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July 12, 2013

Family Fun on the Amalfi Coast

Filed under: Travel — Rebecca Kochenderfer @ 7:31 am

Positano

The Amalfi Coast of Italy is breath taking – no other words can describe it.  You may know it from John Steinbeck’s essay Positano, or you may recall this region of 13 municipalities from the stories of Hercules or Odysseus.  However you came to be familiar, it will certainly mark a memorable family trip to Italy. The Italian culture adores children and most Italians will go out of their way to accommodate and play with them.  Enjoying the local culture, lounging on the beach, and taking in the scenery will fill most of your time here, but if you are up for adventure then try these three family-friendly Amalfi Coast activities.

 

walking

Walk the streets of Positano

This vertical city built on a cliff is the most photographed place in the world. Tourists do not come to “see the sites”, but rather to soak up the view, observe the locals, and enjoy shopping for colorful silks and juicy lemons.  Hire a car to the Church of Santa Maria Assunta for gorgeous views of the coastline and the sea. Walk the footpaths down to the city center, catching the scent of lemons and cypress as you go.  Be sure to grab a map of the footpaths so you don’t get lost. Children will appreciate the nooks and crannies to explore and hide.

 

cooking

Take a cooking class

Does anything say Italy more than a grand family meal?  Share time together in the kitchen learning to master the ways of Mediterranean cuisine at one of many culinary schools along the coast.  You will enjoy preparing, cooking, and eating together Italian style in an experience usually lasting six to eight hours.   Classes are generally held in the home-based business of a local family, and children are welcome with open arms, free to roam about the garden and fall asleep on the sofa if necessary.

 

boating

Rent a boat and tour the coast

One of the most beautiful views of this area is from the sea.  Schedule a half- or full-day tour, or hire a boat and command your own adventure. You can take a dip in the water, tour the coastline, stopping at various seaside towns, and explore hidden treasures such as the colorful sea caves.  The Blue Grotto is most famous, but the Green Grotto is just as lovely and without the crowds.  Be sure to ask your hotel about complimentary boat rides; many offer a rental but do not advertise this service.

 

Have you been to the Amalfi Coast? Tell us about your family time!

July 9, 2013

7 Things To Do In London With Teenagers

Filed under: Travel — Rebecca Kochenderfer @ 5:12 pm

London with Teenagers

London is rich with architecture, history and culture, but it can be tricky to make it fun for teens.  Consider the following activities that are sure to make this a memorable family vacation.

See a show in the West End. Take your pick of several world-class shows in this district reminiscent of America’s Broadway.  Flexible schedule? Secure your tickets at half-price or deep discount via tkts booths in Leicester Square on the day of the show.  If you go this route, view theater layouts online first, as diagrams are not available when you make your purchase.  Counterfeit ticketing is prevalent in this area, so be sure to buy tickets from a reputable source.

Ride the Serpentine Boats in Hyde Park. Hyde Park is great for running and rollerblading, but the most leisurely way to see this greenspace is by boat. Rentals are available on the north side from March – October. There are also various eating options around the park. For a taste of the culture, make your picnic near the Speakers’ Corner to hear the locals take to their soapbox.

Climb St Paul’s Cathedral. While Westminster Abbey was most recently in the news as the nuptial site for the Royal Wedding, St Paul’s Cathedral is a more welcoming landmark for younger visitors.  The church is open and bright; teens will enjoy the climb to the Whispering Gallery and onto the colorful Dome for breathtaking views of London.  Romantics will be happy to know that this second largest domed cathedral was the wedding site for Charles and Diana.

Wonder at Stonehenge. OK. I’m cheating. This prehistoric mystery is two hours out of London; there are several tours available if you are not up to hiring a car.  But yes, it is worth the effort to see this circular series of gigantic rocks.  Regular visitors cannot visit inside the ring of boulders, but various after-hours tours are available for those seeking access to the inner circle. There is also a gift shop and several places to get a soda or ice cream.

Indulge at a London Market. Whatever your teen’s passion, there is sure to be a London Market in which to coddle that obsession.  Brick Lane Market is a fun place for clothes and eclectic finds.  Broadway Market showcases local artists and farmers, tasty treats and vintage wear.  If you are looking for more upscale designer fashion and art, try Camden Lock Market.  Enjoy the street performers and awesome architecture at the indoor market at Covent Garden London.  There is something for everyone and sure to be a market near you.

