4 Giant Jack O’ Lantern Celebrations in the Northeast

October 1st, 2014 by Guest Blogger No comments »

It’s just not Halloween season without Jack O’ Lanterns, although I prefer to go see them over having to make my own. There’s been a boom in all things Halloween, especially haunted attractions and related events. For young kids, a Jack O’ Lantern festival is a less scary alternative. These are some of the largest we’ve found in the northeast. Bundle up and go see hundreds — or even thousands — of glowing gourds at these outdoor events this year.

Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular 2014
Jack O' Lanterns at the Roger Williams Park ZooRoger Williams Park Zoo, Providence, R.I.
Oct. 2–Nov. 2, 2014

Every October, the zoo transforms its wetlands trail by lining it with 5,000 glowing pumpkins. This year’s theme is “Jack-O-Lanterns from A to Z.” Scenes filled with intricate pumpkin art will be arrayed in alphabetical order, with highlights from history and popular culture. For example, D is for dinosaur, F is for fantasy, H is for horoscope and J is for jungle. Giant carved pumpkins — some more the 1,000 pounds — are positioned at the Laughing Tree at the end of the trail with spooky fog and music.

The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze
Guests take photos of the Jack O Lanterns at the Great Jack O' Lantern BlazeVan Cortlandt Manor, Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y.
Oct. 4-Nov. 16, 2014

Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, the Blaze features more than 5,000 illuminated Jack O’ Lanterns covering the grounds of an 18th-century historic site. The elaborate outdoor walk-through experience includes atmospheric music, sound effects, and professional lighting. You’ll find pumpkins hanging from tree limbs, perched on rooftops, and staged as a giant spider web, a dinosaur “Jurassic Park,” and characters from “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”

Keene Pumpkin Festival
Jack O' Lanterns at the Keene Pumpkin FestivalMain Street, Keene, N.H.
Oct.18, 2014

After reclaiming the world record in 2013 for the most Jack O’ Lanterns (30,581 in one location!), this celebration isn’t resting on its laurels. They will attempt to set a new record this year, too. What’s nice about this event, which is now more than 20 years old, is that many of the pumpkins are carved by local children. The day’s schedule includes the Great Pumpkin Mile Race, a craft court, costume parade and live entertainment.

Great Pumpkin Fest 2014
Jack O' Lanterns at the Great Pumpkin FestThe EcoTarium, Worcester, Mass.
Oct. 25. 2014

Held on the grounds of a children’s science and nature museum in central Massachusetts, about one hour from Boston, and featuring 1,000 Jack O’ Lanterns, this event is geared towards children 10 and under. There is a new “Fallout Zone” attraction this year for older kids. The day includes games, animal encounters, carving demonstrations and crafts. Guests can also have full access to the museum and the shows in the Alden Digital Planetarium.

– 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.

7 Cruise Tours for Families

September 30th, 2014 by Guest Blogger No comments »

Ship guests stand with cruise crew during the tour of Royal Caribbean's Grandeur of the SeasWant to slip behind those “crew only” signs on a cruise ship and ask a zillion “insider” questions? Many cruise lines will allow you to do just that, offering an in-depth look at the workings of their ships.

We recently took the All Access Tour on Royal Caribbean‘s Grandeur of the Seas, and it was an “excursion” to remember. One of our favorite moments came when an aerialist, who dances several floors up, took us through the theater. His aerial show is an exquisite — albeit heart stopping — performance so I asked in jest, “Does your mom know what you do as a performer?” He thought for several seconds and answered seriously, “most of it.”

While not all kids will enjoy these tours, older, science lovers will love explorations through the captain’s bridge, engine control room, theater’s back stage, galley and common areas where the crew hang out and eat. Plus, these tours are a nice option for families who want to do something unique, but don’t feel like getting off the ship. The following cruise lines offer behind-the-scenes experiences:

Carnival Cruise
Behind the Fun Tour

Carnival cruises sailing six days or longer offer guests tours that last about 3.5 hours for $95. Cruises lasting three, four or five days offer tours that are two hours in length ($55). Book at the shore excursions desk. Capacity is limited to 16 guests and kids must be at least 8 years old to participate. Parting gifts include a baseball cap, lanyard and photos with the captain.

Inside Access Tour

Celebrity offers two tours. The See How It’s Done tour is three hours long, followed by a wine-paired lunch ($150). The Bridge Sail Away Experience squires you to the bridge 30 minutes prior to sailing and allows you to remain there up to 30 minutes afterward ($75). Each tour is limited to 15 guests and kids must be at least 6. Reserve at the guest relations desk.

Disney Cruise Line
Complimentary Tours

While Disney doesn’t offer a behind the scenes look, they do give two complimentary tours. We highly recommend the Walking Ship Tour on embarkation day, which orients guests to the ship’s venues. Disney also offers the Art of the Theme Show tour, which features the ship’s spaces, artwork, and theming, along with fun insider tips. Tour information appears on the guest itinerary.

