New Offerings at the 20th Annual Epcot International Food & Wine Festival

July 31st, 2015 by Hilarey Wojtowicz No comments »

Families visiting Walt Disney World this fall will be able to enjoy all that the annual Epcot International Food & Wine Festival has to offer. Now in its 20th year, the festival will feature four news tastings and events for visitors to enjoy.

Family at the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival

The Future World area will be home to the new Artistry of Wine & Cheese with the new Cheese Studio and Wine Studio, while the Next Eats area will feature the new Sustainable Chew and the new Chew Lab.

The Cheese Studio and Wine Studio areas are geared toward adults, with cheese platters served on artists’ palettes and premium wine samples offered in a colorful art display.

At Sustainable Chew, families of all ages will be able to try dishes inspired by the co-hosts of ABC’s “The Chew.” And at the Chew Lab, technology and food innovation is paired to create crazy concoctions like the Liquid Nitro Chocolate Almond Truffle with Warm Whiskey Caramel.

New events not to miss include the Rockin’ Burger Block Party on Sept. 25, Oct. 8 and Nov. 6; the first-ever Yelloween Masquerade Parade for the Senses on Oct. 31; and the new Spotlight on Dominican Republic cultural displays every Monday through Thursday. Reservations are required for the Yelloween Masquerade and the Burger Block Parties, and are now open to guests.

The 20th annual Epcot International Food and Wine Festival will run from Sept. 25 to Nov. 16, 2015. Most events and activities, plus all park attractions, are included with regular Epcot Admission, which is $105 for children and adults ages 10 and older, and $99 for kids ages 3 to 9. Admission is free for children ages 2 and under.

For an even more magical Epcot family vacation, stay at one of the best hotels in Walt Disney World.

— Hilarey Wojtowicz

New Exhibit Invites Families to San Francisco Zoo

July 30th, 2015 by Hilarey Wojtowicz No comments »

On July 11, the San Francisco Zoo opened its newest exhibit. The South American Tropical Rainforest and Aviary is home to a realistic rainforest ecosystem, with birds flying freely throughout the exotic plants and trees that fill the space.

The South American Tropical Rainforest and Aviary

In addition to the birds and plants, the exhibit will have a two-toed sloth and the zoo’s first herpetological collection, which will include a 15-foot anaconda, tree frogs, turtles, lizards and snakes.

Families who visit will learn about the environment in which all of these animals and plants live, too. The exhibit discusses environmental threats that rainforests and South American wildlife face on a daily basis.

The new exhibit is open daily from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The rest of the San Francisco Zoo is just as inviting and interesting for families. During your next visit, be sure to check out the Fisher Family Children’s Zoo area, complete with a nature trail, red panda, insect zoo and more, as well as the Elinor Friend Playground, where kids can climb and play on three different ecosystems made for their age groups. In the playground, kids ages 6 months to 2 years will enjoy the River Play Area, kids ages 2 to 5 will like the Polar Zone, and the Banyan Tree is for kids ages 5 to 12.

The San Francisco Zoo is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $20 for teens and adults ages 15 to 64, $17 for seniors ages 65 and older, $14 for children ages 4 to 14, and free for kids ages 3 and under. Onsite parking is $8 on weekdays and $10 on weekends.

For help planning your next family vacation to the area, check out our San Francisco Family Vacation Guide.

— Hilarey Wojtowicz

Seeing Southern Utah for the First Time

July 29th, 2015 by Guest Blogger No comments »

I intentionally kept the beauty of Southern Utah under wraps as we prepared for our cross-country road trip because I wished for my daughters to be in awe of the natural beauty; I didn’t want them to recognize it from a Google image. And so shortly after abandoning the relative safety of Highway 70 for the eerie desolation of Route 128, a moment when it looked as if there was the potential to become a hungry vulture’s next al fresco dinner, and after I’d called my parents to half-jokingly say “just in case this is the end, I want you to know how much I appreciate everything you’ve done for me”, we came upon the Colorado River and a massive red riverbank wall. I slammed on the brakes of our Toyota Sienna, red clay spraying forward in reply, and we climbed down into the muddy water, the same water that runs through the Grand Canyon and gets bottled up at the Hoover Dam, two sights we’ve already experienced together. My girls were flabbergasted at this information. We’d barely scratched the surface of what Southern Utah offers adventurous families and they were already aglow.

