Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category

Where Selfie Sticks Are Banned

August 8th, 2015

Six Flags recently announced the banning of selfie sticks in parks nationwide, citing safety as a concern. Earlier in 2015, Disney did the same for all parks. As more attractions and events shun the devices, we’ve compiled a list of popular family destinations where it’s best to save the selfies.

Mom and Son With Selfie Stick

– Six Flags, Nationwide
– Disneyland, California
– Disney World, Florida
– Disneyland Paris, France
– Disneyland Hong Kong, China
– Lake Tahoe, Nevada and California
– Colosseum, Italy
– The National Gallery, London
– Museum of Modern Art, New York City
– Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City
– Lake Winnepesaukah, Georgia
– Smithsonian Institute, Washington, D.C.
– The Palace of Versailles, France
– Kentucky Derby
– Minnesota State Fair (Partial Ban)

Visit (a newly launched site) to search attractions you’ll be visiting and see what the policies are on selfie sticks.

More From Family Vacation Critic:
Family Guide to Six Flags Amusement Parks
10 Best Amusement Parks for Families in 2015

Pontoon Boat Rides On Lake Lanier

August 7th, 2015

My idea of boating is flopping on my couch and sinking into a glossy coastal-decor magazine. Living close to a sparkling lake, however, I knew a day of real boating with the kids was in my future.

Kids On Pontoon Boat on Lake Lanier

Gorgeous Lake Lanier sprawls about 45 minutes north of Atlanta, and is the quintessential spot for pontoon boat rides. If you’re remembering your grandpa’s fishing pontoon — wrong century. Today’s pontoons are souped-up beauties that deliver a 5-star lake experience. Grandpa would be speechless. Here’s what to expect and why you should go:

Dining with a View
Be sure to pack lunches and snacks, and know that you don’t have to worry about any of your food getting wet. You won’t get wet unless you choose to jump into the lake.

Safety Matters
Prior to boarding our pontoon of choice — called the Platinum Tritoon (there are several pontoon choices) — Lake Lanier’s Harbor Landing staff had us sign several forms and watch a 10-minute video on boating safety. Also, kids 13 and under are required to wear life jackets. Because I’d been warned by locals that speed boats and jet skis can kick up a lot of wake and cause actual tragedy (risky behavior and/or inebriation combined with boating can lead to devastating consequences), we kept our pontoon activity to quiet coves where the speed boats weren’t. When we were boating on the “highway,” we kept the boys safely on-board.

Bring Your GPS
You can plug in your car’s GPS on the pontoon. This helped us avoid getting lost. You don’t have to worry about your phone or GPS getting wet while on the pontoon boat, though if you’re concerned, purchase a plastic case in advance of your trip.

Visit the Islands
Lake Lanier is immense (39,000-acre reservoir) with zillions of tiny private islands. At one island, my boys bottled up Fool’s Gold, and at another island, we stopped to have lunch. If you want a party, head for Sunset Cove, but if you want quiet family-time, motor to an island.

Rent a Raft
The raft is de rigueur for maximum pontoon enjoyment. At Harbor Landing, you’re given the choice between a single ($35) or a double tube ($50). The kids hold onto the raft and get the ride of their lives as the pontoon carts screaming, euphoric children behind. (Seeing your dumplings screeching in sheer joy from the back of a pontoon is right up there with holding your swaddled baby for the first time or watching your toddler absorbed in her first ice cream cone.)

Rates and Best Times to Go
Prices vary for a beautiful summer day of pontooning on Lake Lanier, but in a nutshell, weekdays are less expensive than weekends and you can rent from two to 24-hours. For your first time out, we recommend renting a pontoon for at least a four-hour day (say, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.). A four-hour summer day — Monday through Friday — comes to $310 while an 8-hour day is $435. (Cheaper pontoons are available, but they offer less speed.) Want to pontoon on the weekend? Add approximately $40 more. Optional insurance is an additional $30. Gas clocked in for us at about $30, but the price depends on how much gas you use. Want the best deal? Rent a pontoon in the off-season beginning on October 1 and the price on the Platinum Tritoon drops to $270. (And if you live near Atlanta, or have friends who do, watch for 25-percent-off coupons in ValuPak.) In Georgia, October racks up about a dozen 80-plus degree days, but even in 70 degree weather, you’ll score a dazzling day on the pontoon.

— Wendy Irvine

Wendy Irvine is a homeschooling mom of twin 12-year-old beach fanatics. Follow Wendy’s family travel tips on Twitter @WendyIrvine.

Where to Find Duckpin Bowling

July 27th, 2015

Bowling is a surefire family activity in any travel destination, especially when bad weather derails your outdoor plans. But did you know there are different varieties of the sport? On a recent rainy day, I took a day trip with my two kids to Danbury, Connecticut to try duckpin bowling at Danbury Lanes. Now we’re raging fans!

Duckpin Bowling at Danbury Lanes

The main reason is because duckpin bowling is perfectly suited for kids. Everything, from the pins to the balls, is smaller than traditional bowling. The balls are less than five inches in diameter, and don’t have finger holes. They can be held with one hand — or two small hands.

Like traditional bowling, duckpin bowling is played with ten pins. You play ten frames, but during each frame, you have three chances to knock them down instead of two. At Danbury Lanes, you are charged by the amount of time you play, not by the number of ten-frame games you play. These lanes are charmingly non-automated, so the only bumpers blocking the gutters were made of something resembling PVC pipe. The balls were returned to us from the pit deck on a sloping ball return by nothing more than the force of gravity.

