Archive for the ‘Family-Friendly Destinations’ category

Cozumel with Kids: Off the Beaten Path Attractions

July 29th, 2014

While we visited Cozumel, we wanted to get off the beaten path after a day seeing the nearby attractions. We had the opportunity to leave the terra firma of Cozumel twice. We took a boat to the neighboring Isla Pasion, and we explored the underwater world off its shores in a real submarine.

Passion Island / Isla Pasión
Some of Cozumel’s best beaches aren’t on the hotel properties. Instead, you can visit beach clubs on both the west and (less crowded) east side of the island. For a fee, you’ll get access to the water and beach chairs and hammocks, and changing facilities. In many cases, there will also be a playground and water play equipment, and a bar or restaurant. One of these — Passion Island — is actually a small private island one mile off the coast of Cozumel, and only accessible by boat. It’s also one of the best beaches you may find anywhere, and completely worth the excursion.

When you arrive on Passion Island, either by a leisurely catamaran sail or a heart-pumping speed boat, you pass through a small collection of thatched-roof structures, including a casual restaurant and bar, a few shops for souvenirs and hair braiding, and even a small “spa” dispensing massages. Beyond that are rows of covered palapas with hammocks swinging underneath. From there, it’s about 50 feet across cool white sand to the calm aquamarine water.

Once you’re in the clear Caribbean Sea, there are even more hammocks hanging low enough so that you end up lying indulgently in the water! For the kids, there are inflatable structures you can climb on. My teenage son loved the challenge of trying to get across its long arm, although he looked like a competitor on the show “Wipe Out,” and quickly ended up in the surf.

The best feature for younger kids is the supervised play area on the beach, which included a play house, basketball nets, a row of painting easels, and even some hoop toss games.

Your admission fee to Passion Island is actually a daily “all-inclusive” fee, which includes food and beverages. The attentive wait staff will bring you drinks on the beach. When it’s time for a bite, the chef prepares not only basics like burgers and chicken fingers, but delicious fish dishes and fresh guacamole.

Atlantis Submarine
Cozumel has become one of the world’s most popular scuba diving and snorkeling destination, due to its location on the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, a 13-mile-long, 11,000-acre protected coral reef system. It’s the world’s second largest barrier reef, second only to the great reef in Australia.

If you want a different vantage point than what you can see through a pair of goggles, consider taking a ride on the Atlantis Submarine, a true submersible vessel that brings you to depths of more than 100 feet to get up close views of the reef’s underwater life.

Your submarine dive adventure begins on board a boat that takes you along Cozumel’s west coast to the dive site, where you climb into the submarine. Inside, the vessel seats nearly 50 people, and it’s completely climate controlled. The crew will explain, in both English and Spanish, what you’re seeing during the 45-minute excursion. There are also helpful illustrated cards hanging near each window with pictures identifying the most common fish that live in these waters. Through the large circular windows, we saw sponges, colorful fish like Red Snapper, Queen Angle Fish, and Yellowfin Grouper, eels, giant hermit crabs, and so many different types of corals. Depending on the season, you may see sharks and stingrays.

The visibility is amazing, especially when there are no clouds and the sunlight reaches the bottom. We reached El Pared, or “The Wall,” a drop off where the depths reach 2,000 feet, then turned around. A high point was gliding alongside the shipwreck Felipe, through which several scuba divers were swimming, their location obvious by the stream of bubbles from their tanks.

– 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.

Cozumel with Kids: Popular Attractions in Town

July 22nd, 2014

On our family’s recent trip to Cozumel, Mexico, we enjoyed a variety of activities, on land and in the water. We stayed in town, as well as got off the beaten path. Here are some of the most popular things to do and see in town.

Chankanaab Adventure Beach Park
The closest thing Cozumel has to a theme park is also the most popular local attraction — Chankanaab Adventure Beach Park. You can easily spend an entire day here, enjoying activities on land and in the water. We took a guided tour of Mayan ruin replicas to learn more about this major part of the local history. There is also a crocodile exhibit, sea lion shows, gardens, a spa, and even a tequila–tasting exhibit for adults.

