Archive for the ‘U.S. Travel’ category

Playing Tourists on New York City’s Circle Line

August 18th, 2014

People on Circle Line Sightseeing Cruise taking picture of Freedom Tower in New York CityThis past week I joined my son, mother and sister on a tour of Manhattan. You may be wondering why I would do that when I live near New York City and have for many, many years! For one thing, it was a boat tour. I was invited by Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises to go on their Harbor Lights Tour. Who can resist the city at night? For another thing, my mom was visiting from out of town and I knew she would get a real kick out of seeing NYC all lit up at night. In addition, my son is very Instagram-obsessed at the moment, and I knew that he would get a lot of enjoyment out of snapping photos while circling the island. (And I was right!)

Sure enough, we all loved circling the island of Manhattan, getting up-close and personal views of our favorite landmarks. We hopped on the boat at 42nd Street and 12th Avenue. Boarding was easy and efficient. From the Statue of Liberty to the United Nations to the Empire State Building, we saw NYC from what seemed like an “insider’s” view. We rode under bridges, passed the newly built Freedom Tower and rode along side Governor’s Island. We had a professional tour guide share details and wonderful tid-bits about all the sites we passed. Whether you live in NYC or not, you will enjoy the incredible views and history provided by the guide. As the sun went down and the city lit up, the moments on the boat became even more precious and exciting for all of us.

Playing tourist isn’t always easy, though. We arrived 30 minutes before the ride took off and all the good seats were gone. There are a few things I wish I had known beforehand so here are a few tips to make your cruise a success for you and your family:

1. Arrive early, as in one hour before departure. There are a limited number of seats available on the top deck, which is outside and offers the best views. Once those seats are taken, you must sit inside, only peering through windows.

2. The tour guide sits inside most of the time and is resistant to passengers getting up to take photographs. There is more freedom outside and I highly recommend standing outside to capture great images.

3. Concessions are pricy on the boat, so bring a few bottles of water and then head to Gotham Market on 45th Street and 11th Avenue afterwards for amazing, reasonably priced food.

4. Bring a good camera that is fully charged. You won’t want to be camera-less on this ride!

5. Book your tickets online in advance and save money ($5 each, which adds up).

For more information, visit the Circle Line Boat Tours website.

Disclosure: Holly was given complimentary tickets to facilitate this review, but all opinions are her own.

– 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.

A Kid-Friendly Visit to the Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site

August 16th, 2014

Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site on a sunny dayOn a recent visit to Hyde Park in the Hudson Valley, we took our son for a tour of Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site. It’s a remarkable property that was built more than one hundred years ago in 1898 by Frederick Vanderbilt, grandson of railroad magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt.

The tour took us to see about 15 of the 50-room Classical style mansion. One of eight heirs to his family’s fortune, Frederick purchased the property in 1895 and hired architect Charles McKim to decorate a “country house” in which the family could entertain guests during the spring and fall. He also used the property as a “gentleman’s farm,” often spending hours among its gardens and specimen trees. Beautiful pieces of art and sculpture are interspersed around the house and in the gardens. There are also pieces of grand antique furniture, Venetian ceilings, 15th century tapestries, gorgeous vases, Renaissance chairs, 16th century Florentine chests and rooms lined with gold and marble throughout the drawing room, bedrooms, library, and walls lining the stairs. We also went downstairs to the kitchen and saw where the servants used to live and work, which was very reminiscent of Downton Abbey.

Our guide told us tales about the lives of the Vanderbilt family, which kept my son interested, and on his toes. After the tour, we ventured outside to take photos of the stunning views of the Hudson River and the spectacular gardens. I could see spending more time there in the future, as the grounds are heavenly and there is so much to do in the area, including the Culinary Institute of America, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Home and great hiking opportunities.

After the tour, we ventured outside to take photos of the stunning views of the Hudson River and the spectacular gardens. I could see spending more time there in the future, as the grounds are heavenly and there is so much to do in the area, including the Culinary Institute of America, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Home and great hiking opportunities.

We got to the mansion 30 minutes before the last tour left for the day at 4 p.m. Tours are required in order to enter the mansion and the guide takes large groups in for each one, so it’s not hard to get a space on one. Children 12 and under are free. Older children and adults cost $10 each. The tour lasts about an hour and is very kid-friendly. The tour’s combination of architecture, history, antique, history, Italian gardens and amazing scenery (the mansion sits on the banks of the Hudson River) make it an interesting experience for everyone. They have a shop with coffee and cookies if anyone gets hungry.

