The excitement of a new year — with all the fresh energy and opportunities it brings — is just what we need after the dazzle of the winter holidays. And 2016 promises to be a great year for interesting, educational and downright fun travel experiences with the family. These are our top picks — choose one and start planning!
Written by Diana Lambdin Meyer
Rocky Mountain National Park, for example, has developed a 100-year Anniversary Coloring Book available at the Grand Lake Visitors Center. Families who have visited before are invited to upload photos and their favorite memories on a website created for the occasion. One of the Grand Canyon"s many celebrations will be the Star Party, June 4 to 11. This educational evening program is designed for the astronomers in your family. And mark your calendars for April 15 - National Junior Ranger Day. Each park will have special programs for kids.
At Yellowstone, the nation"s first and most beloved national park, five new eco-friendly lodges with a total of 409 guestrooms allow guests greater access to the park. These have replaced the old Canyon Lodge and Cabins, built more than 50 years ago.
Also new at the Children"s Museum is Beyond Spaceship Earth, a permanent exhibit that traces NASA"s space exploration. The coolest feature is a recreation of the International Space Station, built for the museum by David Wolf, one of the astronauts who helped build the real space station. A new Astronauts Hall of Fame accompanies Beyond Spaceship Earth.
Just about the same time the penguins come to the zoo, a new Legoland Discovery Center will open in the Great Lakes Crossing Outlet Mall, located in the suburb of Auburn Hills. In 2014, a new SEA LIFE Aquarium opened in the same shopping center.
Another educational treat in San Antonio is the five San Antonio Missions that have recently been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The churches, which include the Alamo, were built in the 1700"s and greatly influenced the culture of Texas and much of the Southwest.
After all of that education, take a break at the J.W. Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort. The hotel is expanding its River Bluff Water Experience with two new body slides, an additional pool, increased cabana space and a bigger pavilion party place -- all set for completion in the spring of 2016.
Camp Woodward, the largest action sports camp in the world, has a new location at the Hard Rock Hotel on the Riviera Maya, as well.
Little Anna"s and Elsa"s are surely screaming in anticipation of Ã¢â‚¬Å“Frozen Ever After,Ã¢â‚¬Â to open in 2016 at Epcot. Guests will take a gondola ride through the magical kingdom of Arendelle to visit Elsa Ice Palace and the frozen world of the North Mountain.
The Loews Sapphire Falls Resort, a Caribbean-inspired hotel with 1,000 rooms, is expected to open in Universal Orlando in the summer of 2016. A stay at this budget hotel also offers early admission to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter an hour before the park opens, and complimentary shuttle buses to Universal Orlando theme parks and Universal CityWalk. And get ready for Volcano Bay, a new water theme park to open in 2017 near Universal"s Cabana Bay Beach Resort. Imagine plummeting down a waterslide from the top of a smoking volcano!
SeaWorld Orlando will debut a new rollercoaster called Mako in 2016. Named for one of the world"s fastest sharks, the Mako will be 200-feet tall and surrounded by a shark-themed plaza and restaurant. It will be Orlando"s longest, tallest and fastest roller coaster on a steel track.
The fun continues outside of the theme parks, too -- Orlando is getting a new major league soccer stadium. Sure, most people don"t go to central Florida for soccer, but if you"re there and the family loves soccer, check out the schedule for a world-class game. The stadium will seat nearly 20,000 people and be ready by the 2016 Major League soccer season.
The Charleston County Public Library Auditorium hosts free performances based on beloved childrens" books, including a rendition of The Velveteen Rabbit by the Charleston City Ballet and Little Red Riding Hood by the College of Charleston opera.
Mall of America
Also at the Mall of America is the new Crayola Experience, where you will be able to make your own crayons, star in your own coloring book and enjoy 25 more colorful, outside-the-lines experiences.
Consider a stay at the new 340-room J.W. Marriott, which opened in November 2015. You can walk to the mall under a covered walkway and enjoy a massive indoor pool after a long day of shopping.
Consider a stay at the Courtyard Anaheim Theme Park Entrance, which opened in late-2015. Six waterslides, multiple swimming pools and a great view of the evening fireworks at Disneyland make this a popular new choice. You might also want to consider the new Great Wolf Lodge Southern California, expected to debut in February 2016. Located on Harbor Boulevard, just outside of Disneyland, this 603-room hotel has all of the water park fun the brand is known for, as well as a kids" spa and nightly storytime in the lobby. If you"re looking to rack up points at Hyatt, the new Hyatt House Anaheim Resort is also expected to open in early 2016, just across Harbor Boulevard from the entrance to Disneyland.
Plan to visit during Wilderness Wildlife Week (May 18 to 22), Pigeon Forge"s annual salute to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. All programs are free and include dozens of expert-led hikes through the park, along with special programs on nature photography, botany, mountain crafts and Appalachian music.
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