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Haunted houses, costume parties, and trick-or-treating are often seen as the “traditional” Halloween events that many Americans participate in each year. But one of the increasingly popular attractions taking over fall includes a stroll through real creepy crawlies, bats and “unnatural mysteries” at one of the nation’s zoos.

Coined as a “boo at the zoo,” the events attract people of all ages and offer a twist to the standard neighborhood trick-or-treating. As you prepare to make your Halloween plans, take a look at these 5 popular October zoo events:

1. Oakland Zoo  (Oct. 26 and 27)
Children get a free ride on the “spooky boo train” as well as access to exclusive trick-or-treating among the animals at this zoo-wide event at the Oakland Zoo in California. The event is included with admission and offers participants a chance to make treats for the zoo’s animals and explore monster myths through educational stations.

2. Smithsonian National Zoo (Oct. 25, 26 and 27)
Collect candy while visiting the animals and Halloween decorations at the Nation’s historic zoo in DC. While it’s not exactly cheap (tickets are $30 for non-members), the event sells out and benefits the Friends of the National Zoo (FONZ) foundation.

3. Cheyenne Mountain Zoo (Oct. 25, 26, 27 and 31)
Watch hippos play with pumpkins, rhinos explore ghosts and birds fly above your head at the Cheyenne Mountain “Boo at the Zoo” event. The “creatures” of the zoo are “let out” at this annual event as zoo keepers put on multiple educational Halloween-themed shows.

4. Bronx Zoo (Now through Nov. 3)
Encounter a dinosaur safari and creepy craft workshops at the Bronx Zoo’s annual Halloween bash. Visit the “winged icons” of Halloween, including bats, owls and vultures, before embarking on a trip back in time through a dinosaur safari during the annual New York tradition.

5. Tampa’s Lowry Park (Oct. 24 through 27)
The Halloween zoo event at Tampa’s Lowry Park is so frightening that there are “skull ratings” for the attractions. Features include “Pharoh’s Tomb of Revenge” where artifacts come alive and the scariest ranked attraction of all, “Tangled Terror,” which features a “failed experiment” with carnivorous plants.

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Photo courtesy Disney

More than 2 years after the announcement of an Avatar-themed land at Animal Kingdom Park, Disney has released much anticipated details of the plans to idolize James Cameron’s blockbuster movie through rides and attractions.

The new “land” is expected to open to the public in 2017 and will transport visitors to the mythical world of Pandora featuring floating mountains, bioluminescent rainforests and soaring Banshees. The expansion will be the largest in Animal Kingdom history.

The detailed plans were released at the first ever D23 Disney fan expo in Japan, with Cameron appearing in a video filmed on the Avatar performance capture stage to talk about the inspiration for the new park.

Photo courtesy Disney

“In my wildest imagination growing up I don’t think I could have ever envisioned a day when something that I created would live inside a Disney theme park,” Cameron said.

Features of the new attraction include chances to “fly” across the planet on the wings of giant creatures as well as explore the scenery of the mythical planet.

“The land comes to life when you interact with it and seems to be a living creature itself,” said Joe Rhode, a veteran executive at Walt Disney Imagineering. “All of the beauty, the wonder, the scale, the grandeur that you remember from that film, that’s going to be yours.”

Even though the announcement comes more than 8 years after the release of Avatar, the hype of the “blue people” will continue through the opening of the new attraction with the premiere of Avatar 2 in 2016, Avatar 3 in 2017 and Avatar 4 in 2018.

Government shutdown, whatever!: The Statue of Liberty joins the Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore, and national park sites in Colorado and Utah in reopening.

Give me your poor, your tired, your shutdown masses yearning to travel free. On Sunday morning, the Statue of Liberty, the very symbol of American resilience, not to mention beaucoup bucks for New York’s travel industry, reopened her doors to the public for the first time since the partial government shutdown began 12 days before. But don’t thank Congress — New York State will foot the bill of $61,600 a day over the next several days to keep Lady Liberty’s doors open.

The news comes amid some partially hopeful news for travelers and national parks lovers everywhere: On Saturday, Grand Canyon National Park reopened its doors as well, with the state of Arizona forking over $651,000 for the next 7 days to keep the Grand Canyon open. (That amounts to $93,000 a day — less than the $112,000 the feds say is needed to fund park operations each day.)

