TakingTheKids RSS

Your Guide for Family Vacations & Traveling with Kids
Updated: 25 weeks 5 days ago

Holiday Travel: The Car Seat You Didn’t Know You Needed

Wed, 11/30/2016 - 03:30

Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, millions of American families will hit the road for the holidays. While safety is always top of mind for parents, there is one car seat you may not even realize you need. It isn’t just the little ones in the backseats that need to stay safely strapped in during a road trip. Expectant mothers also need to stay safe while in the car this holiday season. The Tummy Shield™ is the ONLY crash-tested pregnancy seat belt that protects an unborn baby in the event of an accident by effectively redirecting the seat belt away from the pregnant belly. The patented design secures the seat belt at the legs, not the belly or hips. The healthcare provider-recommended design ensures the belt stays firmly in place without any slippage or dangerous slack. It is also perfect for new moms still recovering from a C-section or anyone who has recently undergone abdominal surgery. MSRP: $149

This daily tip is sponsored by Saferide4kids.com

Go City Card offers big savings on sightseeing attractions in 13 US cities

Tue, 11/29/2016 - 03:30

When you’re taking the kids on vacation, travel isn’t cheap. Everything is more expensive around the holidays and school vacations. Add up airfare, hotels, car rental, and meals, and the budget can be astronomical. One area to cut costs is sightseeing, and that’s why the Go City Card attractions pass is a great idea because it can save up to 55% off attraction entry, The Go City Card is a multi-attraction pass available for 13 destinations including Boston, Chicago, Las Vegas, London, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City, Oahu, Orlando, San Antonio, San Diego, San Francisco, and Washington, DC. It makes sense to purchase a Go City Card because the kids are going to want to see a lot, and this pass enables up to a 55% savings (depending upon the pass and city). Families pay once up front to buy the card online and pay nothing at each attraction. The Go City Card is then delivered instantly, simply download it to your mobile device, start using it, and save money immediately. The Go City Card also comes with a free mobile app featuring a digital guidebook providing tips on sightseeing, getting around, best times to visit attractions, and more.

This tip sponsored by the Go City Card. Learn more here.

The Lodge and Spa at Pico Bonito’s Family Adventure Special

Mon, 11/28/2016 - 03:30

Research reveals that 40 percent of families went on a multigenerational trip last year.  Grandparents and parents traveling with children often seek destinations with great value for the money, convenience and signature memories. The Lodge and Spa at Pico Bonito in Honduras has a great Family Adventure Special.  Save $771 when families spend seven days and six nights and receive a guided hike in the Pico Bonito National Rainforest, choice of an early morning or a late night hike, private tour of the butterfly farm and serpentarium, snorkeling trip to the world’s second largest barrier reef, and a boating trip through a tropical lagoon at the manatee refuge. Price is $3,089 for a standard cabin (two adults and two children under 11 years old) and all meals.  Visit www.picobonito.com or call (888) 428-0221.  Valid for travel until December 22, 2016.

This daily tip is sponsored by The Lodge and Spa at Pico Bonito

One Day Opportunity Nov. 28 to save 40% at 26 California Hotels

Sun, 11/27/2016 - 08:13

Marina Del Rey Hotel

On November 28, from 12am – 11.59pm PST, Pacifica Hotels will offer 40% off rooms at 26 California hotels for stays through March 16, 2017. With virtually no restrictions, this offer is available exclusively online through Pacifica’s Hotels’ website:   http://www.pacificahotels.com/specials/cyber. Must use promo code CYBER to access rates and book. Hotels on sale include a diverse array of accommodations from family-friendly to romantic luxury, but all offer superb locations from which to explore the beauty of California. Destinations begin just south of San Francisco on the rugged Northern California coast and span the classic Central California settings of Cambria, Pismo Beach, and Santa Barbara. In Los Angeles a variety of offerings range from budget minded to waterfront chic.  Continuing south, from Hermosa Beach to San Diego, guests at a range of Pacifica Hotels’ properties take in views of the Pacific and enjoy the famously laid back So-Cal atmosphere.

This daily tip sponsored by Pacifica Hotels.

