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Jekyll Island: A budget-friendly educational family vacation

Filed under: Travel — Guest Author @ 2:33 pm

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.


Educational itinerary:

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.



Filed under: Travel — Lesli Peterson @ 6:47 pm

If you are looking for a way to get your kids excited about a writing project, this just might be the trick! Eagle Island, Georgia is giving one lucky family the chance of a lifetime.

“Why I Want to Win a Vacation on a Private Island With my Family”


 Eagle Lodge


Eagle Island, Georgia (February 2014)  Eagle Island, Georgia is a private island that is perfect for families to spend time together without interruption that even children recognize as memorable. With children online helping their families choose vacation destinations more than ever before, Eagle Island owner Cap’t. Andy Hill is inviting children (ages 9-16) to enter a contest and win a 3-night vacation getaway for up to eight family members.


THE CONTEST IS EASY: Write up to 150 words about “Why I want to vacation on a private island with my Family”.


WHY FAMILIES ARE VACATIONING TOGETHER: The moments families spend together on vacation– parents, grandparents, siblings and cousins – are among the most cherished memories they remember and document. And when the whole clan gathers for a shared adventure, those times become forever engraved in the albums and archives of the family story to be retold over and over with smiles & laughter.


Geographically, families live farther away from each other than at any time in history so they are planning ‘Milestone Vacations’ such as a birthday, family reunion or anniversary. The essence of multi-generational travel is to share new experiences together that will grow in meaning and significance with time. The children recognize this equally with their family and often get involved in planning the family activities and meals.


Private Eagle Island with Boat Dock




How to Enter Contest:

Children 9-16 years of age submit 150 words via email about “Why I want to vacation  on a private island with my Family” to: . It is optional for the entry to include a photo of the child or the family. All submitted entries become the property of Private Islands of Georgia and will not be returned.


WHO CAN ENTER:  Children 9 – 16 years of age. There are no substitutions or transfer of prizes. Prizes are not redeemable for cash. By acceptance of prizes, winners consent to use of their names and/or photographs for publicity purposes without further compensation.



Grand Prize must be redeemed for vacation in August 2014 ~ weekdays only (based on availability of Eagle Lodge).


The prize includes:

  • Three weekday nights on Eagle Island, Georgia for family up to 8 people
  • Roundtrip boat transportation from the mainland of Darien, Georgia to Eagle Island provided by
  • Private Islands of Georgia Cooler Tote and Koozie
  • Eagle Island Cap
  • Five-Moon BBQ Sauce


Winner will be notified by June 1, 2014.



Contest entry deadline is May 15, 2014.



Entries will be judged on originality, reviewed by Cap’t. Andy Hill.

On Eagle Island, families watch for beautiful birds and coastal Georgia wildlife. Catch fish and blue crabs off the Eagle Island dock. Go kayaking…Enjoy evenings at the bonfire telling stories, making S’mores and watching constellations overhead. Cook and eat together on this 10-acre private island where kids find fun and wholesome adventures, read a book or simply relax and enjoy the natural environment!

Stay and Play in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

Filed under: Travel — Rebecca Kochenderfer @ 6:47 am

San Miguel de Allende is a quaint village in middle Mexico, only about 170 miles from Mexico City.  Cobblestone streets and brightly painted facades beckon visitors from around the globe.  11,000 expatriates call San Miguel home, hailing from Canada, Europe, and America.  In fact, San Miguel has one of the largest American communities in Mexico – large enough to warrant a US consulate. Why San Miguel de Allende? The food. The architecture. The history.  Be forewarned: You might not want to leave!

Stay and Play in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico


Below are two of my favorite activities from my most recent visit to San Miguel de Allende.

Take a Cooking Class. Nothing epitomizes an exotic culture more than its food.  I took a class from Petit Four Bakery with Chef Paco, and relished every moment.  We began with a trip to the local market where Paco pointed out the freshest fruits and vegetables, and introduced us to the vendors who haul their wares from the local countryside.  From there we donned an apron at Paco’s home. He walked us through a hands-on lesson in preparing a few seasonal favorites, including cactus salad, squash blossom soup, and aqua fresca. Delicioso!