View the city from the London Eye.  This Ferris-wheel sends you more than 440 feet in the air over the Thames for a spectacular view almost 25 miles around London.  The ride is 30 minutes long and can be taken day or night (or both) for reasonable rates.  You can also opt for a ticket that includes a private capsule, 4D theatre experience,  or River Cruise to see Big Ben, Parliament, St Paul’s and Tower Bridge from the water.  Whatever your option, buy your tickets online for a significant savings.

Explore WWT London Wetland Centre. This haven was voted best Nature Center in the UK.  Take a break from the hustle and bustle of the city without leaving London.  The Centre is teeming with wildlife including birds, otters, water voles, and more.  The wetlands and various installed art make beautiful pictures – and it is easy to get lovely wildlife photos without an expensive camera lens. If you are looking for an in-depth study, consider taking one of several guided tours.

 

Have you been to London with your teenagers? Tell us where you have ventured!

June 19, 2013

Educational Fieldtrip: Cat in the Hat at The Center for Puppetry Arts

Filed under: Travel — Lesli Peterson @ 7:29 am

Cat in the Hat

Theodor Geisel, also known as Dr. Seuss, first published the Cat in the Hat in 1957 as a response to an article that said the current school primers were not beneficial to students. It is targeted at six- and seven- year olds who have mastered the mechanics of basic reading, making it the perfect summer reading series (The Cat appears in six Dr. Seuss books) to keep your little one’s minds spry over summer.

We had the privilege of seeing The Cat in the Hat at The Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta, GA.  This beloved story comes to life with Sally and Nick left at home on a rainy day, seemingly destined to overcome their boredom by themselves.  Things take a turn toward fun when The Cat in the Hat shows at their door, demonstrating a series of boredom busters, including the clever balance of the Fish on his umbrella while steadying himself on a ball…with a cup of tea, some books, a cake….and the list goes on.

As Sally and Nick try to decide whether they are delighted or frightened, The Cat reappears with a large wooden crate. Inside are Thing 1 and Thing 2, who edge the chaos up a notch or two, destroying the house and driving the Fish to a new level of anxiety. My son later indicated that this upheaval was his very favorite part.

Once Nick finally corrals the Things, The Cat comes to the rescue with his incredible Picking-Up Machine, cleaning the house and destroying any evidence of mischief and frenzy.

While based on a play originally produced by the National Theatre of Great Britain, it is Atlanta’s Center for Puppetry Arts that created on site the puppets and set of this production.  They are masterpieces of design, and draw the audience into the house and hearts of Nick and Sally, using clever color and puppetry techniques (and bubbles from the ceiling don’t hurt, either.) I felt like I was actually experiencing Dr. Seuss’s original classic.

If you live in Atlanta, or are passing through June 13 – July 28, 2013, be sure to set aside time for this treat.  I have seen many shows at CPA, but this one will surely be marked as legendary, on caliber with their Rudolph Christmas show!

 

The mission at Center for Puppetry Arts is as follows,

The Center uses the art form of puppetry as a means to provide educational experiences that encourage creativity, support school-day learning, fuel holistic development, and provide accessible, hands-on opportunities to participate in arts activities. The Center’s live puppetry performances, hands-on workshops, and guided museum tours provide creative arts experiences to students that aren’t available in classrooms while also providing teachers with opportunities to infuse the arts into their curriculum goals.

If you are not a resident in the Atlanta area, you can still learn about this wonderful art form through their distance learning events and educator resources.

 

Are you interested in learning more about The Cat in the Hat, or using some FREE Cat in the Hat resources for encouraging your young ones to read over the summer? See our Cat in the Hat Homeschooling Pinterest Board.

Cat in the Hat performances around the country:

Puppet Shows

Plays

DisclosureMany thanks to BravePR and Center for Puppetry Arts for our complementary tickets.  While the event was gratis, the opinions here are honest and completely my own. Find Lesli on Google+.

