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Tag Archives: family travel

Finding fun at theme parks without going broke

Six Flags Great America

High-speed wing roller coasters, such as X-Flight at Six Flags Great America in Illinois, are new this season.

 

With summer fast approaching, the nation’s theme and amusement parks are gearing up for the seasonal explosion of visitors. If you’re going to be among the millions packing these parks, it’s time to develop your strategy for maximizing the fun without going broke.

Attendance at the 20 largest theme and amusement parks in the United States far exceeds 100 million people per year, according to the Themed Entertainment Association. (In comparison, Major League Baseball’s 30 teams drew a combined 73 million fans in 2011.) 

Overall, the approximately 400 parks in the U.S. draw about 300 million people a year and generate $12 billion in revenue, according to the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions.

Walt Disney parks dominate the top 20 list, holding the first six slots in the most recent report (2010 data) with Universal Studios’ Islands of Adventure — home of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter — nipping at the heels of Disney’s California Adventure Park.

Disney’s Anaheim, Calif., properties, which just boosted prices to $87 for park-goers older than 10 (a $7 jump), are getting the big buzz this year. In June, the California Adventure Park is to unveil a 12-acre Cars Land, an area made to look like the animated Radiator Springs featured in the “Cars” movies.

“It’s not every year you get a big new attraction from Disney or Universal,” says Robert Niles, editor of the consumer website ThemeParkInsider.com.

Closer to home for most are regional amusement and water parks, such as the 19 owned by the Six Flags Entertainment Corp or the 11 controlled by Cedar Fair Entertainment. They’re more geared to the day-trippers and usually pull from a 75-100 mile radius, says Jefferies Co analyst John Maxwell.

Video: Gas prices down for Memorial Day weekend

“Both Cedar Fair and Six Flags have performed well over the past couple of years in a tough economic environment. They’re giving the consumer what they want,” he says. “They still provide what people are willing to pay for.”

The parks are in the business of keeping people happy, Maxwell says. They try to keep their venues clean and up to date because they need visitors to return and stay at the property as long as possible. “They always have to reinvest into their business. You have to keep them fresh. You have to keep them attractive.”

While Disney and Universal try to deliver a broad experience for visitors connected to their brands, regional amusement parks are most closely associated with their roller coasters, Niles says. High-speed wing roller coasters — riders are suspended on either side of the track — are new this season at Dollywood (Wild Eagle) in Tennessee and Six Flags Great America (X-Flight) in Illinois. “Dinosaurs Alive! On Adventure Island,” featuring about 50 life-sized animatronic dinosaurs, just opened at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio.

Costs
The big resorts in California or Florida may offer the broadest range of attractions, but many families cannot afford the cost of travel, let alone what they’ll pay for entry. The cost of a single day’s admission for a family of two adults and two children at Walt Disney World in Orlando is just short of $350, including tax. Add in an optional upgrade that admits the family to more than one park that day and the cost swells to $488. 

Costs for visitors are far less at regional parks, although not necessarily cheap. At Cedar Fair’s flagship Cedar Point amusement park, a family of four’s admission costs $158 at the gate. 

A theme park/amusement park visitor, on average, will be able to get on 10 rides in a day — a figure that can vary widely depending on how crowded the park is and how ambitious the visitor is, Niles says. So, if you’re doing math by the ride, using that average, it’s costing the family going to a Disney Park in Orlando just under $9 per ride compared with about $4 a ride at Cedar Point. 

But, theme park expert and Orlando guidebook author Jason Cochran notes, the options for lowering the price at the parks are numerous. At Disney, you can drop the daily admission rate when you buy multiple-day passes. With a seven-day pass, daily admission drops to about $146 for the family of four — a bit more than $1,000 for the seven days. 

