10 American Fall Festivals Every Traveler Should Experience
1. THE GREAT JACK O’LANTERN BLAZE
September 28-November 24, 2018; $27 adults, $20 children; hudsonvalley.org
More than 7,000 wickedly designed, hand-carved pumpkins light up the grounds of Van Cortlandt Manor, a historic estate just outside New York City. Stroll through a stunning maze of Insta-worthy pumpkin art: intricate spider webs, flying ghosts and creepy skeletons, and of course the Headless Horseman. This year’s festival pays tribute to Ichabod Crane’s Sleepy Hollow and features a Medieval Castle, the Pumpkin Zee Bridge and a pumpkin carousel. Make sure to grab a fall treat: Apple cider donuts, fresh popcorn and pumpkin beer are for sale.
2. FALL FEST AT LINCOLN PARK ZOO
Weekends, September 28-October 28 and October 8; free admission; lpzoo.org
Get wild with the animals as the Lincoln Park Zoo gets the fall treatment with activities throughout the park including a pumpkin patch, corn maze, and pumpkin carving. Kids can tackle the bouncy houses, ride the Ferris wheel and the tractor-themed carousel, or take on the giant burlap slide. Join the Halloween festivities at the Annual Spooky Zoo Spectacular on October 28 with trick or treating, a haunted house, and arts-and-crafts.
3. DIA DE LOS MUERTOS (DAY OF THE DEAD)
Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Los Angeles
October 26-27, $25; ladayofthedead.com
This fall holiday, with its traditional colorful skulls and white faces, is often confused for Mexican Halloween. Instead, it’s a celebration of friends and family who have died, with festivities held in a cemetery. This year’s gathering honors Coatlicue, the Aztec mother of the gods, with traditional Aztec blessings, ritual dancers in full costume, music, and theatrical performances. Check out more than 100 altars created by the local community on display, the art exhibition, and the arts and crafts for sale.
October 5-6, 12-13, 19-20; $8; deutscheshaus.org
NOLA is a city that likes to party, so it’s no surprise that their Oktoberfest is wunderbar. Feast on traditional German food including brats, schnitzel, Bavarian pretzels, or try one of 20 German beers and schnapps. Then get your groove on with traditional Oompa music and some good old-fashioned chicken dancing. Dachshund races and a schnauzer parade and costume contest are adorable must-sees.
5. HARVEST FESTIVAL AT EL RANCHO DE LAS GOLONDRINAS
334 Los Pinos Road, Santa Fe, NM
October 6-7; $8; golondrinas.org
Called the “Williamsburg of the South,” this 200-acre living history museum dedicated to the history of 18th- and 19th-century New Mexico offers a hands-on fall fiesta, Southwest-style. Join villagers dressed in period clothing as you stomp grapes for wine or press apples for cider, string chile ristras and roll handmade tortillas. There’s also pumpkin picking, mule-drawn wagon rides, traditional music and dance, and a market offering New Mexican crafts.
6. SCARECROW HARVEST
Milton Ave, Alpharetta, GA
September 29; free admission; alpharetta.ga.us
The scarecrow gets major props in this Atlanta suburb when more than 120 of the colorful, life-size strawmen line the downtown streets. Pose with your favorite bird scarer, created by local students, businesses, and families, then boogie to live country music, chow down on barbecue, and let the kids enjoy the hayrides, bouncy houses, face painting, and storytelling.
7. AUTUMN AT THE ARBORETUM
Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Gardens, Dallas
September 22-October 21, 2018; $15; dallasarboretum.org
Pumpkins, pumpkins everywhere — an astounding 90,000 of them — make up the amazing Peter Pan-themed village at the Arboretum. Pumpkin-created scenes include Tinker Bell’s home, the house of the Darlings, the Lost Boys’ hideout, and Captain Hook’s pirate ship. Don’t miss the Halloween bash on October 27-28 with trick-or-treating, face painting, a petting zoo, and appearances by the Neverland characters.
8. NATIONAL APPLE HARVEST FESTIVAL
October 6-7, 13-14, 2018, $10; appleharvest.com
Just outside Gettysburg is Pennsylvania apple country, where more than 35 varieties of the fruit are grown. Sample as many as you can at this sweet festival, plus cider, apple sauces, jellies, pies, pancakes, sweets, and more. Tour the orchards, then check out more than 300 crafts vendors and the antique car and steam engine collection. There’s also live music and dancing, hay rides, a petting zoo, and pony rides.
