Archive for the ‘Family-Friendly Destinations’ category

Branson, Missouri With Kids 10 and Under

May 22nd, 2015

On a recent solo trip to Branson, Missouri, a popular destination for leisure tourists in the Ozark Mountains, I was pleasantly surprised by all of the family-friendly attractions, activities and entertainment. I was told that many people have a misguided assumption that Branson is the “Vegas of the East,” but I soon realized that Branson is overall more wholesome and much less glitzy.

There is enough to fill an entire week in Branson, with sites that appeal to all age ranges. Here’s a re-cap of the highlights for younger children, ages 10 and under:

Fireman's Landing at Silver Dollar City

Silver Dollar City, an 1880’s themed park, has more than 40 thrill rides and attractions, as well as live shows and craft demonstrations. For younger children, the best part is Fireman’s Landing, a new themed area with six rides and four play zones. The theme is based around a firefighter volunteer recruitment fair, and the rides are training adventures for recruits in fire spotting, pole sliding, and height and drop training. Specifically for kids up to age 7, Half Dollar Holler is a separate play area with treetop funhouses and climbing nets, box crawls and slides, mini-wave swings and truckloads of sand, with a hand-carved carousel at its center.

Ride the Ducks tour

You many have seen the Ride the Ducks in other cities like Boston, but here in Branson, these amphibious vehicles offer 90-minute land and water sightseeing tours of Branson and Table Rock Lake or Lake Taneycomo. The vehicles resemble the WWII DUKW military trucks enclosed in a water-tight shell. As you approach the ramp to the water’s edge, the driver picks up speed and plunges in; it’s a thrill! Part of the show are the very charismatic captains; our Captain Smokey led us in songs and passed out “Wacky Quacker” whistles to all the passengers. While we were on the lake, he allowed every kid the chance to drive the slow-moving vehicle around an island. Kids who drive get an honorary captain’s license at the end of the tour.

'IT' Show at the Hughes Brothers Theatre

For more than 50 years, live shows have been a major part of the Branson experience, with performers ranging from singers to comedians to magicians, and even acrobats. While some of the shows are scheduled at night and can run past bedtimes for young kids, the shows themselves are generally appropriate for all ages. A good choice for families is the “IT” show by the Hughes Brothers, since the performers are all part of one family, and their children participate in most of the numbers, which include Broadway, country, patriotic, gospel and rock music. The five Hughes brothers perform with their five wives and all 34 of their children make it out on stage at some point! The oldest teens really show off their talents with drum and violin solos, plus fun dance routines set to mash-ups of current popular hits.

Silver Dollar City's White Water water park

There are many other attractions and shows that I didn’t have time to personally experience, but definitely would if I had the chance to return with my 8-year-old daughter, including the White Water water park, the Butterfly Palace, Branson’s Wild World animal encounter, Branson Scenic Railway rides and the Grand Country Fun Spot. There are also several mini-golf courses around town, with themes like pirates, dinosaurs and outer space.

— 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.

International Glamping Weekend 2015

May 21st, 2015

Camping in the wilderness is definitely not for everyone. Pitching a tent, hiking through mud and cooking all your meals over a campfire may sound fun to some, but for others, it’s not very appealing. However, now there is glamping. For families who want the deluxe amenities of a hotel with the outdoorsy environment of a campsite, glamping may be the answer. This year, families can celebrate this new tradition during International Glamping Weekend on June 6 and 7, 2015, at a resort near them. Here are a few glamping resorts offering special offers in honor of International Glamping Weekend 2015.

Luxurious camping tent at the Resort at Paws Up

Westgate River Ranch
Located in River Ranch, Florida, the Westgate River Ranch offers families a variety of accommodation options, with glamping amenities such as screened-in porches, mini-fridges, microwaves, air conditioning, electrical outlets and more. Additionally, guests have access to their own glamping concierge for help in planning activities, starting campfires and ordering room service. The Westgate River Ranch is currently offering an enhanced glamping package, complete with a golf cart, $20 daily resort credit and a S’mores kit with all the tasty ingredients needed for the campfire. Package rates start from $199 per night. Book by June 30, for travel through Sept. 30, 2015. Use promo code IGW2015 when making your reservation.

