07/25/2014

These Boards Are Made For Walkin'

What says summer more than a stroll on the boardwalk? As a child, my yearly visit to Wildwood, NJ and its incredibly vibrant boardwalk was a highlight of my summer that has continued decades later. Whether it’s the value-packed (sometimes gaudy) stores, the never-ending parade of junk food, or the piers of carnival rides and attractions, there’s an incredible draw to boardwalks. The folks at Budget Travel have compiled a convenient list of America’s most awesome boardwalks from both coasts…and a few places in between. 

Did your favorite boardwalk not make the list? Tell us more about your favorite boardwalks by leaving us a comment below! 

06/23/2014

More Changes In Airline Carry-on Baggage Regulations

Hope you didn’t get too comfortable with airline carry-on baggage regulations, because it looks like they’ve changed once again. It seems that not only do all airlines not have the same size limits for carry-on bags, it can be difficult to near impossible to find a bag that meets the size requirements. Get all the details by clicking over to this informative article that was recently posted on Yahoo news.

06/16/2014

The Best Cities In America (For Foodies!)

If you’re one of the growing number of people who feel a calling to pursue amazing food, check out this article from Condé Nast Traveler that shows you which culinary cities are worth the trip. From Portland, Maine to San Diego, California, foodies responded to a Condé Nast survey and voted for their favorite culinary cities across the U.S. The results may be surprising, but the beautiful photos of the food and the locations will leave you wanting to book your travel right away.

The top 20 cities in 2014 for restaurants are listed in reverse order, along with their numerical ranking (as chosen by Condé Nast Traveler readers) as well as the reasons why they were selected. If you’re disappointed that your favorite city didn’t make the list, you can place your vote and maybe it will be included among next year’s winners. Bon appétit!

06/09/2014

Nashville For Newbies

This past summer, I took my first trip to Nashville with my wife and some friends. It was more out of curiosity than anything. We’d heard good things about the city’s tourist appeal, so I wanted to check it out for myself. After spending a week there, I’m really glad I did! Here are some tips we accumulated from our own experiences as well as a few based on research of how other recent visitors spent their vacation time.

If you’re thinking about visiting Nashville for the first time, the best time to visit is from April through October, when the warm weather brings the city to life and you can experience peak enjoyment. Start your day in Nashville by heading downtown and just taking in the vibe. The Music City Trolley Hop On/Hop Off Tour allows you to hop on (or off, obviously) at your leisure. You’ll get a chance to visit historic spots such as the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, which features more than 40,000 square feet of country music history and artifacts.

Another must-see is the Grand Ole’ Opry’s Ryman Auditorium, which is affectionately known as the Mother Church of Country Music. See for yourself where hundreds of famous artists, from country crooners like Dolly Parton and Taylor Swift to rockers like Bruce Springsteen and Mumford & Sons, have performed. It’s also home to the world's longest running live radio program.

For family attractions, check out the Nashville Zoo and spend an afternoon with the animals, or the Adventure Science Center, where you can interactively explore their Adventure Tower. There’s also the Sudekum Planetarium, where astronomers will show you how to identify the various constellations, bright stars, and planets viewable in the sky every night.  

At night, you will want to stop by one of Nashville’s world-famous honky-tonks on lower Broadway. There’s nothing that will give you the authentic Nashville experience more than spending some time in one of these dusty venues where artists spend their nights (and their proverbial blood, sweat, and tears) in pursuit of their musical dreams.

Twang Not Your Thang?

Not in the mood for country music? You can explore Nashville’s thriving arts scene by checking out of the Frist Center for the Visual Arts’ many temporary exhibits, or popping in on any of the downtown art galleries, most of which are on the “Fifth Avenue of the Arts”. Or you can see something really unique—the Parthenon in Centennial Park, which is the world’s only full-size reproduction of the Greek Parthenon and home to Athena, the tallest indoor structure in the Western world. Additionally, consider the First Saturday Art Crawl throughout downtown Nashville. As the name suggests, it takes place on the first Saturday evening of every month, and visitors can view many great galleries in the downtown area.

You can spend the afternoon at Belle Meade Plantation, Nashville’s largest and wealthiest private estate, once a renowned thoroughbred horse farm. You could also experience some presidential history by paying a visit to The Hermitage, home to President Andrew Jackson and his wife, Rachel. Check out the mansion and tombs of Andrew and Rachel, as well as Rachel’s beloved garden. Another must-see is Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum of Art, which features a rotating exhibition schedule, events, and breathtaking gardens to explore.  

