Hotel Chains With Free Breakfast for Families

August 27th, 2014 by Hilarey Wojtowicz No comments »

A mother, daughter and father eat breakfast together at a hotelThere are always a few perks that help make a family’s stay at a hotel a little more comfortable. Large suites, mini-fridges, microwaves, pools…all are awesome amenities to have during a vacation. But we know of one that beats the rest — a free breakfast. Not only can you save money, but time, too. Whether it’s hot or cold, a free breakfast makes vacation that much easier. Here’s a list of 17 hotel chains that always serve up a free breakfast to their guests daily:

  • Best Western
  • Comfort Inn & Suites
  • Country Inn & Suites
  • Drury Hotels
  • Element Hotels by Westin
  • Embassy Suites
  • Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott
  • Hampton Inn & Suites
  • Holiday Inn Express
  • Homewood Suites
  • Hyatt Place
  • La Quinta Inn & Suites
  • Residence Inn
  • SpringHill Suites by Marriott
  • Staybridge Suites
  • TownePlace Suites by Marriott
  • Wingate by Wyndham

Another great perk is free Wi-Fi. Read Wi-Fi: Where to Find Free Wi-Fi When Traveling for a list of hotels with complimentary Internet access.

– Hilarey Wojtowicz

Spending a Day on Disney’s Castaway Cay in the Bahamas

August 26th, 2014 by Guest Blogger No comments »

Families on beach of Disney's Castaway Cay island in the BahamasOne of the highlights of our recent Disney Cruise vacation was the day we spent on Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island in the Bahamas. From 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., our ship had the entire island to ourselves. I left for this trip without doing a lot of my normal intensive research, so I wasn’t as prepared as I could’ve been for our adventure ashore. Here are some things I wish I had known in advance.

First of all, if you want to sound like you know what you’re talking about, it’s pronounced Castaway “key,” not “kay.” And if you want a beach chair, get off the ship and onto the beach no later than 9:30 a.m. There is a tram that makes stops at the three main beach areas.

And there are a few important things to bring with you: sunscreen, sunglasses, bottled water and beach toys. We brought our own reusable water bottles on this trip, so we filled them that morning at the complimentary drink stations on the ship. Towels are provided to you after you disembark. You can buy bottles of water on the island, but this can get pricey. Sunscreen, beach toys, goggles, etc. are available for sale at the two gift shops if you don’t have them, but why pay when you can bring your own?

Castaway Ray's Stingray Adventure sign on Disney's Castaway Cay in the BahamasThere’s a lot more to do than just laying on the sand, like biking, snorkeling, watercraft rentals, parasailing, etc. However, there’s a charge for every activity. I was surprised and a little disappointed to learn that there was a hefty fee for Castaway Ray’s Stingray Adventure, especially since the planning DVD doesn’t let on that there’s a charge for this. There’s even a $10 rental fee for inner tubes and foam rafts. Had I planned better, I would have packed my own inflatables.

Regardless of the fees, you don’t need to bring any money with you. As long as you have your “Key to the World” card, you can charge anything you purchase to your room. The only exception is if you want to send a postcard from the island’s Post Office. It will need a Bahamian stamp, which you can purchase with cash there.

The amazing supervised children’s program isn’t just onboard the ship either; it’s on the island, too! You can drop off your kids at Scuttle’s Cove, and head off to the adult-only beach, Serenity Bay. They will be cared for, entertained, and fed by the same well-trained childcare staff, with games, activities, and water play area. There is no extra fee for this program; it’s included in your cruise fare.

Pelican Plunge water play area on Disney's Castaway Cay in the BahamasThe main water attraction is Pelican Plunge, which contains two fast-moving waterslides, two water cannons, and a large bucket that pours out overhead every few minutes. However, it’s on a dock, and you have to swim out to it — through deep water — to reach it. There are life jackets provided, and anyone under 38 inches is required to wear one to swim over to it.

Eat lunch early; it’s served from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. This is not only to avoid crowds, but also to get there before the seagulls start swarming. We heard a high-pitched whistle tone over the PA system the entire time, which presumably is used to keep the birds away. It didn’t really work, and it bothered my son and husband, who are sensitive to certain sounds. You can, however, bring your lunch tray to the beach if you want to eat there.

The two gift shops — Buy the Seashore and She Sells Sea Shells and Everything Else — carry special Castaway Cay souvenirs that you will only find there. If having unique Disney merchandise is your thing, stock up there.

What other tips do you have for visiting Disney’s Castaway Cay? Comment below!

– 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.





A Visit to Ben & Jerry’s Factory in Vermont With the Kids

August 25th, 2014 by Guest Blogger No comments »

Two boys peek through the Ben and Jerry's Factory sign in VermontOn a recent visit to Vermont, we were excited to find out we were staying just a few miles from the Ben & Jerry’s Factory in Waterbury, V.T. I’m a long time fan of the ice-cream company myself, having grown up watching their business expand while devouring their awesome flavors. I also have a tremendous amount of respect for their involvement in local and global issues. I was not only eager to learn about their humble beginnings but I was anxious to see the factory. My kids were equally curious and eager to taste a few flavors, so it was indeed a “family-approved” fieldtrip.

