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.

Yippee for Labor Day! Family Fun Times Ten.

Before we make plans for Thanksgiving or iron out the details for the Christmas holidays let’s celebrate the end of summer. From LEGO animals at the Denver Zoo, Shakespeare in the park, and the American Music Festival in Virginia Beach to Bumbershoot in Seattle, Festival of Sail in San Diego and the lively Celebrate Bandera in Texas, family fun is the whole idea.

Native American Dance Practice at Celebrate Bandera.

Celebrate Bandera features uniquely American cultural experiences including lively music and colorful dance ceremonies.

The best festivals for families are both interactive and engaging making it easy share extra fun with kids. I always add another level to Labor Day weekend festivals and celebrations. I think they should not just be fun for families but also provide on-the-spot learning experiences as a bonus to jumpstart the school year.

Plenty of celebrations do just that. There are oodles of terrific ways to spend quality time with kids which makes me say, “Yippee for Labor Day!” I have my favorites and I have heard from folks who have theirs.

Virginia Beach American Music Festival includes great music, fireworks on the beach and Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center is showcasing dinosaur roars.

Festival of Sail 2015 in San Diego has not just tall ships, yummy eats and great music but plenty of chances to sail in the harbor.

Duplos and LEGOS at KidFest.

So many LEGOS, so little time. Celebrate KidFest Labor Day weekend in Austin.

Bumbershoot in Seattle celebrates with music, arts, comedy and has Youngershoot – a festival within the festival created just for kids.

LEGOS, my new favorite thing to do, make the scene in Denver at the Zoo, and KidFest in Austen, Texas.

William Shakespeare sets the stage in Washington DC with Midsummer Night’s Dream performances as part of the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s annual “Free for All.” In San Francisco SFShakes presents free Shakespeare in the Park productions of Romeo and Juliet at The Presidio.

Add to these ideas a slew of Renaissance festivals which fall during Labor Day weekend and inlcude themed celebrations, interactive quests, and royal parades. The send-off to summer looks promising.

For the full list of family-friendly festivals and events including the best of Labor Day celebrations go to the Festivals and Events folder featured at theFamilyTravelFiles.com

Yippee for Labor Day!

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.

Add More Zip To Your Next Family Vacation.

What’s green and screen-free? Ziplining. It’s a way to for families (even those members who are secretly afraid of heights) to zip, soar, jump, glide and feel free as a birds. Zipline adventures add new perspectives, elevated thrills, and “whoa!” moments to any family outing.

Sky Valley Zipline Tours near Boone, North Carolina

At Sky Valley Zipline Tours near Boone, North Carolina the fun for families is in doing it together.

Historically ziplines have been a practical method of transportation for not just people but also supplies. Now ziplines have taken on new importance becoming synonymous with family fun and adventure from Ohio to California and St. Lucia to Maui.

For parents vacationing with “always bored” teens a zipline excursion may just be the answer. The chance to literally fly through the tree tops above boulders, streams, bogs, lakes, canyons, secret caves, and across meadows, traversing bridges, and jumping off rock faces will get the attention of even the most jaded teen. Really, it is all about being able to say “I did it!” which makes all the difference no matter what your age.

The choices are many with more than 700 registered zipline courses on the planet and as one might imagine no two zipline adventures are the same. Location, time of year, weather, time of day and age all make a difference but for families looking to share an adventure any time will be a good time. Doing it together is what matters.

Smoky Mountain Ziplines in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

Smoky Mountain Ziplines in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee makes it easy to soar through the treetops with a smile on your face.

At Smoky Mountain Ziplines in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee they are geared to first-timers and assist families who want to zip together. The two most popular routes zip along around 95 feet above the ground at about 20 mph. Tykes ages five to seven years of age may travel the route in tandem with a guide.

Sky Valley Zip Tours near Boone, North Carolina begins each adventure with an off-road ATV ride through creek and up a mountain trail before releasing participants to zip and soar through the tree tops above boulders, streams, secret caves, and across meadows.

The new Adventure Park at Virginia Aquarium in Virginia Beach has 13 different elevated trails color coded to indicate degree of difficulty and ziplining night is an option. An additional 40 platforms, crossings, and ziplines scaled down for younger climbers ages five to nine make up the area dubbed The Labyrinth.

My advice for those who usually avoid the thrill of heights but still desire to share the zipline adventure – don’t look down, look out and remember your kids are watching so try to smile.

As always I welcome feedback. Do you have a favorite place for a zipline adventure just Tell Mom.

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.

Star Parties, Night Classes and Dark Sky Adventures.

Almost every summer vacation activity requires sunscreen but not star parties. Even better for those who are not morning bunnies, star parties conveniently occur after sunset.  Stargazing with an astronomer as a guide has a magical quality in spite of the real science and history involved and the use of red pin lights makes everything seem authentic. The fascinating myths associated with the night sky and the location of constellations by season makes for a great, perhaps slightly geeky party experience to share with your kids.

Arizona star party time with real telescopes.

Arizona star party time where families have fun sharing real science in real time with real telescopes.

So where’s the party? Remarkable programs span the continent from Virginia, Minnesota, and Arizona to California, New Mexico, Texas, and Utah, each experience varying in scope based on geographic location. In the past few years I have had the opportunity to stargaze with my family several times. My list of suggestions is short but well vetted.

McDonald Observatory West Texas star party

A McDonald Observatory West Texas star party is a celestial trip with no sunscreen needed.

  1. Sky watching in West Texas at McDonald Observatory offers unimaginable views of the planets and constellations from several telescopes of varying sizes.
  2. Night sky safaris from Kitt Peak National Observatory near Tucson will amaze even the most jaded teen. Like MacDonald, Kit Peak is an active astronomical research complex and a place to view what scientists view daily.
  3. The night sky is strong at Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico. From June through October each year rangers at Carlsbad conduct a series of free night sky programs that pack an extra WOW!
  4. Astronomy Rangers rule at Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah. Organized star parties are held each night facilitated by Astronomy Rangers who monitor more than 40 telescopes scattered around the park.
  5. The free monthly star party at Griffith Observatory above LA is inspiring. If none of the star party dates fit in your schedule, no worries because free public telescope viewing is available each evening the Observatory is open and weather permits.

As always I welcome feedback. Do you have a favorite Dark Sky spot?

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.