Archive for the ‘U.S. Travel’ category

Driving the Road to Hana in Maui

July 17th, 2014

Across the globe, there are a handful of drives that are considered some of the most beautiful in the world, such as driving the Ring of Kerry in Ireland, driving along the PCH in California from Los Angeles to San Francisco, driving along Italy’s famed Amalfi Coast, and, as I discovered recently, driving the Road to Hana.

While visiting Maui to check out family-friendly hotels, I couldn’t help but hear about the Road to Hana. Some visitors walk around the island in T-shirts proclaiming: “I survived the Road to Hana.” When asked, locals say, “Hana? Yes! Do the drive! I make the drive at least once a month. Leave early and pack a lunch, drink and snacks. Wear a swimsuit!” Meanwhile, some visitors may add, “Bring Dramamine for car sickness” and “It’s a loooong day. We didn’t get back to the hotel until 9 p.m.”

The Road to Hana is, in fact, a road to the town of Hana, located on the remote North Shore. The road follows the steep coastline, beneath the Haleakala volcano and the rainforest with rivers and waterfalls overflowing to the ocean. The drive actually passes Hana and ends at Kipahulu Valley’s Haleakala National Park, where the seven pools await.

Along the drive, you’ll spot numerous waterfalls, black and red sand beaches, caves, bamboo forests, swimming holes and countless fruit stands and homemade banana bread shops. There are no signs marking any of the scenic signs; instead, locals know the road by mile markers. To best navigate the road, purchase a Road to Hana CD for the car at any hotel or gas station and get a narrated guide that will tell you some of the best places to stop. (To really find the hidden gems, ask locals which mile markers they recommend visiting, as they may know of less crowded pools, waterfalls and beaches.) My favorite stops were at Waianapanapa State Park, where I buried my toes in soft black sand beaches and jumped into pools in caves, and then in Kipahulu Valley, where a 90-foot waterfall is visible from the road and is just steps away for those who want to take a dip in its pool.

The road to Hana began as a road built by islanders brick by brick using volcanic rock in 1926. It wasn’t paved until 1962 and today includes more than 600 curves and 54 bridges. Some curves are slight while many near the bridges require a bit of maneuvering and 10 miles per hour speeds. Bridges are one lane, so approach slowly and make way for oncoming cars. When curves become too much, you may need to beep before going around a blind bend, to be sure no one else is coming at your direction. Yes, this road is this crazy!

If you want to experience the entire island and its climates, follow the recommendation by the locals who say to continue along the road on the South Shore. This portion of the road begins with an unpaved road, so rental car companies will tell you not to drive along this route and will not service you if you get into trouble. While the road was extremely bumpy in some areas, it wasn’t something I found taxing. Locals told me to look up at the mountain before driving the route. If it was raining on the mountain, then I should turn around, but if it wasn’t, I was good to go. I eventually learned that rain would have turned the dirt road into mud, so it was good advice. Along this drive, the views of the ocean were even more spectacular, and then I arrived in the desert. The lush rainforest and rain I experienced in the morning was long gone on this side of the island in the afternoon, as I passed cattle and goat ranches.

The road eventually becomes paved again, and drivers will climb up the side of Haleakala, passing a cute winery that offers wine tastings, and to the entrance of the National Park, if time allows for a visit to the volcano’s overlooks.

If you want to drive the route, it’s best to leave early in the morning, by 7 a.m., to allow for plenty of time for stops and slow routes. Ask your hotel for a picnic lunch or stop at a store and get a cooler with ice, drinks and lunch, as there are not many places to stop of meals and those offering food will charge more. Bring towels and wear swimsuits and shoes that can handle climbs on rocks if you’d like to enter pools or trails.

–Lissa Poirot

Taking the San Andreas Fault Jeep Tour with Kids

July 16th, 2014

For a unique experience for both you and your kids on your next visit to Palm Springs, Calif., take a red jeep tour through the desert. Operated by Desert Adventures, the tour is three hours of amazing scenery, stunning landscapes, beautiful photo opportunities and an education about the region and San Andreas Fault.

The experience was, without a doubt, my son’s favorite part of our trip to Palm Springs. Bob, our tour guide, skillfully drove us through the desert, educating us about geology, earthquakes, Cahuilla Indians and the vast landscape created by the collision of the Pacific and North American tectonic plates. We learned about how the tribe used the desert’s plants and other materials for survival and what life was like in the desert for early settlers and gold miners. The views and scenery were dazzling along the way were simply spectacular.

Bob first took us to an oasis in the middle of the desert with more than 40 billion acres of water underground and gorgeous palm trees and foliage up to 11,000 years old. He also showed us different plants that the Indians used to use for medicinal purposes and also eat, and had us sample or smell them all. Some of them were delicious! He also took us into an Indian village where we saw their tools and weapons on display and he shared stories about their lives.

My son especially enjoyed the last part of the tour when we hiked through the actual fault where two tectonic plates collide, hoping to avoid rattlesnakes and an actual earthquake. We went rock scrambling, basically, walking right over the fault line.

