The Christmas Capital of Texas

December 6th, 2014 by Hilarey Wojtowicz No comments »

With more than 1,400 Christmas events within a 40-day span, it’s no wonder why Grapevine, Texas, is considered the Christmas Capital of Texas. Enjoy light displays with humungous decorations, animated characters, magical events and activities for families, and more. Everything is bigger in Texas, including the holiday season!

The holiday decorations at the Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center

Light Show Spectacular
See Grapevine light up for the holidays with the various light events throughout the holiday season. Enjoy the Light Show Spectacular at the intersection of Main Street and Dallas Road nightly from 6 to 11 p.m. The show features music and light displays. Plus, it’s free!

Christmas Movies and Concerts at the Palace Theatre
The historic Palace Theatre in downtown Grapevine will feature classic Christmas movies, like “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “White Christmas,” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” among others, as well as concerts and shows during the month of December. See the Main Street LIVE Christmas Spectacular, The Nutcracker, or A Merry Little Christmas Show With Ricki Derek. Shows and concerts run on select days now through Dec. 20, 2014. Admission varies per show. Classic Christmas movies at the Palace Theatre are $5 per person, per movie.

Christmas on Main
Downtown Grapevine will be decorated for the holidays this month for its annual Christmas on Main event. Enjoy classic decorations, tractor-drawn wagon rides, and live entertainment. Downtown Grapevine is also home to restaurants and stores that are perfect for family meals and holiday shopping. Tractor-drawn wagon rides are available on Fridays from 2 to 5 p.m., Saturdays from noon to 5 p.m. and Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m. and cost $1 per person. Christmas on Main runs now through Dec. 21, 2014.

SEA LIFE Grapevine Aquarium
The holidays go underwater at the SEA LIFE Grapevine Aquarium with holiday events and activities for families. See Santa scuba diving, meet your favorite Octonauts characters, complete a special scavenger hunt, watch holiday-themed episodes of Octonauts, and make ornaments to bring home for your tree. All events are free with admission to the aquarium, which is $20 for adults, $16 for kids between 3 and 12, and free for kids 2 and under. Holiday events and activities take place now through Dec. 21, 2014.

North Pole Neighborhood
The Cotton Belt Railroad District and Grapevine Depot are now the North Pole Neighborhood for the holiday season. Families can enjoy interacting with costumed characters, writing letters to Santa, and shopping for North Pole Express merchandise and gifts. Food and beverages are also available for purchase. Photos with Santa are on offer daily, with reservations available Monday through Thursday. The North Pole Neighborhood is open Friday through Sunday, now through Dec. 21, 2014, with additional hours on Monday, Dec. 22, and Tuesday, Dec. 23, 2014.

Santa’s Wonderland at Bass Pro Shop
After buying fishing, boating, camping and other outdoor gear for the entire family, visit Santa’s Wonderland at the Bass Pro Shop in Grapevine. See old-fashioned model trains, make arts and crafts, play in the arcade and ride the carousel. Plus, guests can get a free 4-by-6-inch photo with Santa on select weekdays. Santa’s Wonderland runs now through Dec. 24, 2014.

ICE! and Lone Star Christmas
Head to the Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center for a magical Lone Start State Christmas experience filled with an 8-foot gingerbread house, Santa’s Wild Workshop Snow Tubing, cookies and milk with Mrs. Claus, photos with Santa, and ICE!, a cold exhibit made from more than two million pounds of ice. This year, ICE! features Frosty the Snowman and live carvings. Admission starts from $22 for adults and $12 for children between 4 and 12 years; kids 3 and under are free. ICE! and Lone Star Christmas is open daily now through Jan. 3, 2015.

