Kidventurous http://kidventurous.com Making Family Travel an Adventure Thu, 23 Mar 2017 18:12:41 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.7.3 Celebrate Kids to Parks Day (+ Win a Pair of Northside Shoes) http://kidventurous.com/celebrate-kids-to-parks-day-win-northside-shoes/ http://kidventurous.com/celebrate-kids-to-parks-day-win-northside-shoes/#respond Wed, 22 Mar 2017 18:02:46 +0000 http://kidventurous.com/?p=10908 We love national parks (as well as national monuments, seashores, historic parks, etc.). On our epic cross-country road trip in 2015, we visited at least a dozen. This year, we’re on track to explore at least four (Shenandoah, Cuyahoga Valley, Devils Tower and Badlands), though I’m sure there will be more. Now that Spring is officially here (thank goodness), I’m […]

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We love national parks (as well as national monuments, seashores, historic parks, etc.). On our epic cross-country road trip in 2015, we visited at least a dozen. This year, we’re on track to explore at least four (Shenandoah, Cuyahoga Valley, Devils Tower and Badlands), though I’m sure there will be more.

Sledding at White Sands National Monument in New Mexico

Now that Spring is officially here (thank goodness), I’m excited that Kids to Parks Day is just around the corner on Saturday, May 20. The National Park Trust’s Kids to Parks Day is an annual celebration of outdoor play in, where else, our parks, including national, state and local parks all across America.

Kids to Parks Day is a great opportunity to get kids outside and encourage active lifestyles, especially since many parks will be hosting family-friendly events that range from park clean-ups to guided hikes to hands-on activities, like arts and crafts. Even biking and fishing activities.

Skipping stones at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming

This year, Northside USA, has gotten in on the fun as a major sponsor of Kids to Parks Day. If you’re not familiar with Northside, they are an outdoor-focused company that sells well-made and affordable active footwear for men, women, even kids.

One of Northside’s goals is to make the outdoors more accessible for everyone. There’s no need for fancy and expensive gear. You don’t need the most advanced technology. Just get outside and go, though of course you don’t want to wear flip flops out on the hiking trail (which surprisingly, I have seen).

Participating in the Junior Ranger program at Crater Lake National Park in Oregon

I will tell you that my kids are not hikers. I wish they were, but I feel like I’m always reading up on the latest tips and tricks to get kids to love hiking (e.g., bring snacks, invite their friends, etc.). These tactics work to an extent, but now they’re excited about fun shoes that make them feel like hikers.

My purple-loving nine-year-old loves the Burke II, a purple (of course) active shoe from Northside that’s just right for hiking, rock scrambling, even splashing in creeks. She can’t wait to try them out once the paths dry out a bit more (I’m not a huge fan of muddy hiking).

Taking a break along the rim at Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona

Beyond hiking, there are loads of things to do in our parks. You can go on cave tours, sled down sand dunes, go tidepooling, build sand castles and ride on horses. Many national and state parks also have Junior Ranger programs, which are always a hit with my kids. Here’s a post I wrote a couple of years ago on 20 Really Cool Things Your Kids Can Do in National Parks. So many fun activities.

Also, don’t forget that National Park Week is coming up in mid-April (April 15-23), even before Kids to Parks Day. As a bonus, you can visit our national parks for free on both weekends of National Park Week (April 15-16 and 22-23). There’s no reason not to get out there to explore our parks as a family.

Taking in the size of the trees at Redwood National Park in California

To get you started, you may want to check out posts I’ve written about some of my favorite national parks, including Death Valley, Yosemite,  Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Grand Teton and Crater Lake. I can’t wait to go back to all of them. They are all so incredible in their own ways.

If you’re ready to get out and explore our parks and you’ve yet to own and experience a pair of active footwear from Northside USA, you are in luck. I am giving away a pair of shoes from Northside to help you take your adventures to the next level. You can choose from any pair of shoes on the Northside USA website, including trail shoes or boots, sport shoes, snow boots and active sandals.

Enter to win a pair of Northside shoes by way of the Rafflecopter widget below. Note that this giveaway is open to U.S. residents only. This giveaway ends at 12 AM ET on April 13, 2017. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Disclaimer: I was provided with shoes for my kids and I to field test in our parks. However, all opinions presented here are my own.

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Competitours: An “Amazing Race” Style Vacation http://kidventurous.com/competitours-perfect-amazing-race-style-family-vacation/ http://kidventurous.com/competitours-perfect-amazing-race-style-family-vacation/#respond Wed, 08 Mar 2017 19:08:15 +0000 http://kidventurous.com/?p=10854 If you’ve yet to finish planning out your summer (yes, I realize it’s only March), then I have an idea for you. It’s more fun than a week at the same beach you’ve been going to year after year and I can guarantee it’s something your kids will be talking about with their friends for years to come. As a […]

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If you’ve yet to finish planning out your summer (yes, I realize it’s only March), then I have an idea for you. It’s more fun than a week at the same beach you’ve been going to year after year and I can guarantee it’s something your kids will be talking about with their friends for years to come.

As a quick disclaimer, I will tell you that this idea is best for families made up of two adults and two children in middle school or high school. So, if this is you, click on over to Competitours, like right now. If you’re a fan of The Amazing Race, you’ll want to click over faster than “right now” (if that’s possible).

Competitours is an 11-day challenge-style vacation. Think The Amazing Race for everyday people, like you and me. The idea is that 11 teams of two-people embark on challenges throughout Western Europe in locations that range from big cities like Rome and Munich to lesser-known towns in Europe, such as Sorrento (Italy), Andermatt (Switzerland) and Maastricht (Netherlands).

Participants receive just 12 hours notice before the start of the next challenge, adding to the fun and excitement. Challenges range from culinary activities, like an Iron Chef-style competition in a hillside villa in Italy in which all teams compete side-by-side, to soft adventure, like sliding down an alpine coaster in the French Alps. Teams may also participate in mask making, glass blowing, even dance competitions.

According to Competitours, the hands-on challenges are “fun, quirky and unique.” You’ll get pushed out of your comfort zone, but no special skills or athletic abilities are required to participate in any of the challenges. Many times, the winning team is not the best, but usually the “least worst,” adding to the fun.