Walk the StreetsEach Monday, Wednesday and Friday you can tour the town of San Miguel de Allende with a local guide.  Be sure to do this at the beginning of your trip; it is a fun way to acclimate yourself to the colonial town. Saunter the narrow streets, lined with colorful walls and ornate doors.  You’ll receive lively and informative insight about the best places to enjoy local eats, and the local history. I also enjoyed the Sunday Home Tour as another way to meet other English-speaking visitors.


Here are two accommodation options for your stay in San Miguel de Allende.

Affordable. Casa Mia are spacious apartment-like suites, ideal for larger families or extended stays.  Enjoy a fully-equipped kitchen (perfect, since you now know how to navigate the local markets,) private baths, internet access, and more.  Budget $80 – 100 per night.

Indulgence.  Casa Misha offers you luxury and pampering. Relax in handsomely furnished rooms, each uniquely designed with French and Mexican antiques.  The spa-like baths, and supple pillows and sheets invite you to stay, but the distinctive views from each private terrace remind you of the avant-garde town that awaits. Budget (a well spent) $300 per night.



Christmas Spectacular with The Rockettes

Filed under: Travel — Lesli Peterson @ 8:16 pm

2013-11-21 17.04.18

Bright and bold tinsel deck the mall.  The annual showing of Rudolph has been announced on prime-time. The empty street corners are laden with evergreen trees, wreaths, and boughs.  Yet, nothing quite says, “Christmas is here!” like THE Christmas Spectacular, especially the high-kicking, jaw-dropping stars of the show, The Rockettes!

When they announced a visit to Atlanta for the second year in a row, I was ecstatic. I was also determined to bring my (eighty-something year-young) Mother-in-Law who remembers them from her days as a child growing up in New Jersey. Imagine my elation when we were given the opportunity to not only see the show, but dance with a real Rockette beforehand!

2013-11-21 16.47.50

Melinda Farrell, who has been dancing with this precision team for several years, graciously spent an hour with a small group of us (age 5 to 85.)  After a long muscle stretch we learned a fun step-routine. There were pops and pivets, turns and twirls! She showed us two types of kicks and the magical step of the Toy Soldier dance. That was special, since every Rockette since 1932 has performed Toy Soldier for audiences across the country.

The Rockettes have left Atlanta, but they are still traveling and possibly on their way to your city!

West Palm, FL (11/29 – 12/8)

Tampa, FL (12/12 – 12/29)

New York, NY (11/1 – 12/31)

Nashville, TN (11/16 – 12/24)

Use the code GOGO (in New York it’s GOGOSZ) for a special discount: 4 tickets for the price of 3 (or 25% off up to four tickets) on select performances.

I really appreciate the team at GoGosqueeZ who made this night possible.  The opinions here are honest and completely my own. But really, who doesn’t love watching (and dancing with) the Rockettes? The Rockettes and GoGosqueeZ make it fun to #GoGoPlayfully with your whole family.

Want to join us in a dance class? Here are a few of our moves!

I was also lucky enough to be joined by my friend and fellow blogger of Stress-Free, Baby, who shot these Super Secrets of the Rockettes!




RIU Palace Peninsula: Family-friendly & all-inclusive in Cancun, Mexico

Filed under: Travel — Lesli Peterson @ 4:36 am

2013-10-19 13.15.07

While in Cancun for our 100% fun and 100% educational vacation we called Riu Palace Peninsula our home base.  RIU Palace Peninsula is an all-inclusive resort in Cancun; our family of four visited at the end of summer. We enjoyed the clean and inviting pools, each with their own personality. Even with five incredible pools, we spent plenty of time on the beach. We loved the diverse beach topography with both rocky edges and soft sand. The best part? It was easy for our family to go back and forth between the pools and beaches, and in and out of this luxurious all-inclusive.  RIU Palace Peninsula is definitely a place we recommend to our friends!

About Our Room

The suite worked well for our family of four.  There were two queen sized beds with ample space for our luggage and pack-n-play (provided by the hotel.)  It also included a sofa (which could be used for sleeping) and a small table for having a snack. There is a bathtub in the middle of the room between the beds and bathroom area.  While this isn’t a problem with younger children, families will be happy to know there is a privacy curtain that can be pulled across the room.