A few things to know before you book your next jeep adventure when in Palm Springs:
• The tour leaves from Coco’s Bakery & Restaurant in Palm Desert but complimentary pick-up from certain hotels is available.
• The tour guide brings granola bars and water bottles.
• Wear layers in case of temperature changes.
• Bring sunscreen and a hat if the temperature is expected to be high.
• The minimum age for kids on public tours is 5. There is no minimum age on private tours.
• Advance reservations are required. Adults are $135 per person; children are $110 each.

– 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 .

An Adirondack Christmas in July

July 15th, 2014

Can’t wait for the holidays? Head to the North Pole – in New York that is. The Adirondacks are home to North Pole, New York, and this summer families can enjoy a celebration months before the man in red comes down the chimney.

Santa’s Workshop in North Pole, NY has been entertaining and bringing families together since 1949. And with the annual Christmas in July, families can enjoy more activities and fun at the attraction without the snow and cold weather. Spend an hour or a day getting in the holiday spirit with your family this month, but we recommend making it a two-day visit. Choose from one of three, two-day experiences in July and enjoy these great activities.

Day 1
Savor a family meal with Santa Clause at 5:30 p.m. at Mother Hubbard’s Restaurant on the day of your arrival. And when dinner is done, cook S’mores over the campfire while singing Jingle Bells and other classic Christmas carols.

Day 2
After a great night’s sleep in a family-friendly hotel in the Adirondacks, return to Santa’s Workshop in the morning for breakfast with holiday characters, like Rudolph and Santa’s elves. Afterwards, visit the Reindeer Barn, ride the Candy Cane Express, see Tannebaum the Talking Christmas Tree, tour Storybook village and more.

The two-day experience includes special Christmas amenities, too. Take home a family ornament and candle, commemorative reindeer shoe, Christmas bells, a stuffed animal and personalized Santa hats and stockings.

The two-day Christmas in July Experience is available for families July 15 to 16, July 22 to 23, and July 29 to 30, 2014. The Experience costs $79.99 per adult, $129.99 per child between 2 and 16 and $65.99 per child under 2 years.

For families interested in a one-day visit to Santa’s Workshop, visit July 1 through Aug. 30, 2014, Tuesday through Saturday, between 10 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. for all of the holiday fun.

For more information, visit the North Pole NY website.

– Hilarey Wojtowicz

6 Festivals for Families in Honor of Ice Cream and Blueberry Month

July 14th, 2014

July is Ice Cream Month and Blueberry Month and what better way is there to celebrate than with delicious festivals in honor of the two tasty treats? Enjoy one of these edible events around the country this month and scoop up your favorite flavor or pick a few berries and enjoy some family fun.

New Jersey State Ice Cream Festival
Saturday, July 19, 2014
Enjoy rides, games and entertainment — oh and lots of ice cream of course — at the 12th Annual New Jersey State Ice Cream Festival. See which creamery serves up the best in the state or compete to see if you or your child can devour a bowl of the sweet stuff the fastest. Admission and parking are free. The event will be held on Washington Street in Toms River, N.J. from 3 to 8 p.m.

For more information, visit the Downtown Toms River website.

Farrell’s Splendiferously Superific Summer Spectacular Ice Cream Eating Challenge
Sunday, July 20, 2014
After weeks of qualifying challenges, the 5th Annual Farrell’s Splendiferously Superific Summer Spectacular Ice Cream Eating Challenge Championship Event will take place at Farrell’s in Downtown Brea, California. See who can lick the bowl clean the fastest and then enjoy a family-friendly festival with rides, games, prizes and entertainment for all ages. The contest benefits the Make a Wish Foundation and the Children’s Hospital of Orange County. The Championship Event begins at 11 a.m. and the festival will follow just outside Farrell’s in Downtown Brea on South Brea Boulevard.

For more information, visit Farrell’s USA website.

Chincoteague Blueberry Festival
Friday, July 25 to Sunday July 27, 2014
Eat blueberries and blueberry ice cream and blueberry pie and everything blueberry at the Chincoteague Blueberry Festival on Chincoteague Island in Virginia. Enjoy music and arts and crafts during the three-day festival, now celebrating its 27th year. Admission is $5 per adult, per day and $1 per child, per day (12 and under). Two- and three-day passes are $8 per person, and $10 per person, respectively. The event will be held at the Chincoteague Center and is open daily from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

For more information, visit the Chincoteague Blueberry Festival website.

Vermont’s Deerfield Valley Blueberry Festival
Friday July 25 to Sunday Aug. 3, 2014
Enjoy blueberries, music, food and blue vintage cars at the Deerfield Valley 7th Annual Blueberry Festival. Spread across three Vermont towns — Wilmington, Whitingham and Dover — across 10 days, the festival is sure to have something fun for every family. See the Big Blue Parade, eat lots of blueberry dishes and pick your own blueberries to take home. On Aug. 2, be sure to stop by Readsboro Central School for a special children’s blueberry-inspired reading program at 10 a.m. The Deerfield Valley Blueberry Festival is open daily from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

For more information, visit the Deerfield Valley Blueberry Festival website.