Daily challenges begin mid-morning, so families can enjoy breakfast together before the day’s activities begin. Challenges end by mid-afternoon, enabling teams to shop, explore and dine on their own in each new town. Teams spend time in four countries across seven to eight “mystery destinations.” As a bonus, there are serious cash prizes for the top three teams (the first place team wins $3,630!).

While tours are best for kids ages 13 and up, Competitours let me know that the challenges are age-appropriate for kids as young as 11. The youngest team they’ve had was a mother-daughter team in which the mom was in her mid-40s and the daughter was 11 years old. Even better, there are no eliminations like on The Amazing Race. All teams compete throughout the vacation.

Competitours is running one tour this summer from July 4 – 14 for 11 two-person teams. The cost is $3,975 per person. Airfare is not included, but 11 nights of lodging and breakfasts are included, as are all challenges and transportation between European cities whether by charter bus, plane or train.

Competitours is high on my list for me and my 14 y.o. daughter. If you’re thinking about joining this challenge-style vacation, it’s a must to check out the fun reviews from travel bloggers and other past participants. After reading them, I feel like I can’t not go now. Who’s in?

Disclaimer: I was compensated by Competitours for this post. While I have not personally traveled with Competitours, I absolutely love this idea and am seriously considering this as a vacation with my daughter. All opinions expressed here are my own.

Photo Credit: Far Flung Travels (Gent’s Castle, Biking, Cooking, Sword Play and Countryside)

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What to Know Before a Ski Getaway at Seven Springs http://kidventurous.com/ski-getaway-seven-springs/ http://kidventurous.com/ski-getaway-seven-springs/#respond Mon, 06 Mar 2017 22:10:13 +0000 http://kidventurous.com/?p=10838 Every year, I want to get my kids up on skis, but there’s always something, a basketball tournament, a father-daughter dance, a must-go birthday party. Then sometimes I just forget that I want to get the kids on skis and those weekends when one or more of the kids are available just pass me by. Frustrating. The last (only) time […]

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Every year, I want to get my kids up on skis, but there’s always something, a basketball tournament, a father-daughter dance, a must-go birthday party. Then sometimes I just forget that I want to get the kids on skis and those weekends when one or more of the kids are available just pass me by. Frustrating.

The last (only) time I took any of my kids skiing was three years ago. I got my oldest two up on skis thanks to a two-hour lesson I’d booked at Liberty Mountain Resort in Pennsylvania. The girls then spent another hour or so skiing with my parents, but that was it. That was the last time they were on skis.

Fast forward to 2017 and after two failed attempts (in January and February), I found a weekend when one (of four) of my children was available to go to Seven Springs Mountain Resort in Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands region. I’ve only been skiing five times in my life, but of those five times, one experience was at Seven Springs, so I was eager to return.

There’s a lot to like about Seven Springs. Not only do they have more than a dozen easier trails that are perfect for kids (and adults) just learning to ski or even just brushing up on skiing after a hiatus, but there’s so much to do when you’re all skied out, like bowling, mini golf, snow tubing and an arcade. If you go, here are my 10 best tips to help ensure a fantastic ski getaway at Seven Springs.

1. For great views, ask for a high room facing the mountain. These are the even numbered rooms at the mountain lodge. We were on the ninth floor and the views were fabulous. I loved it. However, I will tell you that when they are making snow, you will hear the snowcats go beep-beep-beep as they back up much of the night (by the second night I didn’t even notice them).

2. Avoid a room on the fourth floor at the mountain lodge. As with all hotels, there are good rooms and not-so-good rooms. The fourth floor is the main thoroughfare between the hotel and the ski lodge, the restaurants, the shops and all the other activities. So basically, there is a great deal of traffic along this corridor.

3. Don’t be shy about signing up for ski lessons. Seven Springs offers all kinds of lessons and for all levels. My 11 y.o., Kate, did the full-day Mountain Adventure Camp. In the morning, she was paired with one instructor and one other beginner. In the afternoon, it was just her and the instructor (talk about small class sizes). Meantime, I took a two-hour private lesson. It’s worth taking a lesson no matter your level for a more enjoyable experience.

4. Opt for the basket check in the ski rental area. Once you collect your ski poles, skis, helmet and ski boots from the rental area, you need to go upstairs to find the lockers to store your sneakers, wallet, etc. Ugh. Instead, pay a little more (it was only $5) for unlimited use of a basket to store your belongings right in the ski rental area. Totally worth it.

5. Make a stop at the arcade. Also known as the Bear Trap Fun Zone, this arcade is way more than a handful of dated arcade games. It’s huge and they had all our favorite games, including skeeball, air hockey and Down the Clown (knock down clowns to earn tickets). Even better, there’s an area where you can turn in your tickets for prizes, just like they have at Chuck E. Cheese’s. We had so much fun.

6. Book a table at Helen’s. You need to take a free shuttle bus, but the food at Helen’s on-property is incredible. I ordered the Roasted Chicken Breast with mashed sweet potatoes and green beans. It sounds simple, but it was delicious and way better than any chicken dish I could prepare. For kids, the Kids Cap’n Chicken is legendary (chicken tenders with a crust made from Cap’n Crunch cereal).

7. Get in a round of mini golf. The 18-hole mini golf course is in the basement of the main lodge at Seven Springs, near the arcade. That noted, I don’t think a lot of people know it’s there. It’s just a few dollars to play a round, but it was almost always empty. Definitely a fun way to pass the time when you’re not skiing.

8. Explore other snow sports at the resort. Of course, most people come to Seven Springs to ski, but there are lots of other outdoor activities available during winter, though they are kind of hidden (as in, I didn’t see them, but I knew they were there). Snow tubing, snowmobiling, snowshoe tours and sporting clays are all available in winter. You can even go on horse-drawn sleigh rides.

