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Posts Tagged ‘Travel’

 Often times when I travel with my son, we spend part of a day on some kind of tour through the city we are visiting to get the lay of the land and sometimes as a way to get around town. Many people roll their eyes and groan at the thought of a tour because they have the perception that they are long, boring and to touristy.  I was one of those people before I had a child.  That all changed on a visit to Boston, when all my misconceptions were washed away as my son and I splashed down in the Charles River in a W.W.II amphibious landing vehicle.

We boarded the “DUCK” at the Museum of Science and was greeted by a ConDUCKtor.  Once we were off, we quaked through the streets, while taking in the many sites that make Boston the birthplace of freedom.  Of course there were a few sites that were not revolutionary, like Cheers from the 1980’s TV show.  We didn’t see Sam and Norm, but we did get to check out some pretty nice views of the Boston and Cambridge skyline when we splashed into the Charles River. This was my son’s favorite part of the tour and was thrilled when he had an opportunity to drive the DUCK.

My son taking the wheel of the Duck on the Charles River.

Our ConDUCKtor was great and I regret that I can’t remember his name.  I do remember his sense of humor and some interesting tidbits that he shared.  For instance while we were cruising along the Charles River, he pointed out what was once the Charles Street Jail and shared a story of James Curley, who was the Mayor of Boston and served not one, but two prison terms.  He also pointed out a segment of the Berlin Wall which was located outside the main entrance of the EF Education building in Cambridge.  I sure didn’t expect to see a piece of world history in front of an office building.  I can’t leave you scratching your head, so in case you’re wondering EF Education is a world leader in international education and they offer study abroad programs.  Ah, now it makes more sense.

Quacking through Boston while learning little known facts made our tour fun and educational.  Where else can you learn about our revolutionary leaders on a World War II vehicle that is half a boat and half a truck!  The Boston Duck Tours was one of the highlights of our visit to Beantown.

Boarding the Duck at the Museum of Science in Boston.

So my first question is …has your family taken a DUCK tour in Boston or another city?  The second is did you throw away those noisy duck lips when your kids were not looking?

Quack, Quack!

If you enjoyed this post, you also might like America’s Oldest Restaurant and Following the Red Brick Road – Boston’s Freedom Trail.

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Our road trip through Western New York state and Canada included many exciting pit stops. We were very excited for our two days in Toronto because we planned on cheering on our beloved New York Yankees that were scheduled to play the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre.  We were also excited because we had planned to check off three more places from Frommer’s 500 places to take your kids before they grow up – The CN Tower, the Hockey Hall of Fame and the Toronto Zoo.  Here are some highlights from Toronto’s must see family attractions.

Taking in Toronto

The CN Tower

1.  MLB at Rogers Centre – Our visit  to Toronto was actually planned around the fact that the New York Yankees would be in town for an away game.  My son and nephew are HUGE Yankee fans and if asked, they will tell you that going to the game was their favorite part of the road-trip. They were so excited that we arrived at Gate 11 of Rogers Centre at 5:30 p.m for a 7 p.m. game.  Since we were so early, we watched some of the warm ups and stocked up on your typical ball park food.  Rain earlier that day had kept the retractable roof closed, but the boys cheered loudly next to the Blue Jay fans throughout an exciting game that included a crazy fan running out on the field.  Unfortunately, the Yankees were not able to end up with the win, but the whole experience made the boys proud that they were “loyal fans” that followed their team on the road.  Needless to say, I’ll be checking the Yankee schedule this year for our planned road trip down the east coast.

2.  CN Tower – Standing at a height of 1,815 ft, 5 inches, the CN Tower defines Toronto’s skyline and is the most recognized icon in Canada.  It is actually the world’s tallest free-standing structure and serves as a hub for telecommunications across the city.  The only way to the top of the world’s tallest tower is by riding glass-faced high-speed elevator.  I am not kidding when I say high-speed because it is only took 58 seconds to reach 1,136 ft .  No wonder why it has earned the world’s title as the #1 elevator ride by National Geographic Journeys of a Lifetime.  Of course the boys loved the elevator ride, but they had an even better time giving me a heart palpitations as they walked across the glass floor 113 stories above the ground.  I personally enjoyed the four lookout levels that offered spectacular views of Toronto and Lake Ontario that just got better the higher we went up.

