The Best Outdoor Adventures in California

Although states like Hawaii, Alaska, Oregon, Montana and Florida are hailed for their wide array of outdoor adventures, the massive state of California also has plenty to offer nature lovers.   From pristine mountain lakes and flourishing redwood forests to sunny beaches and sandy desert dunes, these are the best spots for outdoor exploration in More »

The Beauty of Okinawa Japan

I must admit, I don’t know a lot about Japan. It’s on my bucket list to be sure, but beyond Geishas, snow monkeys, and the bright lights of Tokyo, I’m not that fully versed in the country and what else it has to offer. Blame it on action films and nature documentaries, but the Western More »

5 Important Motorcycle Laws

If there’s a road trip in your future, why not consider leaving the car at home and riding across country on a motorbike? It’s better on gas, you’ll love the feel of the breeze against your skin, and you’ll meet plenty of like-minded souls who crave the open road as much as you do. Although More »

Tag Archives: family travel

World’s most-visited theme parks

Imagebroker / Alamy

With more than 17 million visitors in 2011, Disney World in Orlando, Fla. claims the top spot for the most-visited theme park.

Four decades after opening—and transforming Orlando—the Magic Kingdom is still the No. 1 most popular theme park, working its pixie-dust charm on more than 17 million annual visitors.

Yet Mickey Mouse has some recent competition: the rising star of the theme-park industry is an English boy with round spectacles and a scar on his forehead.


Slideshow: See which theme parks are the world’s most-visited

The $265 million Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which opened in the summer of 2010, single-handedly carried Islands of Adventure into the world’s top 10 most-visited theme parks, delivering a 29 percent jump in attendance. “That’s just huge growth when you’re talking about the top of the rankings,” says Robert Niles, editor of Theme Park Insider.

The takeaway? If you build it, they will come—especially if you spend a boatload of money and create an experience that’s, to use the industry’s favorite buzzword, immersive. The latest and greatest new theme-park attractions are designed to pull us right into the story, whether we’re engaging in an epic robot battle, soaking up the retro cars culture along Route 66, or downing pints of butterbeer with Hogwarts students.

One big, exciting new attraction can get folks through the turnstiles, says Niles. “And if you look at the really huge news happening this year—it’s Cars Land at Disney California Adventure, Transformers at Universal Studios Hollywood, the new Manta roller coaster at SeaWorld San Diego,” he says. “I think 2012 will be southern California’s year.”

But if you’re looking for even bigger growth, look even farther afield to Asia, which passed the 100-million-visitor milestone for the first time in 2011. Hong Kong‘s Ocean Park, No. 11, got a boost from a new rainforest adventure and aquarium-themed zone, while Nagashima Spa Land challenges visitors to brave the world’s longest roller coaster, Steel Dragon 2000. With a number of major new parks planned for the world’s most populous continent, Asia’s slice of the theme park pie should only get bigger.

Even some traditional theme parks are getting spruced up: for its 60th anniversary in 2012, the De Efteling park south of Amsterdam has unveiled Aquanura, a fountains-and-light extravaganza.

Get the scoop on which other attractions and events are drawing crowds to the world’s most-visited theme parks, based on Themed Entertainment Association‘s latest attendance report (2011).

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5 eco-adventures for kids

Courtesy of The Ritz-Carlton

Children explore tide pools at Kapalua Bay in Maui as part of The Ritz-Carlton’s Ambassadors of the Environment program.

Kids clubs at resorts have long been a great way for parents to grab some precious alone time for a few hours while the kids toss water balloons, swim with peers, and complete a few arts and crafts activities. Many kids clubs are now making environmental awareness a key component, taking kids on beach excursions to track wildlife or plant seedlings. 


“Getting children alone, away from parents, in the environment enables them to really express themselves and explore without any constraints,” says Liz King, who heads up the Junior Naturalist program for the Kiawah Island Golf Resort in South Carolina. “The main goal of our program is to not just give out information, but to provide hands-on experiences, and do a lot of outside exploration.”

Chris Niemeyer of Jacksonville, Ore., recently took his family to the Fairmont Southampton in Bermuda where the staff taught his young kids about natural water sources (Bermuda doesn’t have any), showing them how roof construction is designed to catch as much water as possible. “Seems like the kids’ minds kicked into gear as they became more aware of the differences around them as compared to home,” he says.

Here are five resorts with kids clubs that let kids have an impact on the world around them:

Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua – Maui, Hawaii
Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ambassadors of the Environment program offers eco-adventures for kids ages 5 and up. With three separate programs each day, kids can investigate tide pools, hike to ancient lava flows to learn how the Hawaiian Islands were formed and create jewelry using native Hawaiian plants and beach glass, while always exploring the relevance of local culture. Price range: $59-$79 per three-hour activity.

