Archive for the ‘U.S. Travel’ category

5 Best Water Parks in Texas

October 7th, 2015

“Everything is bigger in Texas,” and these water parks are no exception. Consider a visit to one of these for your next family vacation.

Schlitterbahn Texas

Schlitterbahn Water Park – New Braunsfels
Here, you’ll find the world’s longest waterpark ride — all 3,600 feet of rapids, waterfalls and waves! Find something for everyone in this 70-acre park, from the Polywog Pond Kiddie park for the youngest adventurers in your party to the Skycoaster for the most daring. Blast down waterslides of every sort or rent a cabana and relax in between peaceful floats down the circular lazy river. Schlitterbahn is actually the country’s most visited waterpark and is a wonderful spot for family fun in the sun!

Hawaiian Falls – Pflugerville
Yes, you’ll find Hawaiian fun in Texas! With so many rides from which to choose, it might seem hard to know which one is perfect for each kiddo. Not to worry! Hawaiian Falls has the Shaka Meter, which rates the rides from the least scary wave pool (1) to the Hawaiian SkyFall, which drops you in a watery chute when the floor beneath you opens (5). Take a break for some onsite food — all the kid favorites like hot dogs and burgers and grown-up selections like Texas-style barbecue.

Six Flags Hurricane Harbor – Arlington
Winding slides, wading pools of enormous proportions and a lazy river are staples at any Texas water park, but this one has roller coaster type of attractions to thrill any adrenaline craving family! Listen to these crazy fun names: Hydra Maniac (all enclosed body slides), Mega Wedgie (four-story half pipe), Banzai Boggan (45-foot slide) and Boogie Beach (wading pool). Height requirements help you decide which adventure is perfect.

Castaway Cove – Wichita Falls
Well shiver me timbers, this park has a pirate theme and ARGH, there are no landlubbers here! Ride a raft in the Parrot’s Perch Slide Complex down the 40-foot open flume slides. Explore the water jungle gym area in Buccaneer Bay with body slides, water cannons and a dumping bucket! Nellie’s Rolling River is perfect for some down time floating on inner tubes. Spend the day with your whole pirate crew enjoying fun family time.

Great Wolf Lodge – Grapevine
Bring your pack of little wolves to the indoor portion of this water park — where the water is kept at 84 degrees — or head outside for some fun in the sun. Wolf pups of all ages will love the adventures and there is something for everyone — ride Alberta Falls in a tube raft or head outside to Raccoon Lagoon for splashing and water fountain fun. Need more of an adrenaline rush? Try the Howlin’ Tornado, which drops you into a 6-story tunnel on a raft for adventure seekers. Big Foot Pass is great fun in the water — test your balancing skills on the logs and lily pads that create an agility course. Dare you?

–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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Visiting Myrtle Beach in the Fall

October 5th, 2015

Most families, understandably, take their beach vacations in the summer when the kids are out of school and the warmer temps lend themselves to fun in the sun, sand and surf. However, for those families who are willing and able to wait, the fall provides a prime time to hit the beach while racking up the savings.

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Brilliant Weather
Throughout the summer, Myrtle Beach usually experiences high temps in the low 90s, accompanied by high humidity. However, in the fall, both the temperatures and humidity drop to a much more enjoyable level. The average high in September is 84 degrees, October is 76 degrees and November is 68 degrees. My family and I visited just three weeks ago following the Labor Day weekend, and we couldn’t have asked for more perfect weather. It was hot enough during the day to enjoy the beach and swimming pool, and the humidity was low enough that we didn’t break out in a sweat as soon as we went outdoors. Plus, the ocean waters remained quite warm; it actually felt like bath water as we splashed in the surf.

Nonstop Entertainment
Because many beach destinations experience seasonal traffic, it’s not uncommon for many popular attractions and restaurants to close down once the crowds head back home. However, that is not Myrtle Beach. Because the temperatures do cool off come fall, the area’s water parks do close for the season. Otherwise, there’s not too much families can’t do in the fall that they can do in the summer. With so much outdoor recreation, the many attractions and theaters, and the large volume of golf courses (not to mention mini-golf courses!) available, there is more than enough to keep you on the go in Myrtle Beach. Plus, with fewer crowds, you can enjoy some of the more popular sites without waiting in lines. It’s important, though, to take care that you don’t actually overbook you and your family during your vacation. After all, it’s supposed to be relaxing!

