How to Carry Travel Gear on a Motorbike

There’s something about a great road trip that can make us feel truly free. A motorbike road trip, however, can really take the euphoric feelings of freedom to a whole new level. Feel the rush as you explore new terrain and take to the open road on your bike. Whether you’re going away for a More »

How to Survive While Driving in Exhausting Heat

Long and hot summer days are a perfect time for adventures, and your car is definitely in want of a cool drive. You’ve bought new summer tyres, planned your itinerary in details, and packed your belonging…but you still aren’t ready enough to hit the road. Travelling by car in a trying heat requires much more More »

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 »

Tag Archives: family travel

6 fun family activities after the sun goes down

Adam Rodriguez / Desert Botanical Garden

Bring your own light to the summer Flashlight Tours at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix to discover what happens when the sun goes down.

When the sun goes down, it’s time for families to unplug and get out of the house. From full-moon tram rides to bioluminescent kayak tours, there’s a lot that can be done and enjoyed only at night, out of reach of laptops, iPods and cell phones.

“People just don’t get out into nature anymore,” says Pamela Levin, who runs the after-dark flashlight tours at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. “Kids love to explore the gardens at night. The whole evening just becomes one big ‘Wow!’ ” 

And of course, the Perseid meteor shower, which peaks on Aug. 12, is not to be missed. “Imagine so many shooting stars in one hour that you aren’t able to count them all,” says Becky Morales, a mother of four from Houston, Texas, who’s seen many meteor showers growing up and plans to wake her kids to see Perseid this weekend. “It’s an exhilarating experience to share with kids.”

Here are six must-do nighttime activities for families winding down their summers. 

See our parks under a full moon
Yosemite National Park in Northern California is already one of the most popular national parks in the daylight, but the full moon creates a new and magical scene, softly lighting up Yosemite Falls and Half Dome. Open-air tram tours are offered on five nights leading up to the full moon (the next one is Aug. 31). Must-see: a moonbow, a rainbow created by the moon’s glow, at Lower Yosemite Falls (Tram tours $25 for adults, $13 for children ages 5 and up).   

Grab a flashlight and discover the desert
Wait out daytime triple-digit temperatures and bring along a flashlight to see, feel and hear the best of the desert after dark. The Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix offers flashlight tours on Thursday and Saturday evenings through Sept. 1. On this two-hour tour, visitors stop at 10 stations to get up close with desert tortoises, snakes and geckos ($18 for adults, $8 for children ages 3 to 12).

Paddle along on a bioluminescent kayak tour
Only under a dark sky can we see the blue-green glow of bioluminescence on the ocean’s surface. At Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge on Florida’s Space Coast, families can paddle kayaks through Mosquito Lagoon to see this first-hand. Movements as simple as paddles gliding through the water cause microorganisms in the water to produce this bioluminescent glow, which peaks in late August (A Day Away Kayaking, $35 adults, $27 children).

Stay up late (or wake up early) to catch the Perseid meteor shower
In just a few days, the Perseid meteor shower will peak. State and national parks, as well as science centers and planetariums, across the country are breaking out the super-size telescopes for one of the most anticipated astronomical events of the year. Get away from the city lights and look for Perseid to soar across the night sky between 2-4 a.m. on Aug. 12.

Explore caves on a lantern tour
Once the sun goes down, visitors don headlamps to explore the steep gorges and rugged boulder caves at Lost River Gorge in North Woodstock, N.H. On this 1.5-hour guided tour families walk, climb and crawl through caves and experience waterfalls lit by lanterns. Cap off the tour by gathering around the campfire for s’mores ($27 per person).

Go stargazing
For those who like to stay up late to see stars, but not too late, there are a variety of outdoor stargazing programs offered nationwide. Spring Creek Ranch in Jackson Hole, Wyo., has a naturalist who hosts an astronomy night twice a week, using a green laser to point out star formations in the night sky. Visitors learn the mythology behind many constellations, like Ursa Major and Andromeda (free to guests on Mondays and Thursdays). 

