Summer is finally here! And we’re ready to get the fun started. Check out our latest Summer Fun & Travel Guide filled with amazing products for you and your kids to enjoy. It includes over 90 NAPPA Award winning products that have been tested and evaluated. It features water toys for fun in the sun, games and puzzles to challenge your mind, books for summer reading, music for a rockin’ playlist and travel gear for comfort on the go. Check it out for everything you need this summer!
During these uncertain times, it’s important to find creative and safe fun for your family. However, after so many months of pandemic conditions, it’s easy to run out of ideas. Our family found one more source of fun by creating a cozy outdoor Hollywood experience in the comfort of our backyard.
Here is a safe way to host your own backyard movie night and turn any outdoor space, no matter what size, into a home theater. Cover all your bases with the following products and suggestions. Your kids will enjoy it so much, you might even be able to sneak in a documentary!
Assemble the equipment
The most important technical element for your outdoor theater is the projector, on which you can spend anywhere from $69 to $1,600.
A projector is a more effective outdoor viewing device than your TV, since your television is likely too small. It also needs to be plugged into a wall outlet and can be difficult to move outside and keep stable in an outdoor setting. Make sure you choose a projector of the proper size. You want one small enough that you’ll be able to move it outside.
Other important considerations when choosing your projector include its resolution, brightness and speakers. Many projectors take a high-resolution image and compress it into a lower quality one. If you want true HD content, you should choose a higher-end projector. Another factor in picture quality is brightness. The brighter your projector, the brighter and clearer the image that will appear on your screen. Keep in mind that the farther away the projector is from the wall, the larger the image will appear on screen.
Another important basic element is the media player, with prices ranging from $24.99- $1,099. If your Wi-Fi signal reaches your backyard, you can use a media player the size of a thumb drive that will just plug directly into your projector. If your Wi-Fi signal can’t reach your yard, you can try downloading movies and playing them directly from your laptop. You will likely need an HDMI adapter to connect the laptop to the projector. You can also play your movies on a DVD or Blu-ray player. You’ll just need to buy the proper cables to connect your media player to the projector.
The next technical element is your screen. At the low end cost of the spectrum, hanging a bright white sheet (costing as little as $11) is pretty much the easiest and most affordable solution. Just tie a wire or sturdy rope between two poles, trees or other structural supports, and use two clips to hang the sheet. Finish off by securing the sheet to the ground with some weighted objects to avoid it blowing in the wind and—viola!
At the more expensive end of the spectrum, purchasing an actual screen with a sturdy frame and ground stakes will give you the clearest image out of whatever projector you choose. These can cost as much as $600. You can also get a large blowup screen, but you are going to have to do some blowup work before each movie.
The final basic elements include speakers and extension power cords. Many projectors have speakers built in, but they won’t provide the best or loudest sound quality. For the noise to really travel, you’ll want to use the projector’s analog output and either a 3.5-mm-to-3.5-mm stereo cable or a 3.5-mm-to-RCA cable to connect a soundbar or a Bluetooth speaker, which can cost from around $40 to $1,750. You will also likely need an extension cord for your outdoor theater unless you luck out and you have an outlet close to where your projector will go. Cords and cables can cost $12-$65.
When shopping for our home theater equipment, we set price alerts for what we needed on www.price.com. We splurged on picture and sound and wound up using a white sheet to start our endeavor.
Setting up some good lighting will help create a welcoming ambiance for your outdoor theater. Use string lights, lanterns and flameless LED candles to add atmosphere. These are ideal since you want your lighting to be dim enough that you can keep the screen in clear view.
You can also provide glowsticks to amp up the fun factor for your kids. Consider setting up walkway lights or supplying flashlights to help keep everyone from stepping on any of the equipment.
Amp up the lounge factor
Give yourself and the kids something to lounge around on for the evening. Folding chairs and camping chairs work well if you’re arranging the seating on a hard surface. If you’ve got plastic chairs, consider draping them with something like plush towels. You could also set out blankets, pillows and beanbags on the grass. Whatever you’ve got for seating, you just want it to be a comfortable environment since you’ll be seated for a couple of hours.
