Archive for the ‘Family-Friendly Destinations’ category

Dominion Riverrock Festival Returns in May

April 12th, 2014

For fun-loving, adventure-seeking teens, Richmond, Va.’s Dominion Riverrock outdoor sports and music festival may be an ideal weekend getaway. The festival, which takes place May 16 to 18, will be held on Brown’s Island.

Sporting events include an Adventure Race, mountain and freestylee biking, bouldering, kayaking, stand up paddling, a mud run and a river trail run. Free concerts take place Friday evening through Sunday afternoon, with local and international acts performing.

On Thursday, May 15, the free 5Point Film Festival presents “Walkabout Outfitter” at the Byrd Theater, which takes a look at adventurous sports.

While in Richmond, families can also enjoy the Richmond Zoo, the Science Museum of Virginia or Kings Dominion amusement park.

–Lissa Poirot

Adventure Sundays: A Weekend in Lake Placid

April 6th, 2014

It’s been a rough winter for my family in Pennsylvania, and you would have thought we would have preferred to head south for a winter getaway. Indeed, we thought we were a little crazy to head north, but after the Winter Olympics wrapped up, we were in the Olympic spirit and decided to head to Lake Placid in New York’s Adirondacks for a quick getaway. And we hardly even noticed the cold!

We arrived in Lake Placid on Friday afternoon, pulling into the quaint little town situated, oddly, on Mirror Lake (Lake Placid is actually just a little further up the road!). Our hotel was located right on the lake, the Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort. The cute resort afforded scenic views from the lobby, where we could see little ice skaters on the lake preparing for their hockey tournament taking place that weekend. As a pet-friendly hotel, we were able to bring our lab, Ripley, along for the trip, and we were given a condo-style room with ground-floor access so letting Ripley outside and taking her on walks was easy. The kids loved their bedroom with bunk beds, and we also had a king bedroom, eat-in-kitchen and living room with gas fireplace (some of the rooms are lucky enough to have wood-burning), and a large bathroom with a tub.

After unpacking, we bundled up and headed into town. The hotel is located along the main street, which is filled with shops and restaurants. Although the temperatures were 17 degrees, it just felt like a brisk walk as we got acquainted with the town. Of course, it doesn’t matter what time of year it is, when my kids see Ben & Jerry’s, they must have some; it is a vacation tradition. So we walked around town with ice cream cones, visiting the numerous shops filled with Adirondack trinkets and decor. Crepes are a must at Big Mountain Deli & Creperie, where they have 46 different sandwiches representing the 46 different peaks in the Adirondacks. (I would have preferred 46 different types of crepes, but then again, I would never be able to try them all!) There will be a line, no matter what time of day, but wait in it and try the awesome crepes!

On Saturday morning, we visited the hotel for breakfast, again with views of the frozen lake, and then headed to Whiteface Mountain, just down the road, for some time on the slopes. The kids were entered into a ski school program to learn how to snowboard. Although the ski instructors were great and the kids had fun, I was disappointed that they didn’t offer them a mid-size slope. It was either take the carpet and make a small run or hop on the lift for a large green run. They have done better at other mountains, and while we thought the mountain was nice, it was a bit crowded and didn’t offer many blue trails.

After skiing, we decided to visit some of the Olympic sites. Lake Placid is home to the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics, where the Miracle on Ice took place (when USA beat the favorite-to-win Russia in the semifinals). A large complex with ice skating is located just opposite the Golden Arrow, so we walked to the Olympic museum housed inside. It’s a small museum but it was very interesting to see medals from winter and summer Olympics, showcasing different countries and in varying sizes and shapes. (Not all are round!) The museum houses Olympic athletes’ clothing from Opening Ceremonies, Closing Ceremonies and their competitions, and various equipment from bobsleds to ice skates are on display. A large television in the back runs the Miracle on Ice hockey game on constant loop all day, as well.

After visiting the museum, we walked to the nearby Lake Placid Brewery, which is housed in an old church and the most popular of all the restaurants in town. (The wait was an hour, but they had a play area for the kids.) This place must be packed again in the summer, with their front lawn facing Mirror Lake and two balconies also providing outdoor seating.

Back at the hotel, the kids wanted nothing more than to go swimming in the indoor pool. The oversized pool area received a new look recently, and provided Adirondack chairs for parents watching their kids play, and two large hot tubs. The changing rooms didn’t provide any place to leave items and didn’t provide much, but served their purpose so we didn’t have to walk outside in our swimming suits.

