Visiting London With Teens

September 21st, 2015 by Guest Blogger No comments »

London may very well be the most interesting city on the planet, with no shortage of amazing things to see and do. Try telling that to some teenagers, however, and you might get an indifferent shrug of the shoulders. It goes with the territory when traveling with teens.

Last summer, I traveled with seven of them on a Boy Scout high adventure, setting off for the north of England to walk the Hadrian’s Wall Path. The first stop before the big hike was the capital city of London. My challenge was to keep these boys, ranging in age from 14 to 17, interested and engaged for three days as we explored the history, architecture, and culture of London. It wasn’t easy, but I came up with a plan that kept the teenagers from being bored. The key is to go easy on the museums, and to schedule a hands-on activity each day. There’s only so much looking and listening that teens can do. It’s most important to have them doing something.

St. Paul's Cathedral

Hyde Park
On our first day, after a long 11-hour flight, we staved off jet lag by going for a leisurely stroll through Hyde Park, visiting the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain and walking among the trees and statues. The goal was to keep the boys from napping, and just get them through to evening when they could begin to switch over their body clocks with a good night’s sleep.

Tower of London
Our first full day of activities started off with the Tower of London. I dare anyone, young or old, to be bored here. The layers of history, going back 1,000 years to William the Conqueror, ensure something to match anyone’s interest. Teens, of course, will go straight for the display on medieval torture devices. But they might also get excited about the stunning gallery of weapons and armor in the White Tower. They’ll certainly want to gawk at the Crown Jewels. The Yeomen Warders, also known as Beefeaters, are the ceremonial guards of the Tower, and they deliver humorous guided tours sure to entertain your teen. It’s a great place to get kids interested in history.

HMS Belfast
We walked from the Tower, across Tower Bridge, and to the HMS Belfast, a World War II era light cruiser that is now a stunning museum ship that shows what life was like at war and on the sea. The boys ran wild, so to speak, all over the ship, from the depths of the engine room to the captain’s chair high on the bridge. Almost everything is hands-on, and the history can’t help but soak in while your teens are having fun.

London RIB Voyages
Normally, I would suggest limiting yourself to two big activities per day, but I knew I had to schedule one more to shake off the last of the jet lag. We walked further along the South Bank to the towering London Eye, but not to ride the London Eye. Instead, we boarded a 12-person jet boat at London Rib Voyages and rocketed down the Thames for an exhilarating tour of the river from the Houses of Parliament to Canary Wharf, complete with rock music and a hilarious tour guide. The boys still talk about their ride on a Thames Rocket, as it was definitely the highlight of their time in London.

St. Paul’s Cathedral
Our second full day in the city began with a brief tour of London’s most famous building, St. Paul’s Cathedral. I say “brief” because teens are not going to appreciate the majestic architecture of Christopher Wren’s masterpiece. What they will like, however, is the 528-step climb to the Golden Gallery at the top of the dome. Ascending to the top of St. Paul’s is something you can’t leave London without experiencing. It was not just a great workout for the boys, but they actually stopped to appreciate the amazing views from the top. The rest of the cathedral is certainly astounding, but the boys were all about the climb that day.

That afternoon, I scheduled another “active” outing, with a visit to HintHunt, a real-life escape game that has been all the rage in Europe the past few years. For one full hour, the boys worked together as a team to find and solve clues to help them get out of the locked room. It was great fun, and a nice break from looking at history.

London Walks
After the thrill of the game, we met up with a tour guide from London Walks, the foremost walking tour company in London. I had thought long and hard about whether to take my group of teens on one of these walks, and I finally decided it was better to try than not. I wisely selected their “Ghosts of the Old City” tour, which involved side trips down hidden alleys near St. Paul’s, and many spooky stories of murder, witchcraft, and the Black Plague.

British Museum
Our third full day started once again with a bit of history, but what history it is. The British Museum houses a huge collection of artifacts from around the world. Almost every major civilization is represented here, from Babylon to Rome to Easter Island. Even the most jaded teen will find something to “wow” about, whether it’s the Rosetta Stone or a mummified cat from Ancient Egypt. We spent two hours roaming the halls, after which the boys had been sufficiently impressed, but were ready to go. This was the only truly formal museum we entered, and I would suggest it’s the only one you really need to get your teens interested in world history.