The room was exceptionally clean. They are decorated with a modern flare, with crisp white furniture and splashes of deep purple.  The floors were tiled with no carpeting.  Honestly, this gave me pause at first (My youngest lives up to the name “toddler.”) but the necessity of this type of flooring became apparent on our first trip back from the beach.  Even though we used the outside sprayers to clean off residual sand, we still managed to bring a large amount back upstairs with us.  I can’t imagine having carpet in that situation; I was thankful for the tile!

One of the highlights of our room was the balcony. We were at the far end of the building, so we had an incredible view of both the lagoon and the ocean. In this strategic location we could see both the sunrise and the sunset, and we indulged in a balcony space much larger than the others. I highly recommend requesting a room at the end.

Even with a standard balcony, there is much to enjoy.  Comfy lounge chairs allow you to sit and take in views of all the pools as well as the ocean.  The railing of the balcony houses a full sheet of glass, which made me feel safe about sharing the view with the kids, and it allowed for an unobstructed view of the gorgeous Gulf.

The elevator is easy to get to, and large hallways make luggage and strollers easy to use. There were always ample towels and blankets. You will find water and sodas in the fridge in the room, with plenty of space for adding juice or bottles. For parents who drink, there is alcohol in a unit on the wall of the room (all-inclusive comprises alcoholic beverages as well.) It is out of the way, and mounted high enough to be out of reach to curious hands.


Facilities and Amenities – Resort

There are five pools on the property.  Two pools are for adults only – one in the adult-only villa area and one bar-pool.  The other three were plenty for our family.  There is a zero-entry pool, which my youngest delighted in.  It was long and narrow, and works well as a lap pool.  The second pool we played in was the infinity pool, which overlooked the ocean.  This pool was consistently about 4 feet deep, and my oldest enjoyed diving for colorful rings at the bottom.  The third pool we played in was perfect for cannonballs, as it was also used by the adults for water volleyball and other “sports.”  The size ensured we did not get in the way of others, but the activity in the pool made it acceptable for more kid-like activities (like a game of splash.)


Right off the pool, guests can access the beach and waters of the Gulf.  The beach on the right is a little rocky.  There is plenty of sand for burying dad or building a castle, and the boulders are fun for climbing.  The beach area in front of the pools is more traditional beach sand with no rocks. We enjoyed both areas equally, and appreciated the diverse landscape.  Be sure to take advantage of the shower areas for washing off sand before heading back into the pool area.

Non-motorized water sports are part of the all-inclusive package.  We checked out a Boogie board and snorkeling gear. Also included is a Scuba lesson in the pool. Older kids might enjoy participating in the water or sand volleyball games, or other fun activities set up by the entertainment staff.

Also, don’t overlook the Mayan ruins right on site! They are a beautiful addition to the hotel grounds.

Food Options

Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are offered as buffet.  There is a large variety of food and several kid-friendly options such as fries, cereal, juice and the like.  Buffets include local fare as well as comfortable “American” food that they will easily recognize. The staff was also always ready to help us get seated and situated, and brought a high-chair for us right away.

There are several specialty restaurants on the property.  You will need to make reservations two days in advance so plan this as soon as you arrive.  We brought the kids with us to the restaurant without incident, but you can also arrange babysitting if you want to make it a special date.  We ate at Krystal; the food was delicious! While my picky eater would not venture into the new territory of haute cuisine, the staff was happy to bring him a bowl of fries and plenty of ketchup.

I cannot say enough about the staff here.  They were always willing to help.  They treated the kids with special attention and kindness. I never felt that the kids were “in the way,” even at the specialty restaurant.  It is the staff at RIU Palace Peninsula that won my heart and increased my desire to share the hotel with friends and family.

24-hour room service is available; there is a special menu for sandwiches and snacks.  We did not use room service, as we preferred to be on the beach or in the pool, but it is available and included.

Finally, there is a small shop on the main level that offers additional snacks for purchase.  We bought a bag of pretzels for a daytrip we took off the property.




RIU Palace Peninsula is right in the Hotel Zone of Cancun.  We rode about 20 minutes to get there from the Cancun airport.  We were within 2 -3 miles of the shopping district and downtown Cancun.

Right across the street from the hotel is one of many bus stops.  The bus is the best way to travel around Cancun.  It is safe and affordable.  A bus comes about every 3- 4 minutes to stops strategically placed along the Hotel Zone, and they run 24 hours a day.  The bus is $1 US per person; they accept American dollars or local currency.  We took the bus several times while visiting and the kids enjoyed it.

