Fly-away spring break vacations

Get on a plane and get out of here. We’ve got four suggestions for spending your spring break out of town.

Get on a plane and get out of here. We’ve got four suggestions for spending your spring break out of town.

Remember those carefree travel days before you had kids? Thedays when all you needed was a backpack and a passport and you wereready for another adventure to another exotic corner of theworld?

Travel might not be so carefree these days, but it still can beexotic. These three destinations will give your kids a flavor ofthe world outside the confines of LEGOLAND, Disney and otherstandard family fare.

Kauai

This is the island for nature lovers. Whether you’re intobuilding sand castles on the expansive beaches, hiking through thetropical countryside or whale watching in the waters off the coast,Kauai has what you need.

Known as the Garden Island, this lush spot is mostly rural andlaid back. Great portions of the island are inaccessible except byhelicopter, (you’ll recognize the view from the Jurassic Parkmovies), although the 3,000-foot cliffs of the Napali Coast arebreathtakingly beautiful when seen from the water aboard CaptainAndy’s Sailing Adventures. This trip is not for weak stomachs,though. On our visit in early summer, the surging waves decked morethan half the passengers. The rest of us munched on our lunch andmarveled at the whales that swam alongside the boat and the tinyspinner dolphins that regularly jumped out of the water to show offtheir pirouettes.

Don’t miss the drive to the top of Waimea Canyon, the GrandCanyon of the Pacific. Assign the kids the job of “waterfallspotter” and “rainbow spotter.” It shouldn’t take them long to findone or both.

Cruising Europe

A cruise is the easy way to introduce kids to Europe. Mydaughter and I discovered the joys of the Adriatic Sea on board aRoyal Caribbean ship that left from Venice and stopped in Bari andRavenna, Italy; Koper, Slovenia, and Dubrovnik and Cavtat,Croatia.

We got a taste of three historic European countries without everhaving to unpack and repack, we returned to the ship each night toeat food familiar to even the pickiest of American eaters and hadall the amenities of a world-class cruise ship to entertain usduring a long day at sea.

While the Costa Concordia accident earlier this year gave somecruise novices pause, cruises are a great way to travel. And, ascruise lines have expanded their markets beyond the traditionalsenior citizen clientele, the offerings for kids of all ages isremarkable. On Royal Caribbean, there’s the Royal Babies programdeveloped with Fisher Price for tots 6 to 36 months, a kids’ clubplay space that rivals the Chicago Children’s Museum andentertainment created in partnership with Dreamworks.

Monument Valley

This uniquely American spot in the southwestern United States isthe home of the iconic vistas of Monument Valley Navajo TribalPark. The red rock buttes have served as the backdrop for JohnWayne westerns and many a family photo. The key is to get everyoneup in the pre-dawn hours so they don’t miss the majestic sunrise,best seen from a room with a view or, more specifically, from TheView, the only hotel inside Monument Valley.

There’s a three-mile trail you can hike without a Navajo guide,but the best way to see Monument Valley is with a kid-friendlyNavajo guide who can take you into the parts of the park that areoff-limits without a guide. Our guide shared the Native Americanlegends attached to every rock formation, explained the Navajoreligion in terms kids could understand and imparted a bit ofNative American culture to middle class city kids who mightotherwise have pitied the family who lives in the run-downtrailer.

Our tour stopped in the valley, where we were treated to aNative American dance performance and got a chance to learn a fewdance moves and test our own native rhythm on the drums. It wasn’ta very successful lesson, unless you measure success by the giggleswe elicited from the audience.

On your

3 exotic vactions with kids

Exotic travel, with kids

Remember those carefree travel days before you had kids? Thedays when all you needed was a backpack and a passport and you wereready for another adventure to another exotic corner of theworld?

Travel might not be so carefree these days, but it still can beexotic. These three destinations will give your kids a flavor ofthe world outside the confines of LEGOLAND, Disney and otherstandard family fare.

Kauai

This is the island for nature lovers. Whether you’re intobuilding sand castles on the expansive beaches, hiking through thetropical countryside or whale watching in the waters off the coast,Kauai has what you need.

Known as the Garden Island, this lush spot is mostly rural andlaid back. Great portions of the island are inaccessible except byhelicopter, (you’ll recognize the view from the Jurassic Parkmovies), although the 3,000-foot cliffs of the Napali Coast arebreathtakingly beautiful when seen from the water aboard CaptainAndy’s Sailing Adventures. This trip is not for weak stomachs,though. On our visit in early summer, the surging waves decked morethan half the passengers. The rest of us munched on our lunch andmarveled at the whales that swam alongside the boat and the tinyspinner dolphins that regularly jumped out of the water to show offtheir pirouettes.

