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Royal Caribbean cruise

Cruising offers great family travel options.

It is a wonderful way to spend time with the extended clan because there is something to do for loved ones of all ages and energy levels. 

Here are a few updates on options available in the near future.

Quantum of the Seas

Is your family ready to set sail?

A great option for multigenerational gatherings or milestone events, here is a sampling of what's new at sea in 2015: 

 Norwegian Breakaway


Building on the success of Norwegian Breakaway and Norwegian Getaway, Norwegian Escape debuting in fall 2015, features all of the revolutionary experiences of their Breakaway Class, plus a number of new spaces and interactive experiences meant to excite and inspire.

Travelers can connect with the sea like never before on The Waterfront, an industry-first offering an oceanfront promenade lined with restaurants, bars and stunning views.  Follow every impulse at the heart of the ship – 678 Ocean Place, three dazzling decks of non-stop action.

Raise the stakes inside their largest casino to date, featuring the new Skyline Bar.  Indulge in popular dining options like Cagney’s Steakhouse and Le Bistro, offering chef-crafted dishes made with the freshest ingredients.

 Anthem of the Seas

Royal Caribbean International

Following on the excitement stirred by the launch of Quantum of the Seas just months ago, cruising families can look forward to the second ship in Royal's Quantum class, Anthem of the Seas.

Newly designed staterooms, game-changing technology, groundbreaking venues and the best dining ever are just the start of what you'll find onboard.

Plus, they have enlisted celebrity experts in fields such as design, sports & fitness, entertainment and others to be part their Quantum Experience Advisor program to work hand-in-hand to provide their expertise to help shape interior design, key amenities and activities.  By taking a quantum leap forward with the second ship in their Quantum class, they are holding themselves up to the promise of building ships that take you to new heights.  Anthem of the Seas sets sail in spring 2015. 

avalon waterways

Avalon Waterways

The Avalon Tapestry II – a Suite Ship® – is a true haven on the river - two full decks of Panorama Suites with Wall-to-Wall Panoramic Windows that transform the living space into a unique Open-Air Balcony®. With 200 square feet, Panorama Suites are more than 30% larger than the industry standard, giving you the rare opportunity to wake each morning to enchanting scenery and fresh breezes. Onboard amenities and services include a complimentary Internet Corner and free Wi-Fi access, a Fitness Center with state-of-the-art equipment, a hair salon, elevator, and a spacious Sky Deck with shade system, whirlpool, deck games, and the delightful Sky Bistro for al-fresco lunches of light grill fare.

AmaWaterways The AmaSerena – set to debut in 2015 – is a sister ship to the AmaPrima and features the most advanced design of any river cruise vessel currently in operation.

Their exclusive Twin Balconies are available in most staterooms, which measure a spacious 210-235 sq. feet, and four suites measuring 300 sq. feet.  Passengers will enjoy gourmet dining with unlimited fine wines at multiple onboard dining venues; a heated sun deck swimming pool with a ‘swim-up’ bar; fitness center and spa; complimentary ship-wide Wi-Fi and in-room Internet and Infotainment; and a fleet of bicycles carried onboard for passengers to enjoy on their own or on guided bike tours.

American Cruise lines

American Cruise Lines

 American Cruise Lines is building four new riverboats for American river cruising. Construction has already begun on the first two ships, with the first to begin cruising in in the spring of 2015. The first two new riverboats will carry between 150 and 200 guests and will cruise the Mississippi River system and the Columbia and Snake Rivers. The four new ships will enter service between 2015 and 2017. They will bring all the latest amenities and comforts to each area cruised, including the largest staterooms, private balconies, and spacious dining and lounge venues.


Carnival Cruise lines

Carnival Cruise Lines.  

Looking ahead to May, 2016, expect the 3,900 passenger Carnival Vista, the first in the lines new Vista class. With sailings from Trieste, Italy (think relaxing in the Med) and Caribbean-bound departures from the Big Apple as of November 2016. Special at sea: an Imax theatre and an innovative, aerial pedal-powered ride. Dog Sledding

Whoa! (That’s a real musher term.)

During a recent visit to Montana I was able to experience the thrill of heading into the backcountry, thanks to the strong efforts of my newfound, four-legged friends. Take time to learn about the animals and commands that are part of a dog sled adventure in a scenic and snowy location.

Here are five to consider.