There are a number of fun activities off the resort (if you can pull yourself away.)  Visit the Mayan Museum or Crococun, take a ride in a speedboat to a snokling or diving location, visit Isla Mujeres or Riviera Maya, or venture out for shopping and local cuisine.


Kids Programs

RIU Palace Peninsula offers an opportunity for the kids to take a break from you, with RIULand.  There are supervised activities for kids ages 4-7 and 8-12.  Activities vary daily and include games in the private RIULand pool, pirate contests and scavenger hunts, activities to encourage learning about the local ecosystems, and introducing the local culture.


Riu Art is tucked away on the lower level. Here, a local artist guides you through the process of creating your own painting.  This is a nice place for older kids to take a break from the sun and bring home a souvenir.

Babysitting is available through the staff at $15 per kid, per hour.  We took advantage of this one night.  We waited until both kids were asleep before we left.  One of the friendly staff members came up and sat with them in the dark – she read on her phone while we were gone.  Overall, I was happy with the babysitting experience and would do it again.


Here’s the bottom line.  The rooms are clean and work for families; the balcony is amazing.  The all-inclusive options gave us opportunities to eat when we wanted, try new foods, and explore snorkeling for the first time.  We adored the beach and pools; each of them were stunning but together they raised the bar for this hotel.  The staff went out of their way to make us feel welcome and special.  The location was ideal, and the kids programs worked for our family.  I recommend this place to anyone visiting the area!

 Disclosure: Thank you to the Cancun CVB and Riu Hotels for accommodating my family and me on our educational and fun adventure in Cancun, Mexico.  While we sincerely appreciate their hospitality, it in no way influenced my opinions about this kid-tastic hotel.  Opinions here are honest and completely my own.

5 ways to enjoy outdoor play this winter

Filed under: Travel — Lesli Peterson @ 10:01 am
A treasure we discovered on a cold fall hike in Greenville, SC

A treasure we discovered on a cold fall hike in Greenville, SC

Winter hit the eastern US today with force! This got me thinking about my kids and staying fit as the seasons change from summer into fall and winter. As homeschoolers, it is easy to stay in our jammies, locked away in the house while winter passes by. Don’t let this happen!

Here are 5 ways to enjoy the outdoors this fall and winter with your kids.  So bundle up, and head outside!

1. Fly a kite.  Just a peak out the window to see the leaves bustling about lets you know this is perfect flying weather. Pick up a few from the dollar store and get flying!

2. Build a campfire.  Shove over the snow, pile stones in a circle, and build a small fire. You can huddle around for warmth, enjoying the flames together.  Why not bring out the hotdogs and make it a lunch date?

3. Scavenger hunt. Take a hike and enjoy how Mother Nature changes with the seasons.  Put together a list of must-finds; include things like red leaves, acorns, or dog tracks.  Your only limited by your imagination.

4. Ride bikes. Bikes, trikes, roller skates, skateboards….it doesn’t matter.  Take that equipment to the park (which is often deserted this time of year.)  More adventurous parents can establish a winding obstacle course with rocks, cones, and sticks that children can weave in and out of on their ride.

5. Raise the roof.  OK, maybe not the roof.  However, opening the garage door and pulling out the car can encourage play while avoiding the wind.  In the garage kids can play in a band, have a picnic, or set up a fort for reading books.  Everyone still gets fresh air, without the moisture or wind from the yard.

I began thinking of these ideas when I learned from GoGo squeeZ natural applesauce that almost 75% of children have a problem with playfulness and getting outside.  Winter can be even more challenging. I hope these tips help you overcome that statistic.

GoGo squeeZ is also working with the Rockettes to encourage more play, and they are offering 4 tickets for the price of 3 (basically 25% off tickets) to shows around the country, including Atlanta, West Palm, Tampa, New York, and Nashville.  I am excited to share this discount with our readers. Use the code GOGO to secure this offering. Hope to see you there!



Add Educational Value to an International Vacation!