Finally, if you’re a real fan of modern country music, be sure to take in a show at the popular Bluebird Café, made famous in the TV show, “Nashville”, where patrons can enjoy songwriters performing in an intimate “in the round setting”. But fair warning—it can get quite crowded, especially during open mic nights. 

Connecting To The Music

There’s a free Nashville Live Music Guide app available for iPhone and Android users that locates live music venues throughout the city and tells you who’s on stage at a given date/time. You can search by area of town or venue name, and a handy map function will display your location and the live music venue options nearby. The app’s calendar will search live music events up to 14 days in advance. Don’t have an iPhone or Android? No problem. Throughout Nashville, there are a series of quirky guitar pick-shaped signs that indicate if a location is a music venue. If that particular venue features four or more live shows a week, a pick-shaped sign is placed outside so visitors know where they can go for music.  

Your visit to Nashville will most certainly leave you with memories that will last a lifetime. But between the history, the music, and the people, you’ll never be able to see it all in one vacation!

05/29/2014

Surprise—Cleveland DOES Rock (And Much More!)

Recently, a group of travel editors gave their impressions of Cleveland—both before and after their visits. What they’re saying may surprise you. From a vibrant arts scene to stunning architecture and oh-so-good delicacies, you might want to consider making Cleveland a vacation destination rather than a city to avoid.

Despite sometimes chilly temperatures (and that 65+ year World Series drought), things have gotten noticeably better in Cleveland—and it shows! Take a look at the following article and see for yourself.

05/22/2014

An Enjoyable Ballpark Experience For The Family

After one of the worst winters on record, we’re finally enjoying some nicer weather! With baseball season now in full swing (pardon the pun), you might be thinking about taking the family to a baseball game. Ah—the joys of sharing a hot dog with your kids, cheering on the home team in the beautiful outdoors as you put thoughts of winter behind you and rediscover America’s national pastime. Major League Baseball (MLB) games can offer your family a memorable experience, but you can also enjoy the same family fun at a bargain price by attending one of many minor league baseball games across the country.

One of the great joys of being a parent is sharing the things that you love with your kids. If you’re a baseball fan, attending a game should certainly be one of those things. My dad and my stepfather were both huge Phillies fans, as am I. I remember growing up listening to games on the radio, as well as stretching out on the couch with my family to catch a game on TV on a lazy summer Sunday afternoon. But there was (and still is) nothing quite like actually being there at the stadium to experience all those sights, sounds, and smells in person. Everything there seems larger than life, especially to children.

The Big Leagues—MLB Games

I’ve been to many professional baseball games and stadiums, so I’ve come to know that the newer stadiums provide entertainment with a modern flair, even if they’re missing the historic presence of an older ballpark. Kids will have fun watching the game, eating hot dogs and popcorn, and taking in the crowd experience. They’ll get to see their favorite hometown baseball heroes and maybe even a few great players from the other team. Younger kids may not quite understand the concept of fan loyalty as they may have more than one favorite team (based on such important factors as team colors, logo, or whether their favorite animal is represented). Nevertheless, you’ll have a fun day with the family watching a live sporting event together and making memories.

If you happen to be spending a summer weekend with your family in any of 30 different cities that host an MLB team, consider bringing the family to an away game, even if your favorite team isn’t playing. Attending a live sports event is exciting and different—a break from the ordinary summer theme parks and beach experience. Even younger kids who don’t follow the game will no doubt enjoy the junk food, cheering (or booing, if you’re from Philly like I am), and doing the “wave”. Game tickets are usually available online or at the box office on the day of the game, but I recommend purchasing in advance to avoid being disappointed if, for some reason, tickets are not available due to an important series or a hot giveaway item.

Keeping It Local—The Minors

After factoring in tickets, parking, souvenirs, and refreshments, one of the negatives to attending MLB games, especially for an entire family, is cost. As such, there are probably limits to how often your family can make this happen. Thankfully, a more economical alternative to consider (and one that’s a lot closer to home for most people) is attending a Minor League Baseball game with your family. Across the United States, there are at least 28 professional and amateur baseball leagues with nearly 300 teams, so there’s almost certainly a minor league baseball team playing in or around your home town.

Baseball at minor league parks is an ideal way to spend a fun-filled and sunny afternoon or an exciting evening with your family. Though these games don’t usually feature well-known players, the baseball is fast and well-played (often only a few feet from your seat). Who knows, some of those players may end up becoming big league superstars—you never know! And getting their autograph now is a whole lot easier to do than after they sign that $100 million contract. Also, because you’re a lot closer to the action, you can actually smell the grass and can sometimes even feel the dust from a player sliding into home plate. Finally, minor league games offer promotional giveaways of items like caps, shirts, tote bags, baseball cards, and many other baseball collectibles all the time. And concessions? They’re also very plentiful and usually a lot cheaper. One local minor league team even has “Gluttony Night”, where you can pay one price and eat from the concession stands until your heart’s content. It may not be the most healthy thing you’ll do this summer…but hey, it’s baseball. Batter up!