Backroads and World Bicycle Relief Join Forces for Holidays

Sat, 11/26/2016 - 03:30

Backroads, a leading active travel company, and World Bicycle Relief are partnering up this holiday season to help deliver the power of bicycles to students, rural workers, healthcare providers, women, entrepreneurs and others in need. World Bicycle Relief provides bicycles to help improve daily transportation for people in impoverished regions where a four-hour walk to and from school is the norm. Part of World Bicycle Relief’s year-end campaign is celebrating #GivingTuesday with a one-day goal to raise funds for 1,200 bikes. Backroads will help amplify WBR’s big goal that day by encouraging donations to the organization as holiday gifts. World Bicycle Relief will also be matching all donations between now and December 31.

Check Out Cuba: An Undiscovered Country for Travel

Fri, 11/25/2016 - 03:30

It is easier and more affordable to travel to Cuba from the U.S. as more airlines fly to Havana. Also, the Zika virus has not spread in the Cuba. This Spring, celebrate the Habanos Festival including visits to factories, dinners, lectures, and more. Also, there is the Celebration of Classic Cars featuring parades, lectures and mechanical workshops. A new resort that just opened last year with already great reviews is Paradise Beach Resort in Navis— a “basecamp” for explorers of the island, a great place for golfing and more! Cuba Travel Network is happy to assist travel!

SeaWorld and Busch Gardens Celebrating the Holidays

Thu, 11/24/2016 - 03:30

SeaWorld and Busch Gardens have great holiday celebrations for the whole family.  SeaWorld Orlando will bring “The Sea of Trees” – a glistening forest of more than 100 Christmas trees sparkling to music (weekends 11/22-12/6 and daily 12/16-12/31). SeaWorld San Diego will have more than one million low-energy holiday lights and a 40-foot tree with an animated light show (select dates 11/19-12/1). SeaWorld San Antonio will feature 5 million sparkling lights, the largest Christmas illumination in Texas (select days 11/28-1/1/17).  Busch Gardens Williamsburg will bring over eight million twinkling lights (11/25-1/2/17). Busch Gardens Tampa Bay will bring more than two million twinkling lights, festive treats, holiday entertainment and unique attractions (select dates 11/25-1/31).



Ushering in the holidays with cool light displays

Thu, 11/24/2016 - 03:30

Beggars, part of Dickens Christmas in Skaneateles

By Eileen Ogintz

Tribune Content Agency

Check out those lights!

For a lot of us, heading to holiday light displays has become as big a Thanksgiving weekend tradition as football and pumpkin pie. Besides, there’s no better way to get everyone out of the house — and avoid all the chores inevitable with a house full of guests.

“It gets me ready for the holidays,” said one woman I met at Disneyland one Thanksgiving weekend, where many families come every year to ride holiday-themed attractions and marvel at the elaborate holiday parades and light displays. That’s the same in Orlando, of course, where all of the theme parks are bedecked with holiday dazzle. Festivities at Walt Disney World kicked off the first week in November with holiday doings at all of the parks, resorts and the Disney Springs shopping and entertainment area where there is a nightly Festival of Toys interactive holiday dance party.

If you think some may be rushing the holidays, you’re probably right, as holiday displays go up earlier and earlier. Theme parks report that this season may be their busiest. Let’s face it. Simply going to see decorated store windows doesn’t quite cut it anymore, not when the options are parades, music and displays with millions of twinkling lights set to holiday music.

Winterfest, in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, the gateway to Smoky Mountain National Park, promises 5 million lights when it kicks off Nov. 9 and runs through Feb. 28. Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas is in full swing, too, with holiday performances, the Parade of Many Colors and the Timber Canyon Festival of lights synchronized to holiday music.

Grapevine, Texas, which calls itself “the Christmas Capital of Texas,” welcomes more than a million visitors a year, many repeat guests, to its 1,400 events, which started Nov. 10 and end on New Year’s Day. That there is no real snow won’t stop kids from snow-tubing on bona-fide ice slides at the Gaylord Texan Resort.

