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October 06, 2011

New York City for Families: My Top 3

T-Rex at American Museum of Natural History, New York City (asterix611/Flickr)

New York City is the perennial king of worldwide tourist destinations. It's the place of 1,001 different experiences, tastes, sights, sounds, and perspectives. In fact, there's so much to see and do in the Big Apple, that planning a trip there can seem downright bewildering (and hey, urban lore holds that there are some New Yorkers who've never stepped foot off Manhattan). To add to that Tower of Babel stew of opinions about this great city, here are my three favorite travel experiences with kids in tow in New York City. Don't agree? Got more to add? Tell us in the comments section!

Best Place to Learn: American Museum of Natural History, Upper West Side
The American Museum of Natural History is an impressive space that lays out the world and its wonders for ages young and old. As befits a place that explores the natural world from the beginnings of time (and those places in the cosmos beyond temporal constraints), New York's vast American Museum of Natural History requires days of exploration to do it justice. Tourists with only a day (if not, hours) to spare will want to hit the Hayden Planetarium, Milstein Hall of Ocean Life, and dinosaur exhibits on the fourth floor. Plan ahead to see which special exhibits are showing and to help map out your route, so you're not overwhelmed once you arrive. Among the museum's various hands-on kids' installations, the first-floor Discovery Room is an excellent spot in which to while away an hour or more with children ten and younger. Activities include a dino dig (complete with Perspex goggles and archaeology tools) and a fun scavenger hunt around a faux baobab tree. The museum's website is also packed with educational features, downloadable activity kits, and even a link to a free interactive dino app for the iPhone. Pack a picnic and enjoy lunch in adjacent Central Park once you've had your fill of fossils, dioramas, and planets.

American Museum of Natural History Travel Guide

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Related Topics: Family Vacation · Travel Raves · Trip Ideas

August 02, 2011

Top Five American Zoos

San Diego Zoo 062
(San Diego Zoo)

August is synonymous with back-to-school, and what better way to get those kiddos into the learning mindset then to intrigue them with an educational (but fun!) trip to the zoo. Nothing gets their little minds reeling like a glimpse into the animal kingdom. With close to 200 zoos in the U.S., there are plenty of options close to your hometown, but here are five of our favorite larger versions around the country.

San Diego Zoo
A little more than two miles north of San Diego, you will find the largest zoo in the United States, the San Diego Zoo. It's considered the largest zoo based on the fact that its 100 acres house more than 4,000 animals from 800 different species. The animal exhibits closely imitate the animals’ natural habitats. We recommend taking the 35-minute Guided Bus Tour aboard a double-decker bus, with stops along to allow guests to hop on and off at five different points inside the zoo. Tickets are included in the price of a one-day admission pass. We also recommend allotting three to four hours so you have ample time to walk through the exhibits. A tip from the zookeeper: Many animals are “early risers,” so get up with the sun for prime viewing opportunities.

Indianapolis Zoo
With more than 3,000 animals spread among the park, the Indianapolis Zoological Society is most known for its elephant program. The zoo offers a few different elephant activities including an art adventure where the elephant is the artist of the hour, and an opportunity for guests to help scrub down the largest animal on land. As an added bonus, the African elephant Kubwa just gave birth to her third calf this July. Surprisingly, the landlocked Indianapolis Zoo is also known for its dolphins. They have a unique experience that lets guests meet a dolphin, learn hand signals, and give a fishy reward.

National Zoological Park
Head to the nation’s capital to visit the Smithsonian’s 163-acre zoo for free! Print off a map of the zoo ahead of time and plot your route; but be sure to make a stop at the panda exhibit. The National Zoo is one of only four zoos in the U.S. (San Diego, Atlanta, and Memphis) that has giant pandas to visit. You can also check out the live panda cams on the zoo website to see what the lovable Mei Xiang and Tian Tian are up too.