Filed under: Daily News,Educational Adventures,Travel — Tags: , , , — Lesli Peterson @ 4:00 am


4 Ways to Add Educational Value to an International Vacation

(and how we did it in Cancun, Mexico)


If I say Cancun, you say…what? Beaches. Sun. Lounging poolside.

We recently took the family to Mexico. We played for hours in the pool, and followed that with time on the beach.  We rode the waves, built huge sandcastles, and watched gorgeous yellow fish swim by our toes in the shallow water.  Our vacation bulged with plenty of fun, frolic, and relaxation.

cancun beach

Would you like to know what else we did? We learned new things! We learned about crocodiles and tamales. We studied archeology, linguistics, and more. Having been home from this vacation for some time now, I am convinced that this real-world immersion in another culture will remain with my young boys for the rest of their lives.

Family vacations do not have to be 100% leisure or 100% educational – they can be 100% both.  The privilege of being a homeschool family means that learning happens every day, in small moments, with life-changing consequence.

Here are four ways that our family maximized a recent vacation to Mexico by extending the educational value of this international trip.  My young boys would claim there was no “teaching” involved; it was pure fun! That is just what this mom loves to hear.

1.    Foreign Language

We explored the Spanish language.  This was an adventure for both of us, as I studied Japanese in school – whew! Since my son is only five years old, without previous exposure to other languages, I did not introduce topics like masculine and feminine voice, or verb conjugation! We simply brainstormed a few phrases we use regularly, and then learned how to say them in Spanish.

We found success with such phrases as “Hello” and “Goodbye,” or “Thank you” and “You’re Welcome.”  Older children might also consider “How much is this?”, “Do you speak English?”, “How do you say…?” or “How are you?”

Practice the phrases around the house for a while, and then consider using them in public. Say, at the grocery store or the library. The more comfortable your child feels with the phrase, the more likely he is to use it in the country you are visiting.

2.    History and Culture

If you are not familiar with a country, this might take a little preparatory research on your part.  Discover a famous or interesting historical event that occurred in the city you are visiting. Perhaps a famous explorer once visited there, or the people once practiced an interesting religion.  Introduce this tidbit to your children before you go.  You might consider using other tools to get them excited, such as documentaries on Netflix or videos on YouTube.

Again, we chose to work on a basic level with our young boys.  Cancun is rich with Mayan ruins. I could have introduced many aspects of the Mayan culture to them such as the calendar, the art, the religion, etc.  Our vacation fell close to Columbus Day, so we chose to focus on the civilization being one of the original cultures of the New World.  We also discussed the architecture and compared it to 21st century American architecture. We watched several movies and read a few books before leaving to help introduce the concept.

maya museum

In Cancun, we spent one morning at the Maya Museum.  It was right on the main hotel road and easily accessible by bus, and the entry fee was extremely affordable.  We saw remains of the ancient Mayans and many artifacts that they used in everyday life.  Also at the museum is San Miguelito, an archeological site recently opened with five buildings available to view, including The Great Pyramid, which is 26 feet tall! The boys enjoyed walking this area and thinking about what it much have been like to live there over 800 years ago. This experience reinforced the ideas we learned at home, making it one they will remember for a lifetime.

maya museum 1

3.    Gastronomy

Each culture has a culinary distinction. Mexican food, Chinese food, Thai Food, German food (ooo…I’m getting hungry.)  Before you head out, talk about the “typical” food for the region you are visiting.  What do your kids envision as the traditional meals served by families in that culture? Older kids might even enjoy learning about regional differences in a country. For example, many children associate Italy with pizza and pasta, but the coast of Italy is rich with seafood dishes.

Once you have hypothesized about the traditional dishes served, make time to cook a few at home. Take the kids grocery shopping in a cultural market in your area, or talk about ingredients that might not be available at your super market.  Take note of your favorite dishes and what you liked best about them.

Once on vacation, be sure to sample the same dish you made at home. Was it as readily available as predicted? How similar in flavor was your home meal compared to this one? Did you like it as much? Was there a special twist on the recipe, or was it what you expected?

Older kids might enjoy taking the gastronomy challenge a step further by searching for local spices as souvenirs, or discovering a regional cookbook for creating new dishes at home.  Some countries readily offer cooking classes to tourists – a fun and enriching family experience.