The only other must-see site in London (for teens) is Westminster Abbey, the traditional site of royal coronations and burials for nearly 1,000 years. Tell your teens to look up briefly to admire the Gothic architecture, but then let them look down the rest of the time to see the names on the graves they’re walking on. Famous people from Isaac Newton to Geoffrey Chaucer to Charles Dickens are buried in Westminster Abbey. While the sights within the Abbey are as eclectic a collection as you can imagine, this is the one place where we spent the least amount of time. The boys made the circuit around the inside of the Abbey, and then were ready to leave, having seen enough. If you have to cut one activity on your list of things to do with teens in London, this might be it.

Later that night, on the eve of our train ride north to the Hadrian’s Wall Path, we took in one last classic London activity, a night at the theater. We saw The 39 Steps, a humorous homage to Hitchcock murder mysteries, but any show will be a thrill to your teens. There’s nothing like the live theater, and London’s West End is as good as it gets.

Keeping teens entertained while surrounded by the deep and inescapable history of London is not difficult if you follow my plan. Easy on the museums, shorten your time in the churches and cathedrals, plan a hands-on activity every day, and try to make things relevant to something your kids might already know, like a book or movie set in London (re: Harry Potter). Mix in a few memorable restaurants and pubs, and you’ll find a trip to London with teens can be a real joy.

— Phil Corless

Phil Corless is an at-home dad of two living in the Pacific Northwest. Since 2004, he has been writing about fatherhood and family at the Idaho Dad blog. He believes the best way for kids to learn about the world is to travel through it.

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4 Kids’ Activities for Alice 150

September 18th, 2015 by Amanda Geronikos No comments »

“And what is the use of a book,” thought Alice, “without pictures or conversation?”

Alice in Wonderland Statue in Central Park

“Alice in Wonderland” is 150, and New York City is celebrating with Alice 150 Week, Oct. 2 to 11, 2015. Why New York City, you ask? Alice (whose full name was Alice Liddell Hargreaves) has ties to the Big Apple, having traveled to Columbia University in 1932, where the birth centenary of Lewis Carroll was celebrated. The city also has two statues inspired by “Alice in Wonderland,” both located in Central Park.

Alice 150, hosted by the Louis Carroll Society of North America, will include themed readings, talks, screenings, a conference and performances — some of them occurring past Oct. 11. It will also feature events and activities just for “curiouser and curiouser” kids. Consider a visit to one of these events honoring the beloved children’s tale.

Alice Live!
Alice Live! will explore the performance beginnings of “Alice in Wonderland,” displaying items such as watercolor costume designs from a sketch at Radio City Music Hall in 1933, and a puppet of the Mad Hatter. The exhibit will also feature a “children’s trail” with items mounted at eye level for kids, along with a treasure hunt, puzzles, games (including a giant chess set) and a real-life “magic lantern.” The exhibit will be available at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Sept. 18 and 19. Afterward, it will move to the Oenslager Gallery at the Shelby Cullom Davis Museum and remain open through January 7, 2016.

Sony Technology WonderLab
Kids will have a chance to create their own “wonderland” at the Sony Wonder Technology Lab, which will host a sci-tech workshop for aspiring filmmakers (designed for ages 8 and up). The Sony Technology Wonderland will also present screenings of the 1951 and 2010 versions of “Alice in Wonderland,” along with behind-the-scenes footage. Reservations are required for this event, which takes place Oct. 10.

“Alice in Wonderland” at the Players Theater
The Players Theater, a 50-seat Off Broadway venue, will present “Alice in Wonderland” Oct 11. to Nov. 8, and invites children to the family-friendly performances.

Alice Palooza
On Oct. 11, Alice Palooza will take place at New York University’s Global Center, and will focus on “Alice in Wonderland” in modern times, with video games, comics, movies, anime and more for all ages to enjoy.

