Archive for the ‘Family-Friendly Destinations’ category

Photos: Orlando’s New I-Drive 360

May 4th, 2015

Today, Orlando’s I-Drive 360, a brand new entertainment complex, opens to the public. The new venue, located right on International Drive, houses the long-awaited Orlando Eye, along with Madame Tussauds Orlando and SEA LIFE Aquarium Orlando. It also packs a lot of value — you can visit all three attractions for $35 for adults and $30 for kids when tickets are purchased online.

The complex also houses several restaurants, shops and Skeletons: Animals Unveiled, another unique diversion. We recently had a chance to check out the new space — here’s a peek at all of the fun.

The Orlando Eye at the new I-Drive 360

View from one of the Orlando Eye pods;

Orlando Eye
Watch an introductory show in 4D before you board the Orlando Eye, the largest observation wheel on the East Coast. You’ll ride in an air-conditioned capsule that features a virtual audio guide. Look for Cinderella’s Castle and on a clear day, Cape Canaveral in the distance.

Taylor Swift wax statue at Madame Tussaud's Orlando

ET wax statue at Madame Tussaud's Orlando

Madame Tussaud’s Orlando
The wax museum’s newest location features life-like versions of everyone from Abraham Lincoln to Beyonce. Other icons — of particular interest to teens — include Taylor Swift, Selena Gomez and Jennifer Lawrence (as Katniss Everdeen). The figures aren’t limited to actual humans though; you can expect to see Fiona, Shrek and ET, too.

Ocean tunnel at SEA LIFE Aquarium Orlando

Giant Pacific Octapus at the SEA LIFE Aquarium Orlando

SEA LIFE Aquarium Orlando
This aquarium features a 360-degree ocean tunnel and interactive experiences, including the chance to hold starfish, but the best feature might be the Giant Pacific Octopus — the largest type in the world.

Mammouth and dinosaur skeletons at the Skeletons: Animals Unveiled museum

Skeletons: Animals Unveiled
This small museum is the first of its kind, and features authentic animal skeletons. Kids will get a kick out of more than 400 structures, from small mice to a giant cheetah.

– Amanda Geronikos

Ghost Towns of Montana: Bannack State Park

May 3rd, 2015

Teaching your kids about history when you travel doesn’t have to mean a long, boring day of museums and statues. If done right, history can be more than just artifacts behind a glass case, or a plaque that points out where something used to be. When my kids were studying the old west, with its wagon trains, gold miners and outlaws, I knew there was no better place for it to all come to life than in a real western ghost town.

Montana is home to quite a few ghost towns. The discovery of gold in the 1800′s led to mining camps popping up all over the state. Many of these camps turned into thriving towns over time, but once the gold ran out, few of them could survive as the residents picked up and moved on to the next lucky strike.

Over the past 150 years, these towns were left to fall apart and fade away. You could drive all over the western part of the state looking for the remains of hundreds of old settlements, but you’d need a lot of time, a very sturdy vehicle and an extremely patient family.

Luckily, several locations have been well preserved by the State of Montana, so you don’t have to go hunting high and low.

Bannack State Park in Montana

You’ll have the best experience at Bannack State Park, the sight of one of the first major gold discoveries in the area. During its 1860′s heyday, Bannack had a population of over 3,000, and it soon became the first territorial capital of Montana. For several decades, the town boomed and prospered, but by the turn of the 20th century only a few dozen citizens remained. By the 1940′s the last resident had died or moved on, and Bannack became a true ghost town.

In 1954 the state turned the town into a State Park in order to preserve it. And that’s one of the keys to the place. They preserve the buildings, rather than restore them. This isn’t some glorified amusement park recreation of history. This is the real thing.

As you and your kids stroll the walkways, it’s easy to imagine what the rough and rowdy town might have looked like filled with prospectors, settlers and thieves. The buildings are in surprisingly good condition and are filled with character. There’s the saloon, sheriff’s office, fancy hotel, schoolhouse and blacksmith’s shop, just to name a few. Many of these buildings are safe to enter and explore. My kids well remember one house that was used to quarantine children during a measles epidemic, and is said to be haunted by those who died. I’m not saying we believe in ghosts, but my entire family definitely felt something in that house and couldn’t get out fast enough. Part of history coming to life is when imaginations run wild!

