Branson, Missouri, With Tweens & Teens

May 29th, 2015 by Guest Blogger No comments »

There are many layers to Branson, Missouri, as a vacation destination. There are the attractions and live shows that line the Highway 76 strip. There are the independent shops and restaurants in the historic district, which runs right into the newer Branson Landing. And then there are all of the natural attractions and outdoor recreation activities further afield.

Branson Landing water fountain show

For families with tweens and teens, there is plenty to keep this age group actively happy. Here are some highlights:

The Silver Dollar City theme park holds appeal for all ages, but older thrill-seeking kids will love rides like the PowderKeg, an explosive-launch roller coaster that shoots riders into a thrill zone from 0 to 53 mph in just 2.8 seconds; and WildFire, a multi-looping, cobra-rolling coaster traveling at speeds of up to 66 mph, with a vertical drop of 15 stories. Outlaw Run, which debuted in 2013, features the world’s first and only double barrel roll on a wooden coaster, and twists upside down with three inversions. A new ride, Tom & Huck’s RiverBlast, is a water raft ride with water soakers and hundreds of other water features.

I thought the Titanic Museum would be a big downer, considering the eventual fate of what was the world’s largest ship when it took its sole voyage in 1912. But this high-tech attraction in the shape of the ship tells its story in a compelling way, by assigning each visitor with a card identifying one of the 2,208 actual passengers. As you walk through the museum, which includes a recreation of the grand staircase and the starlit bridge, you’ll see more than 400 artifacts, including personal items from many of the 712 survivors.

In the final galleries, you’ll discover the fate of your passenger. Mine was Clara Hays, a 52-year-old First Class passenger who survived. Her husband Charles did not. While the Titanic Museum is billed as kid-friendly, and even has a dedicated audio tour just for children, we wouldn’t bring our sensitive 8-year-old. It would be too emotional for her. We think older kids can get a lot out of it, though.

If your teens love to shop, save time to stroll Branson Landing, a 1.5-mile scenic boardwalk along Lake Taneycomo. There are more than 100 stores, with a mix of national retailers like Aeropostale, Journeys and Justice, as well as specialty shops like Girlie Girl Originals and Versona Accessories. At the center is a large courtyard with dancing water fountains, which are even more exciting at night during hourly water, fire, music and light shows.

If we get the chance to go back to Branson with our 15-year-old son, there are a few other places he would probably want to check out, like the 4×4 Nature Expeditions at the National Tiger Sanctuary, Talking Rocks Cavern, laser tag at Fun Spot at Grand Country, and any of the several zip line outfitters in the area. There are also several shows that would appeal to older kids, such as the Amazing Acrobats of Shanghai.

— 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.

Stay & Play Summer Package at Sheraton Tysons Hotel

May 28th, 2015 by Hilarey Wojtowicz No comments »

Summer is around the corner and families should book their stay and play packages at family-friendly hotels now. If heading to Washington D.C. or the surrounding Virginia area, consider a stay at the Sheraton Tysons Hotel. The property’s new Stay and Play Family Package offers more for guests with children.

Sheraton Tysons Hotel

Package includes a stay in deluxe accommodations with four tickets to the local Tysons AMC movie theater, plus two-for-one admission to the Jefferson Falls mini-golf course at Jefferson District Park, discounted admission to the local landmark Colvin Run Mill and one welcome packet with directions to Riverbend Park and Nature Center on the Potomac River. Rates start from $119 per night and a two-night stay is required.

After reaping the benefits of the family package, guests will also be able to enjoy the hotel’s summer activities and events. On Friday nights, guests can enjoy live music in the hotel’s bar and grill, Brix and Ale. On Saturday afternoons, families can enjoy made-to-order burgers, hot dogs and refreshments at the outdoor pool from 1 to 3 p.m. And on a daily basis, families can check with the front desk for a list of scheduled activities just for kids.

Additional amenities at the Sheraton Tysons Hotel include free Wi-Fi, free shuttle service to local attractions and pet-friendly rooms.

The Stay and Play Family Package and summer activities and events are on offer now through Sept. 7, 2015.

