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Dominican Republic Family Hotels And Resorts

Wed, 11/23/2016 - 14:01

Relax in the Dominican Republic

This could be the view from your room

Hit the open waters

Pick the best hotel for your family so you can explore the luscious history and tropical sunny weather of one of the world's most beautiful islands.

The Dominican Republic offers a top value Caribbean beach getaway marked by rich cultural influences that create a distinctive and fascinating history. Not only do guests have the opportunity to embrace the astounding scenery on eco-vacations, but also get to know the culture at world-class hotels and resorts offering an intriguing variety of cuisines, artistic and entertaining attractions and, as Christopher Columbus put it, “a beautiful island paradise” simply like no other.

The Dominican Republic is divided into six major regions within the soaring mountains and deep river valleys of the eastern two-thirds of Hispaniola (Haiti occupies the west coast). With geographic and scenic diversity, the DR, as locals call it, provides a variety of unforgettable experiences for any type of traveler.  Here's FTF's guide to a few of the most popular family beach getaway destinations around Puerto Plata, Punta Cana and Santo Domingo. googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display('div-gpt-ad-1389984845773-0'); });

Northcoast DR: Puerto Plata & Cabarete

With stretches of flawless beaches and azure waters, this region, considered the DR’s most “versatile playground,” features the popular towns of Puerto Plata, the wind-surfing and kiteboarding center at Cabarete. If you're staying at a beach hotel in this region, consider a full day's outing to the popular Jasmine Spa and Wellness Holistic Health Center (located at Tubagua, near Puerto Plata; phone 829/252-5272) for a mother-daughter, father-son or friend-friend spa day. For outdoor relaxation, try the beach treatments at the Canrejo Beach complete with a sand scrub, seaweed wrap and ocean dip before a shower and coconut oil massage. Facials, massages, shiatsu, hot stone massage and more round out the spa menu. Rates start at $149 during the low season on up to $249.

ClubHotel Riu Mambo
Bahia de Maimon
Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic
$ - $$
The Riu Mambo offers 463 guestrooms and suites decorated with mahogany-colored furniture, tile floors and granite bathroom vanities. No matter the weather, you can regulate your room with wood-paddle ceiling fans and supplemental air conditioning. This family-friendly hotel also provides each room with a balcony or ground floor terrace furnished with chairs and cocktail tables, so parents can relax while watching kids play on the grounds. Some of the all-inclusive hotel’s complimentary features are buffet-style breakfast, lunch and dinner and unlimited domestic-brand cocktails at the hotel’s tavern.

Once you and your family fill your bellies, you can work off those homemade waffles with water sport activities and recreational equipment such as kayaks, wind-surfers and an introductory scuba diving lesson. On land, the hotel has tennis courts, beach soccer and volleyball, and a fitness center to satisfy your exercise needs. For kids, the Riu Mambo provides a variety of supervised activities and entertainment at the RiuLand’s Kids’ Club for children ages 4 to 12. The fun takes place over sports, games, arts and crafts and group dancing (evenings on a theater stage). If you and your spouse care to explore the nightlife within the area there is a childcare center for an additional cost. Some of the hotel’s late night entertainment includes Spanish style dancing lessons, an onsite casino and an air-conditioned disco where you can relive the 70s.  

Sam's Bar & Grill(809/586-7267), located in the Castilla Hotel at Calle Jose del Carmen Ariza 34, Puerto Plata is a family favorite. The All-American style restaurant is perfect for a casual breakfast, lunch or dinner. You and your family can begin your day by forking a hearty helping of fluffy pancakes, or digging into a plateful of bacon and eggs. This laid-back establishment accommodates to American tastes and offers entrees such as mama’s meatloaf and steak and eggs. Sam’s is ideal for the conservative eater and spender. If you come back for lunch or dinner the chef usually prepares more extravagant dishes such as chicken cordon bleu and a filet of beefsteak.

Over the past few years Cabarete has grown to achieve international fame, especially with a younger audience. The reason may be found on the town's beach, ranked as one of the world's top five kiteboarding and windsurfing destinations. So good are the conditions here, in fact, that Cabarete is regularly a stop in International competitions.

Casa del Pescador (809/571/0760) is another popular place for a dress up evening. Since 1988, it has served sophisticated entrees in an interactive and trendy environment located right on the beach! A few of the chef’s signature dishes are the fish consommé and creative variety of shrimp concoctions. On a hot day, the seafood salads drizzled with spicy Creole sauce and fresh lobster sauce are refreshingly savory.

Read more for an in-depth look at Puerto Plata attractions and the kite-boarding scene in Cabarete

DR around Santo Domingo

While the Dominican Republic's luscious coast provides relaxing seaside enjoyment,  Santo Domingo and the South Central region serve as a more contemporary, energetic getaway for island residents and budget visitors. A a mix of the old and the new, it’s not uncommon to witness modern hotels resting on ancient cobblestone roads or to walk by a street vendor selling empanadas (a fried snack made of flour filled with cheese, chicken, or beef) outside a gourmet, expense-account restaurant.

Barcelo Capella
Juan Dolio, Dominican Republic
$ - $$
One of the Spanish-owned Barcelo all-inclusives, this is one of the Dominican Republic’s most prominent hotels known for its waterfront view, economical offers and quality of service. Visitors of all ages can take advantage of the hotel’s nightly entertainment, extensive lineup of watersports, fitness and recreation programs, massage services, kids club and other amenities to ensure an enjoyable stay. For picky eaters and restless kids, the resort offers two restauants, three bars, three swimming pools, children's park, sports tracks, and nightclub. 

Quality Hotel Real Aeropuerto Santo Domingo
Avenida Tiradentes, esquina Presidente Gonzalez
NACO, Santo Domingo
A branch of the Clarion chain, this budget-conscious choice is located on the cusp of the commercial and financial districts of Santo Domingo and is centrally situated close to many local attractions. located across from Las Americas Duty Free Business Park and next to the Institute of Technology of Santo Domingo. Hotel amenities include complimentary breakfast and outdoor pool. Rooms with two queen beds can accommodate a family of four. Ask for a room with a view of the Caribbean.

From a base in Santo. Domingo, many families like to use a rental car to visit other island beaches. Conveniently located near Santo Domingo's airport, Boca Chica is a resort town whose beach is most popular among residents because of its soft fine sand and crystal blue waters. Scattered around the beach are a variety of vendors offering genuine Dominican cuisine, tropical fruity beverages, personal tours, and souvenirs such as homespun jewelry and artwork. Also, this beach is known for its calm, shallow water which makes it extremely kid-friendly for young children to play on their own. 

Located halfway between Santo Domingo and La Romana, Juan Dolio is a relaxing getaway for both couples and families. As elsewhere in the DR, this town has its own unique culture, shopping, nightlife and, of course, flawless beaches. On Juan Dolio's main boulevard, visitors can safely walk, jog or cycle, then  head to San Pedro, hometown of the famous baseball player Sammy Sosa. While you’re in the area, you and your family can check out Kart Bahn, a racetrack on the highway to San Pedro where go karts can be rented for a fast spin around the track.

La Caleta is a green space with a popular beach and the Museo de la Caleta, a small building containing the remains of Taino tombs discovered during construction of the airport. Offshore, La Caleta National Underwater Park is the Dominican Republic's best area for reef and wreck diving and presents scuba divers with an array of options. Small islands off the coast, along with a coral reef, make the beach's waters less rough than in some areas, so underwater sightseeing is especially safe. Plus, two shipwrecks and the myriad of colorful fish draw divers from around the world.

Dining around Santo Domingo

With Sto. Domingo being a commercial center for the Caribbean and Latin America, fine restaurants are in demand. La Residence, located in the Hostal Nicolas De Ovando, is a historic restaurant that was once a mansion dating from 1502. It's one of the few upscale restaurants within the area that offer a continental menu; sample the spit roasted lamb rubbed with authentic spices and served with bacon, garlic and vinegar sauce, or rabbit stuffed with bacon and mushrooms. A few Dominican dishes like roast lobster with wok-fried vegetables, pork chops with local spices and braised “Dominican-style” red snapper will please fussy kids.

Pat'e Palo's charming location is reason enough to try this eclectic eatery. The restaurant, located at the Zona Colonial, overlooks the elegant cloisters of the Alcazar de Colon, where affable Dominicans flock together every night at dusk. The tables, topped with heavy wood, are either situated outside on the patio or within the historic walls of the dim interior. Aside from the splendid structure, the food is some of the best in the capital. Popular dishes include sauteed shrimp in coconut-curry sauce, or a brochette of meats that have been marinated in fresh spices and herbs, skillfully set ablaze at your table. At this sociable and appealing bistro, guitarists and musicians performs weekend evenings.

Vesuvio I (1/809/221-3333), located along the seafront Malecon promenade, is considered the most famous Italian restaurant in DR. The Bonarelli family have worked since 1954 to master and expand their menu. Specialties include Dominican crayfish a la Vesuvio (topped with garlic and bacon), pappardelle al Bosque (noodles with porcini mushrooms, rosemary, and garlic), and black tallarini a la crema.

DR's East Coast - Punta Cana Resorts

Bavaro Palace Hotel
Punta Cana/Bavaro Beach, Dominican Republic
The five-star, all-inclusive Bavaro Palace Palace welcomes families to the clear, calm waters and pristine beaches of Playa Bavaro on the eastern coast of DR. A more upscale choice than the Capella in Juan Dolio, this one's about 12 miles from Punta Cana International Airport in the purpose-built Bavara hotel zone. Let your kids roam free as you lounge in the embracing sunshine on two miles of soft, white sand beach. Punta Cana's water is an exquisite cerulean color.

Whether you are or are not a a guest of the Bavaro Palace Palace, try their excellent Chez Palace a la carte restaurant, where reservations are a must. The contemporary Spanish style decor is classy yet trendy, and the formally dressed staff serves fabulous dishes, dinner only.

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
The Caribbean's first Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, features the largest casino in the Dominican Republic with a 45,000-square-feet gaming space. The huge, beachfront vacation complex has 1,790 well appointed rooms done in a contemporary style, with double rooms with two double beds that most families choose. Enjoy 12 expansive pools, 4 swim-up bars, and 3 kids pool with flume waterslides. There's also a Rock Spa and Hard Rock Golf to keep parents and older kids busy beyond the pool and casino.


Trip to Barbados with kids

Wed, 11/23/2016 - 14:00

Hi all,

We are planning to visit Barbados next month. We are a family of 4, and my eldest daughter is 8 years old, and younger one is just 2 years old. We are planning for a 5 day trip only, because we are travelling with the kids. And I want to go maximum places and enjoy maximum in these 5 days. So I was just looking online to get a better idea , and found an itinerary for 5 days trip in Barbados. Is there anything being missed out from this plan ? And what is the best food joints there? I also want to know about the different activities for the kids. Thanks so much for helping.


Santa Sightings Guaranteed to Bring Holiday Cheer

Mon, 11/21/2016 - 17:47

San Diego's Seaport Village keeps Santa surfing throughout the holidays.

Santa appears daily in scuba gear over the holidays at the Newport Aquarium.

Transported by an outrigger canoe, Santa arrives in Waikiki Beach, Oahu.

The Towers B&B has Santa tucked in among the jewels; photo: Visit Natchez

No matter how old you are or how skeptical you may be about Santa Claus and his role in the winter holidays, it seems that everyone enjoys seeing him on their holiday travels.

Thanks to our colleagues at  i.d.e.a. public relations, we can share some of his more exceptional appearances. They’re so much fun, in fact, that you may want to vacation alongside him.

And for those who prefer a staycation, SantaCon – an opportunity for any jolly old soul to impersonate Santa, returns to cities and bars around the country. In our home of New York City the reindeers take off at 11am, December 12, 2016. The international SantaCon directory lists dates and details for global events sprouting any time between November 25 and December 24, around the world. googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display('div-gpt-ad-1389984845773-0'); });

Here are 10 more ways to catch him – if you can!


Santa Surfs in San Diego

Let’s start in San Diego, where i.d.e.a.’s client Seaport Village is located, At the waterfront lifestyle mall downtown, Surfin' Santa -- a character who arrives near shore by jet pack or pirate ship -- is a San Diego tradition that returns Saturday, November 26.  Count on him dressed in board shorts and a Hawaiian shirt, and dress appropriately so you can pose for photos with him while he hangs ten inside a six-foot wave on a surfboard. 


Canoe with Santa to Oahu

It’s always sunny in Waikiki, Hawaii – which is why tourists love it. On Oahu, Santa takes advantage of the climate to paddle his own outrigger canoe and pose for pictures on December 10. e will pull up Set on the beach at the Outrigger Waikiki hotel, and be greeted by hula-dancing children and hundreds of onlookers. Holiday rates begin at $229 for a double this season.


Santa Enjoys Breakfast at Tiffany’s in Natchez

It’s hard to find Santa among the glitter of gold and gems at the Towers of Natchez, an ornate bed and breakfast in this waterfront Mississippi town that dates to the late 1700s. During the holidays, The Towers displays a floor to ceiling “sculpture” made up of thousands of vintage costume jewelry pieces called “The Jeweled Christmas.”  House tours are available weekends from November 26 to January 7; the cost is $20 per adult, $15 per child ages 8-12. At 7pm on December  9 and 16 are special candlelit tours, serving champagne to adults only, truly a spectacle to remember.


Santa Feeds the Fishes in Kentucky

Scuba Santa’s Water Wonderland is a seasonal exhibit at the delightful Newport Aquarium in Newport, located just opposite the city of Cincinnati. In their comfortable theatre used for guided marinelife talks, guests can watch through a huge glass wall as Santa dons a bright red wetsuit and air tank in lieu of his normal winter garb, waving to his young fans and communicating through the glass. Running daily November 25-December 31.


Sit with the Hipster Santa in Portland

Oregon families sign up early for a meet and greet with Hipster Santa, a local bun-wearing, hand knit cardigan-clad bearded dude who regales shoppers at Pioneer Place mall. We’re thinking nauty and nice may have new definitions when you sit on this guy’s knee.


Watch Santa's Friends Ski in Maine

The Sunday River ski resort in Newry, Maine creates a photo-worthy spectacle on Santa Sunday, this year to be held December 4. The resort is offering free lift tickets to the first 250 guests to arrive in Santa costume; they must ski down the slopes together carrying a donation for the local Sunday River Community Fund to qualify. It’s a great chance to ski or snowboard early season.


Santa and Mrs. Claus Take the Train in Texas

Part of little Grapevine’s annual “Christmas Capital of Texas” festivities, the locally restored Grapevine Vintage Railroad gets dressed up for special trips to the North Pole. While families crowd the decorated Victorian rail coaches, Mrs. Claus boards the train and presents each child a “We Believe” silver Santa bell. Once at the North Pole, you can enter Santa’s workshop, meet him, have hot chocolate and get some one-on-one time with Santa for family photos. The North Pole Express departs from the historic railroad station in Grapvevine several times daily between Thanksgiving and Christmas; tickets are $25 for ages 13 months and older.


Santa Talks with Kids on the Spectrum

On November 26, Santa will be pausing from his preparations to visit with kids at a special Sensitive Santa event put on by Autism Live and We Rock the Spectrum Kid’s Gym of Woodland Hills, California. Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and their families can have their photos taken, and receive a wrapped toy, while also getting the opportunity to explore uniquely ASD-friendly gym equipment. The event is free; reservations required at Autism Lives Eventbrite


Santa is More Attentive than a Helicopter Parent

Santa gets airborne in a helicopter, arriving in style to his own party at the Hiller Aviation Museum in San Carlos, California, on November 26. He takes photos with the kids upon arriving, partakes in Christmas carols and lets kids explore the many aircraft and unusual flying machines housed at this Smithsonian affiliate.


