Five Last-Minute Labor Day Events for Families

September 1st, 2014 by Hilarey Wojtowicz No comments »

A young boy and young girl sitting in front of an American flagIf you didn’t make plans in honor of Labor Day, then you’re in luck! We’ve found a few great last-minute events across the U.S. for you and the kids to attend in celebration of the last weekend of summer.

Bucks County, Pa.
If you’re not already invited to a Labor Day barbecue, head to Sesame Place in Bucks County, Pa., for a special kid-friendly cookout! Make your reservation now for the 5 p.m. BBQ with all of your kids’ favorite Sesame Street characters. Enjoy a fun-filled day in the park and then head to dinner ay Big Bird’s Riverside Pavilion, with music, activities and fireworks. Prices start from $27 for all guests 10 and older, and from $17 for children between 2 and 9; kids under 2 are free. Park admission is also required. For more information, visit the Sesame Place website.

San Diego
The U.S. Sand Sculpting Challenge has been going on all weekend long in San Diego and today is the last day! If you haven’t already visited the amazing sand art, then head there today. Sculptors come from around the world for this annual competition. Enjoy live music, dancers, circus performers, magicians and other kid-friendly activities. All events and activities begin at 9 a.m. at the B Street Pier and admission is affordable at $10 per adult and $7 per child. For more information, visit the U.S. Sand Sculpting Challenge website.

Asbury Park, N.J.
Head to Asbury Park, N.J., along the Jersey Shore, for a day of live music and food at the Labor Day BBQ, hosted by the Boys and Girls Club of Monmouth County and The Passion Group. Entertainment, games, rides, food and more will be going on all afternoon, from noon to 6 p.m., at Bradley Park, right across from the historic Asbury Park Convention Center. Plus, stay for the fireworks spectacular over the water at 9 p.m. Admission is just $5 and children under 12 are free. For more information, see the event listing here.

Fort Worth, Texas
Enjoy an educational and fun-filled day outdoors with the animals of the Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge today. The center is hosting four animal meet and greets today at 10:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1 p.m. and 2 p.m., where visitors can learn about the animal ambassadors and their natural history. A few of the animals that you and your family might see include alligators, snakes, birds and butterflies. Enjoy hiking one of the center’s many trails before or after the meet and greet, too. The event is on a first-come, first-served basis, and is free for guests with general admission to the center. Admission is $5 for adults and kids 13 and older, and $2 for children between 3 and 12; kids 2 and under are free. For more information, visit the Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge website.

Tampa, Fla.
If you live in or are visiting the Tampa area today, head to the neighboring town of Brandon, Fla., for the Labor Day Picnic and Bluegrass Festival. Enjoy live music from two different bluegrass bands, plus affordable drinks and food all day long. A bounce house, arts and crafts, games and more are available for kids, too. The event runs from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Brandon Elks Lodge and admission is free for everyone! For more information, see the event listing here.

– Hilarey Wojtowicz

Four Fun Ferry Rides for Families

August 31st, 2014 by Hilarey Wojtowicz No comments »

Lake Express Ferry crosses Lake MichiganWhile on my way from Stone Harbor, N.J., to Chincoteague Island, Va., this past July, my boyfriend and I decided to take the route that allowed us a break from driving. We crossed the Delaware Bay on the Cape May-Lewes Ferry and enjoyed the experience so much. Families with children lined the outside deck and pets were allowed onboard, as well. A snack bar kept everyone full during the 90-minute ride and parents could even order a cocktail at the (affordable) bar. It was a great break from driving and it offered scenic views that were definitely picture-worthy. Here are four other family-friendly ferries to ride with your kids during your travels this fall.