For more information and additional event announcements, visit

–Amanda Geronikos

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Newsroom Tours With Kids

September 16th, 2015 by Guest Blogger No comments »

Do you have budding journalists in the family? Consider a visit to one of these television or radio studios, which offer tours with interactive elements for kids (and one is even free).

BBC Studio Tours

The BBC — or British Broadcasting Corporation — creates over 1,000 television shows a year, including “Downton Abbey” and “Dr. Who.” Many of the shows allow tours, while others actually seek audience members or even extras and show participants. Youngsters especially love to be audience members for the popular kids’ show, “The Dog Ate My Homework.” The CBBC Interactive Tour in London is also a great option for children ages 6 to 11, providing plenty of photo ops and the chance to present the weather in front of a green screen! This tour lasts about an hour and a half. The BBC gives tours in most of its facilities, located in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.

Nearby Hotel: The Savoy

CNN (Cable News Network), located in Atlanta, offers an impressive studio tour that lasts just under an hour. When you enter, you’ll feel like Dorothy entering Oz — the building is ginormous! You’ll be greeted by a massive food court — my boys recommend the Superman ice cream at Natural’s Ice Cream counter — so showing up hungry is practically a prerequisite. Eat and take a peek around the first floor of CNN. Don’t miss the military Humvee that sits in the midst of the food court, and be sure to browse the Cartoon Network gift shop.

Once the tour begins, you’ll be escorted onto the world’s longest freestanding escalator (supported only at the ends). It rises eight stories and is 205 feet long! Only on Thursday mornings at 8:30 a.m., take the behind-the scenes-tour of HLN’s (Head Line News) morning show, Morning Express with Robin Meade. You’ll see the HLN control room and enter HLN’s Studio to watch a portion of the live broadcast.

Keep in mind that from the minute you step into the CNN building and throughout the tour, you’ll be exposed to CNN news screens. The news story might be about a golden retriever who saves a family from a house fire or could be about terrorists using chemical weapons. It’s your call if you think your kids are ready for every topic that might be featured. Our take away? The tour is best for kids ages 10 and up.

Nearby Hotel: Omni Hotel at CNN Center

Washington, D.C. — well known for its free museums — counts NPR Radio as yet one more no-charge, memorable learning experience. Visitors rave about visiting the studio and newsroom. You’ll get an impressive view of the areas where the NPR staff works. The guides are informed and clearly love to talk about their favorite subject: NPR. Tours take place each weekday at 11 a.m. Advance registration is required.

Nearby Hotel: Hotel George – A Kimpton Hotel

Also keep in mind that you can introduce your kids to your local newsroom by calling and requesting a tour. Media around the country are often more than happy to show off their studios and hard working staff.

— Wendy Irvine

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

Taking a Carnival Cruise With Kids

September 14th, 2015 by Guest Blogger 1 comment »

Ever since I heard that Carnival Cruise Line introduced its Seuss at Sea Program, I’d been dying to bring my kids on a cruise. We took advantage of our location near the port of New York for a no-fuss, no-flight vacation last month, and headed up to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick on Carnival Splendor for five fun and relaxing days at sea.

Carnival Splendor Cruise Ship

If you’re planning a family cruise on Carnival, here are some things to keep in mind no matter which ship or itinerary you choose.

Seuss at Sea on Carnival Splendor

Seuss at Sea Program
This program, specifically designed for Carnival, is a winner. Kids are treated to Seuss story times, parades, character photo ops, and a character breakfast where you can order Green Eggs and Ham. The breakfast costs extra, but at $5.00 per person, is one of the best values among anything on board for which you pay extra.

The Seuss at Sea program is now available on nearly all ships with the exception of the Carnival Fantasy. Carnival Elation and Carnival Spirit should have the program by October.

Tip: Depending on the length of your cruise, there may only be one Seuss character breakfast offered. Make your reservation the day you embark to ensure a table.

Carnival Splendor Camp Carnival

Camp Carnival
The best part of taking a family cruise, in my opinion, is to take advantage of the free childcare, otherwise known as the kids’ club! Kids are kept busy with scheduled activities like spin art and hula hoop dance-offs, as well as free time.