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10 tips for multigenerational travel

My family recently returned from our first ever multigenerational vacation. My husband and I, my parents (who hadn’t been to Europe in 40 years), and our two kids, ages 5 and 10, jumped right in with a two-week trip to the Mediterranean. The vacation involved coordinating two international flights departing from different cities, two separate hotel stays and a cruise. Everyone told me we were nuts, and at some point during the planning phase, I began to think they might be right.

But we prevailed! The laughs and adventures we experienced on this vacation more than made up for the headache or two we suffered during the planning process; we shared the most amazing experiences together. Watching my son and his grandpa hand-in-hand winding their way through the ruins of Pompeii, and my daughter and her gram giggling over gelato on the Spanish Steps in Rome, these are memories I will cherish for the rest of my life. So, here are 10 tips to ensure your own extended family adventure is every bit as successful.


1. Get everyone involved
This point may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s critical. If someone says “I don’t care what we do, you can decide,” they don’t mean it. Or if they do, they won’t mean it once they get there. Even if some family members are more well-traveled than others, or just more outspoken, make sure you involve everyone in the planning. Each person should contribute one thing they really want to do or see, and make sure they get to do it. Not only is this important to ensure that everyone has fun, but it also prevents one person from taking responsibility for the whole family’s good time. Kids, even young ones, will love feeling like they are a part of making the trip a success.

2. Choose accommodations to suit your style
There’s no right or wrong choice on accommodations: the key is to discuss your options with everyone in your group. Maybe you are the type of family who will enjoy one large suite or a vacation rental, ideal for fostering togetherness, or perhaps, separate hotel rooms work best for your brood. Either way, don’t leave it to chance. Talk about preferences beforehand and respect requests for privacy. A vacation rental offers the best of both worlds: separate sleeping arrangements with common living spaces. Rentals work really well for families with infants and toddlers, as there is always a quiet space for naps. In hotels and on cruises, adjoining rooms/cabins are a great idea. Be sure to ask about group rates for large families!

3. Plan something for everyone
Whatever time of year you’re traveling, make sure you have plenty of different activities from which to choose, as well as ones with varying degrees of “difficulty.” And don’t expect everyone to participate in every activity. If you want to plan a hike, biking adventure or boat ride, great, but be sure there’s something for those who don’t want to participate, so they aren’t stuck back at the rental or hotel with nothing to do. Also, be sure to plan a few activities that you know everyone in your family will enjoy doing together. For my clan, it was dinner and a show. The wider the age range in your extended family, the more options you’ll want to consider. Renting a home on a secluded beach miles from town may seem idyllic to you, but your own idea of idyllic can translate to boring pretty quickly for both the older and younger members in your extended family.

4. Keep it positive
You don’t need (or want) a month’s vacation. Unless your family members are pros who travel together all the time, a week or two is probably plenty when it comes to a multigenerational trip. In fact, two weeks is the absolute max for us; that’s right about the time when everyone says, “This has been amazing! Let’s go home.” If you stay much longer, family dynamics may start to unravel. Chances are, you won’t be able to swing more than that anyway.

5. Share
On our recent trip to Europe, my mother and I realized too late that we had packed two of everything: two hair straighteners, two tweezers, two nail clippers, two bottles of Tylenol, two boxes of Band-Aids… you get the picture. While you can’t share everything, there are a great number of items that can easily be communal property — especially amongst family. When you’re traveling long distances — lugging and paying for extra bags — sharing can be really useful. Make a list of the items that make sense to share and decide who will bring each. Heck, you can even share clothes in some cases. Other items that you might share: hair dryers, curling irons, laptops and toothbrushes. Just kidding.

6. Take a break
Don’t mistakenly think this will be a relaxing vacation. It will be loads of fun, but it probably won’t be relaxing. And even the most tightly knit families will get on each others’ nerves eventually; things that never bothered you at home will bother you on the road, so be sure to schedule some time apart. Maybe the grandparents can enjoy an afternoon by themselves while others hit the beach with the kids. If you have more than one child, divide them up amongst the grownups, so each feels like the center of the universe for a day. Regrouping at the end of the day and sharing your stories over dinner is great fun. We made sure to end the trip together, enjoying a special dinner on our last evening away.

