To Tour Or Not To Tour
This blog post is written by Rebecca Kochenderfer, co-founder of Homeschool.com
There comes a time in every traveler’s life – the monumental event of all monumental events. You take the plunge, throw off your independence and sign up for a group tour. Old Me had a disdain for what I thought of as “those weak-minded sheep who can only travel if they have a Travel Yoda and a Luggage Sherpa.” New Me (a kinder, gentler, more open-minded Me) was lured in by the ridiculously low prices. And to be honest, I was tired and too lazy to plan out my own darn trip. So I took the leap and signed up for a Christmas Markets Tour through Gate1 Travel.
Since I was drawn in by the prices, let’s run the numbers and see if you really do get more for your money when you take a group tour.
- Airfare first. Gate1 charges $700-$800 for a round-trip ticket from Sacramento to Munich. CheapOAir.com (no kidding, that’s their real name) charges $1,200.
- Gate1 charges $720 for six hotel stays. Booking.com charges $1,000 for those same hotels.
So far, tour travel is looking pretty good. I paid Gate1 $2,000 for airfare, six nights in a hotel, two day-tours, two dinners, bus transportation, and a guide (his name was Mykel, not Yoda, and he was awesome). If I had paid for all of that “a la carte”, I would have paid $2,300, not including the cost for the bus and the guide.
But would you do all that, a la carte? Traveling on your own, would you cram four cities, two day tours, and a partridge-in-a-pear-tree all into just six days? Plus there’s the group in group travel. I don’t have any illusions about myself. Sure, I’m a nice person. Smart. Caring. A fine friend. But I’m not a high-end extrovert. I feel a little self-conscious in groups and let’s face it, I’m not that cheery after 6:30 AM wake up calls day after day. Still, I am all about personal growth (and getting a lot for my money) so I went on the Christmas Markets Tour… and loved it.
Cold and tired, but really happy
The tour guide was wonderful and the people on the tour were nice. Best of all, I learned A LOT (Gate 1 guides are great at teaching you about the country you are in).
But I’m not sure I would tour it again. If life had a rewind button, I think I would do it differently. More is not always better when it comes to travel. Sometimes it’s better to slow down and smell the snowflakes.
If you’ve always wanted to see the Christmas Markets of Europe (and they are worth the crowds and the cold), this is what I would recommend:
1) No need to race from Munich to Nürnberg to Salzburg to Vienna (after a while the markets and the crowds all start to look the same). My advice is to make Vienna your home base and visit Salzburg from there (save Munich and Nurnberg for another trip).
2) Instead of staying in a hotel, rent a roomy AirBNB apartment in Vienna’s city center. I found some beautiful places for $170 a night (the Vienna hotel room on our tour was so tiny we had to step over our luggage in order to get to the bed).
3) From Vienna, take a day tour to Salzburg one day and to Bratislava another day. You’ll find some excellent tours on Viator.com. I also recommend taking a walking tour of Vienna and going to the Mozart and Hayden concert (even if you are not normally a classical music aficionado, this concert is a winner. Everyone on the tour loved it).
I think a la carte travel gives you the best of both worlds. You can enjoy the convenience of the short tours without the grueling “forced march” feel of a full-on tour. And it only costs $400 more ($1,200 for the airfare, $1,000 for six nights in an apartment, and $200 for the tours and concert through Viator.com. For a total of $2,400.) Best of all, no 6:30 AM wake up calls and you get to explore and play at your own pace.
Which brings us back to the big question – to tour or not to tour? If you want to visit as many places as possible in a short time (or if you’re going to a country that is harder to do a la carte — like India or China), then a group tour might be just the thing. But if you want to relax on your vacation (and not return home totally exhausted) then I encourage you to give a la carte travel a try. This way, instead of rushing your way through a vacation, you can relax and build a custom vacation that works for you.
Expensive, But Worth It
Written by Rebecca Kochenderfer, co-founder of Homeschool.com
I think I may have a snow phobia. When I think about driving in the snow, I don’t envision a landscape of bucolic snow-covered meadows and sparkling snow drifts. No, I see cars sliding into each other and exploding into fiery balls of death. Or I see myself trapped in my car on the side of the road, slowly starving to death while I wait for rescue (I’d have to wait through winter, spring and summer before I starved to death, but in my Phobia I’m fit and thin. And fluent in five languages. But I digress).