9. SNALLYGASTER BEASTLY BEER JAMBOREE
October 13, 2018; $40; snallygasterdc.com
Cheers to beers! Lift up your glass as 120 of the world’s best breweries serve up more than 350 small-batch craft beers and ciders, including American and international brews, cask ales and Franconian lager, locally brewed beers, and more. Bring the kids: This is a family event with live music and food trucks plus face painting, temporary tattoos, and games. Proceeds from the event help support Arcadia, a nonprofit dedicated to creating a local food system in the D.C. area.
10. THE GREAT MISSISSIPPI RIVER BALLOON RACE
October 19-21, 2018, $35 for the full event; natchezballoonrace.com
From the grounds of a historic Antebellum home, more than 60 colorful hot air balloons take to the skies over a beautiful backdrop of the Mississippi River. Brave souls can go for a short ride, the rest of us can watch one of the daily races from the ground. Enjoy live music, Southern craft brews, carnival rides and games, arts and crafts, and German-style food.
As a child, I looked forward to flying alone from Florida to New York for the summer. It meant a few blissful weeks spent with cousins I rarely saw, and precious time with my grandparents, who I knew would be waiting for me at the gate. This year, I put my own children, ages 6 and 9, on a plane by themselves to see their grandparents. Getting them on the two-hour flight was relatively easy; waiting for them to land took a bigger toll on my nerves. But they arrived safely, and yours will too. Here’s what to expect when your child is flying alone domestically: WHO’S A “MINOR”? Airlines generally consider a minor to be between the ages of 5 and 14. Some airlines, like Southwest and Alaska, cap the age at 12, but you can request and pay for unaccompanied minor status for your older child regardless. SOLO FLIGHTS FOR KIDS ARE PRICIER That solo flight is not cheap. Every airline adds a surcharge. Some are relatively small: Southwest charges $50 per flight, per child, or $100 round trip. JetBlue’s program costs $100 per child, per flight, or $200 round trip. EACH AIRLINE HAS A SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT POLICY You will book the flight differently on all airlines. Delta is unique in that you book the flight by phone using their Unaccompanied Minor phone line, which adds a level of comfort knowing there is a dedicated support staff for your questions. Most other airlines allow you to book the flight online; you just indicate the child is flying alone when prompted for the status of the passenger (adult or child) or when prompted for the passenger’s birthday. AIRLINES DO THEIR BEST TO KEEP YOUR KID SAFE You tell the airline in advance who will be dropping off and picking up your child, and ticketing agents ID the designated adult on both ends to let them through security and to the gate. (Unfortunately, they often only let one adult through.) The airlines will also give your child a bracelet or lanyard to indicate they’re unaccompanied, along with an envelope with their flight details. The flight crew typically places unaccompanied minors in the front of the plane to keep an eye on them, but prepare your child to be on his or her own during the flight and to go to by alone to the bathroom or ask for help if needed. A WELL-PACKED CARRY-ON WILL KEEP YOUR KID HAPPY Pack books and games to keep your child occupied and happy, and if you’re sending them with a tablet, charge it and/or pack a charged external battery. Buy food at the airport in case there is no substantial meal on the flight. Be sure to point out where they should place their envelope with all of their flight details, and include a list of important phone numbers just in case. And show them what’s in their carry-on before you say goodbye. BE PREPARED FOR A LONG TRAVEL DAY It will take a lot of time. You and the adult on the other end will be meeting your child at the gate, which means you’ll have to go through security both times. On the departure end, you’ll arrive at least an hour before just as if you were flying and you’ll need to stay until the plane is in the air, so don’t expect a quick goodbye. On the arrival end, allow at least 30 minutes to park and get to the gate, more if you’re in a major airport. CHECK THE FLIGHT ARRIVAL BOARD OFTEN Arrival gates change, and you could be waiting at the wrong one when your child deplanes. SOME INTERNATIONAL AND CONNECTING FLIGHTS DON’T ALLOW SOLO KIDS Each airline treats these cases a bit differently, so read each airline’s FAQs carefully. DON’T DOWNPLAY THE EMOTIONAL IMPACT OF SAYING GOODBYE Letting your child fly alone might be harder than you imagined. My daughter clung to me before her flight, my son didn’t even wave goodbye. And until they landed safely, my stomach was in knots because my most precious cargo was out of my hands, high in the air. It can be terrifying if you think of it this way. So try not to. Send them to the family members they rarely see. You’ll be forging lasting memories—and an early sense of independence. LEARN MORE Visit each of the major U.S. airlines’ websites for more information on their unaccompanied minor programs.
