Archive for the ‘U.S. Travel’ category

Adventure Activities at the Omni Homestead Resort

June 28th, 2015

Hot Springs, Virginia, is pretty, well, hot this summer, especially at the Omni Homestead Resort. The expansive, mountainside retreat is offering an array of outdoor activities for families this year, many of which are included in the seasonal Adventure Package.

The resort’s Adventure Package includes one activity per person, per day, plus parking for one vehicle, a 50-percent discount for children at the KidsClub and 15 percent off additional outdoor activities.

Waterslides at The Omni Homestead Resort

Alleghany Springs
It may be difficult to drag children away from Alleghany Springs, the resort’s 2-acre water park, complete with two, 100-foot waterslides, a 400-foot lazy river, sandy beach and kids’ water play zone. There is also a large family pool, hot tubs and cabanas for rent, which can hold up to six people and come with mini-fridges, flat-screen TVs and sofas.

With eight stationary targets of varying distances, both kids and adults can try their hand at archery at the resort. If you’re already a pro, try a more challenging experience at the 10-station, 3D archery range onsite. One-hour sessions are available with equipment for both adults and kids.

Fly Casting Clinic
Have you always wanted to learn how to fly fish? Now you can in the Cascades Stream at the resort with trained guides. One-hour lessons are available with equipment included. Reservations must be made in advance.

Homestead Shooting Club
The Omni is known for its sporting clay courses, which extend nearly a mile into the woods. Families can enjoy two sporting clay courses, four skeet fields and trap and five-stand courses along the way. Group and private lessons are available and equipment is provided. Reservations must be made in advance.

Horseback Riding
Take in the scenery during a 30-minute horseback trail ride through the resort’s wooded areas. Riders must be at least 54 inches tall to ride alone. Kids under 54 inches can enjoy a hand-led ride.

Additional activities offered at the resort during the summer include falconry, golfing, Segway tours, tennis and a KidsClub.

The Adventure Package starts from $295 per night and is available seven days a week. For an additional cost, families can add on a breakfast plan to the package.

— Hilarey Wojtowicz

Prepping for a Cross Country Road Trip With Kids

June 27th, 2015

One does not accidentally find themselves on the precipice of a cross-country road trip with (or without) kids. No, our upcoming 3,200-plus-mile journey is not a spontaneous family vacation, but rather something that’s been a glimmer in my wife’s eyes for many years. This has been her “someday’” journey. Someday when our two daughters would be old enough to better appreciate urban exploration on foot; someday when they’d gasp deeper at the splendor of majestic national parks; someday when they could properly enjoy quirky roadside America attractions like the world’s largest picnic basket.

Well, someday has arrived.

Outline of Jeff's family's road trip via Google Maps

This cross-country road trip started on Google Maps, connecting dots between here and there and “oh, we have to stop there!” As you can see, we’re taking a fairly straight route. The only debate was Utah — north for Salt Lake City or south for Arches, Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park.

A few curiosities in Columbus, Ohio, will start us off before a weekend in Indianapolis, where we’ll play in the world’s biggest children’s museum. From there we’ll go west through St. Louis’s arch, catch a baseball game in Kansas City, climb the Rocky Mountains in Denver, stand in awe of the National Parks of southern Utah, live it up in Vegas, and take a big tour of California before wrapping it all up at Disneyland.

Phew. I’m a bit sleepy just typing all of that, and I think I’m going to need a vacation not only from the actual vacation, but also from the vacation prep!

We’ve allowed time every day for spontaneous, off-the-beaten path exploration should a sign or sight catch our eye, and there’ll be only one day with a total scheduled drive time of more than six hours. Additionally, there will be no back-to-back, one-night stays, meaning we can take root in a place more often than not because we like to experience destinations more than simply see them.

We invite you back to the Family Vacation Critic Blog throughout the month of July for more stories live from our trip, to discover the best cities, sights and eats along the way with us! But first, let’s look at how we’re planning to spend three weeks together in a car!

The Vehicle
Last summer, we sat comfortably in a rugged Highlander as we explored the soccer culture of Portland, Oregon, and the rest of the Pacific Northwest. It was the perfect ride for that part of the country — tough and majestic. For this Philadelphia to Disneyland, and everywhere in between, expedition, we’ll saddle up a Toyota Sienna; the most elegant and spacious minivan we’ve ever driven. It is spacious enough for two girls to stretch out in the back and spacious enough for the volume of stuff they’ll need to keep them busy (and more to accumulate) going coast to coast!

