ALL POSTS IN [Family Travel]

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Travelers visiting Washington, DC, will notice something different about the city’s skyline. Although it’s closed for repairs, the Washington Monument is now lighting up the night sky. The National Park Service has installed 488 lamps on the scaffold surrounding the monument.

The rehabilitation is part of a welcome change. On Aug. 23, 2011, a 5.8-magnitude earthquake shook the 555-foot-tall monument, cracking and chipping stones near the top and shaking the mortar loose. The lights are expected to stay on until the popular tourist attraction reopens in spring 2014.

The Big Apple more your style? If you’re heading to NYC, there’s exciting news for tourists who want to check out Lady Liberty. Yep, after being hit by Superstorm Sandy last fall, the Statue of Liberty has once again opened to the public after a special ribbon-cutting ceremony on July 4th.

You may recall that the National Park Service closed Liberty Island following Hurricane Sandy; however, the Statue of Liberty’s crown reopened after a year of renovations. Last October’s storm flooded and damaged New York Harbor docks and Liberty Island’s walkways, buildings and electrical systems, but the 126-year-old iron statue made it through the storm unscathed.

Looking for more sightseeing recommendations for these cities? Check out our list of Washington DC Attractions and Top 10 Attractions in NYC.

Whether you’re enjoying the bright lights of the big city or taking a family adventure to the city limits, Las Vegas has something for everyone.

Las Vegas vacations are hotter than ever. Popular shows and hotels, like Aria, make the famed Vegas Strip the place to get your party on. From trying your luck in the casino or hitting the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace to seeing Cirque de Soleil or scuba diving inside Mandalay Bay, there isn’t anything you can’t find on the Strip.

Don’t worry if casinos aren’t your thing –there is still plenty to do outside of the Strip that is sure to get your adrenaline rushing. From horseback riding through Red Rocks to checking out one of the US’s 7 wonders at the Hoover Dam, you definitely won’t find yourself with nothing to do in the Entertainment Capital of the World.

And tonight at 9|8c, on an all-new episode of Toy Hunter, Jordan and his assistant Julia head to Sin City in hopes of tracking down several vintage toys from the popular 1979 TV series, Buck Rodgers in the 25th Century.

Dolly Parton at Dollywood's Splash Country

Dolly flipped the switch, and RiverRush welcomed its first riders at Dollywood’s Splash Country.

“There’s a lot of fun in store at my Dollywood’s Splash Country in 2013,” Dolly Parton said. “Growing up, playing in the creeks and streams here in the Smoky Mountains, I could only dream of something like a water coaster. But look at us now!”

Thanks to cutting-edge hydromagnetic technology and linear induction motors, RiverRush defies logic. Guests ride a 4-person boat 237 feet in the air and race down a 25-foot, 45-degree drop. Moving water continues to propel them up hills, through twists and tunnels, hairpin turns, rapids and 3 more scream-inducing drops along the 1,176-foot track.

Named America’s Must-See Waterpark in 2009 by the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, Dollywood’s Splash Country also features Fire Tower Falls, the state’s tallest twin-speed slides, a 25,000-sq-foot wave pool, a 1,500-foot lazy river and more than 25 speed slides and white-water rafting adventure rides.

In preparation for the highly anticipated RiverRush, Dollywood’s Splash Country introduced Time Saver, a convenient line reservation system. The system reserves a rider’s spot in select lines, freeing them to experience other attractions. A waterproof wristwatch device indicates when it’s time to return to the ride.

Dollywood’s Splash Country, located next to Dollywood theme park in Pigeon Forge, TN, is open 10am-6pm daily through Labor Day.

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Relive the extraordinary life (and small-town roots) of Dolly Parton.

Mother's Day Travel Ideas

You read that right. So don’t find yourself standing in a grocery store Sunday morning staring blankly at the picked-over cards and flowers. Whether you meant to get her a gift last week, just made a brunch reservation yesterday or completely forgot (whoops), we’ve got you covered.

Does your mom already have the travel bug? Help her take her yoga practice on the road with a eKO SuperLite Travel Mat or stay warm on the plane with the Sofia cashmere travel set. Our Mother’s Day gift guide is chock full of travel products sure to bring a smile to her face.

Or treat her (and yourself) by planning an escape you’d both enjoy. What better way to spend time together than on a gourmet chocolate tour of San Francisco or at a formal tea at the Betsy Ross House in Philadelphia?

And those of you who are mothers yourself, our hosts have a very special message for you:

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

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