ALL POSTS IN [Family Travel]

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

 Apple Picking

Everything’s coming up apples in Washington State. While the Midwest and Northeast saw an early spring, a hard freeze and then a drought this year, the Northwest is enjoying an apple bonanza: We’re talking 108 million bushels, each a hefty 40-lbs. box. That’s a whole lotta apples — slated to be the second highest number on record in Washington State. READ MORE

Samantha Brown Expecting Twins

Travel Channel’s Samantha Brown is about to embark on her biggest adventure yet: motherhood! Samantha, who’s been our girl-meets-world host for the last 12 years on Great Weekends, Passport to Europe, Samantha Brown’s Asia and more, announced to her fans yesterday via Facebook that she and her husband, Kevin O’Leary are expecting … twins! “We have waited such awhile for the love of a child, but our path faced strong headwind. Our troubles have past and now, at long last … Our joy doubled, we’re expecting twins!!!!” READ MORE

By Bill Burke

The ongoing expansion at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom has taken a few noticeable steps forward in the past few days.

A massive statue of “Beauty and the Beast” villain Gaston has arrived on-site, and is now being put in place in the midst of the as-yet unfinished Belle’s Village section of Fantasyland Forest. Gaston, who will take his place in a fountain, joins the Be Our Guest restaurant (a new quick service by day/table service by night restaurant set in Beast’s Castle,) Gaston’s Tavern (actually a misnomer, because the Magic Kingdom is a dry park) and Bonjour Gifts.

Here are the latest projected dates for the largest, most expensive expansion in Magic Kingdom history:

- Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid is a dark ride bringing guests below the waves to join scenes from the classic Disney film. Disney projects this attraction will open by the holidays in 2012.

- Enchanted Tales with Belle where guests will be transported by a magical mirror into an immersive storytelling experience is expected to open by the holidays.

- The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, a coaster using a first-of-its-kind ride system where the attractions’ mine cars swing back and forth through a curving, plunging diamond mine, will open in 2014.

- Princess Fairytale Hall – Say goodbye to the Snow White’s Scary Adventures attraction, and say hello to Tiana, Cinderella, et al. Meet Disney’s royalty in the Castle Courtyard right in the center of Fantasyland. A castle entrance of stone, stained glass windows and princess portraits will lend this meet-and-greet area a noble atmosphere. Expect to get your princess hugs by late 2013.

Already open in the ongoing project are the Great Goofini’s Barnstormer coaster, the Casey Jr. Splash ‘n’ Soak Station, the Fantasyland Train Station and now 2 Dumbo the Flying Elephant attractions. As one whirls through the sky clockwise, its twin takes guests on a counter-clockwise journey. The queue area for the newest Dumbo attraction is inside, awash in glorious air conditioning and featuring a play area for kids to cavort in. Parents are given a pager, which alerts them when its time to get back in line.

Also this week, guests have discovered that Disney has quietly opened free Wi-Fi access throughout the Magic Kingdom. Agree to Disney’s terms-of-service and you’re on your way. Speeds and connection have been reported as spotty, as is cellular service in the park. The Wi-Fi is expected to play a role in Disney’s NextGen system, designed to take advantage of technology to better customize and enhance guest experience.

Disney rolled out free Wi-Fi throughout its resorts earlier this summer.

By Mommy Points

I didn’t realistically consider attending the 2012 Olympic Games in London until June of this year. I am normally the type of person who plans big trips like this way in advance, so taking this trip on the spur of the moment was out of character for me. However, it was actually surprisingly simple to plan this exciting last-minute trip to the Olympics — without breaking the bank.

By now, anyone who could get to the Olympics is already there. But the following tips are just as handy for your next big trip. READ MORE

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