Fall Weekend Getaways Your Kids Will Love, Too
This article was written by Hallie Lavine and originally appeared on Yahoo Travel.
Now that school’s back in session you can breathe a sigh of relief—and contemplate how to keep the rug rats entertained over long weekends and mini breaks. We’re here to help. These are 10 awesome autumn excursions guaranteed to be educational and fun (for the whole family!).
Even if your kid detests history class, he or she will be enthralled by the Freedom Trail, a 2.5-mile, red brick road that takes you past historic churches, burial grounds, and even Paul Revere’s house so you can learn the story of the American Revolution and beyond. You can explore on your own, or you can take a 90 minute tour led by 18th century costumed guides. (For the easily bored, there’s a Pirates and Patriots version and also a Pub Crawl version.) Tickets are just $12 for adults, $6.50 for children. Once that’s over, it’s a quick walk to the Boston Tea Party Museum, a floating museum that has live actors and interactive exhibits (including allowing your little ones to toss tea into the harbor). Tickets are $25 for adults, $15 for children. If your kids are yearning for more historical re-enactments, drive an hour out of the city for an overnight getaway at Sturbridge Village, an 1830s New England living history museum. Tickets are $24 for adults, $10 for kids. Otherwise, consider the whale watch at the New England Aquarium. You’ll have to shell out a tad more dough at $49 for adults, $33 for children ages 3-11. Or check out the many interactive exhibits at the Boston Children’s Museum. It’s $16 for all ages.
Family space camp
Does your little guy pretend to be Buzz Lightyear? Consider booking the whole family at U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. You’ll go on simulated mission training and operations, learn how rockets are constructed, and get a crash course in on-site space history. One highlight: the 1/6th gravity chair, which simulates walking on the Moon, and the Manned Maneuvering Unit, which simulates astronaut spacewalks outside the shuttle. The jaunt will cost you $449 per person for three days, $499 per person for four days, with meals and lodging included.
There’s no shortage of educational opportunities at this living history museum and historic district, which includes Revolutionary War reenactments, hands on opportunities at brick-making and digging for artifacts, and even dressing up as soldiers or undercover Colonial spies. You can easily spend two days here, then head over to historic Jamestown, which recreates life in the 1607 settlement, or visit one of the three plantations. Seven-day ticket pass for all is $89 for adults and $41 for kids. Balance it out with a day at nearby theme park Busch Gardens, where your littles can participate in the Animal Ambassador program and learn about the lives of critters ranging from eagles to wolves and foxes.
Sleepover at the Smithsonian
Bring your sleeping bag and flashlight and head over to one of three Washington D.C.’s Smithsonian museums—American History Museum, National History Museum, or the National Portrait Gallery—for an evening of entertainment that includes a nocturnal tour, craft activities, and various educational games. At night’s end, you “camp out” in the museum. The cost? $135 per person for kids ages 8-12. The next day, check out the National Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and the National Zoo, where you can say hi to three world famous pandas and stop by the Kid’s Farm, where children can groom donkeys, goats, alpacas, and hogs.
Digging for dinosaur bones
The casino capital of the world also gives a great glimpse of what life was like when dinosaurs roamed the earth. The Las Vegas Natural History Museum boasts a prehistoric life gallery of critters who once roamed the Nevada deserts, including a 35-foot-long Tyrannosaurus Rex that lowers its head and roars, a Triceratops, Ankylosaur, and the giant marine reptile, ichthyosaur. The Nevada state museum offers a Dino summer special through September 20, which features an animatronic Tyrannosaurus rex and Triceratops, a Jurassic Park-style jeep journey through a virtual dinosaur world, and the opportunity to dig up life-sized dinosaur bones. Then hop in a car and drive either to Red Rock Canyon for a hike to check out fossilized Dinosaur tracks, or to Tule Springs to see Ice Age fossil beds—both are less than 20 miles away. Finish up with a visit to the Historical Techatticup Mine, the oldest, richest and most famous gold mine in Southern Nevada and a 45 minute drive from Vegas. ($12.50 for adults, $7.50 for kids.)
Head straight to sea with tickets to San Diego’s USS Midway Museum ($20 adults, $10 kids), a floating city that allows you to walk in the footsteps of 225,000 Midway sailors who served our country. Highlights include over 60 interactive exhibits, like playing on flight simulators and climbing aboard aircraft. Then head on over to the Maritime Museum ($16 adults, $8 children) which includes kid-friendly, seafaring-inspired exhibits. It has one of the world’s biggest collection of historic ships, including the world’s oldest active ship the Star of India, as well as educational excursions such as whale watching. Other non-nautical city highlights: animatronic dinosaurs at TheNAT San Diego Natural History Museum, hands-on science exhibits at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, and the San Diego Air & Space Museum, where kids can dress up as astronauts.