See Santa Towering Over Macy’s Herald Square

Beginning November 18, the flagship Macy’s Department Store at Herald Square, New York City, will feature six special holiday windows on Broadway. Did you know that Macy’s was the first department store to feature Christmas window displays? They have been enchanting generations of spectators since the early 1870’s.This year, windows are themed to “Believe,” a letter writing campaign which raises funds for Make-A-Wish. In addition to a high tech focus with YouTube videos, characters who text and email their wish lists, animated frames, and special interactive elements for the children who come to see them, expect to meet a 15-foot-tall Santa Claus who will take center stage, perched high above the marquee entrance presiding over the festive activity in Broadway Plaza below. Some windows will feature animated Mrs. Claus and Santa, while a real live Santa can be found on duty, upstairs as usual, in the Toy Department.


The Big Schlep: Grandparents' Tips On Miami, Florida

Mon, 11/21/2016 - 15:45

Beautiful South Beach Miami is a great place for all ages.

We hope you'll benefit from what we, a multi-generational family that loves to get together, learned and enjoyed during a recent stay in Miami, Florida. Here are some of our most useful tips, especially handy during the busy holiday season. We think you'll like these budget-friendly activities if you love entertaining (and spoiling) kids and grandkids like we do.

The Miami Climate

Sunblock, sunblock. Even in winter, the tropical climate insures plenty of sun through the sultry humidity. Expect refreshing downpours on occasion but you won't mind them.

Dining, Nightlife & Childcare to Enjoy Them!

The famous SoBe strip along Ocean Avenue boasts family-friendly hotspots like NewsCafé (for great drinks, salads, burgers, etc.) and lots of over-priced and noisy outdoor cafes that are more for people watching than dining. googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display('div-gpt-ad-1389984845773-0'); });

Washington Avenue, one block inland from the beach, has many other ethnic dining choices -- usually cheaper. We like the stylish, fun and inexpensive Planet Sushi, with its varied sushi menu. Even our youngest loves sushi, we're always surprised.

Plan on a great Lincoln Road evening. This street full of shops and galleries is now a pedestrian mall and a place with little ones can run around safely, dip their fingers in some fountains, see dogs being walked and generally let off steam. For lunch or an early dinner, Spris Pizza has really tasty pies plus good salads and panini sandwiches. Follow up your meal with a stop at the Gelateria 4D, a local favorite that will give everyone enough energy to walk some more (and get tired out.)

With ages 4+ consider a trip to the Broward Center for the Arts in Ft. Lauderdale, which has an extensive children's theatre and performing arts program year-round. This is an inexpensive way to entertain the princesses who want to grow up to be Broadway stars.

Remember that families who dine early are widely accepted in Miami. The locals hit the bars and restaurants after 9pm, and the clubs after midnight. If you're going out on the town with adult children, do book ahead with one of the recommended local childcare agencies. Call Sunshine Babysitting, who are better known in Orlando, and have childcare available all through the state, for current rates and advance reservations.

Miami's Latin Soul

Dreaming about Havana nights? Our family favorites on Calle Ocho, the once-Cuban now-Latin section of town, are the heavily mirrored Versailles and La Carreta with its wagonwheel sign. Both have terrific inexpensive food and Latin style and even better, a Hispanic waitstaff who adore children of all ages.

Be sure to visit Domino Park, named for the Mexican freedom fighter Maximo Gomez, and a landmark urban park packed with domino players. These local guys, usually oldsters, play undisturbed no matter what, and it's a very colorful scene at the corner of Calle Ocho and 15th Avenue. With older kids, stick around for the always interesting Cultural Fridays, free Latin arts and antiques exhibits held the last Friday of each month.

Getting Around South Florida Easily

Fritz's Skate, Bike, Surf Shop at 1620 Washington Avenue (near the end of Lincoln Road) is open daily for skate, bike and scooter rentals; helmets and pads included in hourly, half-day or day rates. Beach Scooters has three locations in South Beach, and is open daily for mopeds, electric scooters, mobility scooters, wheelchairs, Vespas, electric cars and paddleboards, by the hour or day.

Languages You Can Practice

Expect most locals to speak English, but you'll find Spanish is the lingua franca of Miami, arguably the largest Latin community outside South America.

Shopping, Spoiling & Allowance Tips

Shopping is one of travel's great pleasures, right? Be sure to establish a budget for each child on day one, and show them how to keep track of their spending. Parents should give the kids some funds to bankroll an ice cream cone or occasional treat for their grandparents. Grandparents should give the grandkids some moolah so they can buy a rose for mom when the flower vendors pass by the outdoor cafes with bouquets.

The funky Washington Avenue in South Beach is for your skateboarding tweeners, pierced and tatooed teens, and indulgent grandparents who aren't offended by the wild display of leopard thongs, vinyl platform shoes, navel rings, henna tatoos, surfer wear and other inexpensive fad-of-the-moment gear.

Española Way hosts weekend crafts fairs along its pedestrian-only Spanish colonial lane. Like a smaller and quieter version of Lincoln Road, it's another fun walking excursion.

The city-sponsored Caribbean Marketplace in Little Haiti is another outing for unusual gifts and island items. If you're there at mealtime, be sure to check out the creole food stands along the sidewalk outside.

On this most recent multi-generational outing, we enjoyed Books & Books, a good browsing place for all ages. Teens and fashionistas will love the eccentric collection of new and vintage at the Fly Boutique, about a 15-minute drive north of South Beach. And for all ages, it's fun to see the many small galleries lining the Lincoln Road Mall and some of the sidestreets.

There's superb shopping for Euro chic at the Bal Harbour Shops and Aventura Mall, and many seasonal sales.

Coral Gables boasts the upscale, designer-oriented Miracle Mile shopping area, while Coconut Grove's odd shops and hip boutiques will delight teens.

Sights for all Ages

Go for the Deco. This architecturally distinctive style can be seen in its original form with terrific, school-age-kid-friendly walking tours given by the Miami Design Preservation League. Daily guided tours of the Art Deco District depart from the MDPL Welcome Center at 10th and Ocean Drive. Specialists should plan on the North Shore MiMo District tours that focus on the city's wonderful Mid-century Modern architecture (first Saturday of each month) or the Jewish Miami Beach Tour (second Sunday of the month); guides are very knowledgeable and fun.

There are self-guided MDPL tours if you have a restless bunch, and a fun gift shop where you can introduce the streamline concept to the grandkids. History and culture buffs should check the calendar at HistoryMiami Museum, whose docents led a fascinating tour of Little Haiti during our kids' last visit. There's architectural style in kitsch form everywhere you turn, so pausing for a a piña colada at such icons as the Eden Roc Hotel is another option. And of course, this guide to Miami attractions can keep you busy for days.

Tipping & All Gratuities

Don't be fooled by Miami's cleverly functional 'service added' dining bills. With tourist traffic emanating from servis compris Europe and never-tip Asia, Miami's top restaurants have kept their surprisingly good wait staffs happy by adding a 12%-15% gratuity to every check, with the caption: "Please feel free to adjust the gratuity to reflect the quality of service you have received." Caveat emptor!

Wellness and Relaxation Come Naturally at Amelia Island Plantation

Mon, 11/21/2016 - 14:00

Sunrise over the Atlantic at the Omni Amelia Island resort in Florida.

Chef Daven Wardynski at the Sprouting Project greenhouse, Amelia Island.

Beekeeper at work at the Omni Amelia Island resort's Sprouting Project.

Chef Daven's honey hive cakes delivered with room service to my balcony.

From the beautiful beach, you can see how big the Omni Amelia Island Plantation really is.

At the TMS Family Travel conference held on Amelia Island, I experienced how one man’s passion for the culinary arts can convey an aura of wellness over an entire resort.

That passion belongs to executive chef Daven Wardynski, who has led the culinary team at Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort since October 2012, and is currently supervising chef for all the Omni Resorts east of Texas.

In Chef Daven’s eyes, the dedicated attention to food and children’s needs are the resort’s real focus, and the source of its therapeutic spirit.

“I do this because I have two little girls,” he admits. “They know Daddy works a lot. They help me garden here every weekend, so they really understand where their food comes from. “

He adds, “That engagement means the world to me.”


Meet Chef Daven Wardynski

Chef Daven is the creator of The Sprouting Project –- a spare time passion when he’s not watching over the Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort’s nine restaurants and food and beverage services.

Although he looks like a young farm boy when he refer to his Midwestern roots, Chef Daven has been cooking professionally for more than 17 years, starting with TRU in Chicago, where he was sous chef to celebrity chef Rick Tramonto. He moved from the Omni Chicago to the Omni Amelia Island after filling in when they needed some extra F&B staff and, with two young daughters, decided to never leave.

He says each region’s culture and locally available ingredients inspire his menus. While that approach might garner many awards in Chicago (and it did), in a more isolated environment like Amelia Island, Chef Daven’s culinary philosophy has a transformative effect.


Amelia Island’s Sprouting Project

The Sprouting Project, built by the chef and his resort team to raise some of their own produce, is tucked into a heavily wooded corner of the 1,350-acre property. In the small greenhouse, two 500-gallon water tanks host blue gill, sunfish and bream -- fish that are fed only organic material. Their nutrient-rich waste fertilizes the kale, herbs and lettuces used in salads, and the plants in turn purify the water, which is recycled back to the fish habitat.

This is a homespun DIY aquaponic greenhouse that takes aquaculture in new directions, yielding a crop about twice as fast as a soil bed would.

Barrel vaulted Quonset huts; wood cabins; crunchy, crushed coquina shell flooring and hanging Spanish moss… the charm of the setting evokes bygone Florida. At our evening visit (groups can plan meals there, and guests may join complimentary tours during the day), we sat at a picnic table and watched an owl fly onto a live oak limb above the creek. That owl watched us eating Chef Daven’s kale salad until he realized it would be easier to catch other prey.


Honey is the Food of Life

Chef Daven’s real baby is the apiary. Twenty-seven colonies house 2.5 million bees, producing about 5,000 lbs of honey used in many dishes, in many ways, and in many pleasing treats.

Every morning, I took advantage of the Omni Select members’ perk (membership is free to all Omni hotel guests) to order complimentary room service of fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice. After relishing its full-bodied crisp pulp, I brewed a cup of tea at my minibar, and then dove into the two delicate Honey Hive Cakes on my tray.

Each time I tried them, whether with fresh cheddar and a honey brittle biscuit, or with tea, the tiny gooey treasures were imbued with the fragrance and rich taste of Chef Daven’s personal passion.

I could taste it.


Chef Daven Loves to Feed Everyone

Sharing is part of this resort’s DNA. Chef Daven told us about “Say Goodnight to Hunger,” a charitable initiative that Omni began in June 2016 in partnership with Feeding America. The program has a goal to serve 18 million meals by year’s end, just by donating one week’s worth of meals to a family of four, for each booking made on the company’s website.

Chef Daven also takes the long view on his own work. A traditional smokehouse is under construction to sprout smoked meats and fish.

His culinary curiosity extends to beverages and, at the Sprouting Project, his team is experimenting with a rustic barrel room. Peek in and see where 36 barrels of honey-infused cocktails, fermented wines, specialty vinegars and hot sauces are blended, sampled and stored for use throughout the resort.

Perhaps it’s the sweetness that underlies everything that passes your lips at Amelia Island, but I feel better after just two days on property.


Planning a Visit to Omni Amelia Island Plantation

Resort guests can join a free, kid-welcoming tour of The Sprouting Project -- guided by one of Chef Daven’s team -- every Saturday; call the concierge to sign up at 904/432–1467. The Sprouting Project also hosts featured dinners every month in a more adult atmosphere, where you can sample some of that honey bourbon they’re aging in the barrelhouse. In addition to the local produce (sourced 10 feet away), you may enjoy an owl or alligator sighting around the bank of the creek. For questions and to book dinner, please call 904/432-1466; cost is $55 per person plus tax and gratuity.

In addition to its culinary reputation in north Florida, this resort is well known for its wide array of recreational options –- a good thing when you have several days and 1,350 acres to play on. According to Donald Stamets, the resort’s Area Managing Director, there are 220 staff assigned to the recreation department alone. 

Within the property is a weeklong Wellness program associated with the popular show, “The Biggest Loser.”  There’s an outdoor pool, a kiddie splash zone (water is not heated), a full children’s activity program with counselors, outdoor Jacuzzis, an indoor heated pool in the larger fitness center, tennis, golf, rental bikes, kayaking and more. There are 18 holes of minigolf, an on-site animal hospital for the island’s birds and marinelife, and a turtle watch to protect the nests deposited on their beaches. Several of these facilities require a fee.

Set your GPS for Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort  (904/261-6161) at 39 Beach Lagoon Road, Amelia Island, Florida 32034 and you'll start feeling better already.

Will drive your vehicle from Central Ca to Atlanta GA

Mon, 11/21/2016 - 13:49

Nov. 24, 2016 or after

Brightline’s Bright Idea Comes to Florida

Mon, 11/21/2016 - 13:42

Rendering of proposed West Palm Beach station with Brightline train.

The first five trains will be delivered to Brightline in early 2017.

Rendering of the interior of a premium Select Car on the Brightline train.

Families will love the Smart Car design of the new Brightline train.

Proposed Brightline station for Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.

In one of the best ideas we’ve heard in a long time, work is proceeding on Brightline, a high-speed rail line that will serve south Florida’s busy tourist corridor. Their motto -- “carefree and car-free” – sums up the vast potential for this train to succeed with business commuters and international tourists who prefer not to rent a car.

Envisioned to run a 235-mile route from Miami to Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and, eventually, Orlando; Brightline will begin its intercity service between Miami and Fort Lauderdale in summer 2017.

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New Transportation will Transform Cities

Brightline is headquartered in Coral Gables, Florida, a fitting home for a company that is using Henry Flagler’s old Florida-East Coast rail lines to run its service. Many of the original ca. 1912 tracks now being leased by Metrorail and Amtrak will be refurbished so that the high-speed trains can reach so-called “Higher Speeds” between 79mph and 125mph.

The beauty of the system using existing tracks is that it will link with three currently operating public transit rail systems to create integrated multimodal hubs. The first is known as MiamiCentral, an 11-acre mixed-use development in the heart of downtown Miami set to open by mid-2017. Located by the Perez Art Museum near Biscayne Bay, it will house the Brightline station, shops, the Central Fare food court featuring several local celebrity chefs, and more.

Having residential units in the mix guarantees there won’t be a ‘wrong side of the tracks’; station areas will be fully functional and vibrant neighborhoods on their own.


Brightline will Transform Commuting

Brightline is projecting hourly rail service in the project’s billion-dollar Phase 1, with an expected annual ridership of 3 million. Another $1.5 billion will go towards completing the Phase 2 extension to Orlando Airport, with its huge potential market of 60 million annual visitors.

As their spokesperson Annemarie Matthews told us, “Brightline is reimaging train travel to bring in elements of hospitality.” Commuters may pay a bit more than Amtrak, but can expect amenities such as a roaming food cart and power outlets at each seat.