You can cool off in the pool, or in the calm saltwater inlet. Cozumel is known as a scuba diving destination for a reason, and you can get a better look at its beautiful underwater marine life here by renting snorkel equipment, or taking a guided scuba diving or “snuba” excursion.
Chankanaab Park is home to more than 20 bottlenose dolphins, and there are several daily dolphin shows included in the admission fee. However, for an additional fee, you can also cross “kiss a dolphin” off your bucket list by participating in the dolphin encounter, managed by the onsite Dolphin Discovery.

Dolphin Discovery
This experience was easily the highlight of our entire trip. We were separated into small groups, and Gustavo, one of the dolphin trainers, brought us onto a submerged platform within one of the dolphin pens where “Noel” and “Chek” were swimming. He provided a lot of facts about dolphins in a way our 7-year-old daughter would understand. They average 500 pounds, and have about 78 conical teeth they use to grab onto their food, although they swallow it whole. They can swim up to 25 mph, and make a variety of sounds through their blowholes.

There are different levels of “experiences” at various price points. For younger children, you may want to try the “Encounter.” The dolphins will let you rub their bellies and give them kisses. During the “Swim” experience, you get to hold on to the dorsal fins of dolphins to your left and right, and let them pull you through the water. Our daughter was just old enough to do this, with a life jacket and a lifeguard in the water nearby. You can also let them push your feet up and across the surface of the water while you balance upright for the ride of your life! Our 14-year-old loved this.

Cozumel Island Museum
I think it’s important on any family trip, even when we’re visiting a leisurely tropical island, to work in some educational attraction so my kids can appreciate the local history and culture. The Museo de Isla Cozumel (Cozumel Island Museum) in downtown San Miguel is a small, two-story museum in a beautiful historic building. The exhibits, with signage in both English and Spanish, include the island’s history, from Mayan to present time, as well as work by Mexican artists. The section my kids enjoyed the most was about the native eco-system, and featured a wide, black light diorama of underwater marine life.

You’ll only really need about an hour here, and plan for the morning or late afternoon when it’s still relatively cool, as there’s no air conditioning in most of the building. The museum also includes an onsite café with specials, so you can have lunch or dinner there.

From the museum, you’re just a few blocks away from San Miguel’s main plaza. From the square with its historic yellow clock tower, several good shopping streets fan out in all directions. You’ll find all types of arts and crafts, silver jewelry, apparel, local specialties like vanilla and habanero hot sauce, and all the typical souvenirs. You can pay in either U.S. dollars or Mexican pesos. On slow days, when there are no cruise ship passengers in town, the market vendors may be willing to negotiate prices with you.

– 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.

Classic vs. Contemporary: Poconos Resorts for Families

July 19th, 2014

I’ve always been a beach girl. Growing up, summer day trips consisted of driving to the Jersey Shore. It never meant a hike in the mountains or a canoe trip down the Delaware River. Luckily though, this past week I was able to spend a night in the Poconos and experience the quiet environment and outdoor adventure that comes with the territory.

While in the area, I visited two family-friendly resorts, both of which offered fun for all ages, yet each was unique in its own way. With historical charm spread throughout the entirety of the classic Shawnee Inn and Golf Resort, and modern, contemporary (and luxurious) touches at the Bushkill Inn & Conference Center, it could be difficult to choose which to book for your mountain getaway. Either way, a stay in the Poconos is sure to please everyone in the family and is something every beachgoer (like me) should see at least once in their life.

Upon entering the grounds of the Shawnee Inn and Golf Resort, which was built in 1911, families will find a 27-hole golf course, tennis courts, a beach volleyball court, large green areas for lounging, fire pits for campfires and a grand, double-door entrance lined with a porch that stretches in both directions and can seat many during sunsets. Inside, black and white photos of legendary actors and celebrities like Jackie Gleason decorate the walls and the fireplace, leather chairs and dark wood floors give it a traditional mountain resort feel. Parents will fall in love with the décor and the easiness of the entire property (all of which is walkable) and kids will enjoy swimming in the indoor pool or the Delaware River; learning how to shoot an arrow during the archery lesson; or cooking S’mores over the campfire each night. The simplicity of the inn adds to its charm and families can’t go wrong with the Shawnee Inn.

