Archive for the ‘U.S. Travel’ category

“Icky, Creepy, Slimy, Cool” Tour Floats to National Aquarium

February 1st, 2016

If you have a child whose greatest joy in life seems to be chasing their siblings around with whatever insects or frogs they manage to find in the yard, you’re in luck: there’s now an opportunity for them to explore those interests in an educational way. The National Aquarium in Baltimore recently debuted an “Icky, Creepy, Slimy, Cool” interactive exhibit that allows visitors (ages 8 and up) to get up-close and personal with some of the weirdest and most fascinating species at the aquarium.

Kids will love seeing and learning about bats, bugs, snakes, sharks, jellyfish, crocodiles, and a few things you’ve probably never heard of. They’ll be talking for days about the bright, alien-like mantis shrimp and the sharks that can walk on the ocean floor. During the tour, they can (safely) meet and touch some of the animals, and even participate in a feeding if the timing is right.

Currently, the tour is set to take place from 9 to 11 a.m. on February 13 and 27 and March 5, 19 and 26; additional dates will be announced on the aquarium’s website. Tickets include aquarium admission, so you can feel free to wander around afterwards to visit some of the aquarium’s less “creepy” creatures. Book ahead of time to reserve your spot in the tour.

Not going to be near Baltimore anytime soon? See if one of these (less extensive and less “icky”) interactive aquarium exhibits is a shorter commute:

Georgia Aquarium: Here, kids can meet sea creatures in supervised touch pools, including bonnethead sharks, rays, and sea urchins. There’s a playground here as well, with crawl tubes and a whale slide.

New England Aquarium: This aquarium in Boston is home to the largest shark and ray touch tank on the East Coast. You can also schedule a play session with the aquarium’s seals.

The Florida Aquarium: Kids can touch and take photos with juvenile alligators, swim with fish or sand tiger sharks, and pet rays or bamboo sharks in the touch tank.

Aquarium of the Pacific: In Long Beach, California, kids can touch several varieties of sharks, meet penguins or sea otters, or take part in the Seal and Sea Lion Encounter. They can also take several two-hour “Junior Biologist” classes or go on the Wonders of the Deep tour to learn about deep-sea creatures.

Oregon Coast Aquarium: Feel limpets, purple shore crabs, sea cucumbers, and more in the touch pool, watch the wave-crash exhibit outside, and examine small creatures under a microscope at the Ocean Exploration Station.

— Kaitlin Braun

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4 Funky Austin Tours for Families

January 29th, 2016

Austin is a city with lots to offer visitors, and exploring the city can take many forms. Wherever your interests lie — music, art, biking, and even the paranormal — organized tours can help you explore a themed twist.

Austin Food Truck

The Austin Food Truck Crawl
Austin is proud of its culinary experiences, from famous Texas barbecue to cupcakes. One of the most fun food experiences is the Austin Food Truck Tour. Kids love the fun-shaped food trucks and enjoy the quirky themes. It’s an excellent way to see the yummy part of Austin! This 3-hour tour takes you to four local food trucks for sampling.

Normally hosted on Saturdays, the tour allows you to ride from food truck to food truck in an air-conditioned bus, with no worries about long walks for little ones. Try chocolates, breakfast tacos, sandwiches, barbque and even desserts from a “Cupcake Wars” winning bakery!

Peace and Love Zilker Bicycle Tour

Does your family like biking? Try this 1.5-hour tour of Austin. You’ll get the scoop on the city’s history while enjoying the beauty of Lady Bird Lake, named after former First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson. Sites along the way will include Auditorium Shoes, Stevie Ray Vaughan Statue, The Old Railroad Bridge and Barton Springs Pool.

Spirit Expeditions Walking Tour

Think ghosts and haunted spots will make your trip complete? This is the tour you’ll love. Tours leave from Wooldridge Square Park and last 2 hours. Your guide will lead you around town while telling you about the history of Austin. Learn all about the ghosts that seem to visit every major building in town! You can even try your hand at using a dousing rod to see if you can find any ghosts on your own! Much more spooky than scary, this tour is great for kids.

