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Posts Tagged ‘family travel’

The Georgia Aquarium

A couple of weeks ago while in Atlanta I was fortunate to be able to attend a private dinner at the Georgia Aquarium.  I have to tell you that I was pretty excited to go to the world’s largest aquarium and the fact that I was going to be able to take in the galleries while the aquarium was closed to the public was icing on he cake.

During the dinner in the ballroom we were able to enjoy a pretty spectacular backdrop, the Ocean Voyager exhibit.  This exhibit was created to house whale sharks, the largest fish species in the world, so you can understand why this particular tank holds 6.3 million gallons of water.  In addition to the four whale sharks, there were also four manta rays which were beautiful.  Of course the whale sharks and manta rays were the star of the show, but the stingrays and goliath grouper were also pretty amazing too.

Told you they were pretty big.

After our dinner we were able to tour the aquarium freely for a couple of hours. We visited all the regions of the world ranging from the cold ocean waters to the warm coral reefs.  I particularly enjoyed seeing the beluga whales and the southern sea otters in the Cold Water Quest gallery.  The sea otters, which are endangered species were adorable and there was a cute little baby snuggled up to its mom.

Southern Sea Otters

There were several other galleries like the Georgia Explorer where there were many touch pools and interactive exhibits.  We saw an albino alligator in the River Scout gallery.  In the dolphin tales exhibit, we saw what else…two dolphins entertaining each other.  The Frog exhibit which opened up in the beginning of the year had over fifteen species of frogs and many were quite colorful.

I really enjoy scuba diving and Key West, so it is no surprise that my favorite gallery was the Tropical Diver.  It was so relaxing and we were able to see “Nemo”, seahorses and amazing jellyfish.  At the center the exhibit was one of the largest living exhibits which I guess is to be expected since is in the largest aquarium. There was even waves crashing overhead while we sat mesmerized while viewing the living corals, thousands of colorful fish and tiny glass sweepers.

My favorite picture from the Georgia Aquarium.

Pacific Sea Nettle Jellies

Moon Jellies

I really enjoyed my evening at the Georgia Aquarium and would love to return with my family.   I also really thought the location was perfect for families, so we will have quite a few places to check out.  The Georgia Aquarium is surrounded by the World of Coca-Cola, Centennial Olympic Park, the CNN Center where you can tour the CNN Studio and the Children’s Museum of Atlanta. There is no other place that can claim that they are the home of the world’s largest aquarium and the fact that there so many other family friendly things to do makes Atlanta a great place to spend a weekend. What do you think?

Have you been to the Georgia Aquarium?

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Now that is Historic!

A new semester begins.

Across the country many students today started or returned to college.  About 28,000 students walked the campus at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill which is the nation’s oldest state university.  UNC was chartered in 1789 and opened its doors for students in 1795.  It is the only public university in the United States that admitted and graduated students in the 18th century.  Knowing that both my son and I love history, it should come to no surprise that we visited the campus a couple of days ago, but there was also another reason to return to Chapel Hill.  I was fortunate to be able to live in this college town that is nicknamed a”Southern Part of Heaven” from 2000 to 2002 and wanted to show my son a part of his history that he was too young to remember.

This past Friday, the campus was buzzing with new freshman and their parents touring the campus with student guides.  Franklin Street which is named in memory of Benjamin Franklin, is a vibrant main street and is filled with many places to shop and eat.  We started our day at the Carolina Coffee Shop.  I watched other parents with their grown children giving them advise and trying to keep their emotions in check realizing that it might be one of the last meals they share before they have to part.

It was over my own bowl of cheese grits (something this southern girl can’t get in New York) that I realized I would be in the same position with my son five years from now.  It is these moments that you realize how quickly time goes by.  Ten years ago, I was pushing my son in a stroller around campus and in half that time he will be starting his independent life.