9. Be strategic about bowling. Much unlike the mini golf course, the bowling alley is always busy. You pass the six lane bowling alley on the way out to the ski area. Every time we walked by, it was very crowded. We finally got in on Sunday late-afternoon once many of the weekend guests had checked out. It’s only $9.50 per game (includes shoes) and it was so much fun, so it was a must-do for us.

10. You don’t need to ski all day. When you pay for a full day of rentals and lift tickets, you can feel like you need to ski the entire day. My active daughter had a lesson from 9:30 am to 2:30 pm with a one-hour lunch break and she was whipped. The end of the lesson was the end of her ski day, but the good thing about cutting out early was that we were able to explore all the other indoor activities at Seven Springs.

Disclaimer: I was a guest of Seven Springs Mountain Resort and the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau. However, I was not compensated for this article and all opinions expressed here are my own.

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10 Things to Do in Fort Worth with Kids http://kidventurous.com/10-things-fort-worth-kids/ http://kidventurous.com/10-things-fort-worth-kids/#respond Fri, 03 Mar 2017 18:07:44 +0000 http://kidventurous.com/?p=10828 Many people know Fort Worth, Texas simply as part of the name of an airport (as in DFW, Dallas-Fort Worth). However, just west of Dallas, Fort Worth has its own distinct personality and is well worth a visit on your own or with kids. I was in Fort Worth recently for the Cowtown Half Marathon and had the opportunity to […]

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Many people know Fort Worth, Texas simply as part of the name of an airport (as in DFW, Dallas-Fort Worth). However, just west of Dallas, Fort Worth has its own distinct personality and is well worth a visit on your own or with kids.

I was in Fort Worth recently for the Cowtown Half Marathon and had the opportunity to explore this western town. I love learning about the Wild West and it was fascinating to hear about the growth and decline of this Cowtown that sits squarely on the Chisholm Trail, the path that cowboys and cattle traveled between San Antonio and Abilene, KS. Fort Worth was a popular stopping point to rest along the way.

While in town, I stayed at the Omni Fort Worth. Situated on Houston Street, one of the main thoroughfares through the downtown area, the hotel is across the street from the popular Fort Worth Water Gardens. Even better, there’s a free trolley stop right in front of the hotel. There’s also a Starbucks right there.

If you book a stay at the Omni, here’s a quick tip. Ask for a room on one of the higher floors on the odd-numbered side of the building. You’ll be treated to a fantastic sunset. Enjoy. Meantime, here are 10 things you’ll want to do when you visit Fort Worth, Texas. Have fun.

1. Watch the Fort Worth Herd Cattle Drive. This happens twice a day in the Fort Worth Stockyards National Historic District at 11:30 am and 4 pm. Visitors line the streets to watch a dozen or two longhorn cattle amble their way along the street. While in town, I watched the cattle drive twice. 🙂

2. Join a Historical Guided Walking Tour. My second day in town I signed up for a guided walking tour at Stockyards Station. Led by a gentleman whose family has been in Fort Worth for generations, I learned so much about the history behind this Cowtown, including the significance of the 900+ mile Chisholm Trail.

3. Ride Molly the Trolley. Fort Worth has a fantastic free trolley called Molly the Trolley that makes stops at downtown hotels, restaurants and attractions, like the Fort Worth Water Gardens. It’s perfect for visitors with little legs. On Saturdays, the trolley even goes to and from the Fort Worth Stockyards.

4. Get Lost in the Cowtown Cattlepen Maze. In the Fort Worth Stockyards, look for the Cowtown Cattlepen Maze and see how long it takes you to make your way to the end of this maze designed to look like old-time cattlepens. Fun fact, this maze was one of the challenges on the fifth season of The Amazing Race.

5. Explore Sundance Square. Take time to explore Sundance Square in downtown Fort Worth, which boasts a massive mural of the Chisholm Trail. Splash in the fountains, listen to live music or grab an ice cream cone at the Nestle Toll House Café and wander about the shops. There are also a number of restaurants, including The Cheesecake Factory and Riscky’s Barbecue.

6. Eat at Joe T’s. Officially Joe T. Garcia’s, this is the place to go for Mexican food. Just a few blocks from the Fort Worth Stockyards, there are three things to know. One, they only take cash (there’s an ATM on-site). Two, there is no menu. They only offer enchiladas or fajitas. Three, yes, the food is amazing. Go now.

7. Explore the Fort Worth Water Gardens. Across the street from the Omni, you’ll find the Fort Worth Water Gardens, a super relaxing place to go with the kids. There’s a lot of room to run around, as well as different areas to climb and explore. As a bonus, I found several new water Pokemon there. 🙂

8. Eat at Yolk. Yolk is hands-down the best place to go for breakfast. I went there after I ran the half marathon. Expect a long line, especially on weekend mornings, but the red velvet French toast will not disappoint. Quick tip, reduce the wait and get the Nowait app to book your place in line before you go.

9. Make Time for the Rodeo. If you’re in Fort Worth on the weekend, you must go to the indoor rodeo at the Cowtown Coliseum. It’s every Friday and Saturday night at 8 pm. Alternatively, if the rodeo is too late for your small children, go to Pawnee Bill’s Wild West Show (2:30 & 4:30 on Saturdays).

10. Watch a Gun Fight. You can’t go to a Wild West town and not stay for a gun fight re-enactment. I’ve watched them in both Dodge City, KS and Tombstone, AZ. Kids love them. Called “Legends of Texas” in Fort Worth, gun fight re-enactments take place after both cattle drives of the day (11:45 am & 4:15 pm).

Disclaimer: I was a guest of the Fort Worth CVB. However, I received no compensation for this article and all opinions expressed here are my own.

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Cool Road Trip Book: 50 States, 5000 Ideas http://kidventurous.com/cool-road-trip-book-50-states-5000-ideas/ http://kidventurous.com/cool-road-trip-book-50-states-5000-ideas/#respond Wed, 22 Feb 2017 13:00:51 +0000 http://kidventurous.com/?p=10819 I love a good road trip. In fact, I’m already planning our next summer adventure – a three-week road trip to explore bits of Colorado, Wyoming and South Dakota (hello, Mount Rushmore). So naturally I was excited about checking out NatGeo’s new book, 50 States, 5000 Ideas: Where to Go, When to Go, What to See, What to Do. It […]

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I love a good road trip. In fact, I’m already planning our next summer adventure – a three-week road trip to explore bits of Colorado, Wyoming and South Dakota (hello, Mount Rushmore). So naturally I was excited about checking out NatGeo’s new book, 50 States, 5000 Ideas: Where to Go, When to Go, What to See, What to Do. It was right up my alley.