On Sunday morning, we decided to visit the Olympic Ski Jump attraction, which is where the 1980 ski jumpers flew through the air. Visitors can take an elevator up to the top of the highest jump to get a sense of just how high the athletes fly, and while we visited, there were a number of jumpers practicing and training that we could watch take off from various heights. The nearby Bobsled Experience gives visitors a chance to ride in a bobsled with a trained driver, allowing normal folk to experience the thrill. The kids were just a hair to short for the ride and we adults? Well, we chickened out. (There is also a skeleton experience, but traveling 30 miles per hour, face first, was equally scary!)

Overall, it was a nice weekend jaunt, and the area was so quaint we would love to return in the summer, when the leaves are on the trees and the lake is crystal clear.

Tip: If planning to visit the Olympic sites, purchase the Olympic Passport for $32 for free admission to multiple sites and discounts on the more expensive attractions, like the bobsled.

–Lissa Poirot

5 Family Escapades on Prince Edward Island

March 31st, 2014

As someone obsessed with ‘Anne of Green Gables,’ I couldn’t wait to introduce my family of five to Anne’s dreamy ocean home, Prince Edward Island (P.E.I.). Secretly, I was also a little worried: Would my outdoorsy guys (a teenager, a 12-year-old and their manly father) appreciate it as much as my 9-year-old girl?

I shouldn’t have worried. P.E.I was as magical and otherworldly as I remembered from my first trip, and better yet, it was packed with rugged adventures to thrill each family member – even the teenager.

We all found plenty to adore in the island the Mi’kmaq called “land cradled by waves.” Our five favorite escapades are as follows:

Hunt for Sea Glass
We quickly became addicted to the hunt for glittery treasures scattered on P.E.I.’s beaches, one of the world’s troves with more than 688 miles of coastline. Souris, on the north shore, is renowned as a choice hunting spot. With its history of shipbuilding and rum-runners, the town boasts lots of finds at low tide, a sea glass festival in the summer and several glass shops. It was there that my boys really got into the chase; when my son unearthed an elusive sky-blue piece, it was game on.

Dig for Clams
Pricy but worth it ($98 for adults, $78 for children under 12), the clam digging jaunt was a big memory-maker. We joined a boat charter of clam diggers (Tranquility Cove Adventures,, complete with captain and crew, for a four-hour ocean spree of spotting seals and fishing for crab, mussels, and lobster. Snacks, coffee, pop, and fruit are included, as are wet suits, snorkels, and goggles. The trip culminated in us donning wetsuits and raking a sandbar floor for clams. Once we had combed a pot full, we explored a nearby deserted island while the crew barbequed our catch for lunch.

Attend a “Kitchen Party”
Our music-loving family clapped our hands and stomped our feet to the raucous Celtic fiddles, bagpipes, and step-dancing at a “kitchen party” or Ceilidh (Cay-lee), one of any number held nightly on the island (ours was the Brackley Beach Ceilidh). Bonus: We found a fantastic Ceilidh within strolling distance to our cottage, Millstream Cottages and Motel, which has a pool and a huge fishing/paddleboat boat right outside our door.

Bike in Prince Edward Island National Park
Lucky us happened upon the most idyllic bike rental place, Seaside Cycle, right on the beach at P.E.I. National Park’s Covehead Wharf (regular rates: $10 per hour, $15 for four hours, $25 daily; tandem bikes: $15/$25/$45, respectively). With our daughter peddling happily in tandem with her dad, the big boys and I formed a line and cruised along a pristine trail with Atlantic waves and lighthouses on one side and woodlands on the other. We wound our way to the world famous Dalvey-by-the-Sea hotel, where we sipped iced tea on the same porch on which the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge relaxed during their post-wedding Canadian tour.

See “Anne and Gilbert”
An irresistible new stage romp—detailing the literary heroine’s college years and romance with Gilbert Blythe–joins the world’s longest running musical, “Anne of Green Gables,” as an option for a night of culture in Charlottetown. Afterwards, kids and parents can stroll through P.E.I.’s cobblestoned capitol, shopping for souvenirs.

Explore the Food Scene
Whatever you do on your island adventures, don’t miss P.E.I.’s locally fished and farmed food. It’s a foodie paradise specializing in lobster—try the touristy but good Fisherman’s Wharf Lobster Suppers in Rustico—mussels, and the tastiest French fries any of us had ever eaten. BOOMburger in Charlottetown offers fries with their juicy burgers that will make you rethink the humble spud forevermore.

–Lorilee Craker

Lorilee Craker, a native of Winnipeg, Manitoba, now resides in Grand Rapids, Mich., where she proudly drives a minivan to hockey, gymnastics, and everywhere in between. She is the author of 12 books and for over 17 years, was a freelance entertainment writer for The Grand Rapids Press. She and her husband, Doyle, have three children, Jonah, Ezra, and Phoebe.

