Category Archives: Family Travel

Rossen Reports: Are carnival games cheating you — and your kids?

You’ve probably noticed some carnival games are hard to win. So we’re exposing the secrets ways carnival workers are playing you with our hidden cameras, and go a step further — showing you exactly how they do it.

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Carnival games can offer big prizes that seem so easy to win. And sometimes, people do! But ever wonder why some games are just so hard?

We rolled our hidden cameras from Missisippi to Indiana, crashing carnivals and revealing the tricks behind some of the most popular games, from the shootout to milk bottles and the tub toss.

Our first stop was the basketball toss. It’s one of the most popular games on the midway. Undercover, we watched kid after kid lose. Then I tried to play, and couldn’t make a single shot. So we brought in a real athlete: Carly Thibault, a top college basketball shooter. If anyone can make a free throw, Carly can. But at the carnival, she made 13 tries, and not a single basket. “Two or three of them bounced around on the rim and popped right out,” she said. In fact, we watched more than 100 tries. And only two customers made a basket.

“This game is — the way it’s made, it’s designed for the player to lose,” said Bruce Walstad, an investigator who specializes in rigged carnival games. When most people go to the carnival they think they’re shooting at a round hoop. But Walstad revealed that the hoops are often ovals. “Your chances of sinking the ball in that basket are slim to none,” he told us. And, he said, it’s no mistake. Believe it or not, some carnival rims are actually made — on purpose —smaller, and oval.

Richard Margittay, the author of two books on carnival games
( told us we could buy the smaller carnival rims and steered us to a website where we bought one with ease.

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And there’s another secret too: Balls are often overinflated, and so springy they bounce right off the rims. It happened to us almost every shot. So we went back to the carnival with our cameras out.

I introduced myself to a carnival worker, and told him that experts say some of these games are rigged.

“I don’t know about that,” he replied. “I know mine ain’t.

He told us that just before we walked up, one boy won. The worker admitted his rims were oval. So we asked: Does that seem fair? “Not regulation goals,” he replied. “Of course it seems fair. If the goals were open this big, guess what? Every person that shot would win.”

Experts say some rims are so small, even if you made the perfect shot your odds are still low. “You’d probably have a half inch margin either way,” Walstad told us.

Next, we turned to the simple tub toss. The carnival worker told us that what you can’t see is a spring behind the tub that bounces the balls out.

I tried, but couldn’t win. So to get me to play again, the worker showed me how to do it, making it look easy.

How does he do it? Experts Richard Margittay and Bruce Walstad say he cheats. Here’s the trick: Before he plays, he puts three balls in. But he only takes two balls out for his shot, leaving one in the tub. Now, when he plays, there’s a ball in there, cutting down on the bounciness. It’s a perk you don’t get when you play.          

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The reasons that works, said Walstad, is that the ball in the tub deadens the shot ball so it can’t fly out. “But when your money comes out to play and I give you the two balls to play, out comes that helpful deadening ball in there,” he said. The result? “You lose every time.”

The carnival worker told us his game isn’t rigged, and the carnival director told us that none of them are.

“That’s a thing of the past,” the carnival general manager said. “We get very few complaints. We monitor our games, we background check our employees.”

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We took a look at the old classic milk bottle game. Walstad set up a game for us, using three one-pound regulation milk bottles. “Bottom two are lined up perfectly,” he said. I rolled, and knocked them all down. Then, I tried it out on the Indiana midway.

I lost. I wasn’t the only loser — other customers couldn’t win, either. Even the game operator himself couldn’t knock them all over.      

“If the game is set up fairly with both pins even, you can knock all three down,” said Walstad. But if the carnival worker brings one of the pins forward — even by a half an inch — that front pin absorbs all of the ball’s energy, and you don’t win.

Of all the games we played, experts say shoot out the star is the trickiest. To try it, we brought in a former special forces sniper, who can hit a nickel-sized target with ease.

He flat-out lost the $5 game. So we asked the carnival worker: Is this game winnable? He pointed out several winners. But my buddy, I told him, is a special forces sniper — and he couldn’t win. “I’ve had a lot of shooters come over here and can’t beat this game,” the worker said.

Experts say, the pellets are often too small for the gun. And the sights are off, causing ammo to fly all over the place.

When we pulled our cameras out, we asked the carnival worker if the sights on his guns were regulation. The guy running the shootout didn’t want to talk anymore.

“When I see a small child standin’ there handin’ over their allowance money to play a game that I know they cannot win, that really angers me,” said Walstad. “It’s theft by deception, end of story.”