At the Bushkill Inn & Conference Center, opened in 2012, the modern entrance, with its sleek colors and textures, caught my eye immediately. Guestrooms can sleep up to eight and all have mini-fridges and free Wi-Fi, not to mention a TV embedded in the bathroom mirror. With complimentary amenities lining the hotel’s property, such as paddleboats, a large pond for fishing, basketball and tennis courts, a sand volleyball court, archery area, a playground and its indoor and outdoor pools (which are right next to each other, making a sudden storm nothing to worry about), families will have everything they need to have fun. Plus, the Inn is just minutes from the popular hiking area, Bushkill Falls (“The Niagara of Pennsylvania”) and kids can enjoy S’mores by the fire pits, ice cream socials in the rec room and movie nights. For those families who want to enjoy outdoor activities and return to luxury accommodations for a good night’s sleep, the contemporary Bushkill Inn might be for you.

Regardless of where you stay in the Poconos, enjoy the outdoors and its beauty, which can be seen and experienced at both the classic and contemporary resorts. And if you’ve never been there before, expand your horizons like I did — you (and your family) won’t regret it.

– Hilarey Wojtowicz

An Adirondack Christmas in July

July 15th, 2014

Can’t wait for the holidays? Head to the North Pole – in New York that is. The Adirondacks are home to North Pole, New York, and this summer families can enjoy a celebration months before the man in red comes down the chimney.

Santa’s Workshop in North Pole, NY has been entertaining and bringing families together since 1949. And with the annual Christmas in July, families can enjoy more activities and fun at the attraction without the snow and cold weather. Spend an hour or a day getting in the holiday spirit with your family this month, but we recommend making it a two-day visit. Choose from one of three, two-day experiences in July and enjoy these great activities.

Day 1
Savor a family meal with Santa Clause at 5:30 p.m. at Mother Hubbard’s Restaurant on the day of your arrival. And when dinner is done, cook S’mores over the campfire while singing Jingle Bells and other classic Christmas carols.

Day 2
After a great night’s sleep in a family-friendly hotel in the Adirondacks, return to Santa’s Workshop in the morning for breakfast with holiday characters, like Rudolph and Santa’s elves. Afterwards, visit the Reindeer Barn, ride the Candy Cane Express, see Tannebaum the Talking Christmas Tree, tour Storybook village and more.

The two-day experience includes special Christmas amenities, too. Take home a family ornament and candle, commemorative reindeer shoe, Christmas bells, a stuffed animal and personalized Santa hats and stockings.

The two-day Christmas in July Experience is available for families July 15 to 16, July 22 to 23, and July 29 to 30, 2014. The Experience costs $79.99 per adult, $129.99 per child between 2 and 16 and $65.99 per child under 2 years.

For families interested in a one-day visit to Santa’s Workshop, visit July 1 through Aug. 30, 2014, Tuesday through Saturday, between 10 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. for all of the holiday fun.

For more information, visit the North Pole NY website.

– Hilarey Wojtowicz

6 Festivals for Families in Honor of Ice Cream and Blueberry Month

July 14th, 2014

July is Ice Cream Month and Blueberry Month and what better way is there to celebrate than with delicious festivals in honor of the two tasty treats? Enjoy one of these edible events around the country this month and scoop up your favorite flavor or pick a few berries and enjoy some family fun.

New Jersey State Ice Cream Festival
Saturday, July 19, 2014
Enjoy rides, games and entertainment — oh and lots of ice cream of course — at the 12th Annual New Jersey State Ice Cream Festival. See which creamery serves up the best in the state or compete to see if you or your child can devour a bowl of the sweet stuff the fastest. Admission and parking are free. The event will be held on Washington Street in Toms River, N.J. from 3 to 8 p.m.

For more information, visit the Downtown Toms River website.

Farrell’s Splendiferously Superific Summer Spectacular Ice Cream Eating Challenge
Sunday, July 20, 2014
After weeks of qualifying challenges, the 5th Annual Farrell’s Splendiferously Superific Summer Spectacular Ice Cream Eating Challenge Championship Event will take place at Farrell’s in Downtown Brea, California. See who can lick the bowl clean the fastest and then enjoy a family-friendly festival with rides, games, prizes and entertainment for all ages. The contest benefits the Make a Wish Foundation and the Children’s Hospital of Orange County. The Championship Event begins at 11 a.m. and the festival will follow just outside Farrell’s in Downtown Brea on South Brea Boulevard.