The Lodging
We’re using a mix of downtown hotels and KOA Campground cabins close to the National Parks we’ll visit, all places with every kid’s No. 1 amenity: a swimming pool!

Cooler and snacks for the road trip

The Food
To properly live out of one’s vehicle, especially in the heat of summer, you’ll need refrigeration and because we need to save money by not dining out constantly for three weeks, we bought a snazzy Igloo Car Cooler that’ll plug into the minivan. We plan to buy groceries, pack sandwiches, and have chilled water and juices in reusable bottles. We’ll also have plenty of nuts, KIND bars, hummus, pita and pretzels on board, and will look for in-season, regional fruit from roadside stands.

Inside the Car
National Geographic Kids Road Atlas
The kids will be tracking our progress across the country and learning about state birds, mottos and historic sights (many of which we’ll be seeing!) with this youthful, fun atlas.

Boogie Board Digital Writing Pad
There’s simply no way I’ll stay sane with two children and sheets upon sheets of paper in the backseat. Boogie Boards are a mess free alternative, allowing kids to be creative without driving dad crazy, and the new Bluetooth enabled model will save their doodles to mobile devices. Now to figure out a solution for my youngest daughter’s newest hobby: paper airplane making! But speaking of mobile devices…

AT&T Mobile Hot Spot
If you’re going to be reading about our trip from the road, I’m going to need Internet access from the road! The AT&T hot spot will transform our Sienna into a mobile wireless technology hub in between free Wi-Fi during hotel stays.

I’ll be shooting with the new Samsung NX500 while my oldest daughter will be documenting the trip with the NX300. She shares my excitement for photography, meaning I get to capture the whole of America alongside her — making this adventure even more special! My girls will also be trying out the Fuji Instamix (think: a very modern Polaroid) during the trip.

Scrapbooking/Photo Albums
My wife and both our daughters will be spending some of their downtime on the road assembling their own real-time, keepsake albums — because the scrapbooks and photo books never seem to get finished (or started) if we wait until real life begins again after vacation!

We traditionally build a playlist for each road trip featuring some favorite kindie (kids’ and indie) music that always starts with Johnny Bregar’s “Two Thumbs Up.” This year, we’ll also include a little Brady Rymer, some Recess Monkey, more than a few Okee Dokee Brothers outdoor adventure songs, and with some adult music too: Dawes, Pokey LaFarge, Good Old War, Lucius, and Brandi Carlile.

Check back throughout the next several weeks to see where we are and what we are doing as a family during our cross-country road trip! We hope you are just as excited as we are! And for more road trip ideas with kids, check out the Car Travel section.

— 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, although he needs to be reminded of this fact from time to time. Jeff also writes for PBS.

Philadelphia Tall Ships and a Rubber Ducky

June 26th, 2015

The four-day Tall Ships Festival arrived in Philadelphia yesterday with cannons booming, water spraying from the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Eagle, and the billowing white sails of historic and replica masthead sailboats, as well as the world’s largest rubber duck.

The world's largest rubber duck at the Tall Ships Philadelphia Festival

The festival, which runs through Sunday, June 28, will take place along the Delaware River in both Philadelphia and Camden, New Jersey. A ferry service will operate between the two cities and connect visitors to the multiple sailboats and ships that welcome visitors to board and tour during the event. New Jersey’s banks will also be home to the world’s largest rubber duck, a 61-foot-tall, 11-ton sculpture that has been making its way around the world.

In Philadelphia, tickets to the event and additional attractions are available at the Independence Seaport Museum, which has opened the Tall Ships Tavern rooftop deck for enjoying the waterfront and the event. Neighboring Spruce Street Harbor Park is also a highlight, with multiple food trucks, pop-up wine and beer stands, and colorful Adirondack chairs and hammocks hanging from shady trees providing a respite from the tours.

