See Philly From the Top

February 8th, 2016 by Guest Blogger No comments »

One Liberty Observation Deck, Philadelphia’s newest and tallest attraction, is located inside the One Liberty Place skyscraper (which happens to be the first Philadelphia building to be built taller than the statue of William Penn atop City Hall, constructed in 1987).

Open daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., the view from 883 feet high is spectacular, even on a cloudy day, so a camera is a must!

One Liberty Observation Deck

Entrances to the Observation Deck can be found at street level from the 16th Street entrance of One Liberty Place or inside the building near the Food Court. Once inside and after tickets are purchased ($14 for children ages 3 to 11 and $19 for adults), giant greenish blue shoes and legs that reach into the ceiling will greet families. If you look up, a red tail from a kite string can be seen weaving through the ceiling and around those giant legs that may be attached to a certain someone. But watch out because a thunderstorm is rolling in and there may be some thunder and lightning. Young children may be slightly scared of the virtual thunderstorm, but the flashing light and loud rumble only last a few seconds and kids who are told “it’s just pretend” don’t seem to mind.

Stop at the green screen for a family photo op, which virtually sets you within a Philadelphia scene; the photo can be purchased later. Then it’s time to ascend to the top of Philly.

A 75-second, spacious and entertaining elevator ride (24 people can fit inside) whisks guests to the top while watching a video of Ben Franklin’s kite flying over the sights of Philadelphia. When the elevator doors open, finally you see the face attached to those legs downstairs! Ben Franklin’s giant greenish blue head sits proudly atop Philadelphia, observing the city and those who visit his Observation Deck, through his silver spectacles. Mr. Franklin offers some great photo opportunities.

One Liberty Observation Deck

Once you turn your attention beyond giant Ben, a “sea” of Philadelphia is before you. Even on a cloudy day, there are 360-degree views as far as the eye can see. To give an idea, the Limerick Power Plant, which is 37 miles away, can easily be seen in the distance. So imagine the views of the Ben Franklin Bridge, City Hall, PSFS and Comcast buildings, 30th Street Station and the Schuylkill River.

Families will enjoy interacting with the touchscreen displays that can pinpoint different attractions and neighborhoods throughout Philadelphia and beyond to the suburbs and New Jersey. Kids will also love to spot Philadelphia landmarks through the glass windows and of course try to see their own house (if you’re a local, of course).

One Liberty Observation Deck

Philadelphia-centric music and sports or history clips can be heard throughout your stay and there is plenty of room to run if looking out the windows begins to bore the kids. A few chairs and a Flyers hockey penalty box with a bench allow for some sitting. Inside the Flyers Penalty Box, more Philly sports clips can be heard.

Once you’ve had your bird’s eye view of Philadelphia, take the elevator back down and visit the gift shop, where you can purchase the green screen photo that was taken before you headed to the top.

Best Time to Visit
Weekends bring big crowds to this new attraction that opened in November, 2015. But during the week and especially in the middle of the day, you could almost have the whole place to yourself.

The Essentials
Bathrooms can be found on both the bottom level, as well as at the top of the observation deck. No outside food or drink is permitted, but vending machines can be found at the top. A souvenir shop, filled with Philadelphia T-shirts, magnets, hats, games and mugs, can be found at the bottom level.

Cost
Tickets can be purchased at the door for $14 for youth (ages 3 to 11) and $19 for adults. For a few dollars more, tickets can be purchased online with a specified entrance time. Group tour rates are also available at a discounted rate.

Promotion
Family Fun for Four: Two adults (ages 12 and up) and two youth (ages 3 to 11) can purchase tickets at the door for $49 total, now through March 31, 2016 — a savings of $17.

–Courtney Elko

More From Family Vacation Critic:
Philadelphia Family Vacations
10 Best Cities for Family Trips

“Icky, Creepy, Slimy, Cool” Tour Floats to National Aquarium

February 1st, 2016 by Guest Blogger No comments »

If you have a child whose greatest joy in life seems to be chasing their siblings around with whatever insects or frogs they manage to find in the yard, you’re in luck: there’s now an opportunity for them to explore those interests in an educational way. The National Aquarium in Baltimore recently debuted an “Icky, Creepy, Slimy, Cool” interactive exhibit that allows visitors (ages 8 and up) to get up-close and personal with some of the weirdest and most fascinating species at the aquarium.