Absaroka Dogsled Treks

1 Paradise Valley, Mont.:

 Lead dogs Thunder and Quila will pull your sled through the snowy wonderland of the Absaroka Mountain wilderness east of Montana’s scenic Paradise Valley. Layer up (you'll want to stay cozy warm) and choose a half- or full-day adventure. Your family will learn how to encourage these Alaskan huskies along the trail. A three-day mushing school is also offered. Later, relax in the steamy waters at Chico Hot Springs Resort or take a horse-drawn carriage from the historic inn. Enjoy top-notch cuisine in the cozy dining room, a favorite among low-key Hollywood celebs as well as local ranchers. 


2 McMillan, Mich.: 

Meet seven-time Iditarod finisher Ed Stielstra, his wife, Tasha, and their team of 135 Alaskan huskies. Drive a dog team or relax in the sled through the pristine wilderness of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Spend a few hours or overnight with your team for a star-filled adventure. Add to the winter adventure with snow tubing, skiing or snowshoeing to the ice caves in nearby Marquette. All-inclusive packages are available.


3 Quebec, Canada: 

Dog sledding is popular throughout the snowy regions of Quebec. Choose a tour that lasts several hours or one that lasts several nights. A guided, seven-night adventure will give you the chance to sleep in a teepee, a rustic cabin or in more luxurious digs. For those ready to expend a little more energy, try ski pulka, a combination of dog sledding and cross-country skiing.


4 Fairbanks, Alaska: 

Journey aboard Alaska Railroad’s Aurora Winter Train to see the snow-covered Last Frontier and embark on a dog-sledding voyage. Travel from Fairbanks to Coldfoot, near the Gates of the Arctic National Park, to learn about caring for a sled team above the Arctic Circle. In the summer, helicopter in to the majestic Chugach Mountains and onto Punch Bowl Glacier to enjoy a scenic ride powered by sled dogs.


5 Troy, N.H.: 

Meet the sled dogs from the Muddy Paw Kennel while staying at the Inn at East Hill Farm, a working farm in southern New Hampshire. With Mount Monadnock as your backdrop, help harness the team ahead of a 30-minute ride into the woods. Throughout your stay, hang out with the animals and collect eggs, groom the pony, and help milk the cow and goat. The all-inclusive experience includes three meals and an extensive list of family-friendly activities.

Contact: 1-800-242-6495;

forage for food

Are you ready to hunt and gather?

Discover “find dining” during a woodland shopping spree as your family learns the meaning of going “out to eat.” Under the tutelage of an expert guide, your crew will gather wild mushrooms, plants and other delectables and then enjoy a wild food “pick-nic.”

Later, as part of the experience, take the remainder of your “catch of the day” to a local restaurant where the chef will prepare your family’s forage-to-table feast at no charge.

Sounds like fun to me!


ATC Murder For Two

This production is killing it Off Broadway and had the audience in stitches last night at the Herberger Theatre in Phoenix. 

This hilarious blend of music, mayhem and murder, brought to the stage by the venerable Arizona Theatre Company, is one you want to add to your calendar now!

In 90-minutes, two talented performers play thirteen roles in a witty homage to the old-fashioned murder mystery. Both actors play the piano, sing and occasionally improvise in a performance that will keep a smile on your face from start to finish.  

Clever, funny, and ultra high energy, don't miss this amazing double act. On stage now through January 18. 

More information and tickets here.

Wings Over Willcox Sand Hill cranes

The take-off is amazing but it’s the sound that stays with you, I’d been told. Still, I couldn’t imagine the impending glory of the moment. 

I was too cold.

This was my first visit to Willcox, Ariz., for the town’s annual celebration of the sandhill cranes’ migration to their southern Arizona winter home.

Crane Convention
The sandhills’ stop in the Southwest is perhaps their most famous performance. Scouting for a suitable mate, the birds spend nearly a month entertaining avid birders and the casually curious. The crane population peaks around St Patrick’s Day, before they depart en masse for the Arctic, where a demanding breeding season ensues.
I had heard about Wings Over Willcox and had been eager to introduce the birding extravaganza to my sons.

My own interest in the cranes began when I first read A Sand County Almanac (Oxford University, 1970) in my 20s. Aldo Leopold, the late Wisconsin naturalist, wrote of his fondness for the sandhills in his 1949 classic.
Each year this farming community in Cochise County, roughly 80 miles east of Tucson, welcomes winter visitors of multiple species. Plenty of heat-seeking humans show up from places like Vancouver and Kansas. And as many as 30,000 sandhill cranes find their way to a 60-sq.-mile roosting site near Willcox. The Arizona Game and Fish Department owns the land where the birds roost and makes sure it is flooded each year to create the six-inch deep pool the cranes find so appealing.

