How to Save at Universal Studios Orlando

October 22nd, 2014 by Hilarey Wojtowicz No comments »

View of rides at Universal's Islands of AdventureTheme park admission can really break the bank. But for a limited time Universal Studios Orlando is offering a deal that families shouldn’t pass on. Play and ride all of the games and thrills at Universal Studios Orlando and Universal’s Islands of Adventure in three days, while paying only for two.

Book the Park-To-Park Admission promotion now and you’ll receive park admission good for three days, while only paying for two. Original one-day, one-park tickets for Universal Studios Orlando or Universal’s Islands of Adventure are $96 per adult and $90 per child. And the price of original two-day, two-park tickets cost $175.99 per adult, and $165.99 per child. But with this promotion, receive a third day free with your two-day, two-park ticket price.

The three-day tickets must be used within a 14-day period, but are valid for visits now through June 20, 2015. Black out dates apply during the holiday season and tickets must be purchased by June 7, 2015.

Plus, you can save even more in the Orlando area with these four packages and deals:

Family Room Package at the JW Marriott Orlando Grande Lakes

From $149 per night at the Villas of Grand Cypress

From $71 per night at the Tuscana Resort Orlando

Up to 30 percent off at the Loews Royal Pacific Resort

– Hilarey Wojtowicz

Halloween Happenings at Kalahari Water Park Resorts

October 21st, 2014 by Hilarey Wojtowicz No comments »

Little boy decorates a cookie with icing and sprinkles at a Kalahari Water Park ResortHalloween is just 10 days away. Now that your children know what their costumes will be (Elsa anyone?), it’s time to plan some fun for the whole family. Kalahari Water Park Resorts in Wisconsin Dells and Sandusky, Ohio, are offering days of fun for everyone. Besides the usual water park access (which never gets old!) the resorts are offering activities like arts and crafts, movies, coloring contests, cookie decorating and more. Here are all of the Halloween happenings at the Kalahari Water Park Resorts:

Kalahari Waterpark Resort, Ohio
Oct. 30 to Nov. 2, 2014
Start the weekend off on Thursday with an all day Halloween coloring contest. Enjoy arts and crafts where kids can decorate pillow cases, T-shirts and more, from noon to 2 p.m., and then make creepy cookies from 3 to 4 p.m. Enjoy a pumpkin bean bag toss, candy corn bingo and more arts and crafts in the evening until 6 p.m. End the night with story time at the Big Five Lounge Area from 6 to 6:20 p.m.

On Friday – Halloween! – enjoy all the same activities, but finish the day with an hour of trick or treating at 7 p.m. Kids can wear their costumes and stop at 15 stations for a variety of sweet treats. Enjoy story time at the Big Five Lounge Area from 8 to 8:20 p.m.

Over the weekend, in between arts and crafts, cookie decorating, candy corn bingo and more, be sure to slide and splash at the indoor water park. Halloween activities conclude at 4 p.m. on Sunday, November 2 with a cookie decorating activity.

Special Package: Haunted Weekends
Stay Friday, October 31 and Saturday, November 1, and enjoy a room for up to four guests, admission to the indoor water park, $50 in food and beverage credit, a $50 token card for the Big Game Room, and all of the Halloween events and activities. Rates start from $350 for the two-night package.

Kalahari Resort Wisconsin Dells
Oct. 31 to Nov. 2, 2014
Halloween kicks off with a coloring contest and a day full of decorating everything from T-shirts and bags to bobbleheads and pumpkins on Friday, October 31. Decorate cookies from 3 to 4 p.m. and then get in some time on the waterslides before the movie starts at 6 p.m. – snacks will be provided!

On Saturday, try your luck again at the coloring contest before making and stuffing your own pillow. Arts and crafts, like painting a magnet or pumpkin, are offered throughout the day and trick or treating starts promptly at 6 p.m. See whose costume is the best at the Kalahari Costume Contest at 7 p.m. and then enjoy a night of bowling from 8 to 9 p.m.

End your weekend with arts and crafts on Sunday. All of the events conclude with a game of Deal or No Deal at 5 p.m. – the prize is 100 tokens!

Special Package: Fantastic Family Getaway
Enjoy a two-night stay in a room for up to four guests, with admission for four to the indoor water park, admission for four to Timbavati Wildlife Park, breakfast for each guest each morning, one 14-inch pizza with four fountain drinks, four indoor theme park ride passes, four games of bowling for four people, and a $20 credit towards the spa. Plus, all of the Halloween activities and events! Rates start from $589 for the two-night package, when staying October 31 to November 2.

– Hilarey Wojtowicz

5 Kid-Friendly Activities in Winnipeg, Canada

October 20th, 2014 by Guest Blogger No comments »

An ancient meeting place of Native American tribes, an immigrant hub and the largest French-speaking population in the West, the Canadian prairie city of Winnipeg has an abiding sense of diversity, deep roots and the kind of global ingenuity that creates matchless ideas. It’s the proud hometown of Winnie the Pooh and Canadian rock band The Guess Who, and that right there might explain the eclectic appeal.

