California Coast RV Road Trip

Most known for Hollywood celebrity sightings, California is also home to some of the most famous beaches and coastlines of the world. This is perfectly complemented by the seamless weather and temperature that lures in new residents and tourists every year. So if you are looking forward to enjoying the summer heat, regardless of the More »

Going to Orlando and its Parks

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Helsinki City Guide

Helsinki, recently awarded as ‘City of Design’ by UNESCO, is the capital of Finland. Unlike the Nordic winter, the temperature of this city is quite livable, and life continues throughout the year. It has four seasons, and the temperatures vary from 32 degrees in the summer and about -20 degrees in the winter. With the More »

Tag Archives: seasonal travel

5 places to get spooked this Halloween

6 hrs.

Courtesy Tennessee State Museum

A notorious criminal’s mummified thumb from the early 1800s is among the spooky objects you’ll find at the Tennessee State Museum’s Haunted Museum Ghost Story Festival.

From zombie parades and haunted mansions to scream parks, pumpkin patches and maize mazes, the Halloween season has gone way beyond trick-or-treating and morphed into big business.

“It used to be a simple hayride with some high school kids in rubber masks and plastic knives,” Patrick Konopelski, president of the Haunted Attraction Association (HAA) told NBC News. “Now it’s much more sophisticated, with many places offering extremely high-tech theater entertainment.”

Konopelski estimates there are now more than 2,500 haunted attractions generating combined revenue that exceeds $300 million each year. His list includes standalone haunted houses, “mega-haunts,” haunted scream parks and themed-amusement park adventures, as well as haunted events at zoos, farms, museums and former asylums and penitentiaries.

Ready to scream? Here are five places to get spooked and startled this Halloween:

Headless horseman country
Washington Irving’s headless horseman still prowls New York’s Hudson Valley. Look (out) for him on the mile-long evening hayride through the woods, with stops at six haunted houses and a labyrinth corn maze offered by Headless Horseman Hayrides and Haunted House in Ulster Park, N.Y. At Sunnyside, Irving’s former home in Tarrytown, ghost stories, magic shows and puppet shows are offered in the day during Legend Weekends in October. At night, nearby Philipsburg Manor transforms into Horseman’s Hollow, a walking trail where human and non-human creatures lurk in the shadows. There are also candlelight performances of Washington Irving’s classic tale, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” and lantern-light tours of the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, where Irving is buried.

Zombies in 7-D
Fans of zombies, roller coasters, horror films and interactive shooting galleries can combine those passions in San Francisco at the 7D Experience, a digital theater on Pier 39 with full-motion seats and interactive laser technology. During October, the attraction is premiering “Zombies!,” which invites audiences to blast away as many Zombies as they can.

Thumbs up in Tennessee
During the free Haunted Museum Ghost Story Festival on Oct. 20 at the Tennessee State Museum in Nashville, there will be a ghost trail through the building with stops at the mummies (a cat and a person) along the way. Costumed storytellers, armed with objects usually locked away in storage, will be telling scary tales, including the stories of the Bell Witch Bucket and John Murrell—a notorious criminal from the early 1800s whose mummified thumb is said to be the digit residing in the specially made coffin in the museum’s vaults.

Frights by the fire
Ghosts and ghost stories are the stuff of campouts, and many public and private campgrounds have Halloween-themed activities and special events during the Halloween season. “Some even have Halloween activities the weekend after Halloween for those that want to go trick-or-treating and dress up once more,” said Jeff Crider, spokesman for the National Association of RV Parks Campgrounds. For example, the KOA campground in Hagerstown, Md., is hosting Halloween-themed activities every weekend through Oct. 28 and operates a haunted house on a property next door. Some Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts are celebrating Halloween as well.

The end
While not a special Halloween venue, a visit to the Famous Endings Museum would be a good way to close out the spooky season. The museum contains John Herzig’s collection of memorabilia relating to the funerals and memorials of famous people.

“I’ve got about 1,500 items,” Herzig told NBC News, “including original flower arrangements from the funeral of Elvis Presley’s mother and items relating to the funerals of most every U.S. president.” Herzig enjoys giving personal tours through the museum, but urges guests to call ahead to make an appointment because the museum is located inside the Toland-Herzig Funeral Home in Dover, Ohio.

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

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Fall getaways: Splurge or steal?

Nilou Motamed of Travel + Leisure tests the TODAY anchors’ travel smarts by sharing four great getaways, from sunny beaches to mountain retreats, to see if they can tell the splurge from the steal.