However, moves by both states – as well as South Dakota, which sees Mount Rushmore reopen beginning Monday, along with national parks in Utah (Zion, Bryce, Arches, Canyonlands and Capitol Reef, and Natural Bridges, Glen Canyon and Cedar Breaks national monuments) and Colorado (Rocky Mountain National Park) – are the exception. Yellowstone, America’s first national park, remains closed. “Wyoming cannot bail out the federal government and we cannot use state money to do the work of the federal government,” says a spokesman for Gov. Matt Mead.

In the case of New York State, a lot is riding on the Statue of Liberty’s reopening: The iconic landmark sees 3.7 million visitors a year, generating nearly $200 million in economic activity and supporting over 2,000 jobs. Already Lady Liberty had seen a tough year and a half, suffering extensive damage, along with nearby Ellis Island, from Superstorm Standy. It took a year of extensive rehabilitation before the Statue of Liberty reopened, in a special ribbon-cutting ceremony just in time for July 4 celebrations. Then came the government shutdown, just what everyone needed.

Since the shutdown, roughly 400 jobs have been lost at the Statue of Liberty and nearby park sites, reports CNN. And while the Statue of Liberty just reopened yesterday morning, with state funds temporarily allowing visitors to take the ferry over to the monument on Liberty Island, the state budget is only a temporary fix. While New York has given the green light to fund Lady Liberty for the next few days, it will then assess its financial commitment every 2 days if the federal shutdown continues, says Cuomo.

No no telling what will happen after next week. So if you’re looking to see these great American landmarks, and you’re within traveling distance, now’s the time to visit.

Family on Bikes hits the Andes. (All Photos: Nancy Sathre-Vogel)

Having traveled through 15 countries — on a bike — with her kids, Nancy Sathre-Vogel is Our Type of Traveler. The founder of Family on Bikes, Nancy quit her day job of teaching, for 21years, to hit the road with her husband and twin sons. What followed was an incredible journey, captured in one of Nancy’s 4 books about bike touring, Changing Gears: A Family Odyssey to the End of the World.

Having logged 27,000 miles throughout the Americas, including Alaska and Argentina, Nancy knows all about family travel. Recently, Traveling Type caught up with Nancy, who now she lives in Idaho, where she pursues her passions of writing and beadwork. Here’s what Nancy had to say about traveling with kids — including her top picks for destinations every parent should take their kids, and how to live out your life’s passions. Plus, she lets us in on the time she found a man in her bed … naked … at 3 a.m. … and it wasn’t her husband. Hmm … let’s get going!

Traveling Type: How did you get started travel blogging?
Nancy Sathre-Vogel: It was an accident. I actually started an online journal — a place to document our travels for ourselves and where my mother could follow along. I had no idea that people actually read blogs — or that there was such a word as “blog,” for that matter. I was stunned when we started getting messages from random strangers telling me we had inspired them to get out and live a more adventurous life.

What’s your blog about?
My blog started as documentation for our bicycle adventures. Now that we are back home, I’ve morphed it into a site to encourage and inspire others to grab life by the horns and steer it in a direction that is more fulfilling and satisfying.

How many countries, cities, and continents have you and your family traveled to?
As a family, we have ridden our bicycles through 15 countries. Before we had kids, my husband and I cycled probably another 15 or so. And then there are dozens of countries that we’ve traveled in, but not cycled.

What’s your favorite place you’ve traveled to?
Ethiopia is amazing for the sheer beauty of both people and scenery. And Honduras for my basic personal growth.

Sippin’ in style: Family on Bikes’ Nancy Sathre Vogel

Has it ever been a challenge on agreeing on a place to go?
It’s never been an issue. If there is one place that any one of us really feels strongly about, we all respect that. For example, one of my sons said he wanted to go to Yellowstone National Park, so we routed ourselves through Montana and Wyoming rather than along the coast in order to go there. Another desire was to see Chichen Itza, so we planned our route through the Yucatan.

What are the benefits of traveling with young kids — isn’t that tough?
Not at all! Kids are great travelers — even easier than most adults. Kids are so flexible and enthusiastic; they’re willing to do just about anything. And, of course, they have an energy level that allows them to go and go and not get tired.

What’s your family’s favorite place to get away from it all?
Our cottage on the Connecticut shore.