To really elevate everyone’s comfort level, simply add a basket of blankets, because warm blankets will go a million miles. This is a great way to make your outdoor theater feel special. We splurge on UGG blankets. Just give everyone their own blanket, and I promise you’ll hear no complaints. If necessary, provide citronella candles and bug repellant to keep insect visitors at bay.
Have fun with food
A makeshift concession stand is the cherry on top of your theater under the stars. Serve all the traditional refreshments to make it feel like a real movie theater: individual bags of popcorn, candy and sodas. Add a fun little place to put them, such as an old wheelbarrow, just to make the food stand out.
And there you have it. With a little investment of cash and creativity, your family is ready for lights, camera, action!
Margot Black is a storyteller with more than 15 years of experience, an L.A.-based traveler, wife and mom.
Ready for some family fun! Check out these new NAPPA Award winners!
A super-fun game about YOU and your people–and your likes and dislikes. How well do you know each other? Can your teammate guess your RANK? $30.00, ages 8+, storyastic.com
Like paint-by-numbers, but with stickers! A great activity for the whole family, maker spaces, community-building events, reading challenges, and more! $36.00, ages 5+, letsticktogether.com
The first player to successfully place all of their ice blocks and their fox pawn on the sculpture wins the game. The blocks are slippery so be careful or the sculpture may come tumbling down. $36.00, ages 7+, simplyfun.com
A fun three-dimensional game that will have players practicing their planning skills and adapting to new conditions. Race around the track, planning which paths to take in order to get ahead. $38.00, ages 7+, simplyfun.com
Addresses every day teachable moments that aim to normalize conversations around safety and flexible thinking through the medium of a board game. $19.99, ages 4+, gameplangame.com
For more award-winning products, visit NAPPAAwards.com
A fun night of family games and laughter is the best way to spend time together during the holidays! Check out these NAPPA Award winners and bring the fun this holiday season.
We are excited for this environmentally-focused game series from Adventerra Games. There are four board games in the series including: Global Warming, PowerHaus, Recycle Rally and WaterGames. $24.95/each game, 7+, www.adventerragamesusa.com
ProjeX Projecting Game Arcade
Turn any room into an incredible gaming arcade. No need for a TV! Project crisp graphic images right onto any blank wall and enjoy real-life gaming, without the limitations of a screen. $49.99,6+, www.projexgame.com
Break your flock of Chickapigs free while dodging opponents, hay bales and an unruly pooping cow in this strategic board game created by Brian Calhoun and Dave Matthews. $25, 8+, www.chickapig.com
The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon Box of Lies Party Game
Challenge friends to the bluffing game of hilarious objects. $19.99, 10+, www.hasbrogaming.hasbro.com
Disney Villainous: Wicked to the Core
Discover your unique abilities while dealing twists of fate to your opponents. $24.99, www.ravensburger.us
King of the Ring
Can you be the Last Sumo Standing? Find out in this battle. $19.99, 6+, www.yulutoys.com[crosshead]
Mickey’s Snuggle Time
A calming game that’s perfect for bedtime, naptime or any quiet time. $24.99, 3+, www.amazon.com
Friends of a Feather
Add feathers to your bird each turn by drawing from the deck or trading away your unwanted ones to the nest. $19.99, 3+, www.ravensburger.us
Use spelling and critical thinking to inspire creativity and competition. $14.99, 8+, www.playmonster.com
Pick Me Up, Piggy!