Atlanta Ice Cream Festival
Saturday, July 26, 2014
Dive into a cold bowl of ice cream in Atlanta this summer at the 4th Annual Atlanta Ice Cream Festival. The event will also feature health and wellness agencies, fitness gurus and other vendors reminding families to eat well (before and after that sundae). Musical performances will entertain guests and an ice cream eating competition will take place. The Atlanta Ice Cream Festival will be held at Piedmont Park from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

For more information, visit the Atlanta Ice Cream Festival website.

Iron River Lions Blueberry Festival
Saturday, July 26 and Sunday, July 27, 2014
The Iron River Lions Blueberry Festival in Wisconsin is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year with a two-day festival that is perfect for families. Head to Iron River’s Moon Lake Park, located just under one hour from Lake Superior, Minn., for the festival and enjoy contests, concession stands, arts and crafts, a blueberry pie eating contest, musical performances, fireworks and more. On Sunday, a blueberry parade will take place at 12:15 p.m. Festival hours are from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.

For more information, visit the Iron River Lions website.

– Hilarey Wojtowicz

Summer Magic Tree House Experience at The Plaza Hotel in New York City

July 13th, 2014

New York City’s famous luxury hotel is once again offering families summer activities that are fun and educational. The Plaza Hotel is partnering with Random House for the third year in a row to offer the Magic Tree House Experience starting July 1 and running through Sept. 30, 2014.

Inspired by the Magic Tree House book series, the experience includes family-friendly activities centered around author Mary Pope Osborne’s newest book, “Midnight on the Moon” and the hotel’s history and surrounding landmarks. Book the Magic Tree House Experience Package, pick up your Magic Tree House passport and Fact Tracker and set out on a journey through the Big Apple with your family this summer.

Magic Tree House Experience Package
Offered year-round, with activities and events changing quarterly, the Magic Tree House Package includes luxurious accommodations, one Magic Tree House Passport per person, a special Magic Tree House pin for young adventurers to wear and a New York City welcome amenity. Guests can also get a Space Fact Checker and are encouraged to visit the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History. Remember to get your passport stamped at every attraction in order to remember your adventure! Pick up a Magic Tree House Fact Tracker for even more activities and family fun centered around the book series. Package rates start from $825 per night.

Families who cannot participate in this summer’s Magic Tree House Experience can look forward to booking the package in the fall and winter when the experience will include all new activities and Magic Tree House themes.

For more information on The Plaza Hotel, read our hotel review. For more information on the Magic Tree House book series, visit the Magic Tree House website.

– Hilarey Wojtowicz

Mohonk Mountain House Celebrates 145th Anniversary

July 11th, 2014

The Mohonk Mountain House is celebrating 145 years of family traditions this year with travel packages, new activities, amenities and more. The Victorian-style resort has been owned and operated by the Smiley family ever since it was founded in 1869. The National Historic Landmark is located 90 miles north of New York City in New Paltz, New York in the Catskills region. Families who visit this year will not only enjoy the in-room fireplaces, balconies, kids’ club, pool, barn museum and afternoon tea, but many more new amenities and activities, as well.

Visit the Mohonk Mountain House and honor the resort’s 145th birthday by enjoying one of these new and old traditions this year:

Dress Like a Victorian
Play dress up and travel back in time to the Victorian era when the Mohonk Mountain House was originally founded. Owner Albert Smiley will be at the resort on select days and will gladly take a photo with each costumed-guest.

House History Tours
Take an educational and interesting tour of the resort and get a look at the private Smiley Family Victorian Parlor.

Meals Inspired by Mohonk History
Try something new — or old — at the Mohonk Dining Room. Executive Chef Jim Palmeri cooks up cuisine inspired by the late-1800s, such as mushroom-stuffed chicken breast and braised short rib with warm tri-color potatoes. A special pomegranate champagne cocktail will also be available for adults.

Meditate at the Mountain House
Nina Smiley, Ph. D. is co-author of the book and CD “The Three Minute Meditator” and will lead workshops and private sessions this year for Mohonk guests. Relax and truly unplug during your vacation.

Timeless Traditions Massage
With a mix of old-fashioned and new-age massage techniques, guests can enjoy a relaxing and healing experience at the Spa at Mohonk Mountain House.

Overnight Packages
Save on your stay with an overnight package that is inspired by the resort’s birthday. Receive up to 20 percent off all-inclusive packages with the 145th Anniversary Getaway Package. Enjoy accommodations, three meals daily, afternoon tea and cookies and most resort activities. Rates start from $240 per adult, per night and the offer is valid now through Aug. 28, 2014.

And if traveling now through the end of July, book the Kids Stay and Eat Free promotion.

For more information on the Mohonk Mountain House, read our hotel review.

– Hilarey Wojtowicz