Best Family Christmas Vacations

Best Family Christmas Vacations

Our family has a whole set of Christmas traditions, one of them is opening presents at our home on Christmas morning.  Even tho my kids are grown with families of their own those that live in town and those that came home for the holidays still open presents at my house.  Those unable to come home for Christmas open presents with those that are  here thanks to the magic of technology.

Every now and then we decide to do something different, we travel.  We usually leave Christmas evening.  This allows us to open presents together Christmas morning and also take advantage of the cheaper airfare that’s available for traveling on the holiday.  Air fares are very expensive just before and just after the holiday, but drastically drop on the holiday itself as no one wants to travel that day.  It’s always a pleasure to travel on Christmas and New Year’s day, flights are pretty empty and flight attendants more pleasant.

There are many great places to spend the holidays with kids.  Many places have fantastic Christmas displays and host many seasonal events.  Here are a few places you might want to visit during Winter Break, some may even be close enough to drive to thus eliminating costly airfare and the crowds at the airports.

1.

Hershey Park, Hershey, Pennsylvania – Billed as “The Sweetest Place on Earth”, Hershey Park is a popular theme park year round it’s even more fun during the holidays.  Lots of holiday events going on including dining with Santa, Sweet Lights a drive-thru spectacular, Christmas Candy Lane, ice skating, Gingerbread Tea, Dinner Theater Shows, and more.[spacer height=”-100px” id=”8″]

 

 

2.  Visit Santa’s Workshop, where else but in North Pole, NY.  Just minutes fro Lake Placid, New York families have visited the Workshop since 1949.  Experience the magic of an old-fashioned Christmas in this fairytale setting.  Meet Santa and his reindeer, tour the village and shops, ride Christmas themed rides, and more.

 

 

3.  Santa Claus, Indiana – “America’s Christmas Hometown” has lots of events this season including meals with Santa, Chestnut Roasting, Children’s Craft Time, and more.  Click here to see their event schedule this year.[spacer height=”-100px” id=”8″]

 

4.  Experience a Traditional Christmas on the Cape at Chatham Bars Inn in Cape Cod.  2014 marks the Inn’s 100th. Anniversary.  They are hosting many seasonal events including Elsa & Friends Enchanted Wonderland for Frozen fans, Gingerbread House Workshops, and their annual Sno BBQ on December 26.  Click here for their event schedule.  [spacer height=”-100px” id=”8″]

 

 

Woodloch Resort Holiday Weekend

5.  Enjoy an Old-Fashioned Christmas at one of Pennsylvania’s all-inclusive resorts in the Pocono Mountains.  Olde-Fashioned Holiday at Woodloch Resort and Old-Fashioned Christmas at Mohonk Mountain House  offer many seasonal activities including caroling, holiday scavenger hunts, visits with Santa and more.[spacer height=”-100px” id=”8″]

 

6.  Christmas in Cambria, California.  During the holidays the stretch of California’s highway 1 between San Francisco and Los Angeles turns into a lighted village filled with story-book charm.  Stroll the town and visit many galleries and shops to shop for unique one of a kind items.  Enjoy your Holidays in The Pines.  Click here for events in the area.

 

7.  ICE! the award-winning icy attraction and Christmas celebrations at 4 Gaylord Resorts:  National Harbor, Maryland; Kissimmee, Florida; Nashville, Tennessee; Grapevine, Texas.
During this season  resorts guest will enjoy lights, Christmas trees, snow tubing, character meals, and more.

