Archive for the ‘U.S. Travel’ category

Hang Glide USA Takes Families to New Heights

May 6th, 2015

I don’t do heights. My idea of being up in the air is to perch on a bar stool, drink in hand. So when my family recently visited Amelia Island, Florida, it was suggested that we take a light-sport aircraft flight on a trike, (a powered hang glider) via Hang Glide USA. I hesitated – aka I hesitated to allow my 12-year-old “babies” to go up. But since they were both – along with my husband – overjoyed at the notion of hang gliding, I didn’t have the heart to cancel the fun. I didn’t have the slightest intention of taking a flight, but it turned out that my husband exceeded the weight limit (220 pounds) and both boys happened to be under the weather when the big day arrived.

Wendy Irvine ready to take flight via Hang Glide USA

Since my husband and boys were grounded, I headed for the car. The next thing I knew Pilot Gene had me zipping up a flight-suit and donning a helmet that sported an intercom so he could hear me screaming… I mean talking during the flight.

Pilot Gene calmly explained his background before out flight. Over the roaring of fear in my ears I heard him say “corporate pilot,” “thousands of hours under my belt,” and “the light-sport aircraft is like my office” as in he’s as comfortable in the sky as we are in our home.

Pilot Gene assured me that if I gave the word, we’d immediately return to Earth. I could see my boys sizing me up. They’re loving kids, but I risked being toast in their eyes if I failed this little test of bravery. Next thing I knew Gene and I were in the air, serenely flying over Amelia Island and the Big Blue. Below I spied horses, wild dolphins, a well preserved Civil War fort, two hotels (the Omni and Ritz-Carlton that blend elegantly into the island), along with a sprinkling of antique B&Bs and yesteryear cottages.

Wendy Irvine getting ready to fly

I took the Introductory Discovery Flight ($99 for 20 minutes). This intro flight will show you everything I saw on Amelia Island plus Egan’s Creek where you might also spy alligators.

The Deluxe Discovery Flight ($249 for 40 minutes) takes you over most of Amelia Island and the Florida/Georgia border. You’ll fly over the St. Mary’s River and see part of Cumberland Island, Georgia, home to more than 9,800 acres of federally designated wilderness.

On the Cumberland Island Nature Tour ($250 for 50 minutes), you’ll fly over Cumberland Island — an essentially untouched wild place — that boasts the historic Dungeness Mansion ruins (circa 1783), Plum Orchard Mansion (circa 1898) and the tiny chapel where John F. Kennedy Jr. married in 1996. You’ll see wild horses, wild turkey, alligators, exotic birds, deer and dolphins.

Hang Glide USA departs from the Fernandina Beach Municipal Airport and flyers must be at least 4 feet tall to enjoy the sky ride.

I’ll admit: my landing brought me utter relief. The experience though? Fabulous. I exited the light-sport trike with a new swagger to my step. But best of all? Seeing a different — you might say heightened — glint of appreciation in my boys’ eyes. I’ll take a light-sport flight for that prize any day.

For more information and to book your flight experience, visit the Hang Glide USA website. Bonus: Book a Deluxe Discovery Flight before May 11, 2015, and receive one additional Deluxe Discovery Flight for free!

– Wendy Irvine

Wendy Irvine is a family travel writer who (usually) tosses her boys into a travel experience and watches the copy write itself. Wendy loves to tweet posts for overloaded parents who’d love a tip or three on crafting sane kid-travel. Follow her @WendyIrvine.

5 Kid-Friendly Adventures in Kauai

May 5th, 2015

Kauai is an ideal vacation spot for families on the go in Hawaii. As the northernmost and oldest geographically, Kauai is the fourth largest of the main Hawaiian Islands. It’s known for its diverse and scenic natural wonders, such as the 3,567-foot-deep Waimea Canyon and 3,000-foot-high mountain cliffs that rise from the ocean floor to the Na Pali Coast.

This family-friendly island offers so much to its visitors. There are adventures galore to be had, as the weather is ideal year-round. The difficulty can be funneling through the many activities and excursions, given your family’s varying interests, and the goal should be, like on any vacation, to find something that fits everyone’s bill. Here are five family-friendly activities in Kauai (that this writer has personally tried) so you don’t go wrong on your next trip to Kauai.

Na Pali Coast in Kauai

Na Pali Coast Tour via Kauai Sea Tours
There are really two ways to really see Kauai and this is one of them. The Na Pali Coast is absolutely beautiful and there is no way to reach its 17 miles of shoreline by car. Once on the boat, you’ll encounter dramatic scenery that includes gorgeous cliffs, sea caves and waterfalls, as well as sea animals from turtles to dolphins to whales (given the right season). The boat stops at a reef for a bit of snorkeling and the Kauai Sea Tours team knows where to find the best and most colorful fish sightings on the island.

Also important is the fact that the captain and crew are really helpful and seem to love what they do. The captain provided Hawaiian history over the loud speaker during our sail, as well as breakfast and lunch. He and his team were making sure that everyone was having a good time on the 5.5-hour excursion that we went on, especially the passengers who were prone to seasickness (tip – take Dramamine if you suspect any seasick members of the family). The ride does get bumpy, and it’s a long time to be stuck on a boat if you’re not feeling well.