4.    Zoology

The animal lovers in your family might be more interested in habitats that habaneros.  My big guy loves to learn which animals are native to a particular region and what their home environment looks like.  Talk with your children about the landscape of the region you are visiting.  Is it dessert or forest, or maybe both? What types of animals usually live there? What do they eat; where do they sleep?

My son has an infatuation with Diego, so we used this as a springboard for our study on Mexico.  We discussed how the habitat of Mexico changes as you drive from Cancun to the more inland cities within Mexico, as well as the changes from north to south.

As we studied the changes that tourists and Mother Nature have caused in Cancun, we came across the Croco Cun Zoo.  This is a conservationist zoo in Cancun.  It started as a crocodile farm, but was almost destroyed by a hurricane in the 1980s.  That devastation led to the metamorphosis of the zoo, which commits to conserving several local species.

In addition to seeing crocodiles, visitors can learn about monkeys, parrots, deer, turtles and much more. Spend about an hour and a half with a knowledgeable guide on this interactive tour.  You can hold a crocodile, parrot, or snake, and your guide will give you ample time for photos. It was the perfect way to learn about the local animals and environments.

Has your family made a vacation into a 100% leisure and 100% educational experience? How did you do it? We’d love to hear!

Asheville, NC With Kids

Filed under: Travel — Lesli Peterson @ 8:05 am

Asheville with kids biltmore

Conde Nast readers recently named Asheville, NC the no. 4 friendliest city in the US.  While my family of six visited last week, we felt that southern hospitality! We also fell in love with the farm-to-table dining experiences, the eclectic mix of business and arts, and the breathtaking hikes and waterfalls.  Here is your guide to family fun in one of the “Most Beautiful Places in America.”

Play Here

Asheville TreeTops Adventure Park

Swing through the trees at this ropes course and zip lining adventure Mecca.  There are options for kids 7 years and up.  Plan to spend about 2 hours doing the ropes course. [Read more here…]

DuPont State Forest/ Pisgah National Forest

A short drive south of Asheville brings you two Forests of fun.  DuPont offers multiple waterfalls, including woodlands featured in the movie Hunger Games.  About 20 minutes on the other side of Brevard is Pisgah National Forest. You could fill a week with hiking and sightseeing, but if you only have short time then don’t miss Sliding Rock. [Read more here…]


Take a “hands on” tour of George Vanderbilt’s home and gardens. This American mansion is fun for families, and especially friendly to homeschool families.  Tour the home and gardens, take an outdoor adventure on the property, enjoy the animals at the farm, and so much more. Stay tuned for more about their new Homeschool Workbook, as well. [Read more here…]

Chimney Rock State Park

Enjoy a climb 500 stairs to the top of this iconic North Carolina attraction, and take in a gorgeous 75-mile panoramic view.  See the falls made famous in Last of the Mohicans. Walk the miles of trails, and behold the work of Mother Nature at the North Carolina State Park. [Read more here…]


Eat Here

Tupelo Honey Café

Tupelo Honey Café has won several accolades, including “Best of Asheville” from Southern Living Magazine (2011.) Our family gave it two thumbs up for three reasons: Delicious locally grown food, a family-friendly ambiance, and an owner with a heart for his community. [Read more here…]

Also worth a visit:

City Bakery Café – Awesome cappuccinos, and the stuffed French toast will fill you up for a day of exploring.

Mayfel’s – Get a table outside in the back courtyard – it’s fun and makes your meal family-friendly. Don’t leave without buying a jar of Mayfel’s sweet and spicy pickles, and I recommend the fried oyster salad with remoulade dressing.


Sleep Here

DoubleTree Hotel by Hilton

This Hilton hotel is perfect for families. There is a fridge in the suite, an indoor pool for year-round play, and a breakfast and snack bar ensure you get out the door on time each morning. It is only minutes from Biltmore and Downtown Asheville, and provides easy access to the interstate for day trips to the surrounding area waterfalls. [Read more here…]

Another consideration:

Brookstone Lodge - Another family-friendly location, and we love that it is locally owned and operated.


