Cyber Monday Vacation Deals – Ready, Set, Go.

It’s Black Friday and rather than participating in the shopping frenzy at the mall I am sipping herbal tea and browsing for family vacation deals and extra savings which are available now or will be available on Cyber Monday. I have discovered some which may serve as inspiration to make plans for spring break or next summer’s family vacation.  The savings are real but the booking window is limited and as always with deals there limited rooms and blackout dates.

Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort Phoenix, Arizona waterpark.

Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort Phoenix, Arizona cyber deal includes a four-acre water park open and heated year-round.

The ones I like best are great destinations for families even without the super savings. And I always like to see deals that actually span the typical family vacation time frame which includes the summer months. For example:  Grand Lucayan in the Bahamas is offering 55 percent off rates (starting at $99) for travel November 27, 2015 through September 1, 2016.

The Pointe Hilton Tapatio Cliffs Resort in Phoenix, Arizona is offering 30 percent off best available rate during the 72-hour booking window November 30 through December 2, 2015s is good through August 31, 2016.  Also in Phoenix, the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort has a similar all-suite deal for families valid from December 20, 2015-August 31, 2016.

One of my favorite spots in Costa Rica, Tabacón Grand Spa Thermal Resort is offering 50% off on Cyber Monday with rates beginning at $150/night. The resort has large suites and the concierge will happily arrange babysitting for a day, a night, or for your entire stay. The deal is valid for stays August 21 – December 17, 2016.

Family vacation deals

Family vacation deals and more fun for less.

We also keep and active folder populated with family vacation deals and ways to save. One of my favorites is Coupons for Fun a location with hundreds of deals available added weekly. It’s best to browse at your leisure, select, download and print.

Happy hunting on Cyber Monday.

Nancy Nelson-Duac

Curator of the Good Stuff for the Family Travel Files.



Currier and Ives Family Christmas for 21st Century Families.

The classic Currier and Ives scene looks a bit more chaotic when populated with 21st century families but the idea is timeless – sharing time together. I have searched for and found Christmas holiday escapes which include festively decorated cabins and cozy lodges ideal for sharing adventures, making discoveries, and creating a few classic memories.

Cabins for You Christmas in Gatlinburg

At Cabins for You in Gatlinburg no need to decorate just show up and begin to vacation.

Even though November is almost here, it is not too late to book a vacation cabin for the holidays. This week I have spoken with more than a dozen locations each with options for the upcoming Christmas holiday break. True the choices have diminished since August but great places for fireside chats, stargazing, and holiday festivities still may be snagged.

I have a list of seven locations, each well-suited for a family winter holiday break some in cozy cabins with fireplaces and others in tents with fire rings and one in an awesome winter lodge. My three favorites:

  1. Eagles Ridge Mountain Side Cabins in Pigeon Forge. Appalachian retreats for families.
  2. Jellystone Park Camp-Resort in Nashville – Extra magic of holiday lights and music.
  3. Stone Mountain Georgia – Christmas cabins plus extreme snow tubing.

More Christmas vacation ideas may be found in our vacation planning folder “Away for the Holidays.”

It’s not too late to plan an escape, really.

Nancy Nelson-Duac

Curator of the Good Stuff for the Family Travel Files

Add Dinosaurs to Your Vacation and Roar!

For more than a decade I have been posting news about dinosaur experiences, dinosaur exhibits, and dinosaur digs. I have noted the best places to view a Brontosaurs, Stegosaurus or T. rex and where to find the nearest Dinosaurs Alive! location. Each year I add more great options to the Dino Trips folder at the Family Travel Files.

dinosaurs at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History.

Roar with the dinosaurs at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History.

Adding a dinosaur or maybe two to your family vacation will guarantee squeals, roars, smiles and non-stop questions. Dino trips combine fun and learning with family vacation time. Seeing the biggest of dinosaurs and using big words to match is child’s play and meant to be shared.

According to Fred Rogers from the popular TV show Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.”

I recently discovered Connecticut’s Roar Tour, a terrific menu of vacation options which include old bones, dig for fossils, animatronic thrills, sharks, sea turtles, lizards.  The Roar Tour also has vacation packages making a dino trip easy to plan.

Dinosaur World in Glen Rose, Texas

At Dinosaur World in Glen Rose, Texas tykes can hide in a dinosaur’s head and roar at passersby.

If dinosaurs are on your radar screen this summer then get excited. Exceptional dinosaur experiences span the planet from awesome techno dinosaurs at Connecticut Science Center in Hartford and giant dinosaur puppets at the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History to Dinosaurs Live! locations and the enchanting pathways of Dinosaur World in Florida and Texas. The Royal Tyrell Museum in Alberta (one of my time favorite places to dig with kids) offers topnotch dinosaur experiences and T. rex Discovery Centre in Saskatchewan provides access to an actual dig site. The possibilities for fun and learning are endless.

