Loveland’s Benson Park Sculpture Garden

August 28th, 2015 by Guest Blogger No comments »

Most families only visit Loveland, Colorado, because the town is the last stop on Highway 34 before you reach the gorgeous Rocky Mountain National Park, just 30 miles away. But if you’re heading into the national park, or simply driving through Colorado on Interstate 25, Loveland makes for an interesting stop along the way — if for no other reason than to see the statues. Loveland has hundreds of them!

Benson Park Sculpture Garden in Loveland, Colorado

There are over 300 pieces of public art, mostly sculptures, spread all over town, in front of city buildings, dentists’ offices, schools, and private homes. You can drive around town, playing a game of “spot the statues,” which might be fun for your passengers, but not for the driver. Instead, you should go directly to where the bulk of the artwork is on permanent display, at the Benson Park Sculpture Garden.

The 10-acre park is a dazzling site, with 148 sculptures of all shapes and sizes placed around three large ponds. When I first took my kids there, their initial response upon exiting the car was, “Oh no, do we have to walk?” But once they spied their first statue, a boy playing marbles with a dinosaur, they were immediately hooked. Aching feet were completely forgotten as they discovered new surprises around every corner.

My kids found life-size alligators, gigantic rabbits, dancing fairies, abstract swirls, and proud Native Americans — all on display in beautifully crafted sculptures that will have you wishing your town could pull off the same artistic miracle as Loveland. Have your camera ready for memorable poses of your kids with the various sculptures. They’ll plead with you to take a picture of them with every strange and whimsical creature they see!

Benson Park is located at the corner of 29th and Beech in central Loveland, a quiet, residential area that enhances the peaceful nature of the place. On the spring day we were there, it was practically free of people and it felt like we had the park to ourselves.

This is a city park, and is absolutely free to visit. There are picnic tables, benches, bathrooms, and drinking fountains, so don’t worry how long you stay. We were surprised to find two hours go by in a flash. And, still, the kids wanted to make another round of the park trails to see every statue a second time.
Granted, we were not in any kind of hurry; Loveland was an overnight stop for us on our way through the state. I highly recommend the new Holiday Inn Express just off I-25, which features the usual indoor pool but with a kid-pleasing, giant red waterslide.

Colorado is an amazing state with majestic mountains and stunning scenic vistas. It’s easy to overlook the little things, but next time you’re traveling through the area, you’ll find it well worth your time to add Benson Park Sculpture Garden to your list of places to see.

— Phil Corless

Phil Corless is an at-home dad of two living in the Pacific Northwest. Since 2004, he has been writing about fatherhood and family at the Idaho Dad blog. He believes the best way for kids to learn about the world is to travel through it.

More From Family Vacation Critic:
Plan a Vacation in Colorado
15 Roadside Attractions Worth a Stop

5 Fun Hotels for Dogs (and Families)

August 26th, 2015 by Amanda Geronikos No comments »

It’s National Dog Day! In honor of our furry (and favorite) family members, we’ve compiled a list of hotels that roll out the red carpet for canines.

Little Dog with Pet Bed, Bowl and Treat at a Gansevoort Hotel

Gansevoort Dominican Republic
Just because you’re traveling to the Caribbean doesn’t mean you can’t bring your dog! The Gansevoort Dominican Republic welcomes canines with treats, bowls, toys, collars and even monogrammed mats, as do all other Gansevoort Hotels.

The Maritime Hotel
Located in New York City, The Maritime Hotel provides walking services, and select accommodations – which resemble cruise ship cabins — offer outdoor patios for your pooch to sunbathe.

The Bowery
The Bowery Hotel, also located in New York City, just sounds like a dog-friendly hotel, and guests are happy to find it offers bowls and turndown services just for dogs — fresh water is poured into their bowl each evening.

The Cloister at Sea Island
Treat Your Pet to a Getaway – that’s the name of the package offered at The Cloister and The Lodge at Sea Island in Georgia. The package includes pet food, bowls, pillows, and a gourmet menu — think beef tips braised in veal essence. Cats are also welcome.

Loews Don CeSar Hotel
The Loews Don CeSar Hotel in St. Petersburg, Florida considers each dog a VIP (Very Important Pet), and offers a pet room service menu, pet toys, bedding and more.

More From Family Vacation Critic:
10 Best Pet-Friendly Hotels for Families
Meet the Canine Ambassadors of Fairmont Hotels and Resorts

–Amanda Geronikos

Relaxing at the Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne, Miami

August 24th, 2015 by Guest Blogger No comments »

Many of us forget to take time to actually enjoy each other’s company. We’re constantly running from school and work to activity after activity. Even when we’re on vacation, we try to pack everything in. On our recent trip to The Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne, Miami, we took the mad rush of our lives down numerous octaves, and did absolutely nothing.