Fairmont Southampton – Southampton, Bermuda
Children ages 5 to 12 in the Explorers Camp can take part in daily EnviroKids activities, enabling them to play a role in Bermuda’s conservation efforts. Four days a week, campers can hike to Horseshoe Bay to uncover why the sand is pink, help protect the Eastern Blue Bird or plant seedlings to grow near-extinct Bermuda Cedar Trees, allowing kids to leave their mark on the island. Price: $30 per day.

Four Seasons Resort Nevis West Indies – Charlestown, Nevis
The Kids for All Seasons program (ages 3 to 9), focuses on endangered sea turtles. Kids go on turtle-watch beach walks and can even “adopt” a sea turtle during nesting season, which runs from June through October, from a group of turtles that are satellite-tagged for research. When the children go home, they can track the migratory patterns of their sea turtles online year-round. Price: free for hotel guests; evening turtle walks are $25 per person.

Trump International Beach Resort – Sunny Isles Beach, Fla.
Here you’ll find Planet Kids, for those ages 4 to 12. The club offers an enviro-adventures curriculum that teaches kids about ocean ecosystems, how sand is formed and what to do to protect local marine life. Kids even collect items found on the beach for arts and crafts. Price: free for hotel guests, with extra fees for meals and art supplies.

Kiawah Island Golf Resort – Kiawah Island, S.C.
Kids ages 8 to 13 can sign up for the Junior Naturalist program, which offers a hands-on approach to exploring nature. Kids can take one or all five classes, and if they complete the series they become an official Junior Naturalist. Each class focuses on a different topic, like entomology — which includes a nature walk to collect insects — and wildlife tracking, which features a beach excursion to find animal tracks. Price range: $20-$40 per 90-minute program. 

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Family tours cater to kids’ curiosity

Courtesy Context Travel

Context Travel docent Lawrence Owens explains a work of art at the British Museum in London.

It’s no secret that kids and teens have their own ways of learning about the world around them. They ask curious questions, pick up on unusual details and experience the arts and culture in altogether different ways from you and me.

Tour companies and individual educators are taking notice, offering family-focused tours and walks of major cities, galleries and museums. These tours are designed to make the arts, culture and history more easily understood and appreciated by a generation that prefers iPods to Impressionism.


“Never dumb it down, but make it more accessible and more approachable,” says Suzanne Julig, a New York City-based art advisor and educator who gives gallery tours to kids. “At the end of the day, you want kids to want to go back to the museum because they had a positive museum experience.”

Context Travel, for example, uses Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS). It sounds complex, but the idea behind VTS is simple: Ask children open-ended questions. What do you see here? What do you think that person is feeling in the painting? What’s the first thing that catches your eye?

“These tours open kids eyes to the world around them and equip them with language for engaging the world,” says Paul Bennett, co-founder of Philadelphia-based Context Travel, which offers specially tailored family tours in more than a dozen cities. “Kids become actively engaged with their surroundings, deciphering, reading, igniting cultural curiosity.”

Jeff Tyburski of Fairport, N.Y., took his then 10-year-old son, Luke, on an Ancient Rome family walk with Context Travel in 2006, led by an archaeologist. “The trip reinforced and validated Luke’s interest in archaeology, and now he’s planning to study archaeology when he starts college next fall,” says Tyburski.

Even individual museums have begun to make their offerings more engaging for kids. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art offers hands-on art activities and treasure hunts, even an exploration-based iPod Touch game hosted by Dingo and Collie, two colorful dogs from Roy de Forest’s painting, “Country Dog Gentleman.”

Here are several family-focused tours you may want to check out to help kids and teens get the most from travel experiences:

Go on a lion hunt around Venice
Kids will get a kick out of traipsing around the City of Canals in search of winged lions, the symbol of Venice, on buildings, bridges and street corners as docents weave in a discussion about the history of the city during this three-hour walk. (Context Travel, $360 per group)

Unlock the secrets of French cuisine in Paris
France is known worldwide for its culinary customs and delights. Young chefs can expose their palates to the smells and tastes of local Parisian markets, then set up a food lab to experiment with French cooking. (Context Travel, $415 per group)

Join a scavenger hunt through the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Spend time deciphering puzzles and searching for art works throughout the museum’s galleries. The most beautiful and interesting works will be distilled into an interactive discussion during this two-hour tour. (SuzanneJulig.com, $55 per child)

Brush up on Renaissance art (and how the paints are made) in Florence
Learn what “grotesque” paintings are and find out the strange ingredients used to make paint at the famous Uffizi Gallery. No yawns on this three-hour tour of one of the most well-known art collections. (ArtViva, $310 per group of up to 10 people)

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Family tours cater to kids’ curiousity

Courtesy Context Travel

Context Travel docent Lawrence Owens explains a work of art at the British Museum in London.

It’s no secret that kids and teens have their own ways of learning about the world around them. They ask curious questions, pick up on unusual details and experience the arts and culture in altogether different ways from you and me.

Tour companies and individual educators are taking notice, offering family-focused tours and walks of major cities, galleries and museums. These tours are designed to make the arts, culture and history more easily understood and appreciated by a generation that prefers iPods to Impressionism.