I probably shouldn’t be proud of my ability to list “100 ways people die in the snow.” Still, a talent is a talent.
Undoubtedly caused by snow
My children don’t have my snow phobia. They think snowboarding is fun and safe — (ahhh, the blissful ignorance of youth) — and have been begging me for years to take them on a ski vacation. So this year their Christmas present was a snow vacation in Northstar Village at Lake Tahoe, California.
One of the benefits of homeschooling is that you can travel midweek and off-season when prices are lower. But this was our Christmas vacation so we had to suck it up and pay peak season prices. Supply & demand was not my friend. I can’t imagine a more expensive hobby. Skiing makes golf look like garage sale-ing. But I was determined to get over my snow phobia and I wanted the kids to have a White Christmas experience, so we robbed a bank and spent it all on one weekend. Shockingly, it was worth it.
The weather that weekend was sunny and clear so our drive did not involve any sliding-fireballs-of-death. Still, I was grateful to park in the condo parking garage and not have to drive again for the entire time we were there. One of the reasons I chose Northstar Village is because everything you need is within walking distance and the condos are ski-in/ski-out. Since we were throwing money to the wind this holiday, one smart thing we did was to rent the ski and snowboard supplies from a place that delivered the equipment right to our door. I thought this was going to be more expensive, but it cost the same as if we had rented the equipment in our home town and schlepped it up with us. Plus, the advantage of using a local ski rental place is that if anything happens to your equipment you have someone nearby who can fix it. Black Tie Ski Rentals came to our condo and fit the girls for all the snowboarding equipment they would need. No driving to a rental store or waiting in the super crowded I-shouldn’t-have-come-during-Christmas-vacation rental line at the resort. When one of my daughters wanted to change from snowboard to skis, they came out for free and made the switch. I was very impressed and highly recommend Black Tie Ski Rentals.
Renting a condo in the village turned out to be worth it too. The girls were able to come and go and I was able to relax by the fireplace. I found the condo using VRBO.com (I have rented several times through VRBO and AirBNB and never had a bad experience). In the evenings, we walked down to one of the village restaurants and enjoyed a great meal while the girls told us about their crashes and near-crashes (This did not help my Snow Phobia).
All in all, I recommend taking the family on a ski resort vacation. Especially if you can go mid-week when it’s less expensive and less crowded. It turned out to be one of the best family vacations we’ve had and it helped this California girl to see that a person can go to the snow and still live to write about it.
My name is Miro Siegel, a 15 year old co-founder, and my mother and I produce Project World School. And yes, while it is true that I am a co-producer of this event, I am writing this strictly from the perspective of an attendee, who had nothing but great experiences and amazing times, not only from the interesting and thought provoking activities, but from the deep friendships that were developed there.
When asked what stuck with him the most, Alan (13 years old) responded “The memories of meeting the new friends I made there.”
My mother and I have lived out of the country for around 5 years now, and the whole point of the retreat was to share this immersive lifestyle with anyone interested. By bringing teens together, we created such an overwhelmingly positive community, and through the social aspect I had witnessed things I had never even considered before. All of the attendees of the 2014 Cusco event had an incredibly deep friendship by the end of the retreat, and we learned vastly more through each other than we could have in isolation.
Whether it was from the deep cultural immersion, or just through a vital feedback loop, the retreat has left us all with many everlasting memories, all very unique to our own experience, such as our visit to the Andean ‘cuy’ (guinea pig) farm. And when we participated in the slaughtering and dissecting of our lunch, what was an eye opening experience to one, was a harsh learning opportunity to another, and we made sure to share those emotions, and console those who needed it.
Similarly, when we explored the ancient wonders of Sacsayhuaman, we spoke about alternative theories and possibilities. This sparked many friendly discussions and arguments, and through them we developed our own opinions, each differing from the last. From conventional to conspiratorial, all points of view were valued.
“I have a better appreciation of how big the world truly is and how diverse it is from place to place.” Said Samone (17 years old), when asked how she perceives the world differently after the retreat.
There were challenges of course, it wasn’t all a walk in the park. In fact, it was more a walk on ancient trails, and strenuous sunny paths, that pushed our physical capacity at times. When we made our hike to Machu Picchu, we lugged around our packs and gear for around 6 hours through a plush, and humid cloud forest, only to finally reach one of the worlds wonders, where we spent another 5 or so hours under the hot, Andean sun, exploring the breathtaking, pre-historic relics. But above all,
we grew, by astronomical amounts, and learned our limits, and more importantly, our strengths.