Lake Champlain’s Scenic Crossing
Board the ferry in Burlington, V.T., or Port Kent, N.Y., and take the 10-mile trip across Lake Champlain, complete with scenic views of the surrounding mountains and fall foliage. The ferry has a gift shop with souvenirs, T-shirts, sweatshirts and more for both Vermont and New York, as well as a snack bar with hot and cold drinks. The trip will take approximately one hour and vehicles are permitted (fee). Ferries run daily and passenger prices are $8 for adults and $3.10 for children between 6 and 12; kids under 6 ride for free. For more information, visit the Lake Champlain Ferries website.

Hyannis to Nantucket Ferry
If you’re exploring New England this fall, take the ferry from Hyannis to Nantucket, or vice versa, and take in the views of fall foliage, lighthouses and more with your family. Choose from Hy-Line Cruises or Steamship Authority ferry rides, both of which operate from the same port, but only the latter offers transportation for vehicles. Both have onboard refreshments and souvenirs. Special packages are offered where children can ride for free and the ferries often host special events or themed-cruises across the water, such as a Sunday Ice Cream Float, where passengers can build their own Ben & Jerry’s ice cream sundaes! Rates vary for Hy-Line Cruises and Steamship Authority. The traditional ferry ride from Hyannis to Nantucket takes a little more than two hours one way, with the high-speed ferry rides lasting about one hour. For more information, visit the Hyannis to Nantucket Ferry website.

San Francisco Bay Ferry
If you’re visiting San Francisco this fall, hop on a ferry across the bay for a fun trip to another area of the state. The Ferry goes to eight different places along the bay, including Vallejo, Angel Island, Pier 41, Oakland, AT&T Park, Alameda, Harbor Bay and South San Francisco. Passengers can grab a bite to eat or a drink at the onboard bar and snack shop and can relax while cruising the bay in style. Bicycles are allowed, but cars are not. Rates start from $6.25 for adults and $3.50 for children 5 to 12; kids under 5 are free when accompanied by an adult. Trip lengths range from just 10 minutes (Alameda to Oakland) to one hour (San Francisco Ferry Building to Vallejo). For more information visit the San Francisco Bay Ferry website.

Lake Express – Lake Michigan High-Speed Ferry
Make the trip from Milwaukee to Muskegon across Lake Michigan on the Lake Express Ferry. Families are welcome and the ferry offers spacious seating, snacks and drinks, and free wireless Internet. Take in the views of Lake Michigan during the 2.5-hour trip and take a break from driving – vehicles are allowed onboard (fee). Passenger rates start from $139 for adults, round-trip, and from $44 for children between 5 and 17, round-trip; kids 4 and under are free. For more information, visit the Lake Express website.

– Hilarey Wojtowicz

14th Annual Library of Congress National Book Festival for Families

August 30th, 2014 by Hilarey Wojtowicz No comments »

The 2014 Library of Congress National Book Festival logoThis weekend the U.S. is observing a national holiday – Labor Day – but families can celebrate something else today, too. The 14th Annual Library of Congress National Book Festival celebrates favorite authors and titles from every genre. From poetry to young adult novels to non-fiction, families of all ages are invited to meet authors and listen to new stories that have yet to be read.

This year’s festival begins at 10 a.m. at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. More than 100 authors will be stationed around the center at various pavilions devoted to the individual genres. The Library of Congress will also have a pavilion where guests can get a behind-the-scenes look at how the department works to distribute resources to people all over the country. A Pavilion of States is another must-see area and families can learn of the various literary traditions of the 50 states and territories. Kids can even pick up an interactive map where they’ll get a sticker every time they visit a different state or territory’s table (see if you can get all 52!). Pavilions will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Evening events, such as a poetry slam and author panel, will also take place, beginning at 6 p.m.

Let’s Read America is where every family will want to take the kids. The Washington Post will host a bookmark-making station and the newspaper’s mascot, Ned the Newshound, will be available for photo-ops between 10:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Right next to the Let’s Read America exhibit is the PBS Explorer Zone, with even more fun activities for children. Meet the characters of The Cat in the Hat, Curious George and other classics; spin the PBS Kids Wheel for a chance to win a prize; and create your own puppet show.