Whether you want to escape to wine country or a Caribbean beach, we’ve found a hotel to match your budget.

1. Southern Retreat

Courtesy The Willcox

With crown moldings, four-poster beds and fireplaces in rooms, you’ll see plenty of antebellum charm at The Willcox hotel in Aiken, S.C.

Steal: The Willcox, Aiken, S.C. (from $185/night)
Travel + Leisure readers ranked the hotel No. 3 on the 2012 World’s Best Awards list of Top Inns and Lodges in the Continental U.S. And it’s easy to see why, as rooms have plenty of antebellum charm: crown moldings, four-poster beds and fireplaces. The Willcox even has its own food truck serving dishes such as spicy fish burritos and fried chicken biscuits. Fuel up and then head outdoors to enjoy local parks or go for a horseback ride.

Splurge: Inn at Palmetto Bluff, Bluffton, S.C. (from $475/night)
This atmospheric plantation-style resort has Spanish moss dripping from low-lying oak branches and egrets soaring overhead. The rooms within 29 cottages are outfitted with pine floors, gas fireplaces and private screened porches. Bird lovers can paddle a complimentary kayak or canoe through the lagoon to see more than 100 species, including bald eagles, great blue herons and snowy egrets. Guests also keep busy with activities like golf, fly-fishing and naturalist-led alligator “hunts.”


Related: Best affordable beach resorts

2. Vineyard Vacation

Steal: Gaige House, Sonoma, Calif. (fall getaway special from $195/night beginning Oct. 28)
Set on three lushly landscaped acres, Gaige House actually has two parts: an original 1890 building with 15 rooms, and eight new stand-alone spa suites. All are decorated with Asian-themed minimalist chic, meaning dark-wood platform beds, rice-paper screens and black-granite baths. There’s a heated outdoor pool, as well as spa services that can be enjoyed in your room, on a creek-side deck or in a cabana surrounded by greenery.

Splurge: Carneros Inn, Napa, Calif. (from $505/night)
Sophisticated cottages with outdoor showers and decks await in one of Napa’s most pastoral landscapes: the rural Carneros wine region. (The spa incorporates local ingredients in treatments like the Chardonnay Antioxidant Wine Therapy Facial.) Book a garden cottage for views of the vines from your enclosed patio. Take advantage of complimentary bikes to tour the area.

3. Caribbean Fantasy

Steal: Rosalie Bay, Dominica (from $149/night)
Twenty-eight gingerbread-trimmed cottages look out onto either a rocky beach or the Rosalie River. One of the world’s few carbon-negative resorts, Rosalie Bay not only relies on solar panels but also has its own wind turbine and organic gardens—and just received a Travel + Leisure Global Vision Award for responsible tourism. There’s also a restaurant, where most dishes are made from regional ingredients, from the Kalinago porridge with cassava root to the smoked cod on fried green plantain.

Splurge: GoldenEye, Jamaica (from $560/night)
Jet-set bohemians and creative types have flocked to GoldenEye since the mid 20th-century, when it was the cliff-top retreat of Ian Fleming, who wrote 14 of his James Bond novels here. A two-year overhaul (completed in 2010) has transformed the property from a private villa rental to full-fledged 22-room hotel on the waterfront amid gardens of banyan and mango trees.

4. Mountain Escape

Steal: Waldorf Astoria Park City, Utah (from $199/night)
Fireplaces, balconies and mountain views are a few of the in-room perks that come with staying here. The hotel’s restaurant, Spruce, is one of Utah’s best—order a hearty dinner of elk and roasted potatoes—and you won’t want to miss a warm-stone massage at the 16,000-square-foot Golden Door Spa. Outside, there are patios with fire pits and year-round heated pool and whirlpools.

Splurge: Washington School House, Park City, Utah (from $395/night)
With creamy white wainscoting, vintage chandeliers and French and Swedish antiques, this renovated 1889 schoolhouse is more Alpine chic than Rocky Mountain rustic. Staffers offer spot-on recommendations for restaurants and boutiques and instantly coordinate the complimentary transportation to your mountain of choice (though Park City’s Town Lift is steps away).

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Yikes! Get up close to the real creepy crawlers

5 hrs.

Courtesy Natural History Museum at Los Angeles County

The world’s largest orb-weaver, Nephila maculata from Malaysia, is as large as the palm of an adult’s hand and able to weave webs up to six feet across.

In addition to the zombie, sexy nurse, super hero, political candidate and Disney character outfits for sale this time of year, novelty and costume shops stock plenty of very realistic-looking spiders, spider webs, cockroaches and worms.