The nonprofit Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Ga., opened its 25th Anniversary “Fantasy in Lights” on Nov 18. Families return year after year to visit Snowflake Valley and the Magical Christmas Garden, holiday light displays that tell stories. There’s also a new attraction, “Snow Day.”

Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, Orlando

Many make it a holiday tradition to take the kids on a special “Polar Express,” train ride, recreating the classic holiday story. Try Rhode Island, Arizona or Colorado.

The California Academy of Sciences is presenting its annual and very popular “Tis the Season for Science” event where you have the chance to learn some holiday-related science facts, like how reindeer find food beneath the snow. Did you know their unique adaptions help them travel up to 3,000 miles a year, farther than any other land mammal? Yes, there are live reindeer on hand!

At Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, the Christmas Around the World and Holiday of Light tradition began in 1942 with a single tree newly decorated daily for 12 days to represent the countries fighting alongside America during World War II. Today, the exhibit, which opened Nov. 17, still aims to bring together ethnic customs with more than 50 trees presenting holiday traditions from around the world, decorated with the help of more than 3,500 community volunteers.

And in New York, at the American Museum of Natural History, the famous 13-foot-tall Origami Holiday Tree continues to delight visitors, as it has for more than 40 years. This year the tree is decorated with 1,000 handmade origami models inspired by items in the museum’s collections, all created by local, national and international origami artists. The theme is “Dinosaurs among us,” and there’s everything from feathered dinosaurs to alligator hatchlings, to modern birds.

Maybe this year you are spending Thanksgiving away from home? Maybe you are hosting guests who haven’t visited before? There’s no better reason than to get out of the house and create a new tradition, whether at a theme park, museum or nearby city or neighborhood. You don’t necessarily have to head to a big city either.

You will find many to choose from on our Taking the Kids Holiday Lights section. Here are six you may want to consider:

In Berkeley, California, Fourth Street, a neighborhood of 65 shops and restaurants, shows off its holiday spirit with what some consider the best holiday light show in the Bay Area.

In Virginia, Beach, Va., check out the three-mile spectacle of nautically-themed holiday lights with the accompaniment of a selection of holiday music on the oceanfront boardwalk.

In Skaneateles, N.Y., Dickens Christmas in Skaneateles is a street-theater production with a cast of 70, which opens on Nov 25 and runs every weekend until Christmas. The production draws more than 20,000 visitors annually.

In Portland, Ore, check out the sweater bombed public art throughout downtown. The sweaters are hand knit by local fiber artists and created for each statue.

In Sacramento, California, the free Theatre of Lights in the Old Sacramento Historic District brings Clement Clarke Moore’s classic Christmas poem “Twas the Night Before Christmas” to life on the balconies and facades of the historic buildings.

In Philadelphia, sparked by Ben Franklin’s genius, the Franklin Square Electrical Spectacle is a free light show with more than 50,000 lights.

Now, ready to go have some holiday fun?

(For more Taking the Kids, visit www.takingthekids.com and also follow “taking the kids” on www.twitter.com, where Eileen Ogintz welcomes your questions and comments.)


Woodstock, Vermont Welcomes the Winter

Wed, 11/23/2016 - 03:30

Woodstock VT is ready to welcome the winter with a series of events! December 9-11 brings the annual Wassail Weekend. Wassail Weekend will feature the 32nd Annual Equestrian Parade with horses and riders dressed to the holiday nines. In addition, the Holiday House Tour gives you a feel for the warm hospitality of old New England. Enjoy Irish culture and tradition with Irish Christmas in America in Pentangle. With Wassail Weekend coming up, the Woodstock Inn & Resort is bring special deals for guests. Enjoy Luxury accommodations for two nights, Admission to the Saturday evening  Wassail Celebration Feast and a special edition Wassail Candle from Farmhouse Pottery.

Thanksgiving Week or Flotilla Week in Wrightsville Beach, NC

Tue, 11/22/2016 - 03:30

Wrightsville Beach turns Thanksgiving Week into Flotilla Week full of long-running traditions. One highlight is the 33rd annual North Carolina Holiday Flotilla, including a massive 23-minute Zambelli Fireworks display. Another highlight is the 12th annual Airlie Gardens’ Enchanted Airlie for a walking tour to feast your eyes on a spectacular array of lights and holiday display (open throughout December, too). The Cape Fear Naturalist Captain Joe Abbate will depart from the Blockade Runner dock throughout Thanksgiving Day and Flotilla week.