Tell stories, remember where to find hidden farm friends, take turns and work cooperatively to win the game. $19.9, 3+, www.MindWare.com
Thrills of a classic domino run with an added twist. $29.99, 8+, www.thinkfun.com
Answer fun questions about cats and act out silly things they do. $24.00, 4+, www.petitcollage.com
My First Memory Game Ocean
Expand memory and object recognition skills while having fun. $9.99, 2+, www.tlji.com
SmartGames Smart Farmer
An engaging puzzle game where you help the Farmer separate the animals so they have their own areas on the farm. $22.99, 5+, www.smartgamesusa.com
Fish for Fish
Campers race against their friends to catch the most fish with their plastic “spear. $19.99, 4+, www.yulutoys.com
Invasion of the Cow Snatchers
Take control of your very own UFO to solve 60 magnetic challenges as you maneuver your way over and around farm obstacles. $29.99, 6+, www.thinkfun.com
A hot potato style family game of spot and match. $14.99, 6+, www.bananagrams.com
Connect your tiles by matching their symbols. Features three unique ways to play, each varying in speed and competitiveness. $19.99, 6+, www.honeycombsgame.com
KIC-Start – Kids in Conversation
A fun get-to-know-you card game with 150 conversation-starter questions great for kids and adults.
Our Family’s Race Across the U.S.A. Personalized Board Game
In a race across America’s coasts, move your piece along the colored tiles and cross the finish line first to win! $29.99, www.iseeme.com
Heads Talk Tails Walk
Can you hop like a frog while clucking like a chicken? Have a blast trying. $14.99, 3+, www.thinkfun.com
How much can you hang before he goes twaaang? Take turns hanging fruit and jungle friends on the orangutan. $22.99, 4+, www.playmonster.com
Quickly twist letters and transform words in this clever and fast-paced game. $20, 8+, www.jabukagames.com
A fast-paced discard game with a surprising finish. $9.99, 7+, www.ok2win.com
BOOM GOES THE DYNAMITE
A matching game with an explosive twist. $14.99, 8+, www.ok2win.com
For more holiday gift ideas, visit NAPPA Awards! #playlearnconnect
We know it can be hard for parents to send their kids off to camp, but this time, you can go too. It may feel like it is way too early to be thinking about next year’s summer plans, but many popular camps start selling out as early as January! The sooner you plan, the better you can book, and the more fun you can have. Let’s look outside of the box, and outside the mainland, at these island getaway family adventure camps.
Camp Fox, Catalina Island
Catalina Island, only 22 miles off the coast of Southern California, is home to a plethora of family-friendly activities. Camp Fox, run by the YMCA of Glendale since 1926, hosts five camps jam-packed with adventure. Ignite your summer camp nostalgia at their three-day Labor Day Family Camp, a perfect getaway that attracts visitors from around the world. Hike up to Bible Peak, fish off the dock, challenge the ropes course and lead a song at the nightly campfire for a taste of what the island has to offer. The 2018 Family Camp had attendees ranging from 11 months to 86-years-old – Camp Fox really is fun for the whole family!
Sandy Island’s Overnight Camp for Families, hidden on the breathtaking Lake Winnipesaukee, is run by the YMCA of Greater Boston. Bring along your family and friends as you explore the surrounding woods, go tubing, learn glass blowing or try stand up paddle board yoga on the crystal blue waters. With five different activity programs for children ages 3-19, parents will have time to take a break and enjoy the fresh air. After your family crushes the competition in the Sandy Island Triathlon, make some new friends at the Talent Show and Sandy Dances. If you’re worried about the cost, the camp offers scholarships, so there’s nothing in your way of a weekend of excitement.
Camp Abnaki is another YMCA Labor Day Camp packed full of island fun. Located on North Hero Island across from Alburg Dunes State Park, you can participate in the family programs or rent out the whole camp. Return to nature with a weekend in a cabin, try your hand at archery, get out on the water or just enjoy some downtime. For some extra special bonding, join Camp Abnaki for Father/Son weekend. Prices range from $75 – $95 for kids 5-15, and little ones 4-years-old and under are free. Check their website for the upcoming 2019 deadline, and don’t forget the sunscreen!
Campers’ Paradise is a family owned, family-friendly, island destination. Sheltered by one of Minnesota’s many lakes, you and your family will be truly immersed in the summer camp experience. This unique campground boasts sugar-sand beaches, a fishing bridge, mini arcade and solar-heated washing amenities (so your kids can play in the dirt as much as they’d like). Although you may never want to leave the island, the local towns have tons of extra activities like amusement rides, pig races and music festivals. If you’re lucky, you may even spot a Bald Eagle flying over Lake Belle Taine!
