Ski Resorts in Ohio

January 6th, 2016 by Guest Blogger 1 comment »

Though Ohio may be better known for green fields than snowy peaks, the Buckeye State is home to a number of ski spots. With a focus on family fun and trails to suit every speed, these resorts are helping to put the Midwest on the winter sports map.

Snow Trails

Snow Trails
Halfway between Columbus and Cleveland is Snow Trails, Ohio’s oldest downhill skiing destination. Touted as the most family friendly resort in the state, its kids ski school is open seven days a week. Between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. every day, the Polar Cubs program lets 3- and 4-year-olds get their bearings, while 5- to 9-year-olds enjoy a slightly longer day (until 4 p.m.) in the Polar Bears group. Lunch and snacks are provided for all.

Snow Trails’ Beginner’s Area Complex offers plenty of room to practice carving and shredding. A new carpet lift is as gentle as an airport’s moving sidewalk, making for a much smoother ride than rope tows of the past. Beyond the bunny slope, trails run the gamut from easy riding runs to black diamonds while four terrain parks let freestylers at every level try out new tricks.

Mad River Mountain
Ohio’s largest resort, Mad River Mountain, is just 45 minutes from the center of Columbus and boasts the most diverse terrain in the state, making it a wonderful option for boarders and skiers at every level. Kids ages 4 to 11 can sign up for the Kids Adventure Place, where beginners and intermediates learn the basics and more during half- or full-day sessions. Offered on weekends and holidays, hot chocolate breaks are encouraged and lunch is included.

Older, more experienced skiers (ages 7 to 14) can enroll in the Mountain Explorers Club for the day, where small classes focus on honing techniques and adding more advanced skills like moguls, jumps, and racing.

Boston Mills/Brandywine
Near Akron, Boston Mills/Brandywine is a pair of resorts located just a few miles from one another. A single lift ticket gives you access to both. One-and-half -hour group lessons are available for those 8 and over, while the beginner package includes an equipment rental, lift ticket, and an hour-long lesson for $79.

Trails skew intermediate and advanced (only 27 percent are true beginner trails), making Boston Mills/Brandywine a good choice for a more experienced group. The resort does boast a state-of-the-art tubing area that is open to snow bunnies of all ages—kids as young as 2 are welcome to take the ride. And the recently expanded lodge gives everyone plenty of room to warm up between runs.

Alpine Valley
“Cleveland’s Ski Resort,” Alpine Valley, is just 40 minutes from the rock and roll capital. Thanks to its location in what’s known as the “Cleveland Snowbelt,” conditions tend to be among the best in the state. Kids under 4 pay are $10 for lift tickets and private lessons are available for all ages while group lessons are available for children over 6. For the 2015-2016 season, Alpine Valley is debuting a number of improvements, including a renovated loft and revamped lifts.

— Monique Stringfellow

Monique Stringfellow is a copywriter and travel writer who loves taking off for just about anywhere—lately, with a toddler in tow.

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Best New Water Parks for 2016

January 4th, 2016 by Amanda Geronikos No comments »

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

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5 Things Your Teen Wants You to Know About Cruising

January 1st, 2016 by Guest Blogger No comments »

Teens have strong opinions; this isn’t news to anyone who parents them. So when you’re planning 2016 travel for your family, keep in mind that your teens will have something to say about any choice you make. Cruises are a smart solution, but not just any cruise. After taking several with my 15-year-old son, here’s a wrap-up of his major considerations.

1. There needs to be a lot for me to do on the ship… and not with you.
A bored teen is a whiny teen. Look for a cruise line that has earned high ratings from families with older kids. Royal Caribbean International, Norwegian Cruise Line, Carnival Cruise Lines, and even the Disney Cruise Line offer plenty of attractions, programs, and amenities with teenagers in mind. For example, the Aqua Park on the Norwegian Breakaway includes five multi-story water slides. Carnival’s Club 02 program includes Wii Just Dance tournaments and glow stick socials. Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas just introduced the first bumper cars at sea, as part of the multi-level SeaPlex activity center.

2. You may not see much of me.
Family cruises normally have formal kids’ programs that cover ages 2 through 17. The teen spaces I’ve seen make me want to be young again. Aboard the new Anthem of the Seas, the Living Room is a modern, laid back space with cool lounge chairs, gaming pods, foosball tables, and even YA books on the shelves. On the Disney Dream, there’s a dance floor and state-of-the-art D.J. sound system.

Counselors assigned to teen groups schedule a lot of ice-breaker activities to encourage friendships. Once kids find a clique, they will spend a lot of time with their new friends. It’s up to you to set a curfew time, because activities go on through the wee hours. I wasn’t thrilled that Club O2 on the Carnival Splendor was open, but unsupervised, after midnight, so we expected our son to be back in the cabin by then.

Even when he was with us physically, he was on his phone, uploading selfies to Instagram. That’s another important thing — teens need their Wi-Fi connection as a lifeline to their friends back home. It’s as important as oxygen, so figure the fees into your expenses. Most of the lines will offer different packages and rates for daily use or for the entire length of the cruise. Sometimes the price depends on how many devices are using it.

3. Can you check with me before booking land excursions?
Long city bus tours are out; active outings with plenty of adventure are in. Excursions have come a long way to suit a variety of interests, so look for opportunities to not only experience local culture, but also add a little thrill. There are programs that let you swim with dolphins or sting rays, zip-line, scuba dive or snorkel, kayak, or even go cave tubing. Trips to local beaches are good, too. Disney’s Castaway Cay even has a dedicated Teen Hideout beach for the 14 to 17 year-old set. If you must tour by vehicle, make it an off-roading 4×4, or an amphibious “duck.”

4. I like to eat. A lot.
Just like home. One of the best things about cruising is that meals are included, and buffets have everything your teen needs to re-fuel. But for some kids, food quality is just as important as quantity. Now that my son has graduated beyond kids’ meals, he’s more interested in “cuisine.” He appreciated the hibachi-style Teppanyaki and Carlo’s Bake Shop aboard the Breakaway, and the Johnny Rockets on the Anthem.

Generally, ships that offer flexible dining plans, like Norwegian’s Freestyle Dining and Royal Caribbean’s Dynamic Dining, are better for teens who don’t want to pinned down to the same restaurant and dinner time each night.

5. Some family togetherness is okay.
In return for paying his way, I expect my son to spend some time with me and the rest of our family. He’s okay with that. He will join us for most meals, excursions, and some shows and activities. He’s even acquiesced and let me take incriminating pictures with characters and mascots.

— 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.

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4 Must-See Attractions in South Padre Island

December 30th, 2015 by Amanda Geronikos No comments »

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

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