What are the most overrated places to take your kids on vacation?
Pretty much any place that advertises itself as “kid-friendly.” What we’ve found is that the best places are those that are not listed in guidebooks, they are not publicized.

What places should every parent should take their kids?
The 4 destinations I think every child should experience are: 1.) Northern British Columbia — it’s like taking a safari through an African savanna with all the wildlife on the side of the road; 2.) Ica, Peru — seeing conehead skulls in the regional museum, then on to mysteriously carved stones found in the desert, and culminating in a flight over the Nazca Lines, this area will get you questioning some very basic “truths” about our world as well … oh yeah, and the sandboarding in the massive sand dunes is a blast as well; 3.) Chinese New Year — seeing these celebrations should be a must for every child! We lived in Taiwan, so got to be a part of the celebration there; 4.) Ecuadorian New Year — Ecuadorians know how to do New Year right!

What’s your must-have item when traveling — especially with kids?
A Kindle. One for each person.

Tell us your funniest travel story/experience.
Probably the time in Colombia when I found a naked man in my bed! It’s a long story.

Family on Bikes hits northern Alaska’s Dalton Highway

What’s the best thing you’ve eaten while traveling, and where?
If you asked my kids, one of them would say lomo saltado from Peru and Bolivia. The other would say plain ol’ beans and tortillas in Mexico. For me? Pretty much any and all Ethiopian food. Except the raw beef — couldn’t bring myself to do that one.

How do your family healthy while on the road?
I think the trick to staying healthy is being active in the outdoors. There is something about Mother Nature to take care of us. That, and we try to eat semi-healthy food, but we don’t stress over it.

What’s the best hotel you’ve stayed at as a family?
In general, we prefer the small locally owned Ma and Pa places over large chains.

Where’s “home”?
Boise, ID. It’s where I grew up, and now – after many years of living all around the world – where we’re living again.

What would you recommend to travelers visiting your hometown?
Do what the locals do. In the summer, take an afternoon to tube down the Boise River. In the winter head up to the ski resort at Bogus Basin. Listen to music at Alive After 5, walk around the farmers’ market on Saturday morning. There is always plenty going on.

Nancy and family on Tierra del Fuego

You say everyone should pursue their passion — what would you say to someone facing challenges?
Where there’s a will, there’s a way. I know, I know … that’s trite and cliché and all kinds of boring, but it’s also true. You will find a way to do what’s highest on your priority list. The key is to honestly reevaluate your priorities. What do you value more than anything else? Make a list of your top 5 priorities, then take a good solid look at your life. Are you living in a way that is consistent with those priorities? If not, why?

What’s No. 1 on your bucket list?
I’d like to explore Europe someday. We’ve traveled all over the world, but still have managed to explore much of Europe. Need to change that!


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Mike and Donna Holder were living comfortable, easy lives in scenic Kennesaw, GA, when they decided to take a very big chance. After noticing an ad in the newspaper, the couple bought 1,200 forgotten and overgrown acres in rural Banning Mills, GA, at the site of a former textile and paper mill village.

Over the next several years the couple and their kids cleared brush, made repairs, and eventually built a country inn and adventure center with an expansive eco tour zipline course. Then, on Thanksgiving night 2006, much of it burned to the ground. While they were tempted to just leave it all behind them after such a devastating loss, the Holders decided instead to rebuild. Today they oversee Historic Banning Mills, which boasts the world’s tallest climbing wall (140 feet) and, at 41,000 linear feet, the world’s longest continuous zipline course, where visitors can reach speeds of up to 60 mph as they cruise through dense hardwood forest and over the beautiful Snake River Gorge.

In fact, your feet rarely have to touch the ground at Banning Mills, with more than 50 sky bridges — including one that’s 600-feet-long. And you can really tap into your inner Tarzan with the new tree house lodging. Opening this month, these 2-person suites — accessible by rope bridge — are made of heart pine logs, and feature a king bed, jetted tub, bathroom, mini fridge and back deck with panoramic forest views.

When you’re ready to return to earth, there’s a new 7-mile network of mountain biking/hiking trails that wind along old town roads and across bridges. And Georgia Trail Outfitters offers 7-mike kayak trips down the roaring Class IV Chattahoochee River, as well as the more serene Flint and Cartecay Rivers. Banning Mills also offers a swimming pool (in season), putt-putt golf course, and tennis/basketball courts. In-between adventures, indulge in a relaxing massage at the day spa, and refuel at the main lodge, which serves a big country breakfast and a variety of lunch and dinner items, including picnic-style baskets and romantic candlelit dinners on the terrace that overlooks the Snake Creek Gorge.