If you’re heading to the Hudson Valley soon, I highly recommend a stop to the Vanderbilt Mansion. It’s a day of history, education and amazing beauty.

– 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.

Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Kicks Off 5th Annual Crab Week

August 15th, 2014

Exterior view of the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Golf Resort, Spa and MarinaHead to Cambridge, Md., this weekend for the 5th Annual Crab Week at the Hyatt Regency Bay Golf Resort, Spa and Marina. Festivities are family-friendly and delicious (if you’re a fan of seafood), and they kick off today and run through Aug. 29, 2014 — more like Crab Weeks! Dig in at the Feelin’ Crabby Food Truck, meet the author of the children’s book Crabby Crab, or learn how to catch, pick and cook your own. Here’s a list of what you can do during this year’s Crab Week:

Feelin’ Crabby Food Truck
Enjoy signature seafood dishes from Feelin’ Crabby Food Truck on Saturday and Sunday this weekend between 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Delectable options include the Crabwich, Crabster Sandwich, Lobster Salad, Sliders and more.

J.M. Clayton Seafood Company
Tour the world’s oldest crab house, the J.M. Clayton Seafood Company, located right in Cambridge, Md. Founded in 1890 by Captain John Morgan Clayton, the company has remained in the family for more than four generations. The company developed the world’s first automatic crab-picking machine, but still uses a process that follows family tradition. Tour the company on August 23 and stay for a crab feast dinner.

12th Annual Crab Cake Eating Contest
Sign up for or watch the 12th Annual Crab Cake Eating Contest on August 16 at the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Golf Resort, Spa and Marina.

Crabby Crab Book Reading and Author Meet and Greet
Take the kids to the special reading of Chris Raschka’s Crabby Crab on August 29 and then let them make their own! Arts and crafts will be offered at the Krusty Krab’s Kreative Korner for more crabby fun.

Other great family-friendly activities include cooking demos, the Crabby 9-Hole Cup, Human Crab Walk Frenzy, Marine Animal Pool Races, Seaworthy Dive-In Movies and Crab Coloring Contests. For more information on Crab Week, visit the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Golf Resort, Spa and Marina’s website. And check out this deal before booking your stay!

– Hilarey Wojtowicz

Airline Celebrates 7th Anniversary with Virgin America Day and More

August 14th, 2014

Virgin America Airlines plane taking off on runwayVirgin America Airlines is celebrating its seventh birthday this year with Virgin America Day on Saturday, August 16, at the AT&T Ballpark in San Francisco. The California-based airline first launched in 2007 and has since become known for its luxury service and low rates. As the official airline of the San Francisco Giants, the airline will host Virgin America Day at AT&T Park and invites families to attend with the chance to pick up a flight discount during all of the fun. The first 40,000 attendees to the ballpark for the game against the Philadelphia Phillies will receive a two-for-one flight voucher, which can be used when booking your next domestic flight.

When traveling on Virgin America, families can expect sleek leather seats, on-demand entertainment with live TV, kid-friendly movies, music and more, personal outlets and on-demand Wi-Fi, and snacks and drinks. The airline is also currently offering deals from San Francisco to a number of cities in the U.S. Book by midnight tonight for select trips from the New York area or by Monday, August 18, for all other cities and regions, and enjoy airfare from just $73 per person, per way. For more information, visit the Virgin America website.

– Hilarey Wojtowicz

New York City By Land and Sea: 4 Free Ways to See the Big Apple

August 13th, 2014

Staten Island FerryIf you associate expensive activities with New York City family vacations, think again. The Big Apple has so much for families to see and do, some of which take you through the city streets and some that have you cruising the Hudson. Here are four free and fun ways to experience New York City with your kids:

Staten Island Ferry
Live like a local for an afternoon and take a ride on the Staten Island Ferry. The free trip takes about 25 minutes and runs from the St. George Ferry Terminal on Staten Island to the Whitehall Terminal in Lower Manhattan, crossing the New York Bay. Cars and pets are not allowed on the ferry, which runs every 30 minutes, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. If you never thought of taking an afternoon to visit Staten Island on your vacation in the Big Apple, take the ferry for a fun boat ride and visit the Staten Island Children’s Museum before heading back to the city that never sleeps. Snacks and drinks are available for purchase on the ferry. For a schedule and other helpful information, visit the Staten Island Ferry website.