June 15, 2013

10 Free Things to Do as a Family On Your Next Vacation

Filed under: Travel — Guest Author @ 3:38 am
10 Free Things to Do as a Family On Your Next Vacation

Enjoying a free activity – Geocaching – while on vacation in Huntsville, Alabama

Summer is here, and many moms and dads are gearing up for vacations to have some fun and re-connect as a family. While it’s not easy to get around high airfares and gas prices, there are lots of fun and free things families can do on their next getaway. Here are ten of my favorite free activities to engage in when we take family vacations.

 

1. Explore Public Art Sculptures. If your kids are too young to enjoy art galleries and exhibitions, consider public art sculptures located in many cities across the country. Your kids will love The Traveling Man in Dallas and The Bean in Chicago.

 

2. Go on an Alphabet Photo Tour. Give each child a camera (a disposable camera will do), a smartphone or an iPod Touch to use on an Alphabet Photo Tour. Start with the letter A and have your children take pictures of what they see that start with that letter, like an antique store or an ambulance.

 

3. Go to a Free Summer Concert. Free outdoor concerts can be found in just about every city during the summer months, so look for free concerts in the park. These are a great way to introduce your children to various musical genres, as well as to new dances and cultures.

 

4. Volunteer While on Vacation. It’s easy to re-connect as a family when you take the time to help those in need while on vacation. If you’re planning a trip to the Caribbean check into Together for Good, which lists schools and orphanages in need of basic supplies you can donate in-person.

 

5. Gaze Up at the Stars. Wherever you are, head to a quiet spot, lie on your backs and stare up at the constellations. Check out online kids game, Constellation Hunt, to identify what can be found in the night sky. Many science centers and national parks also offer evening sky watching programs.

 

6. Splash in a Waterfall. If your vacation plans will take you to a state or national park, scout out the waterfalls. A true reward after a family hike is to splash in a cold waterfall, so pick a park with a few different waterfalls and wear your swimsuit.

 

7. Try Geocaching. Geocaching is an outdoor game that revolves around hunting for real-world treasures. Look for hidden containers, called caches, using your smartphone. If you find a cache and take anything out, be sure to replace it with something of equal value, so have the kids pack trinkets for trading.

 

8. Take a Nap Together. After a busy fun-filled morning, take a break with a rejuvenating family nap. It’s a nice way to bond with your kids and a great way to recharge before a busy afternoon of summer vacation activities.

 

9. Go on a Picnic. Many parks have picnic tables and restrooms, so pack a picnic lunch and enjoy a day in the park. Whether taking in a city park or a national park, go on a fun, exploratory hike with your kids on your way to the picnic area.

 

10. Plan a Day of Free Family Fun. Pick a day of your vacation and plan a “free day” in which you only do activities that are free, like playing in parks and going to outdoor concerts. A quick Google search for “free things to do” and the city you’re visiting will turn up a number of free events and attractions.

 

For more family activity suggestions, check out my free ebook, 100 Activities to Do as a Family This Summer. It’s packed with family-focused ideas, tips and advice to help ensure a fabulous summer.

 

Do you have any tips or advice for engaging in free activities while on vacation? Let us know in the comments section below.

 

Erin Gifford is a mother of four who shares family travel advice on her blog, Kidventurous, which was chosen as the Best Family Travel Blog by Parents magazine. Follow her on Twitter or Facebook.

 

June 12, 2013

The Great American Backyard Campout

Filed under: Travel — Lesli Peterson @ 3:07 am

Great American Backyard Campout Homeschool.comTravel

Thousands of families across the country will be pitching a tent on June 22, 2013 for the 9th annual Great American Backyard Campout, organized by the National Wildlife Federat

ion. This yearly event is part of a larger movement, Be Out There, which encourages families to reconnect with nature.

“Whether camping in the great outdoors or in their own backyard, the Great American Backyard Campout is the perfect way for families to make lasting memories and will give them a better understanding of why it’s called the great outdoors,” says Karoline Hurd, senior manager of events for National Wildlife Federation.

Be sure to check out the website which has great information such as packing lists, recipes, wildlife guides, games, Campouts by state (if you are looking for a large group to join), and more. Families will need to register on the site, and can even opt to raise funds for NWF and the Be Out There campaign.