Continue reading "Top Five American Zoos" »

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July 28, 2011

Ten Places Every Kid Should See Before They Leave For College

By Lacy Morris

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Gettysburg National Military Park(Tetra Images,Getty)
Gettysburg National Military Park, Pennsylvania (Tetra Images)

When you have little ones, a vacation isn't really a vacation. Consider these ten landmarks, locales, events as an investment in your child's future, for is a life really complete without realizing just how small you are while standing under the canopy of a 300-foot tree or feeling true American pride while watching a grand slam at Fenway Park? If you approach it right, they might not even realize that it's educational. Here are our top ten places every kid should see before they leave for college.

10. New York City
Yeah, we know, it's crowded and expensive, but imagine the awe radiating from your child as they stand amidst the lights of Times Square. Buy a sandwich from the deli across the street from the Ed Sullivan Theatre, rent bikes in Central Park, and let them try to figure out the subway map in Grand Central Station. During the holidays, skate at Rockefeller Center or crowd the streets for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.    '

New York City Family Travel Guide

9. Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
It's a bit "heavy" but kids slacking in history class will find a new appreciation for one of the most important events in America's history. Hit up the National Riding Stables to saddle up for a ride along the battlefield. Make sure to stop at Gettysburg National Cemetery where more than 3,500 Union soldiers are buried.     

Pennsylvania Family Travel Guide

8. Alcatraz, San Francisco, California
The land that was once home to the toughest prison in America doesn't sound very kid-friendly, but we guarantee nothing but good can come from a child learning that there are consequences for crimes, even if it's a bit extreme. Depart via ferry from San Francisco's Pier 33 to stroll the dark, musty, and cramped quarters of Alcatraz. To really get a feel for what life was like for hardcore criminals in the 40s and 50s, purchase the audio tour narrated by former inmates and guards who spent time in the prison.

San Francisco Family Travel Guide

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July 22, 2011

Dream Big at Atlantis, Paradise Island in the Bahamas


As befits a place that has built its brand around a legendary submerged kingdom first chronicled by Plato around 360 BC, the Atlantis, Paradise Island resort in the Bahamas is upping the fantasy quotient for its younger guests this summer. For the next several weeks, guests can join themed camps that include a Fashion and Fitness Camp hosted by the editors of Seventeen magazine, an Atlantis Marine Adventure Camp that takes campers behind the scenes of Atlantis' impressive marine-habitat operation, and a Second City Fantasy Camp to learn from the same improv outfit that launched the careers of comedians like Tina Fey and Mike Myers. The Seventeen magazine Fantasy Camp runs July 25-28; the Marine Adventure and Second City Fantasy camps will occur August 1-4. To book, visit

Of course, even if you don't join one of these camps, Atlantis is one serious bucket of fun (a 20-million-gallon bucket if you take into account all its fresh and saltwater pools and lagoons, waterslides, waterfalls, and marine habitat). Atlantis guests have full access to all these amenities, as well as 35 restaurants, well-regarded kids' programs and activities, plus casino, spa, and shopping for the grownups to join in all that holiday dreaming.

Click here to read a review of Atlantis, one of's top-rated family resorts.

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June 23, 2011

Top Ten Places to Ring in the 4th of July

By awayblog

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July 4 at the Hatchshell on the Esplanade in Boston (Mary Giordono_courtesy, B4 Productions)
Boston celebrates the Fourth at the Edward A. Hatch Memorial Shell adjacent the Charles River Esplanade (Mary Giordono/B4 Productions)

Fireworks, barbeques, parades, and live music—no other holiday spells summer fun quite like the 4th of July. Although you could just as easily celebrate America's birthday by watching the festivities on TV or setting out some lawn chairs and a grill in your backyard, some Independence Day celebrations are worth the trip, especially if they're right up the road from you. Here, Karen Chen counts down our picks for the country's top ten places to ring in the 4th.