Dramatic Sky Above Arches National Park

Arches and Moab National Park
We’d eventually dry off and make our way to Arches and Moab. The former was my number one most anticipated destination and the vast area of spires and, of course, arches didn’t disappoint. Having already been in water, my daughters were itchy to climb on something, anything, as they once had in the Valley of Fire outside Las Vegas a couple of years ago. They got their wish as the sun dipped and painted Arches National Park with a set of deeper hues. I pulled over to the side of the road, while the light of day was still strong enough for us to avoid cacti and spot any snakes or other creepy desert crawlers. My daughters attacked the rocks (not the fragile arches, of course, although many people were busy ignoring the emphatic ‘FRAGILE-KEEP OFF’ signs), sneaking into enclaves and climbing up high to enjoy a bird’s eye view.

Moab, a small desert town just south of Arches, was described to me as freaky and strange — so naturally I had to see it — but the string of budget chain hotels on the drive in and kitschy gift shops lining the main drag quickly convinced me that if Moab was once a haven for oddballs, it’s now just another tourist destination with cheaply made junk for sale at every turn. Still, the breakfast-for-dinner we enjoyed at the Moab Diner and the amazing ice cream from The Spoke on Center (try the Pralines and Cream) were worth the very short detour.

Two People Walking Uphill in Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon National Park
We didn’t open the door to our deluxe cabin at the Cannonville/Bryce Valley KOA until very late, but were excited to see an air conditioner, shower, toilet, and bunk beds for the kids. This is how I like to camp — in comfort and in some modicum of style. The girls have become fond of these non-hotel accommodations, too, and the prime location of this one made exploring Bryce Canyon the next day super easy.

The Bryce Canyon hike we took is 3 miles long — Queens Garden to the Navajo Loop trail — and has been described as the “best hike in the world.” While I admittedly have very few hikes under my belt to compare with it, this was certainly an outstanding way to spend three hours with my wife and two kids, challenging ourselves physically (but not too much) and experiencing the temperature and topographical changes. We saw chipmunks, Stellar Jays and prairie dogs, and had so much fun singing Okee Dokee Brothers adventure songs and telling corny jokes to keep our spirits up as we rationed water and pretzel Goldfish.

After I posted photos from our day hiking at Bryce, a few Facebook friends commented that they like that national park better than the Grand Canyon. The contrarian in me wanted to agree straightaway — I mean, who doesn’t cheer for the underdog — but those discerning online pals of mine have a point on merit alone. Bryce Canyon National Park is ridiculously stunning! It’s a deep canyon filled with a forest in some spots and hoodoos in others (picture dripped wet sand at the beach, and how it makes those lumpy towers in all kinds of curious shapes — and now picture all of those in bright orange and super tall!) Bryce is one of a kind.

Two Girls in Zion National Park

Zion National Park
The finale of the Southern Utah National Park trilogy was Zion National Park, on our way to Vegas, but we got yet another late start (a bad habit we’d picked up on this exhausting road trip) and didn’t have time to find a parking spot outside the park, catch a shuttle in and then board another bus to cruise the scenic Zion byway no cars are allowed on. We saw a lot of Zion but not the famous bits, but even without the full experience, we all knew this was a magical place that deserves a proper visit.

Our few days in Southern Utah provided many jaw dropping moments for each member of my family. The contrasting colors, deep canyons, sharp mountains, rushing rivers below and dramatic skies above impressed us like nothing else we’d ever seen before or since (including Yosemite National Park, where this post was written). A Southern Utah encore is definitely in our future, and should be in yours, too.

— Jeff Bogle

Jeff Bogle is an at-home dad of two pre-tween daughters. He writes about parenthood, family travel and all things childhood on his site OutWithTheKids.com. He considers himself one of the luckiest guys in the world. Jeff also writes for PBS.

