Free & Cheap in Philadelphia: Once Upon a Nation Storytelling Benches
Kicking off Memorial Day Weekend, on May 25, Philadelphia’s Historic District brings history to life all summer long, putting present-day visitors in touch with the city’s storied Colonial and Revolutionary past. Whether you’re planning a 4th of July getaway steeped in U.S. history, or just a great long weekend in one of America’s most vibrant urban centers, Philadelphia has some fabulously free programs to please every member of your brood.
Once Upon a Nation Storytelling Benches
Speaking of Philly’s “storied” history, Historic Philadelphia’s entertaining and educational Once Upon a National Storytelling Benches program features professional storytellers located at 13 benches around the city’s Historic District, delivering (free!) stories (about three to five minutes long) about the people and events that helped shape U.S. history. Topics include “Balancing Power: The Constitution Creates a Government,” which chronicles how the Constitutional Convention, held in Philadelphia in 1787, debated the then-hypothetical question of how to deal with a U.S. president who commits a crime or starts to behave like a king. Other topics include “Dinner Table Diplomacy: Martha Washington Throws a Party,” and stories about female abolitionists (both white and of color) who worked to abolish slavery, and how Dr. Benjamin Rush taught the Continental Army to stay healthy by changing their socks (!).
13 Points of Interest and Free Activities
The 13 Once Upon a Nation Storytelling Benches are located near some of Philadelphia’s most significant historical landmarks, and children can pick up a (free!) Story Flag at any of the benches, then receive a star for each storyteller they encounter; kids who add all 13 stars to their flag can redeem it for a History Hero Certificate and a (free!) ride on the Parx Liberty Carousel in Franklin Square.
The 13 Once Upon a Nation Storytelling Benches are located at each of the following points of interest, all within the city’s compact Historic District (for a detailed schedule of events, visit historicphiladelphia.org):
- Independence Visitor Center
- Independence Square, behind Independence Hall (hear dramatic readings from the Declaration of Independence at 3:45 on select afternoons)
- Signer's Garden (where kids can learn military drills and musket etiquette)
- Carpenters' Hall
- The Powel House
- Museum of the American Revolution
- Franklin Court
- Christ Church
- Elfreth's Alley
- Betsy Ross House (catch the ceremonial flag-raising each morning at 10am, May 25 to September 2)
- Arch Street Meeting House (meet historians and actors portraying historic figures such as Common Sense author Thomas Paine daily from 11am to 4pm)
- National Constitution Center
- Franklin Square
Guided History Tours
Not free, but worth every penny, two exceptional guided tours will get visitors an in-depth look at two Colonial experiences. Independence After Hours is a 2.5-hour evening walking tour of the Historic District including Colonial characters, a three-course meal at City Tavern, and an evening visit inside Independence Hall, where several Founding Fathers discuss the creation of Declaration of Independence ($85 adults, $55 children 12 and under, $80 senior/military/student). Tippler’s Tour is a Colonial-era pub crawl complete with a tour guide and tales of 18th-century drinking traditions, including a visit to City Tavern ($50 adults, $45 senior/military/students 21 and older).