And throughout the month, we all defined our strengths, our strengths in leadership, in independence, and the ability to support one another.
So, to really sum it up, I leave you with a quote by Wiley (16 years old), “I want to go everywhere, see everything. The world is great, guys.”
This retreat has opened many new possibilities and experiences, and for that I am grateful.
Thank you for reading.
About the author
Miro Siegel is the 15 year old co-founder and producer of Project World School. He lives in South America with his mother and enjoys the unschooling lifestyle. He’s been living on the road for the past 5 years, a third of his life and has traveled to 14 countries. Miro’s main passion is writing and literature and is currently working on a couple volumes of short stories. You can find out more about Miro at his website RaisingMiro.com and ProjectWorldSchool.com.
My parents have pictures of me at three months old laying on rainforest leaves big enough to be a cradle in Puerto Rico. With my Dad in the military, we were on the move since I was born. This is partially what prompted them to home school. However, when Dad got out of the Navy, they decided that kind of education lifestyle was something they wanted to carry on. Although we lived in Missouri for thirteen years, we never stopped traveling when Dad’s work would allow. In my first year of traditional high school, my parents made the step to sell their home, purchase an RV and begin traveling full time.
Officially, I graduated from high school while we were traveling, but I feel like my education has never really stopped. In fact, I believe it never will stop.
The reason for this is because, on the road traveling, education wasn’t so much a nine-to-five children’s version of a full-time job as it was a lifestyle. My mother taught me that learning is something that should be natural and 24/7 – not just limited to books or a classroom. It’s something we never grow out of, never exhaust and never find the end of. There is always something new to learn just by keeping eyes wide open.
Six years later, I’m a reporter at a newspaper in Missouri, and I can say in all honesty that world-schooling has changed my life. As a reporter, I’m always working with people and love it. I know it was world-schooling that fostered that appreciation for all kinds of kinds. World-schooling made me curious, adventurous, intuitive, aware of my surroundings, open to new ideas and more observant of my impact on the world and what I can do to better it.
World-schooling isn’t all that different than home-schooling. If you’re willing to take the road less traveled – and if you’re a home school parent, I’m guessing you’re are – than by all means, don’t hesitate. Maybe not everyone can pack up all their belongings and travel like my parents did. However, anyone can implement world-schooling into their education. And now it’s made easier than ever.
When my parents started traveling, it was something very divergent from “normal” homeschoolers. What we didn’t realize was that we were not as alone as we thought. Come to find out, years later, there were plenty of other families who were taking the road less traveled just as we were. As the years have gone by, children raised on the road are not so few and far in-between. There is community for world-schoolers now and that’s something I wish I had known about when I was a fourteen-year-old traveling.
If you’re interested in implementing worldschooling into your child’s education, check out Project World School. Founded by mother-son worldschooling duo Lainie and Miro host retreats for homeschooled teens throughout Latin America, soon to expand to other parts of the world. Their retreats are designed as month long immersive learning communities that include social and experiential education. Learning through the host countries’ culture provides a real world entry into living academics. For example, visit Ecuador’s coast and experience the vibrant marine biology in person, while understanding the issues surrounding conversation and economics within a global perspective. Studies show that combining social and academic learning by immersion is the most effective learning method.
Here are some great photos from the last Project World School retreat which took place in Cusco, Peru and the surrounding areas.
About the Author
Hanna Smith is a free spirited journalist and photographer traveling full time on the road of life. She traveled with her family as a child and has grown up experiencing the travel lifestyle. She has since become a journalist with unique insights to growing up within the travel lifestyle and learning through worldschooling.
When our 15-year-old son, Nate, departed for his first international trip without his parents, his father and I knew he had many lessons in store for him: with the aid of his team leaders from Adventures Cross Country, he’d learn about the flora and fauna of rural Costa Rica, local politics and the educational system as he taught English to school children and worked on construction projects in small villages, and environmental stewardship in the tropical jungle. We hadn’t anticipated that his educational experience would begin before he even set foot on international soil: his maturity, travel-savvy, and personal management skills were put to the test when his plane to San Jose, Costa Rica was delayed, then cancelled. Turns out, the learning curve is pretty steep when you’re a teen and suddenly find yourself stranded in a major airport overnight.
