Archive for the ‘U.S. Travel’ category

5 Fun Hotels for Dogs (and Families)

August 26th, 2015

It’s National Dog Day! In honor of our furry (and favorite) family members, we’ve compiled a list of hotels that roll out the red carpet for canines.

Little Dog with Pet Bed, Bowl and Treat at a Gansevoort Hotel

Gansevoort Dominican Republic
Just because you’re traveling to the Caribbean doesn’t mean you can’t bring your dog! The Gansevoort Dominican Republic welcomes canines with treats, bowls, toys, collars and even monogrammed mats, as do all other Gansevoort Hotels.

The Maritime Hotel
Located in New York City, The Maritime Hotel provides walking services, and select accommodations – which resemble cruise ship cabins — offer outdoor patios for your pooch to sunbathe.

The Bowery
The Bowery Hotel, also located in New York City, just sounds like a dog-friendly hotel, and guests are happy to find it offers bowls and turndown services just for dogs — fresh water is poured into their bowl each evening.

The Cloister at Sea Island
Treat Your Pet to a Getaway – that’s the name of the package offered at The Cloister and The Lodge at Sea Island in Georgia. The package includes pet food, bowls, pillows, and a gourmet menu — think beef tips braised in veal essence. Cats are also welcome.

Loews Don CeSar Hotel
The Loews Don CeSar Hotel in St. Petersburg, Florida considers each dog a VIP (Very Important Pet), and offers a pet room service menu, pet toys, bedding and more.

More From Family Vacation Critic:
10 Best Pet-Friendly Hotels for Families
Meet the Canine Ambassadors of Fairmont Hotels and Resorts

–Amanda Geronikos

Relaxing at the Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne, Miami

August 24th, 2015

Many of us forget to take time to actually enjoy each other’s company. We’re constantly running from school and work to activity after activity. Even when we’re on vacation, we try to pack everything in. On our recent trip to The Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne, Miami, we took the mad rush of our lives down numerous octaves, and did absolutely nothing.

Doing absolutely nothing — or at least our version of it — turned about to be absolutely wonderful for my husband, our two teen girls and myself. An ideal setting along a pristine white-sand beach paired with the Ritz-Carlton’s well-known upscale service made it easy to get into the daily ritual of pure pampering and relaxation. The 5-mile Key Biscayne barrier island is just south of Miami Beach, but a whole world away from the high energy of the city.

Pool at Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne, Miami

Club Lounge
Morning walks with my husband were followed by meeting the girls for breakfast at the Club Lounge. It is well worth the extra charge to upgrade to a Club level room at the Ritz-Carlton, which grants you access to the Club Lounge and its food and beverage service that includes lovely spreads for breakfast and lunch. Hors d’oeuvres and cocktails are also served from 5 to 7:30 p.m., and many nights, there was so much to eat that the food served as dinner for us. Each evening, decadent desserts came out from 8 to 10 p.m. Snacks and drinks are always available at the Club Lounge, which also serves as an extended living room with comfortable clusters of couches, chairs and tables, plus a balcony and children’s room with a couch, bean chairs and a few DVDs. The concierge on duty is there to help with any requests or needs onsite or off-property.

Club on the Beach is a private area by the pool with lounges, a refrigerator stocked with water and sodas, snacks and a small baby pool. We would often escape there and be the only ones within this secret enclave. The rest of our daytime hours were spent on the beach itself, enjoying the ocean, which was like a bathtub with calm waves and clear warm water. We could often see fish swimming past. It’s remarkable how much talking can be done with your teens when throwing a ball around in the ocean, or simply floating along on a tube. Our smartphones are not waterproof and had to be left in the beach tote — what a shame. (The resort fee covers Wi-Fi when you need it, however.) The fee also includes use of paddleboards, kayaks and floats.

View From Balcony at Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne, Miami

Spa and Fitness
In addition to the Club on the Beach, the resort has a family pool (where we swam a few nights) and adults-only pool areas. The daily resort fee includes two fitness classes per day and my older daughter and I took a yoga class together. Other choices included spin and Pilates. The resort fee also includes entrance to the fitness center and full-service adults-only spa locker rooms, which feature whirlpool, steam, sauna and showers. I treated myself to an aromatherapy massage with Moroccan oil scalp massage, which further helped with our “do nothing” attitude.

