Archive for the ‘Family-Friendly Destinations’ category

Labor Day Weekend Fun for Families

August 29th, 2014

Two young boys hold sparklers in front of American flagLabor Day is Monday, September 1 this year and that means we should start celebrating the American labor movement today! Kick off the last official weekend of summer with one of these fun family events in one of these six major cities across the U.S.

Philadelphia has so much American history for families to explore. While visiting the city this weekend, watch a free movie, take a train ride or check out the fireworks display.

Friday, Aug. 29, 2014
Free family movie in Hawthorne Park at 7 p.m. with activities for kids beforehand.

Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014
Fireworks at Longwood Gardens at 8:15 p.m.

Saturday to Monday, Aug. 30 to Sept. 1, 2014
Franklin Square family activities from noon to 3 p.m., including carousel rides, mini-golf, food, drinks, and more, plus rides on Lightning Bolt Express Train.

If you’re in the southeast this weekend, head to Atlanta for two family-friendly festivals.

Friday to Sunday, Aug. 29-31, 2014
Callaway Gardens Sky High Hot Air Balloon Festival at Pine Mountain from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, with live music, a Kids Zone, car show and more.

Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014
Annual Labor Day Weekend Catfish Festival in Kingsland, Ga., from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., with a parade, arts and crafts, a children’s amusement area and more.

Check out a circus in a park or fireworks over the pier in Chicago this weekend with your family.

Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014
Fireworks over Navy Pier at 10:15 p.m.

Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 30-31, 2014
Circus in the Park at Grand Crossing Park at 2 p.m. daily, with proceeds benefitting the upkeep and improvement of the park.

Los Angeles
Enjoy Labor Day in southern California this weekend, with parades and fairs for families in Los Angeles.

Friday to Monday, Aug. 29 to Sept. 1, 2014
Los Angeles County Fair at the Fairplex in Pamona, with rides, music, livestock, food and more, beginning at noon on Friday and at 10 a.m. on all other days.

Monday, Sept. 1, 2014
The LA/Long Beach Labor Coalition Labor Day Parade at 10 a.m. from Broad Street to Banning Park in Wimington, with food, music and more at the park.

Celebrate Labor Day in Seattle with free movies and a delicious festival.

Friday, Aug. 29, 2014
Free outdoor showing of “Frozen” in Tacoma at 5 p.m. at Stewart Heights Park.

Saturday to Monday, Aug. 30 to Sept. 1, 2014
25th Annual Blackberry Festival at Bremerton Boardwalk, beginning at 10 a.m. daily, with music, food, drinks and fun.

Boston will be full of patriotism this Labor Day weekend with an arts festival and fireworks.

Saturday, Aug. 30-31, 2014
The Boston Arts Festival at Christopher Columbus Park, beginning at noon daily, with live music, art and sculpture displays, refreshments and more.

Sunday, Aug. 31, 2014
Fireworks over Boston Harbor at 9 p.m., with spectacular views from every spot along the waterfront.

– Hilarey Wojtowicz

Puerto Rico: City Hotel vs. Island Resort

August 28th, 2014

In Puerto Rico, you can have oceanfront accommodations (that is the goal after all, isn’t it?) in the city and the country, yet still be close to popular destinations, such as El Yunque National Rainforest and Old San Juan. So, which one is best?

During a recent trip to the island, we had a chance to visit two hotels in two locales. We discovered that neither one was better than the other; both hotels offered unique experiences for families… but we’ll let you decide.

El Conquistador Resort
Views of the mountains near the El Conquistador Resort in Puerto RicoSituated on a cliff in Fajardo — approximately one hour from Luis Munoz International Airport in San Juan — El Conquistador offers families a quintessential island vacation; it’s exactly what you picture when you think of Puerto Rico (but better). The property, which also includes Las Casitas Village, is the largest in Puerto Rico; it expands more than 500 acres and feels like an island in itself, far removed from the humdrum of surprisingly run-down businesses below.

Highlights for Families

Palomino Island
Exclusive to hotel guests, Palomino Island offers opportunities to hike, kayak, paddleboard, horseback ride, snorkel or simply relax on a beach chair or at Iguana’s Cafe. Speaking of iguanas, don’t be surprised to see several – they’re everywhere! Palomino Island is just 15 minutes from the resort, and accessible by a catamaran.