Whether you’re a seasoned camping family or using the Campout for the first time to test out how your family likes the camping experience, it’s a way to slow down busy family schedules, enjoy being together, and appreciate the simple joys only nature can deliver.

The Great American Backyard Campout is especially important for kids because, for the first time in our country’s history; we have an entire generation that is growing up disconnected from nature. Spending time outdoors, like Campout, makes kids happier and healthier.

Will you be participating? If you are looking for more inspiration, check out our other camping articles and our Pinterest Board:

Travel Experts Give Their Advice On Family Camping

3 Affordable Ways to Enjoy A Long Weekend

6 Tips For Camping Success

PINTEREST: National Camping Week

 

Find Lesli on Google+.

June 11, 2013

Travel Experts Give Their Advice On Family Camping

Filed under: Travel — Lesli Peterson @ 3:13 am
Camping

Kayaking while camping at Mulberry River in Franklin County Arkansas. This photo was taken by a reader, Courtney Doudna.

The 4th week of June is National Camping Week.  Our family will be celebrating; will yours?  Whether you are new to camping, or adventuring in the great outdoors is old-hat, you are bound to find inspiration from this round up of family travel camping experiences. Read about camping in a fire tower, get some advice on what to pack for a camping excursion, and see pictures from one family’s early morning surprise!

 

Types of Camping Experiences

Jennifer Miner of The Vacation Gals takes you inside her adventure at a KOA Glamour Cabin. Can we really call this camping?? (Of course!)

Get some insight on camping in a yurt (and with a baby) from Kate Spiller of Wild Tales Of…

Jody Halsted, writing for De Moines Moms Blog, gives you the low-down on different types of camping, from rough and rugged to pampered escapes.

If you’re up for a little adventure, try one of these four alternative camping adventures suggested by Amy Whitley of Trekaroo.

First time campers will enjoy a ‘helping hand’ camping experience offered by many state parks around the country.  Erin Haag of Mommy Octopus details the program for Georgia; you can call your state parks program for more information in your area.

This post from Kirstie Pelling of The Family Adventure Project will inspire you. Using only bivis and tarps this family is sleeping under the stars in a host of environments.

 

Camping Tips and Tricks

Jessica Nugent and LiLing Pang of Trekaroo designed a packing list for the basic camping expedition, including essentials for babies, hiking and beach camping.

Even if you think you have the basics under control, don’t miss this list of creative camping gear for travel with the smallest of over-nighters, from Jessica Bower of Suitcases and Sippycups.

Michelle McCoy, with Trekaroo, offers advice about snagging a space at the more popular National Parks.

If you are escaping to the woods or beach in a camper, then you will love these space saving hints from Linda Kramer of Travels With Children.

Some of us can’t do anything without reading a book about it first {your illustrious author is raising her hand here}. If you fall into this ‘camp’, then check out this book review from Kara Williams at The Vacation Gals.

Stuart Wickes from Family Adventure Project gives you some detailed points to ponder if you are looking to gear up with your own tent.

Once you gear up, follow these tips for tent camping from Allison Laypath at Tips for Family Trips. I especially like her tips for a good night’s sleep!

 

Adventure While Camping

Camping was only a secondary adventure to Rhythm Turner, a student writing for Wandering Educators.  Her manatee experience was the highlight!

Daring families will enjoy reading about camping with Sue Rodman from Field Trips with Sue; she and her crew went on a cave tour and hang gliding experience.

And finally, Amy Stupovszky from World School Adventures reminds us that (mis)adventures sometimes arise when least expected. I love how Amy commemorates her family’s trials; it is definitely one to talk about year after year.

 

Looking for more travel expertise? Sign up for our Weekly Travel Update, and get our articles right to your inbox each Saturday.

Find Lesli on Google+

June 8, 2013

18 Free Family Adventures in Orange County, CA

Filed under: Travel — Lesli Peterson @ 5:49 am
18 Free Family Adventures in Orange County, CA

Huntington Beach, CA Photo by rachel_titiriga/CC Flickr

There is more to Orange County than Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm, and you don’t have to take out a second mortgage to enjoy all it has to offer.  Whether you are in Southern California for vacation, or you call this area home, the family is sure to love these 18 FREE family activities.

