Archive for the ‘Family-Friendly Destinations’ category

A Day in the Port of Nassau With a Teenager

September 2nd, 2014

The Disney Dream cruise ship in the Port of Nassau in the BahamasOur family’s recent four-day cruise on the Disney Dream brought us to the port of Nassau in the Bahamas. Like any other cruise, there was a multitude of shore excursions offered, for a fee, including visiting the Atlantis resort, touring Ardastra Gardens, visiting Graycliff Chocolatier, or enjoying a beach day on Blue Lagoon Island. I didn’t want to spend an entire day on Nassau, since we really enjoyed the amenities onboard and only had a few days to do so.

Instead, my 14-year old son and I spent three hours exploring the vicinity near the port on foot. We got to see a few local sites, find a Wi-Fi hotspot at the local Dunkin’ Donuts, and be back on the ship in time for a late lunch.

Pirates of Nassau Museum
I wanted to visit the Pirates of Nassau Museum, which takes up two large floors at the intersection of King and George streets. This self-guided attraction tells the story of local pirate history by recreating scenes on a pirate ship from 1720.

Exhibit inside the Pirates of Nassau MuseumYour eyes need time to adjust to the dim light in the first cavernous space you enter, and then you realize that you’re looking down the long side of a pirate ship’s hull. It’s a recreation, obviously, but a really well-made one. You enter at the end, and walk through several rooms—the mates’ cabins, kitchen, tavern, etc.—set up with mannequins and props. Signage provides the background on what happened in these rooms, as well as the pirate lifestyle.

Heading upstairs, we walked through a short collection of artifacts, and thought the exit was near, until an actor dressed in pirate costume jumped out from behind a black caption yelling “Arrrrr!,” and taking two years off my life. He directed us into a room with another dark set of Blackbeard’s ship, and, still in character, told the tale of this infamous pirate who sailed through this part of the Caribbean.

To supplement the sets, there are also galleries of artifacts and entertaining “Did you know?” games along the walls providing the truth behind pirate lore. I found out that yes indeed, pirates often kept parrots as pets. But I also found out that it’s a falsehood that pirates created treasure maps with “X” marking the spot.

We both found this attraction well worth the price of admission ($12 for adults; $6 for children ages 4 to 17), but we agreed that my 7-year-old daughter would not have liked the part where the pirate jumped out at us. The museum is open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday; and 9 a.m. to noon on Sunday.

Nassau Straw Market
Overhead view of the Straw Market in Nassau, BahamasOn the way back to the ship, we walked back down Bay Street to the main entrance of the famous Nassau Straw Market; a collection of vendors that fills several aisles in a stuffy indoor space. You’ll find souvenirs such as hand-woven straw hats, bags, mats, dolls, conch shell jewelry and wood carvings. You can pay with U.S. or Bahamian money, and vendors are willing to negotiate. It’s open every day from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. My daughter would have loved the purses made with images of Disney princesses and Hello Kitty on them. While I love to shop for locally-made crafts, my son was not as willing.

Our last stop was a souvenir shop on Bay Street for a quick hit of glorious air conditioning, a snow globe for my daughter’s collection, and a Christmas tree ornament. We buy one wherever we travel!

– 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.

Five Last-Minute Labor Day Events for Families

September 1st, 2014

A young boy and young girl sitting in front of an American flagIf you didn’t make plans in honor of Labor Day, then you’re in luck! We’ve found a few great last-minute events across the U.S. for you and the kids to attend in celebration of the last weekend of summer.

Bucks County, Pa.
If you’re not already invited to a Labor Day barbecue, head to Sesame Place in Bucks County, Pa., for a special kid-friendly cookout! Make your reservation now for the 5 p.m. BBQ with all of your kids’ favorite Sesame Street characters. Enjoy a fun-filled day in the park and then head to dinner ay Big Bird’s Riverside Pavilion, with music, activities and fireworks. Prices start from $27 for all guests 10 and older, and from $17 for children between 2 and 9; kids under 2 are free. Park admission is also required. For more information, visit the Sesame Place website.

San Diego
The U.S. Sand Sculpting Challenge has been going on all weekend long in San Diego and today is the last day! If you haven’t already visited the amazing sand art, then head there today. Sculptors come from around the world for this annual competition. Enjoy live music, dancers, circus performers, magicians and other kid-friendly activities. All events and activities begin at 9 a.m. at the B Street Pier and admission is affordable at $10 per adult and $7 per child. For more information, visit the U.S. Sand Sculpting Challenge website.