Early Deals Brought to the Ski Season in Alta, Utah

Mon, 11/21/2016 - 03:30

Alta Ski Area in Utah is ready to host skiers before many other resorts in the country. Alta Lodge lets kids ski free between opening day and December 16. Alta Peruvian Lodge is offering 20% for a 3+ night stay from mid-November to mid-December. Alta’s Rustler Lodge offers 20% off standard value-season rates November 22-26 or November 30 to December 14. Goldminer’s Daughter Lodge is letting kids stay free if you book before Thanksgiving and stay before December 14th. Snowpine Lodge is offer rates at $199/night for early stays before December 10th. Alta Chalets gives 10% off on select reservations between mid-November and mid-December with a five-night minimum stay (Promotion code: DISCOVER). Canyon Services is offering two free adult ski passes for a four night stay between November 18th and December 15th.

A Mother-Daughter Yoga Retreat To Kripalu in the Berkshires

Mon, 11/21/2016 - 03:30

Yoga Class at Kirpalu

By Allison Tibaldi, Taking the Kids Correspondent

It seems like just yesterday my little girl’s travel fantasy revolved around a trip to Disney World.  Now she’s a young adult and a certain black-eared mouse and assorted princesses have fallen out of favor. As a college graduation present, I offered her a weekend trip, just the two of us. Yes, I will admit that a gift of this sort was selfish, as spending time with my young adult daughter has become a rare commodity.

I was curious what destination Madeleine would choose. She has just turned 21, but she is not really an all-inclusive resort sort of girl. Big buffets and cocktails are not her thing. She is a health-conscious vegetarian who cares about living a sustainable lifestyle. She has been practicing yoga since childhood and recently became a certified yoga teacher, doing her training in Thailand.

Kripalu, a Wellness Retreat in The Berkshires

It didn’t come as shock when she asked to go to Kripalu, a wellness retreat in the beautiful Berkshires. I booked two days of their signature R&R Retreat.  It offers guests a flexible program with the opportunity to practice as much or as little yoga as desired. The package included a simple room with two cozy beds and a private bath. There are no televisions at Kripalu, but there was Wi-Fi in our room. Multiple daily yoga classes, workshops and the use of their amenities such as the sauna, hiking trials, lakeside activities in season and three locally sourced meals daily are included in the modest rates.

Maddie in yoga training

Our Arrival

Madeleine and I arrived in the early afternoon. It was a gorgeous fall day, so we hit the well-marked trails and explored the sparkling lake. Our first yoga class started at 4:15p.m. There were several levels offered. Madeleine headed for a more advanced class while I thought I’d start with a gentle mixed-level class. We met up after our respective classes and headed straight for the dining room for our evening meal.

After dinner, we chose a soothing rest and unwind yoga class that was just as the name promised.

A Typical Day At Kripalu

I woke up for the 6:30 a.m. sunrise yoga class, but Madeleine was still sound asleep.

After my class, we met for breakfast. Breakfast at Kripalu is a silent meal. Staying quiet is not exactly my specialty, but Maddie had eaten many silent meals during her yoga training in Thailand, so she was a pro. Our day included options such as a workshop on Muscle, Fascia and Yoga, a Vinyasa yoga class, a guided hike and my favorite, Kripalu YogaDance. About fifty of us danced with the abandonment of a class of kindergarten kids as our teacher/DJ played a variety of uplifting music. I think Madeline would have been embarrassed watching me shake it, but I felt full of joy, swaying to the beat with a group of strangers who quickly seemed like friends.

I stuck with the gentle yoga class during our stay, taking 2 classes each day, while Maddie hit the more challenging classes and went to most of the workshops. This provided us with just the right amount of togetherness and independence.