Kids will love seeing and learning about bats, bugs, snakes, sharks, jellyfish, crocodiles, and a few things you’ve probably never heard of. They’ll be talking for days about the bright, alien-like mantis shrimp and the sharks that can walk on the ocean floor. During the tour, they can (safely) meet and touch some of the animals, and even participate in a feeding if the timing is right.

Currently, the tour is set to take place from 9 to 11 a.m. on February 13 and 27 and March 5, 19 and 26; additional dates will be announced on the aquarium’s website. Tickets include aquarium admission, so you can feel free to wander around afterwards to visit some of the aquarium’s less “creepy” creatures. Book ahead of time to reserve your spot in the tour.

Not going to be near Baltimore anytime soon? See if one of these (less extensive and less “icky”) interactive aquarium exhibits is a shorter commute:

Georgia Aquarium: Here, kids can meet sea creatures in supervised touch pools, including bonnethead sharks, rays, and sea urchins. There’s a playground here as well, with crawl tubes and a whale slide.

New England Aquarium: This aquarium in Boston is home to the largest shark and ray touch tank on the East Coast. You can also schedule a play session with the aquarium’s seals.

The Florida Aquarium: Kids can touch and take photos with juvenile alligators, swim with fish or sand tiger sharks, and pet rays or bamboo sharks in the touch tank.

Aquarium of the Pacific: In Long Beach, California, kids can touch several varieties of sharks, meet penguins or sea otters, or take part in the Seal and Sea Lion Encounter. They can also take several two-hour “Junior Biologist” classes or go on the Wonders of the Deep tour to learn about deep-sea creatures.

Oregon Coast Aquarium: Feel limpets, purple shore crabs, sea cucumbers, and more in the touch pool, watch the wave-crash exhibit outside, and examine small creatures under a microscope at the Ocean Exploration Station.

— Kaitlin Braun

More From Family Vacation Critic:
9 Wacky Museums for Families
10 Best African Safari Lodges for Families

4 Funky Austin Tours for Families

January 29th, 2016 by Guest Blogger No comments »

Austin is a city with lots to offer visitors, and exploring the city can take many forms. Wherever your interests lie — music, art, biking, and even the paranormal — organized tours can help you explore a themed twist.

Austin Food Truck

The Austin Food Truck Crawl
Austin is proud of its culinary experiences, from famous Texas barbecue to cupcakes. One of the most fun food experiences is the Austin Food Truck Tour. Kids love the fun-shaped food trucks and enjoy the quirky themes. It’s an excellent way to see the yummy part of Austin! This 3-hour tour takes you to four local food trucks for sampling.

Normally hosted on Saturdays, the tour allows you to ride from food truck to food truck in an air-conditioned bus, with no worries about long walks for little ones. Try chocolates, breakfast tacos, sandwiches, barbque and even desserts from a “Cupcake Wars” winning bakery!

Peace and Love Zilker Bicycle Tour

Does your family like biking? Try this 1.5-hour tour of Austin. You’ll get the scoop on the city’s history while enjoying the beauty of Lady Bird Lake, named after former First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson. Sites along the way will include Auditorium Shoes, Stevie Ray Vaughan Statue, The Old Railroad Bridge and Barton Springs Pool.

Spirit Expeditions Walking Tour

Think ghosts and haunted spots will make your trip complete? This is the tour you’ll love. Tours leave from Wooldridge Square Park and last 2 hours. Your guide will lead you around town while telling you about the history of Austin. Learn all about the ghosts that seem to visit every major building in town! You can even try your hand at using a dousing rod to see if you can find any ghosts on your own! Much more spooky than scary, this tour is great for kids.

Amazing Scavenger Hunt Adventure
Do you and your family enjoy a game and friendly competition? Urban Adventure Quest’s scavenger hunt will have you exploring the city with clues in hand. The tour starts at the State Archives Library and ends at Lady Bird Lake. You’ll explore the 2 miles in 2.5 to 3 hours looking for clues! Points of interest include: Texas State Capital Building, Driskill Hotel (the oldest hotel in Austin) 6th Street (downtown district), Frank Hot Dogs and Lady Bird Lake.

–Natalie Tanner, The Educational Tourist

Natalie Tanner, The Educational Tourist, has hundreds of thousands of miles under her belt — business trips with her geologist husband to places like Scottsdale, Jackson Hole, New York and Denver — and family adventures to far-flung destinations like Rome, Paris, Tangier, and Istanbul. When she isn’t traveling, The Educational Tourist stays busy planning the next adventure while being mom to two kids, three dogs, Sushi the fisand a hamster. Follow her adventures at The Educational Tourist.

