Disney on a Diet

Families with health on the mind can now expect an increase in health food options at the Walt Disney World theme parks. Both the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida and Disneyland in California will be affected by the CEO's decision to create new food health guidelines.

Disney is framing their decision as a way to offer kids and parents healthy foods, with an understanding that kids associate theme parks with fun, so it'll be a prime opportunity to encourage healthy eating habits. This isn't just good news for kids. It's also good for any group traveling together to know they can get apple sauce or carrots instead of fries on the side. The healthy food changes will unfold over the next few years. With America's obesity high, this is good news.

My speculation on what's next for Disney: Putting park visitors on treadmills or giving them weights to lift while waiting in ride lines. How about yoga with Winnie the Pooh? Or stretching with Goofy? Healthy food is just the beginning, in my opinion. With Disney's budget and influence, think of the impact they could make on healthy habits of Americans.

Source: TravelMole

 


Orlando: Florida's Magical Mecca

For families, reunions, weddings, group getaways, and more, Orlando rolls out its magical red carpet for every guest. Castles, fireworks, movie sets, water parks, shows, roller coasters, world-class theme parks and rides, golf, and romantic activities all await Orlando's visitors. As one of the most popular worldwide travel destinations, this sunny city delivers fun on a silver platter, but not necessarily out of budget. There are several affordable ways to enjoy the attractions and activities that make Orlando a year-round playground.

Top Attractions

Theme parks enchant every kid and the kid in everyone.

Orlando_disney_magic_kingdom_castle_3Walt Disney World Resort
Step foot on this quandrant of theme parks and walk into fairytales and animal kingdoms, parades of Disney characters, and entertainment variety for every member of the group. Downtown Disney is where the nightlife happens with Cirque du Soleil, restaurants, dance clubs, and shopping. Weddings are organized at Disney hotels and parks through Disney's Fairytale Weddings and Honeymoons. The four theme parks are world-renowned for blurring lines between dreams and reality, tales and non-fiction, and making the movies, characters, and world of Disney come to life with whimsy, rides, and a bit of pixie dust.

  • At Epcot, Disney proves it's a small world after all with food from numerous countries along walkway of the World Showcase Lagoon. As dusk settles, get ready for the fireworks display while enjoying desserts from Bavaria, Morocco, France, Japan, China, or any other country. Epcot is also home to rides like Mission: SPACE and Nemo and Friends.
  • Disney's Animal Kingdom Park is a world apart from the other theme parks with a safari ride that goes outside to desert areas for guests to view zebras, giraffes, and other African creatures. The flavor of this park is nature, with a Lion King parade, and more.
  • Disney-MGM Studios is a walk down Hollywood Boulevard, with an Indiana Jones show, Disney studio tour, and movie glitz all around. Great for adults as well as kids, this park would be ideal for girls getaways or wedding parties.
  • Magic Kingdom is the classic Disney theme park, complete with Cinderella's castle (ideal for group photo ops). This park's parade tops all theme parks and is where toddlers and young children get wide-eyed with glee when meeting Pooh, Piglet and all the A.A. Milne's characters, along with Snow White, Goofey, the Seven Dwarves, and the rest of the Disney characters. Relive your childhood and watch kids' faces light up at this quintessential Disney park.

Orlando_universal_studios_hulk_coasterUniversal Orlando
Stroll around Universal Studios and you're likely to see Blues Brothers Jake and Elwood cruising around the streets. There are plenty of rides, shows, and attractions to entertain for a day or more, including a boat ride with a Jaws encounter, Revenge of the Mummy - The Ride, and a new Shrek 4-D ride. Thrills galore. The Incredible Hulk roller coaster is also sure to bring goose bumps and keep your heart pumping, Seuss Landing brings the Dr. Seuss books to life with rides and shops, and Universal CityWalk, a 30-acre entertainment complex with live music, movies, nightlife, entertains romantic couples, groups of friends on a getaway vacation, and families.

  • Islands of Adventure take you on thrills and spills with the Hulk roller coaster, a Cat in the Hat ride with no straight lines in design (just like Dr. Seuss's books), a Jurassic Park river ride where you can splash about under the Florida sun, and an audience-participant Spider-Man 3-D ride.
  • Universal Studios Florida brings the movie sets to life in an entertaining, sometimes scary way, with a Jaws ride, an ET adventure, Revenge of the Mummy ride, an alien attack in Men in Black, Shrek 4-D, and audience-participating in a live Fear Factor show.

SeaWorld
This world-class marine theme park features a new Orca whale show with Shamu, and the park's first family-friendly roller coaster, Shamu Express. Sea-themed thrills vary from the tallest and only floorless roller coaster in Orlando, the Kraken, named after the mythical sea creature, to guest feedings of sea lions and dolphins. Like Disney and Universal, SeaWorld is a family-friendly park, but also entertaining for adults who like a big splash on their vacation.

