Archive for the ‘U.S. Travel’ category

Fine Tuning the Great American Road Trip with the National Park Service

August 20th, 2014

My family is about to embark on our Great American Road Trip. We will be driving the Wild West and visiting Dinosaur Monument, Canyonlands, Arches and Moab, Mesa Verde, Monument Valley, Canyon de Chely, Petrified Forest, Meteor Crater, the Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon, Zion, Bryce, Capital Reef and Timpanogos national parks and monuments – in 9 days!

Earlier in the year, I documented some of the discoveries I made trying to plan our adventure. (See Great American Road Trip blogs.) Originally, we wanted to rent an RV but the cost of the rental, the mileage and the gas turned us off that dream and instead we have booked hotels and rented a minivan – our version of the Griswold Family Truckster.

As we approach our departure date, I’ve been doing some last-minute planning. To save on the price of admission to the parks, we purchased an America the Beautiful annual pass for $80. Not only is it good for our trip, but it’s good for all parks for the next year. However, in reviewing park admissions, I’m learning that some parks are not on the program and we’ll still need to pay. I’ve also discovered that some of the parks are on Navajo land. While we are excited to be on the land of Native Americans (especially the Navajos, as my partner’s grandmother was Navajo), we have learned that the Navajos required permits to hike and camp on their land, and they have sacred areas that are off-limits.

We’re also booking as many tours in advance as we can. We did learn earlier that some of the more popular hikes require advanced reservations. For example, The Wave in Zion, we learned by reviewing the National Park website, is long and strenuous hike not suitable to the kids. It also requires advanced reservations and takes a very limited number of hikers on a lottery basis. We will be skipping The Wave this year. However, we have booked a cave tour in Timpanogos, which was available to book a month in advance of our trip, so we won’t have to drive all the way there and discover its sold out.

Planning this trip has become quite detailed for us. I’m glad I’ve been researching because we were all under the assumption that parks are parks and we just drive to each one and we’re good. There are so many little details we’re discovering on the U.S. National Park Service website that we’re thankful they are so detailed.

We are also preparing the kids for what will be a lot of driving by getting them excited for the Junior Ranger programs offered at the parks. The kids will pick up booklets available at the Visitors Centers, complete a series of challenges, and receive a badge from each park once they have completed the tasks. There are also coloring pages, activity pages and more for kids on the parks website.

If you’re planning to tour any of the national parks, be sure to visit the U.S. National Park Service website for all the tips. Family Vacation Critic also has destination guides for National Parks to help you plan your trip. (I’ll be adding more guides after visiting the parks!)

We’ll be hitting the road Sunday, and blogging about our experiences – even the kids will be writing to give their perspective. Keep your eyes peeled!

– Lissa Poirot

Beachfront Hotels Host Family Events for National Sandcastle and Sculpture Day

August 19th, 2014

Two young children looking at sandcastle on beachIn honor of today’s holiday — National Sandcastle and Sculpture Day — beachfront resorts all over are hosting fun events that have families getting down in sand. Whether it’s building something big, dining on the sand or just soaking up the sun, celebrate with a day at the beach. Here are four resorts to visit today for National Sandcastle and Sculpture Day:

Sandos Playacar
If you’re on vacation with your family in the Riviera Maya today — or lucky enough to live in the beautiful area of Mexico year-round — be sure to visit the Sandos Playacar, a family-friendly resort that will have a 7-foot sandcastle onsite today. Enter to win a Sandcastle Diploma and Dinner on the beach by attempting to replicate the sculpture with your family. Festive food and cocktails will be served throughout the day at the resort, as well.

The Westin Hilton Head Island Resort & Spa
Visit Hilton Head today and pick up a beach bag filled with everything you need for a day at the beach at the Westin Hilton Head Island Resort & Spa. The resort prides itself for being located on sand that is great for building and sculpting sandcastles. If your family doesn’t want to spend a day in the sand, they can enjoy decorating sand dollars, making sand art and eating sand candy at the resort all day long.

CasaMagna Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa
Located along the beach in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, the CasaMagna Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa is both luxurious and family-friendly. Pick up your complimentary pale, shovel and everything else you will need to build a sandcastle at the resort today before heading to the beach. A Sandcastle Building Contest will take place today, too!

Hilton Los Cabos Beach & Golf Resort
Located on a swimmer-friendly beach in Los Cabos, the Hilton Los Cabos Beach & Golf Resort knows that sandcastles are part of the fun in the sand. Watch a sculptor create a customized event insignia into the sand and enjoy pirate-themed events on the beachfront property today — all in honor of National Sandcastle & Sculpture Day!

Have a photo or a story of your own experience with sandcastles? Comment below or post and share it on our Facebook page!

– Hilarey Wojtowicz

Playing Tourists on New York City’s Circle Line

August 18th, 2014

People on Circle Line Sightseeing Cruise taking picture of Freedom Tower in New York CityThis past week I joined my son, mother and sister on a tour of Manhattan. You may be wondering why I would do that when I live near New York City and have for many, many years! For one thing, it was a boat tour. I was invited by Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises to go on their Harbor Lights Tour. Who can resist the city at night? For another thing, my mom was visiting from out of town and I knew she would get a real kick out of seeing NYC all lit up at night. In addition, my son is very Instagram-obsessed at the moment, and I knew that he would get a lot of enjoyment out of snapping photos while circling the island. (And I was right!)