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10 Places Every Kid Should Visit
Your family has hit the theme parks, the iconic art museums, the baseball stadiums, and national parks. You've done a road trip, walked through Times Square, conquered white-water rapids, and eaten lobster rolls in Maine and barbecue in Texas. And all that's done is kindle your kids' wanderlust. When you're planning your next trip, check out one of these destinations where learning, adventure, and fun are all part of the package. 1. Roam with Dinosaurs in Utah (Kelsey Mcquisten/Dreamstime) “Back in the time when dinosaurs roamed the earth" is a familiar refrain, but until you see the fossils up close, it’s easy to underplay the significance of these near-mythic beasts. A trip to Utah's Dinosaur National Monument (nps.gov/dino/index.htm) gives kids a clear understanding of how very real and astonishing the ancient reptiles were. There are all the standard activities that you’d expect to find in a state known for its outdoorsiness—white-water rafting, fishing, hiking, camping, and hiking in the rugged, remote backcountry. But this 80-acre area, the largest quarry of dinosaur bones in the U.S., features something the kids won’t expect from a National Monument: fossilized bones, many of which are partially exposed and intact, from hundreds of prehistoric creatures embedded in rock formations. As an added bonus, they can get a closer look at dinosaur remains at the Utah Field House of Natural History Museum State Park in Vernal, 20 minutes from the monument. (You can’t miss it from the road—it’s the building with the tremendous stegosaurus outside.) Plan your trip right, and you’ll catch one of town’s seasonal festivals or rodeo celebrations. 2. Study African-American History in Washington D.C. The Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture (nmaahc.si.edu), which opened in September 2016, is the culmination of years of work, from the search for and acquisition of the 35,000 items that make up the collection—many donated by descendants of slaves and slave owners—to the hard-fought Congressional battle for funding, which started when President George W. Bush authorized its construction. Located on the National Mall, the sweeping 400,000-square-foot museum is a chronological telling of centuries of African-American history in the United States—the anguish and the accomplishments. The story starts 70 feet below ground in a dramatic space dedicated to the trans-Atlantic slave trade. The exhibit halls cover slavery, emancipation, segregation, civil rights, and today’s current events, telling stories in text, verse, and images, punctuated with objects like Frederick Douglas’s cane, Nat Turner’s bible, Rosa Parks’s mug shot, and Harriet Tubman’s shawl. The top floors are a celebration of culture and sports, with music video footage and recordings enlivening the space. It’s an American history lesson that the kids will never forget. 3. Dance and Dine in New Orleans (Kenneth D Durden/Dreamstime) If there’s one thing you should know about New Orleans, it’s that there is much, much more to the city than Bourbon Street. Especially for kids. First, there’s the food. Who wouldn’t love to sit under the giant tent that stretches over the tented patio of Café du Monde, the smell of powdered sugar and fried sweets in the air, and indulge in a classic beignet or two. (Parents: there’s a steady supply of the café's famous chicory coffee for you.) Guided excursions that give kids a sense of New Orleans’s legends and fabled past are readily available. Try a voodoo tour or a ride through the swampland for a sense of the myths and folklore that define this town. Then check out the global history on display at the the National World War II Museum (nationalww2museum.org). Among its many interactive exhibits are ones devoted to the D-Day invasion, submarine warfare, and the Nazis' rise to power, plus a 4-D film narrated by Tom Hanks. But you could make the case that the brassy, jazzy music best captures the city’s spirits. Clubs and music halls are not ideal for little ones, but music is everywhere. Small ensembles—heavy on the trumpet and trombone—and solo sax players often spontaneously break out in music on the sidewalk or in parks, and dancing cannot be contained. 4. Head West to a Dude Ranch The legend of the American West is a cornerstone of our country's mythology, and the idea of a dude ranch is the stuff of cowboy fantasies, what with the cattle drives, horseback riding, campfires, and lackadaisical pace. Every child should have a chance to get a glimpse of the day-to-day reality—the duties and pleasures alike—of a rancher in Wyoming, Montana, Arizona, or any of this country’s magnificent western states, a back-to-the-land lifestyle that might even make you forget about your beeping, buzzing, ringing device. All dude ranches are not created equal, though, so it’s important to seek out places that are particularly kid-friendly. The Crossed Sabres Ranch (crossedsabresranch.com) in Cody, Wyoming, eight miles from Yellowstone’s east entrance, features archery, scavenger hunts, Yellowstone tours, and, for aspiring rodeo stars, roping lessons. At Averill’s Flathead Lake Lodge (flatheadlakelodge.com) in Bigfork, Montana, about an hour from Glacier National Park, kids can learn the basics of horse care with a Junior Wrangler program, kayak and swim in the lake, and partake in a mountain steak-fry in the woods, a Wednesday night tradition with live music. 