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6 Secrets for Keeping Kids Happy on Vacation

By Robert Firpo-Cappiello
May 28, 2019
Virginia Beach, Sandbridge Beach, Family
Virginia Beach CVB
Hitting the road with children doesn’t have to be an ordeal. Here, expert advice for the smoothest family vacation yet.

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.

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FamilyTheme Parks

Disneyland Unveils New Annual Pass

Disney is introducing its new Disney Flex Annual Passport for $599 on May 21, which gives access to both the Disneyland and Disney California Adventure theme parks, in Anaheim, California, and comes with a set of benefits and a few rules. Defining “Flex” The Flex Annual Passport can be used with no restrictions from Monday through Thursday every week, when demand is usually lower. Then, during weekends and the high-demand months and holidays, Flex Pass holders must book a reservation via a Disneyland website or its smartphone app. With the Flex Pass, you can visit the theme parks all day or simply stop by for dinner or to take a quick spin on some favorite attractions. It also offers discounts on food, merchandise, special events and guided tours. Blackout Dates It’s worthwhile noting that the pass can’t be used at all during the two weeks around Christmas, and on other blockout dates. It also can’t be used if access to the theme parks, lands, and experiences is restricted or unavailable due to capacity. Prospective visitors should check the calendar of admission dates to see which dates are marked as “Good to Go” so no reservation is required, “Reservation Required” and “Blockout Dates,” where admission is not available. Reservations Reservations can be made up to 30 days in advance, and each Disney Flex Passport can hold two reservations during a 30-day window. It is hoped that with the new pass, guests will have more flexibility in planning their trips to Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, and it will also let the theme parks have crowd control – which will be essential when the much-anticipated Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opens. For further information, please see the Disneyland website here. Get inspired to travel everyday by signing up to Lonely Planet's daily newsletter.

Family

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). For travel inspiration, know-how, deals, and more, sign up for Budget Travel's free e-newsletter.

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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.

FamilyTheme Parks

Travel News: A Sneak Peek at Disney's New Star Wars Lands

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.

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