The 14th Annual Library of Congress National Book Festival begins at 10 a.m. today, with doors opening at 9 a.m. Admission is free and food and drinks will be for sale; no outside refreshments are allowed into the venue. For a full schedule and more information on today’s event, visit the Library of Congress website.

– Hilarey Wojtowicz

Labor Day Weekend Fun for Families

August 29th, 2014 by Hilarey Wojtowicz No comments »

Two young boys hold sparklers in front of American flagLabor Day is Monday, September 1 this year and that means we should start celebrating the American labor movement today! Kick off the last official weekend of summer with one of these fun family events in one of these six major cities across the U.S.

Philadelphia
Philadelphia has so much American history for families to explore. While visiting the city this weekend, watch a free movie, take a train ride or check out the fireworks display.

Friday, Aug. 29, 2014
Free family movie in Hawthorne Park at 7 p.m. with activities for kids beforehand.

Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014
Fireworks at Longwood Gardens at 8:15 p.m.

Saturday to Monday, Aug. 30 to Sept. 1, 2014
Franklin Square family activities from noon to 3 p.m., including carousel rides, mini-golf, food, drinks, and more, plus rides on Lightning Bolt Express Train.

Atlanta
If you’re in the southeast this weekend, head to Atlanta for two family-friendly festivals.

Friday to Sunday, Aug. 29-31, 2014
Callaway Gardens Sky High Hot Air Balloon Festival at Pine Mountain from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, with live music, a Kids Zone, car show and more.

Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014
Annual Labor Day Weekend Catfish Festival in Kingsland, Ga., from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., with a parade, arts and crafts, a children’s amusement area and more.

Chicago
Check out a circus in a park or fireworks over the pier in Chicago this weekend with your family.

Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014
Fireworks over Navy Pier at 10:15 p.m.

Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 30-31, 2014
Circus in the Park at Grand Crossing Park at 2 p.m. daily, with proceeds benefitting the upkeep and improvement of the park.

Los Angeles
Enjoy Labor Day in southern California this weekend, with parades and fairs for families in Los Angeles.

Friday to Monday, Aug. 29 to Sept. 1, 2014
Los Angeles County Fair at the Fairplex in Pamona, with rides, music, livestock, food and more, beginning at noon on Friday and at 10 a.m. on all other days.

Monday, Sept. 1, 2014
The LA/Long Beach Labor Coalition Labor Day Parade at 10 a.m. from Broad Street to Banning Park in Wimington, with food, music and more at the park.

Seattle
Celebrate Labor Day in Seattle with free movies and a delicious festival.

Friday, Aug. 29, 2014
Free outdoor showing of “Frozen” in Tacoma at 5 p.m. at Stewart Heights Park.

Saturday to Monday, Aug. 30 to Sept. 1, 2014
25th Annual Blackberry Festival at Bremerton Boardwalk, beginning at 10 a.m. daily, with music, food, drinks and fun.

Boston
Boston will be full of patriotism this Labor Day weekend with an arts festival and fireworks.

Saturday, Aug. 30-31, 2014
The Boston Arts Festival at Christopher Columbus Park, beginning at noon daily, with live music, art and sculpture displays, refreshments and more.

Sunday, Aug. 31, 2014
Fireworks over Boston Harbor at 9 p.m., with spectacular views from every spot along the waterfront.

– Hilarey Wojtowicz

Puerto Rico: City Hotel vs. Island Resort

August 28th, 2014 by Amanda Geronikos No comments »

In Puerto Rico, you can have oceanfront accommodations (that is the goal after all, isn’t it?) in the city and the country, yet still be close to popular destinations, such as El Yunque National Rainforest and Old San Juan. So, which one is best?

During a recent trip to the island, we had a chance to visit two hotels in two locales. We discovered that neither one was better than the other; both hotels offered unique experiences for families… but we’ll let you decide.

