5 Ideas for Christmas Day in San Francisco

December 22nd, 2014 by Hilarey Wojtowicz No comments »

The Golden Gate BridgeMany families celebrate Christmas Day with loved ones, opening presents and eating dinner together. For those who want to do something special on Dec. 25 this year, outside of their normal routine, visit San Francisco. The northern California city has activities for all ages, including these five, which are open on Christmas Day.

1. Go ice skating. San Francisco is home to three ice skating rinks and all three are open on Christmas Day. The Union Square Ice Rink will be open from 10 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. The Embarcadero Center Ice Rink will be open from 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. And the Yerba Buena Gardens Ice Rink is open from 12:30 to 5 p.m.

2. See Santa’s reindeers. Four reindeers have been visiting the San Francisco Zoo since mid-November, but they won’t be here for much longer. See the furry friends on Christmas Day before they head home to the North Pole on New Year’s Day. The zoo will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

3. Roam the botanical gardens. On Christmas Day, the San Francisco Botanical Garden will be open and free to all guests. Roam the 55-acre gardens and if the weather permits, pack a picnic lunch and enjoy the balmy weather. The gardens will be open from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

4. Gaze at the galleries. The Contemporary Jewish Museum is open on Christmas Day and all of the galleries will be open. Enjoy art-making, musical entertainment and refreshments from a local delicatessen. The museum will be open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

5. Eat brunch at a palace. The Palace Hotel is a spectacle of lights and holiday décor each year and families can book a special all-you-can-eat brunch in the Grand Ballroom or the Garden Court for Christmas Day. Brunch runs from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Adults are $125 per person and children, ages 5 to 12, are $75 per person.

– Hilarey Wojtowicz

How Clean is Your Hotel Room?

December 21st, 2014 by Guest Blogger No comments »

Remote in caddy that labels it has been cleanedMy kids know the drill. We check in to a hotel, go to the room, and they stand at attention until I go through it with a Clorox wipe, cleaning all the surfaces I suspect are covered in germs. Then I pull down the comforter or bedspread, and they are allowed to enter.

My suspicions about germ-ridden hotel rooms are well-founded. There have been several investigations, complete with ultraviolet lights and bacteria meters, resulting in startling information. The most recent was a Rossen Report on the “Today” show that aired last month. The show’s reporter conducted his own investigation with a bacteria expert at five of the top hotel chains in the country.

So, what were the dirtiest items in the rooms they examined? Two stood out: the telephone, and the remote control. In addition to various bacteria and viruses, one TV remote revealed colonies of E. coli, and another bore MSRA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus).

I was surprised that — in this study, anyway — the light switches were the cleanest areas found. It shows that the switches were regularly cleaned by housekeeping staff, but the other items were not. The experts in this case suggested that travelers clean these items themselves; don’t use them; or — in the case of the remote — cover it with something like a plastic bag before using it.

Occasionally, you’ll find something like the “Clean Remote” (pictured) in its own caddy, which was a nice surprise when we stayed at the Dunes Village Resort in Myrtle Beach. However, for the most part, my hotel room cleaning frenzy with antibacterial products includes the following:

TV remote
Alarm clock
Bathroom faucets
Toilet handle and seat
Door handles
The surfaces on and around light switches and thermostats
The handles to any in-room appliances, like a microwave or mini-fridge

Other studies I’ve read also warn about dirty surfaces on the ice bucket, Bible and guest services guidebook, pens, shower curtains, coffeemakers, mugs, glasses, sofa cushions and decorative pillows.

The bottom line: think about where the guests before you have been sitting, where they’ve rested their dirty luggage, and what they’ve touched without washing their hands first.

– Traci L. Suppa

Traci L. Suppa drags her small-town family to see a quirky array of the world’s largest, longest, or tallest things, and blogs about it at Go BIG or Go Home.

7 Christmas Traditions Around the World

December 20th, 2014 by Hilarey Wojtowicz No comments »

The Tio de Nadal, or Christmas Log, is a Spanish holiday traditionHere in the United States, holidays like Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and Christmas are celebrated through traditions like decorating trees with ornaments, lighting candles and wearing special clothing. However, nations around the world have their own rituals for holidays. From hitting hollow logs with sticks, to decorating trees with spider webs, to ordering fried chicken months in advance for a festive feast, here are seven holiday traditions for your family to try this season.

Every year on Dec. 23, Oaxaca, Mexico, celebrates the holiday season with vegetables. But we’re not talking about any old vegetables. Radishes are grown year-round in preparation for this event, which displays them after they are carved and decorated to look like people and events from Mexican folklore. The annual event runs through Christmas Day.

According to the Ukrainian legend, a widow and her children lived in a small house together and witnessed a tree growing outside their door. At Christmas time, the children excitedly wanted to decorate the tree, but due to the family’s lack of money, could not do so. On Christmas Eve night, the spiders that lived in the house spun webs all over the tree as a way to decorate it for the deserving family. On Christmas morning, the family saw the beautiful webs on the tree, and as the sunlight cascaded over them, each one turned into silver and gold. From that day forward, the family never lived in poverty again. Nowadays, Ukrainians decorate trees with spider webs as a reminder to be thankful, as well as a way to wish fortune and good luck for the New Year.

Although Christmas is not a national holiday in Japan, families plan for their December feast months in advance anyway – all because of a marketing campaign from 1974. Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) started the “Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!” or the “Kentucky for Christmas!” campaign in Japan as a way to promote the brand’s food, which was seen as a good alternative to turkey, a meat that is extremely difficult to find in Japan. Due to the high demand of KFC for Christmas dinner, families often place orders months in advance.