Here are tips to make park visits work for you this summer:

Consider a season pass
Discounts are everywhere, from buying your ticket on the park’s website to codes found on soda cans to newspaper ads. And, if you plan a return trip (or more), a season’s pass is an option at most of the regional parks, Cochran says. At some parks, such as Six Flags’ Great America in Illinois, the cost of a pass that will get you in all season is $260 for a family of four compared with $200 for a one-time admission purchased at the gate. Most of the parks, Niles says, will let you apply what you spent on admission if you upgrade before you leave. As a bonus, the Six Flags season passes allow admission to 13 of its parks.

Pay to cut the line
If money’s not an object, Cochran points out that you can upgrade your admission at many parks to skip the lines. “You can essentially end up paying double your ticket price, but you can enjoy the park in half the time,” he says. At Great America, for instance, a group of four can pay $135-$320 a day for a variety of line-skipping options, from being paged when it’s your turn to ride to being able to avoid an estimated 90 percent of the wait-time.

Or spend really big
Not everyone is looking to save, says Niles, who has been running his theme park website since 1999. For some, particularly those headed to the destination parks, they want the full treatment. “There are certainly ways to cut costs, but also some people like to treat it like they’re at an all-inclusive resort,” he says. That means on top of tickets, using the theme park’s often pricey hotels and buying the resort meal plans.

On the other hand…
If you’re not prepared to spend thousands of dollars and you’re sticking with a more frugal amusement park experience, in addition to scoping out all the admission pricing options, Cochran suggests car pooling as a way to lessen the blow of often bloated parking fees, refilling water bottles at fountains, trying to bring in your own sandwiches (something often prohibited but not always enforced) and avoiding souvenirs. If you’re close enough, Cochran suggests checking out throw-back parks such as Knoebels Amusement Resort in Elysburg, Pa., where admission and parking is free and the costliest ride is $3 (plenty are $1 or less).

Niles likes Holiday World in Santa Claus, Ind., where your $45 admission ($35 for kids) includes free soft drinks. “You don’t feel nickeled and dimed and gouged there.” In contrast, a single medium beverage at some parks could cost $3 or more.

More on Overhead Bin

Best travel apps for kids (and parents)

The PBS Kids Video app includes clips from such kid-favorite shows as “Sesame Street.”

Have you ever walked through an airport and seen a toddler gripping an iPhone in their stroller? Kids apps, and kids playing on tablets and smartphones are becoming an increasingly familiar sight. Why? For one, they are being entertained, and two, let’s be honest, it gives the parents and grandparents a break. Here are a few top-notch apps for your kids to take with them on their next trip, whether they are playing by themselves or you want to join in the fun.


Best apps for long plane rides

PBS Kids Video | Free | Ages 2–9 | iPhone IPad
Save money (and time) downloading videos to your iPad before a trip. The PBS Kids Video app has several clips from your child’s favorite shows like Dinosaur Train, Sid the Science Guy, Sesame Street, Curious George, The Electric Company, Martha Speaks and more. Use the browse function to see a list of what’s available, including a smattering of full episodes.

Draw and Tell by Duck Duck Moose (HD) | $1.99 | Ages 2–9 | iPhone iPad
This is the ultimate coloring book. From the same award-winning children’s app developer that brought you Wheels on the Bus and Word Wagon, this coloring book is more extensive than others you’ll find in the App Store. There are 27 colors and you can use crayons, paints or pencils to color your drawings on a blank page, or ready-to-color scenes. The patterns and stickers are good fun, and you can even record your voice to tell a story or to send your creation as a greeting card.

Monkey Preschool Lunchbox | $1.99 | Ages 1–4 | iPhone, iPad Android
A squealing, jumping, silly monkey teaches your child how to count fruit, build shapes, match objects and more. This is a fun way to learn the basics for your youngest of travelers. A great game for your child to start playing even before they start preschool.

Best apps to help kids explore a new city

Alfred | Free | iPhone, iPad Android
Alfred the robot concierge will be your guide through U.S. travels. In the beginning Alfred will ask questions about what kinds of restaurants you like. Then he’ll start recommending places so you can approve or deny. The more you use Alfred, the better he is at choosing places you love. Then, when you get to a new town, you can trust his picks based on previous favorites. This is a clever travel app for the whole family to use together.