The factory offers 30-minute guided tours led by fun people who truly love working for Ben and Jerry. We happened to be given a tour on Pajama Day, so our guide was decked out in her favorite PJ’s. We learned that Ben and Jerry met when they were both kids in gym class. They started the business after taking a $5 course in the 1970’s on Long Island and moved to Vermont to open their first scoop shop in a renovated gas station. They have created hundreds of flavors, many of which no longer exist and are given homage to in the factory’s “Flavor Graveyard.” It’s an actual graveyard with headstones dedicated to their long gone flavors with engraved poetry saluting their legacies. We were given a sample during the tour of their Strawberry Cheesecake flavor and naturally stopped for scoops in their scoop shop at the end of the tour.

The factory itself is really something to see and my kids really learned about the ice cream manufacturing experience. We saw where the milk and cream are pumped and stored and how the mix is made in a 100-gallon stainless steel mega-blender, adding sugar, egg yolks, cocoa powder and natural stabilizers. The completed batch is taken to the surge tank where the mix is stored until pasteurization begins. Then it enters the homogenizer before being pumped over to the Tank Room (a 36-degree (F) room with six 5000-gallon storage tanks). Who knew there was so much involved in getting a scoop of ice cream made?

Our guide explained that in 2000, Ben & Jerry’s was acquired by Unilever, but Ben and Jerry remain advisors. They still buy milk from Vermont dairy farmers who aren’t allowed to use any growth hormones on their cows. They also still contribute more than $1 million annually to employee-led Community Action Teams and their Ben & Jerry’s Foundation. I liked having my kids find out about successful people who help people with their money. It was both an educational and inspiring day, topped with a scoop of Chunky Monkey (my favorite flavor)!

The factory tour is affordable at just $4 per adult, $3 per child, with kids 12 and under free. They also have a tour package for $20 that includes a T-shirt with factory tour admission. The factory is open year-round, with the exception of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day, with extended hours June through October.

– 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.

Four Family Hotel Packages in Honor of National Grandparents Day

August 24th, 2014 by Hilarey Wojtowicz No comments »

Grandparents and grandchildren pose for a picture together at homeNational Grandparents Day is September 7 — just two weeks away! — and hotels around the United States want to honor our wise relatives with special hotel packages. Pack up the entire family and take a multigenerational vacation during the month of September as a way of saying thank you to Grandma and Grandpa.

Fairfield Inn Anaheim Disneyland Resort
The Create Magical Moments with Grandparents and Kids at Disneyland Package at the Fairfield Inn Anaheim Disneyland Resort will allow the whole family to have fun. Package includes a $25 Disney gift card, daily parking for one vehicle and Disney’s Magic Morning admission for one day. The Disney’s Magic Morning experience allows guests to enter Disneyland early and interact with their favorite characters before it opens to the public. Rates start from $194 per night. Offer valid for stays of three or more nights, now through Sept. 30, 2014. Use promo code THM when making your reservation.

KeyLime Cove Indoor Waterpark Resort
Celebrate your grandparents at the KeyLime Cove Indoor WaterPark Resort this September with a special rate all month long! The Gurnee, Ill., resort’s special rate includes overnight accommodations, admission to the Lost Paradise Indoor Waterpark, a 15 percent discount on food and beverages during your visit and daily “fun-tivities” at Leapin’ Lizards. Rates start from $110 per night. Offer valid now through Sept. 30, 2014.

Nickelodeon Suites Resort
Book the Grandparent Package at the Nickelodeon Suites Resort in Orlando this September and celebrate with special amenities and more. Package includes one coffee mug with unlimited refills, discounts at Cravings on specialty beverages, 15 percent off accommodations, 10 percent off cabana rentals, 10 percent off food, drinks, snacks and other items at the onsite store, 10 percent off all 4D experiences and $50 off the Ultimate SLIME Experience. Rates start from $102 per night. Offer valid for stays Sept. 1 through Sept. 30, 2014. Use promo code GRAND when making your reservation.

Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort
Stay connected with the grandparents at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort with the Grandparents and Families Connect Package in honor of National Grandparents Day. Package includes 50 percent off a connecting room when booking one guestroom at the standard price. Plus, when your family stays at this resort, they receive special Disney benefits, like early entry to each of the Walt Disney World theme parks, complimentary transportation, character dining and more! Rates start from $145 per night for the first standard room, with connecting room rates starting from just $109 per night. Offer valid for stays Sept. 1 through Sept. 30, 2014. Call 888-828-8850 and mention promo code GRPRNT to make your reservation.

