9 Best New Cars for Family Road Trips

January 22nd, 2016 by Guest Blogger No comments »

Live from Detroit, it’s the acronym challenged North American International Auto Show (NAIAS)! Here’s a look at the best new rides for your next family road trip, whether that’s to the beach this summer, to grandmom’s house during spring break or across the whole of the country before a new school year starts in the fall. These new SUVs and cars will get you there in comfort and in style, no matter where “there” happens to be, and because gas prices sit at 20-year-lows, there’s never been a better time to road trip in a big, beautiful car.

2016 Volvo XC90

2016 Volvo XC90
For my money (not that I have enough to afford her — $50,000 to start, $68,000 for the plug-in hybrid variant), the classy XC90 from Volvo is the most startling example of form and function for families looking to get away in style and comfort. It’s no wonder it took home Motor Trend’s top prize for its segment. Give me one of these in a deep “Passion Red” and I’ll start packing immediately!

2017 Kia Sportage

2017 Kia Sportage
This sporty small SUV just screams out fun and adventure! The Sportage is the Kia Sorento’s rock-n’-roll loving little brother, the kind of kid who colored outside the lines and continues to defy both the expectations of others and the status quo. You can fit your kids and your stuff nicely into a Sportage and set off for a road trip every bit as unique as your family.

2016 Buick Envision

2016 Buick Envision
Duncan Aldred, vice president of Buick said that “the all-new Buick Envision is a modern, confident and responsive luxury compact crossover [SUV]” and while he’s spot-on, what I like best is the emphasis on a supremely quiet cabin, because aside from other drivers making dangerous left turns from the right lane, road noise is my #1 pet peeve while behind the wheel.

2016 Toyota Prius Four Touring Edition

2016 Toyota Prius Four Touring Edition
While we put one of Toyota’s Sienna minivans through the paces during our cross-country 3-week road trip last summer — from the snowy top of the Rockies to the dry 117-degree heat of Death Valley — and a big Toyota Highlander SUV to the test in the Pacific Northwest, we’ve also road tripped in a Prius, in the midst of a harsh Midwestern winter. The 2016 Prius, now available in six grades in a new graded system, is roomy enough for a family of four and delivers remarkable fuel economy to make a journey of any length and on any surface — highway or big city streets — an even more affordable one.

2017 Subaru Forester

2017 Subaru Forester
The newest version of our own everyday family car hasn’t changed too much in the three years since we bought into our 2nd Forester (there is, however, a more robotic look up front on the bumper), but that’s not a bad thing at all. She still sports impressive hip and headspace for big and tall drivers like me, ample legroom for growing kids in the back and enough trunk space for plenty of luggage… and all the new things you’ll collect along your way!

2016 Chevy Trax

2016 Chevy Trax
Maybe it was the clementine orange glaze, but I was immediately smitten with the Chevy Trax LTZ on display at the Detroit Auto Show, despite having never once heard of this vehicle beforehand. The small SUV hatchback starts at a hair over $20,000, making it an affordable entry point into the crossover market and the perfect car to gallivant over sand dunes.

2017 Chevy Equinox LTZ

2017 Chevy Equinox LTZ
Admittedly, I get wobbly-kneed upon spying a two-toned interior and so this inviting Equinox LTZ, with its warm and rich cappuccino and black coffee leather seats and dash, drew me in straightaway. There’s just something incredibly soothing about cruising inside a reading-room quality cabin.

2017 Mercedes-AMG GLS63

2017 Mercedes-AMG GLS63
If you demand turbocharged V8 performance when exploring the Pacific Northwest or going coast to coast with your kids, this large and luxurious Mercedes-AMG SUV is going to turn heads as you blow into town.

Kia Telluride Concept

Kia Telluride Concept
OK, so you’re not going to be going anywhere in a Kia Telluride this year and, while I shudder at the thought, you may never have the privilege of cruising between the slopes and the sea in this hi-tech luxury SUV concept from Kia. But if someday she goes into production, you’ll get health and wellness diagnostics on your door’s control panel and be able to nap fully horizontal in the second row seats. Now THAT’S a utopian road trip set-up!

— 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 OutWithTheKids.com. He considers himself one of the luckiest guys in the world. Jeff also writes for PBS.

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Ski Resorts in Ohio

January 6th, 2016 by Guest Blogger No comments »

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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