ALL POSTS IN [Family Travel]

Photo Courtesy of Susan Balsley

My amazing adventure in 2012 was an adventure … that was almost not meant to be. Due to an intense 10U travel baseball schedule, my family was not planning on a 2012 vacation, beyond a visit to beautiful Omaha, NE, for a baseball tournament and to pay a visit to the NCAA Men’s College World Series. Unfortunately, the team, and ultimately our plans for that trip, fell through and we were faced with time, and money, still left to spend. When in doubt, go Disney, or go home!

Along with my parents, we were able to find a time share available close to the Disney property.   Within 2 weeks, the van was packed up and we were ready to start our adventure! Traveling with a 10 year old, 6 year old and a 2 year old, we had TVs hooked up and iPods charged to get us through to Valdosta, GA, where we stopped for the night, outlasting 6 rush-hour car accidents in the Atlanta metro area. The next morning, we set out for the last few hours of our drive into Orlando. We met my parents, who flew in from Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG), at the resort and settled in, each with our own unit (we learned THAT lesson the hard way!). Our resort was packed full with miniature golf, pools, cabanas, batting cage, paddle boats and a huge inflatable waterslide.

On this trip, I decided we were going to play it by ear. We chose Sunday to visit SeaWorld, which is actually my kids’ park of choice. The crowd was minimal, I’m guessing due to travel weekend and others choosing to start their vacation at the Disney theme parks. My 2 year old got to see Elmo & Friends in a live show, while my 2 older children decided to sit in Shamu’s “Splash Zone” and found that description to be accurate! That show turned into the purchase of a couple of beach towels to dry off. We ventured on to other shows: dolphins, walruses,  sea lions and more.

We did stop by Dolphin Cove. However, we played by the rules and did NOT hold our plates over the water for the dolphins to jump at! We fed stingrays some dead fish (yick!) and were able to pet them as they zipped past us in their tank. We moved on to the water ride Atlantis and then to the Kraken and Manta, which my 10 year old declared the “BEST ROLLER COASTER EVER!” We ended our night with Shamu Rocks, and rock we did!

We took the next day off and hung around our resort. Pretty low-key. The following day was Magic Kingdom day! As expected, we shared the park with over 100,000 of our closest friends, many coming from far and wide. Our Fastpasses were a huge success for rides like Space Mountain, Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. The little ones enjoyed It’s a Small World, again and again and again. We visited with Disney princesses and the stars of the park, Mickey and Minnie Mouse.

The day ended with an extended stay in the parking lot due to a diaper bag snafu whereby my parents left the park to take the 2 year old back to the resort, along with the car keys! A family leaving at the same time was kind enough to offer us drinks/snacks from their cooler in their car to get us through the wait.

Again, the following day was an off day, and we visited more family staying at Bonnet Creek resorts. The boys golfed at the Waldorf Astoria, while the girls hit the pool and lazy river. Poolside entertainment included an adult women vs. men trivia game, of which I was on the losing end. (Who knew I would ever need to know the words to the Flintstones theme song?!) Our last day in Orlando was spent at Downtown Disney, where we ate at the Rainforest Café (and were served by someone who is from our hometown and had my brother as a teacher!). We also had a Louisville Slugger bat engraved, and turned my 6 year old into a Fairy Mermaid Princess.

At the end of the long week, we packed up the van and headed home. We drove through the night to take advantage of sleepy children. While impromptu, our adventure made memories to last us a lifetime. Every single day, my now 3 year old asks me, “Mama, are we going on bacation today? I want to see the whales.” And every day I shake my head gently and say, “No, not today, but maybe soon.” Just maybe …

- Written by  Susan Balsley

Courtesy of LEGOLand Hotel

Think you can make an impressive LEGO home? Try building a hotel made of LEGOs. Now that the Ice Hotel has melted, take a spring fling with the family to America’s first LEGOLAND Hotel that just opened this month. Located right at the main entrance of LEGOLAND California Resort, guests can stay and play a LEGO’s throw away from the park’s attractions designed for the young and the young at heart.

Now, we should mention that the entire hotel isn’t made of LEGOs (this is earthquake-plagued California, after all), but the iconic plastic-building block is imaginatively integrated throughout this kiddie hotel heaven. Children and parents alike will be wowed by this novel hotel: approximately 3,422 LEGO models have been built throughout the hotel out of more than 3 million LEGO bricks (don’t worry, parents, you won’t have to clean up any of this). Everything comes to life here with 7 large-scale LEGO models that are animated, like a bubble-blowing LEGO dragon taking a bath on the patio that speaks to children passing by.