– Hilarey Wojtowicz

10 Ways to Spend Days With Kids in Long Beach, Calif.

December 5th, 2014 by Guest Blogger No comments »

The Queen Mary ship in Long Beach, CaliforniaIf you’re looking for a vacation with the kids that has good hotels, restaurants, a variety of activities for all ages, good weather year-round, art, culture, shopping, and more, then visit Long Beach, California. Located along 5.5 miles of beach, half way between Los Angeles and Orange County, Long Beach offers great food, cultural diversity, waterfront dining and a slew of options for families of all shapes and sizes.

Here are 10 ways to spend your time in Long Beach with your kids – this list is just the tip of the iceberg!

1. Indulge in cinnamon French toast with Nutella at The Attic on Broadway.

2. Immerse your family with underwater life at the Aquarium of the Pacific with an interactive experience that will have you all swimming with the fishes, watching sea lions get fed and gawking at penguins. Your kids will love learning about and touching stingrays, sea cucumbers, starfish and more. The Aquarium is home to more than 11,000 inhabitants of the Pacific Ocean representing some 500 different species.

3. Channel everyone’s senses during a tour of The Queen Mary, a historic ocean liner that is now both a tourist attraction and 346-stateroom hotel. It was one of the world’s most luxurious ships to ever sail the Atlantic Ocean. You can also learn about the haunted part of the ship and explore the Soviet submarine, Scorpion, which is moored adjacent to the Queen Mary. Top the day off with high tea in the ship’s famous Tea Room.

4. Take a Harbor Breeze waterfront boat tour — a 45-minute ride around the harbor, with magnificent views of the beautiful Long Beach skyline, California Sea Lions, the world-famous Queen Mary, large cargo/container ships from all over the world, seagulls, sea lions, a light house and the Shoreline Village.

5. Explore the Long Beach Museum of Art, which includes the historic Elizabeth Milbank Anderson house and carriage house (built in 1912), oceanfront gardens and a pavilion with two floors of expansive gallery space for changing exhibitions.

6. Stroll through Shoreline Village, a collection of restaurants and souvenir shops situated on a boardwalk.

7. Take a surrey ride, rented at Wheel Fun at Shoreline Village. You’ll ride down the coastline, past sailboats, condos and other bikers, giving everyone good exercise.

8. Ride the canals of Naples Island on Gondola Getaway, near Belmont Shores, a popular part of Long Beach.

9. Check out the Museum of Latin American Art (MoLAA), one of the only museums in the country to focus exclusively on the contemporary art of Mexico, Central and South America and the Spanish-speaking Caribbean.

10. Explore the city’s cultural diversity, from East Village Art’s District to Cambodia Town.

– Holly Fink

Holly Rosen Fink is a mother, marketing consultant, writer and blogger for a number of sites, as well as her own, The Culture Mom.

Quantum of the Seas: Hits & Misses

December 4th, 2014 by Guest Blogger No comments »

Quantum of the Seas sign with Dreamworks characters
Royal Caribbean has always gone all out for the kids, and Quantum of the Seas – the cruise line’s latest ship – is no exception. I got on board a two-day pre-inaugural sailing out of Southampton, England, to check out what the ship had on offer for children. Here’s what I think worked and what could be better.

Disclaimer: Half of Adventure Ocean was given over to the Press Room, and there were only 14 kids onboard, so this has to be taken into account in the following review.

HITS

Adventure Ocean. The Dreamworks-themed Adventure Ocean (for kids ages 6 months to 11 years) is located across two floors on decks 11 and 12, toward the front of the ship and connected with a cool spiral staircase. There are six rooms in total, with areas for younger ones downstairs and older ones upstairs. Four rooms are dedicated to the different age groups, and there are two that are communal: a stay and play area and the Science Lab. This is a lot of space, and the rooms are fun, colorful and vibrant with books, games and TVs – not to mention all those Dreamworks characters on the walls.

Science Lab. Show me a kid who doesn’t like mixing vinegar and baking soda to make cool volcano explosions and I’ll be very surprised. I haven’t seen a dedicated Science Lab onboard a ship before, and this is sure to be a massive hit. All age groups take turns in here, creating stuff, mixing up potions and, of course, making simulated volcanic explosions! As well as fun, there’s a great learning element here, which really impressed me.

