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So my first rule when I’m recommending a product is that it must evoke an “Oh, that’s cool” versus a “so what.” Three of my cooler finds were post-worthy last year. My second rule is I don’t let manufacturers know beforehand that I’m reviewing their stuff.
That’s pretty much it for rules. The rest of the review process is unabashedly subjective. But, of course, I hope these gadgets evoke an “oh, that’s cool” from you, too.
Problem is, a lot of companies gently discourage parents from bringing kids younger than seven on such tours. Aside from the potential inappropriateness of the foods on offer – say coffee, booze, or stinky cheese – the tour guide will inevitably be pontificating about food culture or neighborhood history or some such thing demanding a measure of attention that some young kids are ill-equipped to give.
One New York-based foodie tour company comes out and says that “we have found that those under the age of 17 might be indifferent, fidgety, and may not fully appreciate our tours,” and at first the statement irritated me because it would appear to discourage not just young kids, but pretty much all kids.
Almost as fast as you can say sesquicentennial, April 12 will be here. The date will mark 150 years since Confederate soldiers fired on Union ones at Fort Sumpter in Charleston, South Carolina, effectively beginning the Civil War. And even if you don’t have Civil War buffs in your midst, there is something about this anniversary and the pageantry surrounding it that could translate to a nice learning vacation this spring.
Many celebrations will be planned around battlefields, and “they’re all over the east,” observes Lonely Planet U.S. travel editor Robert Reid, and “battlefields from Charleston to Bull’s Run are planning particularly ambitious events.”
I have a hard time keeping track of when peak seasons begin and end in vacation destinations, a shortcoming that manifests itself about once a week. The other day I went to check ticket prices for Water Country USA, the popular family attraction in Williamsburg, Virginia, only to discover that the park was closed until spring of next year. Outdoor water rides evidently are not compatible with brisk fall temperatures. Go figure.
And while Water Country’s sister park, Busch Gardens Williamsburg, is open for part of the fall, one might argue it’s getting a bit nippy for those outdoor thrill rides, too. So there I was about to write off Williamsburg as a fall destination altogether when I ran into a friend who reported that she and her family were soon heading for Colonial Williamsburg, and for a song. Read more
Startling a golfer during his backswing is typically frowned upon, but that’s what makes Halloween weekend different from any other at the Tampa Bay area’s Innisbrook resort, where a one-hour “Ghoulf Clinic,” replete with a deranged-looking clown, is among the activities in store from 6-9pm on October 29th and 30th.
The spooky golf lesson, available to grown-ups as well as kids 12 and under (costumes encouraged) is a first for the resort, though this is its second year of providing Halloween weekend programming. Two main events center on the property’s whimsically-shaped Loch Ness Monster pool. A “dive-in” movie, appropriate for kids 4-12, will include short films and cartoons and yes, swimming is permitted during the movies. Appropriate for the same age group, though by the sounds of it (literally) probably skewing toward the older end of that range, is a Haunted Hallow Trail, upon which 11 scenes staged by creepy witches and werewolves are designed to scare you and your family along the way.
South Beach isn’t always top of mind for family vacations but when the destination does show up on the radar there’s an enormous blip within it that’s hard to miss: the massive Loews Miami Beach Hotel, which has been delivering above-average experiences for families since it opened in 1998.
Mindful of competition from upstart resorts that have cropped up in the area during the last decade, the Loews recently completed major room renovations and has been reinforcing its family friendliness by offering guests a free program, SushiSkool, held every Saturday afternoon year-round at the Sushi SoBe restaurant in the hotel’s lobby.
The good news is that your kids will do more than watch a sushi chef do all the work. What happens during each class, which runs from an hour to 90 minutes, is tailored depending on the ages of who signs up. The class has been known to attract young kids as well as teens and grown-ups. Children won’t be handling knives, but there might very well be some hands-on sushi rolling as well as the benign-but-classic lesson on how to hold chopsticks properly.