8 Day Trips from Hershey, Pa.

March 28th, 2014

“The Sweetest Place on Earth” is rich in chocolate and history, along with amusement park fun. Hershey, Pa.’s location, however, might just be the most enticing attribute of all, as it offers easy access to other vacation-worthy destinations, from the battlefields of Gettysburg to another amusement park in small-town Elysburg.

1. Lancaster
Pennsylvania Dutch Country is just 45 minutes from Hershey, and offers a plethora of cultural fun, including Amish buggy tours. Kids especially enjoy train rides on the Strasburg Railroad, along with visits to the Choo Choo Barn. Dutch Wonderland is easily a day trip in itself, too, and features shows and rides for families with young children. New in 2014, it also offers an attraction called Exploration Island, where little tikes can search for dinosaur fossils!

When you build up a BIG appetite, head to Shady Maple Smorgasboard, a true institution in the area. Afterward, satiate your sweet tooth with a visit to the Turkey Hill Experience, where you’ll have chance to create your own ice cream flavors and sample them in a testing lab.

2. Gettysburg
Tour the historic (and famously haunted) battlefields and cemeteries of Gettysburg, where President Abraham Lincoln also delivered The Gettysburg Address in 1863. If you’re traveling with teens, you’ll especially enjoy a candlelit outing via Gettysburg Ghost Tours. Also visit The Land of Little Horses for pony and wagon rides (or simply to ogle the adorable animals), followed by a stroll through downtown Gettysburg, where charming shops, cafes and more history abound. Gettysburg is just under an hour’s drive from Hershey.

3. Harrisburg
It’s not as exciting as Lancaster and Gettysburg, but Harrisburg is right next to Hershey and offers a few museums and sites that might be of interest to your family. If you have a history buff in tow, for example, he or she will enjoy The National Civil War Museum — it has more than 4,400 artifacts, some that were once in the hands of General Robert E. Lee and President Abraham Lincoln. The whole family will like the Whitaker Centre, which features a science museum and performing arts and IMAX theaters.

Other attractions of note — especially if you live in Pennsylvania — include the Pennsylvania State Capitol and the State Museum of Pennsylvania. If you visit in January, you might also like the Pennsylvania Farm Show, which features fantastic food and a petting zoo and is held at the PA Farm Show Complex and Expo Center.

4. Roundtop Mountain Resort
Slightly closer to Hershey – about 40 minutes away – Roundtop Mountain Resort offers families the chance to ski and snowboard between visits to Hershey’s Chocolate World and The Hershey Story, should you visit during the winter months. Small in size, the resort also offers snowtubing opportunities, along with several children’s programs. And even if you visit in the summer months (the most popular time to visit Hersheypark), Roundtop Mountain Resort offers zip lining, a ropes course and paintball.

5. Indian Echo Caverns
Search for treasure in underground caves — originally inhabited by the Susquehannock Indians — at Indian Echo Caverns, located just three miles from Hershey in Hummelstown, Pa. Guided tours are 45 minutes in duration; other highlights include an authentic teepee and covered wagon for photo ops, along with a petting zoo, playground, picnic areas and a gift shop for souvenirs. Indian Echo Caverns is open daily, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Memorial Day through Labor Day, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. the remainder of the year. Admission is free for children age 2 and under, $8 for those ages 3 to 11, $14 for adults and $12 for seniors. Tip: Bring jackets (the caves’ temperature is consistently 52 degrees) and leave your bags in the car, as they are prohibited (though cameras are allowed).

6. Knoebels Amusement Resort
Nestled in the woodlands of Elysburg, Pa. and just over an hour from Hershey, Knoebels Amusement Resort is the largest free admission amusement park in America (patrons simply pay per ride; rates range from $1 to $3). It’s also one of the oldest – it opened in 1926 – with a storied past that includes the notable relocation (from San Antonio, Texas) and opening (in 1985) of The Phoenix, a wooden rollercoaster. The ride is currently one of four coasters at Knoebels, and will be joined by a fifth in 2015; the new ride, Impulse, is under construction in Germany and, upon completion, will tout a 90-foot vertical drop.

There are plenty of rides for little tikes and families to enjoy together, too, along with a giant swimming pool and waterslides. Free parking, picnic areas and entertainment are also provided. And almost as popular as the park itself are the surrounding campsites and cabins, the later of which sleep 6 to 16 guests at affordable rates – you’ll pay anywhere from $130 to $229 per night.