7. Be clear on finances
When planning a multigenerational vacation, consider everyone’s budget, and make sure to discuss who will pay for what. Often, these types of trips are gifts, with one party footing the bill for the whole group. But inevitably, there are additional and unexpected expenses. Regardless of who has booked and prepaid for the vacation, be sure to discuss all the possible additional expenses, not just the major and obvious ones like air and hotel. Are meals included? Drinks? What about activities and excursions? Who will pay for those? What about tips? And don’t forget about transportation once you get there. If you’re planning on taxis, there’s a good chance you won’t all fit into a single cab.

8. Don’t overtax the grandparents
While it’s great to have grandma and grandpa around to play babysitter, their idea of a vacation might not involve staying in with the kids every night while mom and dad go out on the town. Have this discussion beforehand. Even if they insist, be sure to fit in time for them to get out alone for dinner one night, too. Our family loves resorts and cruises with kids’ clubs so that when all else fails (and even when it doesn’t) there is always someone around to entertain the kids.

9. When in doubt, ask an expert
We find that making the arrangements on our own is part of the fun; but if you’re feeling a little unsure, or having trouble agreeing, you might prefer to have someone do the planning for you. There are tour operators that can help you plan a trip that appeals to all generations. Make sure you inquire about group rates and other discounts for large families.

10. Capture every moment
If your family is anything like my family, multigenerational trips are, sadly, few and far between. Busy schedules prevent us all from getting away together very often. By the time the opportunity comes around again, my 10-year-old will likely be in his teens. So, take a million pictures. Take a million videos. And then take some more. And make sure you ask a few trustworthy strangers to snap a photo of your entire crew. My all-time favorite picture from our vacation is one of all of us taken by a lovely Italian lady we stopped on the street by Trevi fountain. When you return home, let the kids help make a scrapbook. If one person picked up the tab, this is also a great idea for a thank-you gift!

There’s no right or wrong when it comes to a choosing a destination, only what works for your family. Beach vacations, ski vacations, cruises, even dude ranches and theme parks can make great multigenerational trips, if you plan wisely. Remember, don’t underestimate your elders! My parents had at least as much stamina trekking around Europe as we did. We had such a successful trip that I’m already brainstorming ideas for our next adventure — and hoping to extend it to even more people this time around. Wish us luck!

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8 astounding amusement parks

Eric Thayer / Reuters

Passengers ride the Cyclone roller coaster at Coney Island on June 30 in New York.


1. Busch Gardens at Tampa Bay, Florida Williamsburg, Va.
Whether you visit the Florida or Virginia locations, you won’t be disappointed. In Tampa, seven super fast, super high and super curvy coasters are available for the choosing, as well as a few junior coasters for budding thrill-seekers. Visitors also rave about the park’s breathtaking water rides. In Virginia, five coasters will hurl you through the park, including the 205-foot diving Griffon. 

 

Nearby Hotels: Intercontinental Hotel Tampa or Great Wolf Lodge Williamsburg

One of the largest amusement parks in the world based on its number of rides and roller coasters — 75 rides and 17 coasters — visitors will twist, turn, drop, plunge, loop, swing and race to their rushing hearts’ content. Try Maverick with a 400-foot-long tunnel; the 40-story-high Top Thrill Dragster with a 420-foot-tall tower; or the consistently top-ranked steel Millennium Force.

Nearby Hotel: Castaway Bay Resort

3. Coney Island, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Just a train ride from 
New York City, Coney Island is one of the country’s oldest amusement parks, and is as crucial as visiting Wrigley Field or the Empire State Building. Coney Island’s famed coaster is the Cyclone, an old-fashioned wooden coaster that will take you for a spin, again and again and again. The Cyclone has been producing screams since 1927.