If your family’s exposure to farming has thus far been limited to petting zoos and blurry country drives (Look, cows!) then I’ve got a word for you: haycation, the term that’s been coined for a vacation on a working farm. This type of trip has emerged almost as a way of life in Europe and has been quietly catching on in the United States, where some farms more than others are reaching out to families.
A good pick for first-time haycationing families is Apple Pond Farm in New York’s Catskills, whose guest accommodations are limited to a three-bedroom guesthouse that sleeps five and runs $400 for a minimum two-night stay, $975 for the week. Meals are not included – the house has a kitchen if you want to fix your own food – but if you like, the staff will help pull together a breakfast that might run $6 per grownup, $4 per child. You’re welcome to help out with the daily chores – which might include gardening, milking does, and feeding hay and grain to goats, sheep, and horses. Or, co-owner Sonja Hedlund assures me, it’s okay if you do nothing at all. But you came to work, didn’t you? And if you’re in residence on a Friday or Saturday you and your children are welcome to go for free to “farming with kids” sessions that cost non-guests $4 for kids, $5 for adults. The guesthouse books up quickly in summer, but can be rented year-round.
A bunch of educational publishers are getting rich – and not just off of me – from selling summer “bridge” workbooks that permit kids to practice and sharpen the reading and math skills they learned the previous school year as prelude to the grade they’re about to enter.
The workbooks manage not to be completely joyless, but I feel a bit dorky forcing my children to cart the booklets along on long car and plane rides. And even if they do pack them, they find ways to avoid them. Which brings me to three things they and other traveling kids might do instead while on the road.
Melissa & Doug License Plate Game, $19.99
When Melissa & Doug introduced a line of travel games, they took durable and colorful pieces of wood and shrewdly bound them with elastic bands to the puzzle boards, so even a multi-lettered game like Hangman won’t scatter its tiles into the recesses of car floor mats and airplane seat pockets. The Flip to Win Hangman game has been a trip favorite for years but another we’ve come to appreciate more recently is the License Plate Game, fifty tiny license plate tiles bound with elastic to a wooden map of the United States. Sit in the car, spot a license plate, find it, and flip it on the board. That’s it. Value-added, of course, is that you’re making your kids hunt for the states as they find the plates. Read more
Rosemarie Axton was kind enough to write us the other day asking where she might take her Monterey-based grandkids for about a week. Some days my knee-jerk response to that question would be San Francisco, but for some reason Dionne Warwick’s lovely singing voice popped into my head asking if I knew the way to San Jose, and that was that.
San Jose is about an hour’s drive from Monterey, but if you and your family happen to be in San Francisco, it’s only about an hour from there, too, traffic permitting. And of course you can fly directly into San Jose International Airport (SJC) from New York, Atlanta, Dallas, and other cities.
Entertainment for all ages, beautiful beaches, sunny weather, and excellent accommodations – San Diego has it all. It’s one of my favorite places to recommend for families because there is a wonderful balance of relaxing activities – think pools and beaches – and fun family activities like the zoo, amusement parks like Legoland, museums, and outdoor sports opportunities. From toddlers to teens, the activities here appeal to everyone. In addition, the ideal weather – consistently ranging from 65-75 degrees – is perfect almost all year long. That said, try to avoid visiting in June, when there is often a layer of fog (“June Gloom”) that covers the beach for the first half of the day.
Favorite family activities in San Diego:
San Diego Zoo
This world famous zoo is not to be missed. From ages 2 to 72, everyone loves the zoo! Large natural-looking enclosures with huge glass viewing areas allow amazing proximity to the animals. Be sure to see the polar bears and the hippos swimming. If you want to cover the whole property, I recommend the hop-on hop-off bus. For a unique experience, consider the fantastic special excursions where you can get a behind the scenes tour of the zoo or even sleep over. The zoo’s sister property located in the northeast section of the county is the Wild Animal Park where there are trams that run through expansive safari-like enclosures.
Tip: Be sure to wear your sneakers and bring or rent a stroller. The zoo is located on a steep hillside and requires a good amount of walking. Also, the Wild Animal Park is very hot during summer months.
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