  1. Low Tide Ecosystems. Observe and investigate anemones, starfish, barnacles and other water creatures by visiting the tide pools and various beaches around the county.  By venturing at low tide you are more likely to uncover the hidden flora and fauna. Bring a magnifying glass for observing, but remember not to disturb these delicate creatures or their habitats.
  2. Nature Centers. Orange County is host to a number of nature centers such as Turtle Rock, with a nature trail, native plant garden and labyrinth. Environmental Nature Center offers hiking trails, wildlife habitats and a butterfly house.  Muth Interpretive Center is a natural estuary with interactive displays.
  3. Bolsa Chica Wetlands. The Bolsa Chica Conservancy walks visitors through a free two-hour guided tour on the first Saturday of each month. Learn more about the birds and endangered animals of the wetlands. Discover more about the Bolsa Chica’s past, and how to restore the area and preserve it for the future.
  4. Huntington Beach Pier. Play in the sand, look for shells, and watch the surfers.  Older kids can bike or roller blade.  Bring a picnic blanket and a pile of books.  Fly a kite, or venture on the (much more crowded) weekend for a festival or farmers market.
  5. The Irvine Museum. Free on the 2nd Wednesday of each month, it is a lovely place to learn more about California impressionist art.
  6. Disney Fireworks Display. Load the iPhone with your favorite music, pack a “car” picnic and head to one of the top five locations outside the Park to view Disney fireworks, from VitaminOC.
  7. Heritage Park Irvine. Play in the pop-up fountains or take to the ocean themed playground.  Bring cracked corn and feed the ducks and geese in the grassy areas around the lake.
  8. Nixon Presidential Library. Explore campaign paraphernalia, news on Watergate, gowns of the first-lady and more at this library honoring the 37th president.  It is free on holidays.
  9. Vans Skatepark at the Block. After browsing the store, watch the local talent at the skate park.  Go Skateboarding Day each summer lets everyone skate for free.
  10. Heritage Hill Historical Park. Study the past with seven free walking tours over 4 acres of historical buildings.
  11. Orange County Great Park. Feel the dirt between your fingers in the hands-on garden lab, tour the Museum of Heritage & Aviation and walk the timeline of pivotal 1940’s events.  Check out sports equipment at the Visitor’s Center including Bocce ball, jump ropes, Frisbees and more. Climb Kids Rock to learn about ecology and the water cycle while working off some energy. See hot air balloons lift off or watch the carousel – and experience them for a nominal fee.  Sunday’s bring the farmers market and there are often outdoor concerts on the weekend.
  12. Huntington Beach International Surfing Museum. See boards through history, ad sing a little Beach Boys karaoke. There are photos of famous surfers and ever-changing exhibits like movies and wax sculpted surfers.
  13. Bowers Museum. A museum celebrating cultural differences around the world.  There is also a Kidseum for a younger point of view.  Thanks to Target, admission is free the first Sunday of each month.
  14. Omar’s Exotic Birds. Visit this unique exotic bird store.  What makes it so unique? The birds are not in cages; they hang from perches around the store giving visitors a hands-on experience.
  15. Newport Sports Museum. See the world’s largest collection of sports memorabilia, with the benevolent mission of motivating at-risk youth to stay in school and off drugs. Who knows, you might even run into one of hundreds of well-known athlete volunteers.
  16. Pacific Marine Mammal Center. See the newest patients at this rescue and rehabilitation center.  Passionate volunteers care for seals and sea lions, and docents are available to answer your questions.
  17. Orange County Courthouse Museum.  Take a docent-led or self-guided tour of Southern California’s oldest courthouse.
  18. Fullerton Arboretum. A 26-acre botanical garden with plants from all over the world. Enjoy the historic house, volunteer veggie gardens, or just walking the dirt paths.

Where are your favorite FREE adventures? Join the conversation on Facebook.

Find Lesli on Google+

June 5, 2013

10 Family-Friendly Adventures in Monterey / Pacific Grove

Filed under: Travel — Lesli Peterson @ 8:04 pm
10 family friendly adventures in Monterey and Pacific Grove California

Monterey, CA Photo by amerune/CC Flickr

Pacific Grove, CA is known as Butterfly Town USA; October to February each year thousands of Monarchs migrate to the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary to winter.  Neighboring town, Monterey, CA (only an eight-mile drive) is the setting for John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row and Tortilla Flat. In these towns, where science meets literature, are 10 adventures for family fun.