Don’t miss the drive to the top of Waimea Canyon, the GrandCanyon of the Pacific. Assign the kids the job of “waterfallspotter” and “rainbow spotter.” It shouldn’t take them long to findone or both.

Cruising Europe

A cruise is the easy way to introduce kids to Europe. Mydaughter and I discovered the joys of the Adriatic Sea on board aRoyal Caribbean ship that left from Venice and stopped in Bari andRavenna, Italy; Koper, Slovenia, and Dubrovnik and Cavtat,Croatia.

We got a taste of three historic European countries without everhaving to unpack and repack, we returned to the ship each night toeat food familiar to even the pickiest of American eaters and hadall the amenities of a world-class cruise ship to entertain usduring a long day at sea.

While the Costa Concordia accident earlier this year gave somecruise novices pause, cruises are a great way to travel. And, ascruise lines have expanded their markets beyond the traditionalsenior citizen clientele, the offerings for kids of all ages isremarkable. On Royal Caribbean, there’s the Royal Babies programdeveloped with Fisher Price for tots 6 to 36 months, a kids’ clubplay space that rivals the Chicago Children’s Museum andentertainment created in partnership with Dreamworks.

Monument Valley

This uniquely American spot in the southwestern United States isthe home of the iconic vistas of Monument Valley Navajo TribalPark. The red rock buttes have served as the backdrop for JohnWayne westerns and many a family photo. The key is to get everyoneup in the pre-dawn hours so they don’t miss the majestic sunrise,best seen from a room with a view or, more specifically, from TheView, the only hotel inside Monument Valley.

There’s a three-mile trail you can hike without a Navajo guide,but the best way to see Monument Valley is with a kid-friendlyNavajo guide who can take you into the parts of the park that areoff-limits without a guide. Our guide shared the Native Americanlegends attached to every rock formation, explained the Navajoreligion in terms kids could understand and imparted a bit ofNative American culture to middle class city kids who mightotherwise have pitied the family who lives in the run-downtrailer.

Our tour stopped in the valley, where we were treated to aNative American dance performance and got a chance to learn a fewdance moves and test our own native rhythm on the drums. It wasn’ta very successful lesson, unless you measure success by the giggleswe elicited from the audience.

O


As the city that never sleeps, New York may have more in commonwith your children than you think. And while it may seemintimidating, the city is incredibly toddler and baby friendly witha few minor exceptions-if you’re taking the subway, be prepared tocarry your stroller up and down the stairs, since it’s a rare trainstation that has an elevator and an even rarer train station thathas one that works.

As a native New Yorker who has lived in Chicago for nine years,and travels back to my hometown of Greenwich Village every othermonth with my 3-year-old and infant, I’m always on a mission toexpose my kids to the real New York – the one that comes completewith plenty of bagels (Ess-A-Bagel, 359 1st Ave.) and incorporatesthe best museums and landmarks New York has to offer.

If you want the real New York experience for your kids, makesure you check out my favorite kid-friendly spots andactivities.

Union Square Park, 1 Union Square West

Your kids ages 2-10 will delight in this brand new
playground, tucked away on the Northside of Union Square Park
(which has a fabulous farmer’s market Monday, Wednesday, Friday and
Saturday throughout the entire year). It’s got everything from
scary slides to a sandbox to fun climbing statues and water
elements.

Ellis Island, (212) 363-3200

Hop on the ferry (try to catch the 8 a.m. ferry to avoid
the crowds) and head over to Ellis Island to show your kids how
their ancestors arrived in the United States. It’s a fun,
interactive museum – and you could even pay $5 to look up your own
ancestors. Bonus: The kids will love the ferry ride over, which
offers amazing picture opps.

Museum of Natural History, Central Park West at 79th St., (212)769-5200

It may easily be the best museum in the city for kids andgrown-ups alike. Live out your Jurassic Park fantasy on the 4thfloor by examining the dinosaur fossils, and make sure you posenext to the ginormous Tyrannosaurus Rex. The museum is huge, soplan ahead and figure out which exhibits you want to see, or youcould easily spend an entire day here.