My husband went to the daily (except Sundays) 90-minute tennis clinic or to the fitness center so that he could eat the nightly desserts guilt-free. Tennis is a big deal here, with the Cliff Drysdale Tennis Center featuring one hard court and 10 soft clay Hydrocourts. Golf enthusiasts can take a short drive to the par-72 Crandon Golf Course. My husband hit a bucket of balls there one afternoon.

The resort has five dining venues. Cioppino is the fine dining restaurant offering incredible Tuscan cuisine and excellent service. Kids will like sitting on the outdoor patio overlooking the pool and ocean beyond it. The casual Cantina Beach poolside serves up great burgers and regional Mexican cuisine at your lounge chair or within the oceanfront restaurant. The Dune Oceanfront Burger Lounge is a fun place where the family can sit on sofas with their feet in the sand and eat burgers and more. The Rumbar/Lobby Lounge serves a light menu and offers live music on select nights. The Key Pantry off the lobby provides a place for quick snacks and coffee for those who do not have Club Lounge privileges. Shopping and dining are walking distance from the resort for those who would like to explore a bit without getting the car from valet parking.

Ritz Kids
Children ages 5 to 12 can spend a morning, afternoon or day in the Ritz Kids program. The resort uses its partnership with Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ocean Futures Society to focus on the four key pillars of Water, Land, Environmental Responsibility and Culture that gets kids exploring and discovering the world around them. Limited to six kids per counselor, Ritz Kids features sports, interactive games, and arts and crafts that integrate these pillars.

Nearby Attractions
This was our second visit to The Ritz-Carlton, Key Biscayne, Miami, and during our first visit, we ventured and explored the many close-by attractions. The Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park is home to the Cape Florida Lighthouse, where we walked to each morning. Free guided tours of the lighthouse take place at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Thursdays through Mondays, when you can climb the 109 steps to the lighthouse watch room and enjoy the view of the beach, Miami and Biscayne Bay. Down the road from the resort is the Miami Seaquarium, and it’s only a short drive to Jungle Island and other family-friendly attractions.

More From Family Vacation Critic:
10 Best Miami Hotels for Families
10 Best Florida Resorts for Families

—Stacey Zable

Stacey Zable is an award-winning veteran travel writer. She specializes in family travel, spas, cruises and luxury travel. Visit her site at

6 Things to Do in Austin With Kids

August 19th, 2015

Austin, the state capital of Texas, is a really cool and proudly weird city. The official city motto, “Keep Austin Weird,” perfectly sums it up. Consider a visit to these fun and funky attractions for families.

Lemonade Stand in Austin

The Cathedral of Junk
Once upon a time in 1988, Vince Hanneman decided to build a clubhouse in his backyard — unlike any clubhouse anyone had ever seen! This clubhouse contains 60 to 100 tons worth of stuff. It has bicycle wheels, car bumpers, ladders, and everything you can imagine (and some you can’t). It has changed over the years as the creator’s taste has changed, and it serves as proof that art comes in all forms. After the shock of seeing this fantastic creation wears off, try a scavenger hunt! Look for skis, phones, Barbies, Maggie Simpson, a horseshoe, helmet, iron, snowman, rocking horse, crutches, set of 4 matching tea cups and more. Add anything to your scavenger hunt list.

This amazing artistic creation is in the backyard of a private home, so you must call (512-299-7413) to make sure Vince will be there to show you around. The cost is $10 per group.

Bat Conservation International
Hidden from view under the Congress Avenue Bridge is the largest urban colony of Mexican free-tail bats in the world. The 1.5-million winged mammals migrate here each year in the spring and fly out each evening to eat up to 10 tons of insects per night. The best time to see them is late summer when their babies go flying, too. The black cloud zooming out from under the bridge is something amazing to see!

South Congress Street
Only in Austin could a regular street be so much fun. There is so much to see and do in just a few blocks! Window Shop in the store Uncommon Goods — kiddos and adults alike find this store amazing. It has just a little bit of everything. Give each person a mission: Vote for your idea of the weirdest thing there and then take a photo next to it. What will you choose?

Visit a food truck, and be sure to stop at the lemonade stand that is shaped like — what else — a lemon! Be sure to visit The Big Top Candy Shop, too. You haven’t visited a candy store until you see this one. Not only is the decor fascinating, but the variety of candy is awe-inspiring. They have real soda jerks, too, that make a huge list of sodas.