Couples, singles and groups of friends are all welcome. I noticed many individual vacationers and Kripalu struck me as very comfortable place to come to on your own. People are friendly, but there is no pressure to socialize.


Hiking and yoga had awakened our appetites. The daily dinner buffet was loaded with healthy meat and meatless options. Produce and milk are sourced from nearby farms. There were hot entrees, a bountiful salad bar, homemade bread and even a peanut butter brownie for dessert one night. Lunch also presented copious amounts of salubrious fare. I was thrilled that breakfast included coffee, essential to get this 50-year-old body started each day.

Parting Notes

We enjoyed our time at Kripalu, but what really surprised me was the lasting effect of my 48-hour visit. I felt better than I had in years and the feeling wasn’t fleeting. Kripalu is a retreat that would serve the devoted yogi as well as the average, open-minded vacationer like myself. Madeleine and I can’t wait to return.


Finding the Elixir of Life on Amelia Island FL

Sun, 11/20/2016 - 14:15

Inside The Sprouting Project at the Omni Plantation Resort

By Kyle McCarthy, creator of the Family Travel Forum

AMELIA ISLAND, FL — At the TMS Family Travel conference held on Amelia Island Nov. 10-12, 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 every weekend and they understand where their food comes from. “ He adds, “That engagement means the world to me.”

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.

Tending the beehive at The 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 with a soy ginger poppy seed vinaigrette until he realized it would be easier to catch other prey.

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.

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

Omni Plantation Resort on Amelia Island FL

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.

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, Area Managing Director at Omni Amelia Island Plantation, the resort has 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, outdoor Jacuzzis, an indoor heated pool in the larger fitness center, tennis, golf, kayaking and more. There are 18 holes of mini-golf, an on-site animal hospital where they care for the island’s birdlife and marine life, 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.

Free car rental offer from Villas of Distinction

Sun, 11/20/2016 - 03:30

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are starting early at Villas of Distinction.  The premier luxury villa provider is offering its clients a FREE way to explore the destinations they visit. For all five-night minimum bookings made starting Nov. 21 through Nov. 30, 2016, Villas of Distinction is gifting a free car rental for clients traveling Nov. 21, 2016, through Dec. 15, 2017* across all destinations. For destinations that do not offer or recommend a rental car, Villas of Distinction will give clients up to $350 to use toward another form of transportation. Clients interested in taking advantage of this Black Friday and Cyber Monday deal can visit VillasofDistinction.com or call 1-800-289-0900 and mention promo code BLACKFRIDAY16. For further details and terms & conditions visit the Holiday Sale page on VillasofDistinction.com. *Blackout dates do apply (Dec. 17, 2016 – Jan. 6, 2017)

This daily tip is sponsored by Villas of Distinction.

How they make it all happen in Clearwater FL

Sat, 11/19/2016 - 03:30

Lisa Chandler and her daughter on Clearwater Beach

By Eileen Ogintz

CLEARWATER, FL (Day 4) — Lisa Chandler is a woman on a mission.

She wants everyone to love Clearwater Beach “by far the most family oriented beach in the state of Florida,” Chandler declares.  There are lifeguards all year round on the beach and alcohol is only permitted at the Hilton Tiki Bar—not on the beach. And then there is the six miles of that beautiful white sand beach.  The beach is cleaned and raked daily.  This is a very safe place, however old you are.

She knows what she’s talking about. Not only has she raised four kids here, but she’s been in the tourism business for more than 20 years, managing the cabanas, umbrellas and chairs people rent on the miles of white sand beach, dishing up ice-cream and selling souvenirs in two Barefoot Beach House shops.  But more important—at least to Chandler and her husband Steve—she spearheaded the development of Pier 60 with the nightly Sunset Festival that draws locals as well as tourists to the pier for music, weekend free outdoor movies, street performers and local artisans.

Chandler also helped make the Sugar Sand Festival happen—2017 will be its fifth year this April 14-23 drawing up to 100,000 from around the world. They come to see the amazing sand creations, made from one thousand tons of sand by a professional team of sand sculptors from Florida company Tea Sandtastic.  The fee is modest — $10 for adults, $8 for seniors, first responders, military and teachers, $6 for kids 6-17 and free under six.