Carolina Coffee House

Pushing away a moment of sadness, I reminded myself that the reason I was there was to show my son the beautiful historic campus and all that it had to offer.  We walked around the campus checking out the old buildings like Old East which was the first building constructed on campus and today serves as a residence hall.  After checking out the South Building and “The Pit” (the sunken courtyard by the student union) we spent time at many of the landmarks that are often associated with UNC.

OLD WELL

The Old Well is the visual symbol of UNC and sits at the heart of the campus. Originally it served as the sole water supply for the Old East and Old West dormitories.  Today it is surrounded with brick walls, plants and benches.  It is tradition that students drink from the Old Well on the first day of classes for good luck.  We saw many students with name tags lined up to get a drink.  My son decided to take a drink too, he said he needed good luck for his approaching year in the eight grade.  I told him a little luck couldn’t hurt.

A drink for good luck.

MOREHEAD-PATTERSON BELL TOWER

Like many universities, UNC has a bell tower that rings each hour.  Seniors have the opportunity to climb the tower’s steps to take in the view of the campus a few days prior to the commencement ceremony in May.

MOREHEAD PLANETARIUM AND SCIENCE CENTER

The planetarium is located on the UNC campus and is one of he largest planetariums in the United States.  Reflecting telescopes, star projectors and the domed Star Theater make it a great place to visit.  Many of the shows in the planetarium are written and produced at Morehead.  Shows range from lunar landings to black holes. One fun fact about the planetarium is that Morehead provided training for U.S. astronauts from the Mercury program to to the Apollo-Souz program.

Sundial in front of the Planetarium.

COKER ARBORETUM

The university’s first professor of botany, Dr. William Chambers Coker developed what is now known as the Arboretum into an outdoor university classroom for the the study of trees, shrubs and vines that were native to North Carolina.  Between 1920 and 1940 East Asian trees and shrubs were added.  Today the Arboretum is is managed by the university’s North Carolina Botanical Garden and is a beautiful and peaceful place to visit.

CAROLINA INN

The Inn which was built in 1924 by a UNC graduate is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This is the place to be on Friday’s between 5 pm and 9 pm from late April to mid-October.  Here you can relax and enjoy good food and bluegrass music while overlooking the tree-shaded lawn during their Fridays on the Front Porch series.

BOSHAMER STADIUM & KENAN MEMORIAL STADIUM

My son loves baseball and football, so checking out the stadiums where all the action takes place was a must.  We first checked out Boshamer Stadium which is the home field for the baseball team.    This stadium is new, but built within the same footprint of the old stadium.  We found the new entrance interesting since it was named Steinbrenner Family Courtyard.  Being NY Yankee fans we had to do a little research and found out the Mr. Steinbrenner and his family pledged one million dollars for the courtyard in 2006.  Apparently, Mr. Steinbrenner brought the Yankees to Boshamer Stadium to play exhibition games against the Tar Heels in 1977, 1979 and 1981. Jenny Steinbrenner, Mr. Steinbrenner’s daughter, graduated from UNC in 1981.

The Kenan Memorial Stadium has been the  home of the Carolina football team since 1927.  It is nestled among countless pine trees and when the stadium is full it can hold 63,000 people.  Of course when we were there it was empty, but I am sure it is almost as exciting as an LSU game …(sorry, I am a LSU Tiger fan despite living in Chapel Hill for two years.)

CAROLINA BASKETBALL MUSEUM

The Carolina Basketball Museum chronicles the history of UNC Basketball.   A six minute theatre presentation highlights Michael Jordan and others and the history of UNC Basketball including their six national championships.  There are interactive exhibits and cool memorabilia like a letter from Duke’s coach to Michael Jordan saying that he was sorry that Jordan was not interested in playing for Duke.

