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!
Traveling with a baby or toddler is a lot of fun and makes great memories, but there is just so much stuff to take with you. That’s why we’re super excited for these latest NAPPA Award winners. These baby gear essentials from UPPABaby are lightweight, easy to transport and stylish. Better start packing for a fun summer adventure!
Go places, big and small. Weighing in at under 15 lbs., the MINU by UPPAbaby offers modern conveniences in a compact, lightweight stroller designed for daily adventures and exciting excursions. One hand and one smooth motion is all it takes to fold this stylish stroller, making it perfect for travel. Features large, easy-access basket, extendable UPF 50+ sunshade, spring-action, all-wheel suspension, multi-position recline and 100% full-grain leather handlebar. Add-on features include From Birth Kit accessory. Ages: From birth (with Accessory Kit or MESA infant car seat adapters) otherwise 3 months to 50 lbs. $399.99.
The portable G-LITE stroller by UPPAbaby is one of the lightest full-size umbrella strollers available. A mesh sling seat adds comfort without adding weight. While this stylish stroller is super light and portable, it still includes all the essential features to make life a little easier. Extendable UPF 50+ sunshade allows you and your child to enjoy the sunniest of days together. The seat fabric is removable and machine washable. Includes cupholder and large basket with easy access. Ages: 6 months to 55 lbs. $179.99.
The MESA Infant Car Seat by UPPAbaby remains top-rated in safety by maximizing ease of use to minimize error, allowing parents to move forward with confidence and security. The SMARTSecure System combines auto-retracting connectors and a visual indicator that turns from red to green, providing an installation that is both simple and accurate. Awarded the NHTSA 5-Star Rating. Ages: 4 lbs to 35 lbs and up to 32” in height, $239.99.
For more baby and travel gear product reviews, visit nappaawards.com
Summer is a great time to connect with kids and playing games is one of the best ways to come together as a family to have fun and make memories. Check out our latest NAPPA Award-winning games.
The object of Honeycombs is to connect your tiles together by matching their symbols. The more matches you make the more points you earn. The Honeybee is wild and can be connected with any symbol. Features three unique ways to play, each varying in speed and competitiveness. Choose the one that suits your mood! $19.99, ages 6+
Our Family’s Race Across the U.S.A. Personalized Board Game
Announcing a brand-new way to engage the family with your own personalized board game, “Our Family’s Race Across the U.S.A.”! In a race across America’s coasts, move your piece along the colored tiles and cross the finish line first to win! Personalize up to six game pieces with the names and photos of your family members. Your family’s names will also be incorporated into the game board artwork. Create lasting family memories during family game night with this uniquely personalized keepsake. $29.99
3UP 3DOWN is a fast-paced, family-friendly discard game with a surprising finish! THE GOAL: Get rid of your cards before your family and friends can. THE SURPRISE: Three of your cards are not revealed until the very end – so you will need both strategy and luck! Takes just 3 minutes to learn and 10 minutes to play. It’s so fast and fun, you’ll all say, “Let’s Play Another Round!” $9.99, ages 7+
BOOM GOES THE DYNAMITE
BOOM GOES THE DYNAMITE is a dynamic matching game with an explosive twist! THE MISSION: Ignite as many matches as you can by using special action cards, strategy, your memory, and a little bit of luck. THE TWIST: The matchbox is always changing, and sometimes everything explodes! TO WIN: Race against the timer, use some mental math to ignite matches, and hope that you’re the one that gets to say “BOOM GOES THE DYNAMITE.” $14.99, ages 8+
For more product reviews, visit nappaawards.com. #playlearnconnect
Out latest NAPPA Award-winning albums are upbeat, fun and super family friendly. Take them along on your next road trip or put on a dance party in your backyard.
Under the Big Umbrella by Brady Rymer and the Little Band that Could
Three-time GRAMMY nominees Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could, have released their 10th studio album. This is a music-filled place where individuality is celebrated and kindness wins the day. Inspired by and written with students, teachers and families and enriched by a handful of classic pop songs that underscore the message, Rymer’s vibrant and colorful album is his most ambitious yet, a collection of 12 new songs full of hope for a future with “room for everyone.” As one educator says, Rymer “gives us the tools to help our students, of all abilities and backgrounds, understand, accept and truly enjoy one another.” $14
Bubba & Boo
Multi instrumentalist, Megan Schoenbohm, is an earthy, edgy, free-spirited songbird, who takes the audience on a mellifluous journey through themes of kindness, humanity, creativity and imagination in her debut children’s album, Bubba & Boo. The music is catchy & fun, and is sure to get the whole family singing along. $15
Earworm by Sean McCollough
Radio show host and songwriter Sean McCollough releases his third album featuring 13 stick-in-your-head original and cover songs. Earworm also features guest artists such as Billy Jonas and Molly Ledford. “I love introducing kids to music that requires an open mind, an open heart and ‘big ears,” says Sean. $13; $9.49 for digital.
