- and is just the beginning of what’s new at Orlando in 2016.

Little Anna’s and Elsa’s are surely screaming in anticipation of “Frozen Ever After,” to open in 2016 at Epcot. Guests will take a gondola ride through the magical kingdom of Arendelle to visit Elsa Ice Palace and the frozen world of the North Mountain.

The Loews Sapphire Falls Resort, a Caribbean-inspired hotel with 1,000 rooms, is expected to open in Universal Orlando in the summer of 2016. A stay at this budget hotel also offers early admission to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter an hour before the park opens, and complimentary shuttle buses to Universal Orlando theme parks and Universal CityWalk. And get ready for Volcano Bay, a new water theme park to open in 2017 near Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort. Imagine plummeting down a waterslide from the top of a smoking volcano!

SeaWorld Orlando will debut a new rollercoaster called Mako in 2016. Named for one of the world’s fastest sharks, the Mako will be 200-feet tall and surrounded by a shark-themed plaza and restaurant. It will be Orlando’s longest, tallest and fastest roller coaster on a steel track.

The fun continues outside of the theme parks, too -- Orlando is getting a new major league soccer stadium. Sure, most people don’t go to central Florida for soccer, but if you’re there and the family loves soccer, check out the schedule for a world-class game. The stadium will seat nearly 20,000 people and be ready by the 2016 Major League soccer season.

Charleston, S.C.

Charleston has declared 2016 to be the Year of the Arts with events that celebrate the arts for people of all ages. Piccolo Spoleto Festival will offer a Family Day on May 27, with lots of free hands-on activities for children. The Gibbes Art Museum will reopen with a six-week summer camp for kids, and the brand new Gaillard Center offers two main attractions, Veggie Tales and Peppa Pig for entire families, with more on the way. Other shows at the Gaillard Center include everything from the Vienna Boys’ Choir to The National Circus and Acrobats of the People’s Republic of China.

The Charleston County Public Library Auditorium hosts free performances based on beloved childrens’ books, including a rendition of The Velveteen Rabbit by the Charleston City Ballet and Little Red Riding Hood by the College of Charleston opera.

Mall of America

Among the many new additions in 2016 at the Mall of America in Minneapolis is a new multi-sensory, four dimensional ride called FlyOver America. In this flight simulation, you will soar across some of America's most spectacular sights with the latest in flight ride technology. You might have seen one at Epcot or in Vancouver.

Also at the Mall of America is the new Crayola Experience, where you will be able to make your own crayons, star in your own coloring book and enjoy 25 more colorful, outside-the-lines experiences.

Consider a stay at the new 340-room J.W. Marriott, which opened in November 2015. You can walk to the mall under a covered walkway and enjoy a massive indoor pool after a long day of shopping.

Anaheim, Calif.

If you haven’t had your fill of “Frozen” yet, a new stage musical will debut in the summer of 2016 at the Hyperion Theatre in Disneyland. It will be typical Disney with fabulous costumes, sets and special effects sure to delight your little ones. And for those who love “Cars,” Luigi will be bringing some of his cousins in the car business to Disneyland in 2016. Look for dancing cars in the streets when Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters debut in February.

Consider a stay at the Courtyard Anaheim Theme Park Entrance, which opened in late-2015. Six waterslides, multiple swimming pools and a great view of the evening fireworks at Disneyland make this a popular new choice. You might also want to consider the new Great Wolf Lodge Southern California, expected to debut in February 2016. Located on Harbor Boulevard, just outside of Disneyland, this 603-room hotel has all of the water park fun the brand is known for, as well as a kids’ spa and nightly storytime in the lobby. If you’re looking to rack up points at Hyatt, the new Hyatt House Anaheim Resort is also expected to open in early 2016, just across Harbor Boulevard from the entrance to Disneyland.

Pigeon Forge

In the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, Dollywood rolls out The Lightning Rod in March, the world’s fastest wood coaster and the world’s first launching wood coaster. Modeled after a 1950’s-era hot rod, the Lightning Rod will launch passengers from 0 to 45 mph -- up more than 20 stories -- and hit speeds of 73 mph on the 3,800-foot track. Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort recently opened, as well, and features family suites, a kids’ program and early park entrance for guests.

Plan to visit during Wilderness Wildlife Week (May 18 to 22), Pigeon Forge’s annual salute to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. All programs are free and include dozens of expert-led hikes through the park, along with special programs on nature photography, botany, mountain crafts and Appalachian music.
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