Nature Calls
In an era when social media and sporting events are mainstays for the modern teen, it is not easy to arouse enthusiasm for a weekend spent in a small Arizona town, where the adventure’s highlight is a predawn excursion to see a mass of long-necked, pointy-billed, spindly-legged birds take flight.

I am fortunate to have raised nature lovers. When journalist and youth advocate Richard Louv, the author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder (Algonquin Books, 2005), sparked a national discussion about the lack of time children spend in the natural world, I have felt grateful my sons have grown up exposed to desert wild flowers, the Grand Canyon, the Colorado River, and now, the dance of the sandhill cranes.

Ancient Wisdom
There is much to be learned from these ancient birds that live long lives, up to 25 years, despite an arduous lifestyle; some are known to commute as far as Siberia. The cranes also are monogamous, have several offspring and even dance for their mates. They will mightily defend their loved ones and their territory. Their young even go through voice changes, just as humans do, says Michael Forsberg, a nature photographer and expert on crane migration and social behaviors.
National Geographic considers this avian traveling show one of the continents two greatest wildlife events, sharing honors with the great caribou migration. The residents of Willcox must be proud.

Lift Off

So it was that we found ourselves in the cold, dark Arizona morning, swaddled in warm layers to ward off the chill, waiting for lift off.
Then we heard it. As the rising sun spewed light on the shallows, a jarring whoosh filled the air and washed over us like a wave over sand. In that moment, thousands of birds, with five- to six-foot wingspans, and weighing as much as 14 pounds, took flight. They were embarking on a day that would include lollygagging in nearby cornfields and flying in V formation to the delight of mesmerized onlookers. Later they would return, to roost once again, in this Sulphur Springs Valley sanctuary.
Thankfully, the rising sun, and the somehow haunting ritual, warmed us as well.
As we settled into a welcome breakfast of eggs over easy and piles of pancakes, we spoke of the birds’ flight.

And of the sound.

The amazing sound of the sandhill cranes, in unison, breaking the sacred silence of morning.

If You Go

  • Each year, the Wings Over Willcox Birding & Nature Festival (WOW) takes place during January’s Martin Luther King weekend. While the cranes are the stars of the show, the festival offers tours and educational programs that also explore photography, geology, archeology, history, botany, agriculture and ranching. Visit the Web site to review the seminars and tours that interest you and your family. Reserve early.
  • Just for kids
    Children can explore a nature expo in the community center, which features educational booths, live animal displays, and a wide variety of vendors with nature-related crafts and activities. Free seminars on various topics are offered throughout the day.
  • Be prepared
    Mornings are cold with temperatures dipping well below freezing. (Think 15 degrees Fahrenheit.) Wear gloves, hats and layers. Rain is unlikely, but possible. Bring your camera.
  • Where to stay
    The WOW Web site lists most available lodging options, including chain motels, local B&Bs and guest ranches. Top pick: Muleshoe Ranch. Run by the Nature Conservancy, its simple casitas in a birding sanctuary are ideal for nature-loving families.

Guided Tours
Every winter, tens of thousands of sandhill cranes come to roost around the town of Willcox, 83 miles east of Tucson off I-10. For several years now, the town has decided to celebrate this event by staging a major festival during the third weekend of January, with birding tours and field trips to Willcox Playa, Cochise lake and the Apache Station Wildlife Area (the main habitats of the famous cranes). Other excursions take visitors to see raptors, sparrows and waterfowl wintering in the mild Southern Arizona climate. Inquire about tour dates and prices. Seminars and presentations on local wildlife are free. Due to limited seating, registration is required for all tours.

For more information, visit

travel trends family travel 2015

What can family travelers expect in 2015? 

Here are five trends to consider:  

1 More multigenerational travel options. 

While technology may make it easier for modern and mobile families to stay in touch, there is no substitute for spending time together.

That’s why an increasing number of clans are celebrating milestone moments and annual holidays in destination resorts, on cruise ships and in places that hold sentimental value.

To make planning easier, the industry continues to develop programs and packages intended to engage every member of the family.


2 More sharing. 

From unique accommodations to urban bike-share stations, the options for authentic, peer-to-peer experiences continue to expand.