But why bother with plastic, rubber or animatronic arachnids when museums and attractions around the country offer a chance to get up close – in some cases perhaps a bit  too close – to tarantulas, goliath bird eaters and other creepy crawlers. Here are five seasonal spots to meet the beetles, sup with snakes and explore your inner insect. 

Beetles in Boulder
On Oct. 12, the Natural History Museum at the University of Colorado in Boulder holds an opening reception for a year-long exhibition about beetles, which have existed for millions of years and make up 25 percent of all known species. In addition to all manner of meet-the-beetles materials, there will be tubes mounted on the walls filled with about 1,000 live beetles.

Trick or treat? On Oct. 18, the museum is hosting “SSSupper with Snakes.” A reptile expert will bring live snakes for guests to touch and the kitchen will serve a slithering spaghetti dinner.

Spiders take Manhattan
In the Spiders Alive! exhibition running through Dec. 2 at the Natural Museum of American History in New York City, the spiders really are alive. Along with a 40-foot model of a web and artwork inspired by the handiwork (or is that legwork?) of spiders, there are at least 20 live species in residence. Among them: a western black widow, a desert hairy scorpion and a goliath bird eater, one of the world’s largest spiders, which, despite the name, is known for snacking on snakes, mice and frogs.

While many people are spooked by spiders because they are often “hairy and can move quite quickly over short distances,” exhibition curator Norman Platnick insists there’s really no reason to be afraid. He said despite the scary spiders in the exhibit “the proportion that are dangerous to people is certainly less than 1 percent.”

Trick or treat? If you’ve ever had a spider crawl on you, you can turn the tables: the exhibit has a climbable spider model that’s 50 times life size.

Pittsburgh is crawling with bugs
Through the end of July, the BugWorks exhibition at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh offers bug’s-eye views and bug models, videos and illustrations along with terraria of live insects that include giant water bugs, an Emperor scorpion and a tarantula. The exhibit “is great fun for bug lovers and haters alike,” said museum entomologist John Rawlins. “It teaches basic entomology using pictures eight feet tall…thousands of real beetles …and colorful images of living bugs.”

Trick or treat? In the exhibit photo booth, visitors can strike a pose with a butterfly, a beetle or another creature projected on the wall.

Free range spiders in Los Angeles
The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County doesn’t just have a spider exhibit; through Nov. 4, visitors are invited into a walk-through temporary Spider Pavilion and watch more than a dozen “free-range,” local and exotic spiders series spin, weave and feed. Resident spiders include brown and black widows and the world’s largest orb-weaver, Nephila maculata, a Malaysian spider that can span the palm of an adult’s hand and create webs measuring six feet across.  

Trick or treat? The museum also has a permanent Insect Zoo with 30 terrariums and aquariums filled with cockroaches, millipedes, scorpions and, of course spiders.

Buggy year round
Exhibits at Insectropolis, a year-round “bugseum” in Toms River, N.J., range from the “Creepy Tavern,” where tough-looking tarantulas hang out, to the “Battle Zone,” a home to insects that use armor, camouflage and scare tactics to stay alive. “We have lots of pinned and live specimens,” said group coordinator Diane Redzinack, “but being able to touch bugs that include the Madagascar hissing Cockroach, the emperor scorpion and the rose hair tarantula is definitely the highlight for most people.”

Trick or treat? On Oct. 12 and 13, the museum is hosting “Boo at the Zoo with Scooby Doo,” an interactive Halloween-themed mystery tour.

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

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5 sensational fall festivals

Susan Montoya Bryan / AP

Hot air balloons ascend during the annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, N.M., in 2010.

Autumn is here, and with it comes much more than beautiful foliage — it also brings a bounty of festivals that will engage all ages. Catch your breath at the sight of hundreds of hot air balloons filling the New Mexico sky, savor the taste of the best apples in the nation or witness thousands of jack-o-lanterns lit at the same time. Sound appealing? These are just a few of the opportunities that await autumn travelers. Read on to learn more about some family-friendly North American festivals worth the trip this fall.

Keene, N.H.: Keene Pumpkin Festival
Nothing says fall like a pumpkin — or even better, over 29,000 pumpkins! That’s what you’ll see at the annual Keene Pumpkin Festival on Oct. 20, when the quintessential New England town of Keene, N.H. will be overflowing with jack-o-lanterns, lining the streets and stacked on huge towers.