Guests can choose between 3 themed-rooms modeled after the most popular LEGOLAND areas: Pirate, Kingdom and Adventure. There’s plenty of room for the entire family, with 2 separate sleeping areas — a queen-size bed for grown-ups, and a separate area for up to 3 little ones, complete with a bunk bed, pull-out trundle bed and their very own TV. And each room has LEGO blocks ready for you to build your own architectural wonders.

Designed with imagination in every detail, the hotel’s fun features include secret whoopee cushions, disco-themed elevators, treasure trails and exploding toy boxes.  Dining is even kid-focused at LEGOLAND Hotel. Bricks Family Restaurant serves a breakfast and dinner buffet with a station specifically designed for kids at a height they can reach, while the Skyline Café features a LEGO city skyline with 35 kid-pleasing scenes.

With a fun place to rest and exclusive early-morning access to select rides and attractions at the park, families will be on a 24-hour fun-filled ride. While this is the only LEGOLAND where you can spend a night, there are LEGOLAND theme parks all over the world — from Florida to Germany to Malaysia. And while the parks will amaze any age, they are designed specifically for children 2 to 12.

 

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Allergy-Free Spring Fling

Ah, springtime: The blooms, the fresh air … the allergies. If springtime spells “Achoo!” for you and your family, you’ll want to take note of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation’s annual list of the worst cities for allergy sufferers. Released this week, the annual list tallies the most sneeze-inducing cities nationwide, based on pollen levels, allergy medications and the number of board-certified allergists in the area.

And the cities topping the allergy list this spring? Jackson, MI, leads the pack, followed by Knoxville, TN, and then Chattanooga, TN. Rounding out the top 5 are McAllen, TX, Louisville, KY, and Wichita, KS.

If popping Claritin or Zyrtec on a trip this spring isn’t your idea of fun, consider a vacation to one of the cities ranked lower on the list – like Daytona Beach, Denver and San Diego. For the full list, check out this interactive map of Spring Allergy Capitals.

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For more spring-fling ideas, check out Florida’s Best: Secret Beaches.

See the top things to do in relatively allergy-free San Diego!

And consider a spring fling in another low-allergy city — “Golden” Sacramento.

Spring Break is right around the corner and what better way to gear up for sunny skies, white sand and blue waters than by checking out Travel Channel’s 21 Sexiest Beach Bars, Spring Break Hot Spots and Devilish Delights in Acapulco.

While college kids flock south of the border, among other places, to experience the Infamous Cancun Spring Break and attend beach parties more intense than a double shot of tequila, straight up, parents can rest assured there are plenty of places to enjoy some quality family time as well. Stay at one of the Top 10 Family Spring Break Resorts or play with some of your favorite Disney friends and ride on the park’s top rides.

Whatever you’re looking for this coming spring break season, let Travel Channel help you with planning the Ultimate Spring Break getaway.

It’s easy to just think of President’s Day as a day off, but this year, why not skip shopping at those blowout sales and take a step back in time? Instead, explore the homes and learn about the lives of America’s former presidents. Whether you’re a history buff or just want to pay tribute to America’s famous leaders, these National Park Service sites are a great way to discover more about our nation’s history. READ MORE

Photography by Golden Owl, flickr

Happy 500th birthday, Florida!

In 2013, it will be half a millennium since Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon landed on the shores of Florida, essentially becoming America’s very first tourist. To commemorate the 500th anniversary and honor Ponce de Leon for inspiring the European colonists to settle here, the Sunshine State is having a big year with festivals, events and celebrations.

2013 is chockfull of lively gatherings, and we listed a variety of our favorites throughout the year. Mark your calendar for some truly exciting adventures that wait in Florida!

Jan. 5: First Christmas in Florida
Mission San Luis, Tallahassee

Witness a reenactment of explorer Hernando de Soto’s 1539-1540 encampment in Tallahassee, with costumed interpreters, re-enactors, music and theatrical performances at Florida’s only recreated Spanish mission.