While stressful at the time, this travel hiccup ended up providing Nate with one of the best lessons of his trip: the need to take charge, while remaining calm and flexible. By the time Nate arrived through customs and met with his Costa Rican team for the next two weeks, he was already in possession of a newfound confidence that’s carried over after his return. Yes, he learned about poisonous jungle critters and cultural differences, how to build a lean-to and teamwork (and even how to surf), but most importantly, he learned to trust himself, adapt, and be a leader.
If you’re considering a teen service trip for your child, there’s a lot to consider, from safety to price to credits earned. Here’s what we looked for (and ultimately found in Adventures Cross Country):
- Great communication
There’s a degree of risk when parents prepare to send their child to another country with people they haven’t met. In fact, when put like this, it sounds downright scary. When we started the process with Adventures Cross Country, I was immediately put at ease by the level of professional organization. Each student’s family is assigned an online portal, where all documents, forms, and destination information is stored. (Read more about how to prepare your child for his or her teen service trip.) Phone calls from the home office is regular, and we never felt like Nate was just a number. When Nate’s travel day went array, I was able to communicate immediately with staff members who were swift to action. Put simply, our hands were held the whole time…which is fortunate, as we’d never sent our child on a solo trip before.
- Meaningful service
When kids sign up to make a difference, they want to do just that. Yes, students on Adventures Cross Country trips become eligible for community service hours (useful back at home), but the real learning begins when kids become invested in what they’re doing. We thought Nate’s favorite activities in Costa Rica would be surfing and white water rafting; in fact, he raved about the three days he spent in a rural school room, playing games with kids to help them learn English. This service was made possible by the in-country hosts Adventures Cross Country works with year after year. Find an organization with strong, long-term ties to the countries it visits, because it will be invested not only in the paying students, but in the destination as well.
- Experienced team leaders
When kids travel without their parents to international countries where they won’t know anyone, it’s critical that the team leaders who essentially care for them and guide them are up for the task. Nate loved his leaders, Sally and Bolo, and from his tales of fun games, jokes, and activities, I know they skillfully bonded 13 kids in short order. Group dynamics are never easy to control (some students come with friends, some solo), but a quality leader can even the playing field. Look for programs with leaders who keep kids busy (a full itinerary is a good sign) and encourage enthusiasm (and discourage negative talk).
To find all the above without asking to shadow a trip yourself, do the next best thing: talk to program alumni. (Read about Nate’s day-to-day itinerary in his own words.) Quality teen service programs will connect families with teens and parents who have been through the process. Also ask for a detailed trip itinerary and check a program’s reputation on multiple review sites like TripAdvisor before selecting one. Ask for program policies, and make sure you’re comfortable with the level of supervision set. Know phone, electronic device, and drug/alcohol policies before you invest, so you can be sure the program is aligned with your family’s values or rules. Lastly, do your research to ensure the destination is currently safe to visit. After you’ve done your due diligence, relax, and enjoy watching your teen blossom while using his or her newfound travel skills!
About the Author
Amy Whitley is a family travel writer, editor, and magazine columnist living in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and three children. Amy is the founder of PitStopsForKids.com, where she writes travel advice and destination reviews for families with kids ages 0-18.
Rich in heritage and nature, St. Augustine holds the perfect balance of education & entertainment. My homeschooling family revitalized our love of learning with visits to well-preserved historical monuments, pristine natural environments & off-beat attractions.
History comes alive at Castillo De San Marcos, the last remaining 17th century fort in North America. The unique architecture and original coquina walls provide an intense backdrop for re-enactors who give presentations in period dress. As an added bonus, explore the archaeological site of the rock quarry used in construction of Castillo De San Marcos, located nearby, at Anastasia State Park. Curriculum Materials Available
Impressions: My son, 12, has visited quite a few forts in the southeastern region. He was impressed by the stark differences in design & construction. Of course, he enjoyed walking the gundeck to view the historical weapons.
The pinnacle of our visit to this classic lighthouse was climbing to the top to experience what the keepers went through to provide an invaluable service. Although we began our self-guided tour with the climb, I suggest first visiting the museum. The museum provides a wealth of information about the history of the lighthouse and its keepers that will instill a greater appreciation for the climb to the top!
Impressions: My sons, 10 & 12, both paid much of their attention to the architecture of the lighthouse. They also enjoyed the exhibits that allowed visitors to experience the weight keeper’s usually hauled to the top.