5. Show Some Texas Pride (Island_images/Dreamstime) Remember the Alamo? A visit to the battle site in San Antonio will ensure that kids never forget the historic clash. But now’s a prime time to explore the south Texas city, the seventh largest in the U.S., because 2019 marked its 300th anniversary, so things are livelier than ever. Allow yourself ample time to explore Broadway Cultural Corridor, a two-mile stretch along the San Antonio River that recently underwent a $500 million rejuvenation. You can duck in and out of remarkable sites like the San Antonio Museum, which turns back the clocks with its classical art; the DoSeum (thedoseum.org), an interactive children’s museum; the San Antonio Botanical Gardens (sabot.org), the 50-acre San Antonio Zoo (sazoo.org), and the Witte Museum (wittemuseum.org), an institution that chronicles the Lone Star State’s galvanizing history, from ancient times through today. Kids can dive deeper into the region’s history at the missions, built by Franciscan priests when they arrived in the 1700s. These mini-cities, which collectively make up a UNESCO World Heritage Site, encompassed everything early settlers needed to maintain a self-sufficient community, like chapels and craftsmen’s workshops, and some are still-functioning villages, complete with modest taquerias and public art. 6. Follow the Maple Syrup Trail in Vermont A quintessentially New England industry, the sugar houses and maple-tree forests of Vermont can serve as the keystone of a memorable nature-centric getaway. At many farms, workers head out to the forest to tap the maple trees year-round, and many properties are open to visitors, offering a lesson in the age-old process with guided tours and, of course, plenty of samples. Some are family-run operations, like Sugarbush Farm (sugarbushfarm.com), which has 8,500 trees producing four different grades of syrup, as well as a dairy operation making cheddar cheese. Mitch’s Maples (mitchesmaples.com), a 70-plus-year-old institution, is open year-round, but tours are only offered during the spring. The rest of the year, it’s a popular destination for stocking up on all types of maple candy. Goodrich’s Maple Farm (goodrichmaplefarm.com) is known for its “sugar on snow” parties, part sweet indulgence, part physics lesson. (How else to explain 231-degree sugar caramelizing on contact with snow?) For a deep dive into the science of the process and the history of the industry, make sure you have the town of Rutland, home of the Maple Museum, on the itinerary. 7. Look Up at the Milky Way Cleaning up the planet is the center of many conversations these days, from eliminating single-use plastics and the importance of recycling to green energy and wildlife conservation. But we don’t talk as much about cleaning up the sky. As cities expand, light pollution increases, and to bring greater awareness to the matter, the International Dark-Sky Association (darksky.org) is making great strides in preserving night’s darkness. A nonprofit that raises awareness on the negative impacts of artificial nighttime light on human health and wildlife, it's established Dark Sky Places on five continents. In North America, sites range from national parks and monuments to forests and lakes, some of which have family programs to orient visitors to the celestial landscape. The Astronomy Rangers tour at Bryce Canyon National Park, for instance, promises views of about 7,000 stars on its tour. You don't have to be a kid to be gripped with childlike wonder when confronted with gliding comets and countless stars piercing the darkness. 8. Batter Up and Throw a Left Hook in Louisville (Thomaskelley/Dreamstime) The bourbon boom has increased tourism to Louisville, Kentucky, by millions over the past few years, but there are reasons for kids to visit this vibrant city, too—things that illustrate the deep impact of sports on culture and society. The downtown Louisville Slugger Museum (sluggermuseum.com) greets guests with a 120-foot replica of Babe Ruth’s bat and gives kids a behind-the-scenes peek at the classic American pastime. The destination is a working factory as well as a museum, and families can take a guided, hands-on tour of the production line. There are also batting cages where kids can take a swing and a bat vault that houses about 3,000 models designed over the decades for the league’s most famous players. A few blocks down is a shrine to native son Muhammad Ali (alicenter.org), and it’s as much a sports institution as it is a museum chronicling civil rights in America. It’s compact but jam-packed, so it’s worth reserving a generous chunk of time in your schedule. Look for memorabilia from his boxing career, like his gloves and flamboyant robes, and an elaborate display of his art, plus cuts of interviews and a sitting station where you can watch entire fights on a personal television. Ali's involvement in civil rights, social activism, and anti-war activity as well as his spiritual journey is recounted in photographs and interactive videos. 