My family of five has diverse interests, both urban and wild, and we were thoroughly engaged by what we found to do and see in Winnipeg, a place brimming with marvels for us all.

The Forks National Historic Site
Exterior view of The Forks Market at nightThe Forks National Historic Site of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers is an eons-old historic meeting place, an urban sanctuary, and a favorite for foodies and shopaholics. With restaurants, boutiques and a splendid indoor market, there are oodles to look at and plenty of green space to roam. Don’t miss the Sugar Mountain Express, housed in a restored 1920’s rail car with everything from nostalgic treats to the latest in candy couture. My family rented a pedal-powered buggy contraption for six and looped over the spectacular nearby Esplanade Riel Pedestrian Bridge to Winnipeg’s French Quarter, St. Boniface, and back again.

A young girl pokes her head through the hole of the large coin at the Royal Canadian MintThe Royal Canadian Mint
It’s totally worth the price ($6 for adults, $3 for kids 5 to 17) to tour the surprisingly fascinating Royal Canadian Mint. Housed in a gleaming 110-foot glass tower, and surrounded by the flags of 75 countries whose money is minted inside, the Mint produces more than 55 billion coins for Canada and the world. See how massive strips of metal meet 50-ton presses to produce more than 1,000 coins per second. Find out your weight in gold, platinum or other precious metals, and buy a “blank” and watch as a machine stamps it into a nifty keepsake. A must for coin collectors, the Mint holds the attention best of kids 8 and up. My family never looked at the modest quarter the same way again, and yours won’t either.

Fishing for Monster Catfish
A young girl stands with a fishing guide on a boat as he holds a large catfishEach member of our family can now proudly say we are master anglers, thanks to Todd Longley, the long-haired, tattooed, “rock n’ roll fishing guide,” who showed us a good time on the Red River just outside of Winnipeg. Fabled for its monster cats, the Red River teems with the hefty “beauties,” but you still have to know where to find them. Thankfully, our guide is a Catfish Whisperer, not to mention hilarious company and great with kids. We each caught two master angler catfish (34 inches or more in size), with our 9-year-old daughter hauling in (with help) a whopping 37-inch catfish. A four-hour tour costs around $400 for a family.

Journey to Churchill at Assiniboine Park Zoo
A white polar bear swims near a rock in the tank at the Assiniboine Park ZooChurchill, Manitoba, is the “Polar Bear Capitol of the World,” and a 48-hour train-ride from Winnipeg. Thankfully, you can skip the trip to the arctic and see the next best thing: the Journey to Churchill exhibit at Winnipeg’s Assiniboine Park Zoo. At the exhibit, which opened in the summer of 2014, rocks, tundra wildflowers and scrubby bushes mimic the subarctic habitat that flourishes in Churchill. The “landscaping” is decidedly legit, which adds authenticity to the largest and most comprehensive arctic life zoo exhibit in the world. Not only did we gape in awe at Kaska and Aurora, the two young polar bear pals who splashed and frolicked for 45 minutes in the underwater viewing tunnels, but we also learned about ways we can help save these magnificent bears from extinction. Arctic seals, foxes, hares and wolves are fun to watch, too, but the roly-poly polar girls stole the show and our hearts. Zoo admission is $18.50 for adults; $14.81 for youth, 13 to 17; and $10 for children 3 to 12; kids 2 and under are free.

Canadian Museum for Human Rights
Exterior view of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights at nightIt’s safe to say there is nothing like the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR), which opened in September 2014. First, there’s the architecture. An iconic glass “cloud” envelopes the building, evoking dove wings, and luminous ramps of alabaster zigzag up to the Tower of Hope. The design sets world standards for universal accessibility, surpassing the Smithsonian. Second, there’s the concept. This is the only museum in the world entirely devoted to exploring human rights as an idea. Can families wrap their minds around such a lofty notion? Absolutely. The CMHR invites children to participate in the conversation about erasing barriers for all. Exhibits explore women’s rights, labor rights, children’s rights, disability rights, racism and the struggles of various ethnic groups. We were blown away by the building, storytelling, immersive multimedia and digital interaction. More importantly, the ideas expressed, like peace, justice, and lasting change, made a deep impression. Adult admission is $15; youth ages 7 to 17 are $8; and a family with two adults and up to four children is $42.

– Lorilee Craker

A Fall Afternoon With Kids at Wave Hill

October 19th, 2014 by Guest Blogger No comments »

Kids play in leaves at Wave HillIf you live in or near New York City and want to get away from the craziness of everyday life, head to Wave Hill — a botanical garden and nature center in Riverdale, New York. It’s absolutely gorgeous in the fall, with views of colorful foliage, the Hudson River and New Jersey Palisades in the background.