Asbury Park, N.J.
Head to Asbury Park, N.J., along the Jersey Shore, for a day of live music and food at the Labor Day BBQ, hosted by the Boys and Girls Club of Monmouth County and The Passion Group. Entertainment, games, rides, food and more will be going on all afternoon, from noon to 6 p.m., at Bradley Park, right across from the historic Asbury Park Convention Center. Plus, stay for the fireworks spectacular over the water at 9 p.m. Admission is just $5 and children under 12 are free. For more information, see the event listing here.

Fort Worth, Texas
Enjoy an educational and fun-filled day outdoors with the animals of the Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge today. The center is hosting four animal meet and greets today at 10:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1 p.m. and 2 p.m., where visitors can learn about the animal ambassadors and their natural history. A few of the animals that you and your family might see include alligators, snakes, birds and butterflies. Enjoy hiking one of the center’s many trails before or after the meet and greet, too. The event is on a first-come, first-served basis, and is free for guests with general admission to the center. Admission is $5 for adults and kids 13 and older, and $2 for children between 3 and 12; kids 2 and under are free. For more information, visit the Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge website.

Tampa, Fla.
If you live in or are visiting the Tampa area today, head to the neighboring town of Brandon, Fla., for the Labor Day Picnic and Bluegrass Festival. Enjoy live music from two different bluegrass bands, plus affordable drinks and food all day long. A bounce house, arts and crafts, games and more are available for kids, too. The event runs from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Brandon Elks Lodge and admission is free for everyone! For more information, see the event listing here.

– Hilarey Wojtowicz

Four Fun Ferry Rides for Families

August 31st, 2014

Lake Express Ferry crosses Lake MichiganWhile on my way from Stone Harbor, N.J., to Chincoteague Island, Va., this past July, my boyfriend and I decided to take the route that allowed us a break from driving. We crossed the Delaware Bay on the Cape May-Lewes Ferry and enjoyed the experience so much. Families with children lined the outside deck and pets were allowed onboard, as well. A snack bar kept everyone full during the 90-minute ride and parents could even order a cocktail at the (affordable) bar. It was a great break from driving and it offered scenic views that were definitely picture-worthy. Here are four other family-friendly ferries to ride with your kids during your travels this fall.

Lake Champlain’s Scenic Crossing
Board the ferry in Burlington, V.T., or Port Kent, N.Y., and take the 10-mile trip across Lake Champlain, complete with scenic views of the surrounding mountains and fall foliage. The ferry has a gift shop with souvenirs, T-shirts, sweatshirts and more for both Vermont and New York, as well as a snack bar with hot and cold drinks. The trip will take approximately one hour and vehicles are permitted (fee). Ferries run daily and passenger prices are $8 for adults and $3.10 for children between 6 and 12; kids under 6 ride for free. For more information, visit the Lake Champlain Ferries website.

Hyannis to Nantucket Ferry
If you’re exploring New England this fall, take the ferry from Hyannis to Nantucket, or vice versa, and take in the views of fall foliage, lighthouses and more with your family. Choose from Hy-Line Cruises or Steamship Authority ferry rides, both of which operate from the same port, but only the latter offers transportation for vehicles. Both have onboard refreshments and souvenirs. Special packages are offered where children can ride for free and the ferries often host special events or themed-cruises across the water, such as a Sunday Ice Cream Float, where passengers can build their own Ben & Jerry’s ice cream sundaes! Rates vary for Hy-Line Cruises and Steamship Authority. The traditional ferry ride from Hyannis to Nantucket takes a little more than two hours one way, with the high-speed ferry rides lasting about one hour. For more information, visit the Hyannis to Nantucket Ferry website.

San Francisco Bay Ferry
If you’re visiting San Francisco this fall, hop on a ferry across the bay for a fun trip to another area of the state. The Ferry goes to eight different places along the bay, including Vallejo, Angel Island, Pier 41, Oakland, AT&T Park, Alameda, Harbor Bay and South San Francisco. Passengers can grab a bite to eat or a drink at the onboard bar and snack shop and can relax while cruising the bay in style. Bicycles are allowed, but cars are not. Rates start from $6.25 for adults and $3.50 for children 5 to 12; kids under 5 are free when accompanied by an adult. Trip lengths range from just 10 minutes (Alameda to Oakland) to one hour (San Francisco Ferry Building to Vallejo). For more information visit the San Francisco Bay Ferry website.

Lake Express – Lake Michigan High-Speed Ferry
Make the trip from Milwaukee to Muskegon across Lake Michigan on the Lake Express Ferry. Families are welcome and the ferry offers spacious seating, snacks and drinks, and free wireless Internet. Take in the views of Lake Michigan during the 2.5-hour trip and take a break from driving – vehicles are allowed onboard (fee). Passenger rates start from $139 for adults, round-trip, and from $44 for children between 5 and 17, round-trip; kids 4 and under are free. For more information, visit the Lake Express website.

– Hilarey Wojtowicz

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

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.