9. Get in Touch With Your Inner Cowboy and Cowgirl Dating back to 1887, Cheyenne Frontier Days is the second-oldest event in the United States, outdone only by Mardi Gras. For 10 days in July, thousands of people overtake the state capital for an epic event that includes rowdy standoffs between bulls and cowboys, bronco-bucking events in Frontier Park, parades, concerts, and parties. But the grounds are a destination year-round, thanks to the Cheyenne Frontier Days Old West Museum (cfdrodeo.com/cfd-old-west-museum/), which houses a vast and comprehensive collection that defines the old west. Costumes, videos, and artifacts, along with a rodeo hall of fame, tell the history of Frontier Days, while separate exhibits focus on other chapters of western life, like the evolution of covered wagons. Women take the spotlight at the Cowgirls of the West Museum (cowgirlsofthewestmuseum.com), a modest storefront affair that chronicles the many achievements of boundary-blasting western women in the past two centuries. These trailblazers were an integral part of Wyoming's history--as you'd expect from the first state where women were granted the right to vote. 10. Soak Up Science in New York and New Jersey From iconic art palaces like the Guggenheim and the Met to smaller gems spotlighting unique topics, like the history of lighthouses or the public-transit, there’s no shortage of museums in New York City. And if there’s one category that can hold the kiddos' attention for a marathon stretch of the day, it’s the city’s science museums. The most obvious, of course, is the Museum of Natural History (amnh.org), known for its 94-foot-long fiberglass whale and renowned planetarium. But it’s definitely worth making time to visit spots that are a little more far-flung. In Queens, the New York Hall of Science (nysci.org) features exhibits on biology, nature, technology, and physics, plus mini golf and other outdoor activities. There’s a preschool playroom and workshops for older kids. It's located near the Queens Zoo, the Mets’ baseball stadium Citi Field, and the Billie Jean King Tennis center (home to the U.S. Open), so it's easy to make a day of it. Back in Manhattan, the Intrepid Air, Sea & Space Museum (intrepidmuseum.org) is located on a historic aircraft carrier—a WWII fighting vessel and a National Historic Landmark—docked in the Hudson River at Pier 84. Kids can explore the Enterprise space shuttle and the Growler, the only American guided missile submarine open to the public. Virtual visits to the International Space Station are a highlight of the shuttle exhibit. You can also take the PATH train across the Hudson to the increasingly vibrant and hip Jersey City, where the Liberty Science Center (lsc.org) has interactive exhibits on space, wildlife, microbiology, and architecture, plus a high-tech planetarium and lots of climbing space for the little ones.
Batuu is a planet on the Outer Rim of a galaxy far, far away. Ask any Star Wars fan, and she’ll tell you that it’s home to Black Spire Outpost, a place where grifters, adventurers, traders, cheats, and runaways famously take shelter. And starting on May 31, you can get there easily from Disneyland Park in Anaheim, California. Then on August 29, it’ll be just as simple to get there from Disney’s Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida. To Use the Force, Use the App Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is the newest addition to Disney's suite of theme parks, and it promises to be a fantasy land of its own—a wildly high-tech one, no less. The interactive theme park allows for full immersion, thanks in no small part to the Play Disney Parks mobile app, which lets you take part in a variety of escapades familiar to any Star Wars fan (i.e., joining the Resistance, pledging your loyalty to the First Order). Disney's iconic attractions—the whirling cups of Alice's Mad Tea Party, the whimsical boats that cruise through It's a Small World—will never lose their charm, but these new 14-acre lands are, according to the company's statement, “the largest and most technologically advanced single-themed land expansions ever in a Disney Park." Tomorrowland just might seem quaint by comparison. Both the California and Florida parks are opening in two phases. The grand opening will center on the unveiling of Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, a life-size recreation of the renowned spacecraft. Onboard, intrepid visitors will play the part of gunners or flight engineers or even take a seat in the cockpit and steer the “fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy" as it rips through space. Later this year comes the second phase, the debut of Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. Guests will be given an active role in the Rebellion, and, thanks to high-tech tricks, come face-to-face with familiar characters. Take a Piece of the Distant Galaxy Home With You Galaxy's Edge will play host to an expansive marketplace featuring all sorts of merchant stalls and DIY activities. At the Droid Depot, you can select pieces from a conveyor belt to custom-build your own droid. Pre-built droids and droid-inspired products are also for sale. At Savi’s Workshop, you can design and craft your own Lightsaber. Elsewhere in the bustling marketplace is Toydarian Toymaker, a stall full of toys crafted by a Toydarian (the flying alien species first seen in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace) and Dok-Ondar’s Den of Antiques, which specializes in items from the many movies. Drinks to Quench an Intergalactic Thirst Food and drink are also on offer at both parks, including the highly anticipated bar Oga’s Cantina. Cocktails here promise to be out of this world, with creations like the Outer Rim, a jazzed up margarita with a black-salt rim, the Bespin Fizz, a bubbly exotic tipple made with rum and yuzu, and all sorts of spectacle-caliber drinks made with dry ice. Word to the wise: The space, complete with details you’ll recognize from the Cantina in the movie, is relatively small, so factor in time for the wait.