Outdoor Adventure

Don't let the theme park prominence of Orlando fool you. While the parks celebrate themes we value in life: movies, nature, science, culture, culinary delights, participatory entertainment such as rides and shows, you can enjoy walking around the parks, taking rides that splash through water to cool off on hot, summer days, and swim in the pools that most major hotels have. For many, this is exercise and activity enough.

For group travelers who want to break free from the parks and explore the Orlando's landscape and beyond, there are 168 golf courses to play, hot air ballooning, and renowned beaches just a day trip away. You can go horseback riding at a ranch or rent a Harley-Davidson hog and head out on the highways looking for adventure. Plus, there's a 19-mile biking, skating, and walking trail near Lake Apopka and a plethora of tennis courts around Orlando at at its many hotels and resorts. Play tennis morning, day, or at lighted courses at night.

Arts & Culture

The main draws to Orlando are the theme parks. But if you dig a little deeper, you'll find an array of shopping, restaurants, theater, and other things to do. For a little culture go to the Orlando Opera, the Shakespeare Festival at Loch Haven Park, the ballet (central Florida's only pro ballet), Millenia Fine Art for an impressive contemporary art display, or Cornell Fine Arts Museum with both European and American fine arts, sculptures, and decorative arts. You can also take the kids to Celebration, a unique town, listen to Bach by Orlando's orchestra, visit the outdoor Southern-style Harry P. Leu Gardens, take the family to see a Broadway show (they regularly play in Orlando), or head for Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens which is on the National Register of Historic Places for its showcase of the Czech sculptor's art in his home, in a gallery, and outside in the Winter Park garden.

Activities Galore for Families

More Orlando Fun

Day Trips

Events Guide and Calendar

  • October - Universal's Halloween Horror Nights
  • October - SeaWorld's Halloween Spooktacular
  • October 2006 - April 2007 Orlando Magic rival NBA teams in home and away games
  • Check Orlando's year-round calendar for events, museum exhibits, and shows throughout each month and season

Photos provided by Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau, Inc.


Holiday Travel Planning Tips

Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Eve are three of the biggest holidays of the year. I received my first holiday party invitation just last week, which reminds me that people are planning early. If you're traveling or hosting a family or friend get together around the holidays, here are some basic tips:

2-3 months in advance (minimum)

  • Research how group reservations work if 10 or more people are traveling together for a holiday.
  • Restaurants book up during the holidays and often stop taking reservations when they've reached reservation capacity. Book reservations for your group now for holiday parties and gatherings.
  • Holiday travel is one of the busiest times for many airlines. Start looking for flight prices and if you find one in your budget, book it now. Depending on your location, you can look into train travel as a transportation alternative.
  • Hotels in major metropolitan areas and beach areas see an uptick in business around the holidays, so book early.
  • Create or determine a budget for yourself (for Christmas gifts especially) and stick to it.
  • If your trip hinges around one big event such as a New Year's event, purchase tickets as early as possible.

1 month in advance

  • If you're hosting guests for big meals such as Thanksgiving, Christmas dinner, etc., plan the courses and make food assignments if necessary (desserts, salads, appetizers, wine, etc.) to share the expense and responsibility. Most guests want to contribute.
  • Accommodations for those not staying in hotels or last-minute arrangements for friends/family who weren't able to book in advance. Perhaps you can make arrangements to borrow a neighbor's house while they are away, or book a local B&B that isn't easily discovered on the internet but would make the trip more enjoyable and affordable for some.
  • Plan group activities such as area sightseeing, attraction visits, purchasing admission tickets for events such as art exhibits at museums/galleries or theater shows.
  • Collect money from everyone and track shared expenses.
  • Shop for gifts.

1 week in advance

  • Confirm all flight, accommodation, activity, restaurant and train reservations and/or arrangements.
  • Final gift shopping.
  • Dust off games, borrow games from friends/neighbors, or buy new ones to make time spent with friends and family more enjoyable.

3 days in advance

  • If cooking a big meal, get all foodstuffs and start preparing meals early.
  • Wrap all remaining gifts. Buy a few extra general gifties (calendar, journal, wool socks, gift certificate to Barnes & Noble) in case someone brings a boyfriend or girlfriend home unexpectedly.
  • Clean the house, or if everyone is traveling to a destination, make sure you have a friend or neighbor keeping an eye on your place (collecting mail, watching pets, watering plants, etc.)

Holiday day

  • Relax and enjoy the company of friends and family

Vacations for Generation Y

Here's something shocking. Call me a Gen X traditionalist, but Gen Y kids have it easy when taking family vacations. Not only are rental SUVs equipped with DVDs so kids can substitute road trip daydreaming (something no doubt good for their brains) with spacing out blankly at a screen, now hotels are taking Gen Y travel targeting to the hilt.

