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.

Have a Great Trip – Stay Safe.

Whether it’s a road trip, train trip or plane trip, it is wise to establish your own family travel rules to keep everyone safe and happy. Because we are out the door in the morning, I have just reviewed the trip rules with our-year-old grandson. After some thought his only question was can my mom be my buddy? I replied, “Why, yes she can.”

Naturally rules evolve as families mature and I have learned from experience when children know the rules ahead of time and the backstory for each rule, trips become more predictable, less stressful and safer.

Santa Claus City Limits


Five rules govern the bridge time which begins with our departure from home and concludes when we arrive safely at our vacation destination. Even though our family mix includes strong willed, independent, sometimes stubborn individuals, we choose to travel together and all abide by the same family travel rules.

Leave on time. Safe travel begins with a timely departure from home remains in place until you reach your destination

Make trip leader in charge. To lessen stress caused by situations out of your control, move and act as a group. While traveling one adult needs to be the point person and all travelers need to know who it is.

Use the buddy system. Just like swimming at the lake or in the sea, the buddy system is an invaluable tool to sustain safe, stress-free travels.

Listen and observe. While on the move everyone needs to practice situational awareness. Insist that your children use active listening. Listen to the adult in charge; listen to security staff; listen to the stewardess. Encourage them to keep track of their own possessions and actively observe their surroundings.

Remain flexible. Sometimes travel expectations fall short of the mark. A positive flexible attitude, even if you have to fake it, will keep your family safer.

If this sounds like micro managing, think again. The idea is to travel safely together not just for one trip but for all the subsequent trips and to enjoy the journey and time with each other.

Have a Great Trip – Stay Safe.

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


Color Your Summer Vacation with Extra Blue and More Fun.

Children learn what they live so it is never too early to share planet-friendly experiences and in this case sea-friendly experiences with children enabling them to build their own positive connection with our planet.

Monterey Bay Aquarium Discoveries and Family Fun.

Monterey Bay Aquarium special summer activities offer great ways for families to experience the wonders of the ocean together, enjoy a diver’s-eye view of marine life, and watch jellies dance.

Green spots, meaning earth-friendly family vacation ideas, are abundant but what about a blue version. The bluest family vacations include experiences at facilities and working labs that share a love of the ocean and enable families to discover amazing things about life in the sea. These seaside centers and labs have family-friendly programs and activities which add extra “blue” to any vacation. The interactive, engaging programs provide opportunities for family fun and make the perfect launch to next year’s school year.

These beach vacation locations have all the benefits of paradise plus “blue,”  planet-friendly activities at sea life centers and interactive marine labs. These 10 examples demonstrate the best of  blue possibilities.

Monterey Bay Aquarium Underwater Explorers program gives kids have the chance to surface SCUBA in the Great Tide Pool.

Dauphin Island Sea Lab Center discovery cruise in Mobile Bay.

Dauphin Island Sea Lab Center offers exciting discovery cruises in Mobile Bay perfect for adding extra blue to any family vacation.

At Dauphin Island Sea Lab in Alabama share the adventures of a grain of sand.

Virginia Aquarium on Virginia Beach has interactive catamaran sealife excursions.

MOTE Aquarium & Marine Laboratory in Sarasota invites visitors to serve brunch to a shark.

Port Townsend Marine Science Center in Washington is the place to go tide pool trekking.

At Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach caress sharks in Shark Lagoon.

At Seymour Marine Discovery Center in Santa Cruz it is possible to pet a shark.

South Padre Island Dolphin Research and Sealife Center in Port Isabel is the place to meet the dolphins of the Laguna Madre.

At Alaska Sea Life Center in Seward visitors are invited to shake hands with an octopus.

Beluga Whales at Mystic Aquarium.

Mystic Aquarium is home to some of the most amazing Beluga whales in captivity.

Mystic Aquarium & Institute for Exploration lets guests paint with a Beluga whale.