Just when you thought cruise lines couldn’t get any bolder, 2019 and 2020 bring more onboard innovations. Here are our top picks for affordable new cruises to the Caribberan, Mexico, the Mediterranean, and beyond, all starting at less than $200 a night. 1. Carnival Panorama (Courtesy Carnival Cruise Line) Launching in late 2019, this shiny new vessel combines California cool and Carnival’s signature amenities—on a fun and fiesta-filled itinerary along the Mexican Riviera. Sailing out of Long Beach, California, and exploring ports such as Cabo Los Cabos and Puerto Vallarta, guests can enjoy the coastal scenery from both indoor and alfresco spaces. Aside from a new massive trampoline court with a recreation area (a climbing wall, a balance/jousting beam), some passenger favorites are making an encore: Guy’s Pig and Anchor barbecue joint (slow-smoked beef and molasses-baked beans, anyone?), the top-deck bike-in-the-sky ride, and a sports arena with dodgeball, basketball, and black-light glow parties. The most posh accommodations include the exclusive Havana staterooms, with tropical-inspired decor and a private pool area, and the key-carded Harbor staterooms designed specifically for families.Seven-day cruises from $539 per person; carnival.com. 2. Costa Smeralda (Courtesy Costa Cruises) Named after Sardinia’s Emerald Coast, this 6,518-passenger ship (launching in October 2019) is a tribute to all things Italian. Start with a Campari cocktail toast at the three-level, domed Colossea, before heading to one of two piazzas to soak in the panoramic views. Then choose from the 11 on-board restaurants, from a family-style pizzeria to the Laboratoria del Gusto (translation: Taste Lab), where guests can devour their own creations. The cabins are decorated with custom-designed furniture (made in Italy, of course) and photographic murals and graphics inspired by cities such as Milan, Florence, and Rome.Six-day Mediterranean sailings from $444 per person; costacruises.com. 3. MSC Bellissima and MSC Grandiosa (Courtesy MSC Cruises) For some sun and style, MSC Cruises is introducing a pair of ships where passengers can relax and enjoy, just as they do in the sun-soaked Mediterranean. Highlights on the 4,500-passenger MSC Bellissima, debuting in March, include a new voice-enabled artificial intelligence device that acts as a customer-service portal, a magic-themed children’s program, and the HOLA! Tapas bar, in partnership with Michelin-starred Spanish chef Ramon Freixa. Meanwhile, the Grandiosa, much larger at 6,300 passengers, makes her inaugural voyage in October, with a set of never-before-seen Cirque du Soleil shows, a two-deck promenade with a massive LED Skyscreen, and the French-inspired L’Atelier Bistrot lounge.MSC Bellissima’s seven-night cruises from $1,199 per person; seven-night sailings on MSC Grandiosa from $799 per person; msccruisesusa.com. 4. Norwegian Encore (Courtesy Norwegian Cruise Line) The fourth and final ship of the Norwegian Breakaway-Plus class, Norwegian Encore (launching in autumn 2019) offers features similar to those of her sisters—except a notch above on the wow factors. For starters, the race track is larger, and part of it even loops over the side of the ship—not to mention there’s a viewing area for spectators who can shoot laser guns to turbo-boost their favorite drivers. The laser tag course, which spans a good portion of the sun deck, resembles a resurrection of the city of Atlantis, complete with sea creatures and hidden treasures. Meanwhile, the 10,000 square-foot augmented reality complex, Galaxy Pavilion, combines interactive gaming and cutting edge technology. Last but not least, the entertainment roster does nothing short of dazzle: Cyndi Lauper’s Tony Award-winning Kinky Boots takes a lively