Ray’s Candy Store, 113 Avenue A, (917) 340-7855

The chocolate egg-cream is probably one of New York’s
best drinks. They mix seltzer with milk and chocolate syrup and
it’s heaven. Don’t worry-there are no raw eggs in this drink.

The High Line, 122 Gansevoort St.

It’s a park built on top of an old elevated train, and
you’ll get amazing views. OK, so this is actually pretty touristy,
but your kids will have a great time running around. Bring a lunch
and eat it at one of the many picnic areas, and stop in afterward
for a popsicle at People’s Pops in Chelsea Market, 425 W. 15th
St.

Economy Candy, 108 Rivington St., (212) 254-1531

I may enjoy this spot even more than my 3-year-old does,
if that’s possible. It’s the most classic candy store in the world
(the world being New York City) and it’s filled from top to bottom
with nostalgic candy bars that you may remember from your childhood
(Cracker Jack and candy necklaces were my junior high staples), but
may not be able to find outside of this tiny shop. Leave the
strollers in the hotel for this one, or you’ll get many angry
glares from the other New Yorkers who are trying to fill their
sweet craving in this hole-in-the-wall candy store.

The Strand, 828 Broadway, (212) 473-1452

It’s one of the biggest used bookstores in the world, and
they have a delightful, quiet children’s section tucked in the
corner of the second floor. We stop in here whenever the craziness
of New York gets to be too much for our 3-year-old, who can spend
hours thumbing through the books (and we take turns watching her
and running around the rest of the store to thumb through books in
our favorite sections, too).


Travel to New York with toddlers

Travel New York with toddlers

As the city that never sleeps, New York may have more in commonwith your children than you think. And while it may seemintimidating, the city is incredibly toddler and baby friendly witha few minor exceptions-if you’re taking the subway, be prepared tocarry your stroller up and down the stairs, since it’s a rare trainstation that has an elevator and an even rarer train station thathas one that works.

As a native New Yorker who has lived in Chicago for nine years,and travels back to my hometown of Greenwich Village every othermonth with my 3-year-old and infant, I’m always on a mission toexpose my kids to the real New York – the one that comes completewith plenty of bagels (Ess-A-Bagel, 359 1st Ave.) and incorporatesthe best museums and landmarks New York has to offer.

If you want the real New York experience for your kids, makesure you check out my favorite kid-friendly spots andactivities.

Union Square Park, 1 Union Square West

Your kids ages 2-10 will delight in this brand new
playground, tucked away on the Northside of Union Square Park
(which has a fabulous farmer’s market Monday, Wednesday, Friday and
Saturday throughout the entire year). It’s got everything from
scary slides to a sandbox to fun climbing statues and water
elements.

Ellis Island, (212) 363-3200

Hop on the ferry (try to catch the 8 a.m. ferry to avoid
the crowds) and head over to Ellis Island to show your kids how
their ancestors arrived in the United States. It’s a fun,
interactive museum – and you could even pay $5 to look up your own
ancestors. Bonus: The kids will love the ferry ride over, which
offers amazing picture opps.

Museum of Natural History, Central Park West at 79th St., (212)769-5200

It may easily be the best museum in the city for kids andgrown-ups alike. Live out your Jurassic Park fantasy on the 4thfloor by examining the dinosaur fossils, and make sure you posenext to the ginormous Tyrannosaurus Rex. The museum is huge, soplan ahead and figure out which exhibits you want to see, or youcould easily spend an entire day here.

Ray’s Candy Store, 113 Avenue A, (917) 340-7855

The chocolate egg-cream is probably one of New York’s
best drinks. They mix seltzer with milk and chocolate syrup and
it’s heaven. Don’t worry-there are no raw eggs in this drink.

The High Line, 122 Gansevoort St.

It’s a park built on top of an old elevated train, and
you’ll get amazing views. OK, so this is actually pretty touristy,
but your kids will have a great time running around. Bring a lunch
and eat it at one of the many picnic areas, and stop in afterward
for a popsicle at People’s Pops in Chelsea Market, 425 W. 15th
St.

Economy Candy, 108 Rivington St., (212) 254-1531

I may enjoy this spot even more than my 3-year-old does,
if that’s possible. It’s the most classic candy store in the world
(the world being New York City) and it’s filled from top to bottom
with nostalgic candy bars that you may remember from your childhood
(Cracker Jack and candy necklaces were my junior high staples), but
may not be able to find outside of this tiny shop. Leave the
strollers in the hotel for this one, or you’ll get many angry
glares from the other New Yorkers who are trying to fill their
sweet craving in this hole-in-the-wall candy store.

