4 Ways to Experience Niagara Falls

October 30th, 2014 by Guest Blogger No comments »

Do you have a travel bucket list for your kids? I’ve been to Niagara Falls a few times, but my kids haven’t, and it has always been a place I wanted them to experience. Well, we finally had the opportunity over Columbus Day weekend this October.

To make the most of our time there, we took advantage of several attractions that offered different ways to see the falls. While some of these only operate during the warmer seasons, all are great choices for kids of all ages.

Take a Falls Boat Tour
View of Niagara Falls from the Hornblower CruiseIt’s one of those “must-do” activities in Niagara Falls: a boat ride along the churning waters where the falls end their nearly 200-foot drop. Since we stayed on the Canadian side, we took the Hornblower Niagara Cruise. We excitedly donned our complimentary souvenir ponchos and found a viewing spot on the bottom deck of the 700-passnger catamaran. This turned out to be a relatively dry spot once we got close enough to the falls to be doused by the spray. The boat traveled from the dock on the Niagara Great Gorge past the American Falls, Bridal Veil Falls and into the midpoint of Horseshoe Falls. The thunderous noise of rushing water and the amazing views thrilled both our kids.

While you can buy tickets just for the Hornblower Cruise, it makes sense to purchase the Adventure Pass offered by Niagara Parks if you plan to visit other area attractions, as well. We used our passes for admission to Journey Behind the Falls, the “Niagara’s Fury” 4D movie, and two days of transportation on the WEGO shuttle buses that run continuously throughout the city of Niagara Falls.

Go Behind the Falls
A person looks at Niagara Falls during the Journey Behind the Falls experienceThe Journey Behind the Falls attraction offers another great way to get up close to the falls, and get even more drenched! This idea charmed our 7-year-old, while the teenager was less enthusiastic. From the Table Rock Visitor Centre, you take an elevator 125 feet down behind Horseshoe Falls and inward 650 feet (the total width of the falls is 2,200 feet). Two tunnels bring you to gated openings behind the rushing falls. It’s wet, it’s loud, and it’s exhilarating. Your last stop is the bi-level observation deck in front of the falls, where your poncho is only partially successful in keeping you dry as the wind whips up the water.




See the Falls on the Big Screen
People at Niagara's Fury, the 4D movie experienceAnother attraction based at the Table Rock Visitor Centre, “Niagara’s Fury” is a 4D version of the story explaining how the falls were formed 10,000 years ago. You’ll realize why you’re provided with a poncho once you step onto a moving platform wher the temperature drops as a spray mists over you. There are other movie experiences in town, as well, including “The Falls 3D/4D” movie shown inside the Skylon Tower, and the two programs presented at the Niagara Falls IMAX Theatre: “Niagara: Miracles, Myths & Magic” and “Niagara Daredevil Exhibit.”

View the Falls From Above
View of Niagara Falls from the Skylon TowerTo get great overhead photos of the falls, you have several options, including the Niagara SkyWheel, and the Falls Incline Railway, which connects Portage Road and the visitor center. To get even higher, take the outdoor elevator in Skylon Tower to the observation decks, which reach 775 feet. Try to get there at night, when the falls are lit up in color. And during the summer season, from mid-May to early September, a nighttime fireworks show adds to the pageantry.

– 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.

5 Travel Cribs for Families With Infants

October 29th, 2014 by Hilarey Wojtowicz No comments »

Traveling with an infant requires a plethora of necessities. From bottles and toys to clothing and diapers, the packing list can get pretty long. But with one of these five travel cribs, one thing you won’t have to worry about is where baby will sleep. These cribs are portable with easy-to-fold shapes, and carrying cases that store easily in cars, trains and planes.

BabyBjorn Travel Crib Light
BabyBjorn Travel Crib LightGeared towards children between 0 and 3 years, the BabyBjorn Travel Crib Light is portable, with a soft mattress that makes sleeping easy. It can also be used as a play area for children under 35 inches. It pops open in one swift move, with no additional parts to attach. And at just 13 pounds, it is lightweight, which makes traveling with baby that much easier.

Approximate Price: $250

Lotus Everywhere Travel Crib
Lotus Everywhere Travel CribWith a 15-second set-up, the Lotus Everywhere Travel Crib is a great option for families who need fast sleeping arrangements for their infant. Made for infants and toddlers 0 to 3, the crib can double as a play area, with an extra zipper panel that opens up the side for little ones to crawl in and out. The travel crib is just 11 pounds, and folds into a case that has back straps for easy transport.

Approximate Price: $190

Graco Travel Lite Crib
Graco Travel Lite CribThe Graco Travel Lite Crib is slightly heavier than the others, but it does offers a removable bassinet for infants. The 20-pound travel crib doubles as a crib and playard, with wheels for rocking baby to sleep or for moving around the room. With the push of a button, it folds up and fits into a carrying case, too. The bassinet is suitable for an infant under 15 pounds, and the playard is best for children under 35 inches.