6 Secrets for Keeping Kids Happy on Vacation
One in four American families will take three or more vadations in 2018, according to data from AAA. Furthermore, more than 70 percent of traveling families will be seeking new experiences, including places none of them has ever visited before. That’s a lot of families hitting the road and a lot of kids finding themselves in totally new surroundings. If that sounds potentially stressful for traveling parents, you’re right. With summer travel season approaching quickly, we caught up with Katherine Firestone, founder of the Fireborn Institute, a non-profit that provides parents with clear, practical, and easy-to-remember strategies to help their children thrive in school (both socially and academically). Here, her top tips for navigating family travel challenges. 1. LET KIDS BE KIDS Kids look forward to vacation just as much as you do, but they often have a completely different to-do list. “Kids have plans,” says Firestone, “and they may include more time to hang out with friends, play, read, or chill with movies.” Does that mean you have to hand over your entire vacation schedule to your little ones? Of course not. “But if there are too many travel plans, kids may feel like they don’t get to do their thing.” 2. KEEP THEM FED AND RESTED Feeding your kids and making sure they get plenty of rest is not exactly an alien concept to most parents, but those healthy daily routines sometimes fly right out the window once the family leaves the familiar environment of home. “Keep your children well fed, give them plenty of opportunities to slept, and keep them on a schedule,” says Firestone. That can mean packing healthy snacks to keep blood sugar stable, and some treats for the moments when a few, say, Oreos are the difference between a meltdown and a patient wait on line for the Haunted Mansion. And in those moments when an expected eating or sleeping schedule is unavoidably altered by vacation, let kids know what’s happening. “When your plane is about to land, talk to your kids about how you may have to wait for a rental car, check into a hotel - prepare them for the waits.” 3. PLAN YOUR DAYS “Have activities already scheduled,” Firestone says, to avoid too much unfocused downtime, which can be surprisingly stressful for kids of all ages. “You can still stay spontaneous, but you don’t want to be making up too much on the fly.” But, don’t forget to… 4. SCHEDULE DOWNTIME As mentioned above, kids want to be kids. Overscheduling on vacation can be just as stressful as unfocused downtime. “Build some downtime into each day. Kids love reading, playing, snuggling, napping, and TV, and older kids may want to be in touch with friends on their smartphones,” says Firestone. Some vacations even call for entire days of, say, relaxing on the beach or in a park, and they can often be just as memorable as the hectic theme-park and museum visits. 5. PACK SURPRISES Whether you’re traveling with a toddler prone to meltdowns or a teenager prone to angst and ennui, it will help to bring along some distractions. “Pack surprises - treats, toys, games. Especially if you know of a difficult stretch of your trip in advance, such as long plane rides, road trips, or long lines at popular attractions, have something ready." 6. ANTICIPATE ANXIETY Parents, teachers, and doctors are seeing rising rates of anxiety among children across the U.S. Pretending anxiety isn’t going to interfere with your vacation is like pretending ants won’t invite themselves to your picnic - especially if you’re taking your kids to a completely new destination, or one where crowds, loud noises, and long lines are common. “Plan for it,” says Firestone. “Talk about anxiety ahead of time and brainstorm solutions together. Have your child name what may be causing their anxiety, talk about signs that anxiety is affecting them, such as clenched teeth or a tummy ache.” Firestone also points out that saying, “Calm down!” never helped anyone, parent or child, to actually calm down. Instead, validate their anxiety, and encourage your child to take deep, relaxing breaths. Firestone also recommends “cognitive distractions” such as reading, puzzles, Mad Libs, and other activities that engage the brain.