The interactive treasure hunt through this museum took us on a journey discovering the truth behind the myths of pirate lore. Who were these infamous bearded sailors who still capture our imagination to this day and what were their lives really like? Try your hand at sailing skills as you find clues scattered among a curious atmosphere that connects you to the days of flying the skull & crossbones. Curriculum Materials Available
Impressions: A well-blended mix of entertainment and history, the museum’s interactive exhibits & treasure hunt fueled the boys’ curiosity throughout our visit.
Other Historical Sites worth visiting:
With over 4 miles of beautiful beach to explore and a full service campground, we found this clean park to be the perfect location to set up Homeschool Headquarters. The campground even offers a bedtime book-lending program for young campers. Before beginning your expeditions, view the sunrise from the beach or boardwalk and return to enjoy a swim and a bite to eat from the cafe. Explore the park by foot, on the nature trails or by renting fun watersports equipment from the on-site outfitter. Educational Events
Impressions: A pleasant camping experience with well-respected cleanliness and quiet time observations. Water & electric, picnic table & fire ring available at all sites. Restrooms include locking shower stalls.
Guided kayaking tours of the one-of-a-kind GTM National Estuarine Research Reserve. We were fortunate to witness dolphins in the wild, after our up-close-and-personal visit to Marineland Dolphin Adventure
. Kayaking, with our guide, strengthened our spirit of conservation with hands-on learning experiences. Find more educational experiences and resources for teaching about GTMNERR here: http://gtmnerr.org/
Impressions: My son, 12, described this as, “becoming one with nature.” He felt a close connection with planet earth, gliding along the water as the guide rattled off information that my son soaked up like a sponge.
A unique look at some of earth’s most misrepresented creatures, this zoo helps us better appreciate the lives of alligators, crocodiles, snakes and other reptiles. Fascinating wildlife demonstrations, feedings and exhibits shine a new light on these eerie animals. The park showcases the relationship between alligators and a variety of bird species along a boardwalk path. Visitors can experience the birds-eye view by opting to complete the Crocodile Crossing aerial obstacle course. The thrilling course zips and zooms through the treetops above the animal enclosures. Read more about the educational and teacher resources available here:
: My sons were completely enthralled by this zoo. The alligator feeding, boardwalk path and fossil hunting tent really captured their attention. Have some coins available to purchase some tidbits for feeding the birds & alligators. Educational Resources
Located at Ripley’s Odditorium, the Red Train offers sightseeing tours with over 20 stops throughout St. Augustine. Parking our car at Ripley’s and taking the Red Train saved us the time and aggravation of navigating an unfamiliar town. We also toured Ripley’s Odditorium, while we were there. It’s a great place to wander and wonder at the bizarre nature of own species!
Disclosure: Thanks to St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra, & The Beaches Visitors and Convention Bureau for the complimentary experience for my family and me. While I appreciate their generosity, the opinions here are my own.
About the Author
is a devoted homeschooling mom & life-long learner packing a camera, an internet connection, & 855 open browser tabs. An engine of fascination, she can generate projects on a staggering scale, unleashing indiscriminate passion. As a disciple of chaos, she draws inspiration from the natural world releasing it through written word and award-winning photography. You can find her on Facebook
With its roots in conservation, Marineland Dolphin Adventure near St Augustine, Florida is on call to provide aide to injured sea animals in the area. The staff of Marineland do everything they can to save and support injured sea life and return it to the waters, if possible. They also offer dolphin encounters of many types as a means of encouraging and inspiring visitors to respect marine mammals and their environment. Educational programs include Touch and Feed opportunities, summer camps, immersion encounters, observation stations, and more.
Our visit to Marineland Dolphin Adventure began with a tour of the complex to gain some insight into Marineland operations and to meet some of the creatures who call this place home. We first met a pair of sea turtles who came to Marineland after becoming injured and unable to support themselves in the wild.
We learned of Marineland’s history, which originally began as a movie studio and window to the sea. We then moved onto the aquarium room, which contained a variety of sea life from living octopi to horseshoe crabs and fish. Our timing was perfect because one of the staff was there, ready to feed some of the animals. Feeding time was truly a treat. My son was even able to spot a sea star that had been hiding, unseen, for quite a while. The staff member was very excited that he could now report that he’d seen it!