For more inspiration for family fun, visit NAPPA Awards. #playlearnconnect
We all want to do fun things with our kids, but sometimes coming up with the ideas is the hardest part. With these recent NAPPA Award-winners, you’ll have tons of inspiration for creative fun.
101 Kids Activities That Are the Ooey, Gooey-est Ever!
From the bestselling authors of 101 Kids Activities, 101 Coolest Simple Science Experiments and Adorkable Bubble Bath Crafts, 101 Kids Activities That Are the Ooey, Gooey-est Ever! is full of exciting and fantastical recipes that include tips on the science behind the goo, so you can learn too. Whether it’s a slime, a dough or some other moldable creation, you’ll be able to create and become whatever your imagination dreams up. $21.99, ages 6 to 12.
Awesome Edible Kids Crafts
Never before has it been more fun to play with your food! Arena Blake, founder of the blog The Nerd’s Wife, shares exciting crafts that are made out of your favorite things to eat. Awesome Edible Kids Crafts features a variety of projects, each with a difficulty rating that lets you know if you’l need a grownup’s help. All projects use safe, nontoxic ingredients to spark creativity. $21.99, ages 6 to 11 years.
Express Yourself: A Hand Lettering Workbook for Kids
Decorate your life with fun fonts and beautiful quotes made your way. In Express Yourself: A Hand Lettering Workbook for Kids, Amy Latta will show you the basics of hand lettering and beyond. Learn fancy cursive and watercolor lettering. Add adorable details like flowers and animals. In the craft bonus section, you’ll find ideas on how to turn your finished work into fabulous DIY projects. Embellish pillows, notebooks and wall art with your own unique writing. It’s easy to share your art online, and make one-of-a-kind cards and invitations for friends and family. $19.99, ages 10+
Washington, D.C. is well known for its monuments and lawmakers, but there’s much more to the area than its statues and politicians. Ask Washingtonians, and we’ll rattle off a list of our favorite bits of history, neighborhood restaurants, museums, theaters and parks. The Trust for Public Land’s 2018 ParkScore ranks Washington, D.C. third and nearby Arlington, Va., fourth for cities with the best parks.
I was raised in D.C. and established my career here, and springtime is one of my favorite things about the city. When it arrives, it colors the city pink with cherry blossoms. I get in my car, open the moon roof and drive through Rock Creek Park, cranking up the volume on Will Smith’s “Summertime.” The beat and rhyme flow with the road, curving alongside thick greenery and slick creek stones, passing joggers and families gathering around picnic grills. The Rock Creek Park Nature Center and Planetarium are places to cool down on the woody trails among low-hanging ferns and chestnut oaks, which are some of the oldest and tallest trees in the park.
For a five-day visit to D.C. and neighboring Maryland and Virginia, here are some of my favorite ways to have family fun.
Where to Stay
The Morrison-Clark Historic Inn & Restaurant is a convenient downtown favorite with the feel of home, combining the architecture of two Victorian-styled homes and D.C.’s first Chinese community church and parsonage for a design that blends cultures. The bright orange chairs on the front porch and the brick courtyard make an inspiring and comfortable setting for my writing staycations. For the family traveler, Morrison-Clark Inn features connecting rooms, pack-n-play for babies, babysitting referrals and a doctor on call.
From the Morrison-Clark, historical sites, restaurants, shops and entertainment are easy to reach. The Washington Convention Center, Capital One Arena, the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery and American Art Museum and the White House are within walking distance. The museums, grassy walks and monuments of the National Mall are near, but for little ones the trek could be exhausting. The Circulator bus costs $1 to ride and is popular with locals and tourists. It loops through downtown and includes stops at Union Station and DuPont Circle.
D.C. driving and walking tour apps are available for download on your phone. Tour buses can be pricey for a large family of travelers. Scooters and ride-hailing services are affordable ways to get around, and many sites are accessible by Metro.