Sure enough, we all loved circling the island of Manhattan, getting up-close and personal views of our favorite landmarks. We hopped on the boat at 42nd Street and 12th Avenue. Boarding was easy and efficient. From the Statue of Liberty to the United Nations to the Empire State Building, we saw NYC from what seemed like an “insider’s” view. We rode under bridges, passed the newly built Freedom Tower and rode along side Governor’s Island. We had a professional tour guide share details and wonderful tid-bits about all the sites we passed. Whether you live in NYC or not, you will enjoy the incredible views and history provided by the guide. As the sun went down and the city lit up, the moments on the boat became even more precious and exciting for all of us.

Playing tourist isn’t always easy, though. We arrived 30 minutes before the ride took off and all the good seats were gone. There are a few things I wish I had known beforehand so here are a few tips to make your cruise a success for you and your family:

1. Arrive early, as in one hour before departure. There are a limited number of seats available on the top deck, which is outside and offers the best views. Once those seats are taken, you must sit inside, only peering through windows.

2. The tour guide sits inside most of the time and is resistant to passengers getting up to take photographs. There is more freedom outside and I highly recommend standing outside to capture great images.

3. Concessions are pricy on the boat, so bring a few bottles of water and then head to Gotham Market on 45th Street and 11th Avenue afterwards for amazing, reasonably priced food.

4. Bring a good camera that is fully charged. You won’t want to be camera-less on this ride!

5. Book your tickets online in advance and save money ($5 each, which adds up).

For more information, visit the Circle Line Boat Tours website.

Disclosure: Holly was given complimentary tickets to facilitate this review, but all opinions are her own.

– 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.

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.

Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Kicks Off 5th Annual Crab Week

August 15th, 2014

Exterior view of the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Golf Resort, Spa and MarinaHead to Cambridge, Md., this weekend for the 5th Annual Crab Week at the Hyatt Regency Bay Golf Resort, Spa and Marina. Festivities are family-friendly and delicious (if you’re a fan of seafood), and they kick off today and run through Aug. 29, 2014 — more like Crab Weeks! Dig in at the Feelin’ Crabby Food Truck, meet the author of the children’s book Crabby Crab, or learn how to catch, pick and cook your own. Here’s a list of what you can do during this year’s Crab Week:

Feelin’ Crabby Food Truck
Enjoy signature seafood dishes from Feelin’ Crabby Food Truck on Saturday and Sunday this weekend between 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Delectable options include the Crabwich, Crabster Sandwich, Lobster Salad, Sliders and more.

J.M. Clayton Seafood Company
Tour the world’s oldest crab house, the J.M. Clayton Seafood Company, located right in Cambridge, Md. Founded in 1890 by Captain John Morgan Clayton, the company has remained in the family for more than four generations. The company developed the world’s first automatic crab-picking machine, but still uses a process that follows family tradition. Tour the company on August 23 and stay for a crab feast dinner.

12th Annual Crab Cake Eating Contest
Sign up for or watch the 12th Annual Crab Cake Eating Contest on August 16 at the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Golf Resort, Spa and Marina.

Crabby Crab Book Reading and Author Meet and Greet
Take the kids to the special reading of Chris Raschka’s Crabby Crab on August 29 and then let them make their own! Arts and crafts will be offered at the Krusty Krab’s Kreative Korner for more crabby fun.

Other great family-friendly activities include cooking demos, the Crabby 9-Hole Cup, Human Crab Walk Frenzy, Marine Animal Pool Races, Seaworthy Dive-In Movies and Crab Coloring Contests. For more information on Crab Week, visit the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Golf Resort, Spa and Marina’s website. And check out this deal before booking your stay!

– Hilarey Wojtowicz

Airline Celebrates 7th Anniversary with Virgin America Day and More

August 14th, 2014

Virgin America Airlines plane taking off on runwayVirgin America Airlines is celebrating its seventh birthday this year with Virgin America Day on Saturday, August 16, at the AT&T Ballpark in San Francisco. The California-based airline first launched in 2007 and has since become known for its luxury service and low rates. As the official airline of the San Francisco Giants, the airline will host Virgin America Day at AT&T Park and invites families to attend with the chance to pick up a flight discount during all of the fun. The first 40,000 attendees to the ballpark for the game against the Philadelphia Phillies will receive a two-for-one flight voucher, which can be used when booking your next domestic flight.

When traveling on Virgin America, families can expect sleek leather seats, on-demand entertainment with live TV, kid-friendly movies, music and more, personal outlets and on-demand Wi-Fi, and snacks and drinks. The airline is also currently offering deals from San Francisco to a number of cities in the U.S. Book by midnight tonight for select trips from the New York area or by Monday, August 18, for all other cities and regions, and enjoy airfare from just $73 per person, per way. For more information, visit the Virgin America website.

– Hilarey Wojtowicz