Nearby Hotel: New York Marriott Marquis

4. The Boardwalk at Hersheypark, Hershey, Pa.
While 
Hershey is technically a theme park with attractions centered around Hershey Chocolate and its candy factory tour, it’s still unique enough to fall into our category of amusement parks, as it features seven aggressive thrill rides, as well as four other levels of coaster rides. The Sooperdooperlooper holds the title as the first looping coaster on the East Coast, and the park is friendly to height-challenged youngsters who are tired of being turned away from rides. Water rides, family rides and kiddie rides make Hersheypark an exciting park for all ages.

Nearby Hotel: Hotel Hershey

5. Islands of Adventure at Universal, Orlando, Fla.
Even before Harry Potter and his wizarding world descended upon Universal’s Islands of Adventure, this park has been a hit with the ‘tween and teen crowd too bored with the “kiddie” rides at the other 
Orlando theme parks (in their words, not ours!). Feel the Hulk’s rage as you speed from 0 to 40 mph in two seconds on the Incredible Hulk Coaster. Dog another coaster as you wind around in the Dragon Challenge, or get over your fear of heights in Doctor Doom’s Fearfall (well, maybe not). While the scream-inducing rides are here, so are the more family- and tot-friendly rides, so all ages can enjoy a day at the park.

Nearby Hotel: Nickelodeon Family Suites

6. Kings Island, Mason, Ohio
I remember driving from Illinois to Ohio as a roller-coaster-loving ‘tween to ride its famed Beast, the world’s longest wooden roller coaster (7,400 feet!), which spreads across 35 wooded acres. Beast footprints led the way to the coaster, and I was nothing but excited. This was also the first park where I road a looping roller coaster while my legs dangled beneath me over the towering trees. The park continues to intoxicate thrill seekers with inversions, suspensions, catapults, high speeds and dizzying heights, such as Xtreme Skyflyer, where you’ll hang glide from 153 feet at 60 miles per hour.

Nearby Hotel: La Quinta Inn Suites Cincinnati Sharonville

7. Knott’s Berry Farm, Buena Park, Calif.
With Snoopy serving as the face of Knott’s Berry Farm, you may be under the impression that this amusement park is for younger kids. Sure, the little ones are surrounded by a host of cartoon characters and rides specifically targeted toward them, but don’t let it fool you: Thrills abound at America’s first theme park. (The park opened just outside 
Los Angeles in 1920.) You’ll flip your lid on Rip Tide, where at 59 feet into the air, you’ll be turned head over heels. The Scream Swing brings kids to unfathomable heights in its enormous 70-foot swing, and Supreme Scream drops you 254 feet (while you’re strapped in, of course)! 

Nearby Hotel: Anaheim Crowne Plaza Resort

8. Six Flags, nationwide
No matter where you live, a jaunt on the fear-inspiring roller coasters of a Six Flags park is easy to come by.
CaliforniaGeorgiaIllinois, Kentucky, Maryland,Massachusetts, Missouri, New Jersey, New York or Texas — pick your poison. Time and again, rankings of America’s best roller coasters turn up results at the Six Flags Great Adventure (New Jersey), Six Flags Great America (Chicago) and Six Flags New England (Massachusetts), so if you can trek to one of these parks, you’ll encounter some of the fastest and highest coaster rides.

Nearby Hotels: Check out Family Vacation Critic for hotels near the park of your choice.

What’s your favorite roller coaster? Tell us about it on Facebook.

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Disney World asks Santa look-alike to tone it down

Courtesy Thomas Tolbert

Thomas Tolbert, 52, was asked to be less “Santa-ish” during a recent trip to Disney World.

With his roly-poly body and bleached-white hair, mustache and beard, 52-year old Thomas Tolbert of Roswell, Ga., is a spitting image of Santa Claus. 

In June, during a Father’s Day weekend trip to Disney World with relatives, theme-park officials pulled Tolbert  aside and ordered him to stop signing autographs, posing for photographs, and dressing to look like Santa.

“I wasn’t wearing a red suit, a hat or black boots,” Tolbert told NBC News, “just khaki pants, red high-top sneakers with green laces and a billowy, specially-made shirt decorated with a collage of Santa Claus heads and sayings from ‘The Night before Christmas.’”


