Archive for the ‘U.S. Travel’ category

Best New Water Parks for 2016

January 4th, 2016

As temperatures continue to drop in many parts of the U.S., we’re turning our attention to heated pools, waterslides, lazy rivers and more at these water parks, expected to open in 2016.

Rendering of Carolina Harbor at Carowinds

Carolina Harbor at Carowinds

Yes, Carowinds already has a small water park called Boomerang Bay, but it will get a total revamp in 2016, including a new name: Carolina Harbor. The expansion will feature the addition of a six-story waterslide, a two-acre area just for families, and an onsite restaurant. Bonus: Admission to the water park will be included with your ticket to Carowinds.

Great Wolf Lodge Southern California
Expected to open as early as February 2016, Great Wolf Lodge Southern California will feature a 105,000-square-foot indoor water park, along with the brand’s other signature features: restaurants, mini-golf, a kids’ spa, an arcade and family suites — plus so much more.

Photos: Inside Great Wolf Lodge Southern California

Great Wolf Lodge Colorado Springs
Yes, there’s another Great Wolf Lodge expected to open in late-2016, this one in Colorado Springs. It will feature a massive indoor water park with slides, lazy rivers, dump buckets, spraygrounds and private cabanas (for rent) — all included in nightly rates!

Cape Codder Water Park at Cape Codder Resort & Spa
Cape Codder Resort & Spa in Hyannis, Massachusetts, already provides family-friendly accommodations and perks, but the budget-friendly hotel will become even more enticing when it debuts a water park this summer. The new playground will span 30,000 square feet and tout a lazy river, spraygrounds for kids, restaurants and even a retractable roof!

— Amanda Geronikos

More From Family Vacation Critic:
10 Best Hotel Swimming Pools
10 Best Indoor Water Park Resorts

4 Must-See Attractions in South Padre Island

December 30th, 2015

South Padre Island in Texas is a popular destination for college co-eds on spring break. It’s also a great destination for families, with outdoor, eco-friendly adventures galore. Consider a visit to the island for a chance to experience these unique attractions with your kids.

Sea Turtle Inc. in South Padre Island


1. Sea Turtle Inc.

Sea Turtle Inc. is a special rehabilitation center for turtles who have been hurt in the wild. Families have a chance to see the turtles and learn about each one’s back story via non-guided tours. Presentations are often hosted, as well. There’s no cost for families to visit Sea Turtle, Inc., which is currently undergoing a major expansion, though donations are recommended and very much appreciated.

2. Schlitterbahn Beach Waterpark
Who doesn’t love a water park? Schlitterbahn’s location in South Padre Island features both outdoor and indoor elements, with waterslides, lazy rivers, spraygrounds and even man-made beaches… not to mention it’s just steps from the actual beach! It’s connected to Schlitterbahn Beach Resort, so you can combine your water park visit with an overnight stay.

Sandcastle Days in South Padre Island

4. Sandcastle Days
Hosted in October, Sandcastle Days is one of the most (if not the most) impressive displays of sand art in the country. Artisans from all over the world present magnificent displays on the sand, where families may visit, take pictures and even meet the artists — free of charge. The event takes place by Clayton’s Beach Bar (the biggest beach bar in Texas).

3. Dolphin Watch – Osprey Cruises
Oftentimes, boat tours advertise that you’ll see dolphins, but you don’t actually do. That’s not the case in South Padre Island, and a cruise via Osprey Cruises almost guarantees you’ll see dolphins — lots of them! The cruise lasts about two hours and includes beverages. Bring your camera!

— Amanda Geronikos

More From Family Vacation Critic:
South Padre Island Vacations
10 Best Spring Break Spots for Families

Activities at Hunter Mountain

December 16th, 2015

Hunter Mountain, located in the Catskills of New York and offering 57 trails, is home to an abundance of family-friendly activities for the whole family. From skiing and snowboarding in the winter to hiking and zip-lining in the spring, summer and fall (and even in the winter if you dare), there is something to ignite everyone’s inner thrill-seeker.

Ziplining in the Catskills


Mid-Mountain Tour

On a recent trip, our tour guides, Mike and Dabo, suited us up and walked us to a little stopping point about halfway up the mountain to inform us of the necessary safety precautions. From there, we climbed a swinging bridge and took off down our first zip-line! Before we zoomed down every zip-line and journeyed across every swinging bridge after that, they thoroughly checked us to make sure we were secure in our harnesses and completely safe, all the while cracking jokes and making sure we were having a good time. At the end of the tour, feeling like experts at that point, we traversed down a pole to the ground.