The staff. Good staff, or more specifically, friendly, amenable and personable staff, should be a given. But what impressed me most was how amenable these guys were. Led by Erin, there are 24 dedicated kids crew across the age groups and all of them were delightful, explaining the facilities, showing me around and talking about how much they enjoyed what they did (I’ve always been convinced that the kids staff have the best jobs onboard!).

Child-size deck chairs on the Quantum of the SeasChild-size deck chairs. Coolest thing we saw onboard by far for kids were child-size deckchairs. For me these chairs – the fact they are even on this ship – encapsulate the Royal philosophy toward their smallest and most precious passengers. They show real thought and made me smile when I saw them.

Teen area. The teen facilities – for ages 12 to 17 — really add to the coolest parts of what’s on offer for younger passengers. At the other end of the ship, on Decks 14 and 15, you’ll find the Living Room (Deck 14) and Fuel, the teen-only disco, on Deck 15.
The Living Room is an awesome space for teens. Chairs and beanbags are scattered about the room, surrounded by foosball, Xbox consoles and a wide-screen TV for movies. But the best bits are the hangout areas by the windows where you can lie back side by side with a pal and watch the TV placed directly in front of you.
Directly above is Fuel, the teens-only disco. There are dance parties most nights, often with a theme — Miami night or the 90s, for example — as well as pool parties in the Solarium at the front of the ship.

YSpa (Youth Spa). Again, showing real thought for younger passengers, there is a whole suite of treatments available in the spa aimed at teens, such as fighting acne or skin blemishes, as well as massages and facials. Prices start at $25 for a boy’s haircut; you can also opt for mother/daughter or father/son massages, which start from $99.

MISSES

It’s hard to fault a kids’ program as comprehensive as this, but three things struck me as off.

First, there’s no outside light. Adventure Ocean is completely enclosed, and I never got an answer why. Yes, the kids go on plenty of scavenger hunts and get outside of the rooms, but windows all round – especially when many of the themes are ocean-related – would seem to me to be something obvious. Who wants to be stuck in a room with no windows on a cruise ship?

The H2O Zone on the Quantum of the SeasSecond, there’s no dedicated close by swim or splash area. On many ships I’ve been on, there is a dedicated kids pool right by the kids’ area, only accessible via the kids area. Again, why on a ship this size wasn’t this factored in? Instead, kids have to go with their parents to the H2O Zone on a different deck at the other end of the ship. Perhaps it’s for health and safety reasons.

Third, the H20 Zone is small. Nothing wrong with the dedicated kids play and splash area except for the fact that it’s tiny! When traveling at full capacity, this area will be completely mobbed. It should be way bigger, and also separate from the adult pools.

Will you be cruising on the Quantum of the Seas? Let us know what you think about the ship in the comments below!

– Adam Coulter, Cruise Critic UK Editor (and dad to two boys, ages 4 and 7)

4 Christmas Cookie Tours for Families

December 3rd, 2014 by Amanda Geronikos No comments »

A plate of Christmas cookiesYou’ve heard of holiday lights tours, but what about cookie tours? In November and December, many areas host organized tours that allow visitors to sample holiday treats as they travel from inn to inn, each one decorated differently for the season. These are a few upcoming highlights:

Saugatuck, Mich.
Sixteen establishments will participate in Saugatuck’s Christmas Cookie Tour of Area Inns, Dec. 6 and 7. Tickets are $7.50 per person, and packages with accommodations are available. The annual event, hosted from 2 to 5 p.m., will be preceded by the “Whooville” Christmas Parade at 1 p.m. on Dec. 6. On the same day, Coral Gables Annex will be transformed into Santa’s Workshop, where holiday crafts and carriage rides will be on offer.