Feb. 2013: Grand Opening of Colonial Quarter
St. Augustine

Commemorating the discovery of La Florida by Juan Ponce de Leon 500 years ago, St. Augustine has added a legacy addition to its visitor experience: A living-history museum with exhibits, shows, taverns, restaurants and more to immerse visitors into Florida’s Spanish colonial experience.

Feb. 1-May 11: Picasso Exhibition
St. Augustine’s Visitor Information Center

Exhibition of graphic work and ceramics by Pablo Picasso, featuring pieces from the Fundacion Picasso in Spain that have never been displayed in the United States.

Feb. 7-18: Florida State Fair
Florida State Fairgrounds, Tampa

In 2013, this annual festival will highlight how historic European influences affect Florida’s lifestyles today, especially in food and agriculture.

April 2-5: Commemorating Ponce de Leon
Melbourne Beach

Costumed interpreters will land a replica ship to commemorate Ponce de Leon’s landing on Florida’s northeast coast. Events include an Air Force flyover, 21-gun salute, parade and erection of a statue of the Spanish explorer.

April 29-May 6: Broward Navy Days
Port Everglades, Fort Lauderdale

This annual event focuses on Florida’s rich maritime history, with tall ships to salute Viva Florida 500.

May 24-27: Florida Folk Festival
Stephen Foster State Park, Hamilton County

Singer-songwriters, folk musicians, storytellers, craftsmen, Native Americans, Florida cowboys and historical re-enactors bring Florida history to life.

June TBA: Spanish National Soccer
Miami Dolphins Stadium

Spain’s National Football Federation presents an exhibition soccer game and a chance to meet players, thanks to Espana-Florida Foundation, Fast Track Agency, the Miami Dolphins and Sun Life Stadium.

Oct. 3-5: International Spanish Food and Wine Festival
Throughout St. Augustine

Spanish culture will abound as Spanish wine distributors, along with local and regional restaurants, take over the Visit Information Center and Promenade for a festival celebrating Spain’s food, wine and dance. Hosted with the U.S.-Spain Chamber of Commerce.

October TBA: Festival Calle Orange
Orlando

One of Florida’s most internationally famous cities celebrates the state’s Hispanic roots with a street festival, food and cultural activities spread over 10 city blocks.

Nov. 30-Dec. 8: Maritime Heritage Festival
St. Augustine Municipal Marina & Promenade

Boats of all kinds — from tall ships to fishing skiffs — will celebrate maritime heritage at America’s oldest port, starting with the launch of a high-tech sailing voyage around the world in hopes of breaking a record.

- Jimmy Im

Jimmy Im is NYC-based travel writer, TV host and instructor, as well as the cofounder of OutEscapes.com

White Christmas Cities 2012

Photography by Getty Images

Are you dreaming of a “White Christmas”? For many, the holiday season isn’t the same without the sight of powdery white snow outside, enjoyed from the cozy comfort of a home complete with a fireplace and an abundant supply of gifts under the Christmas tree.

Sadly, Santa didn’t do much dashing through the snow last Christmas. In fact, winter 2011 was the 4th warmest on record since 1896. So will Christmas 2012 see a repeat performance?

We asked our friends at weathertrends360 which parts of the United States will see a white Christmas this year — and by “white,” we’re talking 1 inch of snow or greater.

Good news! Plenty of cities nationwide will see a white Christmas, says weathertrends360 meteorologist Krissy Klinger — and keep in mind weathertrends360’s snowfall forecast for cities is accurate about 80% of the time.

White Christmas: 25 Cities to Watch

Here’s weathertrend360’s list of cities nationwide slated to see a white Christmas — the list is based on records of solid snow cover, with temperatures projected not to fall below freezing through Christmas:

1. Salt Lake City
2. Cheyenne, WY
3. Denver
4. Erie, PA
5. Buffalo, NY
6. Syracuse NY
7. Watertown, NY
8. Rochester, NY
9. Burlington, VT
10. Minneapolis
11. Madison, WI
12. Green Bay, WI
13. Bismarck, ND
14. Grand Rapids, MI
15. Sault Ste Marie, MI
16. Spokane, WA
17. Lake Tahoe, CA
18. Glasgow, MT
19. Elko, NV
20. Ely, NV
21. Flagstaff, AZ
22. Duluth, MN
23. Saint Cloud, MN
24. Marquette, MI
25. Omaha, NE

We Want a White Christmas, Not a Blizzard!