Ki’ Spa
The highlight of a visit to El Conquistador Resort might just be the Ki’ Spa, an adorable facility that offers special massages and scrubs for kids. Mommy & Me and Daddy & Me Packages are also offered.

Coqui Water Park
Never mind the hotel already offers three pools – Coqui Water Park, available for an additional fee (or with a Water Park Package), features a lazy river and several slides, most notably El Gigante.

Scout About
This, the ultimate scavenger hunt, encourages youngsters to explore the resort in exchange for fun facts and a collection of colorful bracelets.

The Condado Plaza Hilton
Views of the pool area at the Condado Plaza Hilton in Puerto RicoSituated in Condado, a neighborhood in San Juan, the Condado Plaza Hilton is a traditional high-rise hotel… except it offers a beach (a surprisingly calm one at that). Inside, a swanky lobby and luxurious rooms welcome families; outside, restaurants (mostly chain names), shops and a lovely park necessitate an evening stroll (and you’ll see many families doing just that).

Highlights for Families

Condado Beach
Adjacent to the hotel, this beach is open to the public, though you’ll hardly know it — it doesn’t look or feel crowded. The water is shallow, too, and an artificial reef trail welcomes snorkelers (gear is available to rent at the hotel).

Water Sports
Guests can enjoy more snorkeling, plus stand-up paddle boarding, kayaking, pedal boats and floats on Condado Lagoon (at an extra fee).

The hotel has four pools, including the only one with saltwater in Puerto Rico. Others include a Toddler Pool and Activity Pool, where a swim-up bar and waterslide create a happy balance for parents and kids.

Scout About
Similar to El Conquistador Resort, Hilton Condado Plaza touts Scout About, a scavenger hunt that allows kids to learn about the area and collect souvenirs.

– Amanda Geronikos

What to Know Before Spending a Day on Disney’s Castaway Cay in the Bahamas

August 26th, 2014

Families on beach of Disney's Castaway Cay island in the BahamasOne of the highlights of our recent Disney Cruise vacation was the day we spent on Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island in the Bahamas. From 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., our ship had the entire island to ourselves. I left for this trip without doing a lot of my normal intensive research, so I wasn’t as prepared as I could’ve been for our adventure ashore. Here are some things I wish I had known in advance.

First of all, if you want to sound like you know what you’re talking about, it’s pronounced Castaway “key,” not “kay.” And if you want a beach chair, get off the ship and onto the beach no later than 9:30 a.m. There is a tram that makes stops at the three main beach areas.

And there are a few important things to bring with you: sunscreen, sunglasses, bottled water and beach toys. We brought our own reusable water bottles on this trip, so we filled them that morning at the complimentary drink stations on the ship. Towels are provided to you after you disembark. You can buy bottles of water on the island, but this can get pricey. Sunscreen, beach toys, goggles, etc. are available for sale at the two gift shops if you don’t have them, but why pay when you can bring your own?

Castaway Ray's Stingray Adventure sign on Disney's Castaway Cay in the BahamasThere’s a lot more to do than just laying on the sand, like biking, snorkeling, watercraft rentals, parasailing, etc. However, there’s a charge for every activity. I was surprised and a little disappointed to learn that there was a hefty fee for Castaway Ray’s Stingray Adventure, especially since the planning DVD doesn’t let on that there’s a charge for this. There’s even a $10 rental fee for inner tubes and foam rafts. Had I planned better, I would have packed my own inflatables.

Regardless of the fees, you don’t need to bring any money with you. As long as you have your “Key to the World” card, you can charge anything you purchase to your room. The only exception is if you want to send a postcard from the island’s Post Office. It will need a Bahamian stamp, which you can purchase with cash there.

The amazing supervised children’s program isn’t just onboard the ship either; it’s on the island, too! You can drop off your kids at Scuttle’s Cove, and head off to the adult-only beach, Serenity Bay. They will be cared for, entertained, and fed by the same well-trained childcare staff, with games, activities, and water play area. There is no extra fee for this program; it’s included in your cruise fare.