tour at sea, while UK-based group the Choir of Man performs a variety of genres, from pub tunes to classic rock to folk music, and the Happy Hour Prohibition recreates a New Orleans speakeasy with rip-roaring tales of bootleggers and retro cocktails with a modern bend.Seven-day Eastern Caribbean cruise from Miami from $849; ncl.com. 5. Sky Princess (Courtesy Princess Cruises) The 3,660-passenger Sky Princess (on the sea starting October 2019) reinvents of some of the brands’ signature experiences, bringing fresh and modern spaces and elevating the line's popular venues such as Sabatini’s Italian Trattoria, the classic Crown Grill, and the Salty Dog Pub, known for its Ernesto Burger (a rib-eye and short-rib patty with pork belly, Gruyere, caramelized kimchi, and beer-battered jalapeño). Plus this ship will debut a French bistro with an exclusive menu from Chef Emmanuel Renaut, who runs the three-Michelin-star Flocons de Sel in the French Alps. Stay tuned for more details on a cool jazz lounge featuring music from New Orleans, and the breathtaking Sky Suites, whose 1,102 square-foot balconies are the most spacious at sea—and where you can watch movies on the big screen under the stars.Seven-night Caribbean cruises from $859 per person; Mediterranean cruises from $1,289 per person; princess.com. 6. Looking Ahead... (Courtesy Virgin Voyages) There’s already been a lot of buzz about Virgin Voyages’ Scarlet Lady, even though the launch is more than a year way. That’s probably because Virgin mogul Richard Branson is behind the adults-only ground-breaking vessel—and he’s brought some big-name designers on board (Tom Dixon, Roman and Williams, Concrete Amsterdam, among others) to create thought-provoking, imaginative spaces: retro-futuristic Rockstar Suites, a Korean barbecue restaurant with drinking games, a vegan bar with bold black and white stripes, and terraces with handwoven hammocks. Cabins have mood-lighting and beds that convert to loungers—should you ever find the time to sleep.The Scarlet Lady will sail four- and five-night Havana After Dark itineraries featuring an overnight stay in Havana, Cuba; five-night Mayan Sol voyages to Costa Maya, Mexico; and five-night Dominican Daze voyages to Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. No prices yet; virginvoyages.com.
How to Visit Santa Claus
Yes, Virginia, you can visit Santa Claus. His workshop is not quite at the North Pole, but it sure is close. At the northern end of the Scandinavian Peninsula, in the Artic Circle, Finnish Lapland is home to frozen lakes, beautiful Arctic foxes, wolves, wolverines, and, of course, nearly 200,000 reindeer. And Santa Claus. IS SANTA CLAUS REALLY IN FINNISH LAPLAND? The surprising answer for anyone who has had “the talk,” is yes. Santa Claus Village, in Finnish Lapland’s capital, Rovaniemi, is home to Saint Nick, his elves, a series of Christmas-themed caves, and even a reindeer farm. (Psst: Don’t tell the kids, but reindeer meat is a staple up here.) WHAT DO YOU DO IN FINNISH LAPLAND? Aside from hobnobbing with Santa, the incredible Northern Lights are the main attraction, viewable about 200 nights each year - the native Sami people call the aurora borealis “foxfire,” based on a legend that the lights are caused by an Arctic fox running through the snow. You can also go dog-sledding and skiing. If you visit in summer, you’ll experience one of the most dramatic “midnight suns” on earth. IS FINNISH LAPLAND A POPULAR TRAVEL DESTINATION? You bet, usually for travelers who fly to Helsinki and plan to spend a week or more exploring Finland. But flights from the U.S. to Santa’s workshop in the Finnish Lapland capital, Rovaniemi, start at a relatively reasonable $600 on Finnair. Lodging in Rovaniemi starts well under $150/night.