Viator Tours Activities | Free | iPhone iPad
Let your children participate in what the family will be doing when you get to your destination. This app has 9,000 tours, tickets and activities in more than 750 destinations around the world. From double-decker bus sightseeing tours to tickets that get you to the front of the line at popular attractions like the Vatican in Rome, or the Louvre in Paris. Includes user-submitted photos and reviews.

Roadside America | 3–adult | $2.99–$5.99 | iPhone iPad
Quick, stop the car! Roadside America is a thorough guide to all that’s weird and story-worthy. You can find unusual attractions near to wherever you are, or look for something by city or state. Search by themes like “big,” “movies,” “animals” and even “freaky hoo-ha.”

Best apps for car trips

Tales2Go | Ages 3–preteen | Free for 30 days, $9.99 monthly or $99.99 per year
Stop the kids from fighting over your device and turn on an audio story for the long road trip. There are more than 1,700 stories divided into age-appropriate categories for 3-plus, 5-plus, 7-plus, 9-plus and preteen kids in Tales2Go. There’s Clifford and Curious George for the younger set, while the older crew can switch on Diary of a Wimpy Kid or How to Train Your Dragon. Something like Black Beauty could take nearly two hours to get through, which just might give you a break from hearing “Are we there yet?”

Road Trip Bingo HD | Ages 4+ | $1.99 | iPhone iPad (similar apps on Android)
If your child is sitting up high enough to see out the car window, they’re old enough to play this fun game where you look for signs and vehicles to complete a bingo card. Share between two kids in the back seat with the two-player option. Keeps them busy.

Mad Libs | Ages 6–adults | Free | iPhone iPad
This is another fun game for the whole family to play whether you’re stuck in the car or waiting for your food to come at a roadside restaurant. Just like in the hard-copy versions, you enter funny nouns, verbs, and plural nouns, and adverbs to create a laugh aloud story. Even in the free version I found topics on Vacations, Driving in the Car and Letter to a Friend Back Home.

Best apps to educate kids on geography

Stack the States | Ages 6+ | $0.99
Kids will learn about capitals, state shapes, and map locations in this four-in-one game populated with cartoon states that stack, drop, tumble and slide around like puzzle pieces. Once you complete a level, you earn a state to add to your country map. You can also tap on states to learn about them before you play. This company also makes Stack the Countries, and both are available in a free lite version.

Kids Maps | Ages 4-8 | $1.99–$2.99 | Android and iPhone
A colorful, interactive, map puzzle for kids. Not all games have to have a million bells and whistles.This one has a simple premise: See the state and drag it to its correct place on the map. But the interface is colorful and interactive, and it offers quirky comments like, “North Dakota. North Dakota is where lots of geese live.” All in all, this puzzle makes learning states more fun than a text book.

Fotopedia National Parks | Ages 5–adult | $0.99 | iPhone and iPad
All of the Fotopedia apps are brimming with photos of startling beauty from renowned photographer QT Luong. Inspire your kids with otherworldly blue-white glaciers from Glacier Bay, starry night skies from Yosemite’s Indian Rock and red-hot molten lava flow from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. You can use the pictures to plan a future trip and even get directions via Google Map if you are using the app while already on the road.

More from Conde Nast Traveler

 

 

Best travel apps for kids (and parents)

The PBS Kids Video app includes clips from such kid-favorite shows as “Sesame Street.”

Have you ever walked through an airport and seen a toddler gripping an iPhone in their stroller? Kids apps, and kids playing on tablets and smartphones are becoming an increasingly familiar sight. Why? For one, they are being entertained, and two, let’s be honest, it gives the parents and grandparents a break. Here are a few top-notch apps for your kids to take with them on their next trip, whether they are playing by themselves or you want to join in the fun.


Best apps for long plane rides

PBS Kids Video | Free | Ages 2–9 | iPhone IPad
Save money (and time) downloading videos to your iPad before a trip. The PBS Kids Video app has several clips from your child’s favorite shows like Dinosaur Train, Sid the Science Guy, Sesame Street, Curious George, The Electric Company, Martha Speaks and more. Use the browse function to see a list of what’s available, including a smattering of full episodes.