During his first two days at the park, Tolbert — a professional Santa Claus who once took third place for looks, believability and photo at a national Santa Convention — said he spent a good deal of time chatting and posing for photos with many children, adults and Disney “cast members,” But after a crowd gathered around him on this third day in the park, he said a Disney employee asked him to step around a corner.

“He told me, ‘You cannot be Santa and you can’t wear that shirt in the park.’ He asked if I had any clothes in my hotel room that were less ‘Santa-ish’ and took me into a shop and pulled a 3X T-shirt from the rack to see if it would fit me.” 

Live Poll

What do you think of Disney World’s response to the lookalike Santa?

It didn’t. But a large, short-sleeve, white button down shirt from the theme-park wardrobe department did. “Then they said to tell people, ‘I’m not who you think I am. I’m on vacation and you need to leave me alone.'”

Tolbert refused. “I told them Santa would never tell people that.”

Walt Disney World Resort confirmed that it asked Tolbert to change his clothes and to stop interacting as Santa with other theme-park guests because “it was disruptive to our operations and confusing to our other guests, particularly children who asked to take photos with him.”

Tolbert was given some complimentary park hopper passes “because of the inconvenience,” but he’s not satisfied. “Disney doesn’t own the character of Santa, the world does,” he said. 

“And as Santa, I will try to make anyone’s day more magical. So my question is: If I go back with my free passes, how will it be different?”

Tolbert is not the first to be asked to change his outfit at a Disney theme park. Citing the theme park’s dress policy, park recently officials asked April Spielman and her boyfriend to change out of their Tinker Bell and Peter Pan costumes

Find more by Harriet Baskas on StuckatTheAirport.com and follow her on Twitter

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Humbug! Disney World tells Santa look-alike to tone it down

Courtesy Thomas Tolbert

Thomas Tolbert, 52, was asked to be less “Santa-ish” during a recent trip to Disney World.

With his roly-poly body and bleached-white hair, mustache and beard, 52-year old Thomas Tolbert of Roswell, Ga., is a spitting image of Santa Claus. 

In June, during a Father’s Day weekend trip to Disney World with relatives, theme-park officials pulled Tolbert  aside and ordered him to stop signing autographs, posing for photographs, and dressing to look like Santa.

“I wasn’t wearing a red suit, a hat or black boots,” Tolbert told NBC News, “just khaki pants, red high-top sneakers with green laces and a billowy, specially-made shirt decorated with a collage of Santa Claus heads and sayings from ‘The Night before Christmas.’”


During his first two days at the park, Tolbert — a professional Santa Claus who once took third place for looks, believability and photo at a national Santa Convention — said he spent a good deal of time chatting and posing for photos with many children, adults and Disney “cast members,” But after a crowd gathered around him on this third day in the park, he said a Disney employee asked him to step around a corner.

“He told me, ‘You cannot be Santa and you can’t wear that shirt in the park.’ He asked if I had any clothes in my hotel room that were less ‘Santa-ish’ and took me into a shop and pulled a 3X T-shirt from the rack to see if it would fit me.” 

Live Poll

What do you think of Disney World’s response to the lookalike Santa?

It didn’t. But a large, short-sleeve, white button down shirt from the theme-park wardrobe department did. “Then they said to tell people, ‘I’m not who you think I am. I’m on vacation and you need to leave me alone.'”

Tolbert refused. “I told them Santa would never tell people that.”

Walt Disney World Resort confirmed that it asked Tolbert to change his clothes and to stop interacting as Santa with other theme-park guests because “it was disruptive to our operations and confusing to our other guests, particularly children who asked to take photos with him.”

Tolbert was given some complimentary park hopper passes “because of the inconvenience,” but he’s not satisfied. “Disney doesn’t own the character of Santa, the world does,” he said. 

“And as Santa, I will try to make anyone’s day more magical. So my question is: If I go back with my free passes, how will it be different?”

Tolbert is not the first to be asked to change his outfit at a Disney theme park. Citing the theme park’s dress policy, park recently officials asked April Spielman and her boyfriend to change out of their Tinker Bell and Peter Pan costumes

Find more by Harriet Baskas on StuckatTheAirport.com and follow her on Twitter

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