For more product reviews, visit nappaawards.com. #playlearnconnect
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.
As much as you enjoyed traveling before, it can seem like a daunting new world when preparing for an adventure with your kids. We’ve collected the top 20 tips for traveling with children, so your next vacation can be as breezy as the Bahamas.
- Take your time. Nothing will stress you and your children out more than having to rush through security to make your plane on time. Don’t be afraid to wake up a little earlier or stay out a little later and avoid all the hubbub of the crowds. Your sanity will thank you.
- Pack together. Although it may take a bit more time, letting your kids have a hand in the process will make them even more excited for the trip. Also, it’ll help make sure you’re packing the necessities and avoid any meltdowns for forgetting their favorite blanket.
- Choose toys and snacks wisely. Legos might be their favorite toy, but all those teeny tiny pieces will be a pain to pick up. As much as you love those healthy granola bars, the seemingly endless crumbs will be much less of a hit. Aim for toys and snacks that won’t require much clean up and will be easy to move on a moments notice.
- Pack on extra outfit (or three). No matter how hard you try, kids will always find a way to stain, rip, or otherwise dirty their clothes. Rather than having to find a way to translate “laundromat” on your travels, avoid the extra stress and pack a few extra emergency outfits.
- Roll, don’t fold. By rolling your clothes when you pack, you’re saving space and avoiding wrinkles. When you’re rolling, you’re compressing the clothing, leaving more space in your suitcase for other essentials like shoes and books. It will also save you some time later on when you don’t need to iron your family’s outfits for that fancy dinner.
- Let your kids help you plan. You may have a perfect itinerary for your dream vacation, but it will help put your kids at ease if they had some input too. Vacations and change can be overwhelming for children, so letting them pick out at least one activity will give them something to really look forward to.
- Don’t forget the little things. Once you’ve packed everything you need for your trip, go back and try to think of any little things you might need on a daily basis. Tylenol? Check. Baby wipes? Not just for babies anymore. Ziploc bags? You know it.
- Backpack of goodies. Give your children a little responsibility and pack them their own backpack filled with age-appropriate toys and snacks to keep them busy. It will help take a load off you, and give the kids a sense of pride for being responsible for their items.
- Bring an extra map. Whether you’re traveling by plane, train, or car; the long journeys can be tough. Give your little ones something to do by bringing an extra copy of your route and some crayons and let them follow along. It will keep the “are we there yet?” to a minimum, and the crayons will give them a safe (and clean) creative outlet.
- Two words: Magnetic. Puzzles. This one takes a little planning, but can be a lifesaver on long car or plane rides. Either buy a magnetic puzzle, or glue some cheap magnets on a favorite you have at home, and bring along a cookie tray or dry erase board on your trip. It will keep your kid’s hands busy, and you won’t have to worry about losing any pieces.
- Board the plane separately. Have one parent board first, taking most of the luggage on with them. Once they are all settled and have the seats saved, have the other parent board with the kids. This will save you some stress and give you more time to let them get out all their energy before the flight.
- Have lollipops handy. We all the know the gum or yawning trick for popping your ears on a flight, but did you know lollipops can have the same effect? Coerce your kids into behaving and save them from any pressure induced headaches with this sweet treat.
- Stick to your routine as much as possible, but don’t be afraid to bend the rules. Your routine may be the only thing keeping you sane at times, but going on vacation can be a whole other ballgame. At home you may forbid electronics at dinner time, but having your tablet charged and ready for the five-course meal at a fancy restaurant might keep your youngest from throwing escargot at his sister. Be prepared, and be flexible.
- Schedule some decompression time every night. With all the hustle and bustle of traveling, it’s a good idea to have a set amount of time reserved for kid’s relaxation. Whether it be reading a book, playing a board game or simply watching an episode of their favorite show, make sure you have at least 15 minutes to an 1 hour of downtime in your schedule.
- Make sleep a priority. It can be very tempting to want to skip nap time for all the fun adventures you have planned, but you may regret it when the inevitable sleepy meltdowns come knocking. Know your child’s schedule, and come up with codewords between adults for when its time to take them back to the room for a little bit.