A complete menu of places to vacation with dinosaurs may be viewed in Dino Trips featured at the Family Travel Files. For the latest family travel, dino news follow The Family Travel Files on Twitter (@FamTravelFiles), Pinterest or Facebook straight from the homepage.

As always I welcome feedback. Do you have a favorite dinosaur experience or place to roar? Just Tell Mom.

Nancy Nelson-Duac

Curator of the Good Stuff for the Family Travel Files.

Share an Out of Gravity Experience with Your Kids.

This summer the Science Museum of Minnesota is showcasing an awesome and most enlightening exhibition about space travel, space living and space in relationship to our future.  It’s a WOW! in Earth terms.

Gigantic Spaceman Science Museum of Minnesota

A gigantic spaceman beckons earthlings to Space: An Out of Gravity Experience at the Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul.

The Minnesota Science Museum has always been on my list of must see museums but until last week I had never stepped inside. Six hours later with two snack breaks, much needed to quell mind overload, I know one visit is not enough. The place is amazing at every turn.

Space: An Out-of-Gravity Experience is one reason to make plans to be in St. Paul with your kids. It is an eye opener. A gargantuan spaceman guards the entrance hall of the Museum beckoning earthlings to get in line to see really cool stuff about the future of travel in space. The presence of the three-story giant is exciting no matter what your age and from the third floor landing it’s possible to see your own surreal reflection in the spaceman’s mask.

Science at Museum of Minnesota space station playhouse.

Science Museum of Minnesota space station playhouse for miniature astronauts attracts kids of all ages to engage in imaginative travel with a mission.

Space poses the question, what does the future hold for earthlings and space travel? It does not cover historic moments or status quo thinking but instead focuses on possibilities. I was enthralled at every turn. The experience begins with a well-scripted cinematic introduction which describes in easy to understand terms the huge challenges facing future explorers and shows how preparations are being made to solve the situations.

Every means of engaging visitors is used to convey concepts which are still on the edges of comprehension for most of us. Interactive stations simulate robotic tasks and consoles allow users to engage in mission planning simulating tasks essential to survival in outer space. Stacking blocks is not as easy as it seems when the task must be completed using a robotic arm. It’s possible to board a life-sized rotating space pod simulating the International Space Station, slightly dizzying but intriguing.

If you are anywhere near St. Paul Minnesota, this is the summer to have an  out of gravity experience with your kids and while you are there sample the gelato for an out of this world taste treat.

Nancy Nelson-Duac

Curator of the Good Stuff for the Family Travel Files.

Walking to Pluto with Kids.

This is the Year of Pluto and Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona where Pluto was discovered is celebrating the 85th anniversary in cosmic style and walking to Pluto is only part of the fun.

Lowell Observatory Cosmic Cat

An artful cosmic cat guards the Pluto Telescope at Lowell Observatory on Mars Hill above Flagstaff, AZ.

I have always had a soft spot in my heart for Pluto because when I was in the fifth grade I played the tiny planet in a science fair skit. I knew then as I know now Pluto is small and its orbit erratic but the demotion to dwarf planet seems a little demeaning but no one asked me to vote. My family has found memories of visiting the Observatory when Pluto was still at the end of the planet chain. Mars Hill was then and is now a cool place.

Not able to let go of our love for Pluto, a few weeks ago my daughter and I revisited Lowell Observatory atop Mars Hill. The last time we were there she was eight years old and Pluto was still a planet. She remembered the famous telescope as being bigger and the walk much longer – no surprise.

The famous750-acre hilltop facility, guarded by a cosmic blue cat is quietly impressive. It’s a place where real scientific research is being conducted and yet the public has access to scientists who willingly answer questions about planets, star clusters, and cosmic disorder.

Lowell Observatory Pluto Telescope

After strolling the official Pluto Walk to Pluto head on to Lowell Observatory Pluto Telescope

While there are more than a dozen solar system walks spanning the continent, this Lowell Observatory hilltop complex is the best place on the plant to walk to Pluto with your kids. The official the Pluto Walk spans 350-foot (107- meter) and follows a path illustrating the scale of our solar system planet by planet with tiny Pluto at the end. Just steps beyond is the Pluto Discovery Telescope (actually an astrogragh), one of the most famous telescopes in the history of American astronomical research.

Within the hilltop complex there are plenty of cosmic connections, including stargazing to be enjoyed but for us walking to Pluto’s was the best.

Nancy Nelson-Duac,

Curator of the Good Stuff for the Family Travel Files.

Vacation with Doughnuts and Share a New Age Taste Experience.

Every year for the last seven decades National Doughnut Day has been celebrated on the first Friday in June. This year is no exception. June 5 will be celebrated by doughnut lovers everywhere. Given the dramatic, inventive, creative happenings in the craft doughnut world paying homage on only one day a year doesn’t seem like enough.