Participating Properties: Amble Inn, AmericInn Lodge & Suites, Bayside Inn, Beechwood, Manor Inn, The Belvedere Inn & Restaurant, Blue Star Motel, Castle in the Country, Ivy Inn, Lakeshore Lodging, Rosemont Inn Resort, Saugatuck’s Victoria Inn, Serendipity Bed & Breakfast, The Seymour House, Sherwood Forest B&B, Shoreline Vacation Rentals, and Timberline Motel

Holmes County, Ohio
Take a Christmas Cookie Tour through Amish Country, Ohio, where you’ll sample Gooey Red Velvet Butter Cookies, Mocha Truffle Cookies and more. Twelve hotels and inns will participate in this year’s event, scheduled for Dec. 13 and 14, 12:30 to 6 p.m. Tickets are $35 per person, and proceeds will be donated to charity.

Participating Properties: Berlin Grande, Berlin Resort, Carlisle Inn Sugarcreek, Carlisle Walnut Creek, Garver House, Guggisberg Swiss Inn, Inn at Amish Door, Memory Lane Cabin, Ramada Inn, Sojourner’s Lodge, Wallhouse Hotel and Zinck’s Inn

Mount Washington Valley, N.H.
Mount Washington Valley hosts the Inn to Inn Holiday and Cookie Tour – the original cookie tour, and the oldest in New England. On Dec. 13 and 14, guests will be able to visit a total of 11 inns (all within 15 minutes of each other) and vote for their favorite cookie. Tickets are $30 per person, or you can opt for a package at any of the inns; packages include two-nights’ accommodations, breakfast, and tickets (and in some cases, extra perks, such as sleigh rides).

Participating Properties: Darby Field Inn, Inn at Crystal Lake and Pub, Covered Bridge House, Notchland Inn, Glen Oaks Inn, Inn at Ellis River, 1785 Inn, Eastman Inn, Old Red Inn & Cottages, Snowvillage Inn, and Admiral Peary Inn Bed and Breakfast

Baltimore
Start a family tradition in Baltimore, where you and the kids can stroll Union Square. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the area is decorated in holiday splendor. Residents provide tours in more than 20 homes, along with their best cookies. The event takes places on Dec. 14, 2014 and tickets are $15 per person.

– Amanda Geronikos

4 Holiday-Inspired Towns for Families

December 2nd, 2014 by Amanda Geronikos No comments »

You’ll find holiday attractions and events just about anywhere during the month of December, but in these small towns, it’s Christmas practically year-round.

Santa Claus, Ind.
Festive holiday lights in Santa Claus, IndianaIn Santa Claus, Indiana — about an hour from Louisville, Kentucky — just about everything is named after the famous man in red. There’s Santa Claus Christmas Store, Santa’s Stables, Santa Claus Museum & Village, Santa’s Candy Castle, Santa Claus Land of Lights, Santa Claus Post Office, and even a hotel called Santa’s Lodge. Families can also take a ride down Mistletoe Drive or play mini-golf at Frosty’s Fun Center. There’s a water park in town, too — appropriately named Holiday World.

North Pole, N.Y.
Festive lights tour in North Pole, New YorkThere are a few towns named North Pole, but none of them offer what the location in the Adirondacks does: Santa’s Workshop (and by workshop, we mean theme park). The attraction is designated for youngsters, with rides like Santa’s Sleigh Coaster and Candy Cane Express. It also offers live entertainment and a festive village with shops and a reindeer farm. In late-November and December, Yuletide Family Weekends allow visitors to combine park tickets and extra perks with nearby accommodations, such as North Pole Inn.

Christmas, Fla.
Welcome to Christmas, Florida signYou won’t find snow in Christmas, Florida, but you will find a permanent nativity scene and giant Christmas tree, no matter what time of year you visit. Streets are named after all of Santa’s reindeer, too. Visit Fort Christmas Museum, a collection of historical homes, before you head to Disney World for more holiday fun — it’s less than an hour away.