FRANKLIN STREET

As mentioned earlier, Franklin Street is lined with boutiques, antique and vintage shops, bookstores, art galleries, hotels, the Varsity movie theatre,  restaurants, bars with live music and plenty of places to pick up UNC fan gear.  This downtown street was a fun place to hang out and spend the day.  I was disappointed we were only in town for the day, because I had a list of restaurants that I wanted to revisit like Crook’s Corner Restaurant, Mamas Dips (actually on W. Rosemary Street – yummy southern cooking like my Granny use to make), Spanky’s and Top of the Hill. I read that Chapel Hill has more restaurants per capita than any other US city, so whatever your palate is they have you covered.  I have to visit again just for an eating fest.

Franklin Street

As you can see our little tour of UNC kept us busy and unfortunately we didn’t have time for another great place to visit, the Ackland Art Museum.  Right on campus, this museum has exhibits ranging from European masterworks to North Carolina pottery.

Our visit to UNC filled me with such unexpected joy.  I loved revisiting the campus and sharing with my son a part of our life that he was too young to remember.  I told him stories of how we would often see owls in the trees as I strolled him through campus and how our neighbors told us that there was no wavering between Duke and UNC and how we became Tar Heel Fans and wore Carolina Blue.  Before leaving town, I made sure to show him his history too and brought him by our old townhouse, favorite park at the Chapel Hill Community Center and his first school, Chapel Hill Day Care in Southern Village.  As we left town on our long drive home we spoke about how cool it would be if he ended up going full circle with his education…Chapel Hill Daycare to UNC.  I guess only time will tell.

Our old townhouse.

Decked out in Carolina Blue at the Chapel Hill Community Center Park.

Have you toured a college campus with your children?  

As you can see a university campus like UNC can fill a day with countless things to do and plant the seed for a college education!

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One of the best things about blogging about family travel is following other family travel bloggers.   I love reading traveling post from others who get just as excited as I do about checking out new places!  Earlier today, I read a post about Boston from Albany Kid which reminded me of all the cool things my son and I experienced a few years ago on spring break.

One of the many great memories was enjoying dinner at the Union Oyster House.  This was our first stop in Boston. We were famished after making the road trip from New York and also excited to dine at the oldest restaurant in Boston.  The Union Oyster House is also the oldest restaurant in continuous service in the United States.  The doors have always been open to diners since 1826.

While we enjoyed some New England Clam Chowder, we learned some interesting facts.  For instance the toothpick was first used in the United States at the Union Oyster House.  Charles Forster of Maine first imported the picks from South America. Mr. Foster decided to promote his new business by hiring Harvard boys to dine at the Union Oyster House and ask for toothpicks.

The Union Oyster House also welcomed patrons like Daniel Webster who enjoyed brandy and water with his oysters to the Kennedy Clan.  John F. Kennedy often ate in the upstairs dining room.  Today you can sit in his favorite booth, “The Kennedy Booth” which has been dedicated in his memory.

We obviously have eaten out a lot through our travels, but it is not often that I recall a particular restaurant. I am glad we had an opportunity to learn some cool historical tidbits while enjoying some great seafood minus the brandy and water. There is only one place that can claim to be the oldest restaurant in America, and now we can say were part of that history along with the Kennedy family!  Next time you’re in Boston, check out this National Historic Landmark, the Union Oyster House at 41 Union Street.

Have you been to any other restaurants with a tie to history?  Let me know, we would love to check it out!

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Did you know there are 77 floors in the Chrysler Building?

This past Saturday my family decided to kick off the winter break by embarking on a Stray Boots Urban Game in New York City.  What is Stray Boots, you ask?  It is an awesome family experience that is half scavenger hunt and half walking tour with your cell phone as your guide.   We love receiving expert knowledge of tours, but are not big fans of being tied down to a tour.  This urban game which is offered in fourteen cities allows you to “let your boots stray with your cell phone leading the way”.

Stray Boots offers thirteen different game zones.  Since my niece was visiting from Louisiana, we decided to choose the Bryant Park and Grand Central: Movers, Shakers & Skyscrapers since the area had the greatest number of major NYC attractions.  Here is some highlights of our adventure as we found sites by answering questions and completing photo-op challenges!