Oahu's Hilton Hawaiian Village now offers YSpa with massage and other treatments for teens and tweens. I guess it isn't enough to enjoy a family vacation, snorkeling and swimming in the sun-kissed waters of Hawaii. Now kids need pampering for all their hard school work (and parents foot the bill)? If I reflect back on my teenage years (ack, don't make me!) I think I would have died to have a spa vacation. But now that I'm an adult and can afford the services for myself, I realize what a treat spa services are. If they had been handed to me as a teen, I don't think I would have the same appreciation for such an indulgence.

When these Generation Y kids grow up, what will they have to look forward to as a treat?


Early Fall Festivals

Are you a last-minute traveler? Spontaneous to the core? If so, you're probably too busy enjoying summer to think about early fall. But you may to keep a few festivals on your radar. September is a golden time of year for cooler weather, for warm, gentle breezes, for parents who get to usher their kids onto school buses or into schools, for the buzz of summer to wind down, and for people to plan those last days of summer vacations.

There are several September festivals for all spectrums of life: families, music lovers, art adorers, food fanatics, and more. Here's a snippet of what's on the horizon for late summer, early fall.

Sausalito Art Festival, Labor Day Weekend (early September)
The Mediterranean-style seaside town of Sausalito, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, has hosted the world-famous art festival annually since 1952. "The best local, American, and International Artists bring their combined perspectives, virtuoso skills, and more than 20,000 original works of art — including paintings, sculpture, ceramics, jewelry, fiber art, fine glass, woodwork, mixed media, and photography."

Telluride Blues & Brews Festival, September
"...three days of world-renowned musicians performing live on the famous Telluride Town Park stage, late night jams in the local juke joints, 50 choice microbreweries serving up their handcrafted "cream of the barrel" during Saturday's Grand Tasting, the Rainbow Kids area, free Acoustic Artist Series, Blues For Breakfast, and the Telluride Acoustic Blues Camp."

La Tamale Festival in Los Angeles, September
This red hot event is in its second year, drawing 60,000 visitors. You can enjoy a kids pavilion, world record-eating contests, tamale-making classes, and as much spicy Latin sauce as you can dish up.

Russian Mosaic Festival in Philadelphia, September
This free festival will be a day packed with music, dance, and entertainment. This year's seven-hour concert program is set to showcase the Russian community's original folk, classical, and ballroom dancing performers.

Plano Balloon Festival in Plano/Dallas/Fort Worth, late September
A "something-for-everyone" event, this festival is filled with plenty of hot air. Cow-shaped balloons awe the crowds from above, hot air balloons offer rides, a team of expert sky divers do stunts out of planes. All this with entertainment, food, and plenty to keep the kiddies occupies.

Visit Festivals.com to find a wide range of other arts, cultural, music, and family festivals in the U.S. and around world.

 


Mi Hacienda Es Su Hacienda

By guest blogger Jacquelin Carnegie

When planning a family reunion or wedding, taking over a small resort for your exclusive use works wonders. Certain criteria apply to site selection: The resort (or villa or hacienda or block of rental homes) should be a superior facility, offer sumptuous food, non-intrusive service, first class accommodations, and a secluded setting away from distractions.

There are a number of properties around the country (and the world) that exemplify such high standards. Here are tips on how to research your group's idyllic casa away from casa:

  1. Look for places that have the feel of a private estate, an ambience of another time and place and are so well run that you (the planner) can relax and enjoy yourself as well.
  2. Pick a spot with a distinct change of atmosphere to reinforce the concept of getting away from it all. Also, make sure it's the type of place where guests are pampered and made to feel special. You can feel the difference in the level of relaxation for guests when a resort is reserved for your group's exclusive use.
  3. Small resorts with a residential feel and hotel amenities work best for groups of friends and/or family. The sense of being on a private estate helps people let their guard down and unwind, fostering camaraderie—the reason you all wanted to get together in the first place!

Prep Steps Before You Go

  1. Before your group arrives, send the property a detailed list of a) The names of all the people in your party, b) The names of people sharing rooms and c) Of those sharing rooms, which ones require a double bed or two single beds.
  2. Charm also has its downside. In a hotel, most rooms are uniform but in an estate or hacienda, every room is unique, both in size and decoration. Make your guests aware of this beforehand so cousins don't get miffed because one has a nicer, larger room.
  3. If the property offers activities (such as horseback riding or tennis) or has a spa facility (with facials and massages), check if these services need to be booked in advance. If so, let your guests know and provide a way to tally who wants what when - before you arrive!
  4. If you are going to a resort outside the U.S., make sure everyone has a valid passport (and remembers to bring it).

Recommended Haciendas in Chile and Mexico

Hacienda Los Lingues in Chile:

Hacienda Los Lingues is about an hour south of Santiago in the heart of the wine-producing Cachapoal Valley. It's one of Chile's oldest and best-preserved estates and the same family, whose home it's been since 1599, now runs it as a hotel. The debonair Don German Claro Lyon and his family are your delightful hosts.