Baby's First California Road Trip
From miles of sand in the south to rocky coastal cliffs in the north, from the highest point in the continental United States to the lowest point in North America, California is the go-to place for adventure seekers and laid-back vacationers alike, no matter the season. But it was the wintertime that called me, a time when I could indulge my kind of adventure: desert camping. California has three main deserts: the Colorado, The Great Basin, and the Mojave. While winter nights in the desert can certainly be cold and windy, daytime temperatures are perfect for hiking and exploring the varying environments: sand dunes to high mountain peaks; bouldering to hot springs soaking. Oh, and one more thing you should know: My husband and I went camping in the California desert with our eight-month-old daughter. THE PLAN: HITTING THE CALIFORNIA ROAD Seven years ago, I hiked and camped around the US for a couple months with my then fiancé, Will, and one of our stops included Death Valley. It was September and the heat was intense enough to keep us from exploring much. We spent one night in our underwear out under the stars, drinking whiskey and playing card games well into the morning hours. Leaving before the sun was too hot and stopping along the way at Badwater Basin and the Devil’s Golf Course, we vowed to come back in December one year for Will’s birthday. We spent less than 24 hours in Death Valley, and yet it has remained ingrained in our souls; it's a place that inspires and sits with you. Seven years, a marriage, and a baby, later, I bought us plane tickets on a whim and decided to surprise Will for his birthday. Although he’s an outdoorsy type who loves to travel, I knew that if I presented the idea of this trip, he'd say no and give me a variety of valid reasons. None of them would be enough to sway me. I didn't say a word until two weeks before we left. Excitement got the best of me and I let it slip. And so there we were, with our atlas laid out on the kitchen table, planning the route. We'd spend a night in Vegas, and then make our way to Death Valley. From there, we'd drive to the Mojave National Preserve, Joshua Tree National Park, and finally the Imperial Sand Dunes at the very bottom of California. I found a small start-up company in Las Vegas that rents camping gear, Basecamp Outdoor Gear. We anxiously marked off days, itching to get out there and explore. On a chilly December night, we met Basecamp’s owners, Joy and Niko, in a parking lot at the Excalibur. They brought to us two bins of supplies: a tent, sleeping bags and pads, chairs, a stove, backpacks, and headlamps. We felt adventurous; we imagined ourselves seasoned parents, ready to take it on. In truth, we had no idea what would happen. Eve, our eight-month-old daughter, slept about an hour in the last 21. She’s used to her nighttime routine: a bath and a massage with oils, followed by stories and rocking and a gentle drift-off into sleep, all beginning promptly at 6PM. She thrives on that routine, yet here we were, meeting strangers in a dark parking garage at 10:30PM local time. Routine? Nope. Winging it? Yep. FIRST STOP: DEATH VALLEY After a night of fitful sleep in a hotel that houses a casino full of drunken gamblers, we fueled up and hit the road. First stop: our beloved Death Valley. While Eve slept soundly in her carseat, we entered the park by way of Death Valley Junction, and took our time descending into the valley, stopping to feed Eve with a view of Telescope Peak, which at 11,043 feet is the highest point in Death Valley. We set off exploring until the sun set in rays of pinks and oranges across the valley floor and arrived at our camping spot just as the full moon rose. It was chilly, but we were bundled up and happy. After tucking Eve into her sleeping bag, I joined Will outside and we chatted about how easygoing Eve was just two days in, despite the change in her routine. Things were good. The wind proved to be unsparing, and we spent that first night shielding Eve from the sand. We awoke with our faces rimmed in dust, our nostrils caked and tongues gritty, but Eve was smiling and unfazed, and so off we set to hike the sand dunes at sunrise. In all, we spent three days exploring and hiking, before taking a slow, meandering route southeast to the Mojave Preserve. WHAT TO KNOW: Entrance fee to Death Valley is $25. Have a few days? Drive through the park in sections, stopping at every drive and hike available off the main roads. Dante's View is especially exceptional; there's a hiking trail from the parking lot and unparalleled views of the valley floor 5,475 feet below. There are camping grounds and four lodging options within the park. We stayed at Stovepipe Wells campgrounds ($14) for its proximity to the sand dunes, but there are eight other designated campgrounds. NEXT STOP: MOJAVE NATIONAL PRESERVE Driving around this area allows one to fully comprehend the enormity of California. You can drive for hours and nothing changes; the expansive landscape makes you feel small in the way that only nature does and can. When we arrived at the Mojave in the early afternoon, the sun was descending, casting long shadows of the joshua trees, juniper, mesquite and cacti. We camped under a still very full moon and hiked around the Kelso Dunes the next morning. Eve was already a road trip