Oklahoma City Zoo Giraffe Feeding
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Do You Speak Giraffe?

Giraffe encounters or feeding experiences make a normal day at the zoo exceptional. There is a certain elegance and mystery surrounding these regal inhabitants of the Sahara.

Reid Park Zoo Giraffe Encouter

Giraffes have really long tongues and big brown eyes with glamorous lashes.

So if you have small children in your life no doubt have from time to time been required to make animal sounds while sharing a book or story. Lions “RRRoaRRR” chimpanzees appear to laugh “ooh, ooh, augh, augh” but what do you say when you turn to a page with a giraffe?

Even if the mystery of what sound giraffes make is not solved, giraffe encounters or feeding experiences will be memorable. Here’s why.

When nurturing young children there is no substitute for being there even if you don’t speak the language and that applies to penguins, seals, goats, and a variety of interactive wild life experiences offered by zoos. I have found that with giraffes it’s really all about eye contact not just their amazing tongue action.

Giraffe feeding opportunities are now available at dozens of zoos across the country. Not surprising no two experiences will be the same because giraffes have their own personality quirks. I have noticed locations have their own style of communication with participants. Some zookeepers offer facts and suggestions while others, Reid Park Zoo in Tucson and Oklahoma City Zoo, actively engage youngsters in the experience, posing questions and answering questions.

Oklahoma City Zoo Giraffe Feeding

Nevertheless giraffes are gentle, curious and appear to enjoy interacting with humans of all sizes. Just how far will his neck stretch?

The calming experience has the potential to become a vacation highlight and certainly memorable. Like any interactive experience, the degree of success depends not just on the zookeeper but also the advanced information set up by parents. For example in the case of giraffes the tongue is long, very long and black which may be alarming to an unsuspecting participant of any age. Size and gangling movements which appear non-threatening at a distance intimidate when up close.

Giraffe feeding at Kansas City Zoo.

Staring down a giraffe is nearly impossible. They are curious and clever, quickly determine who has the lettuce. Just how long will its tongue stretch?

From our most recent giraffe encounter my five-year-old grandson learned that giraffes spend most of their time each day browsing for food, munching on leaves, flavorful plants, and bark from trees. Giraffes have a bony ridge instead of top front top teeth and a tongue which is capable of grasping, described as prehensile for vocabulary builders.

Curious Giraffe

Each giraffe has its own way of engaging with humans. The youngest ones seem more suspicious even though the are curious.

My grandson had two questions after patiently listening. How many spots do they have? He is in to counting everything. And, can giraffes kiss? I think he did not wish to be kissed or maybe he did. Our shared experience made a lasting impression on both of us. We are looking forward to meeting penguins in Tampa or maybe manta rays in Dallas.

If a zoo adventure is in your future and your zoo of choice offers giraffe time, just do it. Before the big day, I suggest acquiring a book about giraffes beforehand. A terrific, most enjoyable read is Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae with illustrations by Guy Parker-Rees. It is slightly silly yet inspirational for a young mind. And is a great set up for a zoo adventure. And because we all need to see the humor in situations, Shel Silverstein classic (from my children’s early days), Giraffe and a Half is enjoyable for all ages.

No need to speak giraffe, all you have to do is show up and listen.

Nancy Nelson-Duac,

Curator of the Good Stuff for the Family Travel Files.

 

 

48 Hours Making Waves with Your Kids.

For a spring break escape indoor waterparks top the list because they offer easy 48-hour solutions for families short on time but ready to make waves.

A pause at top of the slide at KeyLime Cove.

At KeyLime Cove Waterpark in Illinois sliding challenges await all ages and sizes.

Scattered across the continent these tropical islands offer family adventures defying Mother Nature during the coldest months of the year. There is really nothing to compare to the cacophony of sounds, 84 balmy degrees, almost 90 humidity (no chance of rain) and bodies of all ages dressed in beach wear under a glass dome with chilly skies above.

Surf riding at Massanuttan in Virginia.

At Massanuttan Resort waterpark in Virginia riding the surf is park of the fun.

The cool thing is that waterparks in the US and Canada offer families not just water thrills and an array of interactive ways to enjoy water play but also climbing walls, ziplines, laser tag theaters, black light mini golf, mini bowling, and glow-in-the-dark gaming arcades. With feedback from readers and my own research I have posted an expansive list at the top of our family adventures folder. Three of my favorites are listed below.

Kalahari Waterpark in Wisconsin Dells.

Ride the Rippling Rhino at Kalahari in Wisconsin Dells.