The L’Hermione ship at the Tall Ships Philadelphia Festival

The Tall Ship Festival takes place annually, relocating to historic ports and alternating between East and West Coast destinations. This year the festival is the largest the East Coast has seen, with its main ship, the L’Hermione, a replica of the 145-foot-long Concorde class frigate that carried General Lafayette to the United States, aligning France and America during the Revolutionary War. The replica was built in the Poitou-Charentes region of France and a crew matching the General’s sailed across the Atlantic to America, stopping first in Williamsburg, Virginia, before making its way to Philadelphia. It will travel on to New York and Boston before heading back to France.

Admission for the event includes Single Day On-Board Tour Passes that provide entry and ship tours for one day, beginning at $16 per person. Multi-Day and FastPass options are also available.

For more information, visit the Tall Ships Philadelphia Camden website.

— Lissa Poirot

A Day in Coney Island and Brighton Beach With Kids

June 25th, 2015

If you’re looking for a fun day out with the kids near New York City, head to Coney Island and Brighton Beach. The neighboring towns are really easy to get to on the New York City Subway via the R, N, F, D, or Q lines, and even by car.

The area has rebounded since the damage it endured during Hurricane Sandy, and a day out is a throw back to a boardwalk from another era — full of genuine fun. Since you’re headed to southern Brooklyn on the coastline, bring bathing suits, a picnic lunch, sunscreen — and lots of time. Coney Island has so much to offer that it demands a full day, allowing time to walk on the boardwalk, take a dip in the sea, and enjoy a Russian feast, plus so much more. We have the low-down on a perfect day in Coney Island with the kids.

The Cyclone roller coaster in Coney Island

Look for a lot to park your car, or get off the subway, and head to Nathan’s Famous, the historic and legendary hot doggery standing on the boardwalk since 1916. Grab everyone a dog with everything on it and a cold lemonade. When you’re done, head to the boardwalk.

1 p.m.
Go for a stroll on the boardwalk and be prepared to people watch. There are people dancing, having conversations and eating picnic lunches. With Brighton Beach in proximity, a community with a large Russian population, there is a lot of Russian culture on the boardwalk — old men playing cards, women chatting and little boys playing soccer.

When you’re ready, go for a swim in the ocean. The beach is nearly 3 miles long and has playgrounds, volleyball courts, and room to build sandcastles, as well as palm tree sprinklers to splash in.

Luna Park in Coney Island

3 p.m.
For some real old time fun, take the kids to Luna Park, an amusement park right off the boardwalk with rides, roller coasters, games, an arcade, go karts and food stands. Kids of all ages will be taken in by the fun of this park, open since 2010. With over 20 rides ranging from thrillers to family rides, there is a lot to do and you can easily spend two or three hours here.

There’s no fee to enter the park, but the rides are costly so plan ahead and either look for discounts online or set limits in advance with your children. Family-friendly rides include the Speed Boat, Brooklyn Barge, Big Top Express, Seaside Swing and Mermaid Parade, as well as the B&B Carousel. For adventure seekers, the park is home to the legendary Cyclone, and also the Thunderbolt roller coaster.

5:30 p.m.
With hungry tikes in tow, have your stroller ready to walk about a mile on the boardwalk towards Brighton Beach, otherwise known as “Little Odessa.” Tatiana Grill is a great choice for families and is one of the first restaurants you will encounter on the boardwalk. Request a table outside with a view of the ocean and pending sunset. The menu has traditional Russian fare, from herring to borsht to hachapuri to caviar to Russian stew, but for pickier kids, they offer a kids’ menu with hamburgers and fries.

7 p.m.
Top off the day with a dose of exercise at the nearby Brighton Playground and take your tired kids home, full of exciting, unique memories.

Special Coney Island Summer Events for Families

  • Coney Island is offering free fireworks every Friday through Aug. 21, 2015. For the best view, position yourself on the boardwalk or beach between West 10th Street and West 15th Street.
  • On Mondays during July and August, Coney Island Flicks on the Beach is being offered on a giant 40-foot inflatable screen, turning the beach at West 10th Street into an outdoor movie theater. Kids will love “The Goonies” on July 20, or “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” on July 27.
  • Coney Island offers traditional 10-in-one circus sideshows all summer. Shows are daily from 1 to 8 p.m.

— Holly Fink

Holly Rosen Fink is a mother, marketing consultant, writer and blogger for a number of sites, as well as her own, The Culture Mom.