 

8.  Set sail for the holidays on Disney Cruiseline’s Very MerryTime Cruises.  Disney cruises are always fun, even more so with these holiday enhancements onboard:
Other holiday enhancements include:

  • Deck the Deck Tropical Holiday Party, a celebration in addition to Pirate Night, with candy-cane limbo, dancing and games
  • Tree Lighting Ceremony, where kids can help light the tree and kick off the holiday festivities
  • Santa Claus meet-and-greet, an exciting opportunity to take family pictures and see Santa and his elves
  • Meet-and-Greets with some favorite Disney Characters, dressed in their holiday attire
  • Teen-only and tween-only holiday parties—private celebrations where teens and tweens can hang out with new friends
  • Holiday storytelling, with new and old tales about holidays at sea and around the world
  • Themed activities and crafts for kids—decorate stockings, make holiday cards, go on a holiday scavenger hunt and more
  • A life-sized gingerbread house made completely with edible ingredients—and the opportunity to make your own gingerbread house*

Plus, on December 24 and 25, enjoy additional holiday experiences:

  • Cookies on Christmas Eve
  • Special holiday towel animals
  • Special holiday surprise
  • Holiday caroling with the kids and crew
  • Religious Services

9.  Hop aboard the Polar Express for a fun filled evening ride to visit Santa and friends.  For more info and to find a Polar Express near you click here!

10.  Head over to the Big Apple!  It’s the most wonderful time of the year to visit New York City.  Ring in the Holidays at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade!  Enjoy the Tree at Rockefeller Center, events, and activities New York City has to offer this holiday season.  For NYC events and activities click here!

Holiday Travel with Kids

Holiday Travel with Kids

The holidays are fast approaching, it’s the most wonderful time of the year! It’s also the most stressful and expensive time of the year, specially when it comes to air travel.  Those of us who choose to travel for the holidays can look forward to high fares, crowded airports, packed planes, and weather delays.  There’s not much we can do about these things, but here’s a few tips that may help you plan your holiday get away and take a bit of strain off your budget and nerves.

1.  When deciding where to go for the holidays consider a destination you can drive to.   Air fare for a family of 4 will be more expensive than the gas you will use to and from your destination, plus you don’t have to worry about airport security, luggage fees, and crowded planes.

Consider this:  Driving from Tucson to Los Angeles takes about 6 hours;  round trip air fare for the hour long flight for Thanksgiving weekend  is pricing at $400 per person meaning $1600 for a family of 4 plus the cost of airport transfers or long term parking.

If you decide to fly you will have to arrive at the airport at least 2 hours before your flight is scheduled to leave.  Depending on how far you live from the airport this means you will be heading for the airport at least 3 hours before your flight.  So you will already be “traveling” for at least 3 hours before your one hour flight ever leaves the gate. If you were driving you’d be halfway to Los Angeles before the flight even departs Tucson!  And you would have saves more than $1000 which you could use towards hotel, dining, and entertainment or whatever else you want.

2.  If you do need to fly book your flights as early as possible.  Hotels too if you need them.  Prices are based on availability, they go up as flights and hotels fill up,  so getting in before they do is a good idea.  If you’re worried about price drops check out this site called Yapta.com it will track the price you paid for airfare and will alert you if it drops and you are entitled to a refund.

If you can be flexible about your dates or choose dates wisely.  It’s cheaper to fly on the holiday than the day before.  There are also a short window of cheaper airfare and hotel rates, it’s  called the “dead week”  the week just after Thanksgiving and New Year.

Try to book an early morning flight or a red-eye.  Airports are less busy in the early hours, traffic builds up as the day goes on.  It’s easier to navigate a less crowded airport and there will be shorter lines at check-in and security.

Book non-stop flights if possible.  This avoids long layovers and decreases the chance that you may be delayed due to weather.

3.  When you buy your tickets online make sure you choose your seats if possible.  Some airlines like Southwest have no seat assignments but do charge a premium fee that allows you to board before the other passengers.  It may be worth paying the fee during holiday travel to ensure you and your kids will be seated together.  On other airlines if you can not find seats that are together just take the seats that are closest together, if possible get aisle or window seats, they’re easier to trade.   When you arrive at the gate inform the gate agent you and your kids aren’t seated together, they may be able to find you seats that are.  If all else fails you may be able to trade your seats with other passengers once everyone has boarded, this is when having aisle and window seats come in handy.  It’s easier to find folks trade to an aisle or window seat, no one ever wants to trade for a middle.

