Pirates Week National Festival in Grand Cayman

October 12th, 2015 by Amanda Geronikos No comments »

Argh! Have you heard about Pirates Week National Festival in Grand Cayman? The 10-day event — now in its 38th year — commences Nov. 12 and includes a slew of fantastic events for families. Plus, it’s free! When making your vacation plans for 2016, consider a visit to Grand Cayman for this unique event. Here are some of the highlights for kids:

Pirates Week Kick-Off Party – Nov. 12
This event will feature live music, fireworks and visits with pirates!

Pirates Week National Festival

Children’s Pirate Costume Competition – Nov. 13
This event features two categories: one for young kids and one for older kids. Cash prizes are awarded to the winners, who are also asked to ride a special float in the parade! Children are judged on their pirate costumes and their “pirate attitude.”

Teen Up Teen Street Dance – Nov. 14
Entry is free for this event, open to those between 13 and 17 years old. Local reggae, socca and hip hop music are featured.

Pirates Week National Festival

Children’s Fun Fair Day – Nov. 15
This is one of the biggest events of the festival, and includes pirate re-eneactments, a painting competition, bouncy castle, face painting and more. Children also receive goodie bags and a chance to win a bicycle.

— Amanda Geronikos

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A New Orleans Weekend Getaway With Kids

October 9th, 2015 by Guest Blogger No comments »

New Orleans is often thought of as a crazy party town, the exclusive domain of intoxicated adults and, to be frank, the Big Easy does nothing to downplay its seedy reputation. That said, the mystical city on the banks of the Mississippi River has much to offer families, too — from jazz to ghosts, steamboats to American history, and of course, beignets! So much all-ages fun awaits, in fact, that New Orleans should not be overlooked as a family vacation option simply because of its decidedly risqué veneer. Here’s how to spend a magical weekend in the Big Easy with kids.

New Orleans

Where to Stay
Location is everything everywhere, but this is even truer when visiting NOLA as a family. There are several hotels in the French Quarter and many of them are quite lovely, but we don’t suggest a stay there. Long, loud nights and general depravity is okay to pass through, but to be embedded in the middle of it with young children isn’t the move to make. Instead, look to the JW Marriott Hotel New Orleans, just a stone’s throw away, on Canal Street. It’s clean, comfortable, classy and an incredibly short walk into (and away from) the French Quarter fray.

Day 1
Your first order of business in New Orleans should be grabbing a bite at Mr. B’s Bistro in the Quarter. Order the bacon wrapped shrimp and grits, easily one of the great meals in America. Then prepare to have your heart melted and mind blown by the Preservation Hall All-Stars inside what is arguably the most storied room for live music in the country. Book advance tickets to guarantee you and your kids the best seats right up front in the tiny house. You’ll be an outstretched arms away from the players, and your kids will marvel at the classic, Big Easy jazz being performed. Being inside Preservation Hall is a transcendent musical experience and shouldn’t be missed. After the final trumpet toot, make a right out the door into the neon-illuminated evening onto St. Peters and immediately hang another right on Royal St. This route avoids Bourbon Street and all that Bourbon Street at night entails. Six blocks later, you’ll be back at the JW Marriott to tuck the kiddos into bed with Louis Armstrong tunes still playing in your head.

Beignets in New Orleans

Day 2
On day two, awaken with the tastiest of New Orleans treats: fresh warm beignets! Every one of your well-meaning Facebook friends will demand you go to Café du Monde, but you’ll get the opposite advice here. That’s the famous place for a warm beignet, but my family found it dirty and unpleasant, and, frankly, the beignets weren’t nearly as delicious as the nearby French Quarter alternative, the more subdued Café Beignet.

With bellies full of powdered fried dough, head over to the stunning WWII Museum. What began as a stand-alone D-Day exhibit has blossomed into a modern, mesmerizing and thoroughly interactive examination of the entire conflict, with many educational and hi-tech entertainment opportunities for even the youngest of children.

Next, book a late afternoon ‘Spooky’ French Quarter kids walking tour to get a sense of the magic and mayhem once, and possibly still, present in this enchanted city. Don’t worry, there’s nothing too haunted on this tour that’s perfect for grade school aged kids.

New Orleans

Day 3
On your final morning, make your way by car or shuttle to Slidell, just on the other side of Lake Pontchartrain, for Dr. Wagner’s Honey Island Swamp Tour. You and your kids will get safely up close to alligators amidst dramatic cypress trees deep in the swamp. It’s a one-of-a-kind tour in a one-of-a-kind place. If being inches away from the pearly whites of real gators in the wild doesn’t scratch your kids’ animal itch, there’s always the famous Audobon Zoo. And really, no visit to NOLA with kids would be complete without a swing through the place where “they all asked for you.”

Finally, New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward: I didn’t want to be a disaster tourist while visiting New Orleans with my kids, but I felt a need to see and photograph a bit of the Lower 9th Ward, the area devastated by Hurricane Katrina, and I also wanted my daughters to feel the immense lose suffered there — it’s a piece of American history we shouldn’t ignore. If you’re renting a car during your NOLA weekend with kids, take the short drive from the French Quarter, stop at The Joint to enjoy BBQ with locals, and spend a few moments driving the streets that 10 years ago were overrun with river water.

— 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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5 Best Water Parks in Texas

October 7th, 2015 by Guest Blogger No comments »

“Everything is bigger in Texas,” and these water parks are no exception. Consider a visit to one of these for your next family vacation.