Clearwater Marine Aquarium

But there’s plenty to do that’s free—a giant Camp Hyatt Sandbox (100 feet x 30 feet (at the Hyatt Regency Clearwater) with giant mounds of sand where kids can play; Sand sculpting demonstrations, fireworks, concerts…speed sand sculpting (10 minutes to create something).  “People think these sculptures are made from a mold,” Chandler explains.  “They don’t realize these sand sculptors are creating art.”

Seeing them at work helps the public appreciate the art in creating these sand masterpieces—even a sand “restaurant,” where certain VIPS may be served sitting at a sand table on sand chairs—eating real food, of course.

In the exhibit, seven of the artists also compete for a $5,000 prize, creating new sculptures as festival goers watch, voting by throwing coins into buckets. The one with the most coin-votes wins and all of the money goes to the local elementary school–$4.000 last year. Chandler has even helped develop a curriculum to teach kids not only about the importance of being good stewards to the environment, but of the value of the tourism industry in a place like Clearwater.  “They don’t understand all of the job opportunities they can have right here,” she explains.

Kids playing pirates at attraction on Clearwater Beach

“The goal for everyone who comes is to experience the best of Clearwater Beach,” she continues—which includes the beautiful sunsets, the white sand beaches and the locally owned restaurants that serve up their own varieties of local seafood

There are many sand festivals in the United States but this one isn’t designed around competition but rather the art itself and the camaraderie of the community.

“We are not South Beach,” she says. “We are not Daytona Beach.  We pride ourselves that we are not a party scene.  What separates us is our sand—and the people who come to vacation here and live here.”

The festival, says Chandler, “Showcases our beach and gives people a reason to come visit us.”

Thanks, Lisa!

Omni Hotels & Resorts Bring Holiday Cheer Across the Country

Sat, 11/19/2016 - 03:30

Omni Hotels & Resorts is bringing big holiday events for the family across the country! The Omni Grove Park Inn (North Carolina) is holding their 24th Annual National Gingerbread House Competition on Nov. 21, 2016 with the winning creations on display from Nov. 27, 2016, to Jan. 5, 2017. Omni Barton Creek Resort & Spa (Texas) brings Holiday Lights & Ice, a 4,000-square-foot ice rink opening Dec. 16 for locals to ski. Omni La Costa Resort & Spa (California) brings their 3rd annual Gingerbread Festival, showcasing displays from Nov. 26, 2016 to Dec. 30, 2016, starting with holiday cookie decorating and a tree lighting. The Omni Homestead Resort (Vermont) brings the New Year’s Eve Family Merry Masquerade ball, guests’ stays will be filled with magical memories.  Omni Berkshire Place (New York) offers the Bloomingdale’s Shopping Experience to ease your holiday shopping worries. Omni Mount Washington Resort (New Hampshire) offers the classic winter experience with skiing, snowboarding, snow tubing, snowmobiling, snowshoeing and ice skating.

Plenty of options for lodging in Clearwater FL

Fri, 11/18/2016 - 03:30

Supermoon over Clearwater FL on Nov 13 2016

By Eileen Ogintz

CLEARWATER, FL (Day 3) — Just before sunset at the Hyatt Regency Clearwater, kids are in the pool on the eighth floor while parents are nearby nursing a cocktail. The beach is spread out below us.

The rooms feature full kitchens and are oversized enough to comfortably accommodate a family. There is a Camp Hyatt, and of course the beach. The resort features 250 spacious suites—the smallest at 600 square feet bigger than many New York City apartments.  I loved the fully equipped kitchens so a family could have resort amenities but not have to eat out every meal. Wheel Fun Rentals are available to explore the peach via pedicab or bike. And the Sandava Spa is available for when the kids are otherwise occupied, maybe at Camp Hyatt

Last night we stayed at the Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites Clearwater Beach, which promises that there is no charge for dolphin sightings. The pool fronts the Gulf of Mexico and kids eat free. The beach is just 400 steps away and Philadelphia Phillies spring training site, Brighthouse Fields, is just seven miles. Families love the  Holiday Inn because of its price point and location—on the beach.