UNIQLO Free Fridays at the Museum of Modern Art
The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) is a great attraction for families visiting New York City. With colorful artwork and interesting sculptures from around the world, plus the free audio program for kids, the MOMA is more family-friendly than you may think. And now, with UNIQLO Free Fridays, visit the museum for free. Every Friday between 4 and 8 p.m. guests of all ages receive free admission. Children ages 16 and under are always free at the MOMA, but with the UNIQLO Free Fridays, families can save even more — up to $25 per adult! Tickets are not available in advance. For more information, visit the MOMA website.

Free Tours by Foot
Want a tour of New York City for free? Free Tours by Foot takes families through the famous neighborhoods while providing interesting facts and unique information — all while asking those in the tour group to pay their own price, which can also mean free! Guests are asked to determine what the tour is worth after it is complete. Free bike and bus tours are also available. For more information, visit the Free Tours by Foot website.

The Downtown Boathouse Free Kayaking Programs
See Manhattan from the New York Harbor by kayak for free. At The Downtown Boathouse families can rent kayaks for free and can paddle through the harbor for a fun experience. The Boathouse is a volunteer, non-profit organization that encourages safe public use of the harbor. The organization also provides free classes and three-hour kayak trips. For more information, visit The Downtown Boathouse website.

– Hilarey Wojtowicz

Los Angeles Sans Celebrities: 3 Inexpensive Attractions for Families

August 12th, 2014

Most people think of Los Angeles as sun, palm trees and celebrities. Alas, most toddlers aren’t too impressed with star wattage. The good news is that the city has lots of kid-friendly (and world class) museums and exhibits that can be worked into your travel schedule — without blowing the budget.

Here are three must-see, perfect-for-kids places when you need an antidote to the Hollywood glitter:

Noah’s Ark at the Skirball Cultural Center
Three kids holding part of exhibit at Skirball Cultural CenterThe story of Noah’s Ark goes interactive with this exhibit at the Skirball Cultural Center, which is an enormous wooden boat stuffed with interactive animals, fun nooks and crannies to explore, and plenty of levels for climbing (and wearing out little ones). Kids can do everything from conducting their own storms to making music and reveling in a rainbow mist. And the animals on the ark are made from recycled and repurposed materials ranging from bottle caps to baseball mitts.

While Noah’s Ark is a deal at $10 for grown-ups and $5 for kids between 2 and 12 (that admission fee also covers all other exhibits at the Skirball), try nabbing tickets for a Thursday, when the experience is entirely free.

Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Day view of the lights at LACMAThe massive Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) offers free admission to all kids 16 and under. Plus, the museum’s NextGen program extends free membership to one accompanying adult. Covering a full city block and multiple buildings, as well as outdoor art installations, LACMA has masterworks from around the world and a special spot just for kids — the Boone Children’s Gallery.

Voted the Best Free Art Studio for Kids by Los Angeles magazine, the Boone Children’s Gallery a great place for kids to draw, color and relax after running around statues or taking in the kimonos at the Pavilion of Japanese Art. Of course, that’s assuming you can get them away from the outdoor art. Kids love running around in Jesus Rafael Soto’s “Penetrable,” also known as the “Spaghetti Factory.” The nickname is a perfect fit for the display of rubber tubing that hangs from a tall, metal frame. It’s a great place to burn off some energy.

Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits
Day view of exterior of the Page Museum at La Brea Tar PitsAny dinosaur-crazy kid will be thrilled to take in the more than 1 million, Ice-Age fossils on display, as well as see real paleontologists working on important finds behind the glass walls of the fossil lab. But if the ticket prices aren’t to your liking (kids 3 to 12 are $5, youths 13 to 17 are $9 and adults are $12), consider walking through the tar pits (part of Hancock Park) for free right next door.

Not only can you visit the Pleistocene Garden, a recreation of a real prehistoric landscape, you can also see actual excavations taking place as you wander the grounds immediately behind the museum (another bonus: Page and LACMA are next door to one another, so you can park once and see both in the same day). Kids can even climb over life-sized Ice Age animal statues and watch others writhe in the bubbling asphalt pit along Wilshire Boulevard.

– Lianne Bonin Star