We watched a week-old dolphin calf, swimming with its mother. It’s always special to witness mothers with their children in the animal kingdom. It was interesting to learn that none of the animals here were removed from their wild habitats. That practice has ended, but the dolphins here continued to mate and produce future generations of animals that we enjoy today.
The staff interactions, as well as my own experience with the dolphins, struck me as a relationship we, as humans, have with our dogs, horses and other animal companions. As we anticipated this experience, I expected to meet a wild animal, which was not at all the case. Just a note, though, that it is important to heed the trainers’ instructions on how to properly interact with the dolphins.
Above all, my favorite portion of our dolphin encounter was learning about the anatomy of these powerful creatures. Our family was assigned a dolphin named, “Lily,” for our encounter. The trainer had Lily come near us so we could get an up close look at her muscular, streamlined body. We were able to feel her thick, smooth skin as we rubbed her belly like a friendly pooch. Lily gave us a look inside her mouth to see her conical teeth and we learned how to tell the difference between male and female dolphins. She surprised us with a blast of air from her blowhole, and showed us the power behind her tail with a big splash.
We spent the rest of our encounter in wonder at this intelligent being and her abilities to interact with other species. The encounter gave my family a better appreciation for the intelligence and power of these animals. We learned about the challenges they face in the wild. It was truly an unforgettable experience.
Once our immersion experience was over, we took the Ripple Effect Eco Tour for an opportunity to view some of these magnificent beings in the wild. I highly recommend a Dolphin Encounter and Ripple Effect Eco Tour as part of your homeschooling experience.
Disclosure: Thank you to Marineland Dolphin Encounter for the complimentary experience for my family and me. While I appreciate their generosity, the opinions here are my own. I also appreciate their assistance in taking many of the photos shown here.
About the Author
Candy Cook is a devoted homeschooling mom & life-long learner packing a camera, an internet connection, & 855 open browser tabs. An engine of fascination, she can generate projects on a staggering scale, unleashing indiscriminate passion. As a disciple of chaos, she draws inspiration from the natural world releasing it through written word and award-winning photography. You can find her on Facebook andTwitter.
North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands is the perfect place to enjoy the beach, explore, learn and have fun with family and friends. As a homeschool mom of two active boys I am always looking for places we can visit that will be both fun and educational. The Brunswick Islands deliver on both accounts. Here are a few places you and your children are sure to enjoy!
This site is host to several special events so it would be the perfect field trip to follow a study on the Civil War. If you would like to do a study with your kids around Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson but don’t know where to gather your information I would encourage you to visit their website as it offers some great historical materials, including books, that you can use during your history lesson. This is THE perfect place to take a step back in time.
When visiting this Pre-Revolutionary port on North Carolina’s Cape Fear River you may bump into an archaeologist as this is one of the sites in the United States where artifacts are still being discovered. You will have the opportunity to learn about and walk through the town of Brunswick, Fort Anderson and St. Philip’s Anglican Church. Then, you won’t want to miss the indoor museum and historical video that is shown in the Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson Visitors Center.
North Carolina Maritime Museum at Southport
This one room museum is full of fascinating facts, rich history and fun. Keep your curious little ones busy with a scavenger hunt that will reap a great reward when completed or enjoy one of the many educational programs that they offer. North Carolina Maritime Museum at Southport provides several program topics for groups that include Pirates, Civil War Blockade Runners, People and the Sea, Water and Weather and many more. They also offer Historic Costumed Guided Tours, lectures and Hands on activities specifically for Homeschool Groups.
This is a fabulous place to visit for all of those little, and big, star gazers out there. The Planetarium offers several shows including Undiscovered Worlds, Astronaut, Dynamic Earth, Seven Wonders, Led Zeppelin and more. The Astronaut show is amazing! After watching it your children will want to head to the beach to gaze at the stars and find all those constellations they learned about in the movie.
The Paul Dennis Science Hall is located in the same building as the Planetarium. It is small with some fun hands on exhibits. Be prepared to experience Category 1 hurricane force winds in their Hurricane Simulator. The Science Hall is free to visit and the Simulator costs $2 to enjoy.
The Ingram Planetarium hosts several educational seminars so be sure to check out their website before visiting as you may want to plan your field trip or vacation around their special events.