In some cases rigged carnival games are illegal, but laws vary from state to state. And of course, there are games that are fair, that you can win. And experts say some carnivals are better than others. They advise you should play games where you’re competing against other customers, where someone is guaranteed to win. And there are also games for little kids, where you win a prize every time.

Six Flags Fiesta Texas closing wooden coaster

A South Texas theme park has announced plans to close its towering wooden roller coaster known as the Rattler.

Six Flags Fiesta Texas in San Antonio says the ride will shut down Aug. 5.

Park officials on Monday announced the timetable but did not say why the 180-foot-high coaster, which includes nearly a mile of turns, twists and drops, will close. No information was released on whether a replacement ride is in the works.

The Rattler has been operating since Six Flags Fiesta Texas opened in 1992.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Favorite family vacation destinations

Sandpearl Resort in Clearwater Beach, Fla., offers a program for kids 5-11 years that includes arts and crafts, and scavenger hunts.

I’m sharing my personal picks for best kid-friendly vacation spots.

Every family is different—and, mercifully, my children have not hit the teen years yet—so the places I’ve chosen won’t suit everyone, but they’re the ones that have worked best for me (exhausted working mom), my husband (exhausted stay-at-home dad), and our kids (hyperkinetic eight- and nine-year-old boys).

The Tides Inn, Chesapeake Bay, Va.
Everybody has his or her ideal view. For some it’s turquoise ocean, for others it’s snow-capped mountains. For me it’s the view from The Tides Inn in Irvington, Va. This country inn and marina sit on a small, picturesque Chesapeake Bay harbor, dotted with sailboats and lined with green woods half hiding pretty white houses, in a lesser-known pocket of Virginia that is brimming with history yet somehow empty of tourists.

Chatham Bars Inn, Cape Cod, Mass.
It’s all too rare that an elegant, historic hotel can keep kids from 4 to 17 entertained and occupied for a week—with a minimum of electronics—while preserving an adult atmosphere of tranquility. This Cape Cod oceanfront resort has a serene and surprisingly empty beach; a huge, heated, gated pool—with a panoramic ocean view; a barrier-reef island full of playful seals and a boat to take you there; a daily lineup of kid-friendly activities; a historic trolley car to take you into the charming town of Chatham—and all of it included in the rate.

Coral Beach Club, St. Maarten
Coral Beach Club is a terrific base for exploring the Caribbean island of St. Maarten/St. Martin. It’s right on the Dutch/French border, which means you can quickly reach the can’t-miss family activities of the French side while also having convenient access to the boating and water sports infrastructure of the Dutch side.

Disney Cruise Line’s Disney Dream
In addition to innovative touches such as two bathrooms per cabin, the Disney Dream has parent-friendly features that other cruise lines don’t: The children’s center takes kids off your hands all the way from 9 a.m. till 1 a.m. and will even feed them meals. And there’s an adults-only deck area where you can relax in the hot tub with a piña colada and not a kid in sight.

Four Seasons Hawaii Hualalai
Hawaii’s Big Island is one of the world’s great natural playgrounds. There are so many fun and educational family activities — from getting up close to molten lava in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park to stargazing from Mauna Kea’s astronomical observatory at night — that the only problem with making the Four Seasons your base is that you run the risk of missing it all because you won’t want to leave the property.

Great Wolf Lodges
This chain of indoor water park resorts is a godsend for families in sun-challenged states who want to escape the cold without having to board a plane.

Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress, Orlando, Fla.
The Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress is such a bargain, considering everything that you get, and because it strikes that nice balance of being convenient to Disney World yet also providing a calm counterpoint to the Disney insanity.

Norwegian Cruise Line
More than on any other cruise line we’ve sailed—and we’ve taken eight cruises—my boys never want to leave the kids’ club on Norwegian. The reason, I’ve figured out, is the social bonds they form with both counselors and other kids as a consequence of Norwegian’s frequent, structured group activities. This was the case on all three Norwegian ships we’ve experienced: the Gem, the Jade, and the Star.

The Reef Atlantis, Paradise Island, Bahamas
So your family is clamoring for a trip to Atlantis, the behemoth Bahamian waterpark resort, and you don’t know which of its five hotels to choose. The answer: The Reef.

The Royal Hawaiian, Honolulu, Hawaii
The problem with family-oriented hotels is that all too often they’re giant, charmless, themed megaresorts with plenty to keep kids entertained but also plenty to turn parents’ stomachs. Not The Royal Hawaiian. It allows you to escape a kid-centered circus and unwind in a tasteful, tranquil, very adult oasis, yet with kid-friendly amenities right next door.