If you're looking for old-world, South American charm, the Hacienda Los Lingues is the spot. Shaded verandas lead to 18 rooms and suites furnished with heirloom antiques, family photos and memorabilia.

Activities for groups: a) wine tasting - there's a lovely vineyard on the property and day trips to local wineries; b) horseback riding - the stable of "Aculeo" horses, related to the famed Lipizzanas, is world-renowned.

And, if looking for a destination wedding spot, you can get married in the estate's beautiful, traditional Chilean chapel. You'll feel as if you're on the set of some fantastic South American movie.

Hacienda Temozón in Yucatan, Mexico:

In the early 1990's, abandoned (and formerly luxurious) haciendas from the economic heyday of the Yucatan region around Merida, were restored and converted into luxury hotels. Hacienda Temozón, about a half hour from Merida, is the grandest of three newly-restored properties, now part of The Luxury Collection of Starwood Hotels and Resorts.

As a result, you get the best of both worlds: a sense of the affluent lifestyle enjoyed during the economic boom and lovely, modern amenities. Much of the original décor, such as intricately-decorated floor tiles and beamed ceilings, has been preserved in the 28 elegantly-furnished rooms and guest quarters.

Spacious gardens, a spectacular swimming pool, and spa make this an ideal place to relax. It's also an excellent base for exploring the rich cultural heritage of the Yucatan peninsula and the surrounding Mayan architectural sites.

There is also a 17th-century church on the property, ideal for weddings.

Jacquelin Carnegie is a Contributing Travel Editor to Accent magazine. For the past 15 years, she has covered international travel destinations for both consumer and business publications.


Family Reunion Myths Revealed

My family has been having reunions since I was little girl with goldilocks. For the third in a row, we've gotten together on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state. Over the years, I've discovered a few myths that I hope will help any reunion planner in preparing for that next family reunion.

Myth 1: I won't drink too much
Be honest. Unless you're making a conscious effort to not drink at all, chances are you'll drink more than usual.

Myth 2: I won't eat too much
Family reunions are all about the food. Obviously, the reason to get together is to reconnect. But more effort goes into meals for this occasion than most other parties. Here are summertime recipes for family reunions.

Myth 3: I won't get a sunburn
Chances are you will, unless you're extra careful to apply sunblock throughout the day, and stay out of the sun during peak midday hours.

Myth 4: I will get ample sleep
It always seems that something is disrupting a perfect night's sleep: varying hours of going to bed, staying up late, getting up early for scheduled activities, kids over-excited, etc.

Myth 5: I will visit with everyone
Chances are slim that you'll have meaningful conversations with all attendees. But the connections you make are important, a link to your past, and a way to keep in touch with extended family. Make a mental list of the top three people you really want to reconnect with and make an effort to do so. You'll thank yourself.

Myth 6: Like other vacations, I'll relax as much as I want
There's an air of formality in a family reunion that is unlike friends traveling together or immediate family taking a vacation. Relatives come together who are genetically similar, but often live very different lives, in different places. You may feel the need to connect with select (extended) family members, while others are interested in visiting with you. This can be tiring, albeit rewarding.

Myth 7: Recycling will take care of itself
People tend to be much more lax about following recycling rules when at a big gathering like a family reunion. A mini tragedy of the commons. Luckily for my family, I have one highly type A uncle who takes big plastic garbage bins, labels them each with his neat hand writing ("plastics," "trash," "glass"), and strategically places them around the main eating/gathering area. We tease him, but appreciate his orderly tendencies.

Myth 8: Injuries are avoidable when family gathers
As for all other vacations (and life in general), safety is important. Have a first-aid kit and phone handy for emergencies. If you have any doctors in your family, the trip organizer may want to locate that person ahead of time and ask if they could wear a cell phone during the reunion just in case.

Myth 9: All the in-laws will fit in
All in-laws are not created equal. Pay attention to spouses or significant others who aren't socializing as much as others and make an effort to include them in conversations. Ask them about their family reunions, family dynamics, family heritage. Or learn more about what they enjoy doing in their free time. Family reunions can be intimidating for the non-genetically related.

Myth 10: My kids (grandkids, nieces/nephews) are the cutest
All kids are adorable in their own quirky or beautiful ways! Careful of becoming that obsessive family member who talks only of your kids (grandkids or nieces/nephews) and has no interest in any other subjects, or continually draws conversations back to your kids. It's wonderful to see such love and devotion to the kids, but even the kids (if they could speak up for themselves) would blush at all the gush.

What are other family reunion myths? Share your stories.


Washington, D.C.: Capital Diversions

So many museums, memorials, houses of government, national landmarks, and historic places of interest fill the 67-square-mile area that comprises the nation's capital, a visitor soaking it all in should receive an honorary college degree.

Washington_dc_capitolThis is not dry educational overload, however. Many of the sights can be toured with knowledgeable and entertaining guides — and many offer reserved tours and special events for groups — and intriguing opportunities for witnessing the city in action can be had, such as watching the Senate in session or money being printed at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.