 

Bethlehem, Pa.
The Christkindlmarkt Bethlehem in Bethlehem, PennsylvaniaAlso known as Christmas City, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania is overseen by a giant star — The Star of Bethlehem — on South Mountain. The area’s biggest holiday event is Christkindlmarkt, a near-perfect replica of the real deal in Germany. Activities for families include breakfast with Santa and glass ornament decorating. Holiday entertainment at Steel Stacks arts center and Lights on the Parkway, a wonderland of lights in nearby Allentown, round out the fun for families. Plus, it’s less than one hour from Philadelphia!

– Amanda Geronikos

Costa Rica Holiday Celebrations & Events

December 1st, 2014 by Guest Blogger No comments »

Costa Rica traditions include dancing, bull parades and festival of lightsThe holiday season in Costa Rica is a time for celebration, and Costa Rica’s native Ticos welcome any chance to celebrate. Although inspired by religion, many traditions and celebrations are also unique to Costa Rica. Here are a few traditions and events you and your family won’t want to miss on your Costa Rica holiday vacation.

Festival de la Luz
Second Saturday in December
Festival de la Luz, or the Festival of Lights, is held the evening of the second Saturday in December in San Jose. The event marks the official start of the holiday season, underscored with lively, festive music. A beautiful procession of white floats with glistening lights parades through the streets of San Jose, including the Paseo Colon and Avenida Segunda. Don’t miss the brilliant fireworks show following the festival!

Las Posadas
Dec. 15, 2014
Beginning Dec. 15, carolers and children go house-to-house singing and re-enacting the story of Christmas. Homes are visited until the carolers reach their final destination — typically a home or church — where the “innkeepers” finally let them in for a celebration.

Christmas Eve & Day
Dec. 24-25, 2014
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are a time for family in Costa Rica. On Christmas Eve, children leave their shoes out in hopes that they’ll be filled with candy and small gifts overnight. Many Ticos attend a midnight mass on Christmas Eve, called the Mass of the Rooster. Following mass is the Christmas meal. Sample the flavors of Costa Rican Christmas with traditional holiday foods like tamales or Tres Leches cake.

Tope Nacional de Caballos
Dec. 26, 2014
Tope Nacional de Caballos is the national horse parade held each year on Dec. 26, when Costa Ricans gather in the streets of San Jose to celebrate their strong agricultural heritage. Horsemen and cowboys from around the country come to parade their handsome horses and show off their riding skills. The famous, hand-painted oxcarts from Sarchi are also celebrated for their significance in Costa Rican agricultural history. El Tope begins around 1 p.m. in downtown San Jose on Paseo Colon.

Carnaval Nacional
Dec. 27, 2014
On Dec. 27, the celebration in downtown San Jose continues with an exciting procession of floats, marching bands, clowns, and street dancers in colorful costumes.

Las Fiestas de Zapote
Dec. 25-31, 2014
Held in the San Jose suburb of Zapote, Las Fiestas de Zapote is a carnival held before the New Year complete with rides, bull fights, and snack stands. This fun festival rolls holiday cheer, carnival fun, and Latin culture all into one for a unique experience everyone should try. Bull fighting is the main attraction, but don’t worry! The bullfights are animal-friendly.

New Year’s Eve
Dec. 31, 2014
Like many countries around the world, New Year’s Eve is a cause for celebration in Costa Rica. Many people head to the coast to ring in the New Year on the beach, and most hotels host New Year’s Eve events and activities. It is not uncommon to see street parties with music and dancing in local towns across the country. Check with your hotel concierge to see what’s happening in your area! Just be sure to head outside when the clock strikes midnight — many neighborhoods put on firework shows you won’t want to miss!

– Sarah Melis

Sarah Melis is the Content Director for Costa Rica Experts, a travel site that offers families and travelers everything they need to know about their trip to Costa Rica. “With choices ranging from intimate, luxurious spas to rustic, eco lodges and from extreme sports to leisurely coastal cruises, Costa Rica has what everyone wants.”