10. Mount Rushmore
With the faces of our country's most venerated presidents etched indelibly in the stone of the Black Hills, this national monument epitomizes American history and pride.'s Mount Rushmore Family Travel Guide

9. Great Williamsburg, Virginia
Celebrate July 4th with living history in the Greater Williamsburg area, the center of political events leading up to the American Revolution.'s Williamsburg Family Travel Guide

8. Miami, Florida
A holiday smack dab in the middle of summer just begs for a beach party.'s Miami Family Travel Guide

7. San Diego, California
Okay, so make that two beach parties. During the day, Pacific and Mission beaches will be packed with holiday sunbathers.'s San Diego Family Travel Guide

6. New Orleans, Louisiana
Like every festival N'awlins hosts, it's always a roarin' good time, and the 4th of July is no exception. The city's Go 4th on the River festival offers concerts at the French Market and a free Mardi Gras-style party with live music, food, and door prizes.'s New Orleans Family Travel Guide

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Related Topics: Family Vacation · Historical Travel · Holidays, Events, & Festivals · Top 10 Lists

June 20, 2011

Hotel Spotlight: Walt Disney World's Contemporary Resort

Walt Disney World's Contemporary Resort and adjoining Bay Lake Towers (Disney)

I recently spent a couple of days at Walt Disney World in Orlando, staying at Disney's retro-modern Contemporary Resort. For families, this 40-year-old Magic Kingdom stalwart doesn't quite have the cachet of the newer Animal Kingdom Lodge or faux-frontier Wilderness Lodge, but I was impressed with the 655-room property's simple comfort and convenience. Built in 1971, the landmark A-frame design still exudes a futuristic grace that takes you back to old Uncle Walt's original out-there vision for his Florida wonderland. The Contemporary Resort is within sight of Walt Disney World's iconic Cinderella Castle, meaning you can be hitting the rides within minutes, plus gain a privileged, no-crowds view of the nightly fireworks that erupt over Downtown Disney each night. The monorail stops right inside the hotel on the first floor, whizzing guests to the Magic Kingdom as well as Epcot. Another nice feature in the Contemporary Resort's favor is its perch on the shore of Bay Lake, which you can explore by small rental motorboats as well as during water-skiing and paragliding sessions offered through Sammy Duvall's Watersports Centre, Disney's on-site concessionaire. (Most notably, check out the exotic birdlife on the lake's central islands, hosting an array of exotic species which were released to live in the wild here after being originally imported during the development of the Animal Kingdom.) Given its role hosting Disney's convention center, the resort does feel a little more buttoned-up than other themed accommodations at places like the Polynesian Resort or Adirondacks-style Saratoga Springs, though I must say I quite enjoyed that the volume was turned down low after a day of being immersed in the whole Disney magic thing. Nightly rates for the Contemporary Resort start at $300, with children under 18 staying at no additional charge in Deluxe Resort rooms when with parents.'s Family Travel Guide to Walt Disney World

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June 13, 2011

Get Your Summer Groove on at Virginia's FloydFest

FloydFest2011Poster The tiny town of Floyd, Virginia (population: 432, according to the 2000 Census), exerts an outsize influence as a regional destination for music and the arts, most notably Appalachian-flavored bluegrass and folk music. Located south of Roanoke amidst southwestern Virginia's rolling Blue Ridge Mountains, Floyd's weekly Friday Night Jamboree attracts local and regional bands as well as a growing number of music aficionados. Then there's big-time events like the annual FloydFest, a four-day jamboree of folk, rock, and other diverse musical styles that unfurls in a scenic meadow just off Virginia's snaking Blue Ridge Parkway. This summer's event (July 28-31) will feature over 70 performers across a half-dozen outdoor stages, not to mention a colorful supporting cast of jugglers, henna artists, acrobats, and untold other impromptu alternative acts. And unlike some other music festivals we can think of, FloydFest is a distinctly all-ages affair, with family camping, crafts, and activities for the budding Woody Guthries in your brood. Three-day tickets for the weekend fiesta cost $135 until July 1 and include on-site camping; single-day tickets cost $55, or $60 at the gate. Tickets for children 6-12 are $15 for the entire weekend, $20 on the gate. Check the festival website for complete lineup, tickets, and planning details.

Image credit: FloydFest 2011 cover art (courtesy, FloydFest)

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Related Topics: Family Vacation · Holidays, Events, & Festivals · Outdoor Adventures

February 08, 2011

Chicago-to-Yellowstone National Park Family Road-Trip Advice: Announcing Our Next Travel Q&A Flight-Voucher Winner!