Draw and Tell by Duck Duck Moose (HD) | $1.99 | Ages 2–9 | iPhone iPad
This is the ultimate coloring book. From the same award-winning children’s app developer that brought you Wheels on the Bus and Word Wagon, this coloring book is more extensive than others you’ll find in the App Store. There are 27 colors and you can use crayons, paints or pencils to color your drawings on a blank page, or ready-to-color scenes. The patterns and stickers are good fun, and you can even record your voice to tell a story or to send your creation as a greeting card.

Monkey Preschool Lunchbox | $1.99 | Ages 1–4 | iPhone, iPad Android
A squealing, jumping, silly monkey teaches your child how to count fruit, build shapes, match objects and more. This is a fun way to learn the basics for your youngest of travelers. A great game for your child to start playing even before they start preschool.

Best apps to help kids explore a new city

Alfred | Free | iPhone, iPad Android
Alfred the robot concierge will be your guide through U.S. travels. In the beginning Alfred will ask questions about what kinds of restaurants you like. Then he’ll start recommending places so you can approve or deny. The more you use Alfred, the better he is at choosing places you love. Then, when you get to a new town, you can trust his picks based on previous favorites. This is a clever travel app for the whole family to use together.

Viator Tours Activities | Free | iPhone iPad
Let your children participate in what the family will be doing when you get to your destination. This app has 9,000 tours, tickets and activities in more than 750 destinations around the world. From double-decker bus sightseeing tours to tickets that get you to the front of the line at popular attractions like the Vatican in Rome, or the Louvre in Paris. Includes user-submitted photos and reviews.

Roadside America | 3–adult | $2.99–$5.99 | iPhone iPad
Quick, stop the car! Roadside America is a thorough guide to all that’s weird and story-worthy. You can find unusual attractions near to wherever you are, or look for something by city or state. Search by themes like “big,” “movies,” “animals” and even “freaky hoo-ha.”

Best apps for car trips

Tales2Go | Ages 3–preteen | Free for 30 days, $9.99 monthly or $99.99 per year
Stop the kids from fighting over your device and turn on an audio story for the long road trip. There are more than 1,700 stories divided into age-appropriate categories for 3-plus, 5-plus, 7-plus, 9-plus and preteen kids in Tales2Go. There’s Clifford and Curious George for the younger set, while the older crew can switch on Diary of a Wimpy Kid or How to Train Your Dragon. Something like Black Beauty could take nearly two hours to get through, which just might give you a break from hearing “Are we there yet?”

Road Trip Bingo HD | Ages 4+ | $1.99 | iPhone iPad (similar apps on Android)
If your child is sitting up high enough to see out the car window, they’re old enough to play this fun game where you look for signs and vehicles to complete a bingo card. Share between two kids in the back seat with the two-player option. Keeps them busy.

Mad Libs | Ages 6–adults | Free | iPhone iPad
This is another fun game for the whole family to play whether you’re stuck in the car or waiting for your food to come at a roadside restaurant. Just like in the hard-copy versions, you enter funny nouns, verbs, and plural nouns, and adverbs to create a laugh aloud story. Even in the free version I found topics on Vacations, Driving in the Car and Letter to a Friend Back Home.

Best apps to educate kids on geography

Stack the States | Ages 6+ | $0.99
Kids will learn about capitals, state shapes, and map locations in this four-in-one game populated with cartoon states that stack, drop, tumble and slide around like puzzle pieces. Once you complete a level, you earn a state to add to your country map. You can also tap on states to learn about them before you play. This company also makes Stack the Countries, and both are available in a free lite version.

Kids Maps | Ages 4-8 | $1.99–$2.99 | Android and iPhone
A colorful, interactive, map puzzle for kids. Not all games have to have a million bells and whistles.This one has a simple premise: See the state and drag it to its correct place on the map. But the interface is colorful and interactive, and it offers quirky comments like, “North Dakota. North Dakota is where lots of geese live.” All in all, this puzzle makes learning states more fun than a text book.