Museum of Coastal Carolina
Great museum for those who are curious and love the ocean. This museum contains a lot of educational, hands on and informative exhibits and galleries. Their Ocean Reef Gallery is amazing. If you want to experience walking on the ocean floor without actually walking on the ocean floor then you have to visit the Museum of Coastal Carolina’s Ocean Reef Gallery. It is one of the most informative and unique exhibits that I have experienced. My family and I could have spent all day figuring out which sea creatures were “swimming’ around us.
The museum also has a very large touch tank that kids and adults will love, a fun area with a boat for the little kids to play in, and a fossil dig for everyone. This museum is a great learning experience that you will not want to miss out on!
The museum hosts several community and family events. So check out their website before visiting so you can plan accordingly. You may want to try to schedule your visit around the Touch Tank Feeding!
There is so much to do in North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands. Whether you are planning a family vacation, field trip for your homeschool group or a day trip make sure you set aside some time to relax at one of their beautiful beaches!
About the Author
Jennifer is a homeschooling mom who loves to get out and explore with her husband and two very active boys. Visit her at her at Jennventures.com, then share your adventures with her on twitter at @JennParkerson . She’s also on Google+
Dreaming of Disney? Longing for LEGOLAND? Orlando is the place to be this year, with plenty to do inside and outside the major theme parks. Did you know the average daytime winter temperature in Orlando is around 70 degrees? My family and I made our way south this winter and had a wonderful time! It was our respite from the snow! While there, we stayed at Tuscana Resort Orlando by Aston, and we loved it! Here are five reasons you should consider a stay there, as well.
- Location, Location, Location. Disney World, Universal Studios, Sea World and LEGOLAND are all just minutes away from Tuscana Resort Orlando. Thrilling rides, the wonders of the ocean’s depths, interactive experiences, and miniature cities made of LEGOs are perfect for families and kids at heart.
- More room than a hotel. Tuscana Resort Orlando offers two- and three-bedroom suites, ideal for families. It felt more like a home than a hotel. We stayed in a two-bedroom, with queen beds and a full bath in each room. Separate living and dining spaces, and a fully equipped kitchen were perfect for our family. My favorite part of the stay was eating dinner on the screened-in patio. Multiple TVs, DVD players, a washer and dryer, and internet access were the icing on the cake.
- Save on meals. The kitchen was fitting for making healthy and affordable meals for our family. It was filled with dishes, glasses, silver, and plenty of utensils for making anything from lasagna to tacos to soup. Publix Supermarket was less than a five-minute drive from the Resort, so it was easy to stock-up.
- Plenty to do onsite. While the nearby theme parks are world class, there is also a myriad of activities at Tuscana Resort Orlando. We enjoyed the zero-entry pool, with a kid’s area, jet spa, and fitness center. Need to get out of the sun? The 30-seat movie theater is available for watching a flick – free! Also available: a bar, restaurant, and picnic area.
- Discounts. Throughout 2014, Tuscana Resort Orlando by Aston is offering a LEGOLAND® package that includes two adult LEGOLAND Florida park tickets with second day free admission.
Disclosure: Thank you to Tuscana Resort Orlando by Aston for their complementary contributions to our Orlando adventure. While we appreciate their kindness, it never deters us from reporting our honest opinion. Find Lesli on Google+.
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Jekyll Island, Georgia offers a variety of inexpensive and highly educational options to help you create a fantastic family vacation. It has been my go-to budget beach vacation for years. The first visit was centered around visiting the Georgia Sea Turtle Center to satisfy my son’s desire to learn about turtles. Since that time, we have made several more trips to Jekyll and the surrounding area. But, Jekyll’s family atmosphere and budget-friendly options hold a special place in my heart.
There are several important points to consider before deciding on Jekyll as your destination.
- Jekyll Island requires that a parking pass be purchased for the duration of your stay. It’s important to note that Jekyll Island is not covered by your Georgia State ParkPass. It is covered, instead, by GORP (Georgia Outdoor Recreation Pass). The cost is $6 per 24hrs or $28 for a seven-day pass.
- Fill your gas tank before heading onto the island. The first time we stayed there, there was either no gas station or it was currently unavailable. We made this mistake and almost ran out of gas trying to get back to mainland to fill up! The last time I visited, there was one gas station and it’s prices did not compare well with the mainland.
- Purchase food, for your stay, before you enter Jekyll Island. Jekyll has been growing up since the first time I visited several years ago. But, the first time was my lesson to pack in our food. Once your at Jekyll, you’re at the mercy of the very limited selection of places to purchase your everyday snack and meal food.