5 Easy Hikes for Kids in Maui

July 28th, 2015 by Guest Blogger No comments »

Hawaii is, without a doubt, an expensive place to take your family. Most popular activities will hit your wallet hard, so it’s good to have a few freebies lined up on your itinerary. Taking a hike is almost always going to cost you absolutely nothing, and it might just be the most memorable thing you do during your trip.

Kaanapali Beach in Maui

Picking the right trails to explore is key to an enjoyable experience. Whether you have toddlers or teenagers, you will want to limit your hiking to half a day or less to avoid tantrums and breakdowns (anything over 5 miles is probably too much). On our recent family vacation to Maui, we took five easy, kid-friendly hikes that gave us a taste of the islands without making anyone feel too tired. Consider one of these hikes if you plan a vacation to Maui.

1. Kapalua Coastal Trail
This is a 2-mile walk from Kapalua Beach to D.T. Fleming Beach. The highlight here, besides the stunning beaches and wild rocky coastline, is the Dragon’s Teeth area, a unique lava formation that juts out into the water and really does resemble a giant set of dragon’s teeth. Kids could spend an hour alone at this one spot, scrambling over the rocks, watching for sea turtles in the water below, and letting their imaginations run wild. The trail is accessible from several places, but we recommend parking near the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua, exploring the Dragon’s Teeth, then heading west toward Kapalua Beach.

2. Iao Valley State Park
This lush, tropical area is home to the famous Iao Needle and was the site of an important battle during King Kamehameha’s unification of the island in the late 18th century. The history and natural beauty make it a great place to hike and learn. Several short trails are available, including a paved path to an outlook, as well as a garden trail that leads you through thick vegetation. It’s nothing more than half a mile. There are picnic tables and restrooms in the park, so take your time and admire the scenery.

3. Twin Falls
These are the first waterfalls you’ll see on the famed Road To Hana, in Ho’olawa Valley on the north shore of the island. Bring your swimsuits and water shoes, because you and the kids will want to take a little dip in the pools at the base of each falls. The first is a 10-minute walk, and the second is another 15 minutes beyond. It’s a little slippery in places, but worth the effort. There are porta potties and a snack stand back at the parking area.

4. Pipiwai Trail
This is the most challenging hike on my list. At 4 miles, it’s also the longest. The reason I found it so challenging is not the trail itself, but the fact that you must drive the entire Road To Hana to get to it. If you can manage that drive, the trail is worth the effort. The first 2 miles are uphill, but kids will love the surprises they find along the way. Highlights include a massive banyan tree, Pipiwai stream, Makahiku Falls, several wooden bridges, a breathtaking bamboo forest and, at the end of the trail, the 400-foot Waimoku Falls. There is so much to see along the trail, you barely even notice you’re hiking. The way back to the parking lot is just as stunning, and all downhill. If your kids can manage a longer hike, this is the one they’ll remember the most.

5. Ka’anapali Beach
This particular hike isn’t really a trail, but it might just be our favorite non-trail trail in Maui. Ka’anapali Beach has been called one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, and after visiting it, we know why. The entire beach is about 3 miles long, but we recommend walking the lower mile from the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa north to Black Rock at the Sheraton Maui Resort and Spa. Park your car at the Hyatt, stroll out to the beach, take your shoes off, and leisurely walk north along the powder-like sand. Just this one mile might take you several hours, because the kids will find so much to see and do along the way. It’s a great place to watch surfers, swimmers, boats, parasailers, snorkelers, and even the occasional drone buzzing through the air. Off in the distance, you can see the islands of Lanai and Moloka’i. If you’re there in early spring, it’s a prime spot to view humpback whales. Once you reach the Black Rock area, you can rinse the sand off your feet, put your shoes back on, and walk back on the boardwalk, where you can gawk at the resort and condo complexes. Stop in at Whaler’s Village for a bite to eat, or some shopping. Ka’anapali Beach is, by far, the most beautiful beach my family has ever had the pleasure to walk on.

— 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.