Kalahari Waterpark in Wisconsin Dells. The family-friendly water complex offers FLOWRIDER waves for surfing, lazy river floats, a water rollercoaster, lily pad jumps, spiral pipe flume ride and if that is not enough Kalahari has a giant adventure park as well.

World Waterpark in Edmonton Mall, Alberta.  The five-acre waterpark complex includes a beach supporting world’s largest wave pool so the surf is always up. There are more than 20 waterslides including super-fast body slides with free fall elements and if that’s not enough there is always shopping.

Great Wolf LodgeWwaterpark Thriling Vortex

The fun quotient is high at Great Wolf Lodge waterparks where flip-flops are essential; no sunscreen is needed; splashing is allowed and laughter prevails.

Great Wolf Lodge Waterparks in US & Canada. The undisputed champion of indoor waterparks, Great Wolf operates more than a dozen locations coast to coast including Canada. The locations are truly family adventure islands with interactive activities and amenities for all ages including grandpa.

More spring break family vacation ideas have been posted to our Family Adventure folder.

Just imagine 48 hours away making waves with your kids.

Nancy Nelson-Duac

Curator of the Good Stuff for the Family Travel Files.

 

Cross-country skiing near Traverse City, Michigan

Winter Trails Add Extra Energy to “Learn a Snow Sport Month.”

For most of North America January is all about snow sports and celebrating winter in the snow. We have been announcing this month-long celebration for more than a decade because it spans the country and always offers super deals and screen-free ways to share the fun with your kids.

Cross-country skiing near Traverse City, Michigan

Cross-country skiing family fun near Traverse City, Michigan

The Winter Trails component focuses on Nordic sports of cross-country skiing and snowshoeing two popular ways to have fun, burn calories and later eat all the chocolate or pasta you want. Because the best cross-country skiing spots are in beautiful surroundings where cell phones usually do not work the chance to escape with your kids for a day is easier. The result will yield more smiling, laughing, and maybe a few breathless moment if your kids are setting the pace.

Vail Resorts Nordic Center snowshoe treks in Colorado

Vail Resorts Nordic Center snowshoe adventures will energize any Colorado family vacation.

During January at participating locations there is no charge for the use of equipment and trails plus most locations offer snowshoeing and cross-country skiing instructions for newbies. Organizers have made registration easy with an online service that allows participants to sign up for their preferred location before leaving home. Those who register on-line have the chance to win prizes from sponsors.

Lapland Lake Adirondacks cross-country skiing.

Adirondacks cross-country skiing at Lapland Lake.

Winter Trails locations with offerings include popular alpine resorts like Sugar Mountain Resort near Boone, North Carolina and bucolic Lapland Lake Resort in New York’s Adirondacks as well as state parks, National Park Service, and U.S. Forest Service land. YMCA of the Rockies has terrific Nordic facilities.  Vail Resorts in Colorado offer Nordic adventures for families and kids of all age may enjoy the trails in Sun Valley, Idaho.
Information about other snow sports learning programs may be viewed at www.winterfeelsgood.com.

Happy trails,

Nancy Nelson-Duac

Curator of the Good Stuff for the Family Travel Files

Snow Tubing Yields Squeals and Smiles.

Don’t wait to get your snow tubing thrills, snowy activities may be part of spring break 2016 for many but Mother Nature is fickle and some are already predicting an early thaw. I am nudging action if your family is in need of a double dose of thrills and laughter because snow tubing will do it.

The growing popularity of snow tubing offers the chance to share snowy thrills and sometimes ride a magic carpet as part of the experience. It does not require lessons or practice to be enjoyed. It’s really a ready-made, surprisingly affordable, screen-free day adventure.

I like it as much as ziplining for many of the same reasons. Snow tubing is definitely a multi-generational experience (not really a sport) that combines a modicum of skill, fresh air, squeals of joy, and laughter. It is a recipe for pure family fun with no apps needed.  It has few age requirements and offers thrills for 10-year-olds, teens, 20-somethings and most snow slugs over 50. Some locations even have mini lanes and short runs for tykes.

To facilitate spring break planning or planning for next weekend, the Family Travel Files has just expanded its Snow Places folder to include an extensive list of snow tubing spots across the US. New additions to the list offer terrific snow tubing possibilities including snow tubing at night, snow play areas and extra activities like snow sledding, winter ziplining, pint-sized snowmobiling, dog sledding, and even a bob sled run for those who get no thrills from snow tubing.

Prepare to slide before the thaw.

Nancy Nelson-Duac

Curator of the Good Stuff for the Family Travel Files.

Hey Dudes, Saddle Up with Your Kids.