3.  The Hockey Hall of Fame – I know that Canadian’s would find this hard to believe, but our family really is not huge hockey fans.  This however didn’t keep the boys from having a great time and we were excited to add it to the list of our other Hall of Fame visits (the National Baseball Hall of Fame and the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame).  The Hockey Hall of fame was more than a sports museum.  The boys really enjoyed the interactive exhibits, the NHLPA Be A Player Zone, the broadcast pods and the replica of the Montreal Canadians dressing room. Of course getting up close and personal with hockey’s Holy Grail, the Stanley Cup was one of the more memorable moments as you can see from the picture below!

4.  Toronto Zoo –  The Toronto Zoo was listed as one of the 7 Great Zoos in the world by Frommer’s 500 places to take your kids before they grow up.  I have been to a lot of zoos (including the Bronx Zoo and the San Diego Zoo which also made Frommer’s list), but I have to say the Toronto Zoo really is one of my favorites.  Yes it is big, but I found it really easy to navigate.  The “Follow the Footprints” offered three trails that were approximately an hour and included opportunities to meet the zoo keepers.  There is also a kid’s zone that is divided into biomes – the prairie and the wetlands.  In addition, there is also a Waterside Theater where you can catch a bird show and splash island where the kids can cool off.

Toronto is a great city to explore with kids.  There were so many other places we would have liked to check out if we had more time like the Royal Ontario Museum and the Ontario Science Center.

Are you planning to go to Toronto?  What will you see?

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Riding the train in Essex, Connecticut. I forgot what I looked like as a brunette 🙂

When my son was little we occasionally took vacations.  Often times we made day trips to places like Sesame Place or riding “Thomas the Train” in Essex, Connecticut.  Outside of quick day trips we would once in a while head down south to visit family.

It wasn’t until my son entered the third grade that we started to travel on a regular basis.  Our travels often times would stem from what he was learning in school.  Of course living outside of New York City made many trips reasonable from a time and cost perspective.  It was so much fun spending time in Boston when he was learning about the American Revolution or in Gettysburg when he was studying about the Civil War.  It was after trips like these that I really began to make an effort to explore any opportunity where we could learn something new.

These opportunities resulted in really unforgettable experiences like when my son briefly drove the Duck Tour Boat in Boston on the Charles River, learning how to blow glass at the Corning Glass museum, meeting a Yeoman Warder at the Tower of London, exploring caverns in Virginia and making a stop action animated film in New York City.  I have watched his confidence grow when he would eagerly answer questions about Teddy Roosevelt that the park ranger asked during the tours of Sagamore Hill and when no other adult was brave enough to speak out and answer questions from one of the trainers when we enjoyed the dolphin encounter in the Bahamas.

Exploring Boston- Spring Break 2010

Tower of London

There  were also times when our travels didn’t go as planned, and usually revolved around getting lost.   It was these times that we had to work together to get out of a “pickle”.  For instance there has been many times my son needed to read the emergency map quest directions when the GPS lost a signal and he was quick to point out when we were going in the wrong direction on the tube of London’s Underground.  Not only did we have to work together, but these situations taught us the importance of staying calm and the realization that we could resolve any problem.

As a mother I really do want to show my son the world because there is more to life than routines and chasing society’s expectations.  I hope every new opportunity makes him curious to know more and provides him with the realization that the possibilities are endless in whatever path he chooses.  I am excited that our travels that started out as fun adventures have led to unexpected gifts of courage, knowledge, new skills and an increased awareness and perspective of other cultures not just for my son, but for me too.   As wonderful as these gifts have been, the best gift  has been the precious bond between my son and I.

As a single parent my life is really busy.  Juggling a career, keeping up the home and navigating everything that accompanies school and extracurricular activities can sometimes be demanding.  There are days that sometimes blend together.  Traveling allows me to focus on my son without all the distractions of everyday life.  When traveling I feel an inner calmness which allows me to share genuine happiness with my son.  With today being Mother’s day I can’t help but think how wonderful it is that travel has provided such happiness that has been intertwined into the fabric of everlasting memories for me and my favorite travel companion, my son.  Traveling has truly been a gift and has provided another link in the bond of our relationship.