- Sam Boykin

October is Family History Month, and with it there’s ample opportunity to dig deeper into your family roots. An estimated 80 million Americans are following that interest, making genealogy one of the most popular hobbies in America. For travelers, a focus on genealogy can also translate into a deeper travel experience — check out these tips from genealogist D. Joshua Taylor of FindMyPast.com for uncovering your family history while traveling:

• Contact the local genealogical society in advance of your visit, they might have evening hours or be willing to open their doors for you to help with your research. Local volunteers often know cemeteries, historic sites and other key areas.

• Use old city directories at the public library to find the address where your relatives might have lived. Go visit (but be sure to check older maps in case street names have changed).

• Search for local newspaper indexes – or the newspapers themselves – at local libraries.

• Take some crayons and large paper along to make rubbings from gravestones. Preserving symbols and inscriptions can be a wonderful “keepsake” when you return home.

• When visiting capital cities, visit the state archives or historical society to conduct research. Always, always, always check the family files at local archives and societies. They often contain one-of-a-kind resources not found online.

• It never hurts to schedule a few moments with distant relatives – who knows what letters or diaries they might have!

• Keep coins nearby – many local libraries and other repositories require payment for copies in change.

Photography by Chad Ehlers / Stock Connection

Tangerine, rose, ruby and gold are just some of the colors that carpet the tree tops of New England in autumn. More »

Photography by Valerie Conners

It’s the heart of August in Big Sky, MT, home to some of North America’s most incredible ski slopes and majestic mountain scenery — but the resort town is hardly shut down for the summer season. Incredibly, Big Sky springs to life during the so-called “off” season. The resort town offers a seemingly endless array of outdoor activities — from hiking to fishing, and zip lining to horseback riding — to an ever-increasing number of warm weather visitors.

Photography by Valerie Conners

What to Do
Hiking: The region in summer is downright heaven for outdoors lovers who take advantage of seemingly endless miles of hiking trails, like the famed Beehive Basin, Ousel Falls and Storm Castle trails. While August might be late to view wildflowers in various other regions of the country, many fields here are still awash with the vivid reds, yellows and purples of the regional flora.

Experience the Gallatin: Not to be missed is a trip to the Gallatin River, which winds its way through along the Canyon and through the Meadow, as the lower regions of Big Sky are known. The river has become a mecca of sorts for fly fishermen as well as rafters and kayakers. Remember the iconic film, A River Runs Through It? Parts of the movie were shot here along the Gallatin. A number of outfitters around town can help visitors organize fly fishing trips or guided rafting tours.

Photography by Valerie Conners

Explore Moonlight Basin: Also known for its epic skiing in winter, this luxe mountain resort offers families and couples a veritable world of onsite summer activities. Popular favorites include horseback riding tours with Cedar Mountain Corrals along some of the resort’s stunning 8,000 acres of land, as well as the Tuesday evening Hike, Bike & BBQ. Sign up for this weekly event and choose to explore the property’s 16 miles of trails on foot or mountain bike, then cap it off with a celebratory barbecue overlooking the mountain vistas. Good thing you’ll have worked up an appetite for the slow-roasted ribs. Guests of the resort also have access to a swimming pool and hot tub — perfect for a relaxing post-hike dip.

Visit Big Sky Resort: Neighbor to Moonlight Basin, Big Sky Resort is a must-visit. Take a tram tour to the top of 11,166-foot-high Lone Peak — it’s a stunner. On a clear day it’s possible to see 2 national parks, 3 states (Montana, Wyoming and Idaho) and many mountain ranges. The resort’s Basecamp can also organize activities such as zip line courses, mountain biking and hiking with lift access, a bungee trampoline, disc golf, a climbing wall and even paintball.

Photography by Valerie Conners

Explore Yellowstone National Park: A trip to America’s first national park, Yellowstone, is a must for visitors to Big Sky. The nearest park entrance lies a mere hour outside of town, and it is possible to take the popular Grand Loop Road drive to see the park’s major sights, such as Mammoth Hot Springs, Old Faithful, Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and Lake Village.