Fotopedia National Parks | Ages 5–adult | $0.99 | iPhone and iPad
All of the Fotopedia apps are brimming with photos of startling beauty from renowned photographer QT Luong. Inspire your kids with otherworldly blue-white glaciers from Glacier Bay, starry night skies from Yosemite’s Indian Rock and red-hot molten lava flow from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. You can use the pictures to plan a future trip and even get directions via Google Map if you are using the app while already on the road.

More from Conde Nast Traveler

 

 

Want to fly next to your child? Prepare to pay

Summer travel will become more costly this year now that airlines are charging more for aisle and window seats, in some cases $25 each way. NBC’s Tom Costello reports.

It’s not just enough to buy your airplane ticket anymore: Increasingly, along with checking baggage, airlines want you to pay extra to ensure a seat next to your travel companions, including your spouse or child.

That’s sure to lead to unhappiness during the coming busy summer travel season, with passengers already toting their own suitcases and carrying their own food to avoid paying additional fees. In many cases, it may cost as much as $25 — each way — to ensure you and your companion sit together. And last month, United Airlines ended its policy of allowing families traveling with small children to board early, USA Today reports

It’s tough news for many summer travelers. Airlines have successfully raised airfares three times this year. Business travelers are already facing fares that will likely rise this year an average of four percent in North America, according to the Egencia’s 2012 Global Corporate Travel Forecast. Egencia is an Expedia, Inc. company.

Regarding the seat reservation fees, it works like this: Airlines are reserving a growing number of window and aisle seats for passengers willing to pay extra for them, the Associated Press reports. While airlines say it’s a move to boost revenue, the policy is making it harder for friends and family members who don’t pay this fee to sit next to each other. At the peak of the summer travel season, it might be nearly impossible, the AP reports.

Since last summer, American, Delta Air Lines, Frontier Airlines and United Airlines have increased the percentage of coach seats requiring some kind of extra fee. Allegiant Air and Spirit Airlines charge extra for any advanced seat assignment, according to the AP.

“I think it’s going to fall flat on its face,” predicted travel psychologist Michael Brein, PhD, of Bainbridge Island, Wash. “It’s pushing the envelope a little far for travelers. People have had it up to here with fees, and this one sounds not so well thought out to me.”

George Hobica, founder and president of the Internet travel site Airfarewatchdog, said he thinks the fees are reasonable. “When you think about it, when you go to a theater, a Broadway play, you always pay extra for better seats. They’re doing the same thing.”

Live Poll

Should airlines charge extra for window and aisle seats?

Airlines are having a tough time, Hobica points out:  “Two of our remaining airlines lost money last quarter, and the industry as a whole had a 1.5 percent profit margin. I’m all about low airfares — it’s been my stock in trade for almost 20 years. But the traveling public has had it good at expense of the airlines… People need to be honest and should buck up and say if they want these low fares, then the people who want special service should pay (extra) for it.”

One airline bucking the trend is the Seattle-based Alaska.

“We do not charge for priority seating, or seating together at Alaska Airlines,” said spokeswoman Marianne Lindsey. “We do hold some seats out for last-minute booking by our elite member frequent fliers and passengers with disabilities, but in general you should be able to find seats together for your family.”

Now and again, that can be a challenge, Lindsey said.

“In some instances, however, with full flights, families may not be seated together,” she said. “In this instance, we do all that we can to accommodate families requesting seating together, including asking if there are other travelers that would be willing to change their seats for the family. If all four cannot be seated together we try to at least get one parent with each child. Oftentimes, once families are onboard, other travelers offer to move to accommodate the family, and our flight attendants help facilitate this.”

Would you pay extra to guarantee a seat next to your traveling companion? Tell us about it on Facebook.

More on Overhead Bin

 

 

 

New coasters offer one-of-a-kind thrills

Courtesy of Dollywood

The Wild Eagle reaches 21 stories above Dollywood, giving riders a speeding view of the Smoky Mountains.