— Hilarey Wojtowicz

A Weekend in Iceland with the Kids

May 27th, 2015 by Guest Blogger No comments »

If you’re looking for a unique travel experience for you and the kids, consider Iceland. It sounds dramatic and far, but Icelandair is offering relatively inexpensive airfares, in addition to its stopover program, which allows visitors a stopover in Iceland on their way to mainland European destinations without the expense of additional airfares. Stopovers are available for up to seven nights, too. The flight itself is only a mere six hours from New York City airports and is relatively easy, with just a four-hour time difference.

Doesn’t it sound like an irresistible option? Here are our suggestions for a weekend in Iceland with the kids to simplify the experience.

Iceland countryside
Day 1
From the airport, head straight to the Blue Lagoon, a popular geothermal spa. The nearby Svartsengi power plant pumps geothermal heated seawater from thousands of feet below the Earth’s surface. Its mineral rich waters are heavenly and will soothe your skin, leaving it shining. Small kids are given arm floaties and you will probably spend several hours floating in the pool. Children ages 2 and up are allowed. You can have a late lunch there and chill out, which we can assure, you will do. The Blue Lagoon is the perfect introduction to Iceland.

In the later hours of the day, head to the Frost and Fire Hotel in Hveragerdi. With 22 rooms, several family-sized and all uniquely furnished with specially made pottery and furniture, the guesthouse is run by locals who make the experience uniquely Icelandic — like making homemade bread and carrot cake. It’s a beautiful place to stay in the heart of Icelandic nature.

Horseback riding in Iceland
Day 2
Start the day with a dip in the hot tub at Frost and Fire and indulge in their special buffet breakfast. If you’re an adventurous family, plan an all-day excursion with Iceland Activities, a family-run company with extensive experience in the area of Hveragerdi. Owners Andrés Úlfarsson and Úlfar Andrésson will show you all the remarkable things that make Iceland so amazing. Take their Reykjadalur hike, with a stop in a geothermal bath. The guides will customize the tour to accomodate everyone’s needs.

At the end of the day, check into Hotel Ranga, just 8 km from the Hella village on Road 1. The four-star hotel provides stunning, picturesque surroundings, with Mt. Hekla, Eyjafjallajoekull glacier and the Westman Islands in reach. Be sure to request one of their continental suites. The hotel is very family-friendly. They even have a new Astronomical Observatory for star gazing and access to dog sledding trips, both of which kids will love. They serve delicious, local foods and fresh fish in the restaurant, as well as plenty of options for kids including chicken, hamburgers and pasta with ketchup.

Whales of Iceland museum
Day 3
Head to Reykjavik for the last leg of your trip. If you have time, visit Laugardalur Park where kids can go for a final swim, topped off by a visit at Whales of Iceland, the biggest whale exhibition in the world. Finally, grab lunch at Matur Og Drykkur, where you will get inspiring Icelandic cuisine. Sample traditional plates such as salted cod croquettes, halibut soup and arctic char.

Icelandair typically flies back to New York City around 5 p.m. so you will definitely have a chunk of the day to explore. Pick up souvenirs and be sure to send postcards home, handwritten by the kids, who by this point will have rich, ever-lasting memories.

— Holly Fink

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

Zip-Lining Through the Great Smoky Mountains

May 26th, 2015 by Hilarey Wojtowicz No comments »

For an adventure that will really get the entire family’s adrenaline pumping, visit Foxfire Mountain Adventures in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. The Sevierville park’s new 10 Extreme Adventures package allows families to enjoy a number of zip lines and courses for one all-inclusive price.

Boy zip-lining at Foxfire Mountain Adventures

Home to the tallest zip line in the South, Foxfire Mountain Adventures is an exciting place for families to stop for an afternoon. The 10 Extreme Adventures Package includes access to the Gorilla Climbing Wall, Head Rush Plunge, Rattlesnake Aerial Ropes Course, Lava Ridge Obstacle Course and the Goin’ Bonkers Bounce House, plus five more.

“Other zip line companies offer multiple adventures, but we are the only one in the Smoky Mountains that offers 10 Extreme Adventures in one destination location,” said Stephanie Postlewaite, Foxfire Mountain Adventure Park General Manager in a press release on May 20. “We think our guests will truly love this new theme park experience.”

Foxfire Mountain Adventures new 10 Extreme Adventures Package is $89.95 per person. Minimum ages and weight restrictions may apply.

Start planning your Great Smoky Mountains family vacation now – check out these family-friendly hotels!

— Hilarey Wojtowicz