Five four-car train sets carrying up to 240 passengers are currently under construction at Siemens USA in California. Each rail car will be fully accessible, pet-friendly, and have touch free washrooms to maintain hygienic conditions.

Select cars will be configured with two seats on one side and one on the other, and lower-priced Smart cars will have two and two seating. Passengers will be able to use complimentary WiFi, bike and luggage storage racks, and eventually, a dining car.

For now, speed and comfort are the allure.

Imagine going from Miami’s downtown Government Center Metrorail station to Fort Lauderdale in just 30 minutes, or to Orlando in 3 hours without traffic. Users can take advantage of the Brightline app to book tickets, reserve seats and get schedule updates.


Brightline is the Future of Rail Travel

Brightline is currently the only privately owned, operated and maintained passenger rail system in the United States. The man in charge of delivering this new rail experience, Mike Reininger, is hoping for rapid growth, to 10 trains carrying 356 passengers each, by June of 2018.

Among the company’s biggest potential benefits are a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and fuel consumption, because an estimated three million vehicles will be off the roads each year.                               

Just being able to avoid the I-95 traffic is enough to get most Floridians excited. To watch her progress, follow the Go Brightline site.


Christmas Tree Time: Where and How to Harvest Your Own Tree

Mon, 11/21/2016 - 12:51

You can pick your own Christmas Tree this season.

The Capitol Christmas tree will glow brighter this year since the Dome Restoration is finished.

Family excursions make the holidays special, so why not take the kids Christmas tree hunting this winter? We make it easy with this guide to the U-Pick Christmas Tree Farm nearest you.

Did you grow up with a fake Christmas tree? According to the National Christmas Tree Association, about 20% of all evergreens displayed in homes today are real trees cut by hand at choose-and-cut farms. The NCTA should know, as even the White House tree is selected from the association's "Grand Champion Grower of the Year." The President's Superintendent of Grounds, Chief Usher, representative from the White House Visitor's Office and a representative from the National Park Service chose a 19-foot-tall, 12-foot-wide Balsam Veitch Fir cross grown on a farm in Oconto, Wisconsin in September. The tree will be on display in the White House's Blue Room.

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What are U Pick Christmas Tree Farms?

From Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve, you can plan a road trip to one of the nearly 5,000 choose-and-cut farms in the United States or to the many in Canada. The NCTA has a helpful website which refers you to farms either by location (by your zip code) or the type of tree required.

A Christmas tree farm outing is a fun and eco-friendly activity. Professional farmers replant three trees for every one that is cut, and most towns recycle cut trees as mulch or use them to bolster sand dunes after holidays. Sound too tame for you, not exactly what the kids had in mind? Actually, only a tiny fraction of Christmas trees are harvested in the wild, and these are cut only to create fire breaks in danger zones proscribed by the National Forest Service.


A Typical Day at a U Pick Christmas Tree Farm Near You

In the Northeast, the Jones Family Farms (203/929-8425, 606 Walnut Tree Hill Road, Shelton, Connecticut 06484) runs a typical operation on their 400-acre farm. According to Doug R., a Family Travel Forum member dad, most cut Christmas trees bought in December have actually been harvested and frozen several months before. That's why, each year around Thanksgiving, he takes his family to Jones, where for about $68 including tax, he can spend the day among Balsam Fir, Colorado Blue Spruce, White Fir, Douglas Fir, and Angel White Pines and bring home a more recently cut tree.  Prices for fresh cut trees are sold by the foot and range from about $25 for a tiny one to $175.

Also at Jones, like at most family farms, visitors can expect handsaws, balls of twine, a gift shop, some snacks and down-home advice about the best tree for their needs. First tip:  Measure your ceiling at home and bring the same tape measure to the farm!

"The kids love running around this beautiful New England style farm, and sometimes there's a Santa sighting," adds Doug R. "Our dog loves it, too."

Choose your favorite among 90,000 trees on 75 acres of farmland at the Richardson Adventure Farm (815/675-9729, 9407 Richardson Rd. near Spring Grove, IL), about an hour's drive from Chicago. This family farm, founded in 1840, has been operating a "Choose and Cut" operation for 25 years, selling about 4,000 trees each year. Tree varieties include Fraser Fir, Canaan Fir, Concolor Fir, Douglas Fir, Blue Spruce, White Pine and Scotch Pine. Of course, there's coffee and hot chocolate, donuts, homemade treats, wreaths and more for sale as well. "Some families have been coming here since our very first year," said George Richardson, who farms with his brother Robert, his son Ryan and their wives. "It's a real multi-generational tradition," he adds. "People who came here as kids bring their own children now."

McArdle's Holiday Farm (215/794-7655, 4316 Mechanicsville Road, Mechanicsville, Pennsylvania 18934) is another example of tree nurseries which bring in winter revenue by opening some of their land to u-pick or u-saw enthusiasts. At McArdle, family pickers will find a "Holiday Express" ride out to the fields on winter weekends, and free twine, saws, bailing wire and help getting the tree onto your car at any time.


Finding A Christmas Tree Farm Near You

There are several ways to find a tree-cutting farm convenient to you. Try asking the farmers at your local greenmarket; many have tree nurseries sharing farmland as an additional income source.

In some regions, such as northern California's wine region, local growers have been supported in marketing their products for more than 30 years by the Sonoma County Farm Trails Organization, whose site has a search function and maps showcasing farms which offer Christmas trees.

Did you know that North Carolina produces more than 20% of the "real" Christmas trees in the U.S.? The North Carolina Fraser Fir has been chosen for the White House nine times (more than any other species). There are several choose-and-cut farms around Boone and Banner Elk that feature this hardy specimen; check out the North Carolina Christmas Tree Association website for information on selection hours.

Another easy way to find the farm nearest your home is the Christmas Tree Farm Directory.


Christmas Tree Selection & Transport Tips

Follow these Tree Selection and Transport Tips from experienced tree-toting FTF families:

1. Carefully select the size and shape tree that's right for your home. As noted, you must measure the ceiling height in your home before heading out to the farm.

2. The tree farmer should supply a handsaw, but you may want to bring work gloves so the kids can help you keep it steady while sawing.

3. Ask the farmer to wrap or 'net' it for easy transport, but bring your own very useful plastic tarp to kneel on while sawing, to drag the tree to the car, and to protect your car roof or trunk from shedding needles and oozing sap.

4. If your kids have allergies to pollen or tree sap, you may want to wash the tree outside thoroughly with a garden hose before bringing it indoors. Although allergy specialists say that evergreens produce very little pollen in winter, any real tree will collect pollen and dust.

5. If possible, trim the tree's trunk again at home, and place it securely in water in a strong stand, away from any direct heat source.  It may 'drink' several gallons worth in the first few days. Refill water every other day throughout the season, and your tree may last up to 10 weeks.

6. After the holidays, contact your local sanitation department about recycling your tree. In some areas they become mulch for local parks, in others, support for wind-blown sand dunes.


Start the Giving Season Early

The Richardson Farm in Illinois, along with many others, participates in Trees for Troops, a program sponsored by the Christmas Spirit Foundation and FedEx, which annually delivers about 18,000 free, fresh-cut trees to military families at 65 domestic and foreign military bases. Most farms allow customers to purchase a tree for a local military base at a discount, and attach their own holiday greeting. Now that's what we call holiday spirit.

Happy Tree Hunting!

Family-Friendly Nights At The Museum

Sun, 11/20/2016 - 18:39

Learn about an oviraptor's nest after dark on an AMNH museum sleepover.

Explore the Chicago Museum of Science after everyone else has gone home.

Sleep with dinosaurs at the Perot Museum Overnight Adventure in Dallas.

Picture yourselves bundled in sleeping bags, waiting for the dinosaur skeletons to walk and the mummies to exit their sarcophagi -- it's a night at the museum a.k.a. Family Museum Sleepover.

Imagine spending a night with educators at a world-class museum packed with science displays, historical artifacts, rare art work and ancient sculpture. Several of America's premier learning centers offer educational overnight programs, ideal for families, that provide a fun and unique way to get a relaxed and up-close look at the workings of these establishments. Just like the fun and learning at aquarium and zoo overnights, these are unexpectedly fun events with kids.

Here are some of our favorite Night at the Museum adventures. googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display('div-gpt-ad-1389984845773-0'); });


Sleepover at 6 Favorite Museums

American Museum of Natural History
79th Street and Central Park West
New York, NY 10023
Remember Ben Stiller's adventure in Night at the Museum? Although the movie wasn't filmed there, the famous House of Dinosaurs in New York City does host kids ages 6-13, with their adults, several times per year. It's not cheap, but factor in a light snack and breakfast, a flashlight tour of spooky fossils after you've caught the latest IMAX film, and eight hours of snoozing on comfy cots. Each adult may bring up to three kids for an unforgettable experience. Highschoolers can join the fun as the museum gladly welcomes science clubs, and Boy and Girl scout troops up to age 17. On three evenings in 2016, the Museum is also hosting Sleepovers for Grownups open to ages 21+. This unusual night on the town costs $350 per person and includes a champagne reception, live Jazz band and a buffet dinner, followed by a magical after-hours tour.

Liberty Science Center
222 Jersey City Boulevard 
Jersey City, NJ 07305
A stayover at New Jersey's Liberty Science Center is sure to be a memorable experience with exclusive access to the nation's largest IMAX Dome Theater for film showings, as well as engaging hands-on activities and a chance for ages 6-13 to sleep among the museum exhibits. Best of all, the fun doesn't end with just one night at the museum; after breakfast and a show guests can depart or spend the rest of their day at the museum. Also, these Liberty Science Camp Ins include activities to earn Girl Scout and Cub Scouts awards, a great way to earn Scout badges at the same time. Over Halloween, there are special spooky evenings with parents in attendance. Liberty Science Center will also host a Camp In birthday party, complete with goodie bags for the birthday child and their guests and other perks for comfort. The Liberty Science Center welcomes groups with 20 or more campers in 1st-8th grade with boy only, girl only, and co-ed nights scheduled; for every 5 children there needs to be one chaperone of either gender. Cost is $60/person, guests must bring their own sleeping bags and floor mats.

Kennedy Space Center
Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex
SR 405
Kennedy Space Center, FL 32899
The actual launch pad for more than 30 missions each year (some for NASA and some for private space entrepreneurs), there's as much excitement at Kennedy Space Center in central Florida as there has always been. This sleepover allows guests ages 7-14 to choose which orbit they want to fly in; you can stay overnight at the Space Shuttle Atlantis attraction or stay beneath the Apollo/Saturn V rocket. Both venues are explored with an after hours guided tour, and guests can opt for flight simulators, educational activities and enjoy dinner and snacks. The admission price gives you another full day entry at the facility and several days to use it, plus discounts in the shop, demonstrations, as well as a special presentation and “mission briefing” from a veteran NASA astronaut.


Museum of Science and Industry
7th and Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60637-1414
This place is a thorough look at how things work, with many exhibits designed for hands-on interaction. Sleepers will find science experiments they can work on during the Snoozeum, the city's major Omnimax theater to watch a late night film, and myriad permanent and temporary exhibits to explore and sleep in. (MSI's website says, "Sleep nose-to-nose with a Boeing 727, next to a giant heart or steps away from a toy-making factory.") This is a big operation; several chaperoned special interest groups (kids ages 6-12) are able to book Friday or Saturday evenings, about a dozen times per year. Groups are then divided by colored wrist bands and all participants are asked to bring sleeping bags, eye masks if the security lights bother them, and ear plugs if they don't want to hear snoring. MSI does, however, provide a separate area where the up-all-night science kids can hang out while others sleep.

Perot Museum of Nature and Science
2201 North Field Street
Dallas, TX 75210
This hands-on museum features sleepovers designed for 6-12, although teens and adults are welcomed. Guests receive a tour of their current and temporary exhibits (which might be about the Earth, energy, wildlife, weather, etc); watch a 3D movie; participate in hands-on activities with museum staff; and enjoy a late night snack and a light breakfast. You can pre-order a "Snore & Explore" commemorative glow in the dark T-shirt prior to arrival as well as a special event patch to show off your VIP status. Parents should take note that space fills up fast and full payment is required four weeks prior to the event.

Smithsonian Institution
10th Street and Constitution Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20560
Thanks to the popularity of "Night at the Smithsonian," the country's national museum collection has instituted a few summer sleepovers for groups and families with kids ages 8-12. At the National Museum of Natural History, they encourage families to visit the Hall of Dinosaurs, Mammal Hall, and new Ocean Hall after dark, and provide kids with a lot of mystery, learning and fun. Activities include a tour of the exhibits, a scavenger hunt, arts and crafts, and a viewing of the current IMAX film. You can choose between this or sleepovers at the American History Museum where they have scavenger hunts, and the Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia. Here the focus in on flight, ranging from the earliest planes to spacecraft, with behind the scenes tours with experts. Recount your adventures over a light evening snack and breakfast -- highlights of the experience judging by the museums' fun Pinterest board.


Trip Planning Details for Museum Sleepovers

Besides setting standards for aquariums, zoos, and science centers in the U.S. and other countries, the Association of Science-Technology Centers maintains a searchable database of institutions which may offer overnight "camp-in" programs. You can also take advantage of their Travel Passport to save money by seeing which educational institutions at your destination have reciprocal admission privileges with an institution you belong to at home.

They're usually booked by museum members and locals, but tourists who plan ahead could potentially save a bundle on hotel rooms. Fees for sleeping in classroom facilities (typically in your sleeping bag), a snack or supper, and a morning meal, range from about $50 to $100 per person. It may sound steep, but trust us, this experience will be priceless.

[FTF Tip: Once you've decided on the destination, make sure to sign up way in advance. These special events, which only host a limited number of people, sell out months ahead of time].

All American Thanksgiving Celebrations

Sun, 11/20/2016 - 18:34

Baking demonstration at Sturbridge Village, Massachusetts

Thanksgiving Day Parade terminates at the Philadelpia Museum of Art

Houston on Parade Float

Soldier cooks on earthen kitchen at continental army encampment, Virginia.

Performers at Detroit's America's Thanksgiving Parade anticipate Christmas.

Enjoying Thanksgiving Dinner

Apple Pie for Dessert

A Thanksgiving recipe for fun: FTF's A-Z guide to local events marking the settlers' gratitude, from traditional eats to marathons.

Thanksgiving, the quintessential American holiday, was first celebrated in 1621 by the pilgrim settlers to show thanks for the bountiful harvest that would see them through the long winter. Throughout the years, we have continued the tradition by enjoying feasts with family and friends, acknowledging our gifts, and connecting with those who sustain us. Why worry about testing fresh Thanksgiving recipes when there are so many fun activities outside in the leadup to the big day? Here is a glimpse of some celebrations throughout the United States, before, during and after a memorable meal.

Alabama Thanksgiving Events

In an effort to share their rich culture, the Poarch Creek Indians welcome you to their Thanksgiving Intertribal Powwow in Atmore (near Mobile, Alabama) from November 24-25, 2016.  Festivities include native dance and drum competitions and performances, the crowning of the Poarch Creek Indian Princess, cultural events and school presentations at the 46th annual event this year. For more information, visit the Alabama Bureau of Tourism and Travel. googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display('div-gpt-ad-1389984845773-0'); });

California Thanksgiving Events

An American Indian celebration of dance, music, arts and food will take place near Palm Springs at the 35th annual Indio Powwow of the Cabazon Band of Mission Indians over Thanksgiving weekend (November 25-27). This semi-annual three-day event hosts tribes from throughout the US and Canada who perform in full ceremonial dress. In addition to dancing and singing competitions, guests can sample Native American foods like Indian fry bread, and purchase jewelry, weavings, dream catchers and other craft items. 