The National Mall is home to treasures of art, culture and history. Hungry from wandering the monuments and museums? The Smithsonian museums also provide great lunchtime dining. My favorite is the Courtyard Café at the National Portrait Gallery. After viewing presidential portraits, I grab a salad and sparkling water and sit in the atrium. It’s a great spot for the little ones to take a break and splash in the Scrim Fountain, with the occasional pigeon claiming a spot to coo.
With a pass to visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture, enjoy the best meal on the mall: the collard greens, mashed potatoes, pan-fried Louisiana Catfish Po’boy and High Mesa Peach and Blackberry Cobbler dessert at Sweet Home Café.
Pennsylvania Avenue is one of the most history-making streets in all of D.C. The inauguration parade route follows this avenue from the Capitol and passes D.C.’s city hall, Freedom Plaza and the National Theatre on the way to the White House.
D.C. is a top-25 media market, and you can see major events in history through the news lens at the Newseum on Pennsylvania Avenue. The building’s most striking feature are the words of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution etched into its marble exterior. Inside its galleries, learn about the importance of the free press and First Amendment. Front pages of newspapers from around the world display 9/11 coverage, and the Pulitzer Prize Photo Gallery showcases historical events captured by photographers and photojournalists. At the Berlin Wall Gallery, you and your family can experience this piece of history in a mind-blowing way by wearing virtual-reality headsets while standing in front of eight 12-foot-high concrete sections of the original wall, the largest display of unaltered portions of the wall outside of Germany.
In the afternoon, turn to Washington’s unique Civil War history at the African American Civil War Museum in the historic U Street Corridor. The museum teaches through exhibits and artifacts, plus a treasure hunt and interpretation that allow kids to explore while dressed in Union uniforms.
For dinner, the kids might enjoy a vegetarian black bean, Angus beef, ground turkey or marinated grilled chicken-breast burger – plus potato or sweet potato fries – at Bolt Burger across the street from the Morrison- Clark Inn. For more D.C. flavor, Baby Wale is just around the corner for easy eats, go-go beats and historic posters from bandleader Chuck Brown and band Rare Essence.
The historic Anacostia neighborhood is where you’ll find Cedar Hill, the home of Frederick Douglass. The house and visitor center is administered by the National Park Service (NPS) and is frequently visited by kids ages 5-12 collecting badges as part of the Junior Ranger Program.
During his lifetime, Douglass met with President Abraham Lincoln to discuss ending slavery. Both lived in hilltop homes with views of the U.S. Capitol that carry a heritage that seems to still be in conversation with this city of legislators.
From the porch of President Lincoln’s Cottage at the Soldier’s Home in the Petworth neighborhood, the U.S. Capitol building dome is visible. Named one of the best off-the-mall museums, the cottage, learning center and grounds are a place of reflection and connection, a place for storytelling. Sitting on the porch steps, try reading a story to your kids.
President Lincoln lived at the cottage with his wife and children during the Civil War, and he wrote the Emancipation Proclamation here. Staff describe the site as a “place of ideas.” Education programs inspire young people with stories. “Lincoln’s Hat” models the president’s practice of storing notes with his ideas he jotted down in his stovepipe hat. “I See the President” invites fourth and fifth graders to re-imagine a story from someone President Lincoln would have met on his route between the cottage, Civil War-era Washington and the White House.
The cottage sits in a reviving business district of neighborhood cafés, shops and sports facilities along Upshur Street and Georgia Avenue. On Georgia Avenue is The Pitch Tavern, known for its chicken wings and sauces, and big screens for sports. Nearby Lulabelle’s Sweet Shop, a candy-colored ice cream and gift shop, boasts a table of purple, yellow, orange, green and pink peppermint sticks, black cherry flavored Sassy Straws at 25 cents each, toys, writing tablets and hand games plus hand-dipped scoops of ice cream and sorbet.
The Baltimore Harbor is a 30-minute drive from D.C. The USS Constellation, an historic tall ship docked in the harbor, is open for children to climb aboard.