 

Courtesy of Smithsonian’s National Zoo

Two Sumatran tiger cubs were born at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington, DC, on Monday evening.  Not only are these cubs the cutest new zoo babies around, but they are also a huge conservation success for the zoo, since Sumatran tigers are critically endangered – there are only 400-500 left in the wild.

Don’t run to the National Zoo just yet to see the lil’ cubs. The zoo is giving the first-time mother – 4-year-old Sumatran tiger Damai — time to bond and care for her little ones, so the cubs will most likely not be on exhibit until the fall.

In the meantime, you can watch the newborn tigers grow (they haven’t even opened their eyes yet) on the zoo’s live webcams. And their dad, 12-year-old Sumatran tiger Kavi is holding down the den as usual at the Great Cats exhibit.

“It’s taken more than 2 years of perseverance getting to know Damai and Kavi and letting them get to know each other so that we could reach this celebratory moment,” Great Cats curator Craig Saffoe said in a release.

“All I can do is smile because the team has realized our goal of producing critically endangered tiger cubs. Damai came to us as a young tiger herself, so it’s really special to see her become a great mom.”

In addition to these rare cubs, there are only 65 Sumatran tigers living in accredited zoos in North America.

Check out more photos and videos of the tiger cubs here. And take a look at our roundups of adorable animal newborns: zoo babies, aqua babies, safari babies and snow babies.

 

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Photo: Castle Park

We love amusement parks as much as the next person. But sometimes a good day of fun can go horribly wrong, as we learned with last Friday’s tragic event at Six Flags Over Texas. This isn’t the time to turn alarmist — but it is time to brush up on amusement park safety tips, say industry experts.

First, keep things in perspective. A whole lot of people, well into the millions, take amusement park rides every year nationwide. And the number of serious injuries is minimal.

Chances of Injury Are Small

“Regardless of where we are on the spectrum, there’s always more we can do [in terms of amusement park safety],” says Dr. Gary Smith, who directs the Center for Injury Research and Policy at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, OH.

It’s true, says Smith, there’s a global issue ahead to face — mainly, the current patchwork of oversight on amusement park safety, with differing standards by state and localities, and no umbrella government agency to oversee it all. Still, adds Smith, “The chances of a serious injury are small and that’s something parents can take comfort in.”

Know Before You Go

Already, states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania — home to a large number of amusement parks — have issued reminders to adventure seekers on how to enjoy rides responsibly. (Late June was Amusement Park Ride Safety Week in Pennsylvania, in fact.)

Check out tips from Pennsylvania authorities on amusement park ride safety here, and from the Ohio Department of Agriculture here. The main takeaway: Stay informed. Know before you go, it’s the best way for you and your family to have fun.
 
Top Ride Safety Tips

Ken Martin, an independent inspector and amusement park safety consultant with KRM Consulting in Richmond, VA, offers a great roundup of ride safety tips for parents. Also keep in mind the following:

    • Pay attention to the sizing device located by many rides and attractions — it’s put there for your safety. “Yes, trying to sit in one of these seats to see if you fit the ride may be a little embarrassing,” says Martin, “however, a little embarrassment may be better than the alternative.”
    • Do you take any medication? Consult your physician before you think of trying a ride, says Martin. “Pay attention to ride rules and patron warnings,” he says. “Should you take medication for medical conditions, it’s best to consult your physician before riding any amusement ride or attraction – as a precaution you want to make sure you have [medical information] on your person or have someone in your party who knows your medical history.”
    • Take note of your surroundings. “If you see behavior or something you don’t like, bring it to someone’s attention with the amusement park,” says Martin. “All employees should be wearing a uniform and a name tag. They are there to help and serve you.”
    • Avoid heavy foods or sugary beverages as much as possible. “Stay hydrated by drinking lots of water,” says Martin. “Also, lines to some attractions can be very long. Take a restroom break before you get in line.”
    • Trust your gut. As a parent, don’t just go by minimum height and age requirements — ask yourself if your child is developmentally ready for a ride, says Smith of Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

Finally, be sure the ride fits you and your child. “Restraint systems should fit as close to your body as possible, but not tight enough to hurt,” says Martin. “Then sit back and enjoy the thrill — remember we are taking you to the edge and bringing you back safety, if all the rules are followed.”

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