For every state, as well as all 10 of Canada’s provinces, you’ll find four to six pages dedicated to what, when and where for that state or province. You’ll also find a snapshot of major cities, as well as popular festivals, little-known facts, books and movies featuring the state or province, and great drives in each one. For some states, you’ll be able to read up on hidden treasures and the best local flavors.

Since South Dakota is in the plans for this summer, I skipped over to the section on South Dakota to read up on Sioux City, Rapid City, the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore, all stops we’ll make in July. I learned about a couple of great drives to add to my itinerary, including Wildlife Loop Road at Custer State Park. I also added Dances with Wolves to my Wish List on Amazon.

The book is filled with lots of great photos, which makes me even more excited about some of the stops we’ll be making this summer. The photos are also helpful when deciding just where to go, especially if you’re deciding between a couple of states or major cities for a family road trip.

What I also like about this book is that the sections on each state and province give you enough of a jumping off point to determine where you want to go and what you want to do. It’s a great place to start, though once you decide where you want to go, you may want to get a travel book with more detail, like NatGeo’s Guide to National Parks of the United States, particularly if you’ll be doing a deep dive into our parks.

I hope you enjoy this book as much as I do. If you’re thinking about picking this up for your summer travels, you’ll find 50 States, 5000 Ideas: Where to Go, When to Go, What to See, What to Do at a discount on Amazon. Right now, it’s just $16.34 (list price: $24.95). Have fun. 🙂

Disclaimer: I was provided a free copy of 50 States, 5000 Ideas: Where to Go, When to Go, What to See, What to Do. There are affiliate links within this post. All opinions here are my own.

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10 Things to Know Before You Go to Grand Cayman http://kidventurous.com/know-go-grand-cayman/ http://kidventurous.com/know-go-grand-cayman/#respond Thu, 16 Feb 2017 22:27:53 +0000 http://kidventurous.com/?p=10800 There’s nothing better than a few days in the Caribbean to fight the winter blues, though one look out into the crystal clear water and any cares you may have will be washed away regardless of the season. I recently had the opportunity to go to the Cayman Islands and I will tell you, it is paradise. Located just below […]

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There’s nothing better than a few days in the Caribbean to fight the winter blues, though one look out into the crystal clear water and any cares you may have will be washed away regardless of the season. I recently had the opportunity to go to the Cayman Islands and I will tell you, it is paradise.

Located just below Cuba, there are three islands that make up the Cayman Islands, including Cayman Brac, Little Cayman, and of course, Grand Cayman. I spent my time on Grand Cayman, and yes, I’m ready to go back. However, before I go, I wanted to share a few of the things I learned from my first visit to the Cayman Islands.

1. You want to stay on the west side of the island. For one, that’s where you’ll see a fantastic sunset, but it’s also where you’ll find famed Seven Mile Beach, which is where all the top resorts, like the new Kimpton Seafire Resort and the Comfort Suites Seven Mile Beach are situated. The airport and George Town, the capital city of the Cayman Islands, are also on the west side.

2. Nearly everything is closed on Sundays. You’ll find some restaurants open on Sundays, but everything else is closed. I walked into George Town on a Sunday and saw one cruise ship, but every shop was closed for the day. Just a few restaurants where open. It was practically a ghost town, but it was quite nice since the town is bustling every other day when the cruise ships are in.

3. There’s no pier in Grand Cayman. Sure, you’ll find lots of cruise ships – Carnival, Holland America, Disney – making stops in Grand Cayman, but there is no pier in George Town. Grand Cayman is a “tender port,” meaning that to get to shore you need be ferried in a tender boat. On a busy day, you may find as many as dozen ships parked away from the town ferrying passengers in by boat.

4. You can do the Cayman Islands on a budget. When value-seekers think of the Caribbean, Jamaica and Bahamas are usually top of mind, but a trip to the Caymans does not need to break the bank. The Comfort Suites Seven Mile Beach, a well-known value brand, is situated on the beach, offers free breakfast and even gives an extra discount to Choice Privileges members who book online at ChoiceHotels.com.

5. Stingray City is just a sandbar in the middle of the water. I knew about Stingray City (it’s featured in Frommer’s 500 Places to Take Your Kids Before They Grow Up), but I didn’t realize it was a sandbar in Grand Cayman’s North Sound. I took a boat tour with Six Senses Cayman Adventures and was surprised when it was time to hop out in waist deep water, but there they were, dozens of friendly stingrays.

6. The Mudslide hails from Grand Cayman. I always thought the Mudslide was born in Jamaica (or TGI Friday’s), but nope, it hails from Grand Cayman. More specifically, the first one was mixed up more than 40 years ago at the Wreck Bar & Grill at Grand Cayman’s Rum Point. You’ll make a stop for lunch at Rum Point on the Six Senses Eco Tour, so be sure to order one with a side of conch fritters. Yum.

7. There aren’t as many starfish as you’d expect at Starfish Point. Honestly, Starfish Point is awesome. I’d suggest this as a must-do to anyone. However, I expected to see dozens of starfish in the water. I saw maybe eight or ten. It was very, very cool, but unfortunately, so many starfish were taken from the water by tourists and that was that. Now it’s illegal to remove starfish from Starfish Point.

8. They drive on the left-side in Grand Cayman. The Cayman Islands are a British colony. More specifically, they are a part of the British West Indies. That noted, they drive on the left-hand side of the road, just like they do in the U.K. You may not need to rent a car while in Grand Cayman, but be sure to look the correct way when preparing to cross the street so you don’t step out into oncoming traffic.