Avista Resort, Myrtle Beach

Substantial Savings
With less demand for hotel rooms, area properties are constantly looking for ways to attract visitors during the fall. As such, fall visitors can find fantastic deals on lodging. The difference in room rates before Labor Day and after is usually between 30 and 40 percent lower following the holiday weekend — a significant savings! For instance, during my visit to Myrtle Beach just days after the Labor Day weekend, I was shocked to discover that my one-bedroom condominium unit (complete with full kitchen, living area, balcony and room for six guests) overlooking the beach was just $77 per night. I couldn’t believe it. These savings also pop up for vacation rental home rates, many of which can be slashed in half from peak summer weekly prices.

Having been to Myrtle Beach during the summer, I have to say that I enjoyed my time in this popular beach destination much more during the fall. Going forward, I definitely think I’ll be waiting until after Labor Day when planning my next trip to this city.

––Karon Warren

The mother of two children, Karon enjoys bringing her kids along for the adventure, and seeing and experiencing new sites and cultures through their eyes. When she is not traveling, Karon resides in the quiet tranquility of the North Georgia Mountains with her family.

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5 Best Cities for Live Kids’ Music

September 28th, 2015

You may not know it, but we’re alive in the Golden Age of Family Music. However, aside from Sirius XM Kids Place Live and the occasional blurb in People Magazine or USA Today, hardly anyone is paying attention. That’s a shame because there’s never been a better time to be a music-loving family.

All over the U.S., there are passionate, talented musicians putting a fresh spin on music for children and their adults. The songs are great both musically and lyrically, and have something to say about topics far more interesting than morality tales or teeth brushing reminders. Modern kids’ music respects the complexity of childhood and doesn’t pander to its youthful audience. Before I discovered the current Golden Age of Family Music, I was under the impression that music for kids was banal instructional tunes, retread folk songs, or the abomination that is TV cartoon music. But I was wrong. My family has rocked out to hundreds of records and at dozens of concerts across the country. So put down the phone and put on your dancing shoes because this is music your entire family will love.

The Nots-Its! in Seattle

Not only is it gorgeous in Seattle, but the Pacific Northwest is also home to some of the best bands in the world: Recess Monkey, The Not-Its!, Caspar Babypants (Chris from The Presidents of the United States of America), and Johnny Bregar.

Where to See It
During the school year, head to Teatro ZinZanni for a big top rock series blending family music with circus spectacular. Recess Monkey is opening a 13-show run there this fall. Also, the Mount Baker Club has the Kindiependent Kids Rock Series, Saturday morning shows from December to April, and Town Hall Seattle hosts local and national acts in their Saturday concert series. Finally, the Seattle Symphony frequently collaborates with kiddie artists to create unique, kid-driven blends of symphonic and pop music.

In the summertime, there are at least a dozen well-curated weekly family concert series all around Seattle (Magnuson Park, Kirkland, Everett, Tukwila, Hiawatha, Kent, Auburn, Puyallup, Bonney Lake, and more), the NW Folklife Festival on Memorial Day weekend in the shadow of the Space Needle, and the Kindiependent Family Music Festival.

The family music scene in the Rose City is as fantastical as the city itself, with the foot-stomping folk of Red Yarn, the incomparable singer-songwriter Mo Phillips, the Flaming Lips-inspired Pointed Man Band and piano mastery of Lori Henriques.

Where to See It
The Village Ballroom is a family co-op and a non-profit pub, which hosts a weekly Mo Phillips concert downstairs, as well as gigs by other locals, plus big shows once a month on Sunday afternoons. Last year, my family saw Red Yarn bring down the house at Mississippi Pizza Pub, a quaint, but lively joint which has live kids music four nights a week. There are also a host of cafes and community spaces in Portland with weekday morning family concerts — Warehouse Cafe, Cafe au Play, Treehouse Boutique, and Poa Café, to name just a few.

In the summertime, Aaron Nigel Smith’s Rox in Sox festival and “Kidathon,” this year’s kids stage at the awesome indie roots festival Pickathon, are new staples of the burgeoning modern family music scene in Portland.