Last summer’s flight to Rome we had 4 seats in a row and 2 directly in front

4.  Pack lightly, avoid baggage fees by fitting your things in a carry-on bag.  Also saves time and aggravation when you don’t have to drop off checked luggage and jostle with the crowds at baggage claim.  Do check the baggage policies of airlines before you purchase tickets, some are now charging for carry-on bags as well.
Check this TSA website to know what you can and can not carry on and how to get thru security line faster.

5.  If you will be bringing presents consider shipping them to your destination instead of checking bags in.  Better yet take advantage of free shipping many online retailers offer during the holidays and have the gifts sent directly to your friends and family.

6.  Check-in online 24 hours before your flight.  This gives you a boarding pass which you can print or store on your mobile device, you can avoid check-in lines at the airport and head straight for security checkpoints.  If you are checking in luggage you will have to drop them off at the baggage drop-off and get a luggage tag.

7.  Arrive at the airport early.  Allow yourself plenty of time to get thru all the lines and get to your gate.  Getting seats close together at the gate is easier when it’s less crowded.  You can stake a claim to your seats and settle in to wait for your flight to board.

8.  Bring your own food.  Yes there are many stores and restaurants by the gates but they too can have long lines and you may not have time to buy food.  Pack non-perishable snacks and bring an EMPTY water bottle that can be filled once you get thru security.  Also packing your own food saves money, airport food is costly.  Airlines do sell meals and snacks in flight, but the choices are slim and the prices steep.

9.  If you are traveling with an infant or toddler board last if you can.  Other members of your party can board ahead to arrange carry-on bags into overhead bins, you and baby can hang out at the gate and board the plane at the end.  It’s easier to keep young kids entertained at the gate than trying to keep them confined in an airplane seat for 45 minutes or more.

10.  Keep kids entertained during the flight with books, toys, and mobile devices that you’ve packed in your carry-on.  Also bring headphones so they can watch in-flight entertainment if it’s available.

 

11.  Put your smart phone to work, there are many apps that will keep track of your itinerary, help you navigate airports, locate restaurants, and more.  Download them before you leave home.

12.  If you run into delays and cancellations know your travel rights.  Barring bad weather or any natural disasters travelers do have rights.  Bookmark these sites on your smart phone just in case.
Department of Transportation and Federal Aviation Administration.

13.  Consider purchasing a pass to an airport lounge if you have a long lay-over.  They are much more comfortable than sitting at the gate.  They usually have sofas, tvs, work stations, wi-fi, and many serve snacks and drinks.

Alaska Airline’s Boardroom at the Sea-Tac Airport

14.  Consider buying travel insurance.  I know it’s an extra expense but during the holiday travel season it may come in handy.  Travel insurance may reimburse you for airline fees, hotel stays, lost luggage, and other things should you run into problems during your trip.


Save up to 70% on Airport Parking!

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade View Tips

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade View Tips

 

Anthony Quintano/Flickr Creative Commons

The annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade heralds in the Christmas Holiday season.  It’s one of the most famous holiday events in the world. Over three million people line the parade route to get a glimpse of celebrities, marching bands, floats,  and the huge floating balloons—Snoopy, Spiderman, Big Bird, Hello Kitty,  and friends.  50 million people are expected to watch it on TV as part of their annual Thanksgiving tradition.

This parade has been a part of my life forever.  I watched is as a child perched high atop my father’s
shoulders.  When we relocated to Hawaii we woke up early Thanksgiving morning to watch it on TV, when I had my own kids we did the same, and now the grand kids watch it every year.  When my youngest child was in her high school’s marching band they marched in this parade.  At that time Pearl City High School had a standing invitation to march in the parade every couple of years, they still may.  This parade is definitely part of our family’s Thanksgiving tradition.  It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving if we miss the parade, live or on TV.

For those of you who will be lucky enough to watch it live this year here are a few tips to help you out.

1.  The fun doesn’t have to begin on Thanksgiving morning.  A pre-Thanksgiving tradition on the Upper west side in watching the balloons get inflated.  For many kids watching the balloons “come to life” is more fun than watching the parade itself.