Amazing Scavenger Hunt Adventure
Do you and your family enjoy a game and friendly competition? Urban Adventure Quest’s scavenger hunt will have you exploring the city with clues in hand. The tour starts at the State Archives Library and ends at Lady Bird Lake. You’ll explore the 2 miles in 2.5 to 3 hours looking for clues! Points of interest include: Texas State Capital Building, Driskill Hotel (the oldest hotel in Austin) 6th Street (downtown district), Frank Hot Dogs and Lady Bird Lake.

–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.

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9 Best New Cars for Family Road Trips

January 22nd, 2016

Live from Detroit, it’s the acronym challenged North American International Auto Show (NAIAS)! Here’s a look at the best new rides for your next family road trip, whether that’s to the beach this summer, to grandmom’s house during spring break or across the whole of the country before a new school year starts in the fall. These new SUVs and cars will get you there in comfort and in style, no matter where “there” happens to be, and because gas prices sit at 20-year-lows, there’s never been a better time to road trip in a big, beautiful car.

2016 Volvo XC90

2016 Volvo XC90
For my money (not that I have enough to afford her — $50,000 to start, $68,000 for the plug-in hybrid variant), the classy XC90 from Volvo is the most startling example of form and function for families looking to get away in style and comfort. It’s no wonder it took home Motor Trend’s top prize for its segment. Give me one of these in a deep “Passion Red” and I’ll start packing immediately!

2017 Kia Sportage

2017 Kia Sportage
This sporty small SUV just screams out fun and adventure! The Sportage is the Kia Sorento’s rock-n’-roll loving little brother, the kind of kid who colored outside the lines and continues to defy both the expectations of others and the status quo. You can fit your kids and your stuff nicely into a Sportage and set off for a road trip every bit as unique as your family.

2016 Buick Envision

2016 Buick Envision
Duncan Aldred, vice president of Buick said that “the all-new Buick Envision is a modern, confident and responsive luxury compact crossover [SUV]” and while he’s spot-on, what I like best is the emphasis on a supremely quiet cabin, because aside from other drivers making dangerous left turns from the right lane, road noise is my #1 pet peeve while behind the wheel.

2016 Toyota Prius Four Touring Edition

2016 Toyota Prius Four Touring Edition
While we put one of Toyota’s Sienna minivans through the paces during our cross-country 3-week road trip last summer — from the snowy top of the Rockies to the dry 117-degree heat of Death Valley — and a big Toyota Highlander SUV to the test in the Pacific Northwest, we’ve also road tripped in a Prius, in the midst of a harsh Midwestern winter. The 2016 Prius, now available in six grades in a new graded system, is roomy enough for a family of four and delivers remarkable fuel economy to make a journey of any length and on any surface — highway or big city streets — an even more affordable one.

2017 Subaru Forester

2017 Subaru Forester
The newest version of our own everyday family car hasn’t changed too much in the three years since we bought into our 2nd Forester (there is, however, a more robotic look up front on the bumper), but that’s not a bad thing at all. She still sports impressive hip and headspace for big and tall drivers like me, ample legroom for growing kids in the back and enough trunk space for plenty of luggage… and all the new things you’ll collect along your way!

2016 Chevy Trax

2016 Chevy Trax
Maybe it was the clementine orange glaze, but I was immediately smitten with the Chevy Trax LTZ on display at the Detroit Auto Show, despite having never once heard of this vehicle beforehand. The small SUV hatchback starts at a hair over $20,000, making it an affordable entry point into the crossover market and the perfect car to gallivant over sand dunes.

2017 Chevy Equinox LTZ

2017 Chevy Equinox LTZ
Admittedly, I get wobbly-kneed upon spying a two-toned interior and so this inviting Equinox LTZ, with its warm and rich cappuccino and black coffee leather seats and dash, drew me in straightaway. There’s just something incredibly soothing about cruising inside a reading-room quality cabin.