pro. She slept soundly through the night (a first) and was perfectly content on the road, but she was happiest in the carrier, peeking over our shoulders and taking in the desert landscape. WHAT TO KNOW: Hole in the Wall campground ($12): Bring your own water and be prepared for nighttime wind. Leave time to explore the nearby Kelso Dunes and Kelso Ghost Town. Hikes like Teutonia Peak (elevation 5,754 feet) passes through the world's densest Joshua Tree forest. If you’re just passing through, consider driving the I-15 Scenic Detour, where you’ll pass cinder cones and lava flows on your way to the Kelso Dunes. If you’re staying a few days, there are 13 designated hiking trails to choose from, varying in length and intensity. THIRD STOP: JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK We hadn’t given Joshua Tree much thought before our trip, even though we hadn’t been there before. We weren’t planning to stay longer than a day, and we definitely were not prepared for how much we'd both love it. In contrast to Death Valley, the largest national park in the continental US, this park is very manageable. We stayed two days, taking turns carrying Eve on our back while hiking, rock scrambling, and roaming around larger-than-life rock piles scattered throughout the park. Eve continued to be an incredible first-time adventure buddy, even getting excited when we’d pull out the carrier. Planning her naps was easy, as she’d sleep in the carrier or car. Yes, our first road trip may have been simpler without the responsibility of parenting, but the differences in the two trips were actually negligible. My twenty-something self might have been bored at the idea of taking a baby on a road trip, but thirty-something, new-parent me thoroughly enjoyed it. A sucker for a good ruin, we ventured to the old Ryan ranch and imagined what it must have been like to be a settler. We camped at Jumbo Rocks ($15 per night), adjacent to Skull Rock Trail, an easy loop trail that meanders through boulder canyons and lined with jojoba, mesquite and other hardy desert plants. The trail showcases the geological marvel that is Joshua Tree National Park, a parcel of land two billion years in the making. One night while Eve was sleeping, Will and I scrambled up an enormous boulder that abutted our tent, listening as the moonlit desert came alive. WHAT TO KNOW: Entrance fee is $25. There are eight campgrounds. Some, like Jumbo Rocks, are first come, first serve. Make sure to check out the Cholla Cactus Garden, an otherworldly gathering of cholla cactus. Joshua Tree has a number of great hikes and bouldering and rock climbing opportunities. Make time to hike Ryan Mountain (elevation 5,457 ft), and if you are strapped on time, venture to the top of Keys View for equally unparalleled views of Coachella Valley and the Santa Rosa mountains. LAST STOP: IMPERIAL SAND DUNES From Joshua Tree, we meandered down Highway 111, past the Salton Sea and on toward the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreational Area. Hiking in the sand is a good workout; it's akin to moving in deep snow, and after three hours in the car, it felt good to move. At the top of our chosen sand dune, we were rewarded with a spectacular mid-day view: shadowed peaks against bright walls of sand stretched out before us. There were no trees and seemingly no animals. We were alone. Voices became muted, and the sun was unyielding and harsh. It’s an experience hard to come at home in New England, and we relished in it. WHAT TO KNOW: The Imperial Sand Dunes aren't limited to hikes. There are ATV, dune buggy, and dirt bike rentals in Yuma, Arizona and Ocotillo, California. A number of films were made here, including "The Return of the Jedi," "Jarhead," and "The Men Who Stare at Goats," and it's easy to see why: walking around under the desert sun felt uncannily like a movie set. There are camping areas that are free as part of the Bureau of Land Management (public land). Bring your own water, campgrounds are primitive. There are also multiple campsites on Gecko Road, off of Highway 78. ON THE ROAD AGAIN, AGAIN We had planned on staying the night there, but the road trip bug bit us, so we loaded up and turned east toward Arizona. Our previous road trip was life-changing; it set a course of adventure for our relationship. Having a baby with us this go-around was simple, and felt remarkably like it had the first time. Later, when we pulled into the Grand Canyon, I glanced over at Will who was on his phone. He was switching between two browsers, one site for seasonal jobs and the other for used campervans. I smiled; I had kept this trip a secret so he wouldn’t find reasons to say no. Now, here he was actively figuring out how we could make this a lifestyle. The open road does things to you; for Will, it gives him a freedom and happiness he doesn’t feel anywhere else, and Eve’s squeals of delight in the backseat let me know she was happiest out here, too. It’s the same for me. This trip was meant as a birthday surprise, but as road trips usually do, it turned into something more: an affirmation of sorts, on how we wanted to live our lives and raise our daughter. This trip may have been a short ten days, but if our previous experience taught us anything, it will have a lasting impact. Who knows, we just might even find ourselves out here again, indefinitely.