7. Utz Pretzel Factory
Also just over an hour from Hershey in Hanover, Pa., Utz houses a 600,000-square-foot facility with a giant observation gallery – kids love to watch (and smell) how the salty treats are made, from start to finish! Utz Pretzel Factory is open Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., though we suggest you call before your visit, as production times are subject to change. Self-guided tours are free and last 30 to 45 minutes.

8. Herr’s Factory Tour
For more treats, head to Herr’s Factory in Nottingham, Pa. (about two hours from Hershey, in the opposite direction of Utz Pretzel Factory), where you’ll enjoy a free tour of the facility, followed by samples of chips, served fresh from the production lines! Visit Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m to 3 p.m. (you can visit on Fridays, 9 to 11 a.m., but production isn’t guaranteed). Extended hours are offered the second week of July through the second week of August.

–Amanda Geronikos

FamilyFun Magazine Travel Awards Winners

March 26th, 2014

FamilyFun Magazine recently revealed its winners of its annual travel awards, surveying families across the nation on their favorite attractions. Here are the winners — see any surprises?

1. The Strong, New York
2. Hershey Park, Pennsylvania
3. Bronx Zoo, New York
4. Acadia National Park, Maine
5. New York, New York

1. Disneyland, California
2. Disney’s California Adventure, California
3. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming/Montana/Idaho
4. Yosemite National Park, California
5. SeaWorld San Diego, California

1. Disney’s Magic Kingdom, Florida
2. Universal’s Islands of Adventure, Florida
3. Orlando, Florida
4. Universal Studios, Florida
5. Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Florida

1. Cedar Point Amusement Park, Ohio
2. Mount Rushmore National Memorial, South Dakota
3. Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, Nebraska
4. Toledo Zoo, Ohio
5. Brookfield Zoo, Illinois

Tell us: What’s your favorite destination!

–Lissa Poirot

Off the Beaten Path in Daytona Beach

March 24th, 2014

Families heading to the Florida shores for spring break already know the waters are warm, the sun is shining, and the beach has plenty of room for visitors. When visiting Daytona Beach for spring break or as a side trip from Orlando, there is more than just the beach to enjoy. Take a look at the places the locals like to visit:

Sun Splash Park
Local families have come to enjoy this 4-acre splash park at the southern end of Daytona Beach. Beat the heat with an interactive water fountain, shaded playground, picnic areas, Coca Cola-sponsored “cool zone” and more. Sun Splash Park is FREE and open from sunrise to sunset.

Cracker Creek
Cracker Creek is an environmental and historical treasure just south of Daytona Beach in Port Orange. Located on the western side of scenic Spruce Creek, this 20-acre sanctuary is a natural home for a variety of endangered plants and animals best seen by boat or on foot. Visitors can paddle or tour the Creek on a variety of boat tours and sunset cruises, or via hydro bike, canoe and kayak rentals.

Dunn’s Attic & Auction House
When on the hunt for one-of-a-kind finds, visit Dunn’s Attic & Auction House. Newly opened by one of the Daytona Beach area’s staple retailers, the Dunn Family welcomes you to 12,000 square feet of shopping excitement featuring everything from furniture and jewelry to handmade gifts and collectibles. Make sure to visit Rosie’s Café brimming with breakfast and lunch items, old fashioned sodas, beer and wine. And, stop by on Saturday for Mimosa Saturdays – all mimosas just $1. Dunn’s also includes a special Artist’s Corner, featuring local artists year-round. It’s a great way to find a truly special piece to remember a vacation.

Bonfires on the Beach
If you are a true beach bum, sunset should not automatically halt fun on the sand. Bonfires on the beach offer an alternative to family bonding in a hotel room. Open to residents and visitors, Volusia County provides fire rings for bonfires free of charge on a first-come, first-served basis. Wood for the fire is not provided. Beach visitors are also allowed to bring their own bonfire pit. Fire rings are available November through April during non-sea turtle nesting seasons. The last day for a fire ring this year is April 28.

Ormond Scenic Loop and Trail
Interested in exploring some of the most beautiful natural scenery in Florida? The Ormond Scenic Loop and Trail is a must-do experience – ride, cycle or hike along 30 miles of roadways with direct access to the Intracoastal Waterway, Atlantic Ocean, Tomoka State Park and Bulow Creek State Park. The Loop also includes museums, historic public buildings and private homes.

Cinematique Theater
For a cultural night out, follow the locals to Daytona Beach’s only art-house cinema, the Cinematique Theater of Daytona. This unique cinema serves food, beer and wine while movie-goers enjoy “hard-to-find” foreign and/or independent films. As a nonprofit organization, their mission is to bring the best international, national and local independent films to Daytona Beach.

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