- Continental breakfasts are your new best friend. If scheduling allows, try to find a hotel that serves complimentary continental breakfasts. It will help take some stress out of your day, and you can always take some muffins for snack time later.
- For every adult activity, plan a kid-friendly one too. Even though that third wine tasting sounds like a lot of fun, your kids may get restless and cranky if there’s not enough activities designed for their enjoyment. For every late night luau, plan a coloring contest or arcade day.
- Take plenty of pictures, but enjoy the moment. We’re all after the perfect Instagram photo, but nothing kills the fun like an impromptu photoshoot with a demanding director. Take enough pictures for scrapbook memories, but remember to sit back and soak it all in too.
- Stay calm. Vacations can be stressful, but remember you are there to have fun! Take things with a grain of salt (and maybe a margarita), and remember you’re there to make lasting connections and memories with your family. Your calm attitude will help your kids have a better time too.
- No matter what you do, not everyone will be happy all the time. Even if you do everything on this list and more, chances are someone will be unhappy at some point during your trip. Roll with the punches, try to get to the root of the problem, and most importantly – don’t take it personally.
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.
Photo credit: manchestervermont.com
Best time to visit: mid September – mid October
Vermont is a fall foliage must-see thanks to their state tree, the sugar maple. Manchester, located near the border of New York and Massachusetts, is surrounded by brilliant shades of red and orange that stretch as far as the eye can see. Don’t forget a camera as you explore Hildene-The Lincoln Family Home, teach your kids how to pick apples at Mad Tom Orchard, or take a ride up the Skyline Drive for breathtaking views of three states. Manchester’s quaint, family-friendly New England atmosphere will give you plenty of opportunities for good food, quality time, and adventure.
Great Smoky Mountains, North Carolina / Tennessee
Best time to visit: mid October – early November
The Great Smoky Mountains is home to over 100 native species of trees, making it one of the most colorful and popular fall destinations. Scarlet oaks, hickories, and sweetgum trees create a distinct variation of purples, reds, and golds that is sure to make your family photos the envy of your PTA group. There’s no lodging allowed inside the park, but surrounding towns like Asheville and Gatlinburg cater to the seasonal crowds. For a truly once in a lifetime view, trek up to the top of Gatlinburg’s 407 ft Space Needle for a 360 degree view of the mountain range.
Lake Superior, Minnesota
Best time to visit: late September – early October
Fall is a special time for Lake Superior, with the distinct maple, aspen, and birch trees coming together to form a charming red-yellow rainbow. For the best view, hike inland along the lake, take the North Shore Scenic Drive towards Canada, or relax on the North Shore Scenic Railroad (they even have a Music and Pizza Train to keep younger passengers entertained). After a weekend of fishing or tubing along the lake, stop by the Duluth Children’s Museum for an interactive family-friendly break from the outdoors.
Garner State Park, Texas
Best time to visit: October
With over 95 state parks, there is steep competition for fall foliage in the Lone Star State, but Garner State Park takes the cake. The cool Frio River highlights the yellows and oranges of the oak, mesquite, and cypress trees and the reflection on the water makes for a picturesque scene. With over 1,700 acres of protected land and 11 miles of hikeable trails, Garner State Park has something for every kind of explorer. After a long day out on the water, unwind with late night mini-golf, specialty gelato, or an all-ages dance to celebrate the beginning of fall.
Grand Lake, Colorado
Best time to visit: September
Grand Lake, Colorado’s largest and deepest natural lake, is surrounded by the distinct aspens of the Rocky Mountain National Park. The plentiful forests typically transition through golden-yellow shades, but if you’re lucky you can catch a rare red aspen dotted amongst the forest. When the trees change, the wildlife come out to play, and Grand Lake is a prime spot to see the majestic elk rut. Visit during the third week of September to take part in the 7th annual Constitution Week, a five-day food and fun festival to celebrate fall.
Bishop Creek Canyon, California
Best time to visit: late September – early October
Bishop Creek Canyon, famous for their abundant cottonwood and aspen trees, is one of the best places on the West Coast to witness mother nature’s changing hues. Golden and red shades set the valleys ablaze and the mild California climate helps you maximize your time outdoors. Enjoy a horseback ride through the trails, take a dip in one of the many rivers or streams, or hike through the Eastern Sierras for an adventure packed family-friendly weekend. For some live entertainment at the peak of fall colors check out the Millpond Music Festival or Annual Pow Wow.