Gettysburg

What unexpected gifts have you discovered while traveling with your children?

I follow many other traveling families via the blogosphere.  One of my favorite sites to visit is Mother of All Trips!  Today Mara is promoting a linkup for all travel moms, so click and read on to see how travel is the gift that doesn’t stop giving for many other families.

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The Conservatory Gardens
How cute is that couple in the background?

A spring day in the park.

Today was a good day.  I was in New York City.  More specifically on the Upper West Side and in Central Park, both of which feel like home.  It is hard to believe that it has been almost twenty years since I moved from a small town in Louisiana

into my first NYC apartment on W. 95th St. between Central Park West and Columbus. Surprisingly, I adjusted quickly to my kitchen in a closet, doing laundry in the basement and taking the subway to get around.  I fell in love with New York City. Everyday was a learning experience.  I loved just walking down the busy streets, meeting people from different backgrounds and cultures, trying a different cuisines from one of the many restaurants that existed on every block, seeing pieces of art in museums that I had only seen in books, shopping at cute dress stores and enjoying Central Park.  I did the last two today.

Finding three fabulous dresses at a tempo couture definitely put a little pep in my step, but it wasn’t until I wandered into Central Park at 72nd St. that a feeling of bliss came over me.  This profound satisfaction, happiness and joy might have had a little to do with the ice cream that I enjoyed walking thorough the park, but I think it mainly can be attributed to the flood of memories I had of being in the park over the past two decades.  Below is some of the greatest hits from the reel that rolled in my mind.

Countless Days in the Park with Perdita– Before my beloved Lexie, I had a Dalmatian named Perdita.  Living close to the park was great.  Perdita joined the “dog party” twice a day for a morning and afternoon play date.  Her two best friends were Winston, a great dane and Payton, a yellow lab.  I also remember Betty the pug.  Perdita loved all seasons and would run though massive amounts of snow in the winter and was never shy to take a dip in the lake in the summer.

Perdita in the snow in the winter of 1996.

A furry friend admiring Perdita swimming.

Bethesda Fountain – I have always thought this is one of the prettiest places in New York City and it is a great place to people watch.  The fountain is also known as the Angel of Waters and is one of the largest fountains in the city.  It is no surprise that it has served as a backdrop for many movies.

Bethesda Fountain

The Great Lawn – This 55-acre green pasture is in the center of Central Park.  I have many memories of catching some rays on the weekend, picnicking with friends and going to concerts.

I don't know the guy to the right...who said New Yorker's are not friendly!

Ice Skating at Wollman Rink – One of the happiest memories I have of Central Park is when my family visited me in New York for the first time.  We went ice skating…all of us.  I don’t really remember my family doing activities like that when I was young, but being in Central Park got us all on skates and gave me a memory of us enjoying an activity together.

My Mom and sister.

Back in the 90s.

The Boathouse Cafe’– This is a great place to have lunch especially in the summer. I often would go there with my friends that would be visiting from out-of-town. Another fond memory was seeing Blondi with my friends Monique and Dawn at the New Years Eve Party in 1997 at the Boathouse.  I still remember belting out Heart of Glass and Rapture!

Having lunch with Donna and Rebecca at the Boathouse Cafe'.

New Year's Eve 1997 at the Boathouse Cafe' with Dawn and Monique.

The Conservatory Garden– Two main memories come to mind when I think of the Conservatory Garden.  The first is taking my wedding pictures in the fall of 1998. All I am going to say about that is my friends and I still laugh about the my candid photographer and family drama.  The other memory that stands out is meeting my friend Jill when we would take a lunch break on the days we worked at Mount Sinai Hospital. She had no idea that she played an important role in the healing process of my divorce.  Thanks to her, I still enjoy the Conservatory Garden.

Monique touching up my make-up for my wedding pictures in the conservatory gardens.

All you can do is laugh.