More From Family Vacation Critic:
9 Wacky Museums for Families
7 Tour Group Companies for Families

9 Best New Cars for Family Road Trips

January 22nd, 2016 by Guest Blogger No comments »

Live from Detroit, it’s the acronym challenged North American International Auto Show (NAIAS)! Here’s a look at the best new rides for your next family road trip, whether that’s to the beach this summer, to grandmom’s house during spring break or across the whole of the country before a new school year starts in the fall. These new SUVs and cars will get you there in comfort and in style, no matter where “there” happens to be, and because gas prices sit at 20-year-lows, there’s never been a better time to road trip in a big, beautiful car.

2016 Volvo XC90

2016 Volvo XC90
For my money (not that I have enough to afford her — $50,000 to start, $68,000 for the plug-in hybrid variant), the classy XC90 from Volvo is the most startling example of form and function for families looking to get away in style and comfort. It’s no wonder it took home Motor Trend’s top prize for its segment. Give me one of these in a deep “Passion Red” and I’ll start packing immediately!

2017 Kia Sportage

2017 Kia Sportage
This sporty small SUV just screams out fun and adventure! The Sportage is the Kia Sorento’s rock-n’-roll loving little brother, the kind of kid who colored outside the lines and continues to defy both the expectations of others and the status quo. You can fit your kids and your stuff nicely into a Sportage and set off for a road trip every bit as unique as your family.

2016 Buick Envision

2016 Buick Envision
Duncan Aldred, vice president of Buick said that “the all-new Buick Envision is a modern, confident and responsive luxury compact crossover [SUV]” and while he’s spot-on, what I like best is the emphasis on a supremely quiet cabin, because aside from other drivers making dangerous left turns from the right lane, road noise is my #1 pet peeve while behind the wheel.

2016 Toyota Prius Four Touring Edition

2016 Toyota Prius Four Touring Edition
While we put one of Toyota’s Sienna minivans through the paces during our cross-country 3-week road trip last summer — from the snowy top of the Rockies to the dry 117-degree heat of Death Valley — and a big Toyota Highlander SUV to the test in the Pacific Northwest, we’ve also road tripped in a Prius, in the midst of a harsh Midwestern winter. The 2016 Prius, now available in six grades in a new graded system, is roomy enough for a family of four and delivers remarkable fuel economy to make a journey of any length and on any surface — highway or big city streets — an even more affordable one.

2017 Subaru Forester

2017 Subaru Forester
The newest version of our own everyday family car hasn’t changed too much in the three years since we bought into our 2nd Forester (there is, however, a more robotic look up front on the bumper), but that’s not a bad thing at all. She still sports impressive hip and headspace for big and tall drivers like me, ample legroom for growing kids in the back and enough trunk space for plenty of luggage… and all the new things you’ll collect along your way!

2016 Chevy Trax

2016 Chevy Trax
Maybe it was the clementine orange glaze, but I was immediately smitten with the Chevy Trax LTZ on display at the Detroit Auto Show, despite having never once heard of this vehicle beforehand. The small SUV hatchback starts at a hair over $20,000, making it an affordable entry point into the crossover market and the perfect car to gallivant over sand dunes.

2017 Chevy Equinox LTZ

2017 Chevy Equinox LTZ
Admittedly, I get wobbly-kneed upon spying a two-toned interior and so this inviting Equinox LTZ, with its warm and rich cappuccino and black coffee leather seats and dash, drew me in straightaway. There’s just something incredibly soothing about cruising inside a reading-room quality cabin.

2017 Mercedes-AMG GLS63

2017 Mercedes-AMG GLS63
If you demand turbocharged V8 performance when exploring the Pacific Northwest or going coast to coast with your kids, this large and luxurious Mercedes-AMG SUV is going to turn heads as you blow into town.

Kia Telluride Concept

Kia Telluride Concept
OK, so you’re not going to be going anywhere in a Kia Telluride this year and, while I shudder at the thought, you may never have the privilege of cruising between the slopes and the sea in this hi-tech luxury SUV concept from Kia. But if someday she goes into production, you’ll get health and wellness diagnostics on your door’s control panel and be able to nap fully horizontal in the second row seats. Now THAT’S a utopian road trip set-up!

— Jeff Bogle

Jeff Bogle is an at-home dad of two pre-tween daughters. He writes about parenthood, family travel and all things childhood on his site OutWithTheKids.com. He considers himself one of the luckiest guys in the world. Jeff also writes for PBS.

More From Family Vacation Critic:
8 Sensational Drives for Families
12 Tips for Mastering the Road Trip