At night, the suits come off and the atmosphere turns from all-business to a lively urban scene. The performing arts season lasts all year, from the National Symphony performances at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts to jazz combos at various hip nightclubs to theater, opera, ballet, comedy, rock concerts, and children's shows at venues all around the city. A number of the metro area's museums and historic sites offer their own events: cultural film series, early-music concerts, Shakespearean theater, author readings, and lectures that discuss the latest findings in their field. There's plenty of dance clubs to satisfy the party-people in the group, and the city has become a gourmet's destination for fine fare from celebrated chefs.

Yet amid all of this culture and Capitol conduct lies a surprising amount of open green space, where visitors can clear their history-saturated heads with an afternoon of bicycling along a historic towpath, riding horseback along paths once trodden by Civil War soldiers, or simply getting the group together for an easy hike in summer or heading to an ice-skating rink in the cold months. Not bad for a city that 200 years ago was nearly abandoned for being a mosquito-infested swamp.

Top Attractions

What's not a top attraction in the nation's capital? Yet with so many places of interest in close proximity to each other, it's easy to fill the must-see list with check marks. Start at the tree-lined National Mall, a two-mile-long grassy expanse flanked by the U.S. Capitol on one end and the Lincoln Memorial on the other. Guided group tours (reserve in advance) of the Capitol visit several floors and allow a peek into the galleries if the Senate or House is in session. Public tours are also offered at the Library of Congress and the Supreme Court (when not in session). Get some fresh air by strolling the U.S. Botanic Garden; groups can reserve a 45-minute guided tour of the 4,000-plant Conservatory.

The Mall's monuments, memorials, and museums guarantee hours — really, days — of enlightening exploration. A gauntlet of Smithsonian museums lead to West Potomac Park, crowned by the Washington Monument and its photogenic reflecting pool and also site of the Lincoln, Jefferson, and FDR memorials, and those honoring veterans of World War II, the Korea War, and the Vietnam War. Surrounding all that marble are the Constitution Gardens and the Tidal Basin's necklace of cherry trees, whose spring blossoms merit their own festival. North of the Washington Monument lies the White House, which groups of 10 or more can tour if they put in an advance request with their member of Congress.

Visiting this nucleus of historic sites and beyond can easily take up an entire vacation. One way to squeeze it all in is an Old Town Trolley Tour, accessed at any of the trolley's stops, including those on the Mall as well as the National Zoo, the National Cathedral, and the two-centuries-old houses of Georgetown. The Tourmobile follows a similar hop-on, hop-off route that also includes Arlington Cemetery, where visitors pay homage to the Tomb of the Unknowns, the Kennedy gravesites, and the Space Shuttle Challenger Memorial. There's no need to rent a car for self-guided explorations — public transport is comprehensive and easy to navigate, even off the tourist routes to places such as the 18th-century Octagon House and the Woodrow Wilson House and presidential museum (both offering group tours).

Outdoor Adventure

With more than 300 parks in this cultural hub, urban green space is easy to find. National Mall visitors can take a breather in East Potomac Park, where diversions include golf courses, a public pool, and biking paths along the river. Anacostia Park in northeast D.C. has a golf course and driving range, an aquatic center, tennis courts, and the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. Visitors craving wild nature should head out to Rock Creek Park, a 12-mile vale that deserves a day's exploration in itself, or at least a few hours to relax in the ample play and picnic areas, golf, hike or ride horseback on wooded trails, or bike or skate paved pathways. Combine exercise with edification with stops at the 1765 Old Stone House and the remains of the 1861 Fort DeRussy, both within park boundaries.

Perhaps D.C.'s best example of historic value meeting outdoor fun is the Chesapeake Ohio Canal National Historical Park, which follows the 185-mile-long canal — from 1824 to 1928, the main route for transporting coal to the city — from D.C. into Maryland. The towpath is a popular ride for bicyclists; hiking trails lead into deciduous forests where woodland creatures may be spotted. The gentle canal waters offer a view of the park from a kayak, canoe, or mule-drawn canal boat tour (summer only). In winter, birdwatchers are often rewarded with sightings of pileated woodpeckers, yellow-bellied sapsuckers, and hooded mergansers.

Sports fans in the group can cheer on the Washington Nationals baseball team at RFK Stadium; in fall, the Washington Redskins provide spectator thrills at FedEx Field. Come winter and early spring, park hiking and biking trails become cross-country ski and snowshoe trails, and outdoor ice-skating venues can be found throughout the city.

Arts and Culture

Few cities offer so much by way of the arts: The Smithsonian museums alone warrant many hours of perusal amid African textiles (National Museum of African Art), Southwestern pottery and basketry (National Museum of the American Indian), dinosaur skeletons (National Museum of Natural History), moon and Mars roving vehicles (National Air and Space Museum), Christo and Muñoz installations (Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden), and much more. All Smithsonian museums are free and most offer highlights tours. (Note that some museums may be closed for renovations; check the Smithsonian website for updates.)