Nearby, Port Discovery Children’s Museum offers three floors of play-filled time for toddlers to 10-year-olds. Play, art and exploration equal learning within this colorfully designed kid space. There’s soccer, climbing and discovery. At the play market, kids select grocery items, learning healthy food choices. The Wonder of Water delivers wet and fun learning about evaporation, cloud formation and rain. In the Studio Workshop, kids sit at tables gluing fabrics, paper and shiny decorations. Little Picassos and Romare Beardens sit at art easels, crayon in hand, drawing a sitter or still life.
Just off the beltway, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum at Dulles International Airport in Virginia is an adventure for little climbers. With all those flying machines, including spaceships and war planes and flight simulators, it is the coolest and most fun. I hear kids negotiating with their parents to stay all day. Someone even asked to spend the night. Its companion building on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. is also fun.
Nearby Splash Down Water Park in Manassas provides a day of water fun for the family. To continue enjoying area park lands, NOVA Parks manages Meadowland Botanical Gardens, a site of 100 acres of public gardens and three lakes. Scavenger hunts to discover nature and plant life can be arranged in advance for little ones.
If your stay includes a Saturday or Sunday, Imagination Stage in Bethesda, Md., is entertaining for kids and parents. The 2019 season calendar is online at imaginationstage.org.
Imagination Stage is the largest theater-arts organization for youth in the area and includes a year-round season of shows, classes and camps for ages 1 to 18. There’s no bad seat in the house. There are lap passes, booster seats and floor seating. Equitable access is available for children of all abilities, including a quiet room that looks onto the stage and inclusive programming.
Special weekend theater gets ages 1 to 5 wiggling, whistling, shaking and laughing. Saturday Song Circle is an interactive experience that uses popular children’s stories, songs and musical instruments to get little bodies moving. Sunday Fun Day brings familiar songs such as “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and stories like “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.”
With so many parks and vibrant walking neighborhoods, D.C. is a fitness city. To explore the city on foot at a faster pace, the District Running Collective (DRC) inspires runners of all backgrounds and experience to learn about D.C. and become part of the community by running it. DRC hosts a free Wednesday Night Run and meets every Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at Exhale Bar & Lounge on Florida Avenue N.E. and at various locations for Saturday runs. For information or to sign up, visit districturunningcollective.com.
In whatever way you and your family experience my hometown, take as much of it in as you can.
Darlene Taylor is a Washington, D.C. writer, cultural arts advocate and founder of INKPEN, a nonprofit that aims to connect writers and readers.
A family vacation at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana includes a KIDZ BOP fan experience as part of the all-inclusive package.
Expose kids to music early, and a river of melodies and beats is likely to course through their blood for a lifetime. A lullaby or Beethoven can calm them when they’re babies. Michael Jackson’s music still carries magic for each new generation. At 3, my son, Sol, was pulling his dad’s hats down over his eyes and spinning his body like the King of Pop, even though the world had already said a sad goodbye to the legend. Today, at 11, Sol doesn’t even need music to burst out in dance. Some melody (previously heard or made up) is forever imprinted in his brain.
I blame the jazz teacher I used to share a room with when I taught high school English literature and journalism in the Crenshaw District. I was pregnant the year the jazz teacher and his teenage musicians would take over my classroom afterschool. As I sat at my desk grading essays, I could feel my baby kicking in response to the drums, the saxophone, the trumpet. After Sol was born, he continued to get anointed with music because the trumpet player’s mom became his babysitter. Adding to that gumbo is a legacy of musicians: my mother has been a gospel guitarist since she was 11, and my uncles were small-town-famous gospel quartet singers. So it was in the cards: My husband and I had no choice but to serve as the audience members of Sol’s many living-room performances.
When the AIC Hotel Group invited me to the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic for the launch of its partnership with the beloved KIDZ BOP brand, I figured it would be a perfect venue for Sol to test out his performance acumen in a larger setting. Sol pulled on my/his Panama hat, packed his earbuds and neck pillow and started schooling us on the latest Kidz Bop songs–clean, kid-friendly versions of popular hits, some of which this Hip Hop mama already knows way too well (Sorry not sorry: the beats get me through my commutes).