Disclosure: Thank you to the city of Asheville for assisting us on our family adventure. Thank you, also, to Asheville Treetops Park, Biltmore, Tupelo Honey Café and DoubleTree Hotel for their complementary contributions to our Asheville adventure.   While we appreciate their kindness, it never deters us from reporting our honest opinion. Find Lesli on Google+


DuPont State Forest/ Pisgah National Forest

Filed under: Travel — Lesli Peterson @ 8:05 am

asheville with kids waterfall


{{This article is part of our Asheville With Kids series.}}

DuPont State Forest/ Pisgah National Forest

An easy 45-minute drive south of Asheville into the Brevard, NC area will reward you with breathtaking waterfalls and surreal scenic drives.  First, head to DuPont State Forest to see Hooker Falls and Triple Falls.  Both are short hikes from the same parking lot and feature the forest made famous by the movie Hunger Games.

A walk back up the hill and a short hike up an adjoining path provides a spectacular view of Triple Falls.  There is not a way (that we found) to get down into Triple Falls, but the view is worth the hike.  If you have smaller kiddos (or you are exhausted from your Hooker Falls adventure), then take the hike up only about half way.  There is a clearing in the trees, complete with a bench for resting, that makes great photos with your crew.

Drive less than 30 minutes to Pisgah National Forest for more water fun.  You will pass through Brevard on your way; this is the ideal place to grab a bite to eat.  Pisgah is huge – 500,000 acres! There is plenty to do including biking, scenic driving, camping and horseback riding, fishing and more.  But most visitors, and a fair share of locals, find themselves at Looking Glass Falls and Sliding Rock.

Coming from Brevard, Looking Glass Falls is a must-stop on your way to Sliding Rock.  It is a gorgeous waterfall visible from the highway, making it one of the most photographed waterfalls in the east.  There is ample parking to jump out and take a picture; the adventurous will brave the stairs to the bottom and take a swim in the freezing waters.  The water temperature in this area, in summer, hovers in the 50s, which doesn’t seem to detract the frolickers.  Back in the car, head a few miles up the road to Sliding Rock.  There is a small admission fee (cash please), which presumably covers the cost for the seasonal lifeguards on duty in this recreation area.  Take a plunge down the 50-foot natural water slide into an eight-foot pool of icy water.  There is usually a crowd, but the line moves fast and the wait is short.

DuPont Parks


Disclosure: Thank you to the city of Asheville for assisting us on our family adventure. Thank you, also, to Asheville Treetops Park, Biltmore, Tupelo Honey Café and Doubletree Hotel for their complementary contributions to our Asheville adventure.   While we appreciate their kindness, it never deters us from reporting our honest opinion. Find Lesli on Google+.

Asheville TreeTops Adventure Park

Filed under: Travel — Lesli Peterson @ 8:05 am


asheville with kids trees

{{This article is part of our Asheville With Kids series.}}

Asheville TreeTops Adventure Park

Tie into a harness, and swing from the trees as you encounter obstacles such as dangling hula hoops, airborne kayaks, and tightrope wires – all from 12 to 45 feet in the air.  There are over 50 challenges, spread over three levels of trails.  Green Trails are ideal for kids as young as 7 years old, or they make a great warm up for older kids, and mom and dad.  Yellow Trails increase the challenge, and Red Trails are not for the faint of heart.  My teens took on all three levels, which took about three hours.

Observers can huddle under a large portion of the obstacle park, gasping as the adventurers above move from stage to stage. It’s a great place to take pictures. Bobby, our ropes course expert and guide, was hands-off and allowed the kids to experience the challenges themselves, but was only a yelp away when they needed assistance or advice on overcoming an obstacle. The kids were able to experience the ropes independently because of new belay technology; a device affectionately called a “Tweezle” ensured that they were always latched in safely as they maneuvered the course. As mom, this state-of-the-art contraption gave me rest, knowing that my aerial acrobats were attached at all times.

In addition to the ropes course, explorers can take the Zipline Tour (save on a combo ticket) or bike the trails around the property.  Don’t forget to wear closed-toe shoes, and bring a cooler for cold drinks or snacks during and after your high-flying expedition.

Asheville Treetop 1


Asheville Treetops 2

Disclosure: Thank you to the city of Asheville for assisting us on our family adventure. Thank you, also, to Asheville Treetops Park, Biltmore, Tupelo Honey Café and Doubletree Hotel for their complementary contributions to our Asheville adventure.   While we appreciate their kindness, it never deters us from reporting our honest opinion. Find Lesli on Google+.


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