Ready to get started after a fabulous lunch at Bryant Park Grill

We started in Bryant Park and received our first clue via text message after entering our activation code.  We began looking for the man Bryant Park was named for and happened to be sitting pretty on the east side of the park.

The kids with William Cullen Bryant

Searching, we looked for the plaque on the statue for the middle name to answer the question and then learned that William Cullen Bryant was the driving force behind two other New York City landmarks – Central Park and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Moving on, we headed up 6th Avenue to 43rd Street and made a left to answer another clue:  What theater was once home to the League for Political Education?

The Town Hall

The Town Hall hosted many political speakers, such as 1st Lady Eleanor Roosevelt when she spoke in defense of FDR’s New Deal.

Another clue lead us to dbBistro Moderne and we found out that you can eat one of NY’s most expensive cheeseburgers, stuffed with foie gras. Since we needed to find out how much it cost, we headed into the restaurant to ask one of the waiters.  We learned that it was $32!  We soon discovered that the $32 burger was just a drop in the bucket compared to eating at NYC’s most expensive restaurant, Masa, a Japanese restaurant in the Times Warner Center.  Dinner there can cost $300 to $500 per person!

Across the street from dbBistro Moderne, was the Royalton Hotel that was built in 1898.  As we searched to find what color the old-fashioned telephones were in the lobby we learned that the building was one of the first buildings in NYC to enable street-level passage from one block to the next.

Making a call at the Royalton

When we arrived at Grand Central Terminal we had to find something that was worth $10-20 million!  It turned out that the clock that sits on top of the information booth is GOLD…who knew?  We also discovered that Grand Central Terminal is a very romantic place!  The Biltmore Room was known as the “kissing room” since passengers coming off long-distance train rides like the Knickerbocker were met there.  Another romantic area was the rotunda outside the Oyster Bar, which has a whispering corner that is a popular spot for marriage proposals!

Grand Central Terminal

A VERY Expensive Clock!

Central Market where Murray started making cheese in 1940!

I was surprised to find out that after living in New York for almost twenty years that I was not aware of Library Way!  Library Way has 96 plaques in the sidewalk on 41st Street that contains the quotes of 45 writers.  After we found a quote by Thomas Jefferson we headed to the NY Public Library where we answered clues in the Periodical Room and  the Rose Main Reading Room.

Clue on Library Way

The New York City Public Library

The scavenger hunt took us about three hours to complete and at times it felt like the Amazing Race when we ran into other people also playing the game.  This game is great for families! Kids learn things without even realizing and it and the game truly was interactive and SO MUCH FUN!   We can’t wait to check out some of the other game zones in the future!

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Dreaming … I do a lot of it!  One of my more frequent dreams is about moving to an island in the Caribbean where I can kayak everyday, be surrounded by history and culture and enjoy laid-back attitudes and tropical breezes.  My dreams often vary about what I would do with my time and how I would make a living.  Ideas have ranged from really taking my artistic side seriously and painting landscapes of the island to sell in a small art gallery, to being a tour guide or a freelance writer.  After watching one to many episodes of International House Hunters set in St. Croix,  I thought St. Croix could be “that island”  I had been dreaming about!  I liked the idea that it is part of the United States Virgin Islands and was intrigued by the “Big Island’s” geographic mixture of rain forests, rolling farmlands and beaches.  Plus, if it was good enough for Christopher Columbus to explore in 1493, why not me!

Carambola Beach, St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands

Deep in the Rain Forest

The hills of the North Shore

Once I touched down on the island, I learned that there were many vastly different things that were unique to St. Croix and I had a fascinating adventure!  Here are the places I explored and would recommend to anyone who plans to visit.  If you decide to set out on your own exploration of this pristine paradise, you will quickly realize why I now plan on making my dream a reality in the future!