Illinois Thanksgiving Events

Home to the annual Turkey Trot, Chicago is alive with the spirit of Thanksgiving and charity. About 5,000 runners join this race (in the 39th annual race November 24, 2016, there is a choice of a 5k or 8k course) to help collect food for the less fortunate. In years past, the Turkey Trot has collected 10,000 pounds of food! The Turkey Tailgate Zone offers fun for the entire family with events such as Cornhole Toss, Turkey Bowling and more. 

Massachusetts Thanksgiving Events

Massachusetts is, remember, where it all began, so this state gets two listings. Old Sturbridge Village features a variety of demonstrations, performances, and hands-on activities the first three November weekends (when first responders, educators and non-profit groups are admitted free) as well as the traditional "Bountiful Buffet in the Bullard Tavern" ($20 adults, $11 ages 5-12). Other events and an extra special traditional meal take place on Thanksgiving Day. To mark this special fall holiday in New England, Old Sturbridge Village re-creates various activities from an early New England Thanksgiving, including cooking at the hearth and demonstrations of 19th-century table manners. Learn about Native American food traditions and customs with special guests from the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center, and hear the minister talk about the true meaning of Thanksgiving in the Village's historic Center Meetinghouse. Learn how preparations were made for this holiday meal, and learn about wedding preparations of the 1830s.

During the weekend before Thanksgiving (November 18-20) Plymouth, Massachusetts hosts its 20th annual celebratory activities. Because so many want to see the site of the First Thanksgiving with their own eyes, it is brought to life by re-enactors dressed as pilgrims, Native Americans, soldiers, patriots and pioneers. Enjoy tours of the waterfront, a good old-fashioned America's Hometown historic parade, a candlelighting ceremony, a Veterans Memorial Concert, a Drum and Bugle Corps Concert, a food festival, a craft village and more.

Michigan Thanksgiving Events

Detroit leads the state with America's Thanksgiving Parade which begins at 8:50am at Woodward Avenue and Kirby. This tradition dating back to 1924 celebrates with a new theme each season and draws hundreds of thousands of spectators and 1,500 volunteers. The family may enjoy a backstage tour of how the 75 parade floats are designed, where the costumes come from, and how it's all organized; visit their website to arrange a group tour at your convenience. There are also a variety of Turkey Trots: 10K, 5K, 1 mile events to run off that food. 

New York Thanksgiving Events

It's time for turkeys, football and the 90th Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, which combines animation, artistry, 2,000 performers and technical know-how. For many, the Giant Balloon Inflation from 3pm-10pm on the day before Thanksgiving, is the most fun of all. You can enter the restricted areas surrounding the Museum of Natural History from 77th Street and Columbus Avenue.

There will be 17 remarkable inflatable balloons (running the gamut from Pokeman's Pikachu to classics like Freida the Dachshund) marching. New this year are Charlie Brown, Diary of a Wimpy Kid and DreamWorks’ Trolls sharing a multi-character balloon. Families love the 20 floats and "falloons," which are combination float/balloons. SpongeBob, Big Bird, Barney and many others will also make their yearly appearance, in addition to musical guests, marching bands, celebrities, and Broadway shows. A tradition since 1924 (with no change in sponsorship), the parade kicks off at 9am at Central Park West and 77th Street and heads south to Columbus Circle along Central Park South to 6th Avenue, down 6th Avenue to 34th Street and along 34th Street to Macy's Herald Square. By the way, Macy’s was the first department store to feature Christmas window displays (1870s) and they'll be open the week before Thanksgiving. Macy's Parade for information.

Enjoy a great Thanksgiving dinner, but try to leave some room for The Annual Post-Thanksgiving "Original Multi-Ethnic Eating Tour" sponsored by Big Onion Walking Tours on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Meet on the Lower East Side for a tour of the tasty treats available from this melting pot of a neighborhood, including 10 different noshes (snacks) from the Dominican, Jewish, Italian and Chinese communities. Reservations are requested and you may want to pick up a package of Alka Seltzer.

Pennsylvania Thanksgiving Events

Philadelphia, the birthplace of America, is also the original home of the Thanksgiving Day Parade. Now in its 97th year, Philly's 1.4-mile parade will kick-off at 8:30am at 20th and Market Street and proceed to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. It continues to Logan Circle and to the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (a great place to watch from), where it concludes at noon. Dr. Seuss characters, Kermit the Frog, Strawberry Shortcake, and other elaborate floats and balloons will entertain the crowds and Santa will be making his first appearance of the Holiday Season. Parade-goers can also participate in the area Boy Scouts Annual Food Drive by bringing cans of food; they usually collect over 2.5 million items each year. See Visit Philadelphia for more information on holiday events.

Texas Thanksgiving Events

The Lone Star state's November star is Houston, where the 67th Annual H-E-B Holiday Parade will be roaring south on Milam while up to 200 thousand spectators line the route on lawnchairs and blankets. Houston's Thanksgiving Day Parade began in 1949 with the arrival of Santa at Union Station. Fantastic floats, hot air balloons, marching bands, cheerleaders, and costumed characters will entertain spectators. For more information, visit Houston on Parade.

Vermont Thanksgiving Events

In New England, Thanksgiving honored farming, family and religion and it recalled the feast that the Pilgrims and their Wampanoag neighbors enjoyed following suffering and famine.  The Billings Farm & Museum in Woodstock, Vermont -- a working dairy farm and living museum ca. 1890's --becomes a flurry of activity over the three-day holiday weekend. From November 25-27, visit the farm manager's family living quarters and learn about the observance of Thankgsgiving, the preparation of the holiday meal, and the emphasis on harvesting crops. Then, watch a cider pressing and a milking demonstration, get a pie-baking lesson, and top it off with a horse-drawn wagon ride. There are plenty of activities for families of all ages. Visit Billings Farm for details.

Virginia Thanksgiving Events

Virginia lays claim to hosting the very first Thanksgiving in the nation's history, at Berkeley Plantation on December 4, 1619. It was President Lincoln who declared that it should be celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November. Over Thanksgiving weekend (November 24-26), "The Foods and Feasts of Colonial Virginia" will be presented at Jamestown Settlement and at the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown. Food will be the focus -- how it was gathered, prepared and preserved by the colonists and the Powhatan Indians. For more information on this festival, visit History is Fun or the Virginia Tourism site.

Washington Thanksgiving Events

Finally but not least in our eyes, you can run off all those extra holiday calories by entering the Seattle Marathon held the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend (a Childrens Marathon is held on Saturday). A full Marathon and Half Marathon will have their own courses, each with scenic views of the city and surrounding waterways. Visit Seattle Marathon for more information.

Top 10 Beach Resort Getaways For Family Vacations

Fri, 11/18/2016 - 14:08

It's time to head to the beach.

Beach coastlines come in every hue and style, that's why we keep going back!

No worries being up at dawn with the kids when you're at the beach.

Almost everyone's favorite getaway is a family beach vacation, whether it's winter or summer. Here are FTF's winners from a decade of "Top 10 Getaway" awards in the best family beach category.

Our Top 10 beach getaways, all past winners of the "Top 10 Getaways" awards in this category, promise location, location, location with excellence in facilities, family activities and childcare. The beach getaway resorts below combine a relaxing beach vacation with a commitment to providing an enjoyable experience for the entire family, at a variety of price points. 

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1) Four Seasons Resort Lanai'i at Manele Bay, Lana'i, Hawai'i - The pinnacle of luxury on volcanic Lana'i features scenic Hawai'i at its best.

2) Hotel Del Coronado, San Diego, California - Victorian charm, Old World style and an impressive youth spa make this the choice of pampering parents.

3) Ka'anapali Beach Hotel, Mau'i, Hawai'i - Authenticity and the "aloha spirit" embrace families at this affordable beach resort.

4) Our Lucaya Beach & Golf Resort, Grand Bahama - Now a smaller resort that is part of the Radisson Hotels & Resorts family offering a gorgeous beach, lots of sports facilities, a spa and a Vegas-style casino, as well as infant care and a kid's camp.

5) Ritz-Carlton, Cayman Islands - Fabulous beaches, snorkeling and marine life are introduced to upscale families by none other than the heirs of Jacques Cousteau.

6) Round Hill, Jamaica - A chic, private villa compound staffed by uniformed butlers and nannies recalls Montego Bay's Colonial Golden Age.

7) Sandestin Golf & Beach Resort, Destin, Florida - With 2,400 beachfront acres along the calm Gulf coast, you can stay busy or totally relaxed in a choice of rental vacation homes, condos or hotels.

8) Sandy Lane, Barbados - Gold sand, fine service and luxuriously refreshed facilities spoil relatives of all ages at this posh multi-generational favorite.

9) Shangri-La Fijian Resort, Fiji - A heavenly setting with lots of family accommodations in which to spread out. Special attention to the babies in the nursery includes complimentary, freshly prepared baby food.

10) Wild Dunes, South Carolina - A close-to-home Atlantic coast golf resort development enhances the family beach vacation with organized infant and toddler programs.

More detailed information on each of these resorts is available by clicking on the titles and by searching And keep in mind, that while the resort may have changed in the time since it won our award, the beach itself will be just as welcoming. Share your favorite beach resort getaways with us!

Visit the Holy Land Experience in Orlando, Florida

Fri, 11/18/2016 - 12:46

See the Roman Soldiers at The Holy Land Experience

Behold the Church of All Nations Baptismal Pool

Take a moment to reflect at the Crystal Living Waters

If you are heading towards Orlando, Florida, consider a stop at The Holy Land Experience. This theme park combines live drama, museums, children’s activities, and Holy Land replicated models in a dramatic and exciting way.

Step Back into the Holy Land

It will take a full day to participate in even some of the many activities. This is an ideal place for a family vacation, a school field trip or summer camp trip. The Holy Land experience makes for a fun homeschool or church trip looking for an experience that comes to life and draws you into its detailed scenery. It is also a place for the person who may never be able to visit Israel or Jerusalem, to immerse in the culture, history and story of the Holy Land Experience.

Fun for Everyone

There is something to captivate for every age level, whether you're religious or not. The Christus Gardens, with its rare collection of antique figures, plus three additional prayer gardens, with varied foliage, provide places of relaxation and contemplation for the older crowd. There is also a Via Dolorosa, Golgotha, and a replicate of Calvary’s Garden Tomb. googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display('div-gpt-ad-1389984845773-0'); });

For the scholarly, and those interested in antiquity, there is a scriptorium of several thousand scrolls, manuscripts, and religious artifacts. The history of the documents and the relation of the documents to world history are highlighted in the walk-through.

For those who want to follow the history of the Hebrew people through the wilderness, check-out the Wilderness Tabernacle. There is also a representation of the Great Tabernacle. Plus, after entering through the stone arched City Gate, there is a themed Jerusalem Marketplace, complete with a historically-designed water well. Finally, view the largest indoor replica model of Jerusalem in the world,and listen to the live presentation.

Live Shows and Entertainment

Don't head out before checking The Holy Land Experience online calendar for seasonally-offered live shows. Some of these are offered at The House of Judea, which hosts children’s plays and youth services. Other activities are held at the Theater of Life, so again, it is necessary to check the schedule for full options of all that is available.

Other live activities are held at the Church of All Nations, even live television tapings. If you have a multi-age group with little ones, mom and the children can enjoy the program from the family-viewing room,while older members of the family can visit the actual auditorium. Be sure to be on time,because seating is limited after five minutes.

If you need a rest and a bite to eat, Esther’s Banquet Hall offers a full menu of specials,children’s menus, soft drinks, and deserts.Speaking of children, there is a special place called Smile of a Child Adventure Land. This is for all ages, but particularly younger children. There is rock-climbing, Mini Golf, dress-up for pictures, a live show and more.

End your day with a beautiful Crystal Living Waters light show which takes place at the Reflecting Pool, where colored lights beautifully highlight the evening sky.Group rates are available for schools or other groups that want to tour and take part in a day’s activities.

Know Before You Go

There are numerous hotel options, with very good values if you search hotels in Orlando on trivago!. Depending on your hotel, there may also be a shuttle provided to the park. Check their website for a calendar where daily schedules are listed. Any special questions about the site, the times and days of operation, and any other specific information can be found at their website.

The Holy Land Experience is closed Sundays, Mondays, New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day. With something for everyone, you can be sure of having a great day at The Holy Land Experience!

Find more family-fun attractions in Orlando.


Fabulous Fall Getaways

Fri, 11/18/2016 - 12:27

Take an early morning stroll through the Fall leaves

Bring baby along to pick apples and play in the leaves

Escaping from everyday life during fall is one of travel's greatest secret pleasures: the perfect climate, right ratio of visitors to locals, meals that celebrate the harvest bounty, and off season prices that make it truly affordable. With frequent school and work breaks for the Jewish holidays, Columbus Day, Halloween, Veterans Day and Thanksgiving, there's plenty of opportunity to take advantage of resort, tour and airfare discounts.

So, whether you take a break with the kids or plan a rejuvenating girlfriends' getaway, need a quick staycation or just want to slip away with your partner for some "we" time, here are other favorite fall getaways, researched with to tempt you.


Fall Festivals for Family Fun

September's the time to go apple picking and bring home a few bushels, so kids can practice their healthy eating and invent new fruit and vegetable recipes. Hop on a hayride to search for just the right pumpkin in mid-October. It's easy to find a u-pick farm with our directory of orchards and pumpkin patches near you and usually pretty cheap to make it an overnight adventure. Speaking of orchards, in California, the Cambria Scarecrow Festival kicks off September 29-October 2, a weekend when the hundreds of creative scarecrows designed by townies are on display. It's quite a spectacle because there are community scarecrow making sessions for a month prior, and on that weekend, the papier mache scarecrow bikers mount their wheels, the scarecrow nuns put on their habits, and the horror scarecrows are hidden away.

Autumn seems to make balloons fly higher. Snowmass, Colorado will send three dozen colorful hot air balloons soaring over this ski town and down the Roaring Fork Valley from September 16-18 during the Snowmass Balloon Festival. The Dallas suburb of Plano, which has grown fast thanks to the influx of large corporations and the many young families who follow them, is hosting the Plano Balloon Festival September 23-25. It features rides in a tethered balloon (ages 6+) that hovers for several minutes over the festival grounds. Don’t miss the popular Balloon Glow at sundown, when the rigs’ flames illuminate the sky. The grandmother of all festivals is the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta in New Mexico, held this year from October 1-9. For the first time ever, 16 women pilots will compete in the 2016 U.S. Women’s National Hot Air Balloon Championship during the festival. For an entirely different view over the antebellum mansions of Natchez, fly over to the Great Mississippi River Balloon Race October 14-15. In addition to three days of music, crafts vendors, carnival games and rides, there's Blufftoberfest, a beer garden featuring local microbrews from Natchez Brewing Company, Slowboat Brewing, Tin Roof and Covington Brewhouse.

