#WestVirginia : Hitting the River with @ACEAdventures

Our whitewater experience started with a group meeting under the big tent. Our excursion leader was a dynamic twenty-year veteran with a set of powerful lungs and an energizing manner. ImageShe introduced herself and gave us a brief idea of what we could expect. Since we were rafting in early May, the water was still cold, and wetsuits required – luckily, ACE has a gear rental shop, and the process was seamless. Continue reading

#WestVirginia: Zip-lining & rock-climbing with @ACEadventures

ACE Adventure Center - Zip LineHeights are not really my thing – I don’t like roller-coasters, cliffs or suspension bridges. Increasingly in recent years, I’ve had many friends (and family members) tell me how great zip-lining is, and how it’s “not-to-be-missed.” Who can pass up that sort of recommendation? Continue reading

Star Parties Are Nothing But Cool.

Stargazing is the perfect activity to share with kids of all ages –  seven to 87. Sharing the heavens with a child makes memories that will last forever. I have my favorite spots and with summer on its way – I am just saying…

Search the heavens from LA.The classic Griffith Observatory

Griffith Observatory Star Party Night

Free stargazing night at Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles.

has a modest display of astronomy exhibits, an innovative planetarium theater,  and a telescope to view the moon and planets at night. The punch line – they host monthly free star party nights. (Griffith Observatory www.GriffithObs.org)

Plan ahead and visit the big one. From classic and comfy to WOW!, Palomar Observatory near San Diego is the location of the largest telescope in the United States. Because this observatory is a working research center it is tough to get inside however The Reuben H. Fleet Science Center conducts a limited number of night-guided tours appropriate for ages 10 and older. If you love star gazing this is a must but plan ahead – way ahead. (Palomar Observatory www.rhfleet.org/site/astronomy/Palomar.html)

The stars at night are big and bright. McDonald Observatory – I love this place because of the exceptional ways to share science with children. Located atop Mt. Locke in the heart of the Davis Mountains, McDonald Observatory is definitely fun, magical, and inspiring. The Solar Viewing, Star Parties, and Twilight Programs, are all geared to relate to all ages. Make sure to take sweaters and ear muffs because the nights can be chilly. (McDonald Observatory Frank N. Bash Visitors Center http://mcdonaldobservatory.org)

A star party on the rim. This year the annual Grand Canyon Star Party (GCSP) will be held from June 18th through 25th on both the North Rim and the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. Bring your own telescope but you don’t have one there will be plenty to share. Organized by the Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association and anything they do is terrific not just because of the Arizona skies but because the atmosphere they create is always professional yet fun, friendly, and educational.

Arizona Star Party North Rim Grand Canyon

Summer stargazing with family, friends, and experts.

Our family has logged more than a dozen star parties with this group. www.tucsonastronomy.org/gcsp.html

Kitt Peak is the perfect place to share the stars. In the early 90s we made our first star party on the peak. It was a novelty then and we were new to star parties. I am thrilled to say they have expanded the night viewing program to include viewing everything from planets to distant galaxies

using state-of the-art telescopes (16 & 20 inch) – yes the real thing! They have viewing every night except during monsoon season but this is a popular program so advance reservations are essential. www.noao.edu/outreach/nop/

Great Summer Family Vacation Adventures.

It’s no secret I look for amazing family vacation experiences that are not homogenized and mainstream. For that reason I can’t resist mentioning a couple of family trips with the potential for bragging rights.

Orcas Sea Kayak Adventures BC

Vancouver Island looking for oracs.

Whale Watching along Vancouver Island. During select weeks in the summer Sea Kayak Adventures offers an amazing four-day “Orca Quick Adventure” ideal for families seeking to share a sea adventure.  This new four-day tour is in addition a repertoire of six-day kayak tours in the area. This narrow sheltered orca freeway is world renowned for its summer population of “killer whales” following the salmon runs funneled from the sea into this specific area. Why this trip? Because it’s a chance to visit the first and only orca preserve in the world; paddle among salmon-eating orcas; enjoy sheltered waters and quick tour perfect for novice paddlers. Best of all seeing orcas is guaranteed in August or you get a free orca-watching day cruise. Make it happen. For further information contact Sea Kayak Adventures www.seakayakadventures.com

Go Ziplining with Your Kids in Warren County, Ohio.  I have written about zipline adventures in West Virginia, Hawaii, Colorado, Costa Rica, St. Lucia, and Ontario. (I am waiting for news on Georgia.) Now I am including Ozone Zipline Adventures, a company that operates the largest zipline in the Midwest offering a high-adventure canopy (tree-top) tour well-suited for families who want to fly. This energizing treetop zip combines education, thrills, and fun making it a smart choice for any active family. Why this trip? In addition to ziplining the area also offers miles of hiking or cycling trails, canoeing on the Little Miami, and Kings Island one of the largest amusement parks in the Midwest. The destination is definitely a family friendly, affordable vacation destination. Make it happen.  To learn more about ziplining or to find the latest family vacation package deals checkout www.ohioslargestplayground.com

Tiptoe along the Catwalk Under the New River Bridge.