The cost of the Na Pali Coast Tour half-day sail and snorkel is $106 per child ages 3 to 12, $126 for teens ages 17 and older, and $136 for adults. The ride is recommended for children ages 3 and up.

Helicopter Ride via Jack Harter
The other best way to see the island is from high above in the sky, via Jack Harter Helicopters. It’s the only company that flies with doors off, so you can take expert photos and get a good breeze (dress warmly). The 60-minute ride takes you all over Kauai from Nawiliwili Harbor and the Menehune Fishpond to Kipu Kai and the Tunnel of Trees to Manawaiopuna Falls in Hanapepe Valley. The latter is actually nicknamed “Jurassic Falls” for its cameo in the hit film “Jurassic Park.” You’ll pass through canyons, North Shore beaches and end up near Mount Waialeale, Kauai’s ancient volcano.

Pilots engage with passengers through a two-way intercom system with a live commentary. It made a difference knowing what we were flying over at every point in time and it was nice to be able to ask questions through a small mic attached to the headphones. We were able to take photos on the tour, but everything had to be attached to a wristband or strap — we don’t recommend taking much with you on the flight.

Each ride costs $269 per person. Children must be at least 10 years old for the experience without doors; there is no age requirement for the enclosed AStar helicopter.

Waimea Canyon Bike Tour via Outfitters Kauai
Older kids will love a downhill bicycle ride through Waimea Canyon with Outfitters Kauai. The sunrise ride takes you to the top of the canyon down 13 miles of smooth winding blacktop overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The ride is four hours and the views are spectacular. The bikes are easy to ride, having wide saddles and hi-rise handlebars. We stopped for photos and to take in the views. Our leader stopped for coffee en route to the canyon and later gave out drinks and snacks during the ride. The ride was glorious and exhilarating, given the views of the skies at sunrise.

The cost is $86 per child ages 12 to 14 and $106 per adult ages 15 and older. The Waimea Canyon Downhill Bicycle Ride is good for kids ages 12 and up.

Waterfall Picnic Horseback Ride via Princeville Ranch Adventures
Princeville Ranch Adventures is located on Kauai’s North Shore on 2,500 acres. It’s a working cattle ranch with beautiful views of the Hanalei Mountains and Pacific Ocean. They offer various family activities including horseback riding, zip-lining, off-road vehicle tours and more.

The Waterfall Picnic Horseback Tour is ideal for horseback riding lovers. It takes you on an easy ride across terrain and then on a short hike to a waterfall where you’ll have a swim and lunch. The ride lasts about 3.5 hours and is a wonderful way to spend a morning in Kauai.

The cost is $135 per person. Princeville Ranch Adventures asks that kids be at least 8 years old.

Mountain Tubing via Kauai Backcountry Adventure
Mountain Tubing Adventure is a unique activity that gives you a chance to travel back in time to the sugar plantation era. It’s a really interesting way to see another side of Kauai.

The ride takes you through a tropical waterway consisting of open ditches, tunnels and flumes all of which were engineered and hand dug circa 1870. The ride starts out slow and speeds up in the caves, the last two of which you ride through in the dark — kids will shriek with excitement.

The guides are keenly on top of everyone’s safety, providing instructions when to raise your bottom and what to do inside the dark tunnels. Your guides will fit you with gloves, a helmet and a headlamp, and check your footwear to make sure that they won’t come off and float away during your adventure. The water is typically knee deep in most places, and the current moves you along fast enough that no paddling is required. At the end of your tubing adventure, the guides serve up a picnic lunch at a beautiful, natural swimming hole.

The rate is $106 per person and the tour is recommended for kids age 5 and up.

– Holly Fink

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

Photos: Orlando’s New I-Drive 360

May 4th, 2015

Today, Orlando’s I-Drive 360, a brand new entertainment complex, opens to the public. The new venue, located right on International Drive, houses the long-awaited Orlando Eye, along with Madame Tussauds Orlando and SEA LIFE Aquarium Orlando. It also packs a lot of value — you can visit all three attractions for $35 for adults and $30 for kids when tickets are purchased online.

The complex also houses several restaurants, shops and Skeletons: Animals Unveiled, another unique diversion. We recently had a chance to check out the new space — here’s a peek at all of the fun.

The Orlando Eye at the new I-Drive 360

View from one of the Orlando Eye pods;

Orlando Eye
Watch an introductory show in 4D before you board the Orlando Eye, the largest observation wheel on the East Coast. You’ll ride in an air-conditioned capsule that features a virtual audio guide. Look for Cinderella’s Castle and on a clear day, Cape Canaveral in the distance.

Taylor Swift wax statue at Madame Tussaud's Orlando

ET wax statue at Madame Tussaud's Orlando

Madame Tussaud’s Orlando
The wax museum’s newest location features life-like versions of everyone from Abraham Lincoln to Beyonce. Other icons — of particular interest to teens — include Taylor Swift, Selena Gomez and Jennifer Lawrence (as Katniss Everdeen). The figures aren’t limited to actual humans though; you can expect to see Fiona, Shrek and ET, too.