05/15/2014

Alternative Products To Help You Get Around Carry-On Liquid Restrictions

Although some air travel restrictions are being eased, it’s still frustrating to not be able to carry on some of the products you need for basic hygiene in the quantities you’d like to bring. Rather than risk trying to sneak your oversized toiletries on board, your solution could be to try non-liquid alternative versions of these products.

It’s possible to bring all the travel-sized toiletries and cosmetics your trip requires if you simply swap out some or all of them for non-liquid versions. Check out this article which discusses alternative products that you may want to try. If they’re not available at your favorite drugstore, you should be able to order any of them on Amazon or other online retailers.

05/08/2014

Hate Crowds? When To Travel To (And When To Avoid) Disney World

When planning a Walt Disney World vacation, one of your primary considerations may be whether or not the resort will be crowded. As someone who’s visited during both the very heavy and very light tourist seasons, I can tell you that being at Disney World isn’t nearly as fun when you're standing in line most of the day. And I have no doubt your children would agree with me.

Another consideration is pricing—but at Disney, when the crowds are low, the prices are usually low as well. It’s basic supply and demand. There’s also the weather. Since most people prefer comfortable temperatures over the sizzling heat of the Florida summer, that’s also an important consideration.

Finally, let’s keep in mind any events that are going on at the parks that may enhance your vacation experience. There are some really great festivities at Walt Disney World during the year, and you can score big by combining low crowds with bonus fun events.

All things considered, here are my top recommendations for scheduling a week at the Mouse House:

Week after Thanksgiving—This is arguably the best week to visit Disney World. Crowds are small, prices are low, and the weather is usually very nice.

First full week in November—This week, and actually most of the month of November (except for Thanksgiving week!) usually sees really light crowds. Plus, the weather is usually gorgeous and you may get to experience a little bit of both Christmas and Halloween at the parks.

Most of February
—Except for Presidents Day week, February is a really great time to visit. You’re likely to enjoy smaller crowds, the lowest prices of the year, and sweet weather.

First two weeks in June – If you want to try something a little out of the ordinary, go during the first two weeks of June when Disney hosts Gay Days, since fewer families seem to schedule their Disney vacations for this part of June. If you want to travel to Disney close to summer and still not have the crowds, this is a good time to do it. And it's actually pretty easy to avoid the Gay Days festivities if they’re not your thing—there’s usually a designated park for Gay Days each day.

Anytime in September after Labor Day week—Much like February, September is much less crowded at Disney World with pricing that’s usually pretty good. It can still be pretty hot and there aren't any special events, but I bet you’ll still have a great time.

First week in May – Epcot’s Flower and Garden Festival finishes its run the first week of May, so you’ll probably see some really cool Disney character topiaries, enjoy good food, and even some great music. Crowds are generally pretty low and prices are typically good as well.

If Crowds Are Not Your Thing, Avoid Traveling During Certain Weeks.

Some weeks at Walt Disney World always draw huge crowds and there will be wall-to-wall people…everywhere. If waiting an hour just to get a drink or a hot dog is no problem for you, then by all means, go. But many people, including myself, have little tolerance for monster lines, so you should avoid the following weeks like the plague:

Week between Christmas and New Years—Christmas Day marks the busiest week of the year at Disney World. Trust me when I tell you that the seven days between Christmas and New Years will bring the largest crowds of the entire year. Probably larger crowds than you can imagine. In fact, the Magic Kingdom will actually close to new guests during the day because the crowds are so enormous.

4th of July week—Almost as many people come to see the fireworks at the Magic Kingdom on the 4th of July as they do on Christmas Day. This is a very crowded week.

President's Day Weekend—Avoid the Friday before Presidents Day through the Tuesday of President’s Day week. Since schools are typically closed for at least part of this time, many parents use this extended weekend as a quick family getaway from winter weather and it tends to get very crowded.

Of course, there are several weeks in the summer where the temperatures are hot, the crowds are large, and the prices are high. That’s why I personally would recommend avoiding travel to Disney in the summer if possible. But really, other than the 4th of July week, there typically aren't any flat-out outrageous summer travel times. If summer is definitely your vacation time, I would just recommend going as early or late in the season as possible.