Doing absolutely nothing — or at least our version of it — turned about to be absolutely wonderful for my husband, our two teen girls and myself. An ideal setting along a pristine white-sand beach paired with the Ritz-Carlton’s well-known upscale service made it easy to get into the daily ritual of pure pampering and relaxation. The 5-mile Key Biscayne barrier island is just south of Miami Beach, but a whole world away from the high energy of the city.

Pool at Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne, Miami

Club Lounge
Morning walks with my husband were followed by meeting the girls for breakfast at the Club Lounge. It is well worth the extra charge to upgrade to a Club level room at the Ritz-Carlton, which grants you access to the Club Lounge and its food and beverage service that includes lovely spreads for breakfast and lunch. Hors d’oeuvres and cocktails are also served from 5 to 7:30 p.m., and many nights, there was so much to eat that the food served as dinner for us. Each evening, decadent desserts came out from 8 to 10 p.m. Snacks and drinks are always available at the Club Lounge, which also serves as an extended living room with comfortable clusters of couches, chairs and tables, plus a balcony and children’s room with a couch, bean chairs and a few DVDs. The concierge on duty is there to help with any requests or needs onsite or off-property.

Beach
Club on the Beach is a private area by the pool with lounges, a refrigerator stocked with water and sodas, snacks and a small baby pool. We would often escape there and be the only ones within this secret enclave. The rest of our daytime hours were spent on the beach itself, enjoying the ocean, which was like a bathtub with calm waves and clear warm water. We could often see fish swimming past. It’s remarkable how much talking can be done with your teens when throwing a ball around in the ocean, or simply floating along on a tube. Our smartphones are not waterproof and had to be left in the beach tote — what a shame. (The resort fee covers Wi-Fi when you need it, however.) The fee also includes use of paddleboards, kayaks and floats.

View From Balcony at Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne, Miami

Spa and Fitness
In addition to the Club on the Beach, the resort has a family pool (where we swam a few nights) and adults-only pool areas. The daily resort fee includes two fitness classes per day and my older daughter and I took a yoga class together. Other choices included spin and Pilates. The resort fee also includes entrance to the fitness center and full-service adults-only spa locker rooms, which feature whirlpool, steam, sauna and showers. I treated myself to an aromatherapy massage with Moroccan oil scalp massage, which further helped with our “do nothing” attitude.

Tennis
My husband went to the daily (except Sundays) 90-minute tennis clinic or to the fitness center so that he could eat the nightly desserts guilt-free. Tennis is a big deal here, with the Cliff Drysdale Tennis Center featuring one hard court and 10 soft clay Hydrocourts. Golf enthusiasts can take a short drive to the par-72 Crandon Golf Course. My husband hit a bucket of balls there one afternoon.

Restaurants
The resort has five dining venues. Cioppino is the fine dining restaurant offering incredible Tuscan cuisine and excellent service. Kids will like sitting on the outdoor patio overlooking the pool and ocean beyond it. The casual Cantina Beach poolside serves up great burgers and regional Mexican cuisine at your lounge chair or within the oceanfront restaurant. The Dune Oceanfront Burger Lounge is a fun place where the family can sit on sofas with their feet in the sand and eat burgers and more. The Rumbar/Lobby Lounge serves a light menu and offers live music on select nights. The Key Pantry off the lobby provides a place for quick snacks and coffee for those who do not have Club Lounge privileges. Shopping and dining are walking distance from the resort for those who would like to explore a bit without getting the car from valet parking.

Ritz Kids
Children ages 5 to 12 can spend a morning, afternoon or day in the Ritz Kids program. The resort uses its partnership with Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ocean Futures Society to focus on the four key pillars of Water, Land, Environmental Responsibility and Culture that gets kids exploring and discovering the world around them. Limited to six kids per counselor, Ritz Kids features sports, interactive games, and arts and crafts that integrate these pillars.

Nearby Attractions
This was our second visit to The Ritz-Carlton, Key Biscayne, Miami, and during our first visit, we ventured and explored the many close-by attractions. The Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park is home to the Cape Florida Lighthouse, where we walked to each morning. Free guided tours of the lighthouse take place at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Thursdays through Mondays, when you can climb the 109 steps to the lighthouse watch room and enjoy the view of the beach, Miami and Biscayne Bay. Down the road from the resort is the Miami Seaquarium, and it’s only a short drive to Jungle Island and other family-friendly attractions.

More From Family Vacation Critic:
10 Best Miami Hotels for Families
10 Best Florida Resorts for Families

—Stacey Zable

Stacey Zable is an award-winning veteran travel writer. She specializes in family travel, spas, cruises and luxury travel. Visit her site at www.StaceyZable.com.

11 Upcoming Sesame Place Events

August 21st, 2015 by Hilarey Wojtowicz No comments »

Haven’t made it to Sesame Place yet this summer? Plan a visit in the fall or winter, when the one-of-a-kind park — which turned 35 this year — will offer more themed events for families. Note: The park will be open on weekends only, September through to December, plus Dec. 28, 29, 30 and 31.