The Conservatory Gardens really does make a nice backdrop for wedding photos.

The Zoo Visiting the zoo with my son will always be near and dear to my heart.  It is just a fun place to be and even more fun to watch his excitement.When he was little he liked the Tisch Children’s Zooand as he became older we visited the Central Park Zoo often.

Tisch Children's Zoo

My son with a Polar Bear at the Central Park Zoo.

Victoria Gardens – When the winter months come to a close, so does the Wollman Rink.  During the summer months Victoria Gardens appears and it is a fun family amusement park for young children.  This was always one of my favorite things to do with my son when he was young.

Victoria Gardens

Rock Climbing– Climbing the rocks located towards the south end of the park has always been one of my son’s favorite things to do.  He learned to conquer new heights at two and a half.  It still is one of his favorite past times when we are in the park.

Taking on the rocks at two and a half.

This past winter.

Playgrounds and Afternoon Snacks– With twenty playgrounds, there is always a place for the kids to be kids.  On a summer day there is nothing like splashing in one of the spray parks after playing in the sand.  Well maybe the only thing better is getting a tasty treat.

My nephew with a tasty treat.

My niece on the playground.

Model Boat Sailing – Between April and October, the best sailing in New York City is at Central Park’s Conservatory Water.  This was a really big hit with my son and nephew.  In the summer you can also sail these model sail boats that are for rent on Friday and Saturday night under the stars.  It is really cool to see the illuminated boats.

Sailing Away

Carriage Rides – Okay, I have to tell you I am really not a huge fan of carriage rides.  I feel bad for the horses and it is expensive.  I did succumb twice.  The first time was when my sister and kids came to visit.  I was recovering from foot surgery and it was a pretty easy way to get around the park.  Surprisingly, we learned a lot about the history of the park.  The second time was when I was in the park with my god-daughter.  Her big blue eyes swayed me and her smile sealed the deal.

A visit with the family.

Carriage Ride

I love Central park because it is a special place.  It has brought me and my family together at different times in my life and also has been wonderful oasis to gather with my friends and spend quality time with my son.

My Aunt who was visiting from Louisiana on one of the bridges with the upper west side skyline in the background.

 Do you have a favorite place that has brought your loved ones close together?

My parents in the mid 90s.

My son in the same spot in 2011.

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The Artifact Exhibition

This year will be the 100th anniversary of the world’s most famous shipwreck, the Titanic. Several events will take place to commemorate this anniversary like the re-release in 3-D of the 1997 Titanic movie and an auction of 5,000 artifacts.

The Grand Staircase

Another way to commemorate this event is to visit the Titanic, The Artifact Exhibition.  We visited this exhibit when it was at the Discovery Times Square in New York City.  I have seen many traveling exhibits that have come to the Discovery Times Square, and this by far is my favorite!  When we entered the exhibit, we received a replica- boarding pass of an actual passenger aboard the Titanic.  Then we traveled on the chronological journey of how the ship met its fate.  Two of the things that are ingrained in my memory was touching the cold iceberg and seeing china perfectly stacked in sand in front of a picture that was taken on the bottom of the ocean floor.  It was amazing that the dishes were perfectly stacked in the picture . The cabinets that eventually disintegrated had preserved them.  At the end of the exhibit, we were able to look up the name of the passenger on our boarding pass on the Memorial Wall to discover whether they perished or survived.

My son had read Titanic by Anna Claybourne and Katie Daynes before we visited the exhibit in November of 2009.  The exhibit brought the pages in the book alive for him and it was also an opportunity to learn about the human spirit in face of the tragedy from the stories throughout the exhibit.

This exhibit has been long gone from New York, but if you are lucky enough be in the area of one of the current or upcoming exhibits, I highly recommend this fabulous exhibit.  The journey back to 1912 will allow you to connect with the passengers and crew through personal stories and you and your children will learn things you never knew about the” unsinkable” ship.

Current and Upcoming Exhibits in the United States.

Natural Science Center of Greensboro – The exhibit ends this coming Sunday, January 8th.

The Henry Ford Museum in Detroit – Opens March 2012.