Ocean tunnel at SEA LIFE Aquarium Orlando

Giant Pacific Octapus at the SEA LIFE Aquarium Orlando

SEA LIFE Aquarium Orlando
This aquarium features a 360-degree ocean tunnel and interactive experiences, including the chance to hold starfish, but the best feature might be the Giant Pacific Octopus — the largest type in the world.

Mammouth and dinosaur skeletons at the Skeletons: Animals Unveiled museum

Skeletons: Animals Unveiled
This small museum is the first of its kind, and features authentic animal skeletons. Kids will get a kick out of more than 400 structures, from small mice to a giant cheetah.

– Amanda Geronikos

Ghost Towns of Montana: Bannack State Park

May 3rd, 2015

Teaching your kids about history when you travel doesn’t have to mean a long, boring day of museums and statues. If done right, history can be more than just artifacts behind a glass case, or a plaque that points out where something used to be. When my kids were studying the old west, with its wagon trains, gold miners and outlaws, I knew there was no better place for it to all come to life than in a real western ghost town.

Montana is home to quite a few ghost towns. The discovery of gold in the 1800′s led to mining camps popping up all over the state. Many of these camps turned into thriving towns over time, but once the gold ran out, few of them could survive as the residents picked up and moved on to the next lucky strike.

Over the past 150 years, these towns were left to fall apart and fade away. You could drive all over the western part of the state looking for the remains of hundreds of old settlements, but you’d need a lot of time, a very sturdy vehicle and an extremely patient family.

Luckily, several locations have been well preserved by the State of Montana, so you don’t have to go hunting high and low.

Bannack State Park in Montana

You’ll have the best experience at Bannack State Park, the sight of one of the first major gold discoveries in the area. During its 1860′s heyday, Bannack had a population of over 3,000, and it soon became the first territorial capital of Montana. For several decades, the town boomed and prospered, but by the turn of the 20th century only a few dozen citizens remained. By the 1940′s the last resident had died or moved on, and Bannack became a true ghost town.

In 1954 the state turned the town into a State Park in order to preserve it. And that’s one of the keys to the place. They preserve the buildings, rather than restore them. This isn’t some glorified amusement park recreation of history. This is the real thing.

As you and your kids stroll the walkways, it’s easy to imagine what the rough and rowdy town might have looked like filled with prospectors, settlers and thieves. The buildings are in surprisingly good condition and are filled with character. There’s the saloon, sheriff’s office, fancy hotel, schoolhouse and blacksmith’s shop, just to name a few. Many of these buildings are safe to enter and explore. My kids well remember one house that was used to quarantine children during a measles epidemic, and is said to be haunted by those who died. I’m not saying we believe in ghosts, but my entire family definitely felt something in that house and couldn’t get out fast enough. Part of history coming to life is when imaginations run wild!

According to some people, Bannack is filled with ghosts, from the sick house to the school room to the hilltop cemetery that overlooks the town gallows. If you visit in October, the ghosts will be walking the streets with you during the Bannack Ghost Walks. These special performances are based on actual historical events, including gunfights, hangings and other ghastly misdeeds. You’ll need tickets and reservations for the Ghost Walks, as these spooky reenactments are very popular in the weeks leading up to Halloween.

Bannack State Park has other special events during the year that are fun for the entire family. On the third weekend of July, the park hosts Bannack Days, a celebration of the town and its special place in Montana history. Families can have fun with activities such as gold panning, pioneer food, wagon rides and even wild gunfights in the street.

In September there is the Living History Weekend, which focuses on historically accurate demonstrations of life in an old west town. Kids can experience the daily life of a miner, blacksmith, teacher, barkeep and town sheriff.

Of course, Bannack State Park is open year-round if you just want to explore on your own. During one of our family visits, we were the only people in the park. Talk about spooky! Every creak of a door and gust of wind had us looking over our shoulders.

Entry fee is only $6 for your entire vehicle if you’re out of state; it’s free for Montana residents. There are no extra costs for Bannack Days or the Living History Weekend, but the Ghost Walks will cost an extra $10 for adults and $5 for children. During the summer, hour-long guided tours are available if you want to hear some vivid tales of the town’s most memorable characters. The park is easy to access, too, located about 20 miles off I-15 near Dillion, Montana. It is close to the Idaho state line, too.

If you’re a camping family, they have two different campgrounds in the park. But if you like something a little nicer, I highly recommend Fairmont Hot Springs Resort in Anaconda, Montana. It’s about an hour north of Bannack, just outside of Butte. We’ve used it as a base of operations for exploring western Montana, and it’s always a joy to end a tiring day by taking a dip in the hot pools.

– Phil Corless

Phil Corless is an at-home dad of two living in the Pacific Northwest. Since 2004, he has been writing about fatherhood and family at the Idaho Dad blog. He believes the best way for kids to learn about the world is to travel through it.