Exploration Guide:

1.  St. Croix Heritage Trail – This 72-mile self-guided driving tour stretches across St. Croix connecting over 200 historic and scenic sites.  Some highlights of the trail is the Whim Plantation Museum, the Lawaetz Family Museum, and the St. George Village Botanical Gardens.  A surprise on the trail is Point Udall, which is the easternmost point in the United States.

The influence of Denmark is visible in the architecture and windmills throughout the Big Island.

2.  Buck Island ReefBuck Island Reef National Monument is an underwater National Park and a premier snorkeling site. Once on the island, there is two beaches and two picnic areas and a great place to hike.  Since it is an island the only way to get there is by boat.  We had a great time on Big Beard’s Adventure Tour.  They provided snorkel gear and the full day tour included a beach barbecue.

3.  Take a Walking Tour of ChristianstedChristiansted is also a National Park Service site.  The park encompasses seven acres around the waterfront area and includes five historic structures:  Fort Christiansvaern, the Danish Custom House, the Danish West India & Guinea Company Warehouse, the Steeple Building, and the Scale house.  For a fee, tours are available at the Scale House Bookstore.

4.  Salt River Bay – This is where Christopher Columbus anchored his fleet in 1493.  Here you can paddle through lush mangroves on luminescent water and see wildlife and listen to historical lore along the way.  You can learn about the history and ecology of the Salt River  on a kayak tour offered by Caribbean Adventure Tour.

5.  Horseback RidingPaul and Jill’s Equestrian Stables at Sprat Hall Plantation offers Rain Forest Nature Tours including a ride along the beach.  The tour is about an hour and a half and they have excellent horses for kids.  An added bonus is that you can sample the fruit from the exotic orchards.

Tropical Trail Ride

6.  Walk a Dozen Art Galleries on Art Thursdays Art Thursday in Christiansted gives you  an opportunity to stroll along the streets and alleyways and visit nearly a dozen galleries that show the work of local artist between 5 and 8 pm.

7.  Scuba Diving at Cane Bay – Cane Bay is gorgeous!  It is also the home of the Cane Bay Wall (it drops over 13,000 feet) which is considered one of the top dives in the Caribbean and Atlantic.  In addition there is also a thriving reef terrace.  Cane Bay Dive Shop offers flexible diving schedules and is a PADI 5-Star Dive Center.

Swimming with the Fishes

8.  Shop in the Danish Brick Courtyards and King’s Alley Walk – There are many unique stores in Christiansted, but I really enjoyed the checking out the jewelry stores.  I had to go into Sonya’s cute little store on Company Street to pick up a Hook bracelet.  I also picked up a beautiful little watercolor painting at Yellow House Gallery.  When shopping on St. Croix, US citizens can enjoy duty-free allowance of $1,600 per person every 30 days whether buying to pack or mail.

9.  Head to the Beach – All beaches in the U.S. Virgin Islands are open to the public, although access through private property may have restrictions.  I personally enjoyed the beaches on the North Shore like Cane Bay and Carambola Beach.

10.  Check out La Reine Farmer’s Market on a Saturday Morning The Farmer’s Market at Villa La Reine is a Saturday morning tradition for locals.  This fun, sociable event always has fresh market produce and sometimes it is harvested the day before or even the same day the market is open.  Here you will have an opportunity to try many fruits and vegetables.  Make sure you try the Star Fruit, also known as Carambola.  Also look for homemade jams, jellies, chutney tarts, pies, cakes and local juices.  The market is open from 7 am to 3 pm and is run by the Department of Agriculture.

11.  Taste the Tropics – There is great food in St. Croix!  Here are my favorites.  You can eat with the locals at Rowdy Joe’s or enjoy magnificent views at Off the Wall and The Waves at Cane Bay.  I also loved EAT @ Cane Bay!  The atmosphere is awesome as well as their brunch.  Another place that was recommended to me by a local was Blue Moon in Frederikstead.  It was great and you can enjoy some cool jazz music.  For a different type of atmosphere you can head over to the Fort Christian Brew Pub for live music and on Mondays you can catch the Crab Races where hermit crabs crawl and you cheer them on!  Another fun place we enjoyed was the Spratnet Beach Bar on Cane Bay.  Make sure you go on a Sunday for their Pig Roast, you’ll be sure to have a great time!