Staying the night:
Lodging options, on Jekyll Island, vary according to your level of comfort and budget. There happens to be a campground near Driftwood Beach for tent campers or those with an RV. While this isn’t my ideal camp and doesn’t offer much in the way of seclusion for campers, it can greatly reduce your costs. For a measly $28 a night, tent campers will have electricity, water, and possibly even wi-fi! That’s a tremendous discount from the usual hotel/motel rates on Jekyll.
Our hotel of choice, on Jekyll, is always the Days Inn. While the rates may be a bit higher than some of the other more budget-friendly options, it was worth the splurge for me. First, being semi-secluded from the other hotels on Jekyll, it offers prime beach access with little traffic other than the hotel’s own guests. I prefer this as it makes it easier to relax, enjoy and keep an eye on the kids playing near or in the ocean. It also offers a complimentary breakfast with a view that can’t be beat – watching the sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean through floor-to-ceiling windows. For someone like me, who is usually forced to camp for vacation due to budget-restrictions, this is luxury. TIP: Choose an island-side room for a lower cost than an oceanview room. There is really no benefit to choosing an oceanview room. The hotel also provides two swimming pools for your enjoyment.
Jekyll Island is a treasure trove of educational entertainment that is fun for the whole family. The Georgia Sea Turtle Center is the crown gem of Jekyll Island, offering fun & informative exhibits and programs. Take a walk through the center, engaging in interactive exhibits before heading to the, “Sea Turtle Hospital,” where you can get a close-up look at how they care for their rescued sea turtles. You can stay for one of the educational talks, RSVP to go on an evening “turtle walk,” and find souvenirs. I highly recommend taking the kids on one of the turtle walks. Admission is a cool $7/adult, $5/child, and free for 3 & under. *Turtle walks are additional cost
Tidelands Nature Center is another great opportunity for inexpensive and interesting edutainment. For $4 admission, you have access to a touch tank and many other native animals such as turtles, alligators, crabs, snakes, and more. If you are adventurous, you can rent a canoe or paddleboat for $15/hour and explore the waters. Guided Nature Walks ($3-$5) will pair you with an expert to explore the beach and ecology. There are many programs held by this 4-H center, including many homeschool specific programs. Check out their website while planning your vacation to include the dates you really want!
Be sure to visit Driftwood Beach for an interesting stroll. Many people refer to it as, The Tree Graveyard. It more closely resembles a natural sculpure art exhibit, to me. The beach is covered in large driftwood trees and branches. This is due to erosion of the north end of Jekyll Island. There is a pier, some picnic places, and a nice stroll underneath some massive oaks. You will want to be aware that much of Driftwood Beach is not accessible during high tide. Tide information can be found online, or at the visitor info center.
Five other must-have experiences on Jekyll Island:
Nature Trails – Jekyll Island is teeming with nature trails to hike and explore. These are perfect opportunities to take a closer look at beach & barrier island environment. Do some research on salt marshes before you visit, as the majority of Jekyll Island is salt marsh. Make sure you find a map at the visitor center before you set off.
Birdwatching – There are many overlooks to stop and peacefully observe the birds. Bring a few pair of binoculars and see how many you can identify during your bird watching session.
Seafood – If it’s in your budget, you should definitely choose a Seafood restaurant to serve up some fresh caught seafood for at least one evening of your stay.
Beach Time – Of course, you’ll want to hit the beach for play, exploration and maybe shell hunting. Depending on the time of year, keep your eyes open for cordoned-off sea turtle nests. I recommend using the hottest times of the day to make visits to the indoor activities on your itinerary to avoid sunburn.
The Sky – Please get up early, at least once, during your vacation to hit the beach and witness the glorious sun rise over the Atlantic. Also, don’t forget about the sky at night. The stars over Jekyll offer an opportunity to search out the constellations – and, do a quick search to find out if there will be any meteor showers during your vacation time.
One more suggestion. Use the map to find the Jekyll Island post office and send your relatives a postcard from your vacation. You can also send one to yourself and see if it arrives at your home before or after you!
About the Author
Candy Cook is a devoted homeschooling mom & life-long learner packing a camera, an internet connection, & 855 open browser tabs. An engine of fascination, she can generate projects on a staggering scale, unleashing indiscriminate passion. As a disciple of chaos, she draws inspiration from the natural world releasing it through written word and award-winning photography. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter.