Category Archives: Family Travel

Families drive up quality time on 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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5 ways to keep kids busy at the airport

Courtesy of Aeroports de Paris

Some airports, such as Paris-Orly, provide spaces for kids to burn off energy before boarding a plane.

Being stuck in the boarding area with kids in tow can be challenging: You’re exhausted after the schlep through security, and you don’t want to run through your kids’ in-flight entertainment before you leave the ground.

Here are some ideas for keeping your children entertained if you have a flight delay or long layover.

  • Stock up: This is the time to buy snacks and milk (which is not stocked on many domestic airlines) for the flight.
  • Get your jiggles out: Find a quiet gate area and encourage your kids to play jumping games (for example, who can jump the most times in one minute) and relay races. You might get a few wide-eyed looks, but wouldn’t you prefer to get them here than at cruising altitude?
  • Go on a scavenger hunt: Even if you are in an unfamiliar airport, it doesn’t take too much effort to dream up a scavenger hunt that would send you and your kids on a fun adventure. In London, for example, you might ask them to find a toy London bus, a picture of the queen, and a “W.C.”
  • Ask for information: More and more airports have playgrounds or interesting art displays that kids would enjoy. Some have activity books to give to young visitors. The best way to find out is at the airport’s information desk.
  • Use the bathroom: I know more than one parent whose fully potty trained child has refused to use the airplane bathroom (and really, who can blame them?). The best way to avoid an in-flight accident is to make everyone visit the restroom before you fly.

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Take a ride with the Transformers

TODAY’s Jenna Wolfe gets an inside look at the new Transformers: The Ride 3D at Universal Studios Hollywood, taking a ride with “Transformers” movie director Michael Bay.

Here’s an idea: Take a hit movie and turn it into a ride.

That’s the idea behind the new Transformers: The Ride 3D at Universal Studios Hollywood.

TODAY’s Jenna Wolfe gets an inside look with “Transformers” movie director Michael Bay. 

Would you ride? Follow TODAY Travel on Pinterest.

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15 Berlin adventures your family will love

Torsten Seidel / Courtesy VisitBerlin

The Badeschiff, a swimming pool installed atop an old barge docked on the Spree River, is a top summer attraction for Berliners.

Slideshow: See Berlin’s best all-ages attractions

Berlin is likely to evoke vastly different images depending on when you came of age: the concrete and barbed wire of the Berlin Wall (1960s to ’80s), Mike Myers’s über-bored performance artist Dieter on “Saturday Night Live” (1990s), or a hipster paradise of avant-garde art galleries, after-hours dance parties, and cheap rent (2000s). But it’s safe to say that few people would have predicted Berlin’s latest claim to fame. Beyond the roving burlesque shows and underground supper clubs, this sprawling metropolis has become one of the best places on the continent to have — and be — a kid. 


The city is already experiencing the kind of tourism explosion most destinations only dream of. In 2010, hotel stays in Germany were up 11.9 percent, with Berlin accounting for 41 percent of the bookings. In fact, Berlin has passed Rome to become the third-most-popular European city for visitors, after London and Paris. So what happens when an epicenter of cool is overrun by vintage 1960s Silver Cross prams? How do you explore this edgiest of European cities with kinder in tow? Here are some of our favorite stops in the new Berlin — all grown up, and ready for the whole family. 

1. Pick up a bike

2. Make the most of breakfast

Breakfast is to Berlin as dinner is to Barcelona: an opportunity to dress up and visit with family and friends over an endless parade of tempting little dishes. Only here, you don’t have to stay up late to partake. A true Frühstück is no small-scale continental affair: It’s a cornucopia of savory salads, cold cuts, eggs, cheeses, fruit, and freshly baked breads and pastries piled high on a tiered tray. For a classic version that’s as beautiful as a Renaissance still life, head to Anna Blume, a café-cum-flower shop in Prenzlauer Berg. On weekends, arrive early to claim a table on the leafy terrace (the people-watching is worth it), then let your morning meal stretch into the afternoon just like the locals do. If the kids get antsy, you can always take them to the playground at Kollwitzplatz, one block away, to clamber over wooden structures shaped like enormous vegetables. Kollwitzstrasse 83,, Frühstück for two $23. 

3. See the writing on the Wall
For almost 30 years, the most potent symbol of the Cold War was the 96-mile Berlin Wall. Today, less than a mile of it remains, and it’s all at the East Side Gallery (, a freedom memorial that runs along the Spree River in Friedrichshain. Originally completed in 1990, many of the more than 100 paintings have recently been restored by their creators (with more updates scheduled). Yet while Wall art is (thankfully) a dead art form, wall art is everywhere. Berlin is an urban canvas, full of fences, façades and subway cars featuring the graffiti of local taggers and international artists alike, some of whom (Banksy, Swoon, Blu) sell similar work on the world art market. Online magazine Berlin Graffiti ( keeps tab of the newest tags, while Benjamin Wolbergs’s “Urban Illustration Berlin: Street Art Cityguide” ($30, Gingko Press) contains artist interviews, a pull-out map of key pieces and snapshots of over 500 of the city’s most compelling works. 

4. Climb around in a church
Not all art in Berlin is conspicuous. The MACHmit! Museum for Children (which roughly translates to “join in!”) hides within a converted Protestant church and is outfitted with Bauhaus-inspired climbing shelves, fun-house mirrors and a series of hands-on arts and crafts and cooking exhibits (Senefelderstrasse 5,, $6). Transit geeks with good timing can immerse themselves in the history of the city’s subway at the pop-up Berliner S-Bahn-Museum, hosted by a group of train enthusiasts in a former railway station the second weekend of the month, from spring through autumn (S-Bahn Griebnitzsee,, adults $2.75). There, guests can play conductor behind the wheel of a drive simulator modeled on century-old technology.  

5. Refuel on the cheap
Prenzlauer Berg and Mitte may be boutique- and stroller-filled neighborhoods now, but they were once the center of the East Berlin resistance. The counterculture ethos still exists in pockets, including FraRosa Weinerei (wine bar), one of three related honor-system restaurants in Berlin where patrons pay what they will (really) for everything from lunch to tea and cakes to four-course dinners of German specialties made with organic ingredients—and, of course, wine (Veteranenstrasse 14, Honigmond Kaffeehaus-Restaurant charges a bit more, though $9 for its wonderful, all-you-can-eat lunch buffet is still a bargain. Besides, the lovely corner bistro has had a fascinating life: Before the Stasi secret police raided it in the late ’80s, it was the unofficial headquarters of the East German opposition movement (Borsigstrasse 28,

  • Berlin transit tip: Going underground
    Although the city’s once-bisected subway system has been reconnected, crossing town on the U-Bahn remains a challenge. The first rule of riding: Know your zones. There are three in the city (A, B and C), and failing to pay for all those you travel through could get you in big trouble with the undercover inspectors who roam the cars. For most trips you’ll only need zone A, or A and B (about $3 each way), while airport trips call for a three-zone fare ($4).

6. Explore an animal planet
Built on the site of the 18th-century pheasantry that once supplied fowl to the King of Prussia’s royal kitchen, the 168-year-old Zoological Garden was Germany’s first zoo and, with 17,727 animals, has one of the most diverse populations in the world. Savvy visitors will want to sync their trips with the feeding times of their favorite animals (pandas at 11:30 a.m. and 3 p.m., penguins at 1:45 p.m.), or splurge on a private, 20-minute visit with a single species, complete with zookeeper QA. And be sure to keep an eye out for the zoo’s newest arrival, Kathi, a baby hippopotamus born in October. Hardenbergplatz 8,, from $29.50 for a family ticket; private tours an additional $107. 

7. Find a street’s sweet spot
Every Berliner has a favorite secret street, a place like the cobblestoned Gräfestrasse in Kreuzberg. The four-block-long stretch serves as a microcosm of the modern city: here, Kadó, a highly focused candy store that sells 400 varieties of licorice — and nothing else (Gräfestrasse 20,, licorice from $2.10); there, Lilli Green, an eco-minded design shop that stocks the shelves with “upcycled” objects such as pencils made of old Japanese newspapers and storage baskets fashioned from recycled car tires (Gräfestrasse 7,, pencils 12 for $7). And then there’s Little Otik, a rustic New American restaurant whose out-of-the-shadows evolution mirrors Berlin’s own. Its owners, New York transplants Kevin Avery and Jeffrey Sfire, started hosting by-appointment dinners for 10 in their pop-up supper club in February 2009, then decided to take their underground sensation public, with a changing menu of seasonal dishes such as white bean and farro soup, grass-fed rib eye with bone marrow butter, and date and almond pie with vanilla ice cream (Gräfestrasse 71,, entrees from $12). 

8. Dive into a splashy swimming pool
If you didn’t know better, Berlin might be one of the last places on earth you’d think about taking a dip. But it happens to be a swimmer’s paradise — and one for all seasons. In winter, residents have their pick of 37 local Stadtbads (municipal pools), perhaps the most spectacular of which is in the gritty-but-gentrifying Neukölln district (Ganghoferstrasse 3,, $5.25). Built in 1914 and expanded in 1999, the Roman-style bathhouse is decked out with marble columns, soaring ceilings and fountains, plus two heated pools and a sauna. Come summer, the crowds shift to the Badeschiff, a swimming pool installed atop an old barge docked on the Spree River (Eichenstrasse 4,, $5.50). It’s connected to land by a series of piers, where cocktail bars, a mini-spa and a “beach” of trucked-in sand spring up each season. 

9. Skip the line at the Reichstag
No visit to Berlin would be complete without a tour of the Neoclassical Reichstag building, constructed in the late 19th century to house the German parliament before being ravaged by fire, bombed in war and abandoned as the seat of government in favor of Bonn. Following reunification in 1990, the Reichstag reverted to its original use, its renovations crowned by an iconic glass dome that yields sweeping panoramic views of the city 800 feet below. But entry to the building, while free, comes with a price: punishingly long lines. Avoid the wait by booking afternoon tea at the glass-walled rooftop Käfer Café, adjacent to the dome. After you’ve called ahead and made a reservation, enter the Reichstag through the handicapped entrance to the right of the building’s west portal, then speed straight to the top. Platz der Republik 1,, pastries from $1.25. 

  • Berlin transit tipGetting lost
    If it seems like there’s no address system in Berlin, well, there are two. The city initially opted for horseshoe-style numbering (up one side of a street and back down the other), and shifted in the 1920s to evens on one side, odds on the other. Our best navigation tip? Always ask for the cross streets.

10. Make a day trip of it
Nature lovers don’t have to leave the city limits to dabble in pastoral pleasures. From the Grünau S-Bahn in southeast Berlin, hop on streetcar No. 68, perhaps Germany’s most scenic, and hurtle east through a corridor of green to Alt-Schmöckwitz, a tiny village at the end of the line that’s bordered by three lakes (, tram $3 each way). Or head west: Two miles from the Brandenburg border, the Waldsee Sculpture Garden is an al fresco arts gold mine (Argentinische Allee 30;, $9.25). There are works by contemporary German artists such as the late bronze sculptor Karl Hartung (who is getting a solo show this summer), and Ina Weber, who created an interactive mini-golf course outfitted with models of architectural ruins as obstacles. For an instant escape in the heart of the city, look no further than Berlin’s newest, and largest, park: 990-acre Tempelhof airport, site of the 1948-49 Allied air lift that supplied food to West Berlin during the Soviet blockade (U-Bahn to Platz der Luftbrücke). Its defunct runways have been repurposed for bicycle races and kite-flying contests, and pick-up baseball games take place on the ramshackle diamonds where U.S. troops once played. 


11. Have a food-cart feast
Hamburgers, falafel, even tacos — Berlin has them all. But for the city’s best street food, check out two homegrown fusion dishes concocted decades before the term came into vogue. Currywurst, a sliced pork sausage served with a curry-laced dipping sauce, was first developed to make use of the British food products supplied to West Berlin after World War II. Some of the best in town is available seconds after you arrive: Head to the EsS-Bahn kiosks housed inside picturesque vintage streetcars just outside the main terminals at both Tegel and Schönefeld airports (, $4). When you’re ready for the next course, make a beeline to Kreuzberg, where the Turkish immigrants who started settling in the area in the 1960s took their native spit-roasted lamb and savory sauces and turned them into the now-iconic döner kebab sandwich. For a twist on that classic, check out the version at Mustafa’s: crisp flatbread stacked with delicately spiced chicken and shredded vegetables (Mehringdamm 32,, $4). 

12. Learn a new move
Berlin has dance clubs (underground, after-hours and otherwise) for every taste, fetish and demographic. For longevity, however, Clärchens Ballhaus has them all beat. A bona fide Berlin institution, it’s been in the business since 1913 (and appears to still attract some of its first-wave clientele). Head over early for a group tango, salsa, or swing lesson, whirl the kids around until they drop sleepily into a corner, then keep on dancing until dawn — doors won’t close until the last guest leaves. Auguststrasse 24,, lessons from $4. 

13. See a silent film
Berlin is chock-a-block with specialty cinemas, many of which show classic Hollywood films in English. But you could see those at home, couldn’t you? For a one-of-a-kind theater experience that still won’t get lost in translation, buy a ticket for a silent-film screening at the Babylon in Mitte, where the musical accompaniment might be the movie’s original score performed live on piano or a local DJ spinning trance music. Rosa-Luxemburg-Strasse 30,, silent-film screenings $8.75. 