According to some people, Bannack is filled with ghosts, from the sick house to the school room to the hilltop cemetery that overlooks the town gallows. If you visit in October, the ghosts will be walking the streets with you during the Bannack Ghost Walks. These special performances are based on actual historical events, including gunfights, hangings and other ghastly misdeeds. You’ll need tickets and reservations for the Ghost Walks, as these spooky reenactments are very popular in the weeks leading up to Halloween.

Bannack State Park has other special events during the year that are fun for the entire family. On the third weekend of July, the park hosts Bannack Days, a celebration of the town and its special place in Montana history. Families can have fun with activities such as gold panning, pioneer food, wagon rides and even wild gunfights in the street.

In September there is the Living History Weekend, which focuses on historically accurate demonstrations of life in an old west town. Kids can experience the daily life of a miner, blacksmith, teacher, barkeep and town sheriff.

Of course, Bannack State Park is open year-round if you just want to explore on your own. During one of our family visits, we were the only people in the park. Talk about spooky! Every creak of a door and gust of wind had us looking over our shoulders.

Entry fee is only $6 for your entire vehicle if you’re out of state; it’s free for Montana residents. There are no extra costs for Bannack Days or the Living History Weekend, but the Ghost Walks will cost an extra $10 for adults and $5 for children. During the summer, hour-long guided tours are available if you want to hear some vivid tales of the town’s most memorable characters. The park is easy to access, too, located about 20 miles off I-15 near Dillion, Montana. It is close to the Idaho state line, too.

If you’re a camping family, they have two different campgrounds in the park. But if you like something a little nicer, I highly recommend Fairmont Hot Springs Resort in Anaconda, Montana. It’s about an hour north of Bannack, just outside of Butte. We’ve used it as a base of operations for exploring western Montana, and it’s always a joy to end a tiring day by taking a dip in the hot pools.

– 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.

New Offerings for Families at Refreshing Mountain

May 2nd, 2015

For an outdoor adventure that is also educational, families can visit Refreshing Mountain in Stevens, Pennsylvania, just minutes from Lancaster. The nature and adventure center focuses on teambuilding for small and large groups, which may just be perfect for your large or multigenerational family this spring or summer. New for 2015, Refreshing Mountain now offers packages that include new activities, as well as new, fully furnished cabins.

High ropes course at Refreshing Mountain

Nature Discovery Package
New for 2015, families who sign up for the Nature Discovery Package receive admission to a 30-minute interactive nature exhibit, one-hour geocaching treasure hunt and 30 minutes of archery and target shooting. Package is available for guests ages 5 and older. Rates start from $24 for adults and $21 for children.

Outdoor Exploration Package
With the Outdoor Exploration Package families receive 30 minutes of outdoor climbing and 30 minutes of archery and slingshot target shooting. Package is available for guests ages 5 and older. Rates start from $28 for adults and $24 for children.

Aerial Excursion Tour
Enjoy seven zip lines, three sky bridges and a 40-foot wall to repel down at the end of the adventure with the Aerial Excursion Tour. The tour lasts about 2.5 hours and is for children and adults ages 8 and older. Height and weight restrictions may apply and the adventure requires one adult for every child. Rates start from $79 for adults and $67 for children.

Challenge Adventure Tour
For even more outdoor adventures, families can sign up for the Challenge Adventure Tour. Enjoy five zip lines and nine rope challenges (cargo nets, balance beams and more). Tours last about two hours and height and weight restrictions may apply. Children must be at least 5 years old and one adult for every three children is required. Rates start from $59 for adults and $49 for children.

Family Cabin Rentals
Refreshing Mountain has expanded its accommodation options and now features fully furnished cabins that are great for small and large families, as well as groups of families traveling together. Each cabin offers two bedrooms, a living room and a kitchen, and can sleep up to eight people. There are 13 cabins in total and all are within close proximity of one another, as well as the campfire area.