This Thanksgiving eve event is on November 26, 2014 beginning at 3:00 p.m.  It takes place
along the perimeter of the Museum of Natural History, on 77th and 81st streets between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue.

2.   The 88th. Annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is on November 27, 2014.  It begins at 9:00 a.m.

The parade route starts by  heading south down Central Park West from 77th Street, east along Central Park South to Sixth Avenue and then south along Sixth Avenue to West 34th Street.  It ends in front of Macy’s in Herald Square.

3.  Arrive early and bring folding chairs, they will make the wait more comfy.   Crowds start gathering along the route as early as 6am. You’ll want to stake out your spot before 7am if you want the kids to be close enough to be able to see.

4.  Check the weather and dress accordingly.  From the time you stake out your spot until the last float passes by you could be standing out in cold weather for more than 5 hours.  Make sure the kids are dressed warmly and have hats and mittens.  Layering would be a good idea, you can peel them off if it gets warmer as the day wears on.  Bring umbrellas if there is a chance of rain or snow.

5.  Bring essentials such as snacks, camera, extra sweater, a lap blanket may come in handy.  I’d take it easy on drinks, hot or cold, bathrooms may be difficult to get to.

6.  Choose your spot wisely, a spot as far north as possible would be good.  Once the parade starts it takes 90 minutes for the last float to pass by.  If you’re near the beginning of the route you could be done before 11:00 a.m.  If you choose a spot near the end near Macy’s Herald Square you will be waiting much longer and be fighting larger crowds.

There are public viewing spots along Central Park West, on the both sides of the street from 70th Street to Columbus Circle to 65th Street and continuing on the west side of the street down to Columbus Circle. You can try further south along Sixth Avenue between 58th Street and 34th Street

It would be a good idea to stake your spot near a coffee shop or department store, this is a definite must with young kids, you can nip into the shop for a bathroom break when needed.

7.  Know your kids limits.  There’s no harm in bailing out early if it gets too cold or the kids get cranky.  Watching part of the parade is better than nothing, and better than bringing home sick or upset kids.

8.  Treat yourselves to a Thanksgiving Feast, after standing out in the cold for hours you’ve definitely earned it.  For NYC restaurants offering special Thanksgiving meals click here!

9.  Enjoy the other sights and events this city has to offer.  The Christmas Season is one of the most wonderful time of the year to visit the Big Apple.  For a list of NYC Christmas events click here!

 

Here’s how You Could Make the Most out of Your Vacation

Here’s how You Could Make the Most out of Your Vacation

Are you going on a vacation? Then you’ll certainly want to make the most out of your experience. These tips are designed to help you to do just that.

Slow Down
One of the best ways for you to turn any vacation into a disaster would be for you to plan too many activities. Sure, you may just have time to do them all, but are you really going to be able to enjoy each one? Probably not. If you want to stop things like this from happening, then you need to create a travel itinerary. Plan out the things that you want to do, and then half it. When you do, you will soon find that you are able to enjoy yourself more and that you even have time for some spontaneous activities too, such as partying or just sitting in a café, watching the world go by.

Don’t Rely on Reviews
If you look up reviews, then you will probably see that there is something bad to be said about everything. You are never going to find the perfect restaurant or the ideal hotel. For this reason, you need to look up reviews, but don’t rely on them too much. If you do this then you will soon find it way easier to make decisions and you may also find that you are able to put less pressure on yourself too.

Hire a Guide
A lot of people believe that guided tours are only suited to amateur tourists. This is a common misconception because hiring a guide could easily be the best decision you could hope to make in terms of your upcoming vacation. Tour guides can add a lot of fun to a vacation and sometimes you do need a degree of structured fun. Tours are also ideal if you want to learn more about a specific area too, so don’t always discount them.

Learn the Language
If you want to help yourself then it also helps to learn the language of the country you are visiting. You don’t have to learn a lot here, but some basic phrases will really work in your favour. Consider learning “please” “thank you” and “cheque please”. If you suffer from tinnitus then there’s a chance that you might find learning a new language difficult but there are a few things that you can do to try and help yourself, such as by seeking advice or even by downloading a language app that helps with your pronunciation.