Save Big During “Learn to Ski & Snowboard Month”
New England. The Rocky Mountains. The Sierra Nevadas. Is this the year you finally learn to ski? January is Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month, and nearly 70 ski areas across the U.S. are offering specials to get beginners up on their skis and down the mountains. Research from the National Ski Areas Association suggests that beginning skiers often take up the sport because it allows them to spend time with friends and family. Does that sound like you? This year, beginner packages at participating ski areas typically include one to four lessons (depending on the location), a lift ticket, and rental gear. Here, we’ve rounded up some of the best beginner deals - all well under $100 - happening this month across the country. ROCKY MOUNTAINS SKI DEALS FROM $49 An array of Ski Utah resorts are offering beginner packages starting at $49, including lift ticket, beginner group lesson, and equipment rental for children and adults, with some blackout dates and restrictions. Participating resorts include Eagle Point (voted Utah’s best beginner ski resort by Liftopia), Deer Valley, Powder Mountain, Snowbasin, Solitude, and Sundance. At Idaho’s Silver Mountain, purchasing a $56 lift ticket (or a $41 youth ticket) nabs you a free beginner group lessons and equipment rental package. SIERRA NEVADA SKI DEALS FROM $49 Diamond Peak, Nevada, offers Learn to Ski & Ride packages for $49 from Monday January 22 through Thursday January 25 for ages seven to adult, including a beginner lift ticket, rental equipment, and a one-hour and 45-minute lesson. (There’s also a two-hour package for kids ages four to six.)Snow Valley, California, celebrating its 80th year, offers a Buy One Get One Free Beginner Lesson for ages 13 and up for $74, including a beginner area lift ticket, two-hour group ski or snowboard lesson, and equipment rental, valid Monday through Friday except holidays. ALASKA SKI DEALS FROM $44 Eaglecrest offers a mid-week Learn to Ski or Ride Package for $44 for ages seven to adult, including a two-hour lesson, lift ticket, and equipment rental. Weekend beginner package are $54. NEW ENGLAND SKI DEALS FROM $39 New Hampshire boasts nine ski resorts (Attitash, Bretton Woods, Cannon, Carnmore, Granite Gorge, King Pine, Pat’s Peak, Ragged Mountain, and Waterville Valley) with deals via Ski New Hampshire’s beginner package, including a lesson lift ticket, and rentals. Ski New Hampshire is also hosting a learn to ski and snowboard weekend January 27 and 28. Ski Vermont has organized a beginner program that includes Bolton Valley, Bromley, Burke, Killington, Mt. Snow, Pico, Okemo, Smuggler’s Notch, Stratton, and Sugarbush, offering $49 packages that include a lesson, lift ticket, and rentals. And Vermont’s Bring a Friend, Ski FREE!! Program is valid through March 25: When a beginner purchases a First Time Ski & Ride package, a friend or family member gets a free lift ticket valid for that same day. MID-ATLANTIC SKI DEALS FROM $25 Guess which state has the most ski areas? Wrong. It’s New York. This winter, the Empire State is hosting Discover NY Ski Day on January 18, with beginner ski packages starting at $25 all around the state. Other special offers are available at New York’s Bellaeyre, Holliday Valley, Hunter, Mt. Peter, Snow Ridge, Swain, and West Mountain.Pennsylvania’s PSAA First Time Program offers a $59 lesson, lift ticket, and rental equipment at participating ski areas, plus Learn to Ski and Snowboard/Bring a Friend special offers at Bear Creek, Blue Mountain, Jack Frost/Big Boulder, Liberty, Roundup, Shawnee, Ski Big Bear, and Whitetail.