As always I welcome feedback. Do you have a favorite blue experience to share? If so 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.

Coolest Campgrounds for Families – No Tents Needed.

Camping vacations still offer contact with Mother Nature but no longer require sleeping on the ground to ensure the camping experience is real. The coolest campgrounds deliver extra vacation punch either with spunky family activities or unique accommodations. It is possible to stay in a hobbit house, sleep in teepee (tipi), snooze in a covered wagon, dream in a treehouse or snuggle with your kids a railway caboose. How cool, right?

Yogi Bear Hug at Jellystone Camping Resorts

Jellystone Camping Resorts are located in some of the coolest family vacation spots and Yogi adds extra fun to everyday.


Coolest campgrounds offer the potential for unique family camping experiences and effortless fun.  Gone are the days when family camping meant a cozy tent, a collection of slightly damp sleeping bags, soggy matches and a lantern. New age family camping includes extra cool sleeping spots and plenty of unique vacation activities to share with your kids.

From teepees (tipis) and treehouses to rail cars and bunkhouses the coolest campgrounds offer families green space, unique sleeping options, and earth-friendly ways have fun with your kids.

Abrams Creek Teepee

Abrams Creek Campground in West Virginia offers teepees for the perfect family camp out.

Just as no two families are the same, no two family camping vacations will ever be the same. My list of the coolest spots favorites features variety.

  1. Maple Tree Campground in Maryland – Sleep in a hobbit house for your family and hike Appalachian Trail.
  2. Abominable Snow Mansion near Taos, New Mexico – Snuggle in a summer teepee and trek with a llama.
  3. Country Woods Inn near Glen Rose, Texas – Reserve your own Santa Fe rail car and walk where dinosaurs roamed.
  4. Rancho Oso Camping Resort near Santa Barbara, California – Snooze in a covered wagon and enjoy daily trail rides.
  5. Bruneau Dunes State Park and Observatory near Mountain Home, Idaho – Rent a frontier log cabin and stargaze with astronomers.

And for more summer family camping vacation ideas view the Camp Out folder from the homepage of theFamilyTravelFiles.com

Just add the s’mores.

Nancy Nelson-Duac

Curator of the Good Stuff


Beach Boardwalks Add Classic Family Fun to Any Beach Vacation.

I think a family vacation at the beach is always better when it includes time at the boardwalk where sun, sand, and surf align with entertainment, lively activities, and classic often funky eateries. The best boardwalk options anchor both coasts providing family vacation choices from Wildwood, NJ to Virginia Beach and Santa Monica to Santa Cruz, CA. 

Santa Cruz Boardwalk Carnival Ride

Santa Cruz Boardwalk carnival rides and “Bands on the Beach” free music all summer long.

Fortunately there are more than 50 boardwalks throughout the US each offering its own local charm and providing a sense of place with a glimpse of decades passed. Some have amusement parks which provide classic touch to a family vacation at the beach while others are anchored by a classic fishing pier and oodles of great fish stories.

Our Beaches and Water Spots lifestyle folder at the Family Travel Files highlights the best of American beaches featuring more than 50 great family vacation spots including the best beach boardwalks guaranteed to provide a rich menu of family activities. Our best beaches lists were assembled in part from suggestions by parents who used our Tell Mom feature to recommend their family’s favorite beach boardwalk spot.

Virginia Beach ferris wheel on the Boardwalk.

Virginia Beach Beach Boardwalk Ferris wheel rides all day long and free music all summer long.

The best beach boardwalk locations offer one-of-a-kind experiences including vintage roller coaster thrills, wet-and-wild water flumes, surrey bike carnie games, Ferris wheel classic carousels, soft serve ice cream, face painting, juggling, stilt antics and delightful English toffee perhaps a double order of curly fries.

Best of all is the chance to walk, bike or skate the boardwalk and become part of an ever changing vacation panorama with no two days ever being the same.

Don’t forget the sunscreen.

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