For children in Holland, Christmas traditions start at the beginning of December with Sinterklaas. On Dec. 5, children await the arrival of Sinterklaas, or St Nick, who comes at night, bringing small gifts and treats if the kids have been good all year. However, children don’t look under a tree the next morning, they look in their shoes. Before going to sleep, kids place their shoes near the back door or chimney, where Sinterklaas will find them and fill them with the goodies.

Santa Claus is still the big man in red in Italy, but he is joined by La Befana, the nation’s kind old woman, who delivers presents to children on Jan. 5 every year, the eve of the Epiphany, when it is believed that the three wise men arrived with gifts for the baby Jesus. La Befana is known as a gentle woman, though she has the powers of a witch, as well as a large nose and a broomstick by her side, which she uses to both travel and clean messy homes.

Christmas in Catalonia, Spain, includes a hollow log that families dress up, feed, and then hit with sticks on Dec. 8, the day marked as the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Known as the Tio de Nadal, or Christmas Log, families dress a hollow wooden log with legs, a face, and a little red hat. Kids leave food out for the log and cover it with a blanket before bed. The next morning, presents can be found under the blanket, but only after families sing traditional songs as they hit the log with sticks.

Many years ago, families in Norway believed that witches came around to houses on Christmas Eve in search for brooms in which they could ride. In preparation, families would hide every broom in their home, so that the witches could not find them and they would leave them alone. Today, many Norwegians keep up with this tradition by hiding the brooms in their home before going to sleep on Christmas Eve night.

Does your family celebrate the holidays with any special traditions? Tell us about them in the comment section below!

– Hilarey Wojtowicz

Skate and Stay in Providence, R.I.

December 19th, 2014 by Hilarey Wojtowicz No comments »

The Providence Biltmore Hotel in Providence, Rhode IslandWinter in New England encompasses cozy sweaters, chilly weather and nights sipping on hot cocoa with family. Make it even more special by booking the Skate and Stay Package at the Providence Biltmore Hotel in Providence, Rhode Island.

Package includes overnight accommodations in a Junior King Suite, which sleeps up to four, offers free Wi-Fi, a refrigerator and a spacious living area with a sofa; access to the skating rink at the Alex and Ani City Center, with rentals; and one $20 Starbucks gift card, perfect for grabbing hot cocoa after taking a skate on the ice. Rates start from $179 per night. Offer valid now through March 15, 2015.

The Providence Biltmore Hotel is located in the heart of downtown Providence and offers families onsite dining, spa services, a fitness center and a location that is close to many attractions. Built in 1922 by acclaimed architects, Warren and Wetmore, the same architects who designed New York City’s Grand Central Station, the Providence Biltmore Hotel is on the list of Historic Hotels of America.

The skating rink at the new Alex and Ani City Center, formerly the Providence Rink, offers public skating hours daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. now through March 1, 2015. Lessons, special skate nights, and holiday hours are available, too.

– Hilarey Wojtowicz

Superior Accommodations at the Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Disney

December 18th, 2014 by Hilarey Wojtowicz No comments »

Families traveling to Disney World often look for ways to make the trip even more memorable. Book a magical stay at the Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World and your entire family can feel like royalty. The top two suites at the hotel offer superior accommodations with spectacular views that make multigenerational travel enjoyable for all.

The Royal Suite
The Royal Suite at the Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World ResortWith 3,300 square feet of living space, the Royal Suite at the resort is located on the top floor and offers families a great room with vaulted ceilings, master bedroom, media room, private office and a kitchen. High-tech amenities include in-mirror TVs, motorized draperies, and a drop-down projector and media screen. At night, families can enjoy grand, front-row views of the Magic Kingdom’s Wishes Nighttime Spectacular fireworks show. For guests who need more space, the Royal Suite can connect with up to six additional guestrooms, providing a total of nine bedrooms for a truly expansive, multigenerational stay.

A one-night stay in the Royal Suite, without connecting accommodations, starts from about $14,000 per night.

The Presidential Suite
The Presidential Suite at the Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World ResortSlightly smaller than the Royal Suite, the Presidential Suite offers 2,750 square feet of space, with a great room, master bedroom, private office and kitchen. The greatest amenity in this suite is the 800-square-foot wrap-around exterior terrace with a lounge area and dining table, which allows families to really enjoy the Orlando weather and the nightly fireworks shows. The Presidential Suite can connect with two bedroom units and one guestroom suite, creating a large four-bedroom suite.

A one-night stay in the Presidential Suite, without connecting accommodations, starts from about $12,000 per night.

All rates at the resort include access to the Kids for All Seasons program for children ages 4 to 12; access to the 5-acre Explorer Island water park area; free Wi-Fi; and transportation to and from the Disney Theme Parks.

– Hilarey Wojtowicz

Universal CityWalk’s New Year’s Eve Movie Night

December 17th, 2014 by Hilarey Wojtowicz No comments »

Universal CityWalk's New Year's Eve Movie Night OutWatch a movie – or five – on New Year’s Eve this year at Universal CityWalk. The AMC Theatre at Universal Studios Hollywood is ringing in 2015, while honoring the area’s 50th Anniversary, with feature presentations of five iconic films that families will love.

Enjoy watching “Jurassic Park,” “E.T. the Extra Terrestrial,” “Back to the Future,” “Dracula,” and “Frankenstein.” All films are classic Universal Studios Hollywood movies.

In addition to the films, families will dine on all-you-can-eat popcorn and a New Year’s Eve goodie bag filled with treats. One complimentary soda per person is also included.

Tickets are $25 for adults and $15 for children. The Universal CityWalk’s New Year’s Eve Movie Night event begins at 9 p.m. on Dec. 31, 2014. A live DJ countdown party will also take place before midnight.

For more information and reservations, visit the CityWalk Hollywood website.

– Hilarey Wojtowicz