The 15th annual North American Wife Carrying Championship (October 8) pits couples against each other on a 278-yard obstacle filled track at Sunday River, Maine's Fall Festival. Do you prefer Salted Chocolate Fudge or Bourbon Pecan? Missing your Bluebell? It's never too cold for all-natural Velvet Ice Cream in Utica, Ohio, whose family owners have been celebrating its success for the past century. Fall is no different; there are 30-minute factory tours each weekday, and Sunday special events with music, clowns and carriage rides each weekend through October 31.

At the four enormous Gaylord Hotels, Christmas comes in the autumn. November 10th is debut of “Lonestar Christmas” at the Gaylord Texan, where guests can decorate a gingerbread house, watch 40 ice sculptors at work, and practice figure skating and snow tubing skills right in the lobby. Outside Washington D.C at the Gaylord National, November 19 is the launch of “Christmas on the Potomac” -- a $199 special includes a room, unlimited access to the festivities and the ICE! Festival, ice slides, indoor snowfall and more.


Apple picking makes for a healthy and fun fall daytrip. Check out our U-Pick Farm Directory for the one nearest you.


Harvest Fairs for Food, Wine & Oktoberfest Beer Tastings

The Great Plains Renaissance Festival takes over Wichita, Kansas from September 24-25, a time when knights, knaves and fairies educate the crowds about life in medieval times. In addition to enjoying the many performing artists, costumed re-enactors and tasty treats, stick around and participate in the annual Wagonmasters Chili Cookoff, which has brought 70 Midwest teams and thousands of spectators to eat, chill out and watch the crowning of Mr. Hot Stuff and Ms. Chili Pepper for more than 30 years.

Girlfriends can support each other in reaching new heights on a wine tasting, bike, horseback or canoe trip in California wine country. Borrow some gear, or rent what you need from REI to take off on foot or mountain bikes, or on a memorable road trip tour of the vineyards during harvest.The 42nd annual Sonoma County Harvest fair running September 30-October 2 promises plenty of wine and microbrew tastings. You can even participate in the World Championship Grape Stomp. Hotel prices are significantly lower than in summer and children are welcome.

In late September, Albany, New York celebrates the harvest season with the Apple and Wine Festival. Apple wine, hard cider, grape wine and heirloom hops are used to make local specialty beverages. The changing leaves are the focus of the 90-minute Dutch Apple sightseeing river cruises, with itineraries on the Hudson or through the Erie Canal locks in Troy.

In Germany, it's a month to showcase local beers, while enjoying Oktoberfest family events and community dinners where kids are always welcome. This year, Munich is celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reinheitsgebot, the Beer Purity Law that regulates how Bavarian beers are made. Visit their Oktoberfest from September 17-October 3.

Several American towns with German heritage will celebrate along with them, tops among them being Oktoberfest Zinzinnati (September 16-18) which draws 500,000 Samuel Adams fans to Cincinnati for the Running of the Weiners dachshund races. Picture that these fans consumed 64,000 sauerkraut balls last year and you can see why it may not be the best weekend to visit. However, there are more than 6,000 festivals annually in Cincinnati and wonderfully educational family attractions on both sides of the Ohio River, open year round.

Vail Mountain celebrates its fall Oktoberfest over two weekends in September, with many family events scheduled in the base villages. The annual New Ulm Oktoberfest in Minnesota, which takes place in several venues during the weekends of October 8 and 15, features both local brews and wines.


Fall Foliage, Extreme Fun & Fitness

Travelers who love mountain resorts when there's no snow on the ground will appreciate all the fit fun in the Rockies, whether you're with kids, gal pals, those frat buddies or a significant other.

From September 15-18 in Aspen, Colorado, suit up for the 49th annual Ruggerfest, the world's only all-age, full-contact rugby tournament. Let the glimmering aspens take your breath away on a fall foliage drive along Maroon Creek Road, Castle Creek Road and Independence Pass for the peak leaf peeping. The Aspen Center for Environmental Science teaches fly fishing, offers sunrise yoga and leads all-age guided hikes. Regular visitor Eileen Ogintz has found lots of great values for the fall season for taking the kids.

Jackson, Wyoming, gateway to Yellowstone, is more fun in fall because the summer crowds are gone and the expert have not yet arrived. Explore Grand Teton National Park with a naturalist from the Teton Science Schools and see the wildlife in Yellowstone. Go horseback riding and experience the authentic Wyoming ranching culture. You can even ride the classic red tram up at Jackson Hole snow resort and mountain bike or hike down.

Opt for a cruise instead of a driving trip to see the best of the fall foliage. At this time of year, many of the major cruise lines sail special New England to Canada itineraries, an ideal escape whether you're looking for an adult getaway, a babymoon, or you'll bring preschoolers.


Camping: Getting Up Close with Changing Leaves

Everyone loves to see the leaves change. Our state-by state directory of leaf peeper hotlines guarantees you'll find the peak colors and in states you never even thought of.

With kids, choose leaf peeper road trips within a day's drive of home and break up your trip with plenty of fun stops. Bring zip-loc bags so you can collect different leaf species, nuts and pine cones for art projects; non-toxic Elmer's glue is perfect for scrapbooking flowers, leaves, tourist brochures or any colorful menus you find.

Camping out is a great activity and autumn means perfect weather for hiking and fishing. Whether you're with friends or family, novices don't have to go far -- your nearest state park is a good bet. If you're taking a toddler, check out these tips for camping with little ones.

One idea: Over the October 1-2nd weekend, the Roots n' Blues BBQ Festival in Columbia, Missouri, brings thousands to chow down on barbecue and hear 30 major artists doing roots, blues, gospel, country, folk, bluegrass, rock, and soul. Hear “Jaded” performed by Justine and the Highs, winners of this year’s John Lennon Songwriting Contest. There are 35 campsites at Finger Lakes State Park for just $8.50 per night.


Caribbean & Mexico: Fall for a Beachfront Paradise

For that sunny burst of tropical flavor, nothing beats the Caribbean. You'll find cheaper flights, top resort values and major music festivals on many islands during autumn. Take the whole family for a long weekend in Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands -- no passports required, saving you over $135 per person right there.

The first international Nickelodeon Resort has just opened on Uvero Alto Beach, Dominican Republic, backed by the signature Karisma Gourmet Inclusive experience found at their other luxury Caribbean resorts. Picture 208 colorful suites, 10 restaurants and bars (many of them a la carte), Nick inspired character dining and Kiddin’ Kids Club experiences, and Nickelodeon Place where an orange blimp tops the Aqua Nick Water Playground and green inner tubes circle the lazy river. If you follow Eileen Ogintz’ account of her recent Nick Resort visit, you’ll want to book a fabulous spa treatment to coincide with the kids’ sliming session so that all ages will emerge in a state of bliss. Nickelodeon Hotels & Resorts Punta Cana Winter specials are currently available with rates up to 50% off plus kids included offers; visit Nick Resort Punta Cana for more info.

We love the Caribbean coast of Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula because prices really drop, even for the already top value budget all-inclusive Rivera Maya resorts. Of course, savvy travelers know this period is hurricane season and, although weather is always unpredictable, we strongly recommend you protect your vacation investment with travel insurance. Whether you’re staying in Playacar, Playa del Carmen or near Tulum, count on at least one visit to the active, super fun, ecological park Experiencias Xcaret. This year, treat the family to a four-hour immersion at Xenses Park (an add-on to your Xcaret day), where they can test out their senses of smell, taste, touch, hearing and sight with 15 new activities, guided tours and a self-guided walk through a natural wonderland. At Xel-Ha near Tulum, you can drift on crystal-clear underground rivers, take preschoolers to the special children’s waterplay adventure zone, or enjoy Mayan folkloric shows.

Mexico’s Pacific Coast offers a different experience, combining beach with jungle and local culture. Puerto Vallarta is popular because visitors can do so much in the region. For example, all ages can tour the Estero del Salado Lagoon to look for some of the exotic bird species, iguanas, monkeys and other wildlife, or assist their team in a seasonal crocodile and turtle release program. Take some basic Spanish classes to learn even more. Ride the backroads in an ATV (ages 6+), or on a guided Jeep tour, or horseback ride with a local ranch guide past rivers, waterfalls and through picturesque mountaintop villages (recommended for ages 10+). Everyone will enjoy getting to know the locals and their cuisine on a taco tour at the many village taquerias. And through October 31, you’ll have a chance to win a six-night family vacation to Puerto Vallarta, by selecting three night’s each at one of the top hotels (Hotel El Pescador, Los Arcos, Melia Puerto Vallarta All-Inclusive, Plaza Pelicanos Grand, Hotel Rosita, The Westin Resort & Spa Puerto Vallarta, Hotel San Marino and Velas Vallarta). For more travel information, surf over to Visit Puerto Vallarta.


Get Smarter: City Getaways and Short Breaks

Once kids go back to school, we can all feel the buzz in the air of America’s great cities. If you’re into culture and cuisine – or if you’re planning campus visits with college-bound teens -- a city escape should be on your autumn to-do list. Just book a weekend so that you’re not competing for hotel rooms with business travelers. You can see more with discounted prepaid admission, see it faster with first-in-line privileges, and see it easier with a mini-guide and map when you choose a CityPASS. With 12 major cities (Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, Southern California, Tampa Bay and Toronto) covered by the CityPASS program, travelers have a lot to choose from. Blogger Daphne Gil loved her Southern California CityPASS admission card because her family saved nearly 30% off a package that included a prepaid 3-Day Disneyland Resort Park Hopper ticket, plus one-day admissions to LEGOLAND California and SeaWorld San Diego.

With preschoolers, friends and significant others, fall is a great time of year to head to Orlando, a sophisticated city with fine museums, natural attractions like airboat rides through the Everglades, super stylish shopping, and great dining (made cheaper during the city's Magical Dining Month from August 20-October 2.) Orlando has your wallet covered with big discounts and lots new at the brand new, enhanced Disney Springs area, formerly known as Downtown Disney, where hotel rates begin at $69 per night. By the way, Eileen Ogintz' Kid's Guide to Orlando notes that you can also refresh your summer tan because fall is warm enough for the city's famously themed hotel pools.

The Bezos Center for Innovation has brought a new player into Seattle’s active museum scene. The city famous for Pike’s Place Market and the original Starbucks is also home to the Boeing Future of Flight Aviation, one of the country’s top factory tours. The Pacific Science Center and Aquarium are among the top attractions featured on the Seattle CityPASS.

For a New York City fall vacation, plan ahead to keep your budget in check. On the NYC & Company calendar you’ll discover some obvious days to avoid (opening of United Nations, Thanksgiving, etc). Do come for Oktoberfest (weekends September 17-October 2) at South Street Seaport, which has undergone restoration and an infusion of hipster boutiques and good eats thanks to young designers and food trucks from Smorgasburg, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. While downtown, don’t miss the National 911 Memorial and Museum, a must stop on all levels. You may not get tickets to “Hamilton” while you’re in town, but the real crowd-pleaser this season for all ages is “Paramour,” Cirque du Soleil’s latest show at the Lyric Theatre. With a silly and kid-friendly love story set in the 1930s-1940s Golden Age of Hollywood, a nostalgic score of show tunes performed by a live orchestra, a professional cast of 16 actors, and 22 amazing acrobats, jugglers, gymnasts, dancers and doers of death-defying feats you’d expect from Cirque du Soleil; this is Broadway’s top entertainment value for families.


Big Kids Back to School: Campus Visits & College Touring

A campus visit, whether in a small college town or a major university hub, is the time to connect with your high-schooler, It can also be an all-in-the-family multigenerational vacation. If you're the aunt or uncle who takes a teen for campus tours, the good news is that there are lots of fun things to do no matter where you’re heading. Start by booking college tours; this recent college grad has good tips on how to save money on student travel during this busy period.

San Diego is one example of a town for all ages -- did you know there are 19 other colleges and community colleges besides UCSD? For the fifth year, October is Kids Free San Diego month, when more than 110 hotels (extra perks at the Omni and Hilton among others), restaurants (free kids menu meals in the Old Town), attractions, museums (Fleet Science Center and the Maritime Museums welcome kids under 12 free). Other venues offer a variety of incentives, plus the weather is beautiful.

While you know California, Massachusetts, New York, Texas and Ohio boast huge numbers of colleges and universities, Pennsylvania, particularly Pittsburgh, boasts quite of few of the best, including Carnegie Mellon, the University of Pittsburgh, Duquesne University and the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. Read about what’s doing in the arts and culture scene in Pittsburgh these days and put one of those schools on your list.

Jolly Old England and Beyond

Visiting England post-Brexit is less expensive than it has been in years. London is bursting with events during the third annual Autumn Season of Culture spotlighting a huge expansion of favorite venues, new exhibits, theater and festivals. For example, October 12 is the opening day of “Wonderlab: The Statoil Gallery” at the Science Museum in London, where science comes to life and your imagination can go wild. Don’t forget that most of London’s most popular museums and galleries – the V&A, the British Museum, the Tate Britain and the Tate Modern are free-of-charge.

Harry Potter fans of any age will get a big bang out of the Warner Bros. Studio Tour, The Making of Harry Potter in Leavenden outside of London. Eileen Ogintz reports on her recent visit. If you buy a London Pass or top value Oyster Card, you can visit Kings Cross Station, the London tube stop featured in the “Harry Potter” series as Platform 9-3/4, the portal to the wizarding world.

If you want to get out of the big city and get a taste of the life in Downton Abbey, Plan a “Brilliant” Holiday in the English Countryside to sip tea in manor houses, visit quaint cottages, and stroll through a magical forest in the Cotswolds and in the coastal counties of Devon and Dorset.

Are you an empty-nester with extra time and funds to travel, or parents of a recent grad who will begin their own lives soon? This fall is your time to explore Europe on a river cruise, a great option for families looking for a leisurely way to appreciate new cultures. We sampled the best of French style, cuisine and culture on a Croisieurope cruise.


Explore the National Parks & Presidential Monuments

On September 1, 2016, the Obama Administration launched the second year of the wildly successful Every Kid in a Park program, which grants free entry for fourth graders and up to three accompanying adults (or an entire non-commercial vehicle) at more than 2,000 sites across the country. Transportation costs have been paid for nearly half a million fourth graders to attend Every Kid in a Park fieldtrips through a combination of philanthropic support and existing federal funding and, in addition to passes handed out at federal lands and waters in the past year, there have been more than a million visitors to the website. Why not visit one this fall?

It’s the country’s busiest park all year round, but we think Great Smoky Mountains National Park is at its best in fall, when the crowds depart and the leaves turn into a riot of color. Many families base themselves in Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge, Tennessee and get caught up in all the fun touristy things to do, so allow some time to hike a few trails or partake in some Junior Ranger activities.

A lesser known and hard to overlook NPS property is the Waco Mammoth National Monument, the largest known find of young Colombian mammoths thought to be part of a nursery herd. On September 23, kids can contribute any artwork about their favorite fossils to the 6th annual National Fossil Day Art Contest for a chance to take it to the national finals. Waco, Texas has other firsts, ranging from the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame (honoring the nation’s oldest law enforcement group) to sorghum pecan ice-cream, to Magnolia Market, the décor shop owned by Chip and Joanna of HGTV’s “Fixer Upper” fame. In fact, this Waco couple has really put the town on the map, with more than 35,000 visitors arriving at their shop and B&B each week to see the homes they have restored.