2017 Mercedes-AMG GLS63

2017 Mercedes-AMG GLS63
If you demand turbocharged V8 performance when exploring the Pacific Northwest or going coast to coast with your kids, this large and luxurious Mercedes-AMG SUV is going to turn heads as you blow into town.

Kia Telluride Concept

Kia Telluride Concept
OK, so you’re not going to be going anywhere in a Kia Telluride this year and, while I shudder at the thought, you may never have the privilege of cruising between the slopes and the sea in this hi-tech luxury SUV concept from Kia. But if someday she goes into production, you’ll get health and wellness diagnostics on your door’s control panel and be able to nap fully horizontal in the second row seats. Now THAT’S a utopian road trip set-up!

— Jeff Bogle

Jeff Bogle is an at-home dad of two pre-tween daughters. He writes about parenthood, family travel and all things childhood on his site He considers himself one of the luckiest guys in the world. Jeff also writes for PBS.

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Ski Resorts in Ohio

January 6th, 2016

Though Ohio may be better known for green fields than snowy peaks, the Buckeye State is home to a number of ski spots. With a focus on family fun and trails to suit every speed, these resorts are helping to put the Midwest on the winter sports map.

Snow Trails

Snow Trails
Halfway between Columbus and Cleveland is Snow Trails, Ohio’s oldest downhill skiing destination. Touted as the most family friendly resort in the state, its kids ski school is open seven days a week. Between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. every day, the Polar Cubs program lets 3- and 4-year-olds get their bearings, while 5- to 9-year-olds enjoy a slightly longer day (until 4 p.m.) in the Polar Bears group. Lunch and snacks are provided for all.

Snow Trails’ Beginner’s Area Complex offers plenty of room to practice carving and shredding. A new carpet lift is as gentle as an airport’s moving sidewalk, making for a much smoother ride than rope tows of the past. Beyond the bunny slope, trails run the gamut from easy riding runs to black diamonds while four terrain parks let freestylers at every level try out new tricks.

Mad River Mountain
Ohio’s largest resort, Mad River Mountain, is just 45 minutes from the center of Columbus and boasts the most diverse terrain in the state, making it a wonderful option for boarders and skiers at every level. Kids ages 4 to 11 can sign up for the Kids Adventure Place, where beginners and intermediates learn the basics and more during half- or full-day sessions. Offered on weekends and holidays, hot chocolate breaks are encouraged and lunch is included.

Older, more experienced skiers (ages 7 to 14) can enroll in the Mountain Explorers Club for the day, where small classes focus on honing techniques and adding more advanced skills like moguls, jumps, and racing.

Boston Mills/Brandywine
Near Akron, Boston Mills/Brandywine is a pair of resorts located just a few miles from one another. A single lift ticket gives you access to both. One-and-half -hour group lessons are available for those 8 and over, while the beginner package includes an equipment rental, lift ticket, and an hour-long lesson for $79.

Trails skew intermediate and advanced (only 27 percent are true beginner trails), making Boston Mills/Brandywine a good choice for a more experienced group. The resort does boast a state-of-the-art tubing area that is open to snow bunnies of all ages—kids as young as 2 are welcome to take the ride. And the recently expanded lodge gives everyone plenty of room to warm up between runs.

Alpine Valley
“Cleveland’s Ski Resort,” Alpine Valley, is just 40 minutes from the rock and roll capital. Thanks to its location in what’s known as the “Cleveland Snowbelt,” conditions tend to be among the best in the state. Kids under 4 pay are $10 for lift tickets and private lessons are available for all ages while group lessons are available for children over 6. For the 2015-2016 season, Alpine Valley is debuting a number of improvements, including a renovated loft and revamped lifts.

— Monique Stringfellow

Monique Stringfellow is a copywriter and travel writer who loves taking off for just about anywhere—lately, with a toddler in tow.

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