Crab Races at Fort Christian Brew Pub

Spratnet Beach Bar

12.  Tour the Cruzan Rum Distillery or visit the home of the Famous Beer Drinking Pig – Obviously this is not a kid-friendly activity, but I had to throw something in for Mom and Dad while the kids were hanging at the Kid’s Camp at the Buccaneer.  Tour the rum factory and learn how the popular local rum, Cruzan is made.  You will walk away with knowledge on what the difference is between white rum and gold rum and how the proofs are made.  You can also sample the rum for yourself.  Tours are only offered during weekdays.  You also won’t want to miss Mt. Pellier Domino Club which is the home of  the World Famous Beer Drinking Pigs!  Located in the heart of the rain forest you can stop for some great food and a cold drink and be entertained by JJ and Oreo as they enjoy a round of beer, non-alcoholic of course!

Are you ready to explore St. Croix’s wonderous landscapes and downtown area that tells a story of rich culture and history?

The Beer Drinking Pig

Touring the Rum Factory

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CSI Agents

Where can your kids learn about scientific principles and techniques that are used today by crime scene investigators and forensic scientist?  You most probably are thinking on the latest episode of Law and Order, NCIS or CSI.  Well your family now can actually go to an interactive exhibit called CSI:  The Experience.  This exhibits incorporates elements from the popular CBS series, “CSI:  Crime Scene Investigation”.

Our family had an unbelievable time when we entered the crime scenes at Discovery Times Square in New York City.  The hands-on experience let us identify and record evidence.  We investigated the crime scene “Who Got Served?”.    In this case a young woman was found dead in an alley behind an old Las Vegas motel.  There was a tire tread across her abdomen and beside her was a headshot of her ripped in half.

Just like real crime scene investigators we looked at digital evidence left behind and was able to retrieve who the victim sent her last text message to and to who! Then, we looked at latent prints on the photograph and impression evidence from the tire tracks.

Later, we investigated the forensic aspect and reviewed the toxicology report of the substance that was left in the bag near the victim.  Learning about forensic entomology, we were able to determine the time of death.  Reviewing the forensic biology, we determined the victim’s true identity by looking at her DNA.

Cracking the Case

We ended up solving the crime by determining the cause of death and reported back to the medical examiner.  Our supervisor, Gil Grissom awarded us a diploma, making us CSI Agents for cracking the case!

This experience was so much fun and educational!  In addition to the case we investigated, you can also investigate two other cases called “A House Collided” or “No Bones About It!”.  After going through these exhibits you will learn things like calculating a person’s height by measuring their femur bone or that the diameter determines the caliber of a bullet.

It is always a lot of fun when you experience something hands-on!   The fact that this exhibit also was entrenched in multimedia via videotaped messages from the cast of the TV show just made this adventure awesome.

This exhibit is currently in Las Vegas, New York and Australia and is geared towards kids that are twelve and older.  I hope your family will be able to plunge into the action of solving one of the three crimes because it was not only fun and educational, but a great opportunity to work together as a family.  Good luck cracking the case!

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We visited the Herkimer Diamond Mines in Herkimer, New York last summer. Herkimer Diamonds are quartz crystals.  For $26 ($10 for adults & $8 for kids) we spent hours with our hammers cracking rocks and we found many “diamonds”.  The boys had so much fun getting dusty and looking for hidden treasures.  There is also a campground, museum, and a restaurant adjacent to the mines.  This was a fun day trip or it could be an add-on to a weekend visit to Cooperstown National Baseball Hall of Fame.  If you are ever in the area, I highly recommend making the visit.  Don’t be surprised if your kids leave saying they want to be a geologist when they grow up!

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