Outside the Smithsonian's aegis lie many other collections sure to intrigue, with the International Spy Museum a top priority for kids and fans of James Bond movies. At the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, exhibitions provoke meaningful conversations (reserved group visits receive a personal orientation). Architecture buffs won't want to miss the National Building Museum's vast collection of plans, drawings, and photographs; an array of artworks spanning six centuries awaits art lovers at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Many museums offer regular events, such as the lecture and film series at the Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site, and the Folger Shakespeare Library, which hosts readings, plays, and early-music concerts.

Visual art gives way to that of the performing variety at some of the nation's most venerated venues. One is even a national park: the Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts, where performances ranging from National Symphony Orchestra Pops concerts to Irish music festivals, sketch comedy to kids' theater take place in the airy Filene Center in summer, then move into the cozy Barns at Wolf Trap come fall. The same eclectic variety can be had at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, whose September Prelude Festival kicks off nearly a year of performing arts (check on discounts and special events for groups of 20 or more). The Carter Barron Amphitheatre in Rock Creek Park and the Frank Gehry-designed Merriweather Post Pavilion are both outdoor concert venues primed for good times in natural settings.

Attractions Great for Groups

Day Trips

  • Colonial Williamsburg The world's largest living history museum lies 150 miles from the capital. Served by tour operators and Amtrak, with group packages available.
  • Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park The serene landscape of these four Civil War sites belie their legacy as among the U.S.'s bloodiest battlefields.
  • Harpers Ferry National Historic Park John Brown's armory raid to free the slaves is just one of the historic events that took place at the confluence of the Potomac and the Shenandoah.
  • Monticello Thomas Jefferson's grand estate in Charlottesville, Virginia, about 125 miles from D.C. A number of tour operators offer day trips.
  • Mount Vernon George Washington's home includes original furnishings, outbuildings, and a working farm; groups can arrange for a colonial-style lunch.

Washington, D.C. Events Guide and Calendar

  • St. Patrick's Day Parade Pipe bands, floats, Irish dancers, police and firefighter contingents march down historic Constitution Avenue, Sunday closest to St. Patrick's Day.
  • National Cherry Blossom Festival Two weeks of art exhibitions, Japanese cultural performances, and fireworks, culminating in a parade and a Japanese street festival. Late March-early April.
  • Smithsonian Kite Festival Handmade kite competition, kite battles, and a "hot tricks showdown" over the National Mall, last Sunday in March or first in April (weather permitting).
  • Washington International Film Festival Twelve-day film fest screening more than 100 international features, documentaries, and shorts at cinemas throughout the city, April.
  • Capital Pride Events at the nation's fourth-largest gay/lesbian celebration include a parade, street festival, and the Mr. Capital Pride Leather Contest, nine days in early June.
  • DC Caribbean Carnival Watch bands of masqueraders parade in outrageously colorful costumes to the music of steel bands, plus food, crafts, and more, late June.
  • National Capital Barbecue Battle Pennsylvania Avenue hosts a weekend of beef and pork mania as teams compete for $25,000 and the National Pork BBQ Champion title, late June.
  • Smithsonian Folklife Festival Celebration of global living traditions with performers, crafters, food, and hands-on kids' activities on the National Mall, late June to July 4.
  • Independence Day Celebration The nationally televised one, with a noon parade, the National Symphony Orchestra, and a 30-minute fireworks display, July 4.
  • Legg Mason Tennis Classic A U.S. Open series tournament, with crowds packing the William H.G. Fitzgerald Tennis Center to see top-seeded players on the hard court, early August.
  • Kennedy Center Prelude Festival A month-long series of symphony, comedy, and theatrics celebrating the start of the center's performing arts season, September.
  • Adams Morgan Day Community festival with artwork, vendors, a kids' fair, dance troupes, and two music stages, second Sunday in September.
  • Black Family Reunion Celebration Gospel and R&B concerts and an international marketplace highlight this celebration of the African American family on the National Mall, in mid-September.
  • National Book Festival More than 80 authors read from their works at this one-day fest in late September.
  • National Christmas Tree Lighting Long-honored lighting of the capital tree, followed by three weeks of nightly concerts at the Ellipse, December.

Photos courtesy of the Washington, D.C. Convention and Tourism Corporation


San Diego: City for All Seasons

Families fit into San Diego's cheerful profile like feet into flip-flops. This coastal city's perennial sunshine, sandy beaches, and kid-friendly attractions make it easy for adults to trade workday stress for an endless-summer attitude — even in December. San_diego_rugged_coastline_1 The agreeable climate engenders a laid-back, welcoming aura that pervades from mountain town to beachside community. And this is truly a year-round destination: Visit in fall and winter to get a healthy dose of vitamin D on beaches offering plenty of elbow room. Come in spring for the spectacular wildflower show in the Anza-Borrego Desert. Early summer sees the city caressed by a cool marine breeze before heating up for events such as the San Diego County Fair, the World Championship Over-The-Line beach softball tournament, and the US Open Sandcastle Competition.