Live music, crafts, hayrides, fireworks, a kids’ costume parade and a pumpkin pie eating contest keep visitors entertained. Teens enjoy events specifically geared towards them, including wall climbing and seed spitting contests. The high point of the day is the official jack-o-lantern count — when everyone finds out whether they’ve brought enough pumpkins to break the Guinness World Record for the most jack-o-lanterns lit at one time. Keene has won this honor eight times — bring your own jack-o-lantern (or several) and help Keene get back in again this year!

Albuquerque, N.M.: Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta
For mesmerizing beauty and sheer grace, there’s nothing like the sight of hundreds of vibrantly-colored hot air balloons drifting through the desert sky of New Mexico. It’s all part of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, which will take place Oct. 6 to 14.

Events kick off as early as 5:45 a.m. each day with a “dawn patrol,” in which balloons are inflated and launched in a choreographed musical performance. Mass balloon ascensions follow at 7 a.m. many mornings, while evening offerings include fireworks shows that everyone in the family can enjoy. Kids of all ages will become awestruck over the Balloon Glow — a magical event in which the balloons are lit from within like colorful paper lanterns.

Arendtsville, Pa.: National Apple Harvest Festival
Forget about pumpkins. Apples are the true fruit of the season and they’re tastier too! Southern Pennsylvania is known for some of the best apples in the country. That’s why Arendtsville hosts the National Apple Harvest Festival. This event takes place on the first two weekends of October: this year Oct. 6 and 7 and 13 to 14.

An apple a day keeps the doctor away. Renew the goodness of apples in your kids’ minds. Apples come in all varieties: jelly, pancakes, syrup, sauce and candied. There’s more than just apples to eat. Over 300 vendors come out for the festival. Pie-eating contests and, of course, bobbing for apples are two of the public’s favorite events. Families will get a kick out of the tractor square dance — literally, tractors “dancing.” Kids can go on hay rides, see puppet shows and visit the petting zoo. Dance cloggers, child ballerinas and honored Native American groups all put on entertaining live shows that span the entire event. Besides the to-die-for apple pie, parents can check out the antique cars. Your family will leave wanting more than one apple a day…or maybe you will be appled out for the year!

Sonoma, Calif.: Sonoma County Harvest Fair
The Sonoma County Harvest Fair is often regarded as one of the best fall festivals in the country. It’s a celebration of the grape harvest of Californian wine country. Yes, families can participate in the World Championship Grape Stomp, but the festival isn’t all about wine. There are plenty of family-friendly activities, including pumpkin tosses, sheepdog trials and cow-milking contests. The giant pumpkin weigh-in takes place here every year. Animals are a key theme for children. There are miniature donkeys, pet pigs and pygmy goat shows. Water fowls and poultry even get recognition. Kids might enjoy riding carnival rides or participating in the Easy Bake Oven Bake-Off contest. Parents will appreciate live jazz music and art shows. This year the festival takes place during Oct. 5 to 7.

Floresville, Texas: Annual Floresville Peanut Festival
A scenic 30-minute drive south of San Antonio leads you to peanut country. A fall snack, the peanut is a strong part of Southwestern Texas agriculture. This year Texas celebrates the peanut for the 68th time at the Floresville Peanut Festival. The festival is at the Courthouse Square during Oct. 9 and 11 to 13.

The honored guests, Queen Tunaep and King Reboog, (peanut and goober spelled backwards) begin the festivities with a grand opening coronation gala fit for any royal court. Kids are a central part of the celebration, making up the court elect. A Kiddie Parade presents decorated wagons and bikes, while a Grand Parade includes adults afterwards. There are also local Folklorico dance performances, pony rides and carnival games for kids. Kids race around with peanuts on a spoon trying to be the best peanut runner. Adults can enjoy a nutty time, too. Nightly dances feature live music under the town’s large oak tree. History buffs can also tour the Wilson County Historical Jailhouse Museum. The best part out of it all is the food. Peanut brittle, peanut butter, peanut cookies…there’s everything a peanut-lover could ever want.

See the complete list on FamilyVacationCritic.com.

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Sensational fall festivals

Susan Montoya Bryan / AP

Hot air balloons ascend during the annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, N.M., in 2010.

Autumn is here, and with it comes much more than beautiful foliage — it also brings a bounty of festivals that will engage all ages. Catch your breath at the sight of hundreds of hot air balloons filling the New Mexico sky, savor the taste of the best apples in the nation or witness thousands of jack-o-lanterns lit at the same time. Sound appealing? These are just a few of the opportunities that await autumn travelers. Read on to learn more about some family-friendly North American festivals worth the trip this fall.