I love that Clearwater has options for everyone—whether they want just an affordable place to sleep, an upscale resort, condo or a renovated beach motel like Frenchie’s dating back more than a half century.

Families come here for what all families on a beach vacation want—sun, sand, good local eats in a safe, carefree environment.

On our last night we stayed at the 230-room Opal Sands, an upscale property reminiscent of Miami’s South Beach with its “million dollar views” from every room balcony, glass art and pantries on every floor with cookies and fruit,

We took an hour at the Opal Sands spa. I loved that the relaxation room overlooked the Gulf. I loved the massage even more.

The modern design and contemporary feel of the resort overlooking the Gulf of Mexico is beach-chic at its best—ideal for a couples or girlfriend getaway. Ready to jump in the pool overlooking the Gulf?


Plunge into the Holidays at Waterville Valley NH

Fri, 11/18/2016 - 03:30

Things will be popping at Waterville Valley Resort in New Hampshire during the weekend after Thanksgiving.  There are things to do for everyone from the 4th Annual Cold Turkey Plunge, to a visit from Santa on a dogsled. And don’t forget to pick up a Christmas tree. The fun begins with a Welcome Back to Winter Party on Friday, Nov. 25, to kick off the winter sports season at Waterville Valley Resort. This free reception from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Conference Center includes appetizers, drinks, and desserts. The next day, Nov. 26, at 1 p.m. join the Cold Turkey Plunge, a swim in the icy waters of Corcoran Pond. This fundraising event benefits the Waterville Valley Adaptive Sports program, which provides athletic opportunities for persons with cognitive and physical disabilities. At 3:30 p.m. Santa and his elves will ride into Waterville Valley pulled by a team of sled dogs from The Valley Snowdogz. Finally, be sure to stay for the tree lighting ceremony at 7:00 p.m. in the Town Square, followed by a spectacular fireworks display over Corcoran Pond. Local hotels have lots of deals, including a  “Cut your own Christmas Tree” package at the Black Bear lodge in partnership with the Rocks Estate.

For more information on the Cold Turkey Plunge and the Waterville Valley Adaptive Sports Program, visit www.watervilleadaptive.com.

This daily tip is sponsored by Waterville Valley Resort.

Connecticut Students: Animal Health Care and Vet Conference Nov. 19

Thu, 11/17/2016 - 03:30

If you care for aquatic animals and hope to get a glimpse of an aquatic career, sign up for the Animal Health Care and Vet Conference on November 19th (9AM – 2PM). This conference is designed for high school students and college undergraduates to get the opportunity to work with Mystic Aquarium’s Animal Care and Veterinary and explore career options. Examine an African penguin, do analysis of blood cells, review the anatomy and physiology of aquatic animals and more. Tickets are $195 and include lunch.

Taking the stress out of holiday family gatherings

Thu, 11/17/2016 - 03:30

For those stressful flights, grab a squeezy stress ball by Japanese artist Makiko Yoshida.

By Eileen Ogintz

Tribune Content Agency

About now, we’re all kicking ourselves.

Why did we agree to host Thanksgiving dinner? The meal is the least of it, of course. There are so many dishes, towels and sheets to wash; so many other meals to plan for guests.

Why did millions of us — 48.7 million of us to be exact, according to AAA’s just-released forecast for Thanksgiving — agree to drive hundreds of miles or fly thousands of miles over the busiest travel days of the year to eat too much and sleep on a futon or lumpy sofa bed?

Family. That’s why we do it. And I mean anyone we consider family — close friends, your “other mother,” who always understood you better than your own mom, your mentor at work or school, the great uncle or grandparent who, sad to say, may not have too many more holidays left.

But just getting there can be a nightmare.

AAA reports that this year, more of us, over a million more, are expected to travel over Thanksgiving than last year — the most Thanksgiving travelers since 2007.