Pelican Plunge water play area on Disney's Castaway Cay in the BahamasThe main water attraction is Pelican Plunge, which contains two fast-moving waterslides, two water cannons, and a large bucket that pours out overhead every few minutes. However, it’s on a dock, and you have to swim out to it — through deep water — to reach it. There are life jackets provided, and anyone under 38 inches is required to wear one to swim over to it.

Eat lunch early; it’s served from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. This is not only to avoid crowds, but also to get there before the seagulls start swarming. We heard a high-pitched whistle tone over the PA system the entire time, which presumably is used to keep the birds away. It didn’t really work, and it bothered my son and husband, who are sensitive to certain sounds. You can, however, bring your lunch tray to the beach if you want to eat there.

The two gift shops — Buy the Seashore and She Sells Sea Shells and Everything Else — carry special Castaway Cay souvenirs that you will only find there. If having unique Disney merchandise is your thing, stock up there.

What other tips do you have for visiting Disney’s Castaway Cay? Comment below!

– 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.

4 Family Activities in Chattanooga, T.N.

August 23rd, 2014

Chattanooga is a beautiful and vibrant little city located just north of the Georgia and Tennessee border. The bustling and artsy downtown has much to offer for families looking to spend some quality time together. Start your day with a stroll along the river, crossing the pedestrian bridge to Coolidge Park, and play in the splash fountains or visit the merry-go-round. After you are finished enjoying the beautiful urban park scene and Tennessee Riverfront, be sure to visit these four other family-approved attractions:

The Tennessee Aquarium
Two girls stand staring up at a Tennessee Aquarium exhibitThe Tennessee Aquarium is perfect for families with all age groups. The Aquarium itself is broken into two buildings, one featuring ocean animals and the other featuring river animals — many which are native to the state of Tennessee. Children will delight at the butterfly garden, the sea otters and the myriad of colorful and unique species of fish to be found. If you visit in the summertime with small children, be sure to pack swimsuits, as there is a small creek and splash area in front of the aquarium that is the perfect place for children to cool down. Older children will love the add-on IMAX movie feature to the aquarium ticket.

Creative Discovery Museum
Young girl plays at table in Creative Discovery Museum in Chattanooga, TennesseeThis is a hands-on museum that allows children to play, while learning about a large variety of topics, including fossils, art, music, basic science principles, and much more. Children will love running from exhibit to exhibit making crafts, putting on puppet shows, unearthing fossils, playing doctor, splashing in water, and more. Adults will also enjoy learning along with their kids and taking breaks to watch their children explore.

Ruby Falls
Young girl stands in caverns of Ruby Falls in Chattanooga, TennesseeThis is a great, light adventure activity for children and adults alike. Take a guided tour of a cave and see the nation’s largest underground waterfall available to the public. The tour consists of a half-mile walk to the falls and a half-mile walk back, while navigating natural terrain. The tour has a few stairs and narrow pathways and does not accommodate strollers. Bring a carrier if visiting with an infant, and have children wear comfortable, closed-toe shoes.



Rock City
Side view of Rock City with people in Chattanooga, TennesseeLocated atop Lookout Mountain, this is a fun and versatile attraction for all ages. Paths and trails wind through natural beauty and provide awe-inspiring views. A favorite among families is the trail through an enchanted garden that features gnomes and fairy-tale themes. The famous see-seven-states view, rock formations, waterfalls and caverns make this the total package attraction. Some of the trails are not handicap and stroller accessible, but there are trails that strollers and wheelchairs are able to trek in order to see the gardens and enjoy the views.

Recommended Hotel: The Chattanoogan

– Hilarye Fuller

Hilarye Fuller is a mama to three little girls, children’s book author and travel and lifestyle blogger at Dotting the Map.

Family Fun at the 23rd Annual North Country Moose Festival in New Hampshire

August 22nd, 2014

Moose in the wildLooking for something fun to do with the kids this weekend? Today kicks off the start of the 23rd Annual North Country Moose Festival in New Hampshire. Yes, you read that right — Moose Festival! Festivities begin today with the Street Fair in downtown Colebrook, NH., and continues tomorrow and Sunday with a Moose Stew Cook Off, Moose Calling Contest, live music, food and craft vendors, and more. Plus, plan a weeklong vacation in the area and enjoy the 144th Annual Lancaster Fair, which runs from Aug. 27 to Sept. 1, for rides, food, live music, contests and more.

