2012 may be the year you promised to take the kids to Disney Word. And if so, then we wish you the best. But if you’re looking for a family-friendly destination that goes beyond kiddie rides and water slides, we’ve got you covered with these hot-spots:
1. Mackinac Island, Michigan
A family vacation destination since the mid-1800s, Mackinac Island banned motorized vehicles more than 100 years ago. The result is a quiet yet bustling atmosphere that includes shopping, food, history, nature, and plenty of opportunities for relaxation. Check out:
Fort Mackinac: High on a bluff overlooking the rest of the island, this military fort-turned-museum offers information about 1800s military life, glimpses of authentic buildings, and an interactive children’s exhibit.
Mackinac Trails: Eighty percent of the island is a Michigan State Park, which is evident in the abundant trails for hiking, horseback riding, and bicycling, plus rock formations and other natural attractions.
The Original Butterfly House and Insect World: Stroll through 1,800 square feet of tropical paradise surrounded by hundreds of live butterflies from four continents and check out impressive preserved insects, including a 14-inch walking stick.
For a full-service resort experience including dining, activities, and historic accommodations, stay at Mission Point Resort. This casual, kid-friendly resort offers two-bedroom family suites, a variety of restaurants, on-site movies, kid’s club, and a laid-back atmosphere.
2. Branson, Missouri
Known to many as the "live music capital of the world," Branson is one of the family-friendliest destinations in the United States. Some of its most popular attractions include:
The Hollywood Wax Museum: Get up close and personal with amazingly realistic wax models of movie stars and more.
Silver Dollar City: This 61-acre amusement park features festivals, shows, and craft demonstrations in addition to rides to suit both thrill-seekers and the faint of heart.
Showboat Branson Belle: Glide by Table Rock Dam on an authentic paddleboat in this riverboat cruise. Besides the views, you can enjoy breakfast, lunch, and family-friendly entertainment.
For nature-loving families, Branson’s real appeal is experiencing the beauty of the Missouri Ozarks. Check out Big Cedar Lodge, a wilderness retreat offering a variety of accommodation types, stunning views, and an array of activity choices from horseback riding to golf.
3. Carson City, Nevada
Give your kids a taste of the Old West by visiting Carson City, a former way station of the Pony Express and a major player in the Gold Rush of the 1800s. This small, laid-back city offers big fun for families, including:
Nevada State Railroad Museum: Entertaining for kids of all ages (and grown-ups, too), this museum features restored steam locomotives and cars, a model train display, and a toddler play area with wooden trains and a locomotive they can climb into. Grab a ride on the steam train outside to complete your experience.
Nevada State Museum of Carson City: This museum is housed in the building that minted gold and silver coins for decades in the late 1800s. Permanent exhibits include the coin press, an enormous mammoth skeleton, and a replica of an underground mine.
For a truly authentic experience, swim at Carson City Hot Springs, where pools filled with naturally heated mineral water from 35,000 feet underground are said to have therapeutic powers.
4. Amelia Island, Florida
This quaint and not-too-busy destination near Jacksonville offers history, nature, and village charm in one sunny locale. Your family will find plenty to do, including:
Main Beach: You’ll find fossilized shark’s teeth in abundance.
Fort Clinch State Park: Costumed interpreters help visitors understand life in a 19th-century military fort.
Amelia Island Museum of History: Learn about the island’s rich history, which includes pirates, confederates, Native Americans, and considerable military action.
A stay at the Amelia Island Plantation offers family nature programming, nature trails, and plentiful glimpses of rare and protected wildlife like the Great Horned Owl.
5. Salem, Massachusetts
Home to the famous Colonial-era witch trials, Salem allows kids to experience New England life with a slightly mysterious aura. Don’t miss:
Salem Harbor: Start here at the site of Salem’s once-bustling seaport.
Derby Wharf: You’ll see the Friendship of Salem, a full-size replica of a ship that made 15 round-the-world voyages.
Waterfront: A great way to get to learn the history of the city is via its long-lasting buildings. You’ll see the Hawkes House, Derby House, and other mansions that were built and lived in by the town’s most notable personalities.
Salem Witch Museum: A 30-minute show dramatizes the Salem witch trials of 1692, and an exhibit details witches through history.
For historic accommodations, including period décor and even rumors of a ghostly presence, check out the Hawthorne Hotel downtown.
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