America's Finest City is not just one long strip of beach, however. Mountains border the county's eastern reaches before dropping into a vast desert valley; in between lie scores of diverse neighborhoods that blanket the region's tawny hills. San Diego is a military municipality, a college town, a center of Mexican-American culture; wholesome and yet tolerant of its more counter-cultural facets. And it is a city on the cutting edge of urban renewal, having taken a shambling downtown and reincarnated it as a vibrant destination for entertainment, dining, shopping, and strolling. No visiting groups should miss the Victorian charm of the Gaslamp Quarter, Horton Plaza's colorful complex of shops and cinemas, and the revitalized areas surrounding the city's architecturally distinct convention center and PETCO Park, new home of the San Diego Padres.

Top Attractions

San_diego_zoo_apeThanks to San Diego's temperate climate, animal lovers can get their share of critter-viewing and then some: at the San Diego Zoo, where a pair of panda cubs delight amid Tasmanian devils, sun bears, two-headed snakes, and a kingdom of creatures; the San Diego Wild Animal Park, 1,800 acres of African-style savannah with free-ranging lions, zebras, elephants, and other beasts; and SeaWorld, home of Shamu and his orca descendants, dolphins, penguins, and the seasonal Cirque de la Mer.

For a constructive take on theme parks, head to LEGOLAND, the original plastic-brick playland, with 15,000 LEGO models built from more than 30 million pieces. Or combine old-fashioned amusements with hot new rides at Belmont Park, right on Mission Beach. Ride the restored wooden Giant Dipper Roller Coaster, built in 1925, then hone surfing or skateboarding chops on the new FlowRider, a continual sheetwave that provides a steady supply of excitement for all ages.

Get immersed in the city's history, starting at Mission San Diego de Alcala, founded in 1769 and first of the California missions. At Old Town State Historic Park, original adobe buildings showcase furnishings, artifacts, and skills from San Diego's beginnings. The 1863 Star of India anchors the flotilla of historic ships that comprise the Maritime Museum of San Diego. Tour the decks and exhibits and try to catch a sailing aboard the tall ship Californian. Wrap up at Cabrillo National Monument, which commemorates the 1542 landing of explorer Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo and, incidentally, provides commanding views of San Diego Bay. Betrothed couples take note: All of these locations, including two of the historic ships, make for popular and unique wedding settings.

Outdoor Adventure

San_diego_pacific_beach_palmsNaturally, with 300 days of sunshine a year comes a wealth of opportunities for outdoor adventure. The Mission Beach Boardwalk provides an ideal way to people-watch while zipping along on inline blades or bike. Pick up wheels from one of several rental shops, or rent a bodyboard and surf the friendly waves. Mission Bay's mellow inlets and coves make a family sailing on a rented sloop a breeze; groups can charter a boat for private cruising, diving, and sportfishing in the harbor and beyond.

Golfers wanting seaside vistas can tee up at the 18-hole Torrey Pines Golf Course, a junior-golf-friendly set of championship greens and fairways. Hikers, mountain bikers, and equestrians of all ages can tackle trails in the Cuyamaca and Laguna Mountains, where meadows and woods are rapidly recovering from the wildfires of 2003 (find stables and more in the nearby gold-rush town of Julian). Closer in, 40 miles of trails traverse the oak woodlands and open chaparral of Mission Trails Regional Park, including three paths that ascend 1,400-foot Cowles Mountain.

For a break from attraction overload, pack a picnic basket and head to the park. Balboa Park, San Diego's queen of green space, surrounds cultural attractions with 1,200 acres of woods, gardens, and sports fields. Mission Bay Park is an ideal setting for family reunions, with its 27 miles of meandering shoreline, sandy beaches, and grassy swards with picnic tables and firepits. Perched high above Pacific Beach, Kate O. Sessions Park offers views, ocean breezes, and sloping runs of grass perfect for kite flying.

Arts and Culture

Playtime isn't just for the playground. San Diego's renowned theaters offer up year-round theatrical diversions of award-winning caliber. The Old Globe Theatre brings Shakespeare out under the stars during the summer-long Shakespeare Festival, while other seasons see new works and revivals on the boards. Celebrated playwrights often premiere their latest at the La Jolla Playhouse, a 1993 Tony Award winner for America's Outstanding Regional Theatre residing on the UCSD campus.

Performing within the historic confines of the 1929 Copley Symphony Hall, the San Diego Symphony pleases classically minded parents as much as it does fun-loving kids, with its occasional Family Festival (with free pre-concert activities) and annual Summer Pops series, where families can spread a blanket on the lawns of Embarcadero Marina Park South and enjoy programs like classic cartoon tunes and Tchaikovsky's thunderous 1812 Overture.