Southern West Virginia New River Gorge Bridge

Whitewater rafters under New River Gorge Bridge

Southern West Virginia always has exciting things for active families to enjoy. Scenic and wild, the area contains the spectacular New River Gorge, also known as the “Grand Canyon of the East” and now daring vacationers can walk under the bridge that is over the river – REALLY! The bridge is the largest single span steel arch in the Western Hemisphere, and the highest vehicle carrying bridge in the United States. Until now the 24-inch wide catwalk is an existing part of the structure but has always been restricted. Why this trip? The area offers enough for seven vacations. Activity choices include hiking, biking, rock climbing, whitewater rafting, live theatre, antiques, golf, fishing, sporting clays, horseback riding, caving, and spa experiences. And it is the home of ACE Adventure Resort one of my family’s favorites spots. Make it happen.  Get more details about the area by going to  www.visitwv.com

Ireland – A Family Vacation on European Island Time

Ireland for families? It makes perfect sense to me. Take the kids and go for the music, art, and shopping; stay for the hiking (so many), beaches (oh the tide pools), and ruins.

Kilkenny Castle Ireland

Goofing off on island time in Kilkenny.

The country offers a uniquely European “island” experience complete with a pace in the countryside that matches a Sunday afternoon from 1952. Ireland is an excellent choice for families with children of any age but is ideal for travel with young adults because the country has a youthful energy. I think caused by the availability of rain.
The respect and support for art and artists is obvious. And while they export plenty it is just possible that the best is saved for the homeland. We did not find Craig Ashurst and Chloey Turner with the cast of Riverdance at the airport but we did find plenty of live music interspersed with laughter. For music the list of artists is long and includes both traditional folk music not just Celtic Thunder as well as contemporary bands including The Script, more suited to teens and young adults.
For art my favorite spots include the remarkable sculpture field at Lough Boora Parklands and the inspiring National Craft Gallery in Kilkenny. The carved crosses at Clonmacnoise are of stone rubbing quality and the stained glass windows at St. Canice Cathedral need no endorsements.
For shopping I love All Saints and fortunately there is a smaller version of Spitalfields in Dublin. And of course there’s a tempting H&M not far away both dare I say in Temple Bar. The National Craft Centre in Kilkenny has tempting, high quality items including delightful children’s clothing, woolens, and beautiful contemporary jewelry. Plus we found an array of clever shops not far from the castle in the city centre. Galway has the Claddagh ring and Connemara’s Sheep & Wool Centre near Leenane has amazing yarn.
The bottom line for families, Ireland is safe, friendly, and fun. For parents or grandparents’ with wee ones there’s delightful folklore to be shared plus plenty of parks, playgrounds, tide pools, and pony trekking. For teens and young adults the list spans castles, cathedrals, ruins, hiking, biking, and surfing to music, falconry, shopping, and pubs. Ireland is the perfect European island experience.

Just tell me where to go.

For years I have heard this comment from parents – directly and indirectly but in my attempt to be politically correct and socially sensitive, I dodge the issue with a question, no  several questions – age of kids, family interests, and how much time and money to you want to spend? When are you going and are you flying or driving (no one ever says they are taking the train even though it may be the perfect idea).

Drawing from two decades of traveling with kids, I always have suggestions but through experience I have learned to stop providing 10 ideas. While it is just the right number for a list, it is too much for a busy parent.

This year almost everyone is looking for a more affordable getaway. Really who doesn’t want to have more fun and spend less? We have begun compiling “Free or Almost Free” lists for select family vacation destinations. Continue reading

USA: Best Vacations for Families with Teens –Try Whitewater.

USA: Best Vacations for Families with Teens –Try Whitewater. Enjoying vacation time during teenage years can be tricky. Assuming you can negotiate work schedules and assorted practice schedules to fit with social calendars, and school calendars then there is still what, where, and why. Because I know no two families are alike there is really no such thing as one-size-fits-all “best” vacation idea but I can think of several very good ideas if your vacation plans include one or more teens.

Old familiar family vacation spots may still be the perfect fit (some teens do not like surprises) or you may hear “not again” meaning it’s time for plan B. Continue reading