Celebrating 100 years of America in Historic Ways and in Amazingly Beautiful Places.

There is plenty good news for families planning vacations. At the top of the list is the celebrating 100 years along with the National Park Service which will waive entrance fees on special days throughout the year.

Arches National Park Story Circle

Arches National Park in Utah offers story circles by day and star gazing by night.

All national parks, including locations in Puerto Rico, and US Virgin Islands will be participating is the celebration and the free admission days. On the island of Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park will be celebrating its own centennial anniversary.

Kicking off the celebration is National Park Week April 16-24. which includes free admission. The in-park events and activities launch the celebration which culminates with the official National Park Service Birthday four-day celebration August 25-28.

The rest of the year looks impressive with all locations offering unique events which expand beyond ranger talks and Junior Ranger adventures. The expanded menus of cultural and natural experiences reinforce a sense of place and add extra value to a visit or a family vacation. Mark your calendar, find your park and make it happen in 2016.

San Antonio Missions National Historical Park near San Antonio is also a UNESCO World Heritage.

During the year-long celebration parks will host innovative family activities, kid oriented activities, and distribute the new Centennial Junior Ranger booklet and badge. A preview is already available on line.

San Antonio Missions National Historical Park near San Antonio

San Antonio Missions National Historical Park near San Antonio is also a UNESCO World Heritage.

The best way to become inspired about celebrating is to browse FindYourPark.com to view upcoming centennial events near you, share your own stories, and plan a visit.

Family friendly events span the gamut from living history moments to wonders of nature. At Guadalupe Mountains National Park join in an interactive session about javelinas the most curious canyon residents often confused with pigs.

Rangers from Dead Horse Point State Park, Canyonlands National Park, and Arches National Park will join forces providing telescopes so that visitors may experience the awesomeness of Utah’s night skies.

On the Atlantic coast Fort Moultrie National Park visitors will have a chance to view the night sky with Low Country Stargazers on Sullivan’s Island.

Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park celebrates 100 years

Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park celebrates 100 years on its own with cultural games and awesome lava bed hikes.

Visitors to Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park during its centennial year will have the opportunity to take an adventurous guided hike into a large lava tube formed by Kīlauea volcano centuries ago and to participate in a variety of historic island games.

The best of America may be seen in our national parks. I am ready to celebrate this summer at Mt Rushmore in the Black Hills, Glacier National Park in Montana, and on Lake Superior’s awesome Isle Royale.

Nancy Nelson-Duac

Curator of the Good Stuff for the Family Travel Files.

Harry Potter Will Soon Add Extra Whimsy and Magic to Hollywood.

As if Los Angeles is not already exciting enough for a family vacation, Universal Studios Hollywood will soon officially unveil “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™” providing Hogwarts lovers with an artfully immersive day adventure. The new experience will include hyper-realistic 3D-HD thrills, dozens of whimsical interludes and many ways for muggles to enjoy spellbinding moments.

Hogwarts in Hollywood at Universal Studios

Feel the magic at Hogwarts in Hollywood at Universal Studios beginning April 7, 2016. Courtesy Universal Studios Hollywood.

 

A soft opening is underway with the official debut scheduled for April 7, 2016. Inspired by J.K. Rowling’s compelling stories and characters that were brought to life in the Warner Bros. films, the new experience is described as the best ever real-world interpretation. Though built on land owned by muggles, the theme park visuals will replicate the iconic themes from the books and films including snow-capped roofs and cobblestone streets of Hogsmeade, Hogwarts Castle and Hogwarts Express.

For thrill seekers, Universal has created the land’s signature ride, “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey,” and the family outdoor coaster, “Flight of the Hippogriff™.”

Fans may sign up for the latest news and information at Hogwarts in Hollywood or join the conversation online using #WizardingWorldHollywood.

The magic of  a summer vacation in Southern California will have a new whimsical dimension. Bring it on.

Nancy Nelson-Duac

Curator of the Good Stuff for the Family Travel Files

 

Ireland on My Mind.

My screensaver for the month is the Cliffs of Moher; I watched River Dance last night; I am listening to Celtic Thunder at the moment and on the eve of St. Patrick’s Day I am planning to bake Irish soda bread. I have Ireland on my mind.

Cliffs of Moher along Ireland’s western coast

Cliffs of Moher along Ireland’s western coast embrace the power of the sea connecting the island to its destiny.

I think of Ireland and smile. It is known for its friendly people and engaging music plus I know it to be artful, festive, magical, mysterious, quirky, beautiful,  energizing, and welcoming which makes the destination perfect for families on holiday.

For families of all age combinations the choices for having fun and making memories are many. Want to enjoy miles of awesome bike trails, hike into the morning mist, or walk along ancient island pathways?  Want to listen to energizing music, hear local stories, and laugh every day? Maybe the taste creamy cheeses, soda bread, and scrumptious ginger bread sounds appealing? How about sailing lessons or a falconry session at a castle? Ireland with kids is a natural high. The fresh air and ready-made adventures make achieving a healthy vacation balance easy.

Historic Kinsale Harbor

Historic Kinsale Harbor is a stopping point on Thomson Family Adventures Ireland adventure.