This interactive history park in Indiana ($16 adults, $11 kids) is a recreated 19th-century village on 200 acres. Among its highlights: an autumn headless Horseman ride, Civil War re-enactments, classes in blacksmithing, hearth cooking, and an “Indian camp” where you can recreate living like as Native Americas did 200 years ago. Once you’ve had your fill, drive to the Indiana Transportation Museum and take a spin on one of the vintage railroad trains, or the Children’s Museum in Indianapolis.
Corning Museum of Glass
A perfect East Coast weekend getaway, this museum, located in Corning, New York, in the Finger Lake region upstate, allows your kids to explore 3,500 years of glassmaking history while watching glass come to life during hot-glass demos. They’ll then make their own glass creations from ornaments to night lights. Cost: $18 for kids and adults. Afterwards, since you’re right in the neighborhood, you can pop into the Norman Rockwell Museum, or, if your kids are tuckered out, wake them back up with an invigorating hike on the Haunted History Trail or an apple-tasting tour.
Fun with sea turtles
Nesting season for sea turtles in Florida is May through October, so if you’re planning a trip to the Sunshine State this fall, your kids will love some close-up encounters with these critters. The Little Loggerhead Package at Palm Beach Marriott Singer Island Beach Resort & Spa includes a visit to see the sea turtles at Loggerhead Marinelife Center, while adventurous kids over age 10 can search for turtles and other marine life with the Beginners Dive Package. Acqualina Resort and Spa in Miami offers Acquamarine, a complimentary, marine biology-inspired program for kids which also includes a sea-turtle-based outreach program during the summer and early fall. But if you’re planning a Florida trip after sea turtle season, don’t fret: Acqualina offers its sea learning program all year round, while other hotels such as the Ritz Carlton in Naples has a Nature’s Wonders camp, led by a professional conservationist and featuring 11 aquariums with sharks, crabs, turtles, and eels, as well as a kid-sized lab with microscopes for budding marine biologists. All these programs are stimulating enough that you won’t feel guilty about taking some alone time to lounge poolside.
Safari at Grand Teton National Park
You don’t have to schlep your entire crew to Africa to give your kids the educational experience of a safari. Instead, book a morning or all-day trip through the nonprofit Wildlife Expeditions in Jackson, Wyoming, which offers an introduction to the wildlife of Grand Teton National Park, part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Trained biologists will point out the best viewing spots for Park critters such as elk, moose, big horn sheep, bison, mule deer, foxes, and eagles (You may even be able to see wolves hunting during the winter months!) and give your kids a crash course in ecology and animal behavior. Then, explore on your own with your kids through the park’s Junior Ranger program, where you learn about the natural world of the park on an easy 2-mile hike with a ranger. Resorts like Hotel Terra also offer in-house naturalists who can also organize smaller wildlife safaris or take your family on a nighttime stargazing tour.
Should rental cars have video screens for the kids?
Earlier this year we reported that Avis and Budget adding satellite TV to rental cars. The new in-car live TV Cruisecast service, has 22 channels of satellite TV and 20 satellite radio channels. The cost is $9 a day. We received the following letter from a reader: I was disheartened to read of your "kudos" to this company for promoting the idea of sticking kids in front of video screens on car trips (March, p. 33). As a magazine that celebrates the wonders of travel, I find it troubling that this is being lauded. Don't kids spend enough time in front of screens in their everyday life? Do they really need to miss out on the great sights that a road trip has to offer because they're watching "Hannah Montana" instead? I realize that watching videos on long trips is something that is now a reality for parents, but should Budget Travel be promoting this crutch, instead of encouraging us to allow our children to look out the window, observing the real world in real time? Yes, they may occasionally become bored, but here's where the imagination comes into play—an archaic notion, I confess. Your readers deserve to be reminded of this sentiment much more than Avis Budget Group needs the plug… Thanks for listening, Maureen Block We think that Maureen is probably right and that, in hindsight, perhaps we shouldn't have praised the idea of putting TV screens in rental cars. What do you think?
Family travel: "Stop telling us to pack light!"