Approximate Price: $110

Nuna Sena Mini Travel Cot
Nuna Sena Mini Travel CotPop open the Nuna Sena Mini Travel Cot and you have an instant bassinet and playard for baby. Suitable for infants and toddlers age 0 to 3, the mini travel cot weighs about 20 pounds, and has a soft mattress with padding along the edges for extra comfort. The feet are skid-proof, too, so parents can feel safe knowing it won’t move once in place.

Approximate Price: $150

Foundations Sleep ‘N Store Play Yard Crib
Foundations Sleep 'N Store Play Yard CribPerfect for infants and children 35 inches and under, the Foundations Sleep ‘N Store Play Yard Crib doubles as a crib and play area (as its name indicates). The bassinet is removable and the entire design has a soft, breathable mesh material. It has six feet for a sturdy stance and weighs about 14 pounds. When its time to travel, pack it up in the carry bag and hit the road with baby.

Approximate Price: $110

For more information on traveling with infants, see our age-friendly travel section.

– Hilarey Wojtowicz

4 Chocolate Factory Tours for Families

October 28th, 2014 by Amanda Geronikos No comments »

Hershey's Chocolate World charactersDid you know it’s National Chocolate Day? In honor of this very important holiday, we’ve compiled a list of our favorite factory tours, complete with interactive exhibits and most importantly, tastings. Plan one of these sweet tours for an upcoming weekend, or add it to your next family vacation.

Hershey’s Chocolate World – Hershey, Pa.
One of the most popular factory tours in America, Hershey’s Chocolate World is actually four separate attractions: Hershey’s Chocolate Tasting Adventure, where visitors learn about the origins of chocolate and enjoy sweet samples; Hershey’s Create Your Own Chocolate Bar, where you can design your own candy bar — right down to the wrapper; Hershey’s Great Chocolate Mystery in 4D; and Hershey’s Great American Chocolate Ride Tour, which is free! Additional fees apply for each of the other attractions.

Theo’s Chocolates – Seattle
Reserve a tour in advance – Theo’s Chocolates is popular in Seattle. It’s also unique, since it’s the first organic and fair-trade chocolate factory in America. Tours last approximately one hour, with 30 minutes in a seated room (where you’ll taste several different chocolates — we love the ECI Vanilla Nib) and the other half in the actual chocolate-making facility (where you’ll taste more confections). Hairnets are required (and make for funny photos), and souvenir chocolate bars are passed out at the end of the tour.

Kilwin’s Chocolate Kitchen – Petoskey, Mich.
You’ve probably had Kilwin’s Chocolates or even visited one of the brand’s stores, but we bet you didn’t know the company is headquartered in a little town in Michigan. Just over one hour from Traverse City, Kilwin’s Chocolate Kitchen offers free tours, where visitors learn how the brand’s chocolates, truffles, “tuttles,” caramels, brittles, ice cream, and more are made. Tours typically require hairnets and last 30 minutes or so, with plenty of tastings along the way.

Cadbury World – Birmingham, U.K.
You don’t need a golden ticket to get into Cadbury World, a real-life version of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Located two hours from London, Cadbury World is something of an amusement park, complete with The Whole Cadabra Ride and 4D Chocolate Adventure, plus a playground, café, shop and more. Separate stations – The Cadbury Story, Making Chocolate, Manufacturing and Packaging – are fascinating, and include free chocolate tastings.

For other delicious attractions like these, read our article on the 12 Best (and Sweetest) Factory Tours.

– Amanda Geronikos

The Mermaid Academy Comes to Marathon, Fla.

October 27th, 2014 by Hilarey Wojtowicz No comments »

Four little girls dressed like mermaids lay on the sand at the Hawks Cay ResortEnjoy a new aquatic experience with your children this year at the Hawks Cay Resort in Marathon, Florida. The resort on the island of Duck Key is partnering with the Mermaid Academy for special lessons in one of the resort’s swimming pools on select holiday weekends. Perfect for any fan of the Disney classic, The Little Mermaid, kids will strap on tails and fins and feel like their favorite characters from the movie.

Visit Hawks Cay with your kids on November 29, December 26 and 27, or January 2 and 3, and let them explore life as a mermaid or shark with tail rentals and lessons in one of the resort’s five pools. The swim sessions include a tail or fin rental and a one-hour long swim lesson. Shark fins, plus the lesson, are $15 each, and mermaid tails, plus the lesson, are $25 each. All ages are welcome.

The Mermaid Academy partners with companies in the Orlando and Dallas areas for events and experiences where kids can become mermaids and sharks for a day. The Mermaid Academy is offered at select hotels and resorts, with locations changing each season. Visitors can currently experience the Mermaid Academy at the Hilton Parc Soleil, Hilton Sea World, Hilton Tuscany, Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress, Marriott Harbour Lake, Renaissance Sea World, Shertaon Vistana Villages and the Walt Disney Swan and Dolphin, on select days now through November 30. If you can’t get to one of the resorts, the Mermaid Academy also sells fins and tails through their website.