 

  1. Older kids will enjoy a whale watching excursion to see Gray Whales in the Winter, and Humpbacks and Blue Whales Spring, Summer and Fall. Also watch sea otters, seals, pelicans and more.  Because these ventures can be long, they might not be suitable for younger children.  The little ones will find a trip on a glass bottom boat much more enjoyable.
  2. Dennis the Menace Park is a playground of fun for the kids.  There is a Southern Pacific railroad engine at the entrance to the park that kids are free to climb on.  There are unusual slides, rock walls, swaying bridge and obstacles du jour.  Hank Ketcham, a resident of Monterey, designed the park; he is famed for creating the Dennis the Menace cartoon.  You and the kids will want to relax here an hour or so every day, but be aware that it closes on Tuesdays and is only open from 10am to dusk.
  3. Adjacent to the playground is Lake El Estero.  This is a popular picnicking location. After enjoying a basket of plenty from the local farmers’ market, you can head out onto the lake itself.  Paddle boats are available for rent; 4 people can paddle for half an hour for less than $20.
  4. If paddle boating is too tame for you, consider a sea kayak tour with Adventures By The Sea.  The most popular route is along Cannery Row, the kelp forest of Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, where otters play, seals lounge on the rocks and pelicans dive for food among them.  You can take a guided tour or rent the kayak for the day. Rentals include all necessary equipment and an orientation to the wildlife.
  5. Tour Cannery Row, made famous by John Steinbeck’s novel.  Kids can make a bead necklace, ride a surrey, pet starfish and collect a souvenir of the trip. Take lunch at the kid-friendly Schooners Coastal Kitchen with a view of the Bay, and top off the afternoon with an ice cream sundae at Ghirardelli Chocolate Shop.
  6. Also at Cannery Row is Monterey Bay Aquarium in the old sardine cannery, one of the country’s most esteemed aquariums.  Plan to spend at least 2-3 hours taking in the exhibits, but marine lovers can easily fill an entire day with activities here. Check the front desk for feeding times; older kids will enjoy the informative auditorium talks.  Summer gets crowded so save time by getting your tickets on line.
  7. Younger kids will appreciate a break from the sun at My Museum, the local children’s museum.  Kiddos can pretend to operate as they learn about the human body or sink a hole in one at the mini golf course.  There is also a small town hall, water play area and other tot-loving exhibits.
  8. Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History, which manages the off-site Monarch overwintering location, explores the flora and fauna of the bay area.  This charming little museum will take about an hour to tour, with friendly and helpful docents available to answer any questions.
  9. The oldest operating lighthouse on the west coast, Point Pinos Lighthouse, is at Pacific Grove. For a small donation you can tour the lighthouse and the keeper’s quarters, and get a glimpse of what it is like for the single woman who runs the beacon.  The view alone is worth the stop. In the basement is a small museum, as well. There are both scientific and historical displays to take in. Plan to spend about an hour.
  10. Finally, relax at the beach at Lover’s Point.  This is the best beach for children, as the others are either rocky or have powerful waves that can pull in even the strongest of swimmers.  The water is chilly year-round, but kids will still enjoy getting their feet wet and playing in the sand.

Have you been to Monterey or Pacific Grove? Tell us your favorite place in this region of state!

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3 Affordable Ways to Enjoy A Long Weekend

Filed under: Travel — Lesli Peterson @ 7:01 am
Using the CityPASS to explore the Georgia Aquarium

Using CityPASS to explore the Georgia Aquarium

Two things often hold families back from traveling together: time and money.  Vacation time from work, for the typical family breadwinner, is infrequent and precious.  Escaping over an extended weekend gives the entire family opportunity to connect without having to dip into the “time off” pool.  Once a long weekend presents itself, a limited budget may still be a concern.  Consider the following three suggestions for making your ‘great escape’ affordable.

 

Take a day trip

Eileen Gunn, Founder and Editor at Families, Go! , recommends TripAdvisor’s Tank of Gas Tool.  It suggests places that are ¼, ½ or a full tank of gas from home, as well as attractions, restaurants and hotels in the area.  You might be surprised that some places are closer than you expect.