Thrill-seekers hoping to go bigger, higher or faster on new roller coasters this year may be disappointed — although they’ll probably be screaming too loud to pout about it for long.

From outstretched wings to water elements, ride designers and theme park operators are upping the thrill factor through design and technology rather than vying for new records for height or speed.


“The technology and design have evolved more in the last couple of years than they have in the last 20,” said Dennis Speigel, president of International Theme Park Services Inc., a Cincinnati-based theme park consulting company.

The result is that this year’s coaster crop “offers really, really different thrills,” said Gary Slade, publisher and editor in chief of Amusement Today, an industry trade magazine. “It’s a nice assortment of rides and experiences.”

If that sounds like fun, climb aboard, buckle up and ride along:

Wild Eagle, Dollywood
Scream season got off to a high-flying start when this raptor-themed ride took flight on March 23. The first wing coaster in the U.S., it features floorless cars in which riders sit on either side of the track, feet dangling as they fly through four inversions, including a giant loop, zero-gravity roll and giant flat spin, as they soar through the surrounding forest. “Swooping through the natural terrain of the forest really gives you the feeling of flying,” said Robb Alvey, creator of ThemeParkReview.com.

X Flight, Six Flags Great America

Courtesy of Six Flags Great America

X Flight reaches 55 mph during 3,000 feet of intense drops and five inversions.

Take a 12-story first drop, five inversions and nothing beneath your feet but a whole lot of air and you’ve got X Flight, the nation’s second wing coaster. This one, though, adds another twist — a vertical, keyhole-shaped flythrough that you approach horizontally before making a last-second 90-degree pivot to pass through, presumably intact. “No matter how many times you ride it, you still want to tuck your legs in under your seat,” said Slade.

Verbolten, Busch Gardens Williamsburg

Courtesy of Busch Gardens Williamsburg

Verbolten’s 48-inch ride-height requirement allows parents to introduce their young ones to zooming thrills.

Opened on May 18, this “immersive thematic attraction” simulates a car-based trip through a “forbidden” Black Forest, complete with high-speed turns, a free-fall drop, and sound, light and other environmental effects. It’s designed to be more exhilarating than overpowering — its top speed is a family-friendly 53 mph — although the final, 88-foot drop to the park’s Rhine River will likely tighten certain body parts. “It perfectly fills that family thrill ride void left by Big Bad Wolf,” said Alvey.

Goliath, Six Flags New England 

Courtesy Six Flags New England

Goliath, which opens May 25, features a 65 mph free-fall.

They call it a coaster of epic proportions but it’s not the size that matters on this looping boomerang ride. Strapped in face-down, riders are hauled to the top of a nearly 20-story tower, where they’re released for a 65-mph free-fall, sent through a 102-foot vertical loop and a 110-foot butterfly (twisting) turn and rocketed up a second tower. Don’t relax, though, because you then get to do most of it again — facing backwards. “If you’re scared of heights or going backwards,” said Alvey, “it’ll challenge your fears.” Opening May 25.

Manta, SeaWorld San Diego

Seaworld

Manta, which opens May 26, features 20-seat, manta ray-shaped trains that skim the water.

This launch coaster won’t be the tallest (highest drop: 54 feet) or fastest (top speed: 43 mph) ride when it opens on May 26 but it may be the most unusual. Sitting in 20-seat, ray-shaped trains, riders are launched out of a tunnel enhanced with oversized projections of rays and put through more than a dozen turns, including one in which the train’s wings skim through the water. “It doesn’t have a big vertical span,” said Slade, “but when you’re that close to the ground, it can really heighten the sense of speed.”

Of course, if you still feel the need for speed (and/or height), rest assured you’ll get your chance. At least three more coasters — Apocalypse at Six Flags America, Skyrush at Hersheypark and Superman: Ultimate Flight at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom — are expected to open later this spring.

Rob Lovitt is a longtime travel writer who still believes the journey is as important as the destination. Follow him at Twitter.

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