The first winter storm of the season, which has been named Draco, slammed the Midwest and western Great Lakes on Thursday — and is now moving northeast. That’s good news if you’re heading out west; now that the storm has passed, and the temperatures will be cold through the weekend, the snow pack should keep in place through Christmas, says weathertrends360 meteorologist Krissy Klinger.

Any major weather concerns to watch out for?

“The only area we’d be concerned with having disruptive, blizzard-type weather would be across the Northern Plains and Upper Midwest,” says Klinger. “But it’s going to be a close call. Right now, the forecast has a storm in the Central US gathering strength on Christmas Day, so any slow-down in that strengthening could easily push the storm off until late Christmas night or the next day.”

Farther north and west of the area being impacted by the blizzard (Minneapolis; Duluth, MN; Saint Cloud, MN; and Bismarck, ND) temperatures will be frigid through Christmas Day, which will also ensure that the current snow pack, several inches deep, will stay in place for the holiday, adds Klinger.

As for the Northeast, winter storm Draco is likely to bring snow to interior sections of New England (Burlington, VT), and kick up a period of lake-effect snow for cities such as Erie, PA; Syracuse, NY; Watertown, NY; Rochester, NY; and Buffalo, NY, says weathertrends360’s Klinger. Throughout, stay abreast of pre-Christmas travel issues.

Finally, in the West, across the Rockies, a Pacific storm system is slated to spread snow across higher elevations through this weekend and into Christmas Eve, says Klinger.

Snowfall Updates — Where to Go

For a full look at cities and snowfall, check out National Climatic Data Center’s nifty map of White Christmas Cities.

Stay current on White Christmas City updates on weathertrends360′s Facebook page.

And check out Travel Channel’s tips on how to score deals on last-minute holiday travel deals.

This week, Walt Disney World officially opened the largest expansion in the history of the Magic Kingdom. New Fantasyland is an extension of regular Fantasyland (home of classic Disney rides and many, many strollers). When guests enter the Enchanted Forest, they arrive at Maurice’s Cottage — a cozy stone and shingle structure that houses Enchanted Tales With Belle. Here, a “tale as old as time” is told with the help of an impressively lifelike Lumiere, Belle herself and a few volunteers from the audience.

Just through the grove of shady trees and past the gurgling stream is a bridge that leads to the new Be Our Guest Restaurant, which is set inside Beast’s castle. The castle itself is an imposing structure situated in the nearby mountains – which are a testament to Disney’s Imagineers and their skill with forced perspective! By day, Be Our Guest is a quick-service lunch spot, while by night it transforms into a table-service dinner restaurant. Around the corner is Gaston’s Tavern — just look for the statue of the “Beauty and the Beast” villain. Here you can try a meaty pork shank, a gooey cinnamon roll or sip on some of LaFou’s Brew — a sweet concoction of frozen apple juice and toasted marshmallow topped with mango foam.

The Storybook Circus section of New Fantasyland hosts the Barnstormer roller coaster, the Casey Jr. Splash ‘N’ Soak Station, and Dumbo the Flying Elephant. There are now 2 of these soaring spinners, and time waiting for your flight into the big blue yonder can now be passed inside an air-conditioned circus tent. Parents are issued a pager that lets them know when it’s time to climb on board.

While these new additions are cause for celebration, the gem of New Fantasyland remains behind construction walls. The Seven Dwarves Mine Train — an innovative new coaster — is scheduled to open sometime next year. Sidle up to the walls and hear the clinking and clanging of the Dwarves hard at work on this new attraction.

- Bill Burke

Bill Burke is an award-winning humor columnist and writer with 20 years experience in the newspaper and magazine industry. He is the author ofMousejunkies (Travelers’ Tales 2009) and Mousejunkies: Second Edition (Travelers’ Tales 2011) –a humorous look at Walt Disney World addiction.

Getty Images

The world can breathe a collective sigh of relief: A royal baby is on the way. Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, are expecting their first child after 19 months of marriage (and intense media scrutiny).

With today’s royal revelation, the world is abuzz with speculation: Will it be a future king or a future queen? What will the baby’s name and title be?

READ MORE

Dinosaur Park in Laurel, MD

The downpour that accompanied Hurricane Sandy last week may prove a boon for travelers in search of dinosaur bones. Turns out, when it rains, layers of earth steadily shift, sometimes revealing traces of prehistoric giants long buried in fossil-rich grounds. READ MORE

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