For example, the beach at Hilton Head, SC is less than a tank of gas from the heart of land-locked Atlanta (237 miles and $38.)  A half-tank of gas (144 miles and $25) will take you into the Smokey Mountains. Knowing this makes both options possible; simply select the distance that best fits your budget.  From many locations, especially on the coast, you don’t have to drive far to experience a dramatic change in your environment.

Consider that a ‘half-tank’ gas trip is 100 – 150 miles from home, about a two-hour drive.  That means you don’t have to leave the night before in order to enjoy a full weekend, which saves on hotel expenditure.  Leave early on Saturday morning and arrive at your destination before lunch. You can enjoy your stay until lunch on Monday, then head home in time to unwind before dinner and ‘back to the grind’ preparations.

 

Experience a ‘staycation’

What about exploring in your own backyard?  Between balancing multiple kids, scouts, choir practice, ballet and dinner, it is often difficult to embrace the family attractions that your own city provides.  Use your long weekend to wander the art museum or roam among the dinosaurs at the natural history center, right in your hometown.

Use a city discount card, typically marketed to tourists, to save on familiar attractions. CityPASS  and Smart Destinations bundle passes to attractions in multiple cities around the country, providing savings of up to 55%.   With your passes pre-purchased, you can usually skip ticket lines. Also, look for perks with your package. For example, CityPASS ticket books include coupons to local restaurants and the option to upgrade to behind-the-scenes VIP tours for a reduced price.

To make a staycation feel more like a true vacation, consider using the money saved on attractions and gas or plane tickets to stay at a hotel in your hometown.  Being away from the laundry and yard work will ensure you spend quality time together for the duration of the weekend.  Staying in the heart of the city can be an exciting adventure for rural or suburban-raised children; the sights, sounds and smells are new and unique.

When your book your hotel, be sure to tell them you are a resident of the area, and that you are taking a staycation.  There are often discounted rates for families embarking on this new trend.  Consider a room with a kitchenette; although priced a little higher, it will bring an overall savings when you consider the cost of dining out for every meal. Finally, don’t forget your swimsuit – the pool is the perfect place to relax after a day of sightseeing.

 

Camp under the stars

Camping can be as luxurious or as affordable as you want to make it. If you are on a budget, research the overnight rates at various locations.  The state park is an option, but it might not be the best one. In California camping in a state park is as low as $8 per night whereas state park camping in Georgia will cost you a nightly fee of $28.  If the state park rates are too costly then scout private campgrounds.

Cut costs by bringing your own food rather than eating out.  Sandwiches work well, or try a bucket of mom’s fried chicken, which can be delicious without a microwave to warm it.  Morning eggs can be cooked over a campfire or hard-boiled before leaving the house. Speaking of the campfire, bringing your own wood can also save you money.  Campfire wood sold on site is usually 2-3 times more expensive than what you will find at a convenience store closer to home. Another idea for the more adventurous family: catch your food!  Find a campsite near a stocked lake and plan your fishing activities right before dinner.

If camping is new to you, then the initial cost of camping equipment might feel daunting.  Consider scouring the thrift stores, Goodwill and Craigslist for the basics.  When other families are looking to upgrade their equipment, you can benefit.  Ask friends and family about their camping supplies; many people are eager to loan you their butane stove or portable chairs.  Who knows, maybe they’ll even join you on your adventure!  Additionally, places like Mountain Side Gear Rental will loan you the equipment. For example, a Eureka Assault 4 person tent retails for about $350, but a weekend rental with Mountain Side is under $50.

 

Whether you head to the city to take-in your own backyard, wander in the wilderness to escape the crowds, or explore a new city that is close to home, you can easily leverage a long weekend for affordable family fun.

 

Join the conversation on Facebook, and sign up for our  Weekly Travel Update so you never miss an travel article!

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May 30, 2013

11 FREE things to do in and around Walt Disney World

Filed under: Travel — Lesli Peterson @ 3:11 am

disney ears

Airplane tickets (or gasoline), tickets into the Parks, the hotel room, 3 square meals a day, souvenirs….the list of opportunities to spend your money at Disney World is endless.  Did you know there are a myriad of FREE fun options as Disney, as well? As you plan your magical vacation, be sure to include these activities on your itinerary.