The 23rd Annual Moose Festival offers families free admission with the donation of a non-perishable food item and then three days of family fun. Start your weekend with the Street Fair at 3 p.m. and check out the various local vendors, the Uncommon Folk Band, Moose Cruise Classic Car Parade and more. A free Kidz Korner will be set up at the Tillotson Center on Carriage Lane from 3 to 6 p.m. and a ventriloquist and magic show will take place at 4 p.m.

On Saturday, families can enjoy activities across two towns — Canaan, V.T., and Colebrook, N.H. Enjoy a Moose Watchers Breakfast between 7 and 10 a.m. in Canaan and then head to the Country Fair. Admission to the fair is $12 for a family of four (two kids under 15) and will host craft and food vendors, a Kidz Korner, the Moose Stew Cook Off, a Maple Syrup Tasting Contest, and more. In Colebrook, N.H., families can wake up with the Murphy the Moose’s Trail Run at 9 a.m. and then wind down in the evening with a performance by Alex Smith of the Mountain Folk Band.

Sunday marks the last day of the festival with events and activities across three towns — Pittsburg, N.H., West Stewartstown, N.H., and Colebrook, N.H. Fuel up for the day in West Stewartstown with a breakfast at St. Albert’s Hall. Then visit the Maple Ridge Farm in Pittsburg for animal visits, live music, the farm museum and more between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Finally, bring the family to Colebrook for a summer picnic ($5 per meal) and a concert at 7 p.m.

If your family decides to stick around for the Lancaster Fair be sure to check out the horse shows, pig scramble, truck pull, demolition derby, food vendors, live music and more. Admission is $15 per adult and free for children under 42 inches tall. Parking is free. The festival runs from Wednesday, Aug. 27 to Monday, Sept. 1, 2014

For more information on the Moose Festival, visit the North Country Chamber of Commerce website. For more information on the Lancaster Festival, visit the Lancaster Fair website.

– Hilarey Wojtowicz

A Kid-Friendly Visit to the Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site

August 16th, 2014

Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site on a sunny dayOn a recent visit to Hyde Park in the Hudson Valley, we took our son for a tour of Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site. It’s a remarkable property that was built more than one hundred years ago in 1898 by Frederick Vanderbilt, grandson of railroad magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt.

The tour took us to see about 15 of the 50-room Classical style mansion. One of eight heirs to his family’s fortune, Frederick purchased the property in 1895 and hired architect Charles McKim to decorate a “country house” in which the family could entertain guests during the spring and fall. He also used the property as a “gentleman’s farm,” often spending hours among its gardens and specimen trees. Beautiful pieces of art and sculpture are interspersed around the house and in the gardens. There are also pieces of grand antique furniture, Venetian ceilings, 15th century tapestries, gorgeous vases, Renaissance chairs, 16th century Florentine chests and rooms lined with gold and marble throughout the drawing room, bedrooms, library, and walls lining the stairs. We also went downstairs to the kitchen and saw where the servants used to live and work, which was very reminiscent of Downton Abbey.

Our guide told us tales about the lives of the Vanderbilt family, which kept my son interested, and on his toes. After the tour, we ventured outside to take photos of the stunning views of the Hudson River and the spectacular gardens. I could see spending more time there in the future, as the grounds are heavenly and there is so much to do in the area, including the Culinary Institute of America, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Home and great hiking opportunities.

After the tour, we ventured outside to take photos of the stunning views of the Hudson River and the spectacular gardens. I could see spending more time there in the future, as the grounds are heavenly and there is so much to do in the area, including the Culinary Institute of America, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Home and great hiking opportunities.

We got to the mansion 30 minutes before the last tour left for the day at 4 p.m. Tours are required in order to enter the mansion and the guide takes large groups in for each one, so it’s not hard to get a space on one. Children 12 and under are free. Older children and adults cost $10 each. The tour lasts about an hour and is very kid-friendly. The tour’s combination of architecture, history, antique, history, Italian gardens and amazing scenery (the mansion sits on the banks of the Hudson River) make it an interesting experience for everyone. They have a shop with coffee and cookies if anyone gets hungry.

If you’re heading to the Hudson Valley soon, I highly recommend a stop to the Vanderbilt Mansion. It’s a day of history, education and amazing beauty.

– Holly Fink

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