– Hilarey Wojtowicz

Four Family Activities in Chattanooga, TN

August 23rd, 2014 by Guest Blogger No comments »

Chattanooga is a beautiful and vibrant little city located just north of the Georgia and Tennessee border. The bustling and artsy downtown has much to offer for families looking to spend some quality time together. Start your day with a stroll along the river, crossing the pedestrian bridge to Coolidge Park, and play in the splash fountains or visit the merry-go-round. After you are finished enjoying the beautiful urban park scene and Tennessee Riverfront, be sure to visit these four other family-approved attractions:

The Tennessee Aquarium
Two girls stand staring up at a Tennessee Aquarium exhibitThe Tennessee Aquarium is perfect for families with all age groups. The Aquarium itself is broken into two buildings, one featuring ocean animals and the other featuring river animals — many which are native to the state of Tennessee. Children will delight at the butterfly garden, the sea otters and the myriad of colorful and unique species of fish to be found. If you visit in the summertime with small children, be sure to pack swimsuits, as there is a small creek and splash area in front of the aquarium that is the perfect place for children to cool down. Older children will love the add-on IMAX movie feature to the aquarium ticket.

Creative Discovery Museum
Young girl plays at table in Creative Discovery Museum in Chattanooga, TennesseeThis is a hands-on museum that allows children to play, while learning about a large variety of topics, including fossils, art, music, basic science principles, and much more. Children will love running from exhibit to exhibit making crafts, putting on puppet shows, unearthing fossils, playing doctor, splashing in water, and more. Adults will also enjoy learning along with their kids and taking breaks to watch their children explore.

Ruby Falls
Young girl stands in caverns of Ruby Falls in Chattanooga, TennesseeThis is a great, light adventure activity for children and adults alike. Take a guided tour of a cave and see the nation’s largest underground waterfall available to the public. The tour consists of a half-mile walk to the falls and a half-mile walk back, while navigating natural terrain. The tour has a few stairs and narrow pathways and does not accommodate strollers. Bring a carrier if visiting with an infant, and have children wear comfortable, closed-toe shoes.

 

 

Rock City
Side view of Rock City with people in Chattanooga, TennesseeLocated atop Lookout Mountain, this is a fun and versatile attraction for all ages. Paths and trails wind through natural beauty and provide awe-inspiring views. A favorite among families is the trail through an enchanted garden that features gnomes and fairy-tale themes. The famous see-seven-states view, rock formations, waterfalls and caverns make this the total package attraction. Some of the trails are not handicap and stroller accessible, but there are trails that strollers and wheelchairs are able to trek in order to see the gardens and enjoy the views.

Recommended Hotel: The Chattanoogan

– Hilarye Fuller

Hilarye Fuller is a mama to three little girls, children’s book author and travel and lifestyle blogger at Dotting the Map.

Family Fun at the 23rd Annual North Country Moose Festival in New Hampshire

August 22nd, 2014 by Hilarey Wojtowicz No comments »

Moose in the wildLooking for something fun to do with the kids this weekend? Today kicks off the start of the 23rd Annual North Country Moose Festival in New Hampshire. Yes, you read that right — Moose Festival! Festivities begin today with the Street Fair in downtown Colebrook, NH., and continues tomorrow and Sunday with a Moose Stew Cook Off, Moose Calling Contest, live music, food and craft vendors, and more. Plus, plan a weeklong vacation in the area and enjoy the 144th Annual Lancaster Fair, which runs from Aug. 27 to Sept. 1, for rides, food, live music, contests and more.

The 23rd Annual Moose Festival offers families free admission with the donation of a non-perishable food item and then three days of family fun. Start your weekend with the Street Fair at 3 p.m. and check out the various local vendors, the Uncommon Folk Band, Moose Cruise Classic Car Parade and more. A free Kidz Korner will be set up at the Tillotson Center on Carriage Lane from 3 to 6 p.m. and a ventriloquist and magic show will take place at 4 p.m.

On Saturday, families can enjoy activities across two towns — Canaan, V.T., and Colebrook, N.H. Enjoy a Moose Watchers Breakfast between 7 and 10 a.m. in Canaan and then head to the Country Fair. Admission to the fair is $12 for a family of four (two kids under 15) and will host craft and food vendors, a Kidz Korner, the Moose Stew Cook Off, a Maple Syrup Tasting Contest, and more. In Colebrook, N.H., families can wake up with the Murphy the Moose’s Trail Run at 9 a.m. and then wind down in the evening with a performance by Alex Smith of the Mountain Folk Band.

Sunday marks the last day of the festival with events and activities across three towns — Pittsburg, N.H., West Stewartstown, N.H., and Colebrook, N.H. Fuel up for the day in West Stewartstown with a breakfast at St. Albert’s Hall. Then visit the Maple Ridge Farm in Pittsburg for animal visits, live music, the farm museum and more between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Finally, bring the family to Colebrook for a summer picnic ($5 per meal) and a concert at 7 p.m.

If your family decides to stick around for the Lancaster Fair be sure to check out the horse shows, pig scramble, truck pull, demolition derby, food vendors, live music and more. Admission is $15 per adult and free for children under 42 inches tall. Parking is free. The festival runs from Wednesday, Aug. 27 to Monday, Sept. 1, 2014

For more information on the Moose Festival, visit the North Country Chamber of Commerce website. For more information on the Lancaster Festival, visit the Lancaster Fair website.

– Hilarey Wojtowicz