San Diego Natural History Museum – Opens February 10th.

Union Station in Kansas City – Opens March 2012.

For International Exhibitions please go to www.rmstitanic.net/

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Times Square

Today I was in NYC and had the same energized feeling that I had eighteen years ago when I moved to the “Big Apple”.  My son shares the same love of the city.  I thought it would be great to pass along some easy tips to navigate the city for other families.

Some of my favorite resources are the apps that I have on my phone, NYC Way and HopStopNYC.    I love NYC Way!  It has over 30 icons ranging from things to do, street fairs, places to eat and ATM locator.  I used it today to find a place to have lunch close to Sony Wonder Technology Lab.  I also use HopStop when I am not sure which subway to take or which direction to walk once I have come out of  the subway.  This app is great!

Sony Wonder Technology Lab

I am a planner, so I  check things out online since I am always looking for inexpensive fun things to do.  Three resources that I use often are Time Out NY Kids , Central Park and TheatreMania .  I have found really cool things to do on Time Out NY Kids like having tea with Eloise at the Plaza for girls or outdoor movies on the Intrepid (the coolest place ever to watch Top Gun!)for boys. Time Out NY Kids is also great to find out what is going on at the museums.  Sony Wonder Technology Lab is free and has several workshops for $10.  My son never gets tired of The Museum of Natural History and he use to love the NY Children’s museum when he was younger.

Central Park

The official website of Central Park is fabulous!  There is so much to do in the park from Victoria Gardens Amusement Park in the summer and Trump’s Wollman’s Skating Rink in the winter to the Zoo and Carousel. One of my favorite things to do with my son is rent model boats to sail at Conservatory Water and have lunch at the Boathouse Cafe.  Check out their list of 176 things to do in Central Park on the Things to See page of their website.

Make sure you check out sites like Living Social Family Edition New York Kids Deals and Coupons  and Groupon.  These sights are a great way to save regardless of where you live, so subscribe and you will get notified of great deals by email.  Just last week Living Social had a deal to get two tickets to Victoria Gardens Amusement Park for $21 instead of $43.

Theatre Mania is a great place to get discounted broadway tickets.  Mary Poppins is great and there is usually discounted tickets, but there are a lot of other off-broadway shows for kids too like Freckleface Strawbery, The Bernestain Bears & Pinkalicious.  You can also find discounted tickets on this site to other things like exhibits at Discovery Times Square or Top of the Rock.

Freckleface Strawberry

NYCWay & Time Out NY Kids are also an excellent resource to find great places to eat.  One of my favorite places is Ellen’s Stardust Diner where you feel like you are in the 1950’s with the singing wait staff.  My son loved Mars 2112, so I have brought him there many times when he was younger despite the fact that it is overpriced food that is fair.  There is no where else that you can ride a space ship to your table and meet aliens.

I could go on and on about NYC and things to do with kids.  I hope the resources I shared will help families visiting NYC or those who live in the surrounding areas just heading in for the day.   NYC can be a great place to take kids.  There are many affordable things to do and it really is easy to get around.  Please comment should you have questions. I would love to help make your trip to my favorite place on earth the best place you will ever take your kids!

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After what I have called my year of transition (new house, new job, new car),  I was really looking to escape where I could leave all the craziness of my life behind for a couple of days. My aha moment came when I recalled a quote referencing Cape Cod by Henry David Thoreau, ” A man may stand there and put all America behind him”.  Despite the fact that “putting it all behind” most probably wasn’t possible traveling with three boys, I was intrigued to explore the Cape.

Pirate's Cove Adventure GolfExploring the Cape is exactly what we did, with of course a little down time by the pool each day. Our first night into town we enjoyed mini-golf at Pirate’s Cove in South Yarmouth which is most probably shocking to many, since I am always planning learning experiences for our trips. It was really crowded since it has a reputation of being one of the best miniature golf course on Cape Cod.  Their reputation is well deserved, the crowds moved quickly and the course was entertaining for my pirate loving crew.  If you asked my son what his favorite part of the trip was he most probably will tell you it was at Pirate Cove when he hit a hole in one unintentionally!  Yes the ball went out of the green, bounced off the stairway and back onto the green in the hole!