Visit Hyde Park, in Dutchess County, New York -– home to four National Park Service sites. This year is the 75th anniversary of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum, the place to introduce your family to the New Deal and World War II. Visiting from New York City has become much easier since the NPS launched the free Roosevelt Ride hybrid bus, which shuttles daily from the Poughkeepsie train station to the FDR Home; the Library; Eleanor Roosevelt's Val-Kill Cottage and the Vanderbilt Mansion. Hikers will find several of these sites linked by the 10-mile-long Historic Hyde Park Trail, and some are open to bikes through November. Ask the kids to download free podcasts at each stop to narrate your visit.

Combine a love for the national parks with your kids’ interest in learning more about past presidents, a great conversation starter in this election year. Eileen Ogintz tours the homes of several presidents, from Abraham Lincoln (his farm in Indiana and his home in Illinois) to Jimmy Carter (Georgia) to learn more about their role in our history.


Tybee Island's Pirate Fest is one of many unusual fall festivals accessible to all around the country.


Families with Special Challenges have Options

If you thought you couldn't travel because someone in your family has special challenges, think again. Several recreational groups design different outdoors programs for children with special challenges and their families. Summer programs such as kayaking and hiking continue through fall and, thanks to the work of so many volunteers, fees are usually on a sliding scale to accommodate a family's budget.

The ISA World Adaptive Surfing Championship will take place September 24-27 in La Jolla Shores, California, with clinics and competition for participants and spectators. All year round, visitors with physical disabilities will love Virginia Beach's Camp Grommet, a fully-accessible, 70-acre playground and camp facility on the beach. The whole community celebrates the 43rd Neptune Festival September 30-October 2, starting at the bronze King Neptune statue and continuing down the boardwalk with music, seafood treats, games, stained glass and ceramics vendors and more. October 23 marks the fundraiser for JT Grommet Park, which offers surfing lessons to the disabled, works with Wounded Warriors, and provides recreational activities for those with ALS.

In historic Janesville, Wisconsin, the Camden Playground in Palmer Park is a fully accessible funland with a wading pool, set among 164 acres of trails. Everyone in the family will like this cute town's free, wheelchair accessible weekend Historic Walking Tours which morph into eerie Cemetery Tours in October.

Autism on the Seas helps arrange vacations on land and sea for families with Autism, Aspergers Syndrome and other developmental disabilities. Most of the major themeparks make accommodations for those with disabilities. If you're coping with dietary needs or food allergies, Family Travel Forum's guide to Dining at Theme Parks shows you allergen-free alternatives.


Travel Sustainably, Volunteer Your Skills

There's no better time to plan how your family can incorporate social good into your next travel adventure, and it's easy. During September, you can help feed others with the Dine Out for No Kid Hungry campaign which is collecting donations from nationwide chain restaurants like the Corner Bakery Cafe and Denny's, as well as local eateries. Remember even one dollar can provide 10 meals. Or, involve the kids in leaving a gratuity, small gift or personalized “Thank You” for a hotel or restaurant worker you meet in your travels. The non-profit Pack for a Purpose has great tips on their website on what to bring and how to pack it, so that your host destination gets the most benefit from your charity.

All 413 National Park Service sites will have free entrance on National Public Lands Day, which takes place September 24. In past years, more than 200,000 people have participated in the country's largest, single-day volunteer effort for public land, and 2,500 projects are being planned for this year. Note that volunteers will receive a voucher that permits them into a national park free on another day.

If your children have chosen a gap year in their education, or if you've got willing pals, a special companion or want to go it alone, there's no better time to plan a volunteer vacation, in every corner of the world or right near home. Ways to give back in parks and conservation reserves range from wildlife tracking to weeding to guided archeological digs; in communities, it could be reading lessons, building schoolrooms or painting houses. Dozens of not-for-profit organizations, beginning with your local church or kids' school, help organize international travel with volunteer opportunities.


Haunted Houses and Halloween Festivities

Halloween has morphed into one of the year's biggest holiday periods, with families traveling near and far to experience haunted houses, spooky festivals and gruesome gourmet delights. Whether you want to parade in your neighborhood, enjoy (suffer through?) an evening of fright at a theme park, go trick or treating at your zoo, or a stay at a haunted B&B there are lots of Halloween options, many close to home and some across the country.

Local attractions like the Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City, Utah and the Rougarou Fest in Houma, Louisiana use dress up and Halloween style fun to highlight history and raise money for local causes.

Weeknights in October, make free advance reservations online to see the beautiful New York State Capitol on a “Capitol Hauntings Tour” and meet the ghost of Samuel Abbott, the night watchman who died there in a 1911 fire. This tour has been immortalized with its own Listen with the Lights On podcast.


Little Kids and Faint of Heart Halloween Fun

Want to treat the toddlers or grandkids to something special? All 13 Great Wolf Lodge indoor waterpark resorts will present a friendly Howl-O-Ween festival daily in October. Dress up to join the nightly costume parade in the lobby, roam the Trick or Treat Trail throughout the resort, listen to Spooktacular Story Time, and boogie along at the Monster Bash Dance Party. The on-site Scooops Kids Spas pamper children of all ages, who can don a pink plush bathrobe, tiara and Spa sash, sit on a banana split throne, and enjoy a Mom and Me Pedicure, sherbet scrubs and fizzy soaks. To book it, visit and enter the promo code: HOWL – don’t worry, costumed characters help protect little ones from any frights. In December, just as the resorts begin their popular Snowland transformation, the newest Great Wolf Lodge will open in Colorado Springs.

Disney World's Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party (select nights September 2-October 31) in Orlando, and Disneyland's Mickey's Halloween party, are both bigger than ever before, with many of these special-ticket evening parties going on between early September and Halloween eve. In Orlando, the lovable Mickey's Boo-To-You Halloween Parade and extra villainous characters will be on call; in Anaheim, California families can attend the Main St. Pumpkin Festival and learn the traditions of Dia de los Muertos.

SeaWorld's Spooktacular in Orlando (weekends through October), San Antonio (select days September 30-October 30) and San Diego (Sept. 24-25 plus weekends through October) welcomes little ones to show off their costumes at special Halloween events such as an underwater “fantasia,” trick-or-treating throughout the park, photo ops with whimsical characters and sea-creature encounters.

Every weekend in October, and on Halloween, at Legoland Florida, you can encourage kids to explore the Brick-or-Treat Trail. There are scavenger hunts (with prizes), trick-or-treating along the trail, huge Lego models and fireworks. Don't miss selfies with the world's largest all-brick pumpkin. If you’re out west, stop by Legoland California for one of the five Brick-or-Treat day-long festivals in October.


The Roger Williams Zoo is one of many festivals that Rhode Island residents like to celebrate.


Terrifying Halloween Frights at Theme Parks

Masters of the crafts of special effects makeup, lighting and visual effects, it's no wonder the Universal team put on Halloween Horror Nights like no other. Especially disturbing at the Universal Orlando park in Florida, and at Universal Studios in Los Angeles are characters from “American Horror Show” and “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” who will populate the backlot attractions. Mind-boggling mazes, frightening shows and Scare Zones such as Dead Man’s Wharf and a Chance in Hell make for a super creepy night. Keep everyone under 13 safely at home!

Howl-o-Scream converts SeaWorld San Antonio in Texas into a deliciously adult event, where autumn nights September 30-October 30 feature haunted houses, special libations, three new Scare Zones and more wicked fun during “Evil Encore.” During the day, the park hosts a Halloween themed day of kids' fun.

The 18 Six Flags parks in the US, Mexico and Canada put on a Fright Fest unlike any of the events they do all year. Imagine your local themepark packed with family-friendly thrills by day, with nightfall bringing more scare zones, terror trails, haunted mazes and blood-thirsty creatures out to play. Fright Fest kicks up September 24 and runs weekends through October with dozens of Halloween-themed shows and attractions.


Let us know what you think is fun this fall, in the Comments section below.


Wherever you see ads or images within this special travel section, the advertising and custom content has been brought to you by our sponsors. All other content and opinions are based upon the authors' actual travel experience and knowledge.



New York's Thanksgiving Day Parade

Fri, 11/18/2016 - 12:17

The Snoopy team helps inflates the balloon for the Thanksgiving Day parade.

Hello Kitty floats by the crowds at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in NYC.

Planning a visit to the Macy's-sponsored Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City? Grab extra blankets, a thermos of hot chocolate, and this list of the best viewing spots.

Along with turkeys and football, it's time for the Annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. This NYC tradition was begun in 1924 by Macy's first-generation immigrant staff which wanted to combine a celebration of this all-American holiday with some of their European traditions. Costumed employees marched along with animals on loan from the Central Park Zoo from 145th Street to 34th Street as the crowds cheered.

In all these years, the atmosphere has stayed pretty much the same. That's why being out on the street early, bundled up against the sometimes very cold and rainy holiday, is so traditional. Here are some tips for enjoying it together. And if you decide your family would prefer to march in it and you're willing to plan very far ahead, visit the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade website for information on joining the waiting list. googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display('div-gpt-ad-1389984845773-0'); });

  • On November 24, 2016, the 90th annual parade will start at Central Park West and 77th Street at 9am and reach Macy's flagship department store by noon. Marchers will head south on Central Park West, travel east along Central Park South, and turn south on Sixth Avenue from West 59th Street to West 34th Street at Herald Square.
  • Plan to arrive as early as 6:30am if you want to get a spot at the curb (where you may set up your own chairs or spread out a blanket) as there is no seating available for the general public. Let little ones keep their PJs on under their outer clothes for warmth. Bleachers seen along the parade route are VIP only!
  • The best viewing spots are Central Park West from 61st to 72nd Streets, or along Sixth Avenue from 57th to 49th Streets. It is not recommended to gather south of 36th Street, a very hectic area. Again, don't forget your outerwear, some snacks, a thermos of hot chocolate and a camera.
  • If your family wants to spend the night before the parade in town, there's plenty to do on Thanksgiving Eve. Wednesday between 3 to 10pm, bundle up and head to the area around the American Museum of Natural History, on 77th or 81st streets between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue. You can watch as Garfield, Snoopy, Pikachu and friends come to helium-filled life. This is almost more fun for older kids, who will enjoy seeing the inflation diagrams posted at each balloon station. Little children may be frustrated by the crowds and the difficulty of getting a stroller down the crowded sidewalks; they also may be uncertain that the creature they're looking at lying down in the street is actually the cartoon character they've come to admire. However, the later you go, the more of these colorful creatures will be inflated. And there are several cafes on Columbus Avenue for pricey hot chocolate after your viewing.
  • Some rooms at the 1 Hotel Central Park, Courtyard by Marriott New York Manhattan/Herald Square, JW Marriott Essex House New York, Mandarin Oriental, New York, New York Hilton Midtown, Residence Inn Times Square, The Ritz-Carlton New York, Central Park and the Warwick New York Hotel will offer views of the event - be sure to have a fat wallet and very influential travel agent request a route-view room below the 12th floor as early as possible.

    You can also search for top hotel deals in New York at the last minute. And remember that even if you don't watch from your own guestroom, these hotels will have cozy warm-up stands in the lobby for guests who watch from the sidewalk out front.

  • See NYC & Company for other Thanksgiving week activities and special dining options. And post your photos!

Top Holiday Lights Celebrations Across America

Fri, 11/18/2016 - 10:48

Nevada's Botanical Cactus Garden, next to the famous Ethel M. Chocolate Factory, lights up in winter.

Charity Santas Go to work on NYC subway for Santacon.

Tempe, Arizona celebrates with a gorgeous boat parade on Town Lake; photo: Downtown Tempe Authority

Lots of shopping, eating & photo ops at Baltimore's Christmas Village.

Christmas Boat Parade, Corpus Christi, Texas

The Nativity play is one of many events in Newport; photo: Windless Creative/Christmas in Newport

Electrical Spectacle holiday show in Philadelphia; photo J. Fusco

We love the winter season, when holiday lights, Christmas decorations, colorfully wrapped presents and the most imaginative retail displays illuminate downtowns around the world, regardless of whether there’s sun or snow outside. We just read that more than 44% of American adults say they’d rather visit a dentist than a crowded airport this season. Yet, after you've decorated your home (see our directory of U-Pick Christmas tree farms for ideas), we know many families look forward to holiday adventures, whether it's a drive around town or a complete getaway from the in-laws, the eggnog and the cleanup.

Big Cities Celebrate the Holidays

You can save big on an urban getaway with the CityPASS program, which offers discounted, prepaid admission to top attractions in 12 North American destinations: Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, Southern California (includes theme park entry, too), Tampa Bay and Toronto.

Check out the CityPASS blog for special events, or look online for each city's holiday calendars, so you can plan to see a seasonal lights display in a botanic garden, town square, shopping mall, zoo or theme park. It's fun to add something new to your annual holiday ritual, and there are plenty of ideas in our directory.

The Top Hotels and Resorts Do the Holidays Big Time!

Holiday city-goers should make all their reservations now, because hotels get fully booked and special attractions and seasonal shows sell out quickly. Even if you can't get event tickets, your family is guaranteed that shops and major hotels will dress up their public spaces for the holidays, and often put on fancy High Tea afternoons for kids in efforts to attract family vacationers. Resorts are going all out with over-the-top decor and lighting, as well as elaborate holiday meals, in an effort to make the winter holidays more festive for those who are celebrating them away from home.

For truly selfie-worthy decor like gingerbread houses, illuminated trees, a classic High Tea and winter lodging discounts, head to Omni Hotels & Resorts. They have many urban hotels and a variety of distinctive resorts around the U.S. We love their spirit of giving, with a Say Goodnight to Hunger campaign that provides a family of four dinners for an entire week through Feeding America, for every hotel stay booked on Since its launch in June, more than 3 million meals have been served in the 42 communities where Omni Hotels & Resorts’ 60 properties operate.

So whether you’re planning a vacation or a staycation -- sleeping in a hotel, renting a villa or camping at the in-laws -- make adventuring your family's gift to each other, and explore the area.


Top Holiday Lights and Christmas Decorations in America

Our roundup of the top holiday displays across America is compiled with Taking the Kids. If we left out your neighborhood or you want to share a favorite find, please use the Comments section below. Happy Holidays!


The ABQ Biopark Botanic Garden hosts New Mexico’s “The River of Lights” featuring giant sculptures created by millions of lights in over 500 displays. November 26-December 30 (closed Dec 24, 25).


Orange County has lots going on at the holidays. At the Disneyland Resort, merry magic means festive décor, special treats and classic park attractions such as "it’s a small world" which have been reimagined for the season. Check out the "Jingle Cruise," Cars Land Holiday Decor and take a nap so you're ready for the new "A Christmas Fantasy" parade and "World of Color – Season of Light evening shows. November 10-January 8.


“Lights on the Bay” is a drive-through holiday light show at Sandy Point State Park with more than 60 stationery and animated displays including a glowing lighthouse and blue crabs on Chesapeake Bay. November 19-January 1.


In Zilker Park, the annual Trail of Lights (a USA Today Top 10 Holiday Celebration) winds through 1.25 miles of scenes composed of multi-colored twinkling lights; a 155-foot conical tree made entirely of lights is at its center. Get a preview at the casual 5k fun run (Dec 3rd). Lots of eats in this foodie town, plus kids activities, local crafts vendors and photo opps. December 10-23.


Find 50 booths of crafts, gifts, food and drinks at the new European-style Christmas Village in Baltimore at Inner Harbor West Shore Park. It's back after drawing more than 150,000 visitors in its first few years. November 24-December 24.