One Tip: If you are flying (along with 3.69 million others, AAA says), get to the airport far earlier than you think necessary and look for designated family security lines. If you have time, sign up for TSA Pre, the federal government program that enables you — and the kids — to speed through expedited security lines without taking out your laptops, liquids or even taking off your shoes. Kids 12 and under traveling with a parent or guardian with a TSA Pre Check indicator on their boarding pass can go through the expedited line. (Apply online and schedule an in-person appointment at an enrollment center or airport. The cost is well worth $85 for five years. If you travel overseas, add Global Entry for $15 more for expedited processing through customs, though kids would need their own.)

There are plenty of other ways to de-stress the experience — starting with this mantra: Embrace imperfection.

It won’t be perfect. Not the food (but pies taste just as good if they don’t look like Martha Stewart’s). Not the kids’ behavior, or the adults’. We’re talking about family, after all. There will be squabbling cousins, know-it-all brothers-in-law, aunts who can’t resist criticizing your cooking or child-rearing and bored teens who make it clear they would rather be anywhere else but where they are. Let’s not forget the vegetarians, vegans and picky eaters who make every meal a challenge.

Never mind what we think these gatherings should be like — or wish they were. The reality is young kids are discombobulated by travel, unfamiliar surroundings and too much sugar; grown-ups are discombobulated by travel, overeating and over-drinking. Keeping kids on some semblance of their regular schedule might help. Banning discussion of politics — especially this year — and any other topic that pushes your family’s buttons (“Are you ever going to get a ‘serious’ job?” “If he was my child…”) certainly will help.

Be mindful that a gathering can be especially difficult for a newly divorced family or a family that has recently suffered a loss, experts say, as well as for newly blended families. The worst thing to do is to force everyone to act like one big, happy family. The point is to make everyone feel comfortable.

I figure the holiday weekend is a success if we manage to get through it without some relative or another storming off or a child collapsing in tears. Besides suggesting that some of the most annoying relatives might be more comfortable at a nearby hotel, here are six tried-and-true tips for surviving the relatives this holiday season:

WHERE’S THE MEDICINE? Yes, that was my fault the year my toddler nephew ended up in the ER after drinking my slightly older son’s medicine for an ear infection. If young children are in the mix, make sure the electrical outlets are covered, medications are out of reach and cleaning supplies are locked away. Even baking ingredients such as vanilla and almond extract can be harmful to young children, as can holiday plants like mistletoe berries or poinsettias. For more safety tips, visit the National Safe Kids Worldwide for more holiday safety tips.

HAVE A CONVERSATION with the guests before planning menus and heading to the market. Are there allergies? Vegetarians or vegans in the mix? Must-haves or foods to avoid? Guests can make it easier by offering to either bring or pick up what they’ll need. Offer flavored seltzer instead of pop. It won’t stain and doesn’t have sugar. Bring along a children’s cookbook (Amazon.com lists more than a thousand) or, if you’re hosting, have the ingredients for a favorite recipe your kids like to make and invite all of the children to help prepare a dish. Remember, the important thing is the conversation around the table, not what’s on your plate — or left behind when the meal is done.

CREATE A KIDS’ HANGOUT AREA, even if it’s just a portion of the den or living room with toys, a TV and a place to keep their “stuff.” Suggest that the kids who are hosting put away toys they don’t want to share. Suggest that the visiting kids bring a game or a movie for everyone. If you are driving, make it easier for your host by bringing along pillows, blankets and for the littlest ones, crib sheets and night lights to make them feel more at home.

GET EVERYONE OUT OF THE HOUSE. No one will get on each other’s nerves as much if they’re not confined to small spaces. Send the gang to the zoo, the local ice-skating rink, children’s museum or playground, if it isn’t too cold. Many will be offering special holiday activities starting Thanksgiving weekend.

SET THE GROUND RULES. No food on the couch, no teasing the dog, no disciplining anyone else’s kids, no talking politics.

DON’T BE SHY about asking the kids to help, though it’s always wise to check in with their parents first. Even 6-year-olds can make their beds (or roll up their sleeping bags), set the table or help with cleanup.

LEAVE THE EMOTIONAL BAGGAGE at the door. The holidays are not the time to air long-held grievances.

When all else fails, bring out the chocolate.

Have a chocolate turkey for me.