El Conquistador Resort
Views of the mountains near the El Conquistador Resort in Puerto RicoSituated on a cliff in Fajardo — approximately one hour from Luis Munoz International Airport in San Juan — El Conquistador offers families a quintessential island vacation; it’s exactly what you picture when you think of Puerto Rico (but better). The property, which also includes Las Casitas Village, is the largest in Puerto Rico; it expands more than 500 acres and feels like an island in itself, far removed from the humdrum of surprisingly run-down businesses below.

Highlights for Families

Palomino Island
Exclusive to hotel guests, Palomino Island offers opportunities to hike, kayak, paddleboard, horseback ride, snorkel or simply relax on a beach chair or at Iguana’s Cafe. Speaking of iguanas, don’t be surprised to see several – they’re everywhere! Palomino Island is just 15 minutes from the resort, and accessible by a catamaran.

Ki’ Spa
The highlight of a visit to El Conquistador Resort might just be the Ki’ Spa, an adorable facility that offers special massages and scrubs for kids. Mommy & Me and Daddy & Me Packages are also offered.

Coqui Water Park
Never mind the hotel already offers three pools – Coqui Water Park, available for an additional fee (or with a Water Park Package), features a lazy river and several slides, most notably El Gigante.

Scout About
This, the ultimate scavenger hunt, encourages youngsters to explore the resort in exchange for fun facts and a collection of colorful bracelets.

The Condado Plaza Hilton
Views of the pool area at the Condado Plaza Hilton in Puerto RicoSituated in Condado, a neighborhood in San Juan, the Condado Plaza Hilton is a traditional high-rise hotel… except it offers a beach (a surprisingly calm one at that). Inside, a swanky lobby and luxurious rooms welcome families; outside, restaurants (mostly chain names), shops and a lovely park necessitate an evening stroll (and you’ll see many families doing just that).

Highlights for Families

Condado Beach
Adjacent to the hotel, this beach is open to the public, though you’ll hardly know it — it doesn’t look or feel crowded. The water is shallow, too, and an artificial reef trail welcomes snorkelers (gear is available to rent at the hotel).

Water Sports
Guests can enjoy more snorkeling, plus stand-up paddle boarding, kayaking, pedal boats and floats on Condado Lagoon (at an extra fee).

Pools
The hotel has four pools, including the only one with saltwater in Puerto Rico. Others include a Toddler Pool and Activity Pool, where a swim-up bar and waterslide create a happy balance for parents and kids.

Scout About
Similar to El Conquistador Resort, Hilton Condado Plaza touts Scout About, a scavenger hunt that allows kids to learn about the area and collect souvenirs.

– Amanda Geronikos

Hotel Chains With Free Breakfast for Families

August 27th, 2014 by Hilarey Wojtowicz No comments »

A mother, daughter and father eat breakfast together at a hotelThere are always a few perks that help make a family’s stay at a hotel a little more comfortable. Large suites, mini-fridges, microwaves, pools…all are awesome amenities to have during a vacation. But we know of one that beats the rest — a free breakfast. Not only can you save money, but time, too. Whether it’s hot or cold, a free breakfast makes vacation that much easier. Here’s a list of 17 hotel chains that always serve up a free breakfast to their guests daily:

  • Best Western
  • Comfort Inn & Suites
  • Country Inn & Suites
  • Drury Hotels
  • Element Hotels by Westin
  • Embassy Suites
  • Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott
  • Hampton Inn & Suites
  • Holiday Inn Express
  • Homewood Suites
  • Hyatt Place
  • La Quinta Inn & Suites
  • Residence Inn
  • SpringHill Suites by Marriott
  • Staybridge Suites
  • TownePlace Suites by Marriott
  • Wingate by Wyndham

Another great perk is free Wi-Fi. Read Wi-Fi: Where to Find Free Wi-Fi When Traveling for a list of hotels with complimentary Internet access.

– Hilarey Wojtowicz