Holland America Line
Behind the Scenes Tour

This 2.5-hour tour ends in a reception with appetizers and a drink ($150). The tour is limited to 12 guests and kids must be at least 6. Sign up at the front desk. End-of-tour gifts include a group photo with the captain on the bridge, tote bags, a cookbook and more.

Norwegian Cruise Line
Behind the Scenes Tour

Book Norwegian’s two-hour tour at guest services and see the inner workings and private areas of the ship ($79). This tour has a capacity of 16 guests and kids must be at least 8. Photos taken of guests in a tour location — and often with the captain — are given as a gift.

Princess Cruise
Ultimate Ship Tour

This three-hour tour is available on most Princess ships ($150). Capacity is limited to 12 and tours can be reserved at the passenger services desk. Kids must be at least 16. Commemorative gifts include group photos at tour locations.

Royal Caribbean
All Access Tour

Schedule the 3.5-hour tour on the cruise line’s website in advance. Book early because the tour fills fast and only allows 15 guests. Kids must be at least 6. A tote bag and kitchen apron are given at the end of the tour.

Before You Go: Plan for a lot of walking and stair climbing. Pack closed-toe shoes and pants. Still cameras are a do, but video isn’t typically allowed. Book in as much advance as possible, too – some of these tours are very popular.

– Wendy Irvine

Wendy Irvine is a mom to twin boys and family travel writer. Follow her on Twitter at @WendyIrvine.

Win a Family Getaway From weeSpring

September 29th, 2014 by Hilarey Wojtowicz No comments »

weeSpring You Deserve a Break Travel Giveaway logoBetween school, extracurricular activities and fall events with the kids, being a parent can get a little hectic, with no let up in sight. weeSpring wants to help, because moms and dads really do deserve a break.

Enter weeSpring’s You Deserve a Break Travel Giveaway now for a chance to win $1,000 towards the getaway of your choice, compliments of Kid & Coe, $250 in dining credit from us at Family Vacation Critic, plus six other essentials you’ll need during your vacation with kids – all together worth more than $3,500! After entering, be sure to browse the rest of the site.

weeSpring helps parents find the best baby and toddler products with reviews from other real parents. And with the launch of weeLists, both expecting parents and those who are now pros can find answers to all of their questions regarding everything from a sick toddler to starting solids with an infant.

Recently, weeSpring launched a new Travel Must Haves list, which we think is also perfect for our Family Vacation Critic members. Check out the list and prepare for your next flight with baby or the road-trip to grandma’s with your toddler. You’ll know what you need to pack and can check it off your list – all thanks to weeSpring.

weeSpring’s You Deserve a Break Travel Giveaway is open for entries now through Oct. 6, 2014. Visit weeSpring.com for more information and read the terms and conditions upon entry.

– Hilarey Wojtowicz

26th Annual Virginia Children’s Festival

September 28th, 2014 by Hilarey Wojtowicz No comments »

The 26th Annual Virginia Children's Festival logoIt’s that time of year again! The 26th Annual Virginia Children’s Festival kicks off on Saturday, October 4, in Norfolk, Virginia, about 20 minutes from Virginia Beach. The festival begins at 10 a.m. and activities are scheduled until 3 p.m. With 10 areas and stages, activities include everything from arts and crafts to science experiments and dinosaur digs. Here’s what you can do with kids at this year’s festival.

Animal Alley
Stop by the Animal Alley area for a petting zoo, complete with bunnies, chickens, a mini cow, a mini pig, a pony and more.

Curtain Call! Stage
Listen to stories told through music and watch a puppet show with the Rainbow Puppets.

Education Station
Play dress up with the Ballet Virginia International, make crafts and meet curious George, dig for dinosaur fossils with staff from the Mariner’s Museum and check out robots with Engineering for Kids. Plus so much more!

Fitness Fun Zone
Try your best at bowling, jump rope, Frisbee and the Children’s Boot Camp obstacle course with the YMCA.

Friendship Path
Sing like a pop star, have fun with Play-Doh, take a ride on the Town Point Express train, make a super hero mask, blow bubbles with the Virginia Children’s Museum, make a friendship bracelet and get your face painted. Plus so much more!

Pirate’s Den
Learn about the life of a pirate and become one yourself with help from the Pirates from the Moody Crew at their School for Pirates.

Ready, Set, Go! Stage
Watch dancers and cheerleaders perform and then take part in a live science experiment.

Toddler Town
Little ones can play with toys in a gated area. This year, the area has a new Festival Baby Ball Pit!

TowneBank Fountain Park
Kids can get up close and personal with trucks and can test their speed and agility as a pizza delivery person!

WHRO Lights! Camera! Action! Stage
Enjoy a comedy performance by The Hurrah Players, watch participants compete for the Ynot Pizza Games title and see your favorite characters from PBS Live! on the stage!