9. Save your must-sees for after the cruise ships sail away. The cruise ships leave by mid-afternoon, or at the very least, the cruisers are on their way back to their ships, so plan to visit must-go spots, like Stingray City and Rum Point at that time. We went to the Cayman Turtle Centre around 4 pm and had the place all to ourselves. There are turtles, of course, but there’s also a predator reef and an aviary.

10. It’s easy to get around the island by bus. It’s just $2.50 to ride the bus to popular spots, like Rum Point, Cayman Turtle Centre and Hell. There are signs along the main road where you can wait for a minibus. I never saw any signs, but from what I hear, it’s not hard to flag one down. However, many ground tour operators will pick you up at your hotel and bring you back so you don’t need to navigate on your own.

Disclaimer: I was a guest of Choice Hotels while in Grand Cayman. However, I was not compensated for this article and all opinions expressed here are my own.

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What to Do in Orlando (Besides Walt Disney World) http://kidventurous.com/kids-orlando-walt-disney-world/ http://kidventurous.com/kids-orlando-walt-disney-world/#respond Mon, 13 Feb 2017 17:29:15 +0000 http://kidventurous.com/?p=10786 This may sound crazy, but you can go to Orlando and not go to Walt Disney World. There’s so much to do – some things you didn’t even realize you could do – that you may not even find time for Mickey Mouse. From zipline adventures to airboat rides to stand-up paddleboarding, even professional football, you won’t be wondering what […]

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This may sound crazy, but you can go to Orlando and not go to Walt Disney World. There’s so much to do – some things you didn’t even realize you could do – that you may not even find time for Mickey Mouse. From zipline adventures to airboat rides to stand-up paddleboarding, even professional football, you won’t be wondering what to do next in Orlando.

My 9 y.o. daughter, Molly, and I flew down to Orlando in late-January for the Pro Bowl. The Pro Bowl. I seriously had no idea you could watch an NFL game in Orlando (the closest team is in Tampa), much less a game played by all the very best players in the league, but Molly is a major football fan, so we had to go.

This is the first year that the Pro Bowl was played in Orlando and it was a huge to-do. There were loads of fan-friendly activities at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, like the 40-Yard Dash and Run-A-Route where you had to dodge around players (cardboard cut-outs) before catching a pass. So much fun.

We even got to watch the NFC and AFC teams practice, which was a must for Molly since she’s a massive Kirk Cousins fan and he was picked to play in the Pro Bowl. He was an alternate, but when a couple of other Redskins players dropped out due to injuries, he was in. Incredible. And, of course, there was a Pro Bowl parade at Magic Kingdom (so yes, we did end up going to the Walt Disney World).

We also didn’t stay on-property at Walt Disney World during our stay in Orlando. We camped out at the Wyndham Grand Orlando Resort Bonnet Creek for a few nights. I just wish we had more time to play while at the hotel given they have several swimming pools, a lazy river, waterslides and mini golf. Next time, for sure.

But seriously, what else can you do in Orlando that does not involve Mickey Mouse? Here you go.

Fly Down a Zipline. A couple of years ago, I took my older girls (then 9 & 11) to Forever Florida. It’s not far from Orlando and we had the best time flying down seven ziplines. For an extra $19.99, you can have a GoPro camera attached to your helmet to record it all.

Bike Ride All Around Orlando. It’s not always possible to bring your own bike, especially when flying to Orlando, but thanks to Juice Orlando Bike Share you can rent bikes all across downtown Orlando. Just look for the orange bikes at the Juice Stations around town.

Stay at the LEGOLAND Hotel. We love LEGOLAND and now that the LEGOLAND Hotel is open next door to the park, it’s even more reason to go to LEGOLAND. Kids will love the pirate- and medieval-themed rooms, and the Disco Elevator is a favorite. As a bonus, you can make s’mores every single night.

Learn About Pioneer Life. Make a stop at Fort Christmas Historical Park to explore seven historic homes and learn how early pioneers lived. Watch a short video on the Seminole Indian Wars and learn more about cattle, hunting, fishing and trapping.

Explore a Botanical Garden. Enjoy free admission to the Harry P. Leu Gardens the first Monday of each month. Look for palm trees, azaleas and various tropical plants. Also, keep your eyes open for various sculptures on display throughout the gardens.

Go on a Family Hike. There are several parks and forests that are ideal for easy hikes as a family. Grab a water bottle for each member of the family and head to Ocala National Forest or Enchanted Forest Nature Sanctuary. Or, hop on the Florida National Scenic Trail.

Watch a Musical Fountain Show. Head to Lake Eola Park in Downtown Orlando for a nightly fountain show at Lake Eola Fountain. Also, be sure to bring along some bread so you can feed the swans that make Lake Eola their home either before or after the show.

Go on a Helicopter Tour. Sign up with Air Florida or Air Force Fun for a fun way to explore the area, including the theme parks, lakes, even celebrity homes. My daughter, Kate, and I did a helicopter tour in Niagara Falls and can vouch for the fun and amazement of an aerial tour by helicopter. It’s a must.

Go on a Gator Tour. Whether you choose airboats or swamp tours, let your adventurous side come out and see the natural flora and fauna. The gator tours can be done in nature or you can find one of the many mini zoos that operate in and around Orlando. One to try is Spirit of the Swamp Airboat Tours.

Try Stand-Up Paddleboarding. This is been on my list for ages, and Paddleboard Orlando can help me cross off stand-up paddleboarding. They’ve got alligator-free (thank goodness for that) SUPing, including lessons, tours, even paddleboard yoga.

If you plan to fly to Orlando on Southwest, don’t forget about Southwest Check-In online. It’s a great way to ensure a good flight boarding position, which is a must when flying with kids. Many flights also have Southwest WiFi and you can check ahead of time on their website.

Photo Credits: L. Sloan (Harry P. Leu Gardens), Michael Schroeder (Lake Eola Park), Ed Schipul (Florida Gator)

Disclaimer: My daughter and I were guests of Visit Orlando. However, all opinions expressed here are my own and I was not compensated for this article.