  1. From the Disney Resorts Contemporary, Polynesian or Grand Floridian, or within Magic Kingdom or Epcot, catch and ride the Monorail.  There are three lines; choose the inner rail for a view of the Magic Kingdom and beautiful resorts.  This is a great way to cool down, take in the view, or acclimate to the Park layout.
  2. Boat rides are free within the parks. Ride from Port Orleans to Downtown Disney and back via the Sassagoula. Enjoy the breeze around Crescent Lake (outside the parks) for an overview of Epcot, Boardwalk, various Disney Resorts, and Hollywood Studios. If you are visiting during the hottest months, consider taking these rides in the evening.
  3. Enjoy free samples from Ghirardelli Soda Fountain and Chocolate Shop in Downtown Disney; you don’t need to make a purchase in order to indulge.
  4. Stop at one of 11 Kidcot stations in EPCOT. Kids can draw, rest, see Cast Members and make special crafts.  A few dollars will get you an upgrade with more features, but the basics are free.
  5. Stop in and visit the resorts while riding the monorails, taking the ferry, or parking at the resort for three hours free of charge (get a permit at the gate.)  All-Star or Pop Century have great photo taking opportunities for the family (how about a family photo in front of a 35 foot tall Buzz Lightyear or a 25 foot tall Woody?) Table Service Meals and Counter Service Restaurants are located within various resorts; it is a way to experience a “change of scenery” during mealtime.  If you have a few bucks to spend, many resorts also offer activities like surrey rides or carriage outings.
  6. If you are staying at any Disney resort then you can embark on a free tour of Yacht Club, Animal Kingdom Lodge, Grand Floridian or Wilderness Lodge. Call ahead for reservations. These Deluxe resorts are outfitted as lavishly as the Parks themselves; you won’t want to miss them.
  7. Bring your swimsuit to the Parks and play in the water! Hollywood Studios has a 52-foot leaking water hose, Animal Kingdom has a small fountain area near Kali River Rapids, and Epcot has two interactive fountains (one near Test Track and another near Future World) as well as leapfrog fountains near Imagination! pavilion. Magic Kingdom has splash play for the little ones at Casey Jr. Splash ‘n’ Soak, the tiki statues near Jungle Cruise, and Aladdin’s Magic Carpet Ride.  Finally, Downtown Disney has interactive fountains and more water fun at The World of Disney Store.
  8. On the Disney Boardwalk you can watch the street performers and listen to various bands performing. You can also see the Ferry Boats cruise back and forth.
  9. Any Resort guest is welcome to join the campfire program at Fort Wilderness.  Meet near the Meadow Trading Post every evening around 7pm in the fall and 8pm in the warmer months. The kids will enjoy a sing-a-long and campfire roast; you can purchase food (including s’mores kits) at the Chuckwagon, or save and bring your own.  Chip and Dale sign autographs and then a Disney movie plays on an oversized screen to round out the fun.  There is some seating or you can bring your own blankets. If you prefer the beach to the forest then opt for the s’mores and movie through Beach Club or Grand Floridian.
  10. Take a break from the Parks and head 20 minutes south of the city to The Nature Conservancy’s Disney Wilderness System.  This Everglades ecosystem is open weekdays, 9am – 5pm. You can hike the 2.5-mile trail, and see animals like bald eagles and gopher tortoise in their natural habitats. Admission is free, but donations are appreciated.
  11. While you are out of the Park, take a drive to Celebration, Florida, about 10 minutes from Disney World.  This community was planned and built by Disney (sold in 2004), and reminiscent of a scene from The Truman Show.  Market Street schedules a host of family-friendly activities each month, or you can leisurely stroll the area’s boutiques and specialty shops.  Venturing along the suggested walking tour path will ensure you see the most notable aspects of the town, including the oversize wicker chairs calling your name at the Bohemian Hotel Celebration. Providing another opportunity to save on lunch, pack a cooler and blanket, and head to the Interactive Fountain for a picnic and water play.

Do you have additional ideas for FREE FUN while at Walt Disney World?  Share them with us here or join the conversation on Facebook.

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