Schlitterbahn Texas

Schlitterbahn Water Park – New Braunsfels
Here, you’ll find the world’s longest waterpark ride — all 3,600 feet of rapids, waterfalls and waves! Find something for everyone in this 70-acre park, from the Polywog Pond Kiddie park for the youngest adventurers in your party to the Skycoaster for the most daring. Blast down waterslides of every sort or rent a cabana and relax in between peaceful floats down the circular lazy river. Schlitterbahn is actually the country’s most visited waterpark and is a wonderful spot for family fun in the sun!

Hawaiian Falls – Pflugerville
Yes, you’ll find Hawaiian fun in Texas! With so many rides from which to choose, it might seem hard to know which one is perfect for each kiddo. Not to worry! Hawaiian Falls has the Shaka Meter, which rates the rides from the least scary wave pool (1) to the Hawaiian SkyFall, which drops you in a watery chute when the floor beneath you opens (5). Take a break for some onsite food — all the kid favorites like hot dogs and burgers and grown-up selections like Texas-style barbecue.

Six Flags Hurricane Harbor – Arlington
Winding slides, wading pools of enormous proportions and a lazy river are staples at any Texas water park, but this one has roller coaster type of attractions to thrill any adrenaline craving family! Listen to these crazy fun names: Hydra Maniac (all enclosed body slides), Mega Wedgie (four-story half pipe), Banzai Boggan (45-foot slide) and Boogie Beach (wading pool). Height requirements help you decide which adventure is perfect.

Castaway Cove – Wichita Falls
Well shiver me timbers, this park has a pirate theme and ARGH, there are no landlubbers here! Ride a raft in the Parrot’s Perch Slide Complex down the 40-foot open flume slides. Explore the water jungle gym area in Buccaneer Bay with body slides, water cannons and a dumping bucket! Nellie’s Rolling River is perfect for some down time floating on inner tubes. Spend the day with your whole pirate crew enjoying fun family time.

Great Wolf Lodge – Grapevine
Bring your pack of little wolves to the indoor portion of this water park — where the water is kept at 84 degrees — or head outside for some fun in the sun. Wolf pups of all ages will love the adventures and there is something for everyone — ride Alberta Falls in a tube raft or head outside to Raccoon Lagoon for splashing and water fountain fun. Need more of an adrenaline rush? Try the Howlin’ Tornado, which drops you into a 6-story tunnel on a raft for adventure seekers. Big Foot Pass is great fun in the water — test your balancing skills on the logs and lily pads that create an agility course. Dare you?

–Natalie Tanner, The Educational Tourist

Natalie Tanner, The Educational Tourist, has hundreds of thousands of miles under her belt — business trips with her geologist husband to places like Scottsdale, Jackson Hole, New York and Denver — and family adventures to far-flung destinations like Rome, Paris, Tangier, and Istanbul. When she isn’t traveling, The Educational Tourist stays busy planning the next adventure while being mom to two kids, three dogs, Sushi the fisand a hamster. Follow her adventures at The Educational Tourist.

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Visiting Myrtle Beach in the Fall

October 5th, 2015 by Guest Blogger No comments »

Most families, understandably, take their beach vacations in the summer when the kids are out of school and the warmer temps lend themselves to fun in the sun, sand and surf. However, for those families who are willing and able to wait, the fall provides a prime time to hit the beach while racking up the savings.

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

Brilliant Weather
Throughout the summer, Myrtle Beach usually experiences high temps in the low 90s, accompanied by high humidity. However, in the fall, both the temperatures and humidity drop to a much more enjoyable level. The average high in September is 84 degrees, October is 76 degrees and November is 68 degrees. My family and I visited just three weeks ago following the Labor Day weekend, and we couldn’t have asked for more perfect weather. It was hot enough during the day to enjoy the beach and swimming pool, and the humidity was low enough that we didn’t break out in a sweat as soon as we went outdoors. Plus, the ocean waters remained quite warm; it actually felt like bath water as we splashed in the surf.

Nonstop Entertainment
Because many beach destinations experience seasonal traffic, it’s not uncommon for many popular attractions and restaurants to close down once the crowds head back home. However, that is not Myrtle Beach. Because the temperatures do cool off come fall, the area’s water parks do close for the season. Otherwise, there’s not too much families can’t do in the fall that they can do in the summer. With so much outdoor recreation, the many attractions and theaters, and the large volume of golf courses (not to mention mini-golf courses!) available, there is more than enough to keep you on the go in Myrtle Beach. Plus, with fewer crowds, you can enjoy some of the more popular sites without waiting in lines. It’s important, though, to take care that you don’t actually overbook you and your family during your vacation. After all, it’s supposed to be relaxing!

Avista Resort, Myrtle Beach

Substantial Savings
With less demand for hotel rooms, area properties are constantly looking for ways to attract visitors during the fall. As such, fall visitors can find fantastic deals on lodging. The difference in room rates before Labor Day and after is usually between 30 and 40 percent lower following the holiday weekend — a significant savings! For instance, during my visit to Myrtle Beach just days after the Labor Day weekend, I was shocked to discover that my one-bedroom condominium unit (complete with full kitchen, living area, balcony and room for six guests) overlooking the beach was just $77 per night. I couldn’t believe it. These savings also pop up for vacation rental home rates, many of which can be slashed in half from peak summer weekly prices. For more information, visit Mrytle Beach Seaside Resort’s Avista Property.

Having been to Myrtle Beach during the summer, I have to say that I enjoyed my time in this popular beach destination much more during the fall. Going forward, I definitely think I’ll be waiting until after Labor Day when planning my next trip to this city.

––Karon Warren

The mother of two children, Karon enjoys bringing her kids along for the adventure, and seeing and experiencing new sites and cultures through their eyes. When she is not traveling, Karon resides in the quiet tranquility of the North Georgia Mountains with her family.

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