For more information, visit the Mermaid Academy’s website and to make reservations, call the Hawks Cay Resort at 888-395-5539.

– Hilarey Wojtowicz

5 Holiday Happenings in Branson, Mo.

October 26th, 2014 by Hilarey Wojtowicz No comments »

Exterior view of the ticket house lit up during the Trail of Lights at the Shepard of the Hills Homestead in Branson, MissouriThe Holiday season is almost upon us and many events and festivals kick off on November 1. Branson, Missouri, is hosting a plethora of seasonal festivities this year, many of which start within the next week or two. Here are five holiday happenings that will get you in the spirit of the season beginning in Branson, Missouri, on Nov. 1.

Branson Landing’s Winter WonderLanding
Nov. 1 to Dec. 24, 2014
The well-known shopping, dining and event area that is Branson Landing will be transformed come November 1 into Winter WonderLanding. With lights, decorations and the sounds of the season, families will really feel the spirit and magic of the holidays.

Santa Arrives at Branson Landing
Nov. 1 to Dec. 24, 2014
Take the kids for a picture with Santa at Branson Landing’s Winter WonderLanding. Sant and his helpers will be stationed at the 50-foot Christmas Treehouse in the center of the Landing’s Town Square.

An Old Time Christmas
Nov. 1 to Dec. 30, 2014
Get ready for the holidays with events throughout November and December in Silver Dollar City. From light shows, rides and parades, to musical productions, shopping and a special effects Christmas tree. To be exact, there will be 5 million lights to see, so don’t miss out!

Area Festival of Lights
Nov. 1 to Dec. 31, 2014
Drive through the Branson Area Festival of Lights and see your favorite characters, places and people lit up in the colors of the season. The one-mile long drive has more than 175 displays. Enjoy the spectacular from sunset to 11 p.m. daily, from November 1 to December 31. Admission starts from $15 per vehicle.

Shepard of the Hills Trail of Lights
Nov. 1 to Dec. 31, 2014
The famous Trail That Nobody Knows How Old will be transformed into a holiday light extravaganza in which families can drive through. The 160-acre Shepard of the Hills Homestead will look like a wonderland that kids won’t want to miss. Plus, after driving down the trail, take a ride up an elevator for a special look at the displays from 230 feet above the ground. Open at dusk daily, seven days a week. Shows and other activities at the Shepard of the Hills Homestead are available for additional fees.

– Hilarey Wojtowicz

Dr. Seuss’ San Diego

October 25th, 2014 by Amanda Geronikos No comments »

Did you know Theodore Seuss Geisel — Dr. Seuss — penned many of his books in La Jolla, just outside of San Diego? His life and legend are continuously celebrated in SoCal, with a special event planned for Balboa Park’s Centennial. Whether you have plans to be in the area soon or just hope to visit one day, don’t miss these six storybook staples.

Dr. Seuss' Cat in the Hat statue at University of California San Diego

Ingenious! The World of Dr. Seuss
The San Diego History Center will host a special exhibit in honor of the beloved writer, Nov. 21 to Dec. 31, 2015. Ingenious! The World of Dr. Seuss (a traveling exhibit) will feature rare works, illustrations and editorial cartoons, with a focus on Dr. Seuss’ roots in San Diego. Interactive family activities will be part of the fun, too.

Truffula Tree
Remember the Truffula Trees in “The Lorax?” They’re inspired by another kind of tree, called a Monterey Cypress. While these trees are rare, you’ll find one in La Jolla; La Valencia Hotel offers a prime view of the whimsical tree, which stands on a small “island” in the ocean.

Tower House
Dr. Seuss wrote two of his most famous stories – “McElligots’s Pool” and “The Cat in the Hat” – at his home atop Mt. Soledad in La Jolla. Known as “The Tower,” many tourists like to photograph the home from a distance, but can’t actually visit it – it’s still owned by Geisel’s wife, Audrey, who is a local philanthropist.

Geisel Library
While most people can’t access the Seuss Collection at Geisel Library (it’s limited to researchers), the building is still worth a visit, if for nothing else than the rare architecture – it sort of resembles a space ship. The property also features Dr. Seuss-themed sculptures, and often hosts events, including an annual Family Weekend (which kicks off today!).

Stephen Clayton Gallery
The Stephen Clayton Gallery in Coronado features a Secret Art of Dr. Seuss Exhibit, with fantastical artwork on display. It includes bizarre paintings and taxidermy – the Sea-Going Dilemma Fish especially captures the essence of Dr. Seuss. The Legends Gallery in La Jolla also offers a similar exhibit.

Old Globe Theatre
“How the Grinch Stole Christmas” is performed at the Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park each year. The theatre is even transformed into Whoville, complete with snow and Who-Hash! An autism-friendly performance is also offered in December.

– Amanda Geronikos