The park hosts 28 acres of gardens and hills, and it’s truly a magical way to spend an afternoon with the kids. They can explore flowers and plants in the greenhouse, run through open greenery, join projects in the classroom especially created for them, have a picnic or just sit peacefully gazing out at the view.

The really cool thing about Wave Hill is that visitors are invited to explore every inch of the park. When my family visited, we sat on lounge chairs and gazed out at the river, walked through the green house, roamed the garden and observed the most exotic flowers.

Wave Hill has a lot of programming to offer families, free with admission to the park. They have art projects for kids every weekend that revolve around nature. Art and history are woven into the educational experience in ways that reflect the unique nature of Wave Hill as both a public garden and cultural center. Kids will learn how to make plant jewelry, fairy wands and tiny houses, cornhusk dolls and more. They also offer an interesting assortment of activities such as history walks and concerts overlooking the river. Guided tours of the gardens and art exhibitions are offered, too, and are suitable for both adults and children.

Wave Hill is open Tuesday through Sunday, year-round. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. March 15 through October 31, and 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. November 1 through March 14. Admission is free to members and children under 6; $8 for adult; $4 students and seniors 65 and older; and $2 for children 6 and older. Target’s sponsorship makes it possible for Wave Hill to offer free admission every Tuesday and Saturday morning from 9 a.m. to noon year-round, too. Parking is $8 per car.

– Holly Fink

Holly Rosen Fink is a mother, marketing consultant, writer and blogger for a number of sites, as well as her own, The Holly Chronicles.

Top Dog Weekend Package in Vermont

October 18th, 2014 by Hilarey Wojtowicz No comments »

Exterior view of The Essex, Vermont's Culinary Resort & SpaLeaving your pet behind while going away for a family vacation can be heart wrenching. Rather than worry about your puppy this fall, bring them along for a truly relaxing trip that the entire family can enjoy. The Essex, Vermont’s Culinary Resort & Spa is hosting a Top Dog Weekend event and is offering its R & Arf Package for families with dogs who want to give their four-legged friend a chance to relax, too.

Top Dog Weekend will be held Friday, Nov. 7 to Sunday, Nov. 9, 2014, and aims to bring owners and furry friends closer together. The weekend package includes a two-night stay in a Traditional room, a dog treat cooking class on Saturday morning, an afternoon self-guided walk and off-leash play time at the Mills Riverside Park and passes to the Indian Brook Reservoir for a self-guided hike. Plus, guests receive room service one evening (for the dog, too!) and a custom dog toy and bowl to take home. Package rates start from $499 and include all taxes and fees.

After all of the fun with Fido, be sure to enjoy the plethora of onsite activities, like golf, tennis, biking (rentals available), indoor pool, hiking trails, adventure course (with zip lines and rock climbing!), hot air ballooning, bonfires (think S’mores!) and more. And that’s all without leaving the resort!

For more information, see our review of The Essex, Vermont’s Culinary Resort & Spa. And to book, visit the resort’s website.

– Hilarey Wojtowicz

Club Med Cancun Yucatan: A Flying Trapeze Experience

October 17th, 2014 by Amanda Geronikos No comments »

Many Club Med Resorts offer a unique opportunity to use a trapeze (and at no added cost). On a recent visit to Club Med Cancun Yucatan, we hesitated to try it, but were so glad we gave in, and encourage everyone – kids and adults – to give it a go, if for nothing else than the “once-in-a-lifetime” factor. It’s not everyday you get to take a vacation AND be a trapeze artist, too. Prepare for the experience with these tips.

Family Vacation Critic Associate Editor Amanda Geronikos flies through the air on the flying trapeze at Club Med Cancun Yucatan

The trapeze is available to guests daily, with morning hours dedicated to kids at Club Med Cancun Yucatan. Adults are welcome to try it out in the afternoon, 2 to 4 p.m.

What to Wear
Wear comfortable clothing – T-shirts, shorts and workout pants are best. Shoes don’t matter – you’ll take them off before the experience. Also, be sure you’ve washed off all sunscreens and lotions to avoid slipping (if your hands are feeling clammy, chalk is provided).

How It Works
Guests are fitted with a belt and given brief instructions; there’s also an area where they can practice jumping and climbing on a bar to prepare. When it’s your turn, you’re asked to climb a thin, medal ladder (it has grips), changing sides twice during your ascent. If you have a fear of heights and need to take a break halfway up, sit down on the large net that stretches beneath the trapeze. Once at the top, you’ll take a giant step (with the help of an instructor) on to a platform. He or she will help you get a hold of the bar before you leap into the air. Another staff member, gripping your harness below, will give you instructions. It’s important to listen to them – probably the most important part of the whole experience, in fact. You’ll only be in the air about a minute or so – enjoy it! (And then get back in line and do it all over again!)

Bungee Jump
Next to the trapeze is a bungee jump for anyone who needs some encouragement or just isn’t interested in trying the trapeze. This is especially nice for groups who want to be together for the experience, but have a few people who want to try the trapeze, and a few people who just want to watch or try something else.

– Amanda Geronikos