SkyRide
Another, more relaxing, activity families are sure to enjoy is the Skyride. This six-person Kaatskill Flyer detachable chairlift takes guests to the 3,200-foot summit of Hunter Mountain. Along the way, take in the magnificent views of the northern Catskills, plus the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts and Green Mountains of Vermont on a clear day. The ride takes about 11 minutes each way. Admission is $12 for adults ages 13 and up, $8 for juniors ages 7 to 12, $10 for seniors ages 65 and up, and free for children ages 6 and under (with a paying adult). Hours vary depending on the season. Note: The Skyride is available weather permitting.

Hiking
The Hunter Mountain area provides the perfect starting point for families looking to hike the northern Catskills, which also offers cozy accommodations.. There are trails and terrain for all skill levels. Elevations range from 600 to 4,200 feet, and trails are marked with red, blue, or yellow circular markers to help keep you on your desired course. Note: Come equipped with comfortable shoes, water, and bug spray.

Skiing and Snowboarding
Skiers and snowboarders of all skill levels flock to Hunter Mountain every year for some good old-fashioned outdoor fun. Lessons are available, and include the Beginner Try-Pak ($119) for those ages 13 and up, with three non-holiday visits to the mountain, Lower Mountain lift tickets, group lessons, and equipment rentals. The Beginner Single-Pak ($79) includes one visit to the mountain, a Lower Mountain lift ticket, group lesson, and equipment rental. And finally, the Beginner Private Lesson Package ($125) includes one visit to the mountain, a one-hour private lesson, a Lower Mountain lift ticket, and equipment rental. Look for other deals during Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month in January. Childcare services are provided for little ones who aren’t ready for the slopes.

Restaurants, Shopping & Spa
After or in between all of the fun, relax and unwind at one of the onsite restaurants. The Island Bar at The Copper Tree features spectacular views of the mountain, while Andre’s Slopeside Barbecue will fill your tummy with burgers, hot dogs, or chicken (summer only). There is also some serious shopping available at Hunter Mountain Expeditions & Sports Center, where families will find well-known brands such as Obermyer, Helly Hansen, and Nordica. Last but not least, there’s also a spa at the Katskill Mountain Club, which also offers cozy accommodations.

–Morgan Agesen

More From Family Vacation Critic:
10 Best Ski Resorts for Families
8 Essentials for Your Ski Trip

Front Royal, Virginia With Kids

December 14th, 2015

Each year, millions of people drive the incredibly beautiful Skyline Drive through Shenandoah National Park, in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. However, not many of them think to take the time to explore the city of Front Royal, which is the northern entrance to Skyline Drive. That’s too bad, because it’s a fun little town to explore before you start that 109-mile scenic drive. My kids always enjoy a bit of activity before being cooped up in the car.

Front Royal, Virginia

First of all, Front Royal is a town steeped in Civil War history, and the best way to find it is to start at the Visitor’s Center in the middle of town. From here, you can follow the official Virginia Civil War Trail signs to tour the sites of the Battle of Front Royal, a major skirmish between the North and the South in 1862. The drive takes you to places like Asbury Chapel, Prospect Hill Cemetery, and The Courthouse, as well as several historic homes in the town. Time spent perusing old battlefields really depends on how much interest your kids have in that kind of thing.

Warren Rifles Confederate Museum
If you have older kids who have studied the Civil War, you can explore a little deeper at the Warren Rifles Confederate Museum, which houses a huge number of relics and records from the War Between The States. It’s a must-see for history buffs!

The Royal Oak Bookshop
After that, you’ll find an unexpected surprise just outside the north entrance to Shenandoah National Park: The Royal Oak Bookshop, a comfortable old used bookstore with a labyrinth of treasure-filled rooms. If you and your kids love books, this is the kind of place you could browse for hours — especially if you’re interested in Civil War lore. There’s even a resident bookstore cat named Willa, who will have no trouble climbing into your lap while you read.

Element
If you’re looking for a place to eat before hitting that hours-long scenic drive, one of the best, and very kid-friendly, restaurants in Front Royal is Element, an upscale but casual eatery that serves up gourmet food at relatively budget prices. It’s a small place, with only 10 tables, so you’re guaranteed an intimate atmosphere to go along with the awesome food and service. My kids loved the fresh burgers and onion rings.

Skyline Caverns
Saving the best for last, there’s one last stop in Front Royal before you start down the gorgeous Skyline Drive. Take a trip underground at Skyline Caverns, a cave system that reaches 260 feet deep. These caverns are one of only a very few places on the planet where you can see anthodites, a very rare form of crystal known as the “Orchids of the Mineral Kingdom.” These delicate white crystalline structures spread out in all directions from the cave ceiling. My kids have toured underground caverns all over the country, and they enjoyed these as much as any. Walking tours last about an hour, and will cost you $20 for adults and $10 for kids.

Front Royal may be a small town, but there’s no shortage of cool things to do with kids for part of a day. Think about spending some time there before making that beautiful drive through Shenandoah National Park. Your kids might just remember the town more than they remember the scenery.

— 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.

More From Family Vacation Critic:
National Park Vacations
8 Sensational Drives for Families