By awayblog

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PERFECT PIT STOP: Sylvan Lake in the Black Hills region of South Dakota (Stefano Salvetti/Photodisc/Getty)

"We are planning an extended family road trip in June from Chicago IL to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, 6 children ages 11-2yrs. What is the most scenic route and how do we plan for it?" reader Sue M. of Springfield, IL, stepped up to the plate and offered her own detailed insights to the above query from one of our readers. And to thank her for her efforts, Sue is the winner of a free Delta Airlines flight voucher ($1,000-plus value!), the third of four that we’re awarding this year for the best reader-submitted advice on the Travel Q&A. Here is Sue’s answer :

"This is a great trip! I would take a route north and go through South Dakota and make a stop at Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills. Custer State Park is a must see! Don't miss Sylvan Lake and the Needles. Lots of easy hikes with great payoff! You only add about 75 miles by going the Northern Route and it is well worth it, because the southern route through Iowa and Nebraska offers little for sightseeing. Then you can go on through Yellowstone and down into Jackson Hole. Rapid City is about 13 hours from Chicago, so if you leave early you can do that in one day, and then it's an easy 7 1/2 hours onto Yellowstone. The kids will love Yellowstone and June is a great time to beat the crowds that come in July and August. The earlier in June that you are able to go, the fewer people and the more animals you will see! Jackson's Hole is only 2 hours south of Yellowstone and you will drive right through the Grand Tetons by going this way!"

For your chance to win our next airfare giveaway, share your best travel advice with your fellow travelers today! For more information about this giveaway, check out our contest-detail page here.

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February 02, 2011

Highlights of a Disney Dream Family Cruise Vacation

By Guest Blogger

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Disney Dream docked at Castaway Cay (Kara Williams)

As one of the lucky media types invited to preview the brand-new Disney Dream a couple weeks ago for its Inaugural Christening Cruise, I was frankly bowled over by this 4,000-passenger ship. Forty percent bigger—and two decks taller—than its sister ships the Wonder and the Magic, the Disney Dream is chock full of amenities and services that delight families, from the live musical productions in the 1,340-seat Walt Disney Theatre to incredibly tricked-out kids' clubs to its crowning glory: the AquaDuck water coaster, a first in the cruise industry.

That said, a Disney Dream Bahamian cruise may not be ideal for all families. With a call at Disney's private island Castaway Cay, guests step off the ship to enjoy a ton of gorgeous white-sand beach, but not one iota of authentic Bahamian culture. What you give up in genuine Caribbean experiences, however, you gain tenfold of all things Disney—from the show tunes piped into the public spaces to the "Hidden Mickeys" (subtle Mickey head-and-ears symbols) woven into the shower curtains to the Donald Duck, Pluto, and princess characters you'll see all over the ship, all day long, meeting and greeting their fans.

Continue reading "Highlights of a Disney Dream Family Cruise Vacation" »

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January 25, 2011

Spring When to Go Guide: Cherry Blossoms, Death Valley Wildflowers, and More!

View of the cherry blossoms and Washington Monument in Washington, D.C. (Eric Brodnax)

Spring is still some weeks away in most parts of the country, but it's time to start dreaming—and planning—for Mother Nature's big thaw. Here's an update on several of spring's big seasonal events.

Desert Wildflowers (Death Valley National Park, California)
Given the harsh desert environment, winter rainfall totals are a fairly predictable indicator of when the colorful desert wildflowers will bloom in the Mojave's Death Valley National Park (and elsewhere in North America's other three major deserts, the Sonoran, Great Basin, and Chihuahuan deserts). And unlike this winter's rain-drenched sections of the California coastline, Death Valley has only recorded a half-inch of rain since July 2010. Consequently, park officials are not anticipating a bumper crop of wildflower blooms this year. "We are seeing sprouts of wildflowers in the southern part of the park due to rain in October," the NPS website reports, adding that plants on the lower-elevation hillsides and alluvial fans around Jubilee Pass may come into bloom by late February. Look for an update from the NPS in early February. Low rainfall throughout the year and cooler winter temps suggest that peak bloom should occur in mid- to late March.

Continue reading "Spring When to Go Guide: Cherry Blossoms, Death Valley Wildflowers, and More!" »

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Related Topics: California Travel · Family Vacation · Holidays, Events, & Festivals · National Parks · Trip Ideas

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