05/01/2014

10 Ways To Manage Airport Snack Attacks

I admit it, I get a little bit of a buzz from going out to eat anywhere, so I tend to give myself a free pass when it comes to eating while traveling. For me, “comfort food” helps to relieve the stress of travel, the break from my normal routine, and the boredom of sitting in the terminal waiting for boarding to begin.

However, if you’re looking to eat healthier on the road, or if you just want to save some money, there are sensible ways to satisfy your snacking urges. Check out this great article that provides some really useful tips for managing airport snack attacks.

04/24/2014

Traveling By Air With Your Baby

This is one of those posts that may not necessarily be interesting to a wide group of people. But if you’re traveling by airplane with an infant anytime soon, the following tips may give you a little peace of mind. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)  also has a page of information for those traveling with a baby internationally.

PS—Don’t forget a copy of your baby’s birth certificate. You’ll need to show that, along with your driver's license, to a check-in agent so they can print your boarding passes.

Allow Yourself Plenty of Time to Pack the Diaper Bag
Think through every possible scenario so you can be prepared when the inevitable happens.

Suggested contents for a well-packed diaper bag include:

  • At least 5 diapers
  • A travel container of wipes
  • Disposable changing pads
  • A “wet bag” for soiled cloths and clothing
  • Sealable trash bag for dirty diapers
  • An extra outfit
  • Bibs
  • Burp cloths
  • Blankets
  • Toys
  • Pacifiers
  • A bottle if not breast feeding
  • A bag of formula (enough to make 3 bottles) if not breast feeding

Pretend you’re going to be traveling for much longer than you really are. Then, if for some reason you get rerouted or have a delay, you’ll be more prepared.

Prepare for the Cold Shoulder From Some Passengers
Many people feel that since they spent a lot of money on their flight, they should be able to enjoy it in peace. They feel parents should not fly with babies until their children are older and more controllable. Although I can understand their attitude, they should realize that the parent of a screaming child is about 100 times less thrilled about the situation than other passengers. It might not be a leisure flight—they could be flying out of necessity to visit a sick relative or for a cross-country move. The nature of children is that they are unpredictable. On one flight, they might be fine and on the next, they might be "that screaming baby". Just keep in mind that no parent wants their kids to make someone’s flight unpleasant.

Buckle Up Your Baby
New moms need to know that both the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) strongly urge parents to use car seats on the plane. It may be somewhat inconvenient, but it is much safer. This is especially true in cases of extreme turbulence, which are more common than people think.

However, mandatory use of a car seat in flight is not yet the law. The AAP is pushing for changes to this policy, as it seems inconsistent that airlines make you stow your laptop but allow babies to fly unrestrained. There are also times when federal regulations require that you cannot “wear” your baby in a personal carrier—including ascent, descent, and whenever the seat belt light is on. During these times, your baby needs to be properly restrained in their own seat. Remember that if you’d get thrown forward for whatever reason while holding an infant, your baby would unfortunately become your airbag.

Practical Tips—Or Helping the Odds To Be “Ever In Your Favor”
About 15 minutes prior to boarding, it might be a good idea to change your baby’s diaper. Then, board during the "family boarding" time and once seated, try to get everything you’re going to need out of the diaper bag. This should include burp cloths, a blanket, a spare bib, pacifiers, a full bottle, and toys.

Just prior to takeoff, consider feeding your baby. If they have a bottle, feeding on the ascent makes a lot of sense in order to help your baby’s ears pop. A pacifier may also help with ear popping. After your baby is finished eating, burp your baby and do a temperament check. Usually, a baby will fall asleep within about 20 minutes of finishing a bottle either way. The white noise of the plane, along with a full belly, often makes for a happy, sleepy baby. Otherwise, playing with a toy for a few minutes might do the trick.

For dirty diapers mid-flight, you should use the changing table in the restroom in the rear of the plane. It’s usually a fold-down changing table that should be small enough to comfortably handle babies 6 months of age or younger. Dispose of the soiled diaper in the waste receptacle, not the toilet—and never, ever change your child on a seat or a tray table. Also, please don't hand a flight crew member a dirty diaper. Since they handle food/drink for most of the flight, handling your baby’s dirty diaper is not sanitary or part of their duties.

Finally, during the landing phase, try to get your baby to take the pacifier again to help with ear popping. However, if your baby’s still out cold, let him/her sleep.

Overall, there are some challenges to traveling with an infant. But given the proper level of preparation, it doesn’t need to be a huge deal, and most people are willing to provide help if you need it.