An interesting discussion broke out in the comments on our recent post about whether shipping your bags to your destination is smart. It began with this comment from G: Every time there is a post like this, someone chimes in with the useless comment that I should travel lighter. Well, I travel with two car seats, a stroller, two children, two adults and we travel internationally and stay for weeks. We actually come with a few empty bags (to buy the great bargains in the US for my children's feet, especially) but really—a DSLR, three compact cameras, a netbook, a Macbook, a large business required Dell laptop, two Nintendo DS, a bunch of coloring books, dolls and the Kindle (which has lightened my load) as well as chargers and adapters. Do these folks have any idea what it's like to travel as a family?… Diana responded first: Good grief! You don't have to take your whole house. Find other ways to entertain the kids. When I was a kid we would travel 8 hours and all we had to for entertainment was whatever my folks wanted to hear on the radio and looking out windows. B chimed in: I've traveled with 4 children and never needed to take that much. As for the extra suitcases, buy the stuff, pack it in a box and ship it home. G answered back: Gosh, B, shipping it to Germany from Florida would be more expensive than the actual plane tickets. It's $6/lb shipping NY to Germany. [Our stuff is important] because while gone from home for a month plus we need to take family and vacation photos, keep in contact with work, be reachable in emergency (or reach emergency services) allow our kids to be amused on 18+ hour transits, read a book? Maggie wrote: I tried to resist making a comment, but I just can't.… Seriously G, you don't need three computers, four cameras and two DS to take photos, keep in touch with work and amuse the kids. And I am speaking from experience in traveling internationally with two adults and two children. Mike F. spoke up: "G" needs to rethink his/her travel method, a lot of that stuff really is unneeded. 3 cameras ? Can't people share the camera ? I have been travelling with one carryon & 1 personal bag for many years, domestically, to the caribbean, and if you are smart about packing only what you will need you'll be fine. I'm a gadget nut & love my electronics, but people need to experience and look at the place they're going to, interact with real people & events there, & not be glued to a computer/nintendo/etc. That's the whole point of travel! If you need email, web, etc, get a smart phone, leave the computer at home. You can buy /rent things you didnt bring at wherever you go, if you really need to. Ernest pointed out: When we were growing up, my parents had a strict "carry-on only" rule for themselves and the five of us kids. So we never checked any bags, even on long European trips. If we couldn't carry it on the plane, then we couldn't take it. Simple. M agreed: G - I'm agog that you need three computers and three cameras, two nintendos, and two carseats, plus the extras you noted. I can understand one computer and one camera, but triplicate? Do the children need to be entertained by electronics, especially one who's young enough for a stroller? Car rental companies rent car seats, and strollers can be inexpensively purchased at your destination and then left with the relatives you mentioned. If you're willing to pay all the fees and charges associated with the excess baggage (and that's *not* a snide comment), then more power to you. My family's rules? One carry on per person, no matter how many adults, children, babies, teens, seniors are traveling. What do you think? We don't want to pick on G, who is on an extended, super-sized trip with his family and may have unusual needs. But more broadly… Is "packing light" reasonable advice for families? Or is it unrealistic?
Family travel: Switzerland trains for half price
If you have a family trip to Switzerland planned in the next six months, now's the time to book train travel: until April 27, select Swiss rail passes are 50 percent off for any two adults traveling with children. The deal, from Rail Europe, Swiss Travel System, and Switzerland Tourism, applies to the Swiss Pass, valid for eight consecutive days of travel, and the Swiss Flexi Pass, valid for any three days of travel within a month. Half-off rates for the Swiss Pass start at $193 per person for second class, and rates for the Swiss Flexi Pass start at $128 per person for second class. Kids up to age 16 ride free under the Swiss Family Card. The passes are good for unlimited travel on the country's super-accessible network of trains, boats, and postal buses—basically THE way to get around there—and all include free access to more than 400 museums in Switzerland (for kids, too). The passes must be used within six months of purchase. Also included in the Switzerland Family Rail Sale: • One free adult ticket for travel from Alpnachstad or Kriens to Mount Pilatus—a.k.a. the Golden Round Trip experience—by boat, gondola, and the world's steepest cogwheel railway (the second adult gets 50 percent off under the regular discount for rail-pass holders, and kids travel free under the Swiss Family Card). • One fast baggage voucher, good for two pieces of luggage, offering baggage transfers between 45 train stations in Switzerland. • One voucher for two people on the country's longest summer tobogganing run—over 4,400 feet long—at the foot of Mount Pilatus. And starting May 3, visitors to raileurope.com can enter a sweepstakes to win, among other things, a grand-prize trip to Switzerland including round-trip airfare for two from the U.S., two 8-day Swiss rail passes, and six nights' accommodations. DETAILS: Switzerland Family Rail Sale Golden Round Trip Mount Pilatus
London: On our radar, a new exhibit to entertain the kids
Entertaining children during a London vacation is easy the first few days because they'll be fascinated by the castles, redcoat soldiers, and Harry Potter-like street signs. But by day three, you may need to come up with some new surprises. So you'll be glad to know that this week Britain's Natural History Museum opened up a kid-friendly exhibition: The Deep gives visitors a glimpse of the abysmal ocean depths—regions of our planet, which have been less visited by humans than outer space. Exhibits include ultra-rare specimens brought up from the deep by the HMS Challenger expedition: like shimmering jellyfish, angler fish with whisker-like organs longer than their bodies, ten-foot wide spider crabs, and a replica of a colossal giant squid. There's a huge Sperm Whale skeleton, too, which has never been exhibited before. Kids may particularly like a life-size model of the steel-hulled bathysphere submersible used to explore the abyssal plains and trenches. There are a host of interactive displays, games, and short movies to educate and entertain your kids. Tickets, $12. Open through the summer until September 4, nhm.ac.uk MORE Budget Travel's top picks for London hotels