Keene, N.H.: Keene Pumpkin Festival
Nothing says fall like a pumpkin — or even better, over 29,000 pumpkins! That’s what you’ll see at the annual Keene Pumpkin Festival on Oct. 20, when the quintessential New England town of Keene, N.H. will be overflowing with jack-o-lanterns, lining the streets and stacked on huge towers.


Live music, crafts, hayrides, fireworks, a kids’ costume parade and a pumpkin pie eating contest keep visitors entertained. Teens enjoy events specifically geared towards them, including wall climbing and seed spitting contests. The high point of the day is the official jack-o-lantern count — when everyone finds out whether they’ve brought enough pumpkins to break the Guinness World Record for the most jack-o-lanterns lit at one time. Keene has won this honor eight times — bring your own jack-o-lantern (or several) and help Keene get back in again this year!

Albuquerque, N.M.: Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta
For mesmerizing beauty and sheer grace, there’s nothing like the sight of hundreds of vibrantly-colored hot air balloons drifting through the desert sky of New Mexico. It’s all part of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, which will take place Oct. 6 to 14.

Events kick off as early as 5:45 a.m. each day with a “dawn patrol,” in which balloons are inflated and launched in a choreographed musical performance. Mass balloon ascensions follow at 7 a.m. many mornings, while evening offerings include fireworks shows that everyone in the family can enjoy. Kids of all ages will become awestruck over the Balloon Glow — a magical event in which the balloons are lit from within like colorful paper lanterns.

Arendtsville, Pa.: National Apple Harvest Festival
Forget about pumpkins. Apples are the true fruit of the season and they’re tastier too! Southern Pennsylvania is known for some of the best apples in the country. That’s why Arendtsville hosts the National Apple Harvest Festival. This event takes place on the first two weekends of October: this year Oct. 6 and 7 and 13 to 14.

An apple a day keeps the doctor away. Renew the goodness of apples in your kids’ minds. Apples come in all varieties: jelly, pancakes, syrup, sauce and candied. There’s more than just apples to eat. Over 300 vendors come out for the festival. Pie-eating contests and, of course, bobbing for apples are two of the public’s favorite events. Families will get a kick out of the tractor square dance — literally, tractors “dancing.” Kids can go on hay rides, see puppet shows and visit the petting zoo. Dance cloggers, child ballerinas and honored Native American groups all put on entertaining live shows that span the entire event. Besides the to-die-for apple pie, parents can check out the antique cars. Your family will leave wanting more than one apple a day…or maybe you will be appled out for the year!

Sonoma, Calif.: Sonoma County Harvest Fair
The Sonoma County Harvest Fair is often regarded as one of the best fall festivals in the country. It’s a celebration of the grape harvest of Californian wine country. Yes, families can participate in the World Championship Grape Stomp, but the festival isn’t all about wine. There are plenty of family-friendly activities, including pumpkin tosses, sheepdog trials and cow-milking contests. The giant pumpkin weigh-in takes place here every year. Animals are a key theme for children. There are miniature donkeys, pet pigs and pygmy goat shows. Water fowls and poultry even get recognition. Kids might enjoy riding carnival rides or participating in the Easy Bake Oven Bake-Off contest. Parents will appreciate live jazz music and art shows. This year the festival takes place during Oct. 5 to 7.

Floresville, Texas: Annual Floresville Peanut Festival
A scenic 30-minute drive south of San Antonio leads you to peanut country. A fall snack, the peanut is a strong part of Southwestern Texas agriculture. This year Texas celebrates the peanut for the 68th time at the Floresville Peanut Festival. The festival is at the Courthouse Square during Oct. 9 and 11 to 13.

The honored guests, Queen Tunaep and King Reboog, (peanut and goober spelled backwards) begin the festivities with a grand opening coronation gala fit for any royal court. Kids are a central part of the celebration, making up the court elect. A Kiddie Parade presents decorated wagons and bikes, while a Grand Parade includes adults afterwards. There are also local Folklorico dance performances, pony rides and carnival games for kids. Kids race around with peanuts on a spoon trying to be the best peanut runner. Adults can enjoy a nutty time, too. Nightly dances feature live music under the town’s large oak tree. History buffs can also tour the Wilson County Historical Jailhouse Museum. The best part out of it all is the food. Peanut brittle, peanut butter, peanut cookies…there’s everything a peanut-lover could ever want.

See the complete list on FamilyVacationCritic.com.

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