The Holiday Tree Lighting in Boston Common (December 1) kicks off the season.  Check out the Freedom Trail Holiday Stroll; this special tour is offered at 3:30pm, Thursdays to Sundays only during November, December and January (except for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years Days). After your costumed guide explains Boston holiday traditions, take the family to the Omni Parker House Hotel for hot chocolate or tea with a slice of the yummy Boston Cream Pie invented there. 


Don't miss an Ozark Mountain Christmas which features over 300 new displays, and drive-through night displays including the 2½-mile long "Shepherd of the Hills Trail of Lights." At the Silver Dollar City amusement park, five million lights help celebrate an “Old Time Christmas” with a parade, 1,000 decorated trees, and a five-story special effects Christtmas Tree, only one of Branson's many holiday events. November 1-December 31.


The “Lights of Dyker Heights” attracts 100,000 visitors to view amazing decorations. Come visit between 5pm and 9pm to meet the locals. November 30-December 30.


The annual “Holiday Festival of Lights,” considered one of the top 20 events in the Southeast, features millions of lights arranged in over 700 displays along a three-mile route. Visitors will also enjoy attractions like the Enchanted Walking Trail, an old-fashioned Victorian Carousel, Santa's Sweet Shoppe and more.  November 11-January 1.


In Speed City, it's more than appropriate to drive through a Speedway Christmas event at the legendary Charlotte Motor Speedway where 3,000,000 lights, music, and Christmas Village with a petting zoo, and horsedrawn carriage rides welcomes kids of all ages. Also check out movie nights with screenings of "Frozen" and other favorites on a 16,000 square foot, high definition screen. This town also boasts an outdoor ice rink, Christmas parades, holiday laser lights and more. November 10-January 7. Speedway November 19-December 31.


Rock City Garden’s “Enchanted Garden of Lights” returns for its 22nd year with more than 30 illuminated holiday scenes. Families will also enjoy live entertainment in the North Pole Lounge, cookie decorating, and Sugar Plum Fairy makeovers for the kids. Booking a Dinner with Santa package gets you a meal and a VIP entry pass. November 18-December 31.


Key Chicago events include “The Magnificent Mile Lights Festival” which begins its 25th year on November 18 in Pioneer Court.  Festivites inlcude a visit from Santa, live music, and a parade on November 19 from North Michigan Avenue to Wacker Drive, followed by fireworks.  Mickey and Minnie Mouse will serve as the Grand Marshalls of the Parade. The Museum of Science and Industry celebrates “Christmas Around the World” and “Holidays of Light” with more than 50 trees decorated to represent various cultures and holiday traditions. November 17-January 8.


GE’s Lighting Institute is in Nela Park where thousands of lights illuminate buildings along Noble Road. Early December to January 1.


Enjoy holiday music performances and see 250 scenes composed of more than 1.5 million lights. The lakefront Coeur d’Alene Resort runs three nightly “Journey to the North Pole” cruises past a soaring, floating Christmas tree, all the way to Santa’s Workshop. Be there when Santa calls out the names of the "nice" children onboard; cruises run Thanksgiving to New Year's Eve.


The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is decorated in over one million holiday lights and over 40 animal light structures, making a visit to the indoor animal exhibits very festive. Drop by the historic pink Broadmoor Hotel nearby for a hot chocolate and admire its annual White Lights Ceremony, with live music and more.  December 9-January 1 (excluding New Years Eve).


There’s so much competition in the cruise industry that the major cruise companies go all out to lure holiday travelers with special décor, celebratory meals, festive activities and even church services of almost every denomination. Picture all the fuss like a huge drive-through holiday lights display... but at sea.  Cruising with Kids will tell you all you need to know. 


Texans do everything big, so no surprise that "Big D" is Dallas' citywide holiday celebration. From museum to shows, to ice skating and a ride on the North Pole Express in Fair Park and at the Arboretum, there's lots to enjoy. November to January.


There are several holiday lights displays in a state that's always glowing: Fort Myers, Largo, Melbourne, Orlando, St. Augustine and St. Petersburg are among the largest, according to A favorite is Santa's Enchanted Forest in Miami. Part theme park, part illumination (50 displays on Santa Claus Lane), it boasts South Florida's tallest Christmas tree, a variety of kiddie rides, animal shows and a Ferris wheel. Teens will love the midway style rides, a local tradition for 25 years. A 'season pass' costs less than twice the day rate -- a bargain for thrill seekers. Nov. 3 - Jan. 8, 2017


More than 175,000 lights illuminate the 12th annual “Christmas in the Square,” the largest holiday lights and music show in North Texas. November 25-January 1.


The three-mile-long “Festival of Lights” at Moody Gardens boasts 100 animated light displays along with an outdoor ice rink, snow-tubing down a 100-foot long Arctic ice slide and photos with Santa Claus. November 12-January 8.


Hop on a heated Gatlinburg Trolley and enjoy the annual “Winter Magic” light displays featuring animals indigenous to Great Smoky Mountains National Park; the kickoff Chili Cookoff is November 9. Festivities run through January 31.

Families enjoy a magical excursion on the North Pole Express to Santa’s Workshop in Grapevine, Texas. Photo courtesy Grapevine Convention & Visitors Bureau


They call this little Western town near Dallas the "Christmas Capital of Texas" because it has millions of twinkling lights and more than 1,400 events in 40+ days. Join Christmas Carols (Nov. 21), follow the town's Parade of Lights (Dec. 1), shop at Christmas Markets in the historic downtown, catch some seasonal shows and vintage holiday movies, and head to Main Street for the "Magic of Christmas Light Show." In addition to themed events at the Gaylord Texan and Great Wolf Lodge resorts, visitors to Grapevine can catch a scuba diving Santa at the local SEA LIFE Grapevine Aquarium, talking reindeer at the visitor information center, and a vintage railroad running Christmas Wine Tours to local wineries or, for the little ones, a North Pole Express. November 25-January 1.


The town of Hershey does its own 2-mile “Sweet Lights” drive-through attraction while Hersheypark’s Christmas festivities include visits with Santa’s reindeer, holiday lights, themepark rides and entertainment. November 11-January 1.


The aloha holiday spirit shines through the annual Honolulu City Lights. Families will find themed Christmas tree lighting, colorful boat parades, plus festive food booths and ongoing entertainment. December 3-December 30. The Waikiki Holiday Parade kicks off the season on November 25.


Wildlife viewing, national parks, the town's historic Western feel and some of the best skiing and riding in the U.S. make Jackson Hole the ideal location for a holiday family ski vacation -- especially if your brood wants activities off the slopes, too. Jackson Hole has its legendary steeps as well as terrain to suit the entire family. Check off a bucket list item with this season's new Christmas vacation offer: check in early and earn 2 ski days at the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort free, when you book a six-night minimum lodging and lift package with Jackson Hole Central Reservations. Some restrictions apply; first day of skiing must be between Dec. 20-23 to qualify for free skiing; checkout a $200 air credit (per person) available on qualifying packages. Book here now.


This town goes all out: illuminating the Indiana Soldiers and Sailors Monument with about 5,000 lights for its annual “Circle of Lights,” offering free admission to many attractions on one of the 12 days before Christmas, and featuring holiday exhibits at its impressive Children’s Museum. November 25-January 8.


While residents sip gluhwein at “Christkindlmarket Des Moines,” two hours east, a town is aglow with 75 light sculptures in the huge Mount Pleasant Festival of Lights, which includes a huge animated toy factory and stretches for more than a mile. Just 75 minutes away in the Amana Colonies, visitors can study more than 40 decorated live evergreens in Tannenbaum Forest and visit Santa and his reindeer. Look for a 16-foot handcrafted German-style Christmas pyramid and a Nativity scene. Several evenings, the Old Creamery theatre presents “The Elves and the Shoemaker” in rotation with the 1960s musical “Winter Wonderettes” -- fun for all ages. And 90 minutes away in Davenport, the Quad City Arts Festival of Trees draws 100,000 spectators to see 100 designer trees, 14 special events and the largest helium balloon parade in the Midwest, all raising money for local arts programs. Thursday to Sunday, November 16-December 31.


Take in all of KC’s winter holiday family events such as the outdoors "KCP&L Plaza Lights" at glittery Country Club Plaza. Now 86 years old, the nation's oldest and one of its most elegant malls and the lights rimming all its shops and rooftops are spectacular. There are also lights all over the Crown Center complex, showcasing an ice rink and 100-foot-tall Christmas tree. Don't miss a visit to see the toy trains on display at Union Station and many more holiday activities. November 25-January 1.


You won't find snow, but there's plenty of spirit around town if you count the windows along Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. This Time Out holiday lights guide has a great roundup for those who want to drive some neighborhoods. Tops of all, the “Candy Cane Lane“ is an eight-square block neighborhood affair in Woodland Hills at Lubao and Oxnard Streets, organized annually since 1952. December 10-31 until 10pm weeknights, 11pm weekends.


The holidays stay in Vegas like everything else, but that doesn't mean that families won't find plenty to cheer about in hotel, shops and restaurant decor. The Las Vegas Natural History Museum will host its 10th annual "A December to Remember" exhibition, with programs that highlight how different world cultures and religions celebrate friendship and family at this time of year. Check the Las Vegas C&VB calendar to find showtimes for "Irving Berlin's White Christmas" and other seasonal entertainment. November 26-January 8.


The 28th annual “Wonderland of Lights Festival“ brings hundreds of holiday light displays, outdoor ice-skating, a live variety show, a Santa's Workshop, carriage rides and more. November 23-December 31.


Downtown Milwaukee celebrates a “Holiday Lights Festival” with animated light displays, elaborately decorated themed trees, the 90th annual Milwaukee Holiday Parade, a Christkindlmarket, and performances such as ELF, The Musical.  The $1 per ticket Jingle Bus tour is ideal for baby and grandparents.  November 17-January 1.


Another small town that competes with big cities is McAdenville, whose decorated neighborhoods get jammed with the traffic of admiring homeowners. December 1-26 from 5:30pm-9:30pm weeknights, till 11pm weekends.


Go Victorian as Mystic Seaport presents "The Nut-Cracker Sweets," set on Christmas Eve of 1876 at Lantern Light Tours. November 26-December 23.


NOLA’s City Park, a Southern belle with centuries-old live oaks draped in festive Spanish moss, twinkles with hundreds of thousands of lights as part of the annual Celebration in the Oaks holiday lights festival. Drop by the art museum's free sculpture garden to take some family portraits, and take out a paddleboat for a great city view. November 25-January 1 (closed November 28-December 1, and on Christmas Eve and New Years Eve)

Newport, Rhode Island promotes a charitable holiday season with a focus on the city's well preserved Colonial heritage, open to the public on holiday tours. Photo courtesy: Windless Creative/Christmas in Newport.


Tired of the holiday hype? The somber colonial era is the focus of Christmas in Newport, where, for 46 years, locals have adhered to holiday traditions such as only decorating with clear bulbs (to simulate candlelight), even on the posh Victorian shops of Bellevue Avenue. Daily activities range from Lantern Walking tours of restored colonial homes in the Point and Historic Hill neighborhoods; to door decorating contests, elegant celebrations at landmarked Gilded Age mansions, handcraft sales, choral concerts, and workshops to write holiday cards to military serving at sea. Any event listed in the program is free, as mandated by this very active community charity, unless admission benefits a non-profit institution or cause. December 1-31.


Stay ashore for the 108th Annual Christmas Boat Parade, when anything that floats-- from electric Duffy's to kayaks to yachts -- gets decked out in bells, bows and lights. More than 100 decorated boats sail a 14.7-mile route to Bay Island on five nights at 6:30pm.  There will be a fireworks display on the first night at Newport Pier, and on the last night at 9pm, at Balboa Pier.  1 million viewers will watch the parade from the shore; check their site for a map of viewing locations. December 14-18.


From the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree (lighting on Nov. 30) to the world’s largest menorah at Brooklyn's Grand Army Plaza (Dec. 24-Jan. 1), to the New York Botanical Garden’s “Holiday Train Show” (miniature NYC landmarks made entirely out of plants) from Nov. 19-January 16, to the 1½ ton, 300-square-foot village made entirely of edible gingerbread at the New York Hall of Science (Nov. 14-Jan 7) in Queens -- New York does the winter holidays big. Check out the great store windows and visit NYC & Company for the latest holiday events. November 21-January 18.


Spectacular Niagara Falls are illuminated at night year-round, but there’s nothing like snow crystals to magnify their beauty. In Niagara Falls USA, collect unique holiday ornaments at the 18 wineries on the Niagara Wine Trail and shop on the famous Erie Canal during Lockport’s Winter Wonderland Project. Cross the Rainbow Bridge to the Canada side for the “Winter Festival of Lights,” aptly supported by Ontario Power Generation, which accepts donations to offset the huge electricity bill. November 19-January 31.


Northside Park hosts the “Winterfest of Lights” incorporating scenes of your child’s favorite fairy tales; easily accessible via the Winterfest Express. November 17-January 1.


Oceanside Harbor’s “Parade of Lights” boat procession takes place on December 10.  Tis the Season to Shop Local and the Merry Makers Fair will feature local vendors, handcrafted gifts, music, singing and activities from November 26-December 4. 


Orlando has it all for those who plan ahead. At SeaWorld’s Christmas Celebration, families will find a winter wonderland where you can meet Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and see ice skaters twirl on a frozen lake. And, for and additional $29, each family member can have a reserved seat at all the shows. Feeling chintzy? Dr. Seuss' lovable “Grinchmas” steals the show at Universal Studios (Dec. 3-Jan.1). Makers should be sure to catch a “Christmas Bricktacular” at Legoland Florida, featuring a huge Lego Christmas tree (Dec. 17-18 and 24-30). Disney World pulls out all the stops with “Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party” which rocks the place on select nights (Nov. 7-Dec. 22); Disney Hollywood Studios will present "Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! (Nov. 14-Dec. 31). We love the caroling concerts and candlelight processional at Epcot’s “Holidays Around the World” (Nov. 25-Dec. 30) too.


The 450-acre Living Desert is decked out for the “Wild Lights Festival“ that blankets its botanical gardens and educational displays in thousands of lights. Come for festive games, entertainment, carousel rides and visits with Santa Claus.  Selected nights from November 23-December 24. 


Brook Green Gardens’ "Nights of a Thousand Candles" uses the glow of 5,500 hand-lit candles to light garden paths, as bell ringers, light sculptures, glass sculptures and carolers entertain guests. December 1-3, 8-10, 15-18.


Philadelphia will be aglow this holiday season -- from the classic Holiday Light Show at Macys in Center City to the Neighborhood Lights of South Philly, a European-style Christmas Village, a Holiday Railroad in Reading Terminal Market and Lightening Bolt Holiday Express Train rides around Franklin Square from November 10 - December 31. Iceskating galore at both RiverRink Winterfest and at Rothman Ice Rink. Plan to stay for the famous New Year's Day Mummers Parade if you can. November 10-January 8.


As you drive along in a heated trolley, ask the kids to guess the number of lights (5 million) in this resort town’s gigantic “Winterfest” (November 8-February 28) and compare that to what’s on display at the Dollywood themepark’s annual Smoky Mountain Christmas Festival (November 5-January 1) (4 million) packed with shopping, concerts and events such as the "Parade of Lights" with floats and characters. 


The Callaway Gardens Resort’s playful Jolly Trolley runs through a “Fantasy of Lights” composed of 15 displays and eight million lights and includes giant toy soldiers, an enchanted rainbow forest, and Firefly Cove. November 12-January 7.