Uber, a leader in the car-sharing movement, recently launched UberFamily in several major markets with plans to expand in the year ahead. Families can request rides in vehicles that offer car and booster seats.


3 Enhanced technology. 

Strap on your smart watch or access new functionality on your smartphone or tablet, and check in, track, plan and post with ever-increasing ease.

Guests of the new B Resort & Spa in Orlando, Fla., and the B Ocean in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., can tap a smartphone app or lobby kiosk to send virtual postcards, check the weather and print boarding passes.


4 More authentic experiences. 

Think behind-the-scenes access, opportunities to volunteer and the chance to learn from locals.

Expect a continued commitment to locally grown and crafted food and drink, and culturally significant traditions. Get the inside scoop or tap an expert for hikes, surf lessons or walking tours through Vayable, where you can book your own experiences with destination insiders.


5 Suite spaces. 

More hotels and cruise lines will offer spaces designed to delight and comfortably accommodate your brood.

In Orlando, the Despicable Me-themed suite at Universal’s Loews Portofino Hotel offers two rooms, providing a private space for the adults and a second room for the kids with no access to the hallway. At sea, Celebrity, Royal Caribbean and Princess cruise lines are among those with new family-minded cabins.


Jake Owen 

Last week I heard country star, Jake Owen, sing his current hit What We Ain’t Got during a concert in Phoenix. It’s not a holiday ballad, but the core message of the song certainly applies during this season of list-making and gift-giving.

We struggle to find the right gadget or gear for those on our list. And often spend a fortune mailing last minute gifts to faraway friends and relatives.

But what is it that they (and we) really want?

We ain't happy where we are,

There's greener grass in the neighbors yard.

A bigger house and a faster car.

Ask the elderly, the cancer patient or the returning vet what's on his or her wish list and most likely it won’t be more stuff. Perhaps their list includes good health, a roll back of the clock, and extra time with loved ones.

Our favorite doors are always locked.

On a higher hill with a taller top.

It’s hard to say why it’s such a struggle for most of us to askew the stuff and ask for what we might really want. If I knew….well, that’s a discussion for a different time!

But this year, right now, my holiday wish for all is for more sparkling laughter and meaningful experiences.

More fresh air, art, music and poetry. More time listening to snow fall (I know), children giggling, waves lapping on the beach and wind in the trees. More time sharing stories and quiet moments with those we love. 

And more time appreciating what we’ve got. 

(Photo: Courtesy CBS Radio - KMLE) - Jake Owen responds to a little girl's request to dance with him onstage.

Lake Placid Lodge
Two scenic winter resorts, Lake Placid Lodge and The Sagamore Resort, are offering a Ski For Free package this winter.  These Adirondack gems are perfect winter getaways and the ideal solution to avoiding crowded ski lodges.  

Ski & Stay for Free Package - Lake Placid Lodge 

Conquer Whiteface Mountain by day and relax in the comforts of a private fireplace on Lake Placid by night! The Ski for Free package includes:
  • Three nights accommodations
  • Two daily ski tickets per adult, per stay
  • Custom, made-to-order breakfast daily
  • Chef's choice of freshly prepared snack and wine in room per day
  • Nightly turndown service
  • Chef's choice of dessert delivered to room each day
  • Should you choose to extend your stay, receive the fourth night free along with two more complimentary ski tickets
  • Rates for this package start at $699 per night.

Offer based on double occupancy. Valid Sundays - Thursdays through March 28, 2015. Advance reservations for dining should be made directly with the proper outlet after confirming your room package reservation. All offers are based on availability. Restrictions apply. Excludes taxes, gratuities, resort fees, and alcohol. Cannot be combined with other offers.  Blackout dates apply.

Ski for Free Package - Sagamore Resort 

Hit the slopes at Gore Mountain by day and relax at The Sagamore on scenic and beautiful Lake George by night! The Ski for Free package includes:
  • Two-night accommodations
  • Breakfast daily for two adults
  • Two lift tickets to Gore Mountain per stay
  • Rates for this package start at $219 per night.

Offer valid on stays from December 24, 2014 through April 30, 2015, (weather permitting).  All offers are based on availability. Restrictions apply. Excludes taxes, gratuities, resort fees, and alcohol. Cannot be combined with other offers. Blackout dates apply. 
To book this special offer call (866) 258-7247 and mention code SKIFREE.

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