ALL POSTS IN [Family Travel]

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

Space is one of those destinations that will always fascinate, regardless of whether we’ll ever be able to go or not. (If you happen to have $200K lying around, then start planning your trip now!) But you can explore the history of space travel here on earth. The display of NASA’s space shuttle Enterprise opened last week at Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York City.

In the Intrepid Museum’s Space Shuttle Pavilion, Enterprise — NASA’s very first space shuttle — is elevated 10 feet off the ground, so you can walk directly underneath it. An elevated viewing platform also allows you to get a better look. Intrepid Museum is one of the few places in the world to offer an up-close view of a space shuttle. READ MORE

Summer Hull of the blog Mommy Points shows us how to take advantage of travel rewards points and miles to make the most of our vacation dollars with her new Travel Channel web series. By breaking down the often-complicated frequent-flyer programs out there, Summer makes it easy for anyone to redeem miles and points in exchange for memorable family vacations.

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 Casa de Campo 

Chances are, if you’ve been keeping up with the Kardashians, you know that the famous family stayed at Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic. But Casa de Campo is more than a respite for the rich and famous – as one of the best sporting resorts in the world, it’s offering its guests the opportunity to get away with family and friends to create their own 2012 summer games in the Caribbean.

Enjoy their luxurious accommodations, world-class sports facilities and 5-star meals while following the actual games on big screens displayed throughout the resort. When you’re not following the official Olympic Games, Casa de Campo’s summer inclusive package includes sporting adventures such as tennis, horseback riding, skeet shooting, 63 holes of legendary golf on 3 Pete Dye-designed courses, and an array of water sports ranging from freshwater fishing and kayaking along the Chavon River (backdrop to 1979 film, Apocalypse Now!), to deep-sea fishing in the Caribbean Sea and sailing at the 370-slip Marina & Yacht Club. Guests work with preferred travel professionals or the resort’s concierge service to personalize their adventure itinerary.

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We’re in the midst of summer and that means one thing: time for family vacations. Well, cookouts, too, but it’s mostly a chance for busy families to pause and spend precious moments together in between the routines of a normally hectic schedule.

But with endless possibilities for family getaways, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the prospect of schlepping the kids somewhere new. Travel Channel is here to make it easy on you with tips to plan a trip everyone can enjoy.

Want to avoid the hassle of airports while having a little more control over your budget? There’s a reason why road trips are a classic family adventure — read our tips on road-trippin’ in the US.

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What happened this week in the travel blogosphere? Well, retro is in, cleavage is out. Here’s what else grabbed our attention on Travel Channel’s blogroll.

Opening today, the new Disney film Brave is sure to be a hit – set in Scotland, it’s already inspiring trips to the country, including those with a special itinerary designed by Disney. Gadling explains… READ MORE

Yesterday was the summer solstice, and now that the days are longer and the heat is rising, it’s time to fill those lazy days!

Not sure where to go? Check out our 2012 Summer Hotspots.

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The Water Quality & Health Council (WQHC) recently conducted a survey that found that 1 in 5 (adult) Americans admit to peeing in the pool and 7 in 10 admit to skipping the shower before swimming – even though 93% of Americans claimed they would never reuse someone else’s bath water. Is there a difference? READ MORE

National Get Outdoors Day

This Saturday, ditch your spot on the couch and get moving in celebration of National Get Outdoors Day. Each of the 132 different celebrations nationwide will promote healthy living and outdoor activities through their information centers and “active fun areas.” Brush up on your survival skills, learn to fish and pitch a tent, or have your photo taken with Smokey the Bear! READ MORE

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