The Thinkery
Austin’s amazing children’s museum, The Thinkery, is a fun way for the kiddos to learn and explore using math, art, and science skills. Use computers to manipulate and display your photo. Build a foam plane and see how it flies in the wind lab. Paint with wax using magnets to make the wax flow. Prepare to spend half a day at this educational, hands-on museum, and plan ahead. Only a certain number of tickets are sold each day and while there are a few walk-up tickets available, we wouldn’t chance it.

Lake Travis Zipline Adventures
If your idea of fun leans towards an adrenaline rush, you need to see Texas’ longest zip line! Lake Travis Zipline Adventures has a 3-hour adventure that zips you five times all the while enjoying views of the Texas Hill Country and Lake Travis. The very last zip line experience is 20 stories high and takes you 2,400 feet over Lake Travis. This is an experience you can’t match anywhere else because “everything is bigger in Texas!”

Mt. Playmore
Mt. Playmore boasts 3,000 square feet of indoor jungle gym fun. Think climbing tubes like the ones at McDonalds or Burger King, but on a much grander scale than you can imagine. It has to be the cleanest one around, too, as it is sprayed down with a hospital grade germ killer regularly. Climb with the kids or sit nearby to relax and watch the fun.

For more ideas for things to do in Austin, plus hotel and restaurant recommendations, visit Austin Family Vacations.

–Natalie Tanner, The Educational Tourist

Natalie Tanner, The Educational Tourist, has hundreds of thousands of miles under her belt — business trips with her geologist husband to places like Scottsdale, Jackson Hole, New York and Denver — and family adventures to far-flung destinations like Rome, Paris, Tangier, and Istanbul. When she isn’t traveling, The Educational Tourist stays busy planning the next adventure while being mom to two kids, three dogs, Sushi the fisand a hamster. Follow her adventures at The Educational Tourist.

5 New York City Fall Festivals for Families

August 17th, 2015

With summer ending, it’s easy to get remorseful, mourning the ending of everything the Big Apple has to offer this time of the year. Don’t fret; the fun will continue as the weather cools. During the fall season, the festival options are diverse and varied. There’s everything from farm festivals to Italian feasts to the ultimate street fair in Brooklyn — all out of this world and great for kids. Don’t miss these upcoming fests.

Village Halloween Parade in New York City

Feast of San Gennaro
Sept. 10 to Sept. 20
For culinary lovers of all ages, the Feast of San Gennaro is the place to go in September. It’s the area’s annual Salute to the Patron Saint of Naples. Little Italy will hold religious celebrations, colorful parades, musical entertainment, and a street fair full of food for 10 days. This area of Lower Manhattan served as the first home in America for hundreds of thousands of Italian immigrants who came here seeking to improve their lives at the beginning of the 20th century.

Queens County Fair
Sept. 19 to Sept. 20
The 32nd Annual Queens County Fair is as traditional as it gets with blue ribbon competitions in livestock, produce, home crafts, arts and crafts, and more. The fair features pie eating and corn husking contests, pig races, hayrides, carnival rides, midway games, and kids’ entertainment by Big Apple Circus To-Go. You can dance the day away at the Bavarian Garden with an Irish band and German band. At the Con Edison Ecology booth, kids can adopt a worm for the home compost or get gardening and recycling tips. They’ll also enjoy arts and crafts, a corn maze and food vendors.

Atlantic Antic Street Fair
Sept. 27
The 41st Atlantic Antic Street Fair in Brooklyn is a massive, festive street fair that stretches along two miles of Brooklyn’s centrally located thoroughfare. The entire street is closed to traffic, making way for food vendors and stalls selling clothing, artwork, jewelry, pottery, and T-shirts. Local restaurants and bars set up stalls in front of their businesses offering special deals. You’ll find great bands and music, dance performances, speeches, and raffles.

Fort Tryon Park Medieval Festival
Oct. 4
The Medieval Festival brings to life the customs and spirit of the Middle Ages. Every year, Fort Tryon Park warps back to the Middle Ages with knights in shining armor, strolling musicians, minstrels, juggling jesters and many a lady fair. Authentic medieval music, dance, magic, and minstrels, as well as jugglers and jesters, greet visitors. The afternoon concludes with a joust between four knights on horseback. The festival is free!

Village Halloween Parade
Oct. 31
Kids’ eyes will pop as they watch hundreds of puppets and dancers, dozens of bands and thousands of New Yorkers on the 6th Avenue parade route between Spring and Broome Streets during their favorite holiday of the year.

Looking for a place to stay when you visit? Consider one of the 10 Best New York City Hotels for Families.

— 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.