My 8-year old daughter enjoyed it so much more than any regular bowling game, when she usually complains that the ball is too heavy. Like Goldilocks, she found this place to be “just right.”

Duckpin bowling has been around more than 100 years, and I had never heard of it. Danbury Lanes was built in the 1940’s, and re-built after a fire in 1955. Not much has changed since then, and in this case, it’s a good thing. I was thoroughly charmed by the glittery Formica benches forming semi-circles around the scoring tables, the black and white framed photos of past league champions hanging on the walls, and the turquoise shelves holding the leather bowling bags for local regulars.

Where can you find a duckpin bowling lane? There are only about 60 left in the United States, since the equipment is no longer manufactured. The sport is said to have originated in Baltimore, so you’ll find alleys there and in other parts of Maryland. There’s a concentration of duckpin bowling alleys in Connecticut, as well as Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. Beyond the mid-Atlantic and northeast states, a few alleys can be found in Indiana, Oklahoma, Nebraska, North Carolina, and Wisconsin. See for a list and more information about the sport.

— Traci L. Suppa

Traci L. Suppa drags her small-town family to see a quirky array of the world’s largest, longest, or tallest things, and blogs about it at Go BIG or Go Home.

Summer in the Sweet Carolinas With Natural Retreats

May 15th, 2015

If you’re planning a trip below the Mason-Dixon line this summer, you’ll quickly realize that sweet tea and fried green tomatoes are just the beginning of what the Carolinas have to offer. Whether you want to hike through the Blue Ridge Mountains, rent a boat for the day on the largest private lake on the East Coast, take a dip in a natural waterfall pool, or just relax on the back porch of your dream home for the week, we’ve got just the ticket.

Travel and destination company Natural Retreats has partnered with Southern Living magazine to launch Handpicked Home Collections across North and South Carolina that are the perfect setting for ultimate family vacations.

Natural Retreats rental home in Balsam Mountain, North Carolina

A Private Mountain Retreat in Balsam Mountain, North Carolina
Nestled in the scenic Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, this private community is entirely contained within the Balsam Mountain Preserve, a 4,400-acre nature sanctuary. Choose from one of the 10 luxurious Handpicked Collection cabins, all within walking distance of the incredible amount of onsite outdoor and recreational activities.

Natural Retreats guests have access to all of the preserve amenities, including a swimming pool, 24-hour fitness center, yoga studio and tennis courts. The Equestrian Center is also available for private lessons or guided trail rides, most under the cool forest canopy. Free, guided hikes are available on over 30 miles of groomed hiking trails meandering through the preserve, accessing deep forests and stunning mountain views. Guided fishing trips are available along the 38 miles of spring-fed streams filled with native brook trout on the property. The Nature Center hosts a variety of activities led by full time, onsite naturalists, including guided nature hikes, bird watching classes, botanical walks and family-focused programs.

A Secret Island Oasis in Daufuskie Island, South Carolina
If you’re looking for a place where you can totally unplug without an eight-hour flight, look no further than Daufuskie, South Carolina. Only accessible by ferry from Hilton Head, this Carolina gem is one of the best-kept secrets of the south.

The island is free of automobile traffic; instead, golf carts are the vehicles of choice, along with bicycles and horses. Rentals feature kitchens and outdoor grills, and young kids can play freely while mom and dad look on from the front porch. Natural Retreats will handle everything for you, from arranging the accommodations to supplying your transportation. Golf carts and ferry rides to and from the island are included in your reservation, as well. Rental homes come complete with complimentary highchairs, Pack ‘n Plays and beach chairs at your request.

Something For Everyone in the Family in Lake Toxaway, North Carolina
Lake Toxaway lies in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains surrounded by over one million protected acres in the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests. A vacation here places you in the heart of an outdoor lover’s paradise. From Panthertown Valley and Gorges National Park to incredible small town destinations like Asheville, each minute here can be as action-packed or relaxing as you choose.

The lake provides incredible fishing and is home to brown and rainbow trout, small mouth bass, bluegill, shell cracker sunfish and catfish. While on the lake, hire a boat for the day, or rent sailing or fishing equipment for the week. Known as the “Land of Waterfalls” there are more than 250 named waterfalls in the region that can be spotted on the numerous hiking trails. And rental homes here can range in size from two to six bedrooms to accommodate the whole family.

Hike the Rolling Hills in Highlands, North Carolina
A mere three-hour drive from the hustle and bustle of metropolitan Atlanta, Asheville or Greenville is the idyllic mountain town known as Highlands, North Carolina. At a pristine elevation of over 4,000 feet, this quiet rustic mountain community is located at the southern tip of the Blue Ridge Mountains and is surrounded by a national forest. A picture perfect location reminiscent of a Norman Rockwell painting, Highlands is a delightful blend of country and city cultures.

For those who possess a more adventuresome spirit, the Highlands provide some of the best nature hikes in North Carolina, simply by stepping out your front door. Take a long walk or an invigorating hike to a nearby waterfall, go mountain biking across the hills or stroll the sidewalks of Main Street for fantastic boutiques and homemade preserves. Spend the morning golfing, or take a white-water rafting trip with the whole family one afternoon. Each of the seasons offers a unique set of outdoor adventures that attract residents and visitors alike to revel in the magnificent splendors of the mountains.

— Lissa Poirot