“Never dumb it down, but make it more accessible and more approachable,” says Suzanne Julig, a New York City-based art advisor and educator who gives gallery tours to kids. “At the end of the day, you want kids to want to go back to the museum because they had a positive museum experience.”

Context Travel, for example, uses Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS). It sounds complex, but the idea behind VTS is simple: Ask children open-ended questions. What do you see here? What do you think that person is feeling in the painting? What’s the first thing that catches your eye?

“These tours open kids eyes to the world around them and equip them with language for engaging the world,” says Paul Bennett, co-founder of Philadelphia-based Context Travel, which offers specially tailored family tours in more than a dozen cities. “Kids become actively engaged with their surroundings, deciphering, reading, igniting cultural curiosity.”

Jeff Tyburski of Fairport, N.Y., took his then 10-year-old son, Luke, on an Ancient Rome family walk with Context Travel in 2006, led by an archaeologist. “The trip reinforced and validated Luke’s interest in archaeology, and now he’s planning to study archaeology when he starts college next fall,” says Tyburski.

Even individual museums have begun to make their offerings more engaging for kids. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art offers hands-on art activities and treasure hunts, even an exploration-based iPod Touch game hosted by Dingo and Collie, two colorful dogs from Roy de Forest’s painting, “Country Dog Gentleman.”

Here are several family-focused tours you may want to check out to help kids and teens get the most from travel experiences:

Go on a lion hunt around Venice
Kids will get a kick out of traipsing around the City of Canals in search of winged lions, the symbol of Venice, on buildings, bridges and street corners as docents weave in a discussion about the history of the city during this three-hour walk. (Context Travel, $360 per group)

Unlock the secrets of French cuisine in Paris
France is known worldwide for its culinary customs and delights. Young chefs can expose their palates to the smells and tastes of local Parisian markets, then set up a food lab to experiment with French cooking. (Context Travel, $415 per group)

Join a scavenger hunt through the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Spend time deciphering puzzles and searching for art works throughout the museum’s galleries. The most beautiful and interesting works will be distilled into an interactive discussion during this two-hour tour. (SuzanneJulig.com, $55 per child)

Brush up on Renaissance art (and how the paints are made) in Florence
Learn what “grotesque” paintings are and find out the strange ingredients used to make paint at the famous Uffizi Gallery. No yawns on this three-hour tour of one of the most well-known art collections. (ArtViva, $310 per group of up to 10 people)

More stories you might like:

America’s wackiest mini-golf courses

Courtesy Ripley’s Old MacDonald’s Farm Mini-Golf

Play 54 barnyard-themed holes at Ripley’s Old MacDonald’s Farm Mini-Golf in Sevierville, Tenn.

When you’re about to putt, the last thing you expect is to be rushed by a lifelike animatronic gorilla. But at least at Virginia’s 18-course Perils of the Lost Jungle, you can’t say you weren’t warned.

It’s the kind of goofy, cheap thrill you can expect from the wackiest of America’s 1,600 mini-golf courses. Computer technology developed by Disney (known as animatronics) has helped to make miniature golf more popular—and more challenging. Ripley’s Old MacDonald’s Farm Mini Golf in Sevierville, Tenn., features talking animated barnyard animals that cheer, jeer, and even call out “Nice putt” to certain players.


Slideshow: See where America’s wackiest mini-golf courses are

Many indoor mini-golf courses are glow-in-the-dark or black-lit, such as Glowing Greens in Portland, Ore., a 10,000-square-foot tropical island/pirate adventure with optional 3-D viewing. Some courses are even quirkier, such as Ahlgrim Acres in the basement of an actual funeral parlor in Palatine, Ill., or Lake George, N.Y.’s Around the World in 18 Holes, where each hole represents a country through its famous landmarks (and a few stereotypes).

Miniature golf has its own national day, September 21, and turns up in pop culture: Homer and Marge of “The Simpsons” conceived Bart in the windmill of a mini-golf course; Adam Sandler refined his short game at a miniature-golf course in “Happy Gilmore”; and in “Jackass 2003,” they demolished a mini course with golf carts.

It’s a far cry from the early days of mini-golf, which began in St. Andrews, Scotland, in 1868 because women were not allowed to complete a full back swing; with an 18-hole mini-course, women wouldn’t have to drive the ball. In 1927, a Chattanooga, Tenn., hotel owner built a mini-golf course on Overlook Mountain, hoping to draw traffic to his property, and three years later, it hosted the National Tom Thumb Open, America’s first mini-golf competition. (These days, Myrtle Beach, S.C., attracts serious mini-golfers to an annual championship.)

By the ’50s and ’60s, the local putt-putt was a family destination and a fine place to bring a first date. As DVDs and video games have families increasingly glued to their digital screens, miniature-golf course owners have adapted to the new technology by replacing windmills and clown mouths with interactive challenges and animatronic characters.

So go ahead. Get goofy, bring the family and test your swing at one of America’s wackiest mini-golf courses.

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