Our second day in Cape Cod covered the learning category when we visited the John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum and the John F. Kennedy Memorial.  The four of us headed into the museum for a whopping $7.50.  Not surprisingly, my son loved learning more about one of his favorite presidents. There was a quick film which really put everything into perspective for my young nephews and after the viewing they were trying to follow the Kennedy family tree on the wall to identify family members that they had just learned about.

Of course the museum is small, so we filled the rest of the day with two tours.  First we went to the Cape Cod Potato Chip Factory.  This was FREE!  It only took about 15 minutes, but it was cool for the boys to see the progression of potato to the chip, then to the bag and ultimately boxing the bags to be shipped out.  They learned cool facts like it takes approximately 4 pounds of potatoes to make 1 pound of potato chips, because the potato is mainly water.  They munched on the “Kettle-Cooked” samples while chatting with one of the friendly employees while I purchased a couple of bags to take home.  It was a good time.

Only a couple of blocks away from the JFK Hyannis Museum, we discovered  Cape Cod Duckmobiles.  My son and I had done a Duck Tour in Boston and loved it, so I had to do it again so my nephews could experience the amphibious vehicle.  Honestly, there was not a lot to point out, but the guides were humorous and kept the boys entertained and they were thrilled when we “splashed down” into Hyannis Harbor.  If you take the tour don’t expect to see the Kennedy compound, but you do get to see the church the Kennedy family frequented and the armory where JFK made his speech during the election.

After our busy morning, the boys played in the pool while I tried to have a “Thoreau” moment before heading to catch a little “summer baseball”.  The Cape Cod Baseball League is a collegiate summer baseball league.  We decided to watch the Hyannis Harbor Hawks play the Brewster Whitecaps.  I have been to countless baseball games, but this was one of the most enjoyable games.  It is not because the Harbor Hawks won or the game was FREE, but because it was like I had stepped back in time where the boys could roam freely during the game without worry and at the end of it all, go onto the field and approach the players.  I wish we could have gone to more games!

Another highlight of the trip was taking the boys on a Pirate Adventure.  The Pirate Adventure was also not educational, but it was too much FUN not to mention.  First, I must give kudos to the staff.  I had made a mistake with my online reservation and had bought tickets for Monday instead of Sunday.  Considering that we would be back in New York on Monday, I was happy that they  honored our reservations on Sunday!  My son who is twelve was a little old for this adventure, but the Captain befriended him and gave him the ins and out of the operation while my nephews were having the time of their life!  The boys had their faces painted and wore costumes as we sailed off on The Sea Gypsy.  The whole experience was so much fun!  I was crying I was laughing so hard as the kids were shooting the water cannons on the side of the ship at a pirate who was trying the take the treasure that belong to the crew of their ship.  From figuring out the treasure map to doing the limbo it was nothing short of a great time.  It was one of the most expensive things we did at $21 a ticket, but well worth it!

We ended our trip with a visit to the Cape Cod National Seashore.  This year the Cape Cod National Seashore celebrates it’s 50th anniversary of when President Kennedy  signed legislation to protect the seashore and making it a part of the U.S. National Park System.  We visited the Salt Pond Visitor Center in Eastham first and the boys participated in a FREE shellfishing demonstration and were ready to go clamming when we left.  We then headed to Nauset Light Beach which is also in Eastham.  We toured the Nauset Lighthouse, the one that is pictured on the Cape Cod Potato Chip Bag.  The tour was FREE and the boys learned the history of the lighthouse and the battle of the erosion that forced the lighthouse to be moved more than once.  The Nauset Lighthouse was our last stop on Cape Cod before heading home.  It was a perfect place to end our trip and I didn’t realize it until we had climbed the stairs and looked out the window to a magnificent view of the ocean.  It was at that moment I found my self ” standing there”  and literally could “put America behind me”.  I shared this with the boys, and even at the ages of 12, 9 and 7 they got it!  I hope one day you will be able to experience what Thoreau described in the 1800’s and what my family experienced in 2011.  Cape Cod turned out to be a great escape.

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