For families the vacation options are plentiful from fly/drive circuits to escorted island adventures customized for small groups. Thomson Family Adventures has a quintessentially Irish family vacation experience. The escorted multi-sport tour includes Dublin and focuses on the dramatically beautiful southwestern coast and includes sailing lessons in the harbor of historic Kinsale, biking through the Gap of Dunloe, and kayaking around the shores of Baltimore. Adventures by Disney has a family tour which begins in Dublin, includes a castle stay and concludes at Shannon. For more independent families I very much like the Ancient & Medieval Mysteries vacation offered by Authentic Ireland.

Clonmacnoise Heritage Site

Nun’s Chapel ruins along the River Shannon at Clonmacnoise Heritage Site date from the 10th century depict evidence of Ireland’s rich history.

Of course I have dozens of notes and suggestions posted on our Ireland page. The punch line Ireland is a terrific place to vacation with kids of all ages.

Níos déanaí.

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.

 

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

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

A Harvest Time Farm Stay Is the Remedy for Nature Deficiency Disorder.

An escape to rural America is an easy way to create your own free range agri-adventure enjoying the simple pleasures of a lifestyle enjoyed by a select few. The great thing about a farm stay getaway is that it will be beautifully screen free and most likely can also be labeled  free range.

Farm Stay Pumpkins and Kids

Pumpkins and kids make any farm stay extra special.

An authentic farm stay is not is a bed & breakfast in an old farm house no longer part of a working farm but instead it is an immersive experience and a tonic for those suffering from  “Nature Deficiency Disorder.”

Through hands-on experiences children have to possibility to learn the values of conscious, responsible living. What a great way for kids to learn that milk comes from cows and not cartons in the supermarket and that goats are not just curios and gregarious, they are a source of scrumptious cheese.

Farm Stay Egg Collecting.

During a farm stay nothing creates more excitement for tykes than collecting fresh eggs.

No two locations are the same and each experience is unique not just to the farm or ranch but also to the season of the year. There will always be daily livestock chores (optional), and often times harvesting, and maybe even wrangling. Little urban bunnies may participate in animal grooming, apple picking, pumpkin hunting, hayrides, campfire stories, and stargazing without the intrusion of city lights.

Western Pleasure Ranch in Idaho Horseback Rides

Experiencing autumn from horseback at Western Pleasure Ranch in Idaho is the stuff from which family memories are made.

The perfect resource for planning a farm or ranch stay in North America is Farm Stays US – a site offering oodles of un-hotel vacation experiences. Their rich menu of listings spans coast to coast including all 50 states. A useful guestbook tab features comments from guests who often times are parents or grandparents..

Some farms host guests in the farmhouse while others provide separate spaces including converted farm buildings, cabins, floored safari tents, or campsites. No two locations are the same and each offers unique benefits – the most obvious advantage – a chance to unplug, disconnect and discover the gift of time.

Who doesn’t need more time to enjoy life?

Nancy Nelson-Duac

Curator of the Good Stuff  for www.thefamilytravelfiles.com  and a lover of pumpkins, horses, and goat cheese.

Free Adventuring for 4th Graders All Year Long.

Do you know a fourth grader better yet do you live with a fourth grader?  If so then you are in luck. Starting today every fourth grader in the US is eligible for a pass that provides free access to all federally managed lands and waters – including national parks, forests, wildlife refuges and marine sanctuaries.

Every Kid in a Park Pass

We come and go, but the land is always here and the people who love it and understand it are the people who own it for a little while. Willa Cather

The new federal initiative with the moniker “Every Kid in a Park” offers the possibilities for ready-made family adventures. The program is expansive, inclusive and I think terrific. No matter where you live in the United States, there’s a site within two hours of your home. Think about stargazing on the rim of the Grand Canyon or hiking to an ancient pueblo at Wupatki National Monument near Flagstaff.

Next year is the 100th birthday of the National Park Service and this program makes it easy to select a park and celebrate with a visit. The pass is valid for the 2015-2016 school year and grants free entry for fourth graders and three accompanying adults (or an entire car for drive-in parks) at more than 2,000 federally-managed sites.

Grant Kohrs Junior Ranger Program

Grant Kohrs National Monument in Montana connects kids with the spirit of the American West.

From Boston and Philadelphia to Yellowstone and Yosemite the possibilities are endless. From hiking within the shadow of Mount Rainier or taking selfies at Mount Rushmore to air-boating in the Everglades or snorkeling within the US Virgin Islands National Marine Sanctuary, the choices for a world-class family adventure are many.

Fourth graders are invited to log onto http://www.everykidinapark.gov  and complete an entertaining, educational activity in order to obtain and print their paper pass. The paper version may be exchanged for a more durable one at participating federal locations nationwide.

Pueblo at Wupatki National Monument

The ancient pueblos of Wupatki National Monument are perched between the Painted Desert and Ponderosa highlands of Northern Arizona.

Parents visiting the new website will find additional links for more information on planning trips to nearby public lands and some of the most remarkable places in America. Grant Kohrs National Monument demonstrates the cowboy spirit typical of the American frontier. Think about walking in the cloud forest of El Junque in Puerto Rico or counting roadrunners in Saguaro National Park near Tucson.  Fly a kite on Cape Hatteras in North Carolina or kayak within Acadia National Park in Maine.

So many great ways to celebrate 100 years with or without a fourth grader.

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.