The Strand, 828 Broadway, (212) 473-1452

It’s one of the biggest used bookstores in the world, and
they have a delightful, quiet children’s section tucked in the
corner of the second floor. We stop in here whenever the craziness
of New York gets to be too much for our 3-year-old, who can spend
hours thumbing through the books (and we take turns watching her
and running around the rest of the store to thumb through books in
our favorite sections, too).


Northern Michigan is one of those places where it’s all aboutthe outdoors, from the majestic sand dunes along Lake Michigan to atraditional drive-in movie theater.

The biggest attraction is Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, a
wonder of Mother Nature that has some of the steepest sand dunes
anywhere in the country and some of the clearest water anywhere in
Lake Michigan. Heed the warning signs at the steep dunes off of
Stocking Scenic Drive. The downhill run takes less than a minute,
but the climb back up can take 90 minutes or more and is a
challenge for even the fittest climber.

You also can get to the waterthe easy way-by driving there. We chose the beach at Glen Haven,mostly because it was just up the road from our real destination:Cherry Republic in Glen Arbor. This restaurant, gift shop andcherry mecca celebrates the region’s No. 1 crop with originalcreations, ranging from the cherry chicken salad to the mostamazing hamburger I have ever eaten. Adding cherries to the meatresults in a yummy melt-in-your-mouth burger, although the cherryketchup was a bit much.

In Traverse City, rent bikesto explore the miles of bike trails or simply take a walk along theharbor, then jump on the mini train for a short ride around thelakefront park. Don’t leave town without taking in a Beach Bumsgame. This Frontier League team makes a family outing to a baseballgame fun again.

If your kids have never beento a drive-in movie, head to the Cherry Bowl Drive-In in Honor.It’s the real deal. The snack stand has the look of a 1950soriginal, as do the trailers, ads and shorts that run before themarquee movie. Is this a great way to see a movie? No. But it’s agreat experience. Go on your birthday and the booming voice ofowner Harry Clark will let everyone know-and everyone will honktheir horns to wish you a happy birthday.

Spring break in Traverse City and Northern Michigan

Traverse City and Northern Michigan

Northern Michigan is one of those places where it’s all aboutthe outdoors, from the majestic sand dunes along Lake Michigan to atraditional drive-in movie theater.

The biggest attraction isSleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, a wonder of Mother Naturethat has some of the steepest sand dunes anywhere in the countryand some of the clearest water anywhere in Lake Michigan. Heed thewarning signs at the steep dunes off of Stocking Scenic Drive. Thedownhill run takes less than a minute, but the climb back up cantake 90 minutes or more and is a challenge for even the fittestclimber.

You also can get to the waterthe easy way-by driving there. We chose the beach at Glen Haven,mostly because it was just up the road from our real destination:Cherry Republic in Glen Arbor. This restaurant, gift shop andcherry mecca celebrates the region’s No. 1 crop with originalcreations, ranging from the cherry chicken salad to the mostamazing hamburger I have ever eaten. Adding cherries to the meatresults in a yummy melt-in-your-mouth burger, although the cherryketchup was a bit much.

In Traverse City, rent bikesto explore the miles of bike trails or simply take a walk along theharbor, then jump on the mini train for a short ride around thelakefront park. Don’t leave town without taking in a Beach Bumsgame. This Frontier League team makes a family outing to a baseballgame fun again.

If your kids have never beento a drive-in movie, head to the Cherry Bowl Drive-In in Honor.It’s the real deal. The snack stand has the look of a 1950soriginal, as do the trailers, ads and shorts that run before themarquee movie. Is this a great way to see a movie? No. But it’s agreat experience. Go on your birthday and the booming voice ofowner Harry Clark will let everyone know-and everyone will honktheir horns to wish you a happy birthday.


Winter, the celebrity dolphin from the family blockbuster”Dolphin Tale,” has become Clearwater’s biggest attraction, drawingwaves of families to these Gulf Coast shores a half hour west ofTampa International Airport.

The Clearwater Marine Aquarium is a working marine veterinaryfacility where you’ll see examination rooms, along with plenty ofprops from the Hollywood movie. Kids can also feed stingrays andwatch trainers attach Winter’s prosthetic tail.

But the aquarium is only one of the many things to do inClearwater and neighboring St. Petersburg. Miles of pristine,powdery-soft shores, combined with world-class art museums, havemade this a popular vacation destination.