Sandpearl Resort, Clearwater Beach, Florida
At the Sandpearl Resort, lots of activities for kids are included in your room rate or, rather, in your daily resort fee: A huge pool with two hot tubs, beach volleyball, Ping-Pong, a human-size chess board, a bean-bag toss game, s’mores on the beach at night, and a giant, fuzzy, huggable turtle named Ridley who shows up at sunset when the kids get to ring the historic dinner bell.

The Williamsburg Lodge, Williamsburg, Virginia
When I took my kids to Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, for spring break last year, my goal was not a hotel that’s a playground for kids. My goal was for my kids to make Colonial Williamsburg itself their playground. So we stayed next door at The Williamsburg Lodge — a decision that paid off when it came to the travel journals my kids created based on their trip as well as subsequent school reports they’ve done on 18th-century America.

Read more about Wendy’s family travel tips and destinations

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Extreme hotel perks for kids

Trump International Beach Resort

Kids can sleep in a star-filled tent at Trump International Beach Resort in Florida.

Hotels and resorts have realized the big impact their smallest guests can have on their bottom line. As such, many hotel brands don’t merely tolerate parents and their broods; they welcome children with gift packs, bath toys and nightcaps of milk and cookies.

Here are five hotels that go to extremes to make sure kids are content during their stay.

Beaches Negril – Negril, Jamaica
Multi-colored kiddy cocktails with enticing names like Pink Boots, Superman and Chocolate Monkey are served poolside at this Jamaican resort. A lazy river, splash area for tots, two giant waterslides and a seven-mile beach provide oodles of fun for the whole family. The on-site kids’ camp welcomes children through age 12, including newborns. Teens are kept busy with group water sports, dance parties and karaoke. Beaches Negril’s Sesame Street program offers such options as character meet and greets, festive parades and the ultimate delight for youngsters: a tuck-in and bedtime story with Elmo, Zoe, Abby Cadabby or other character. (All-inclusive pricing starts at $677 per night for a family of four with a two-night minimum. Tuck-in pricing starts at $85.)

The Grand Del Mar – Del Mar, Calif.
Families seeking the royal treatment for their little princes and princesses will not be disappointed with a stay at this posh Southern California resort. For infants, The Grand Del Mar provides parents with a gift box filled with baby bath amenities as well as a door hanger that says, “Quiet Please, Baby Sleeping.” Kids ages 3 to 8 receive a toy at check-in plus a child-sized bathrobe, slippers and travel neck pillow. Tweens and teens are not forgotten; they receive a coupon for a free scoop of handmade gelato at the resort’s café. (Rooms start at $395.)

Trump International Beach Resort – Sunny Isles Beach, Fla.
Being a happy camper doesn’t mean you have to rough it in the wild thanks to Trump’s Starry-Night Turndown. Kids can nibble s’mores in a tent that fits right over their hotel bed and stare up at a twinkling cosmic galaxy thanks to a star projector (for an additional $50). Globie the mascot at Planet Kids, an educational kids’ camp for ages 4 to 12, teaches children about marine life and protecting the environment. (Rooms start at $205.)

Courtesy of Hotel Monaco

Children can borrow a pet fish for the length of their stay at Hotel Monaco in San Francisco.

Hotel Monaco – San Francisco
After picking a prize from a toy-filled treasure chest in this Kimpton hotel’s lobby, children are greeted by a temporary pet – a goldfish swimming about in a bowl in their guest room. Parents will be pleased with a nightly complimentary wine hour while kiddos are entertained by a magician, Guitar Hero on Xbox, and free-flowing sodas. A delivery of cookies and milk top off an evening of fun. (Rates start at $189. Parents can arrange for goldfish delivery before their stay.)

The Benjamin – New York City
Located in New York’s Midtown, this boutique hotel outdoes the sandman in ensuring young guests get a good night’s sleep. Families can order as many pillows as desired from a 12-choice pillow menu, including a 5-foot body cushion and a hypoallergenic toddler pillow. There is no need to weigh down luggage with heavy bedtime books; a lending library of favorite stories can be delivered to the room. Children also receive a “Winks the Owl” stuffed animal for bedtime cuddling. Parents can purchase a Cereal Smorgasbord with an assortment of cereals, fresh fruits and milk to be delivered the night before so hungry mouths are easy to feed in the morning ($25). All rooms come equipped with a kitchenette that includes a fridge, making breakfast goodies easy to store. Kids who succeed at sleeping through the night are even awarded a special Winks Sleep Certificate upon checkout. (Rooms start at $279.)