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Carnival Vista: 13 Things I Learned About Cruising http://kidventurous.com/cruising-carnival-vista-12-learned-cruising/ http://kidventurous.com/cruising-carnival-vista-12-learned-cruising/#respond Tue, 24 Jan 2017 20:28:22 +0000 http://kidventurous.com/?p=10775 I have a confession to make. Up until mid-December, I had never been on a cruise to the Caribbean. I wasn’t a total cruise newbie. I cruised from Vancouver to Anchorage back in 2006, but so much has changed since then. And really, it’s impossible to compare an Alaska cruise to a Caribbean cruise. Hello, waterslides. So when I had […]

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I have a confession to make. Up until mid-December, I had never been on a cruise to the Caribbean. I wasn’t a total cruise newbie. I cruised from Vancouver to Anchorage back in 2006, but so much has changed since then. And really, it’s impossible to compare an Alaska cruise to a Caribbean cruise. Hello, waterslides.

So when I had the opportunity to sail on the brand new Carnival Vista with two of my kids, I was on board. It was a five-day cruise out of Miami with stops in the Dominican Republic (Amber Cove) and Turks & Caicos (Grand Turk).

I really didn’t know what to expect from a big ship cruise, and to be honest, I’m still confused by some things, like why you need to pay extra for soda (fortunately, my kids and I don’t drink sodas). Also, why do you check in for dinner on one deck when your restaurant is on an entirely different deck?

Here are 13 things I learned on-board a cruise:

1. It’s better to go to the waterpark on port days.
Our first day at sea, Carnival WaterWorks (the on-ship waterpark) was a total madhouse. Kids everywhere. Fast forward to our first port day and it was empty. We got there at 9 am and had the waterslides all to ourselves. We went to the port in the afternoon as everyone else was walking back on the ship.

2. You will eat ice cream with every meal (even breakfast).
One of the perks of a Carnival cruise is that soft serve ice cream is available 24-hours a day. Of course, that meant that we stopped for a cone after every meal. And then we got ice cream as a between-meals snack, too. On the second half of the cruise, we literally had ice cream several times a day.

3. Mini golf is easy, free fun on a sea day.
On the top deck, there’s a nine-hole mini golf course. Despite there being, I don’t know, a few thousand passengers on-board, we never had any trouble getting on the greens. It’s free to play and it was a great way to pass the time, especially before and after dinner. If you want to spend money, bowling is $2 a game.

4. It’s okay to drop your kids off at Camp Ocean.
I felt bad at first dropping my kids off at the on-ship kids’ club (Camp Ocean). However, I quickly learned that my kids would rather be at the kids’ club than walking around the port with me. They loved meeting other kids, playing video games and all the arts and crafts. Well, there you go.

5. You’ll want to wake up for a sunrise.
I love a sunrise and I’m totally willing to wake up early to see the sunrise. Nearly every morning of our sail I woke up early to get up to the outdoor track for a walk or a run just before sunrise. It was seven times around to equal a mile, but I didn’t mind seeing the same views over and over.

6. The family scavenger hunt on the last day is a must-do.
On the last night of our sail, Camp Ocean held a Family Digital Hunt, a scavenger hunt that required each family to read clues, do different activities (e.g., go down the waterslide at WaterWorks, start a conga line) and document it all in photos. So much fun. It really was one of the cruise highlights for me.

7. You don’t want to attempt the ropes course on a sea day.
On the very top deck (even higher than the top deck), there’s a ropes course (SkyCourse). We’ve done several ropes courses and love them. However, my advice to you is to save the ropes course for a port day. We went on an at-sea day and it was way too windy, which made it much less fun.

8. Save dining faves for port days.
There’s always a line on the Lido Deck for Guy’s Burger Joint, but the lines are somewhat shorter on port days (though the hours are limited on port days). We went a couple of nights for dinner just before it closed to avoid the super long lines. Don’t even bother getting a burger on the first day of the sail.

9. Pay attention to excursion details before you book.
In Grand Turk, we got off the ship for a sail on a catamaran and a snorkeling adventure. The catamaran was just steps away from the port and it was a short sail to the reef, so it was perfect. At Amber Cove, some friends booked an excursion that involved a bumpy 90-minute bus ride to the destination. No thanks.

10. “Cruise Elegant” is neither elegant nor required.
Each day of the cruise you’ll receive a FunTimes activity guide that outlines all of the day’s activities, the hours of all the restaurants and entertainment highlights. It also lets cruisers know the attire for the night, either Cruise Casual or Cruise Elegant. I was nervous about Cruise Elegant night but it’s not formal gowns and it’s also not required if you want to eat at a quick-service restaurant, like Guy’s Burger Joint. Phew.

11. A cruise port may be just a stop to get off the boat.
I thought each port would be a stop at a cute town, a place to explore the history and culture of the island, but that’s not necessarily true. Amber Cove, for example, has a swimming pool, ziplines and a handful of stores. It’s also where you depart for excursions. But it’s not a town or a place worth exploring.

12. Some of restaurants on the ship have upcharges.
I honestly thought that a cruise ship was a floating all-inclusive. That’s mostly the case. Many restaurants on-board are included, but others require an extra fee of $15 or $25 per person, like Bonsai Sushi and Cuban Bites. Fortunately, the FunTimes is good about noting which ones require you to plunk down extra cash.

13. Cruise ship staff love making towel animals.
Every night after dinner you’ll find a towel on one of the beds in your stateroom transformed into an elephant or a monkey or a bear. On the third morning of the cruise, there were towel animals on every deck chair across the Lido Deck. Seriously, so cute.

Disclaimer: My kids and I were guests of Carnival on board the five-day Carnival Vista sail. However, I was not compensated for this article and all opinions expressed here are my own.

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10 Things to Do as a Family at Death Valley National Park http://kidventurous.com/10-things-family-death-valley-national-park/ http://kidventurous.com/10-things-family-death-valley-national-park/#respond Fri, 20 Jan 2017 17:54:46 +0000 http://kidventurous.com/?p=10757 I love Death Valley. Especially in November. While temps can easily rise into the 100s (even 110s) in the summer, it was a balmy 69 degrees when I was there in late-fall, at least according to the thermometer display set up just outside the Furnace Creek Visitor Center. I stayed in Beatty, NV and entered the park from the east […]

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I love Death Valley. Especially in November. While temps can easily rise into the 100s (even 110s) in the summer, it was a balmy 69 degrees when I was there in late-fall, at least according to the thermometer display set up just outside the Furnace Creek Visitor Center.