The “Vintage Christmas in Portsmouth” festival in this small New Hampshire town features a Candlelight Stroll with costumed interpreters. Weekends, December 2-23.


This college town produces the “Tacky Light Tour” each winter, a local tradition featuring festive light displays, lawn decorations, and animated scenery. From Thanksgiving to New Years Eve.


For a high-class tradition, enjoy the 24nd annual “Festival of Lights” at the Mission Inn Hotel and Spa where more than 400 animated displays, 12 feet of mistletoe, horse-drawn carriage rides and appearances by Santa regale overnight guests and visitors; reservations recommended, especially for the elf tuck-in service There's an outdoor ice-skating rink, holiday vendors and live entertainment. November 25-January 7.


San Antonio’s River Walk is the place to be November 25 for the Holiday River Boat Parade. From November 30-December 18 you can join more than 185 singing groups and partake in holiday boat caroling. You can also enjoy the Fiesta de las Luminarias, a river walk stroll lit by 2,000 luminarias on December 2-4, 9-11 and 15-18. 


This action-packed, family-friendly city presents the Botanic Garden’s 100,000-light “Garden of Lights,” fun events at the San Diego Zoo, and more holiday cheer in Legoland, whose New Years Eve celebration begins at 6pm instead of midnight with a replica of the ball dropping in New York's Time Squares (done in Legos, of course), followed by fireworks.. At SeaWorld’s Christmas Celebration, see the 320-foot Christmas Tree of Life (California's largest), meet Santa's reindeers and enjoy a Christmas Village stroll. Bring a sweater and don’t expect beach weather! November 19-January 1. 


The City by the Bay has holiday lights, public art, special events, and more holiday cheer beginning November 19 at the annual "Pier 39 Tree Lighting Ceremony" at the waterfront marketplace. Snowflakes on Market (Nov. 22-Dec.31) creates a Path of Gold lights with a total of 298 sparkling snowflakes. Glittering palm trees adorn Union Square, which hosts the city’s Macy's Christmas Tree and Bill Graham Menorah. November 24-January 1.


The wildly popular Polar Express that runs on the vintage Saratoga & North Creek Railway draws thousands to this cute Victorian town. Expect the kids (most dressed in pajamas) to love the North Pole station where Santa and elves welcome the train. Weekends between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

The Lagoon Lights show illuminates the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, and brings to life a ghostly pirate ship sailing through a resort pond.


Combine the appeal of a temperate climate, golfing and beautiful resorts, with cactus decked out in twinkling lights and reindeer on front lawns, and you get the Phoenix-Scottsdale area. "Las Noches de Las Luminarias" lights up the Desert Botanical Garden with a huge show of 8,000 glowing, hand-lit paper lanterns. The North Pole-themed Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, a family and pet-welcoming AAA five-diamond resort, also goes all out for the holidays. Guests can meet n'greet six life-size characters (including a walking S'more!), plus pose for pictures with a musical tree that plays 17 songs, on the ice slide, or in front of millions of holiday lights around the lagoon. There's snow falling over skaters on the new Desert Ice Rink, regularly scheduled animated videos projected on the resort's facade, and a Princess Express Train, too. The resort’s Season of Giving package provides guests an elegantly luxurious room, $50 daily resort credit and express VIP access to the rides, and sends $10 from each package to Child Crisis Arizona. Other holiday specials are available at or by calling 866/540-4495. November 22-January 1.


Westlake Park has its holiday carousel, Seattle Center offers ice skating, Woodland Park Zoo is packed with carolers and 600,000 LEDs shaped like animals for “WildLights.” During the 67th Annual Argosy Christmas Ship Festival the Argosy  will sail with an onboard choir to serenade 65 waterfront communities. Holidays in Seattle has a listing of more events and attractions. November 25-January 1.


New England’s most imaginative holiday lighting exhibit brings Seuss Land (this is author Theodor Geisel’s hometown), North Pole Village, and Jurassic World to the three-mile “Bright Nights” festival, which also offers horse-drawn carriage and wagon rides. The whole city is lighting up in solidarity. November 23-January 1 (closed Nov. 28 and 29.)


The annual “Lights of Christmas” celebration is said to be the grandest holiday event in the Pacific Northwest, with lights, five entertainment stages, kids activities, food and shopping. Weekends, December 4-28.


The “Holiday Lights in the Park” has more than 60 light sculptures and animated displays in Phalen Park, and all proceeds from this fun family event are donated towards advanced safety training for police officers. November 22-January 1.


Lights on the Lake” sparkles over Onondaga Lake Park with its two-mile, drive-through extravaganza featuring Land of Oz, Fantasy Forest and a Fairytale Grand Finale.  November 16-January 8.


After 29 years, this “Victorian Christmas” has grown from twinkling lights to a Victorian Museum and Craft Village, a Winter Wonderland for children with carolers, live ice sculpting, chestnut roasting, marshmallow toasting, and more. December 8 and 9.


Virginia Beach offers"Holiday Lights at the Beach" and joins Richmond, Williamsburg, Newport News, Hampton, Norfolk and Portsmouth with holiday displays and a lineup of events for the state’s annual "100 Miles of Lights." But you won’t have to leave the Boardwalk to enjoy the town’s beachfront 40-foot-tall Christmas on the beach.  November 28-January 1.


The nation’s capital celebrates in winter:  the lighting of the National Christmas Tree (December 1) and the National Menorah (December 25), and, all season, the snowtubing, Panda photo ops and outdoor ZooLights at the National Zoo (Nov 25-Jan. 1, except Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.) Experience the traditional decorations that grace Christmas at Mount Vernon and meet a Christmas camel. November 25-January 6.


Travel back 200-300 years at the Historic Triangle to learn how holidays were celebrated. Colonial Williamsburg’s “Grand Illumination” events include Christmas Decoration walking tours, caroling in the revolutionary city plus concerts and musical performances, storytelling, and traditional tavern dinners. Busch Gardens’ Christmas Town is celebrating 8 years at the North Pole, with Santa’s Workshop theming all over the park. At dusk, the 8 million twinkling lights make the themepark come alive. Revolutionary-era Yorktown and 17th century Jamestown have special events, too. Check for active dates, December 1-31.


Wherever you see ads or images within this special travel section, the advertising and custom content has been brought to you by our sponsors. All other content and opinions are based upon the authors' actual travel experience and knowledge.



These beautiful landscape as paradise of Japan

Fri, 11/18/2016 - 00:56

Japan is favored by nature, bestowed those beautiful landscape that anyone who first set foot here is surprised. Kikotravel would like to introduce to you those beautiful landscape of Japan like as paradise, you will only want to go there immediately.

You can read full article about these beautiful landscapes in Japan here

Best Places to Visit Amsterdam

Thu, 11/17/2016 - 08:00

Amsterdam is one of the most popular tourist destination worldwide. There is lots of places that are very famous such as Anne frank house, van gogh museum and lot's of other. If you want to know more about these places, simply visit at 

Sunshine, Sand, Seaturtles, and Summer Fun!

Wed, 11/16/2016 - 14:39

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My small hometown in the Sunshine State is the perfect place to visit throughout the year with its perennial temperatures averaging a perfect 75 degrees. The town originally began around the late 19th century pineapple farm of Danish immigrant John Laurence Jensen, who gave our town both its name and its former title as the “Pineapple Capital of the World”. Jensen Beach, part of South Florida’s famed “Treasure Coast”, sits near several bodies of water including the Atlantic Ocean, Indian River and Lagoon, and St. Lucie Inlet.




Whether you are a snowbird migrating for winter or a family on summer vacation, you’ll enjoy the sugary beaches, refreshing Atlantic waters, and swaying palms of Jensen Beach. There are parks for children to romp around in (from Indian RiverSide Park to Sailfish Splash Waterpark), boardwalks for you and your special someone to stroll along (under the Roosevelt Bridge), and eateries and shopping destinations throughout the area (the Treasure Coast Mall or Pineapple Plaza, for some examples). Boating and fishing opportunities are also available.

Local flavor and fashion can be found at Downtown Jensen where there are several seafood restaurants ready to satiate your stomach as well as boutiques to beautify you in beachy homemade bracelets.

You can visit and even stay on our barrier island a few minutes away. Hutchinson Island has copious beaches and cute boutiques. The Environmental Studies Center, House of Refuge on Hutchinson, Hobe Sound Wildlife Refuge, and Florida Oceanographic Center are all dedicated to the research and preservation of our local ecology and are great places for learning more about our natural landscape. Sea turtles find refuge on our beaches; so many areas of the beach are staked off to protect sea turtle nests. You may want to go on a turtle nesting tour if you visit us during the sea turtle nesting season, usually around the summer months of May, June, and July, to scout out some of our most precious treasures here on the Treasure Coast—our endangered green, loggerhead, and leatherback turtles.

Or perhaps treasure brings to your mind altogether different scenery—sunken Spanish galleons carrying the riches of the New World and the royal houses of old. And you wouldn’t be too far off in that supposition, for that is what the area is “known for”. While I have yet to come across any Spanish treasure on my tours of the beach here, perhaps you will have better luck than I!

There is so much to do here in Jensen Beach, whether you are looking for soothing relaxation or family-friendly adventure! That’s why I love it and that’s why you will, too! 


Photos (not my own, but also had to be included): 

Rainy Day Activities in Orlando

Tue, 11/15/2016 - 16:04

Need Rainy Day Ideas for Orlando? Go Beyond the Theme Parks!

Orlando Has Tons to Offer Indoors and Out

Hitting the Orlando theme parks may conjure up images of sunshine and blue skies, but especially in summer, families often encounter an overcast and damp day. You can still enjoy everything from Disney to Universal in the rain, though little and big kids alike may not find it the adventure they were hoping for.

If your plans are flexible, venture past the theme parks and find something fun (and dry) to do in Orlando that’s not contingent on ideal weather. Here are some of our favorites.


Hop aboard the Sunrail double decker light rail and zip through Orlando in style. The brightly painted yellow and white commuter train offers "upstairs" seating, creating a perfect spot for little ones who want a better look. Hop off at any of the 12 stops, like the Florida Mall, to do some shopping and grab a treat. googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display('div-gpt-ad-1389984845773-0'); });


For indoor shopping with a twist, head out to Artegon and check-out their free Kids Clubs with activities like necklace making and foam crafts. Show the kids what old-school video games use to look like at Pins & Pixels for golden gaming era game cabinets. Kids will love the selection of graphic novels at the second largest fandom store in the U.S., Gods & Monsters. There's also a daily indoor artisanal marketplace with over 100 artisans and craftspeople ready to show off their wares.

Ripley's Believe it Or Not

Orlando’s Ripley's Believe it Or Not! promises to be the only place in Orlando where you'll find shrunken heads, authentic vampire killing kits, a shooting gallery and wild spinning vortex tunnel. Kids love the sight of the 10,000 square-foot "Odditorium" seemingly stuck in a Florida a sinkhole. Indoor, 16 unique galleries feature relics and artifacts from around the world like legendary fertility statues and decorated Tibetan skulls.

World of Chocolate

Older kids and multi-generational travelers will love the World of Chocolate in Orlando. Take the Chocolate Museum Tour to see what the world would look like in chocolate form. Squeeze in a geography lesson by talking about the 25 solid chocolate sculptures of recognizable landmarks like the Eiffel Tower. You'll also see how the chocolate is made, and get to taste chocolates from around the world. Afterwards, head to the cafe to grab a pastry or inspirational Word of Chocolate Cake.

Candyce H. Stapen from has some inspired (and dry) recommendations for Florida dwellers. Here are some of her rainy day Orlando ideas worth checking out.

iFLY Orlando

Even the most blasé of ‘tweens and teens get excited about indoor skydiving at iFLY. Once your gravity-bound youngster enters the wind tunnel accompanied by an instructor, the strong air currents lift her off the ground. Look ma–she’s flying like Supergirl! It’s an Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat moment.

Splitsville Luxury Lanes

Like to bowl? When your kids stop rolling their eyes, take them to Splitsville. The alley’s motto: Reinventing America’s game. The facility accomplishes this with a sleek retro look and a menu designed for both kids and adults. Along with such staples as pizza and burgers, you can opt for edamame and sushi. Bowling is fun and it gives you a great opportunity to clap for your kids.


Team up with your children to solve murders, contain a deadly virus or escape from being kidnapped aboard a ship. The only way to free yourselves from these and other inventive scenes is to work together to discover clues and solve riddles that free you. Puzzles last about 60 minutes and the experience is recommended for those ages seven and older.

Ready to book your Orlando vacation during rain or shine? Visit to find out about booking your stay at Wyndham Vacation Rentals.

Live Like a Local on Vacation

Tue, 11/15/2016 - 10:46

Live Like a Local on Vacation While Still Enjoying Luxury

Transform From Tourist to Local on Your Next Vacation

Going on vacation doesn’t have to resemble living out of a suitcase while your kids run wild. Vacation homes and condos make for a comfortable and relaxing stay, whether you remain in your own home state or travel across the country.

We’ve discovered a few ways to go the extra mile and turn your vacation rental into a cozy home away from home; whether you’re headed to a sleepy beachside town in Florida or want to dive into the 24/7 nonstop entertainment of Las Vegas.

Book a Longer Stay

A few nights in a hotel with your whole family probably feels like more than enough time before you’re ready to retreat back home. But a vacation home or condo gives you the space to comfortably book a few extra days -- or weeks -- to really get to know an area. You’ll also get to savor your family vacation and pace yourself for spontaneous adventures and relaxation, instead of hopping from attraction to attraction. googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display('div-gpt-ad-1389984845773-0'); });

Bring Your Creature Comforts

Nothing says home like bringing along the comforts that matter the most to your family. Turn your vacation rental into a haven of creature comforts that keeps everyone happy. Pack-up your favorite pillows and throws, toys for the kids and even favorite snacks. Your creature comforts can also include your trusty crock pot or cooking tools to whip up family meals to savor in your temporary home.

Find Local Events

Earmark a few days to explore your local area and participate in events beyond the major tourist attractions, festivals and theme parks. Pick up local magazines at your vacation destination’s library, grocery store and supermarkets to see what’s going on. Look for those hidden gems like community movie nights in the park, concerts at a public garden or weekly playgroups with the locals.

Get Out of the Car

Your car will only take you so far when it comes to living like a local on your next family vacation. Instead, take long walks in your new neighborhood, grab a coffee at a local cafe and join a walking tour. The more time your family spends in your vacation community, the more you’ll find those favorite shops, restaurants and new friends.


Dive headfirst into your vacation community by volunteering. Talk with your older kids about activities that allow you to team up as a unit to best serve local needs. Serving dishes at a soup kitchen, helping with trash cleanup at a local park, or reading to kids at an after school center are a few places to start.

Want other ideas? Kitty Bean Yancey from also has helpful insights to living like a local while renting a property on your next vacation.

Eat Locally and Share

“Don’t just eat local specialties in restaurants. Try heading to the local farmer's market then making them yourself in your rental kitchen.” Yancey also has an interesting take on your next family vacation cook-out that we love. “Have a barbecue or invite new acquaintances over for a drink. Socializing in your vacation digs is almost guaranteed to make rented quarters truly feel like home.”

Ready to live like a local on your next family vacation? Visit to find out about booking your stay at Wyndham Vacation Rentals.