For more vacations like these at Refreshing Mountain, see our list of the 10 Best Family Adventures.

– Hilarey Wojtowicz

A Family’s Guide to the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto

May 1st, 2015

You may already be a big fan of the Pan Am Games or like many parents you may be wondering what they are. The first Pan Am Games were held in 1951 and the event has since grown to the third largest international multi-sport games after the summer Olympics and the Asian Games. Every four years, 41 nations gather to compete in the Pan Am Games, which always fall the year before the summer Olympics. Some of the events even serve as qualifiers to the Olympics. This year the Pan Am Games are being held in Toronto, Canada, from July 10 to July 26, 2015. Here’s what you need to know if you’re interested in planning a family vacation to Toronto during this year’s games.

Pachi, the Pan Am Games mascot

Sporting Events
This summer, more than 7,000 athletes will compete in 36 sports during the Pan Am Games. These range from baseball and basketball, where some NBA players are expected to take to the court, to wakeboarding and roller figure skating (think figure skating on four wheels). The venues for each event take place in and around Toronto stretching as far as Niagara Falls.

Where to Stay
While the venues stretch across the city depending on the sport, you will want to be close to the heart of the action, which can be found at CIBC Pan Am Park. The park, located along a gorgeous stretch of Lake Ontario, will not only be home to 13 events, but will also be part of PANAMANIA, a huge artistic celebration of the games featuring music, dance, theatre, fashion and visual arts displays. The remainder of the PANAMANIA locations is all located in downtown Toronto.

For a family-friendly hotel near the heart of the Pan Am Games and the opening and closing ceremonies which will take place at the Rogers Centre, your best bet is the brand new Delta Toronto. Recently opened in late 2014, the hotel features a gorgeous indoor pool, family-friendly rooms and has playpens and highchairs available for smaller guests. What I like most is that guests under 6 years eat free from the hotel’s kids’ menu and kids ages 7 to 12 are offered half-price meals from the regular menu. This alone will save you a fair bit of money during the Games.

The hotel is also located steps from the Rogers Centre, which is home to the Toronto Blue Jays, the CN Tower, Ripley’s Aquarium and direct access to Union Station, which is the Toronto subway and streetcar system know as the TTC.

Places to Play Around the Pan Am Games
Once you’ve checked out the Pan Am Games, downtown Toronto is home to a lot other great family events happening in July including the Beaches International Jazz Festival, the restaurant festival Summerlicious and the opening of the Disney hit play, “Newsies.”

Beyond those, families can check out the Toronto Zoo, attend Jr. Jays Saturdays with the Toronto Blue Jays or head to great family-friendly museums like the Royal Ontario Museum and the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Close to many of the Pan Am Games venues, you will also find great parks like the new Corktown Common featuring a large splash pad, nature filled playground and wetland pond to explore. Corktown Common is also home to the Pan Am Games Athletes’ Village.

Pachi, the Pan Am Games Mascot
When bringing kids to the Pan Am Games, be sure to look out for Pachi, the 2015 Pan Am Games mascot. Pachi, a porcupine, has become a celebrity in his own right through public appearances and his adorable Instagram account.

A Few Facts About Pachi:

  • Pachi is the brainchild of four eighth students from the Toronto region.
  • He has 41 quills representing each of the countries participating in the Pan Am Games.
  • Each quill is one of five colors, which stand for youth (green), passion (fuchsia), collaboration (blue), determination (orange) and creativity (purple).

Tickets to the Pan Am Games
Tickets are still available to most of the Pan Am Games events and sporting competitions including the opening and closing ceremonies. Tickets for the sporting events are quite well priced with 75 percent of the tickets costing $45 or less. A significant discount is also being offered on tickets for kids under the age of 16 with the discount for some sports being up to 50-percent off. Kids under 2 years do not require a ticket if sitting on a parent’s lap.

For more information, visit the 2015 Pan Am Games website.

– Sarah Pittard

Sarah Pittard is a freelance writer who loves to take her two small children on extended trips and exciting adventures. Sarah features her unique experiences traveling solo with her kids on her website Solo Mom Takes Flight.