Kids ages 2 and older can be dropped off at any time during the hours of operation. There are limited babysitting hours available, at an additional fee, for younger toddlers and infants. There’s also a separate Night Owls service offered in the late hours, for an additional fee. I found it very affordable at $15.00 per child, to be able to go out and enjoy the comedy and dance clubs after hours.

My only concern with the kids’ programs was with the Club O2 program for the 15 to 17 year-olds. The club space was sleek, cool, and met my son’s approval. However, it was only supervised during scheduled activities. Otherwise, they were on their own. There were video cameras and we were told that security staff patrolled the area, but the kids could be in there at 1 a.m. with no adults present.

Tip: You can rent strollers from Camp Carnival, either on a daily basis or for the entire cruise, so it may not be necessary for you to bring your own.

Kid-Friendly Dining
For dinner, Carnival offers Your Time Dining on all of its ships, which means you can decide when you want to have dinner in the main dining room. You’re seated as a table is available, so that can mean a wait. Otherwise, you can select one of two regular seating times in the other main restaurant.

The children’s menu items are familiar favorites like pizza and chicken nuggets, but kids can also order off the adults’ menu. My daughter loved that she could order spring rolls off of our menu as an appetizer, then PB&J for her entrée.

Tip: Milk is available at every meal as part of the included food and beverage service. So is iced tea, lemonade, and of course, water. We didn’t bother ordering bottled water, as the water from the drink fountain was great. We brought reusable water bottles from home and kept them filled. However, there is an extra charge for soda. This worked in our favor, because the kids knew we weren’t going to pay for it, so it wasn’t a constant question (and ensuing argument) at every meal.

State Rooms
A family of four can fit in one room — there’s a queen-sized bed, a couch bed, and a Pullman bed (with a railing) that comes down from the ceiling. There are connecting rooms, which can offer more flexibility and space. Cribs are available, free of charge, on all ships. Our room had an honor bar in a mini-refrigerator, with just enough space to squeeze in a bottle or snack. On newer ships like the Carnival Sunshine and the Carnival Breeze, mini-fridges are available in all rooms.

Our bathroom only had a shower stall, but luckily our kids are older and take showers. Bathtubs are available in all suite staterooms, and the family staterooms (that accommodate up to five) on the Carnival Magic, Carnival Dream and Carnival Breeze. There is a short clothes line in the bathroom, not long enough to hang more than two wet bathing suits. We brought a clothesline rope and hung it across our balcony. This isn’t really protocol; our steward asked us to take down any clothes when we left the room.

One thing anyone who has ever cruised on Carnival will tell you — the service is fantastic. The staff members we interacted with were universally friendly. Stewards and waitstaff made a point of addressing us by name. If you need your ice bucket filled, or extra towels, just ask.

Tip: There’s turndown service every evening. Just wait for the fun towel animals that will greet you every evening! The towel animals have their own puppet show, and a mascot-sized towel elephant makes the rounds on the ship for photo ops.

Carnival Splendor Splash Park

More Fun Activities
In addition to the pools and other water amenities that vary by ship (the Splendor has a Splash Park and a twisting water slide), you can also watch movies while swimming on “Dive-in Movie” evenings. The Splendor even has a retractable roof overhead, so we were able to enjoy these movies in any weather.

For kids who don’t like to stay at the kids’ clubs, there are family activities, like digital scavenger hunts, that allow your family to explore the ship together. There are also contests, like the bean bag toss, held on the pool deck and open to both kids and adults. Try the pirate-themed mini-golf course on the top deck!

Kids ages 12 to 17 can take advantage of the ZSPA and have spa services designed for their age group. Even younger girls can enjoy “Mommy and Me” manicures and pedicures (this was a big hit with my daughter!). If your teenager wants to hit the gym, they can go accompanied by an adult from the ages of 16 to 18.

Watch for the new Carnival ship, Vista, which will be introduced next summer. This will be the largest in the Carnival fleet, and will include the line’s first Kaleid-O-Slide water tube attraction and the SkyRide open-air, pedal-powered hanging bikes.

— 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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