As the year comes to an end, it is time to think about next summer and making vacation plans. Given 2016 is an election year and it seems like there will be no end to the absurdities which will likely be super-sized by summer, I think a dude ranch might be the answer. A dude ranch vacation provide opportunities to escape the 24-hour news cycle and to get real. Time on a guest ranch delivers new experiences with every sunrise and no fact checking will be needed.

Dude Ranch Vacation Smile

Smiling comes naturally for kids on a dude ranch vacation.

Our family has enjoyed many Wyoming campfires with sing-a-longs, trail rides in Colorado, Arizona starry nights with coyotes yelping, and cowboy poetry in Alberta. Our daughters learned to saddle and ride, rope and shoot skeet, track and identify scat before they were teens.

I can say honestly no two days on a ranch will ever be the same but every day is guaranteed to be interesting and rewarding. Expect horses, hats, hospitality, heritage, honesty and heart with a little music, a lot of storytelling, and plenty of reasons to smile or laugh out loud. Expect screen-free family fun.

Located in some of the most breathtaking areas of the U.S. and Canada, dude ranches are usually all-inclusive and generally flexible with activities. One of the best resources for planning a family dude ranch vacation is the Dude Ranchers’ Association (DRA). Their website features more than 100 accredited guest ranches.

Browsing is part of the fun.

Happy trails,

Nancy Nelson-Duac, Curator of the Good Stuff for the Family Travel Files

Boomerang! A Feast for Curious Minds.

How about an audio gift for the whole family? If you have children or grandchildren between the ages of six and 14 obtaining a subscription to Boomerang! is a sneaky way to have more fun with your kids. Imaginative, fast-paced and timely, each Boomerang! episode provides an audio treat for families with curious minds who want to know more about our world, past, present and future.

Boomkids Episode 33

Boomkids report on big ideas in a unique kid-style in a no nonsense way that is informative and entertaining for all ages.

The mix of topics and liveliness of the reporters is what appeals most to the kids. Hearing facts and listening to opinions presented by other kids makes all the difference. The bonus for adults is that the episodes provide platforms for fascinating family discussions. For years our kids spoke of Dave Shmave – the Elevator Man as if he were a long lost uncle.

The innovative series introduces kids to the world of big ideas and makes useful connections to science, current events, economics, history, poetry and geography, jokes, mysteries, music and interviews – think NPR by kids and for kids. Classic episodes, all still available for download, include “Thomas Jefferson and Greed,” “Michelangelo and Dinosaurs,” and “Nikola Tesla and Globalization” and of course Dave Shmave stories which often leave listeners, no matter what age, speechless.

On road trips and plane trips, as well as carpooling to swim practice, Boomerang entertained and informed all of us. In addition to the timely topics, I appreciate the sense of community engendered with each episode.

Whether you download each episode to your I-Phone or listen (old style) from a CD it will be an audio feast which includes dessert.  Boomerang! is engaging, inspirational, screen-free fun for the whole family.

Are you listening?

Nancy Nelson-Duac

Curator of the Good Stuff for the Family Travel Files

Snag a Ticket to Ride with Santa before It’s Too Late.

Don’t wait to snag a ride with Santa. I know Halloween evets and Thanksgiving dinner precede Santa on the calendar but waiting to make plans diminishes the chance of getting the perfect time on the ideal day. I have just spoken with more than a dozen locations who offer exceptional holiday experiences and all are already selling tickets to ride with the Jolly Old Elf.

Grand Canyon Railway Polar Express

Grand Canyon Railway offers a truly magical Polar Express ride on Engine 29.

For families time is a very precious commodity. So our holiday activity folders suggests oodles of ways to share the gift of time and snag holiday fun with children or grandchildren by creating a personal version of a time share – no condo needed. One of the best ways is to arrange a magical “Polar Express” adventure or a lively Santa train ride either of which makes a terrific yuletide family tradition with huge memory making potential.

From my recent research I know the season is set to sparkle across the country with countless memory making moments possible from riding the rails with Santa to sharing cookies with Mrs. Claus or sipping hot chocolate and singing carols with Christmas elves.

The promising list reveals a plethora of ways to share the magic with young children.  Ride the Polar Express at dozens of spots across the US from New Hampshire and Ohio to Texas and Arizona. Climb aboard a Santa train in Florida or sing along with Santa’s elves in California. The best options may be viewed in our Santa Trains & Holiday Lights folder.

As I write this I realize I do not have our tickets yet. UGH!

Nancy Nelson-Duac

Curator of the Good Stuff for theFamilyTravelFiles.com