Elmo and Friends Perform in Spooktacular Concert at Sesame Place

Back to School Bash
Aug. 29-30, 2015
School may be starting soon, but families can finish the summer off in style at the Back to School Bash on Aug. 29 and 30, 2015. The Bash includes singing and dancing with characters, plus one meal per person. Reservations are required. Party times are 11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Tickets are $29 for kids and adults ages 10 and older, $18 for children ages 2 to 9, and free for tots ages 23 months and younger. Park admission is not included and is required.

Labor Day BBQ
Sept. 5-6, 2015
Celebrate Labor Day with a BBQ and all your favorite Sesame Street characters on Sept. 5 and 6, 2015. The BBQ includes food and fireworks. Reservations are required. The BBQ is at 5 p.m. on both days. Tickets are $29 for kids and adults ages 10 and older, $18 for children ages 2 to 9, and free for tots ages 23 months and younger. Park admission is not included and is required.

Labor Day Weekend Fireworks
Sept. 5-6, 2015
Who doesn’t love fireworks? Visit Sesame Place on Sept. 5 and 6, 2015, for a fireworks display each night beginning at 8:25 p.m. Kids will enjoy the bright colors while dancing with their favorite characters. The fireworks are free with park admission, but for an even more fun time, families can purchase the all new Fireworks Grab Bags. Grab Bags include two souvenir cups filled with the beverage of your choice, one souvenir popcorn bucket filled with popcorn, two fiber optic glow wands and one souvenir tote bag. Fireworks Grab Bags are $25 each.

The Count’s Halloween Spooktacular
Weekends, Sept. 26 through Nov 1, 2015
Halloween isn’t scary at Sesame Place — it’s silly! The Count’s Halloween Spooktacular runs from Sept. 26 through Nov. 1, 2015, and includes special events and performances like Elmo The Musical Live!, Who Said Boo?!, the Not-Too-Scary Road Show and the Neighborhood Street Party. All events and performances are included with park admission.

Zoe’s Monster Mash Dance Party
Sept. 26-27, 2015
Zoe’s birthday is a time for fun and with her Monster Mash Dance Party, families can move and groove with their favorite character. Zoe’s party is on Sept. 26 and 27, 2015, and includes singing, dancing and an all-you-can-eat buffet. Reservations are required. Party times are at noon and 5 p.m. each day. Tickets are $29 for kids and adults ages 10 and older, $18 for children ages 2 to 9, and free for tots ages 23 months and younger. Park admission is not included and is required.

The Count’s Batty Birthday Bash
Oct. 3-4, 2015
Reservations are required for those who want to attend The Count’s exclusive birthday party, which includes singing, dancing and a buffet. Tickets are $29 for those ages 10 and up, $18 for ages 2 to 9 and free for children under 23 months. Regular park admission is required; party times are at noon and 5 p.m.

Grover’s Not-So-Spooky Birthday Bash
Oct. 10-11, 2015
If you miss The Count’s birthday, visit Sesame Place the following weekend for Grover’s special day (and don’t forget to wish The Count a happy belated birthday). Grover’s birthday also includes a meal, plus singing and dancing, with the exact same rates. Celebrations take place at 12 and 5 p.m.; reservations are required, as is regular park admission.

Monster Mayhem Dine
Oct. 17-18, 2015
Prepare to do the Monster Mash with your favorite characters and enjoy a delicious buffet afterward. You can make a reservation for 12 or 5 p.m. Rates are the same as those for the birthday celebrations — $29 for adults, $18 for kids ages 2 to 9 and free for little ones under 23 months. Park admission is required.

Elmo’s Silly Bones Spooktacular Dine
Oct. 24-25, 2015
This is your chance to dine with the one and only Elmo! Wear your costume — you’ll have an opportunity to get your picture taken with Elmo (who will be wearing a costume, too). Dining experiences are offered at 12 and 5 p.m. both days and require park admission, plus additional rates of $29 for adults and $18 for kids ages 2 to 9.

The Count’s Halloween Party
Oct. 31 to Nov. 1, 2015
Wear your costume for the ultimate Halloween event at Sesame Place: The Count’s Halloween Party. The special event includes dancing, singing and a meal. The event takes place at 12 and 5 p.m., and costs $29 per adult and $18 per child age 2 to 9. Park admission is required.

A Very Furry Christmas
Weekends, Nov. 21-Dec. 27; Dec. 28, 29, 30 & 31, 2015
At Christmastime, Sesame Place is transformed into a winter wonderland, with lights, decorations, and themed shows to put families in the holiday spirit. Kids can visit the rides at Cookie’s Monster Land before visiting Santa in the Furry Workshop. All the fun is included in standard park admission.

Looking for a place to stay when you visit? See our picks for the 10 Best Sesame Place Hotels for Families.

–Hilarey Wojtowicz