Take the Path Less Travelled
Unexpected crowds can easily put a downer on your vacation. You may feel as though you are not able to enjoy yourself as much and that you also can’t seem to catch a moment of peace and quiet. This is understandable, so if you want to avoid this then consider taking the path less travelled. Stay away from tourist areas or even consider booking your vacation so you end up travelling during the off-season. When you do, you will soon find that you have way more fun and that it’s cheaper too!

Thanksgiving Travel – Where Will You Go?

Thanksgiving Travel – Where Will You Go?


Is it me or does it seem that once we hit Halloween the rest of the year seems to become a blur of rapidly changing seasons and holidays?  It seems that once the spooky fun and games of Halloween is over, it’s time to think about the next Fall holiday, Thanksgiving.  Then it just rolls into Black Friday, Christmas, and continues on until the New Year.  It’s one of the busiest times of year for me, I love it!

Every year on November 1 I toy with the idea of chucking tradition out the window and engage in some Thanksgiving Travel.  No cooking, no baking, and no family dinner.

I actually go on line and research family friendly Thanksgiving travel destinations where I can enjoy a great Thanksgiving meal that I didn’t have to prepare. We actually packed the kids up a few years ago and took ourselves off to the Big Island of Hawaii to spend a relaxing Thanksgiving weekend at the Hilton Waikaloa Resort.  It was great, we went horseback riding, snorkeling, and relaxed at the pool.  Thanksgiving dinner was at the bountiful buffet in one of the hotel restaurants.

It was a memorable holiday, but it just wasn’t the same!  I actually missed my yearly ritual of planning, cooking, baking, and serving this wonderful Thanksgiving dinner.  My family complained as well, they wanted their home cooked turkey that they look forward to every year. We’ve never left home for Thanksgiving again.

I guess we all hold this holiday tradition close to our hearts.  But never the less, it’s November again and I find myself looking for that get away.  I probably won’t go, but it’s fun to look just the same. Here are some Thanksgiving Travel ideas I found this year.  You might just want to start a new Thanksgiving tradition!

Once great tip on Thanksgiving travel, or any holiday travel for that matter, is to head to our great cities!  Most folks overlook this idea thinking that big cities means big bucks for hotel rooms.  But the holidays is a great time to visit one of our cities to take advantage of bargain priced hotel rooms.  Most city folks leave the city during the holidays.  You’ll be surprised to find that many high end hotels in the city center drop prices on holiday weekends just to fill hotel rooms.

So head to the Big Apple for the annual Macy’s Parade.  Entertaining kids and adults since 1924 it just wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without watching this parade.

After the parade you can shop til you drop, or just wander the city to admire department store windows, they put on a great show for the holiday season.  Of course there are museums and parks to explore, lots of Broadway shows to choose from, and great restaurants for your dining pleasure.

Find great Thanksgiving travel deals here!

Our nation’s Capital Washington, D.C. is truly the place to soak up American history on this real American holiday.

Wander the Mall, explore the museums, and just enjoy the season in this great city.

Find hotel bargain on DC hotels here!

Big cities not your thing?  No worries, here are some other Thanksgiving Travel ideas.

Spend the day with Pilgrims at the Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, Mass.

Located just 45 minutes south of Boston you will learn how the pilgrims lived in the 17th. Century, see the Mayflower II a replica of the original Mayflower.  You can also have Thanksgiving dinner there!  Check their website for seasonal events.

Enjoy the beautiful foliage of New England then stop by Billings Farm & Museum in Woodstock, Vermont for a wagon ride or to learn how Thanksgiving is observed in this 1890 Farmhouse.

There’s lots of seasonal events happening in Vermont.  Click here for more events.

Board the Polar Express in Woonsocket, Rhode Island for a magical 90 minute train excursion inspired by the Christmas classic by Chris Van Allsburg.

It’s a great way to kick off your holiday season.

Disney World kicks off their Christmas parties in November.

The kids will love the holiday themed parades in all the parks.  Thanksgiving dinner is served at many of the resort’s restaurants.