14. Sleep like a movie star
Immerse yourself deeper still into the glamorous world of Stummfilm (silent movies) by staying at Hotel-Pension Funk, a 14-room inn located in the former home of silent film actress Asta Nielsen. Its graceful, Jugendstil chandeliers, antique wardrobes, and original architectural details (vast art nouveau windows, decorative moldings) will transport you to a bygone era — albeit one blessed with free Wi-Fi. Fasanenstrasse 69,, from $68 for doubles with a shared bath, breakfast included. 

15. Or find a home away from home
For an even funkier stay, book the “band room” at the Michelberger Hotel, in a converted factory. With five single beds, a lofted sleeping area, a dining table, and big windows overlooking the communal courtyard, it feels like playing house in the best way. Warschauer Strasse 39/40,, doubles from $78, band room from $155.

Cars Land revs up Disney’s California Adventure

Colleen Lanin

Mater and Lightning McQueen at California Adventure’s new Cars Land.

Some die-hard fans of Florida’s Walt Disney World might ask, “Why would I go to Disneyland when Orlando has all of the same stuff and then some?”

I’ll tell you why: Cars Land.

Cars Land, opening Friday in Disney’s California Adventure park next door to Disneyland, marks the grand finale of a five-year expansion of the Anaheim, Calif., theme park. Disney has upped the amusement ante to lure more visitors and to get those who do visit “The Happiest Place on Earth” to stay longer.

To name just a few of the numerous additions over the past half-decade, there’s the Toy Story Mania arcade ride, the Little Mermaid-Ariel’s Undersea Adventure ride, and the World of Color nighttime water, light and fire show.

Also opening today is Buena Vista Street, a redesigned entry to California Adventure, built with a theme of a 1920s Los Angeles, when Walt Disney stepped off a train from Kansas City with a cardboard suitcase and $40 in his pocket. This area’s centerpiece is the Cathay Circle Restaurant and Lounge, inspired by the theater where the first feature-length animated film, “Snow White,” made its cinematic debut.

The biggest draw, however, is Cars Land, which Disney Chairman and CEO Bob Iger calls, “The Crown Jewel of our Disney California Adventure expansion.” With three rides, new retail stores, a trio of eateries, Cars character meet-and-greets and a nightly dance party, the 12-acre addition is the biggest expansion since California Adventure opened in 2001.

Cars movie enthusiasts can experience a three-dimensional version of the film’s fictional hometown of Radiator Springs, with its 300,000-square-foot Cadillac Mountain Range and the Radiator Falls waterfall along Route 66. “When our guests step into this land and they see the spectacle and the panorama of the landscape, I want them to feel like this is the greatest road trip they’ve ever been on,” says Kevin Rafferty, concept writer and senior director for Walt Disney Imagineering.

Disney has spent nearly three years building Cars Land. John Lasseter, CEO of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios, says, “To be authentic, I asked the Imagineers to get out and travel Route 66. It’s feeling it, seeing the light and hearing the stories of the people on the road.”

The food and beverage team embarked on a similar Route 66 trip to bring back authentic flavors of this iconic route. Flo’s V8 Café serves up good old fashioned diner eats reminiscent of the food the Disney Imagineers sampled along their road trip, like a veggie-tater bake or turkey with raspberry jam and mashed potatoes. Then there are the “ugly pies” in flavors like strawberry-rhubarb, chocolate-mud and apple-cheddar, made aesthetically imperfect to mimic the home-style desserts that are a staple of Route 66 food culture.

But it’s the rides that will drive people into Cars Land. Radiator Springs Racers spans six acres and is the king attraction. After a leisurely tour of Ornament Valley, riders zip side-by-side at speeds up to 40 miles per hour through a mountain setting. Adding to the thrill of the race, guests never know who is going to win. (There is a 40-inch minimum height requirement for this ride.)

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Luigi’s Flying Tires is a descendant of the old school Flying Saucers attraction, which operated in Tomorrowland from 1961 to 1966. The ride features slow-moving, somewhat disappointing floating bumper cars of sorts with over 6,000 air vents keeping the “tires” floating about two inches above the ground (minimum height requirement: 32 inches).

On Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree ride, everyone’s favorite tow truck, Mater (voiced by Larry the Cable Guy), sings songs while 22 baby tractors dance in a joyous spinning hoedown (minimum height requirement: 32 inches).

Will Cars Land and the rest of the Disneyland additions be enough to draw more visitors for longer stays? I’ll bet you a slice of ugly pie it does.

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