Nurturing an appreciation of the arts and sciences is easy at Balboa Park, the urban cultural oasis that mingles museums with lush greenery and a nonstop sense of fun. Kids willingly accompany mom and dad to view the collections at the San Diego Museum of Art, knowing they'll also see the cool displays at the Aerospace Museum and Model Railroad Museum, plus virtual-reality exhibits and IMAX movies at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center. Teens dig the WorldBeat Cultural Center's music-oriented exhibitions and drumming classes. The park also features a miniature railroad ride and a 1910 carousel, not to mention restaurants and dozens of other absorbing sights to see.

Activities Galore For Families

More San Diego Fun

Day Trips

  • Tijuana guided tours: Visit the bustling Baja city without the hassle of border crossing lines.
  • Orange County theme parks: Two Disney and two Knott's Berry Farm amusement parks lie a two-hour or so drive north.
  • Catalina Island: An attractive town and miles of hiking trails on a protected island off Long Beach reached via high-speed boat.
  • Temecula wine country: So-Cal's hottest wine-growing city offers hot-air balloon and biplane rides above vine-covered hills.

Events Guide and Calendar

  • Buick Invitational Golf Tournament, San Diego's original golf tourney, played in January amid the seascapes at Torrey Pines Golf Course.
  • Accenture Match Play Championship, PGA championship golf arrives every February at the two par-72 courses of La Costa Resort and Spa.
  • Carlsbad Village Faire, one of the state's largest street fairs, held on the first Sunday in May and November, with art, food, pony rides, and performances.
  • Old Town Fiesta Cinco de Mayo, a lively celebration of Mexican-American culture with music, an equestrian show, and a Kids Village, first weekend in May.
  • Summer Pops Series with the San Diego Symphony, Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend.
  • Shakespeare Festival at the Old Globe, June to October.
  • San Diego County Fair, top-name performers and thrill rides at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, mid-June through July 4.
  • Del Mar Racing, thoroughbred races where the surf meets the turf, mid-July through Labor Day.
  • OMBAC World Championship Over-The-Line Tournament, the city's unique beach softball tourney, on Fiesta Island, weekends in July.
  • US Open Sandcastle Competition, one of the country's largest sandcastle events, held at Imperial Beach over three days in July.
  • Street Scene, big-name bands performing on various stages across Qualcomm Stadium's parking lot on a July weekend.
  • San Diego Pride Two-day gay and lesbian celebration with a parade, music, dance, and beer gardens at Marston Point in Balboa Park, July.
  • San Diego Thunderboat Regatta, hydroplane races on Mission Bay, September.
  • Traditional Gathering and Pow-Wow, the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation welcomes tribes from around the nation and visitors for dance, competition, games, and crafts, second weekend in September.
  • Cabrillo Festival, re-enactment of Cabrillo's landing, plus dance, music, and food, first Sunday in October.
  • Little Italy Festa, a weekend of food, bocce ball tournaments, and Italian crooners, second week in October.
  • Miramar Airshow, three days of aerial performances and aircraft displays, capped by the Blue Angels, mid-October.
  • For more listings, see The San Diego Event Guide.

Photos courtesy of the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau


Funerals: Poignant Family Gatherings

Family life is full of major and minor crises -- the ups and downs of health, success and failure in career, marriage, and divorce -- and all kinds of characters. It is tied to places and events and histories. With all of these felt details, life etches itself into memory and personality. It's difficult to imagine anything more nourishing to the soul.
--Thomas Moore

Even sad events such as illness or funerals can bring families closer together. I was recently reminded of this while attending a relative's funeral and visiting with extended family this past weekend. It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. Truly.

Once we all got the news, one family passed around itinerary info in one big email string so they all knew flight arrival info for coordination. My family used about 5 phone calls to coordinate. ("Are you going? Which flight? How much did it cost?") Who knows how many other families and friends did the same thing. I got to thinking that TripHub's group travel coordination tools would save time for families gathering under these circumstances. Maybe next time. Wait. I hope there isn't a next time... sigh.

Losing a loved one or going through any rough patch together makes us acutely aware of what's important in life and strengthens relationships.

Over the last several days, I carefully observed how extended family and friends kicked into high gear to help those most in need, ordering food, grocery shopping, playing waiter(ess), coordinating transportation, organizing church services, catering, telling story after story and listening intently as others shared theirs. Laughter and tears blended to reveal kindred spirits and compassion.

New bonds were created among old family connections. Cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, moms, dads, grandparents. Despite the circumstances, we were able to catch up, play a few games, distract people who needed distracting, hug those who needed more hugs than usual, and in general express what we forget to so often. I came away feeling uplifted.

I think the late French philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin summed it up best when he said (or wrote): We are not humans having a spiritual experience. We are spirits, having a human experience.