The 26th Annual Virginia Children’s Festival will be held at Town Point Park. Admission is $3 per person and children under 2 are free. A portion of the proceeds benefits St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

– Hilarey Wojtowicz

North Carolina’s Tweetsie Railroad Turns Spooky

September 27th, 2014 by Hilarey Wojtowicz No comments »

Tweetsie Railroad train rideIn honor of the 25th Anniversary of North Carolina’s Tweetsie Railroad Wild West Theme Park Halloween event, the Wild West amusement area turned into a spooky attraction (not for all ages) last night and your family will have the chance to scream every weekend now through November.

The Annual Ghost Train Halloween Festival kicked off last night and made its way through the Blue Ridge Mountains, weaving in and out of frightening phantoms. Passengers and guests can travel back in time and relive the worst [fictional] railroad accidents in history, walk along the Freaky Forest and visit the Boneyard, where they can – if they dare – venture through the 3D Maze, Black Hole and the brand new Warp Tunnel. Check out the Haunted House, Haunted Palace Saloon and Creepy Carnival, before enjoying trick-or-treating through the park.

Tweetsie’s Ghost Train Halloween Festival is located in Blowing Rock, North Carolina, about two hours from Charlotte. It is open every Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 7:30 to 11:30 p.m. now through November 1. Admission is $31 per person and children under 2 are free. A limited number of tickets are sold for each night and advanced purchase is recommended. The event is open to all ages, but the park recommends that children under 8 do not ride the Ghost Train or go through the Freaky Forest or the Haunted House.

For families who are afraid of the Halloween haunts, Tweetsie Railroad’s regular attractions and rides are open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. now through November 9.

– Hilarey Wojtowicz

4 Historical Sites in the Hamptons

September 26th, 2014 by Hilarey Wojtowicz No comments »

When describing the Hamptons, people often use adjectives like luxurious, lavish, glamorous and extravagant. Kid-friendly most likely does not come to mind. But on a recent trip to the area, I found the Hamptons to be filled with history and fun for families. Besides the beaches and the shopping in Southampton, Bridgehampton, East Hampton and Montauk, there are historical sites that date back to the 17th and 18th centuries that are fun and educational for kids. Here are four, spread throughout the various towns, for your family to visit.

Southampton Historical Museum
Wooden stocks at the Southampton Historical MuseumLocated just around the corner from the downtown shopping area of Southampton, the Southampton Historical Museum offers families a look back in time through three different properties, plus multiple smaller buildings within. The Rogers Mansion Museum Complex, which dates back to 1648, has 12 buildings in total. Take a tour of the main home and then walk the grounds where you’ll see the boys and girls’ out houses – your kids will be so thankful for indoor plumbing – the blacksmith’s shop, a one-room school house, a colonial barn and more. There is plenty of room for them to run around, too. But if they get unruly, feel free to lock them up in the stocks for a bit!

South Fork Natural History Museum and Nature Center
Kids play in the touch tank at the South Fork Natural History and Nature CenterThe Hamptons are filled with native plants and animals that many people are not aware of. Learn about them all at the South Fork Natural History Museum and Nature Center in Bridgehampton. Kids will love listening to the sounds of birds, peaking inside the natural habitats of fish and frogs, and will get to smell a fox’s musk. Be sure to visit the downstairs area for the touch tank! Kids can feel starfish, pick up snails, play with crabs and more. Outside, there are multiple trails for families to hike, as well as a carnivorous plant exhibit and a butterfly garden.

East Hampton Historical Society
Exterior view of the Osborn-Jackson House in East HamptonThe East Hampton Historical Society offers six museums and historical sites for families to see. Four are located on Main Street in East Hampton, just down the street from the library, stores and shops, including a Dylan’s Candy Bar. Clinton Academy, Hook Schoolhouse and Town House are open from Memorial Day through Columbus Day, on weekends only. But the Osborn-Jackson House is open year-round. This tour is free (donations encouraged) and takes visitors through three rooms in the house. You’ll see the dining area, with the original fireplace from 1720, a living area with antique piano and books, and a kitchen with colonial cooking essentials. The tour takes just minutes and is an easy and educational stop for your family.

Montauk Point Lighthouse and Museum
Grounds around the Montauk Point LighthouseMake your way to the very eastern tip of the Hamptons for the Montauk Point Lighthouse and Museum, which is also a National Historic Landmark. The grounds surrounding the attraction are beautiful with water views all around and will take up half your visit alone. Once you make your way to the Lighthouse, check out the various rooms, which offer insight into the history of the building — George Washington approved its development in 1792 — and the light, which can be seen up to 19 miles away. Finally, climb up the 137 iron steps to the top for unbelievable views of the Atlantic.

A full destination guide of the Hamptons will be available on Family Vacation Critic soon. Please check back for more information on the area.

– Hilarey Wojtowicz