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13 Ghost Tours in America

13 Ghost Tours in America

Ghost Tour
Image by Carmina Ahmed

Halloween is around the corner and just about everyone is thinking ghost, goblins, and things that go bump in the night. Admit it or not most of us have thought about supernatural and paranormal things.  Many of us jump at the sound of creaking floors when we’re alone late at night, I know I do!

Whether you’re a true believer or a skeptic we all want to be just a bit “spooked” during the Halloween season.  We visit haunted houses, watch scary movies, dress up as our favorite ghoul, and in the back of our minds wonder if there really are haunted places.  So why not go on a ghost tour this year?

My family and I did the Birdcage Theater Ghost Tour in Tombstone, Arizona the other year.  I can’t tell you that we actually saw any ghosts nor can I say that the experience made me a true believer; but I can say we had a great time and learned some of the local history as well.

It seems that there are ghost tours in just about all the states.  Here are some that have been touted as the “Best Ghost Tours in American” by Haunted America Tours and America’s Best Online.  Maybe there’s a tour by you, if not I’m sure you’ll find a tour in your area by doing a internet search.

Ghost TourGhost Tours of St. Augustine in Florida offers several types of ghost tours.

Their award winning “Ghostly Experience” with a guide is a nightly 75 minute tour.  To book your tickets on line click here!

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Ghost TourChicago Hauntings’ guides have been featured on many TV shows including those on the History and Discovery Channels.

They offer several different tours including private ones.
To reserve your tour click here! [spacer height=”-20px”]

 

 

 

“On this haunted ghost hunt, you will be given ghost hunting equipment…..you’ll get to participate in an interactive paranormal investigation.”  Haunted Vegas Ghost Tour and Hunt

Enough said, for tickets click here!

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Ghost TourHaunted Heartland Tours operates in 4 states:  Ohio, W. Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky.

They were voted one of the top 10 ghost tours in the US.

Click here for more info![spacer height=”-20px”]

 

Ghost TourAppalachian Ghost Walks offer walking ghost tours in Tennessee.

They also offer Bigfoot Tours.

To book a tour click here![spacer height=”-20px”]

 

 

 

Ghost tourGo on this walking tour and learn about San Francisco’s macabre history and the ghosts and hauntings in Haight-Ashbury.

For reservations click here![spacer height=”-20px”]

 

Ghost tourVoted #1 in the Top Ten Ghost Tours of America, Haunted America Tours is a “haunted ghost tour like no other”.

They offer several tours on Galveston Island, some of which are led by Dash Beardsly the company founder dubbed as “the ghost man of Galveston”.. He’s the local expert and has been featured in various magazines and TV shows.  For more info and booking click here![spacer height=”-20px”]

 

 

 

 

French Quarter Phantoms in New Orleans offers several tours of one of the most haunted cities in the US.  Buy tickets here!

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Ghost Tour of Philadelphia offers several tours including a Haunted Trolley tour.

For info and tickets click here!

Ghost tour

A nightly walking tour in Key West that ends in the only “haunted Hard Rock Cafe in the world!

 Click here for info and tickets![spacer height=”-20px”]

 

 

 

ghost tour

Featured on the History Channel the Charleston Ghost Tour is a Walking Tour in South Carolina.

Licensed tour guides recount tales of area hauntings.

Click here to book![spacer height=”-20px”]

 

 

 

This ghost tour in Alton, Illinois has public and private walking and bus tours.

Most tours are 3 hours long and lets you experience the real haunted side of Alton.

Click here to reserve![spacer height=”-20px”]

 

 

 

Ghost tour

A list of ghost tours in the US wouldn’t be complete without a tour in Salem.  Nothing screams Halloween more than the town of Salem, Massachusetts, home of the infamous witch trials in 1692 – 1693.

Halloween doesn’t come once a year to this town, it’s year round!  There are many museums and tours dedicated to Salem’s “spooky” history.  Our family visited this town many years ago, it’s a lot of fun!
Featured on the History Channel Salem Night Tour leaves on a nightly tour of Salem’s famous places.
To book click here!