I stayed in Beatty, NV and entered the park from the east side where there is a lot to see, like the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes and Artists Palette. Still, I had less than a day to explore and was jealous of my friend Karilyn who was just there and was able to see and do so much more. You can see her itinerary here. If you plan a visit to Death Valley National Park, here are 10 things to do in Death Valley. Have fun. 🙂

1. Stay Near the Park Entrance. I stayed in nearby Beatty at the Stagecoach Hotel & Casino. It’s about 45 minutes to the Furnace Creek Visitor Center. It can get very dark after sunset, so it’s best to stay close, if you can. Stop at the Goldwell Open Air Museum on your way into the park. It’s very cool.

2. Go Sledding at the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. Bring along a snow saucer to sled down the sand dunes at the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes (though I’m sure a flat cardboard box would work too). While I didn’t get a chance to sled here, I did go sledding at White Sands National Monument in New Mexico and can attest that it is so much fun, so do add this one to your own list of things to do in Death Valley.

3. Walk Across Badwater Basin. At Badwater Basin, you’re 282 feet below sea level, the lowest point in North America. You can even see a sign marking sea level way up high on the cliffs. Walk across the salt flats. It’s a vast expanse and you’ll want to get out far enough to see the salt crystals across the flats.

4. Cruise Along Artists Drive. Go early to drive the one-way route along Artists Drive. The colorful rocky landscape is worth the drive, and if you get there early enough (especially in the off-season), you may have the road to yourself. That way it’s easy to hop out and take photos without causing a back-up.

5. Take in the Views from Zabriskie Point. One of my favorite things to do in Death Valley is to make a stop at Zabriskie Point. These badlands are just incredible. I could have taken a dozen photos. If you have time, hike along the Badlands Loop, a 2.5 mile trail that goes down, in and around the badlands.

6. Become a Junior Ranger. My kids love earning badges and patches at various national parks through the Junior Ranger program so this is an easy add to my list of things to do in Death Valley when visiting with kids. You can pick up a free activity booklet at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center.  There’s both a summer booklet and a winter booklet. Earn a badge upon completion of the activities. 

7. Take a Photo with the Thermometer. Outside the Furnace Creek Visitor Center, look for the thermometer display (it’s not hard to find). It was just 69 degrees when I was there. Not especially impressive, but I think it would be fun to snap a pic there when temps are in the 100s.

8. Attend a Ranger-Led Program. As always, attending a ranger program is a must. You and your kids can learn about wildlife safety, geology, history and native animals. Pick up the park newspaper when you arrive or go online ahead of time. The morning Golden Canyon Walk with a ranger is a must-do.

9. Listen to the Silence. When I arrived at Death Valley, it was around 6:30 am. No one else was around and it was completely silent. No car noises. No wind rustling. No wildlife moving. Total silence. It was almost eerie, but the sun was getting ready to rise and it was beautiful.

10. Stamp Your Passport. Getting stamps in my Passport to Your National Parks is always my favorite part of a national park visit. Keep your eye open for cancellation stamps at every visitor center. You’ll also want to buy the official park sticker to add to your passport. An easy must-do for any list of things to do in Death Valley.

 

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25 Most Instagram-Worthy Roadside Attractions http://kidventurous.com/25-most-instagram-worthy-roadside-attractions/ http://kidventurous.com/25-most-instagram-worthy-roadside-attractions/#respond Mon, 16 Jan 2017 16:37:56 +0000 http://kidventurous.com/?p=10741 There’s just something about road trips and stopping to take photos at fun and quirky roadside attractions, like Cadillac Ranch in Texas and Foamhenge in Virginia. One of my personal favorites is South of the Border, a road stop in South Carolina. You’ll see colorful billboards, like “Pedro’s Weather Report: Chili Today, Hot Tamale!,” for miles and miles. If you’re planning […]

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There’s just something about road trips and stopping to take photos at fun and quirky roadside attractions, like Cadillac Ranch in Texas and Foamhenge in Virginia. One of my personal favorites is South of the Border, a road stop in South Carolina. You’ll see colorful billboards, like “Pedro’s Weather Report: Chili Today, Hot Tamale!,” for miles and miles.

If you’re planning a family road trip this summer, check out RoadsideAmerica.com, which highlights roadside attractions worth a visit all across the United States. There’s even a Roadside America mobile app to help you find must-see roadside attractions and points of interest.

If you like to snap photos in front of wacky statues, museums and attractions (who doesn’t?), then take a look at the 25 most Instagram-worthy roadside attractions (in my opinion) that you and your kids will love.

1. Idaho Potato Museum
How can you not love a museum dedicated to the potato? Located along I-15, we made a stop at the Idaho Potato Museum on our way from Boise to Yellowstone National Park in 2015. And yes, I had to snap a pic of the kids standing next to the giant baked potato in front of the museum.

2. Wall Drug
My daughter, Clare, and I spent a few days in South Dakota a few years ago. I’d never heard of Wall Drug before we arrived in the state, but now I want to go back, like right now. Ride a jackalope, see the T-Rex roar, splash around in the outdoor fountains and try the maple-frosted donuts. Yum.

wall drug

3. Cadillac Ranch   
Located in Amarillo, Texas, if I could have squeezed in a visit to Cadillac Ranch during our cross-country road trip, I would have, for sure. It’s a bunch of brightly painted old-school Cadillacs, half-buried nose down in the dirt. It’s probably one of the most photographed roadside attractions in the country.

cadillac ranch

4. Foamhenge
If you’re planning a visit to Natural Bridge in Virginia, which is a must on its own, make a stop at nearby Foamhenge. It’s a replica of England’s Stonehenge, only made out of foam. Why travel to the UK when you can snap a selfie with this world-known attraction so close to home?