Our trip, in part courtesy of Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater,visitstpeteclearwater.com, began at the swanky
Sandpearl Resort, located on a magnificent wide stretch of
Clearwater’s white sandy beach. There’s a kid-friendly zero-entry
beachfront pool, soothing spa and complimentary beach cruisers for
a scenic bike ride.

Sandpearl’s on the main drag of Clearwater Beach, where you’llfind hip restaurants, surf shops and sweet spots for dessert. It’salso just a 10-minute walk to Pier 60, where there’s a nightlysunset party.

A half hour south of Clearwater, you’ll find St. Petersburg, orSt. Pete, as locals call it. On your way, stop to eat and stroll atJohn’s Pass, an old-fashioned waterfront boardwalk filled with funrestaurants and funky shops. We grabbed a table at The Hut, had atasty grouper sandwich and drank in the stunning views.

Our home base in St. Pete was TradeWinds Island Grand, asprawling resort with a kids’ club, pirate shows and paddleboatsfor little ones. A three-story beachfront waterslide keeps teensand tweens from retreating to their iPods. There’s also a romanticItalian restaurant for the adults.

If you can tear yourself away from the beautiful beach, you’llfind St. Pete has first-class cultural credentials. The newSalvador Dali Museum, a stunning, geodesic domed glass structure,is a modern masterpiece overlooking the Tampa Bay waterfront. Downthe street is the Museum of Fine Arts and across the street is theChihuly Collection, showcasing the glass artist’s vibrant anddelicate creations (not a good choice for anyone with smallchildren or clumsy family members).

Beautiful beaches, an amazing art scene and Clearwater’s newestcelebrity, Winter the dolphin, make a trip to Central Florida’sGulf Coast a perfect fit for families with culture vultures andbeach bums. You’ll head home in a Sunshine State of mind thathopefully lasts at least until the tulips bloom.

A “Dolphin Tales” trip to Florida

A “Dolphin Tale” trip to Florida

Winter, the celebrity dolphin from the family blockbuster”Dolphin Tale,” has become Clearwater’s biggest attraction, drawingwaves of families to these Gulf Coast shores a half hour west ofTampa International Airport.

The Clearwater Marine Aquarium is a working marine veterinaryfacility where you’ll see examination rooms, along with plenty ofprops from the Hollywood movie. Kids can also feed stingrays andwatch trainers attach Winter’s prosthetic tail.

But the aquarium is only one of the many things to do inClearwater and neighboring St. Petersburg. Miles of pristine,powdery-soft shores, combined with world-class art museums, havemade this a popular vacation destination.

Our trip, in part courtesy of Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater,visitstpeteclearwater.com, began at the swanky
Sandpearl Resort, located on a magnificent wide stretch of
Clearwater’s white sandy beach. There’s a kid-friendly zero-entry
beachfront pool, soothing spa and complimentary beach cruisers for
a scenic bike ride.

Sandpearl’s on the main drag of Clearwater Beach, where you’llfind hip restaurants, surf shops and sweet spots for dessert. It’salso just a 10-minute walk to Pier 60, where there’s a nightlysunset party.

A half hour south of Clearwater, you’ll find St. Petersburg, orSt. Pete, as locals call it. On your way, stop to eat and stroll atJohn’s Pass, an old-fashioned waterfront boardwalk filled with funrestaurants and funky shops. We grabbed a table at The Hut, had atasty grouper sandwich and drank in the stunning views.

Our home base in St. Pete was TradeWinds Island Grand, asprawling resort with a kids’ club, pirate shows and paddleboatsfor little ones. A three-story beachfront waterslide keeps teensand tweens from retreating to their iPods. There’s also a romanticItalian restaurant for the adults.

If you can tear yourself away from the beautiful beach, you’llfind St. Pete has first-class cultural credentials. The newSalvador Dali Museum, a stunning, geodesic domed glass structure,is a modern masterpiece overlooking the Tampa Bay waterfront. Downthe street is the Museum of Fine Arts and across the street is theChihuly Collection, showcasing the glass artist’s vibrant anddelicate creations (not a good choice for anyone with smallchildren or clumsy family members).

Beautiful beaches, an amazing art scene and Clearwater’s newestcelebrity, Winter the dolphin, make a trip to Central Florida’sGulf Coast a perfect fit for families with culture vultures andbeach bums. You’ll head home in a Sunshine State of mind thathopefully lasts at least until the tulips bloom.


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