You deserve a donut in Tampa.

Nicola’s Donut Shop in Tampa makes decadent donuts for dessert.

Therefore I am suggesting that family vacations include at least one doughnut day along with a bookstore visit of course. Just for the record I am not a habitual donut eater mostly because I ate way too many Krispy Crème Donuts when I was at university. But times have changed and five-star urban eating experiences often include doughnuts or donuts if you prefer.

In the last year I have visited several remarkable establishments and sampled outrageous doughnuts. While cake or raised, powdered or glazed is still the starting point, doughnut makers (many of them chefs) are creating flavorful often decadent options. New age choices include bacon and pineapple, gingerbread and caramel, sea salt and cardamom to some baked with artisan chocolates, and doughnuts topped with Oreos, Peebles, or Gummy Bears. Much like in an ice cream store the choosing may take some time. Add to the mix tasty gluten free and vegan choices and there is really no excuse not to celebrate any time especially on vacation.

Beiler’s Bakery Nutella ‘n Crème Doughnuts

Beiler’s Bakery in Reading Terminal Market serves Nutella ‘n Crème doughnuts. No more explanation is needed.

I am impressed with the amount of creative effort focusing on doughnuts. I am not describing all of my favorite selections but I am providing a nudge by naming a few of the very best doughnut spots in the country and thus reason to add a doughnut experience vacation plans.

Beiler’s Hand Rolled Doughnuts in Philadelphia – Vanilla glazed donuts topped with M&M’s or Gummy Bears.

Firecakes in Chicago – Maple-glazed doughnuts with pineapple & bacon.

Hypnotic Donuts in Dallas – The first “Evil Elvis” yeast donut with peanut butter, bacon, banana and honey.

A Baker’s Wife Pastry Shop in Minneapolis – Delightful classic cake doughnuts and exceptionally good American tea cakes.

Revolution Doughnuts & Coffee in Atlanta – Salted caramel doughnuts topped with bits of charcuterie bacon.

Donut Bar in San Diego – Home of the famous “Big Poppa Tart” donuts and  made-to-order cinnamon French toast donuts with custard.

Nicola’s Donuts in Tampa – Rocky Road, Brownie Brittle or decadent PB&J donuts for dessert.

National Doughnut Day hoices

National Doughnut Day is all about personal choice.

YUM YUM Donuts in Playa del Rey.  Topping off the baker’s half dozen, cinnamon crumb donut holes and freshly squeezed orange juice.

You deserve a doughnut any day but let’s celebrate National Doughnut Day this Friday for the fun of it. Make mine lavender glazed with sea salt.

In the meantime if you have your own favorite doughnut (donut) shop or have discovered an outrageous new age flavor, please let me know.

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

Summer Road Trips to the 16th Century.

Renaissance festivals can be the perfect stress reliever for an over scheduled family. My family and I have enjoyed more than a dozen Ren faires in various locations always dressing the part and melding with the faire atmosphere.  I know from experience that one of the best parts of any Ren faire experience is imagining together about another time in history and play acting along with everyone else. There really is no substitute for being there.

Renaissance faire magic.

Being a princess for a day is part of the Renaissance faire magic.

The best Ren faires create a 16th century time capsule (sometimes loosely translated) where royalty reigns and jousts are the order of the day. There’s music and dance, royal parades and artisan shops plus scrumptious food. It is a place where bards, jesters, puppeteers, falconers, magicians and fairy folk mingle with gallant knights, beautiful princesses, an occasional dastardly dragon, and uncommon folk from this century.

Ren faires create an atmosphere punctuated by lively entertainment and living history moments, creating the perfect setting for a carefree family experience difficult to duplicate on your own. Where else can you dress up and pretend to be a pirate, or a jester, lady in waiting or a forest fairy? Where else can you practice speaking like a citizen of the shire; enjoy falconry, human-powered rides, enchanted mazes and organized quests? Where else can you hear storytellers, see a royal court, watch jousting, puppeteers, and jesters? And where else can you eat with your fingers?

Bristol Renaissance Faire in Wisconsin.

Huzzah! Bristol Renaissance Faire in Wisconsin makes summer in the 16th century magical for everyone who attends.

The faire atmosphere creates the ultimate interactive family experience with seeing, doing, and pretending all part of the fun. It’s an easy way practice imaging together without the aid of electronic devices. The immersive experience is bound to stretch your child’s comfort zone with 16tth century activities, sights, sounds, aromas and costumes all part of the day.

If a road trip to the 16th century makes sense then head for one of the best locations. My suggestions include Bristol Renaissance Faire in Wisconsin, Great Lakes Medieval Faire in Ohio, Holly Michigan Renaissance Festival, Ohio Renaissance Festival, Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire, New York Renaissance Faire, and Minnesota Renaissance Festival.


Nancy Nelson-Duac

Curator of the Good Stuff for the Family Travel Files