The Pop Ups Band in New York City

New York City
Some of our favorite NYC bands include two-time Grammy nominated The Pop Ups and Brady Rymer at the Little Band That Could, Shine and the Moonbeams, The Dirty Sock Funtime Band, Moona Luna, Key Wilde & Mr. Clarke and Dan Zanes. We could go on…

Where to See It
New York City has both the quality and the quantity to please families of all ages and musical tastes. In the summer, there’s a massive kids’ concert calendar in parks across all five boroughs, with free performances nearly every weekday from June through August. During the chillier months, the action moves to indoor stages like Symphony Space, the famous Upper West Side venue that reliably features the best kids concert season lineup in the country. Also check the event schedules at New York City libraries, the Jewish Museum, and Jalopy in Brooklyn, for frequent if not regularly scheduled family concerts.

Los Angeles
L.A. is wildly diverse and appropriately, the kids’ music scene there reflects that. From the psychedelic neo-soul of Mista Cookie Jar to the sunny (and sometimes bi-lingual) pop of Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band, and from the bedroom fuzz rock of Todd McHatton to French Quarter vibe of Jazzy Ash, there’s a wide array of “kindie” talent in the City of Angels.

Where to See It
The Getty Museum’s summer program brings in the finest national acts in one of the most pristine settings imaginable. The Wake Up With The Waves series at the Santa Monica Pier and The Theatricum Botanicum stage in Topanga Canyon also deliver top acts in gorgeous surroundings. The legendary Santa Monica guitar shop McCabe’s has been booking children’s music series’ for over 40 years!
And many Los Angeles farmers markets will sporadically have local acts performing while you shop for fresh produce.

Highlighted by Grammy nominated folkster Alastair Moock, the rambunctious dance-rock of Josh and the Jamtones, bi-lingual singer-songwriter Mister G, the pop-rock of Karen K and Stacey Peasley and the Cat Stevens charm of Keith Wasserman aka Mr. Whirly, Boston deliver the goods to music-loving families.

Where to See It
The Center for the Arts in Natick is an old firehouse bringing in some of the country’s best bands. The Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline, a landmark and one of the country’s only independently operated movie houses, as well as The Regent Theater, another converted movie house, host a mix of national and local kindie concerts. The former haunt of Dylan and Seeger, Club Passim has a brunchtime kids series that Alastair Moock calls home. One of the top jazz venues in the country — where every famous jazz musician has played — the Regatta Bar in Harvard Square has a kids’ summer concert series, too. The city also offers a Kids Really Rock Festival annually.

— 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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Adventures by Disney in New York City

September 25th, 2015

There was a true sense of city pride for my teen daughters and I when we traveled with 30 or so tourists as part of an Adventures By Disney four-day/three-night tour aptly named “New York Dreams.” While the group was made up of repeat and first-time adults and children (ages 7 to 17) from Idaho, Wisconsin, California, Florida and other parts of the country, we were the only three who got there by local commuter train. With our warm and welcoming Adventure Guides at the helm, we easily became one big family.

One World Trade Center

The itinerary offered the perfect amount of must-see sites and backstage access, as well as many meals and three nights in The Manhattan Club on 56th Street, between 7th and 8th Avenues. The hotel has suites with kitchenettes and continental breakfast.

9/11 Remembrance
Our first day of the tour included a must-see attraction that pulled at our native New Yorker and American hearts. An emotional afternoon at the 9/11 Memorial Museum was followed by a beautiful view from One World Observatory at One World Trade Center.

Apollo Theater
A chance to learn a different part of the history of the city featured a walking tour through Harlem and included a stop at the famous Apollo Theater. Anyone in the group was invited to take the stage, and both my girls belted it out on the same spots where legendary singers such as as Ella Fitzgerald and Aretha Franklin entertained many.

Lower East Side Tenement Museum
A different kind of cultural odyssey took us downtown to an after-hours group experience that literally came to life at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum. We met actors portraying three immigrant women — one Irish, one Jewish and one Italian — spanning the time period of 1868 to 1935, in their tenement homes. A presentation followed, telling the real-life journeys of these women and their children and grandchildren following their time living on the Lower East Side. As a grandchild and great-grandchildren of immigrants that came to New York City in that time period, we were fascinated by a glimpse of what their life must have been like.

The night ended with the tour being divided into smaller groups for a chance to sample international foods from neighborhood restaurants. We listened to the stories of the restaurant owners through video and our knowledgeable guide, Ruth (who happened to hail from our own neighborhood.) After all, New York City is still a city of immigrants.

My older daughter said the museum made her “especially proud to be a New Yorker,” but at the end of the four days and after even more exciting experiences I would say the adventure left the three of us not only more appreciative of our city, but just a little bit more knowledgeable about the amazing place we live and the many surprises it has to offer.

—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

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