The Resort at Paws Up
For a luxurious glamping experience in Greenough, Montana, stay at the Resort at Paws Up. The resort’s tent suites come with two bedrooms, king and twin beds, electricity, a personal camping butler, daily housekeeping, indoor bathroom and a fireplace. Book the Family Glamping Package and enjoy five nights in a tent suite with all meals, snacks and beverages included in the rate. The package also includes a Chuck Wagon dinner experience, an outing to nearby Garnet Ghost Town, fly fishing lessons and custom-made root beer floats by the camping butler. Rates start from $643 per person, per night. Package offered now through Oct. 15, 2015.

Bar W Guest Ranch
Glamping at the Bar W Guest Ranch in Whitefish, Montana, is offered May through October annually, and families will enjoy luxurious canvas tents with queen beds, futons, private porches, kitchenettes and a private bathroom. Three- and six-night packages are offered June through September, with rates starting from $975 per adult, $735 per junior, ages 7 to 15, and from $480 per child, ages 7 and under (based on a family of four). All meals and activities are included in the rates.

Conestoga Ranch
Although not officially open until July 1, 2015, the Conestoga Ranch on Bear Lake in Utah is a great place for families who are looking to go glamping. Family glamping tents will sleep up to 10, while family conestogas, or covered wagons, will sleep up to eight. The new ranch is now taking reservations. Read about the Conestoga Ranch for more information.

— Hilarey Wojtowicz

Family Fun at Le Guanahani in St. Barths

May 20th, 2015

Escape the daily grind this summer and head to the island of St. Barths in the Caribbean. Families will enjoy the sun, surf and sand, plus so much more when they book a stay at Le Guanahani, a kid-friendly property located on Grand Cul de Sac lagoon.

View of the Le Guanahani resort in St. Barths

Beach and Water Sports
Le Guanahani offers families direct access to two beaches, plus complimentary use of non-motorized water sports. Enjoy paddle boarding, kayaking, windsurfing, canoeing, snorkeling and more. Additionally, the hotel can help arrange kite surfing, jet skiing, fishing and diving excursions for those looking for more adventurous activities.

Beach at the Le Guanahani resort

Children’s Programs
Kids will make new friends and learn about wildlife at one of the two onsite (and complimentary) kids’ clubs at Le Guanahani. The Kids’ Club is for children ages 2 to 6, while the Juniors’ Club is for kids ages 7 to 12. Offered daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., kids will explore the local environment, discovering wildlife like sea turtles, and will also make crafts, play volleyball and learn how to use the water sports equipment. Babysitting services can also be arranged through the children’s programs – just request at least 24 hours in advance.

The Indigo restaurant at Le Guanahani

Kid-Friendly Dining
The beachfront restaurant Indigo invites families to enjoy breakfast and lunch daily, as well as dinner on Monday and Tuesday nights. Menu items include American fare, seafood and grilled dishes with global influences. The restaurant also has a kids’ menu for younger guests, with selections such as spaghetti, chicken nuggets, pizza, shrimp and more on offer. A similar children’s menu is offered at Bartolomeo, the onsite restaurant that is open for dinner Wednesday through Sunday.

A suite at Le Guanahani

Suite Accommodations
All guestrooms and suites come with flat-screen TVs, iPod docking stations, air-conditioning and mini-bars. Accommodations range in size from standard guestrooms with one king bed to multi-room suites with private pools. This summer, book the Stay 4 Nights, Pay for 3 Package and receive one complimentary night for every four nights booked in a suite. Package also includes complimentary breakfast and round-trip airport transportation. Rates start from 595 euros (or about $675) per night. Offer valid now through Aug. 27, 2015, and from Oct. 29 through Dec. 18, 2015.

To book the Stay 4 Nights, Pay for 3 Package, visit the Le Guanahani website.