foamhenge

5. Corn Palace
Listed as one of 500 Places to Take Your Kids Before They Grow Up, it’s clearly a must to make a stop at Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota. Look for free guided tours during the summer, murals made out of corn, even a festival in August with carnival rides, food trucks and entertainment.

corn palace

6. South of the Border
We traveled by car along I-95 from Virginia to Florida several times when I was in elementary school, and once, we even stopped at South of the Border. Just south of the North Carolina-South Carolina border, I love Pedro, the billboards for miles, mini golf and everything about this “highway oasis.”

south of the border

7. Four Corners
Where else can you stand on four states (Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico & Utah) at one time? Yup, at Four Corners. Run by the Navajo Nation, it’s not far off the highway and may be worth a quick pic, but be prepared to pay $5 per person (cash only). Children six and younger are free.

four corners

8. Leaning Tower of Niles
No plans to travel to Italy? No problem. Take your photo with the Leaning Tower of Niles. Originally built to store water for outdoor swimming pools, the Leaning Tower of Niles is a half-size replica of the Leaning Tower of Pisa located just minutes from Chicago.

leaning tower of niles

9. Big Beau
On our way from New Orleans to Galveston, we stopped for a quick pic with Big Beau. This 135-foot alligator welcomes visitors to Beaumont, Texas. Located on the grounds of Gator Country, we even got to wade with baby alligators (yikes).

big beau

10. World’s Largest Baseball Bat
In Louisville, Kentucky, look for a baseball bat taller than the adjacent five-story Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory. For baseball fans, it’s a must-visit. You’ll also want to stop in the museum to check out the exhibits and take a short factory tour to see how Louisville Slugger bats are made.

worlds largest baseball bat

11. Chloride, Arizona
If you plan to make the drive between Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon, it’s a must to stop in Chloride, Arizona. The oldest mining town in Arizona, it’s been a wild west ghost town since 1944, though you will be able to find a restaurant, convenience store and several gift shops today.

chloride

12. Santa’s Workshop
Less than 25 minutes from Lake Placid, you’ll find Santa’s Workshop in North Pole, New York with plenty of Christmas-themed rides, games and shows. Enjoy Breakfast with Santa all summer long, as well as rides like the Peppermint Swings and Santa’s Sleigh Coaster.

santas workshop

13. Southernmost Point
In Key West, Florida, strike a pose with the huge buoy that marks the Southernmost Point in the United States. It’s just 90 miles to Cuba and offers fabulous views. You may need to wait in line, but you’ll find plenty of people willing to snap your photo.

southernmost point2

14. Cathedral of Junk
In a small backyard of an Austin, Texas home you’ll find a work of art made out of ordinary junk, like TVs, bicycles, glass bottles and toys.  Take your time exploring the “junk” and don’t forget to take a few pictures. The Cathedral of Junk is open weekends and by appointment on weekdays.

cathedral of junk

15. LOVE Sculpture
Take a break at John F. Kennedy Plaza (also known as LOVE Park) for a few selfies with the famous LOVE sculpture. Perfect for the City of Brotherly Love, right? It’s no surprise that this iconic sculpture is one of the 10 most photo-worthy spots in Philadelphia.

love sculpture2

16. Make Way for Ducklings
Yup, make way. Less a traditional roadside attraction since it’s in the middle of a park in Boston, it’s a must to snap a pic with your brood posing atop the bronze duckling sculptures from Make Way for Ducklings. You’ll find them in the Boston Public Garden. 

make way for ducklings

17. World’s Largest Cowboy Boots
In San Antonio, Texas, look for the World’s Largest Cowboy Boots just outside the North Star Mall (next to Saks Fifth Avenue). Since they’re the “world’s largest,” you shouldn’t have trouble spotting them for a quick snapshot.

worlds largest cowboy boots

18. Fremont Troll
Not so much a grumpy old troll as a friendly concrete giant who’s been living under the Aurora Bridge in Seattle since 1990. He may be clutching a Volkswagen Beetle, but don’t worry, the Fremont Troll is harmless. There’s plenty of area parking, so spend some time climbing and taking pictures of the troll.

fremont troll

19. Welcome to Las Vegas Sign
There’s a lot to do with kids in Las Vegas, and if you go, it’s just kind of thing to snap a selfie with the world-famous Welcome to Las Vegas Sign. For more neon, take a guided tour of the nearby Neon Museum, which offers one-hour tours every morning and evening.

las vegas sign

20. World’s Largest Thermometer
People just love the World’s Largest Thermometer in Baker, California, a small town considered to be the “Gateway to Death Valley.” At 134-feet tall, the thermometer is a tribute to the 134-degree temperature record set in Death Valley in 1913. It’s also next to Bob’s Big Boy. Yum.

worlds largest thermometer

21. ET Fresh Jerky
Take a drive along the Extraterrestrial Highway in Nevada, but before you hop on, make a stop at ET Fresh Jerky in Hiko. It’s basically a small convenience store, but the real attraction is the cowboy alien mural adjacent to the shop. It’s practically begging for you to take a selfie.

22. LL Bean Boot
Just outside Portland, ME, it’s a must to stop at LL Bean’s massive flagship store in nearby Freeport. Before you go inside, be sure to take a photo of the 16-foot tall duck boot out front. Sign up for a class, like archery or fly fishing, with the LL Bean Outdoor Discovery School.

23. Phantastic Phils
Take a weekend and head to Punxsutawney, PA, home to the world’s most famous groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil. While in town, pick up a map and take photos with more than 30 six-foot tall ground hog statues around town that are a part of the Phantastic Phils public art project.

24. Big Blue Bear
This past summer, I hooked up with Mile High Bike Tours in Denver for a guided bike ride to see all that’s great about the Mile High City. Along the way, we made a stop to see Big Blue Bear, a 40-foot tall blue bear sculpture that’s been peering into the lobby of the Colorado Convention Center since 2005.

25. Seven Magic Mountains
Located 20-30 minutes from Las Vegas, the Seven Magic Mountains are worth the quick trip and the diversion. When you arrive, dial into the free audio tour to learn more about this public art, which represents Las Vegas and is a cross between the natural and the artificial.

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