The KIDZ BOP Punta Cana experience debuted last summer and allows young vacationers to live out their pop-star dreams through an interactive creative space made just for them. During opening week, The KIDZ BOP Kids made a special visit for the “Ultimate KIDZ BOP Fan Experience,” a week-long celebration that included the KIDZ BOP Kids in live concert, pink carpet photo opps, a pool party, beach Olympics and a karaoke contest vacationing kids.
“Fans always ask, ‘What’s it like to be a KIDZ BOP Kid?’ Now, they can feel like a star for their whole vacation,” said Sasha Junk, SVP of Marketing at KIDZ BOP.
My family and I were giddy as we boarded the plane. I could just picture Sol up there on the stage, singing and dancing to his heart’s content. When he does the thing with the hat, I thought, the audience will go wild!
At the Punta Cana airport, our tired limbs were re-invigorated by a group of three musicians playing a mind-blowingly fast number on the tambora drum, accordion and the güira, a metal scraper indigenous to the Dominican Republic and used as a percussion instrument in cumbia and merengue tipico. I stopped to dance for a few seconds. With this style of music running at 120 to 160 beats per minute, a quick sweat is a sure treat. The bright lime-green walls of the airport were likewise breaths of fresh air. In my mind’s eye, I could already feel the Caribbean Sea breeze, could taste the fresh coconut lining a cocktail, could see my family dancing into the wee hours of the night.
On the way to Hard Rock, Mickey, our driver, told us that he had already taken streams of people to the resort. “They’re in town for that KIDZ BOP thing,” he said. “It’s a big party all weekend.”
Setting the Stage
My ideal vacation usually consists of staying in the city center, meeting as many local residents as possible, eating in little off-the-radar spots and taking in historic sites. My husband and son, on the other hand, are creatures of comfort. The Hard Rock’s Punta Cana resort, with its sprawling and beautifully manicured acreage dotted with cabanas made out of cana trees, restaurants, whirl-spa-equipped rooms, ample balconies, state-of-the-art spas and gym and the five-minute walk to the ocean (Punta Cana lies at the confluence of the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean, and the hotel is on the Atlantic), was paradise for them.
There are 13 eateries on the resort. We opted for Ipanema, an outdoor Brazillian-style restaurant that overlooks the ocean and includes seven meat options for the churrascarias (Sol’s mouth watered for anything bacon-wrapped); Isla, which serves fresh Caribbean cuisine (spicy sautéed shrimp in a plantain boat was our fave) and Toro, which serves an international breakfast and lunch buffet and is a steakhouse for dinner.
For parents looking to have a date, the resort offers a daycare filled with floor-to-ceiling play structures, games and a welcoming staff. I suggest taking advantage of it so you can dash off to the swanky gym (which has cycling, circuit training and yoga classes), the Rock Spa, an oasis of water and skilled body professionals offering everything from hot-stone massages to chocolate wraps to water lily cooling wraps – perfect for after a day on the beach, the casino and even nightclubs, where you can get your groove on before you kids take over the vacation with their KIDZ BOP activities.
During opening week, KIDZ BOP signs and events popped up all over the place. We splashed in pools as a KIDZ BOP DJ played tunes and some KIDZ BOP Kids signed autographs for excited fans still dripping from the pool. Kids ages 6 to 12 check into the Pop Star Lounge, where they get to work with tour managers to create a custom band name, perfect the hottest dance moves, select a wardrobe and hit the big stage. Designed for kids who love music, the Pop Star Lounge is complete with a listening studio loft. This realistic experience takes imaginary play to another level.
At the Family Beach Olympics, KIDZ BOP kids served as team captains while families competed with each other and jammed to more music. And at the live concert in the Fillmore Ballroom, KIDZ BOP performers belted out their versions of songs like “Sorry Not Sorry” and “Havana.”
Kids, and their parents, crowded around the stage to sing and dance along with the young pop stars.
What was that? Where was Sol?
Oh, he was there. He sat in his plush white loveseat most of the night, munching on blue cotton candy and other treats, taking in the scene coolly, refusing to join me as I jumped up to dance the night away.