— Hilarey Wojtowicz

Borderland State Park: The Hidden Jewel of Southeastern Massachusetts

May 19th, 2015

Despite living 10 miles from Borderland State Park in Massachusetts my entire life, the first time I went was last year. I’ve been kicking myself ever since, while going back as often as possible.

Borderland consists of nearly 1,800 acres of ponds, 20 miles of trails, a historic mansion and even an 18-hole Frisbee golf course, all of which attract people from far and wide. It has everything you and your kids could want, and once you know it’s there and experience it, it’ll quickly become the family’s favorite quick getaway spot.

Borderland State Park

Getting there is pretty easy, as it’s 20 miles south of Boston and 30 miles north of Providence, Rhode Island. Once you get there, go to the self-service, drive-up meter where you pay a daily fee to park — it is $5 for in-state vehicles and $6 for out-of-state vehicles. The other option (and I highly recommend it) is to pay $60 for annual pass. This not only gets you into Borderland, but it is also good for entrance into all of the Massachusetts state parks. You can pay the money right at the automated machine, and then bring your license plate number into the office and they’ll give you a placard to hang in your car. It’s the best bargain no one knows about.

Once you’re in the park, you’ll immediately notice something most state parks don’t have — a mansion. The Ames mansion was built more than 100 years ago by artist and suffragist Blanche Ames and her botanist husband Oakes. The three-story, 20-room mansion is a time capsule of sorts, and even includes many of Blanche Ames’ paintings, which you can see on a regularly scheduled tour.

For most people, the huge field in front of the mansion is reason enough to come to Borderland. It’s where my family spent Mother’s Day this year, and it’s also where we took our last batch of professional family pictures. People sunbathe, kick the soccer ball around, throw a Frisbee and play with their dogs. The park is very dog-friendly and the pooches often seem to outnumber the people. As a dog owner, this is great. And if you have kids, there’s a better than average chance you’ll get to see people riding horses on the trails as well. All of the owners are very welcoming and have allowed my two sons to feed and pet the horses.

But if you want to do more than bask in the grassy field, there are lots of hiking trails. Twenty miles worth of trails to be exact. The 3-mile pond loop seems to be the most popular, and weaves through several of the six ponds on the premises. Those who don’t wish to walk the trails can take their mountain bikes, with hikers and bikers sharing the paths without incident.

While I’m not into disc golf and haven’t tried it myself, the park is constantly full of hardcore Frisbee golf devotees who take advantage of the 18-hole course on a regular basis. If you don’t have discs, don’t worry. You can borrow them free of charge from the office as you get a feel for the game.

Fishing at Borderland State Park

For my money though, I think the the best part about Borderland is the fishing. Borderland’s annual Fishing Fest is May 24 from 9 a.m. to noon at Leach Pond, with prizes available to the kids. You don’t even need your own pole, as park employees will provide people with loaners. The event is rain or shine, and all children must be accompanied by an adult.

Even though they don’t stock the ponds, my 7-year-old and I have been pulling 3-pound bass from beneath the lily pads on a pretty consistent basis. In fact, we have never gone to Borderland and gotten skunked in the fish department. We catch largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, pickerel and sunfish in all of the ponds (although Leach Pond is the most prolific).

Although the water is fairly shallow, it’s a fun place to drop our canoe in and tool around for a bit as we cast. If you come for Fishing Fest you’ll be hooked in a heartbeat, and you’ll likely be back all summer long.

Weekends during the summer can get pretty crowded, but there’s plenty of parking and enough activities so everyone isn’t doing the same thing. There’s always room to fish, the trails are kept very clean, and they even do special events such as movie nights and tours just for kids in the mansion.

My son and I will be there on May 24 for Fishing Fest. Come say hello, but leave the big bass for us!

— Aaron Gouveia

Aaron Gouveia is a former award-winning journalist turned dad blogger, who chronicles the thrilling successes and humiliating failures of life as a husband and father of two boys (with a third due in September). He started The Daddy Files in 2008 after realizing all the parenting books and websites were geared toward moms, and strives to be an active voice for involved fatherhood.