For more information, visit Farrell’s USA website.

Chincoteague Blueberry Festival
Friday, July 25 to Sunday July 27, 2014
Eat blueberries and blueberry ice cream and blueberry pie and everything blueberry at the Chincoteague Blueberry Festival on Chincoteague Island in Virginia. Enjoy music and arts and crafts during the three-day festival, now celebrating its 27th year. Admission is $5 per adult, per day and $1 per child, per day (12 and under). Two- and three-day passes are $8 per person, and $10 per person, respectively. The event will be held at the Chincoteague Center and is open daily from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

For more information, visit the Chincoteague Blueberry Festival website.

Vermont’s Deerfield Valley Blueberry Festival
Friday July 25 to Sunday Aug. 3, 2014
Enjoy blueberries, music, food and blue vintage cars at the Deerfield Valley 7th Annual Blueberry Festival. Spread across three Vermont towns — Wilmington, Whitingham and Dover — across 10 days, the festival is sure to have something fun for every family. See the Big Blue Parade, eat lots of blueberry dishes and pick your own blueberries to take home. On Aug. 2, be sure to stop by Readsboro Central School for a special children’s blueberry-inspired reading program at 10 a.m. The Deerfield Valley Blueberry Festival is open daily from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

For more information, visit the Deerfield Valley Blueberry Festival website.

Atlanta Ice Cream Festival
Saturday, July 26, 2014
Dive into a cold bowl of ice cream in Atlanta this summer at the 4th Annual Atlanta Ice Cream Festival. The event will also feature health and wellness agencies, fitness gurus and other vendors reminding families to eat well (before and after that sundae). Musical performances will entertain guests and an ice cream eating competition will take place. The Atlanta Ice Cream Festival will be held at Piedmont Park from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

For more information, visit the Atlanta Ice Cream Festival website.

Iron River Lions Blueberry Festival
Saturday, July 26 and Sunday, July 27, 2014
The Iron River Lions Blueberry Festival in Wisconsin is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year with a two-day festival that is perfect for families. Head to Iron River’s Moon Lake Park, located just under one hour from Lake Superior, Minn., for the festival and enjoy contests, concession stands, arts and crafts, a blueberry pie eating contest, musical performances, fireworks and more. On Sunday, a blueberry parade will take place at 12:15 p.m. Festival hours are from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.

For more information, visit the Iron River Lions website.

– Hilarey Wojtowicz

Summer Magic Tree House Experience at The Plaza Hotel in New York City

July 13th, 2014

New York City’s famous luxury hotel is once again offering families summer activities that are fun and educational. The Plaza Hotel is partnering with Random House for the third year in a row to offer the Magic Tree House Experience starting July 1 and running through Sept. 30, 2014.

Inspired by the Magic Tree House book series, the experience includes family-friendly activities centered around author Mary Pope Osborne’s newest book, “Midnight on the Moon” and the hotel’s history and surrounding landmarks. Book the Magic Tree House Experience Package, pick up your Magic Tree House passport and Fact Tracker and set out on a journey through the Big Apple with your family this summer.

Magic Tree House Experience Package
Offered year-round, with activities and events changing quarterly, the Magic Tree House Package includes luxurious accommodations, one Magic Tree House Passport per person, a special Magic Tree House pin for young adventurers to wear and a New York City welcome amenity. Guests can also get a Space Fact Checker and are encouraged to visit the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History. Remember to get your passport stamped at every attraction in order to remember your adventure! Pick up a Magic Tree House Fact Tracker for even more activities and family fun centered around the book series. Package rates start from $825 per night.

Families who cannot participate in this summer’s Magic Tree House Experience can look forward to booking the package in the fall and winter when the experience will include all new activities and Magic Tree House themes.

For more information on The Plaza Hotel, read our hotel review. For more information on the Magic Tree House book series, visit the Magic Tree House website.

– Hilarey Wojtowicz