He did get to meet the KIDZ BOP Kids. He posed with them on the pink carpet after the concert, smiling just a little as camera lights flashed.
Back in the hotel room, the kid found his second wind. He rolled up his pants legs, donned some flip flops, a hat and dark sunglasses and forced us to watch him perform.
I decided not to complain too much. He had one more big chance to try his hand at this pop-star life: a Pop Star Karaoke Contest judged by the KIDZ BOP Kids.
Another Kind of Splash
The next morning, we decided to venture off the resort and see some…well…more water. But not the emerald-green beauty of the ocean or sea. That was old news by then. We drove out to see Cap Cana in Scape Park. After snapping pictures of monkeys, macaws, orchids and iguanas, we took a nature trail hike to see Hoyo Azul or “Blue Hole,” a natural limestone sinkhole at the bottom of a cliff. We chose the “cave” route, a narrow passageway wherein we stepped down gingerly between walls of the towering cliff (“It feels like we’re in “Radars of the Lost Ark,” Sol said).
While he hadn’t felt comfortable enough to dance in front of strangers, his intrigue was piqued when we stood at the top of the cliff and looked down. The Hoyo Azul was like nothing we had seen before: the clearest, bluest water that, one writer wrote, feels like cream when you swim in it.
That mesmerizing pool of water is ice-cold, and is, at its deepest, 75 feet. No matter. Sol followed his dad and jumped off the cliff. After the big splash and sharp intake of breath, he lifted his head in a big laugh.
“So brave!” I yelled.
That night, however, as kids hailing from New York, Canada, Brazil and beyond performed during the karaoke contest, Sol, again, hung back, watching, listening, critiquing. And in our room, he again donned a disguise and became a different person, making up dances and lyrics while laughing uncontrollably.
I sighed a sigh of acceptance. While it would have been delightful to see him up on stage living out one of his passions, I realized that the experience had served as inspiration for him. Isn’t that the purpose of vacations: to inspire long after you’ve returned home?
And if our little pop star wants only us as his audience, we’re cool with that, too.
For additional information, visit hardrockhotelpuntacana.com/kidz-bop-experience.htm.
Cassandra Lane is Managing Editor of L.A. Parent.
If you’re looking for another excuse to take your kids back to Disneyland and California Adventure, you’re in luck. Disney has unveiled its newest fall attraction, Plaza de la Familia, a Día de los Muertos and “Coco” inspired celebration.
From September 7 through November 4, guests at both parks can enjoy festivities centered around the eternal bond of family. Enter the immersive world and enjoy traditional food offerings like Día de los Muertos Pan de Muerto, dance along with the mariachi band, and learn folklórico. You may catch yourself singing along to “Remember Me,” as you follow Miguel’s journey back to the Land of the Dead in A Musical Celebration of Coco.
You can also take a peek behind the scenes of the making of the film in the enchanting art exhibition, The World of Coco. Look through the eyes of an animator and rediscover your favorite characters by learning about the people and places that inspired Disney•Pixar’s Academy Award-winning film. Don’t forget to snap a photo in front of the “Árbol de la Vida,” or Tree of Life before you leave.
Can’t get enough “Coco?” Keep your eyes peeled in Cars Land and see if you can find Ramone’s “ofrenda” tribute to Doc Hudson. In Frontierland, try to count how many “cavaleras,” or sugar skulls, you can find.
For more information about Plaza de la Familia or any other Disney attractions, visit their website.
If your family loves museums, Smithsonian has an incredible event coming up in September! Mark September 22 on your calendar for Smithsonian’s annual Museum Day, and enjoy free admission at participating museums across the world. This is a wonderful opportunity for your family to enjoy a day filled with art, history, science and culture.
Registration opens online beginning August 15. One ticket gets you complementary entry for two people on Saturday, September 22, 2018. This event is perfect for families with kids of all ages, as there is such a wide variety of museums participating. To check which museums will offer free admission in your area, go online to https://www.smithsonianmag.com/museumday/museum-day-2018/.