All of these extreme perks are included with the price of stay unless otherwise noted.

Colleen Lanin is the founder/editor of, a site for anyone who wants to travel with children … and stay sane!

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Families drive up quality time with RV vacations

Jewett Family

Suzi, Jason, baby Jacob and Ethan Jewett arrive home after a six-week trip in their trailer.

For Kirk Wong of southwest Washington, there’s only one way to travel: He loads up his 37-foot motor home with two kids, four bikes, two dogs and a tortoise, and he and his wife Andrea take off for some much-needed, uninterrupted family time.

“In our house we’re always scattered and our schedules have us running,” Wong said. “But in the RV, this time is invaluable. The boys take turns sitting next to me when I drive, we talk. For me, it’s never about the destination; it really is about the journey.”

Suzi and Jason Jewett of Forest Grove, Ore., hail the benefits of traveling with their 29-foot pull-behind trailer this way: “It drives family time,” she said. “We actually sit down together and we can play board games for hours.”

More than 30 million Americans travel by RV. Despite high fuel prices, this number seems to be on the rise, with more families realizing a surefire way to spend time together and enjoy nature in a comfy home on wheels.

Brent Peterson, author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to RVing” (the third edition was just published), cites another reason for the rise.

“Air travel is becoming uncomfortable and expensive enough that it’s pushing more people into RVing,” he said. “RVing has grown through hard economic times, and if done right, it can be economical.”

Many young families, he said, start by pulling a pop-up trailer and then move up to bigger RVs as their needs grow. By seeking out $30 campgrounds, fixing your own meals, and traveling at times of lower fuel prices, families can enjoy cheaper trips than had they flown, stayed in hotels and eaten out every meal.

“I don’t have the ability to save money when I’m traveling without my RV because I have to stay in a hotel, buy meals and pay for every little thing,” Peterson said. “Traveling by RV gives you choices.”

And it is the choice that appeals to the Wong and Jewett families, too. The Wongs, who this summer plan to take weekend trips to the Oregon coast and a bigger trek to Yosemite National Park in August, like that they don’t need a travel agenda.

“If we see a basketball court or a water park or a nice lake, we just stop and check out,” he said, adding that his younger son is crazy about basketball. To decide which campground to stay the night, he checks out

Wong also likes that he can often get three or four hours of driving under his belt, home-brewed coffee in hand, before his boys, ages 13 and 15, even crawl out of bed.

Jewett enjoys the options her trailer’s floor plan gives them. In the evenings, she can close off the small bunk-bed room in the rear for her 5- and 2 ½-year-olds to sleep in while she and Jason play board games or read with their 13-year-old son. She said they typically stay in nice campgrounds with pools, mini-golf courses or recreation centers so there is something for everyone, often choosing campgrounds from the member-based Thousand Trails.

The Jewetts originally bought the trailer four years ago just before their 8-week sabbaticals from Intel. They spent the time off trekking to Crater Lake, Yosemite and Grand Canyon national parks, as well as Las Vegas, Monterey, Santa Cruz and back through Florence, Ore.

“It was something fun that we could involve the kids in and we wanted to use the money for something we’d have for longer than just eight weeks,” said Jewett, now a manufacturing manager for Care Innovations. “It allows us to get out into nature more than if we just had tents.”

If you’re curious about RV travel, Peterson recommends renting one before making a big purchase. Cruise America is the nation’s largest RV rental chain, and others are El Monte RV and Camping World. The Recreational Vehicle Rental Association has a complete list of rental companies on its website.

The typical base rate for a seven-day rental on a five-to-seven-passenger RV is $600-plus, or nearly $100 a day, according to Peterson’s book. That does not include taxes, mileage fees (about 32 cents per mile), hourly generator fees (about $3) nor, of course, gas. To save money, Peterson advises checking rental sites for specials; going at non-peak travel times; and bringing your own linens, pillows, and eating and cookware. A must: Make rental reservations to get the RV you need with enough space as early as possible.

Similarly, Peterson said, start RVing as early as you can, in particular when your kids are young. Car seats and seat belt laws apply. RVing, he said, is a great memory-maker, and a fun and easy way to be together.

“With kids, having an RV is the great equalizer,” Peterson said. “You can overpack, have the comforts of beds and a kitchen, and still get out into nature together.”

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