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What's New: Water and Theme Park Fun For Families

Record numbers of theme park visitors are preparing for thrilling and memorable new experiences this year.

According to the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions’ IAAPA Global Theme and Amusement Park Outlook Report (2017 to 2021), more than 398 million people are expected to take part in the fun in the months ahead. 

Roller coasters are a big part of what’s new this season, and an abundance of new rides and experiences—more than 70 according to the IAAPA compilation—include water slides, kiddie rides and new themed lands. 

According to park guest surveys, roller coasters remain the top-rated ride of interest to park guests, and 2018 will see many new coasters deliver big thrills.

With 12 roller coasters, four giant swings, four towering rides and, many more unique experiences to excite visitors, parks across the country are ready for a season filled with fun.

Family entertainment centers are a segment of the attractions industry that continues to grow and expand, offering an array of experiences from golf and go-karting to ziplines and trampolines.

These traditionally smaller destinations provide a mix of activities designed for parents and kids to experience together. 

Families can also soak up the fun at dozens of water parks, with many new water slides and water attractions making a splash all season long.

Discover what's new here: 

NORTH AMERICA 

CANADA

Alberta

Calgary Zoo opens Panda Passage exhibit for its two new adult pandas and two panda cubs. Panda Passage enhances the habitat that formerly housed the zoo's Komodo dragons and rhinoceroses. calgaryzoo.com

Ontario

Canada’s Wonderland in Vaughan opens two new rides and an expanded play and splash area for children. “Lumberjack” is a thrill ride that takes guests to heights of 75 feet on two swinging-axe pendulums, propelling them in 360-degree loops. “Flying Canoes” is an interactive family ride that allows passengers to control their adventure on two-person canoes that rotate around a circuit. In addition, Splash Island’s children’s pool in Splash Works will double in size and feature several new interactive spray features. canadaswonderland.com

Quebec

La Ronde in Montreal debuts Carnaval en Folie, a new family zone where colors and sounds re-create the festive atmosphere of the fairs and carnivals of yesterday. The Carnaval en Folie zone will include three new rides: the “Toubillon” carousel, the “Petite Roue” Ferris wheel, and “Tour du Fou,” a high-flying merry-go-round. laronde.com/fr/larondef 

MEXICO

KidZania, the interactive entertainment destination for kids opens in Guadalajara. Children can role-play in more than 100 real-life occupations, explore the kids’ city and have fun, while learning through realistic role-play designed specifically for children ages 2-14. guadalajara.kidzania.com/es-mx

UNITED STATES 

Alabama

Top Golf

Topgolf opens its second Alabama location in Huntsville. The 53,000-square-foot venue will feature climate-controlled hitting bays for year-round play, a chef-driven food and beverage menu, music, private rooms for corporate and social events, and more than 200 high-definition televisions. Now open. topgolf.com/us/huntsville

Arizona

Topgolf opens its third Greater Phoenix location in Glendale. The 65,000-square-foot, three-level venue includes up to 3,000 square feet of private event space and climate-controlled hitting bays that can host up to six players at one time. topgolf.com/us/glendale

California

Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach debuts a 29,000-square-foot Pacific Visions expansion. The new area includes an immersive 300-seat interactive theater, art gallery, and additional exhibition space for live animals. aquariumofpacific.org

California’s Great America in Santa Clara opens “RailBlazer,” a new roller coaster featuring a 90-degree drop, three inversions, and dynamic rotations throughout the ride. Guests straddle the coaster’s single track giving them an unobstructed view of the ground and sky during the off-road adventure-inspired ride. cagreatamerica.com

Disney California Adventure Park in Anaheim debuts Pixar Pier, a transformed land where guests will enjoy newly themed attractions, foods, and merchandise representing beloved Disney Pixar stories. The experience includes the “Incredicoaster” themed after “The Incredibles” film, and neighborhoods based on “The Incredibles,” “Toy Story,” and “Inside Out.” Opens June 23. disneyparks.disney.go.com/blog

Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park premieres a new steel roller coaster “Hang Time.” The ride towers 150 feet over the park’s boardwalk area, and ride experience includes inversions, midair suspensions, and twisting dives along the track. “Hang Time” will send riders up a vertical lift hill and down into a 15-story, 96-degree drop that gives the illusion the track has disappeared. Opens May 18. knotts.com

Legoland California Resort in Carlsbad opens Legoland Castle Hotel, a three-story, 250-room hotel (now open). Accommodations range from 20 suites to guestrooms themed to knights, princesses and more. The park also opens “Lego City Deep Sea Adventure” submarine ride. Up to 12 passengers board one of eight real submarines as they explore an imaginative underwater ocean world. Open. legoland.com/california

SeaWorld San Diego opens “Electric Eel,” the park’s third roller coaster. The 150-foot-tall ride features a triple-launch with accelerations of more than 60 mph. Now open. seaworld.com/san-diego 

Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia introduces “CraZanity,” a towering pendulum attraction that seats riders in an outward-facing circle and speeds up to 75 mph as it swings 172 feet in the air. The park’s Drop of Doom tower also gets a new virtual reality element, “DC Superheroes Drop of Doom VR”. Riders don headgear allowing them to join characters battling villains, all while plunging 85 mph down a 400-foot tower. sixflags.com/magicmountain

Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo debuts “Harley Quinn Crazy Coaster.” The ride’s two trains seat 32 riders face-to-face as they speed past each other in a dueling adventure. The figure-eight coaster turns riders upside down 12 times. sixflags.com/discoverykingdom

Universal Studios Hollywood debuts Kung-Fu Panda: The Emperor’s Quest in the DreamWorks Theatre. The immersive experience will be the first to use interior projection mapping technology including seven 4K projectors, 360-degree surround sound and physical effects including wind and water, raging rapids and the characters from King-Fu Panda. Opens summer.  universalstudioshollywood.com

Waterworld Concord introduces “Splashwater Island,” a four-story water play structure with more than 100 features. Guests will ascend ladders and splash down more than nine water slides.  waterworldcalifornia.com

Connecticut

Quassy Amusement & Waterpark in Middlebury opens its Category 5 Rapids slide complex featuring three water slides at its Splash Away Bay water park. The largest of the slides is named “Torrent” featuring a funnel design sending riders up its walls and oscillating to create a weightless sensation before flushing out riders. Open. quassy.com Toy Story land Familytravel.com

Florida

Aquatica, SeaWorld’s Waterpark in Orlando introduces Ray Rush, a new family raft slide which launches riders through enclosed tubes, a translucent sphere, and an open halfpipe slide shaped like a manta ray. aquaticabyseaworld.com/en/orlando 

Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Lake Buena Vista opens “Toy Story Land” featuring characters Woody, Buzz Lightyear, and Slinky Dog. Toy Story Land features two new attractions: the “Slinky Dog Dash” family roller coaster and “Alien Swirling Saucers,” a flying saucer ride. Opens. disneyworld.disney.go.com/destinations/hollywood-studios/toy-story-land

Legoland Florida Resort in Winter Haven introduces “The Great Lego Race,” an attraction that is created by transforming the “Project X” roller coaster into a virtual reality experience that takes riders through a rollicking race. Donning virtual reality headsets and using Bluetooth technology the ride synchronizes virtual visuals with the roller coaster’s twists, turns, drops and climbs, creating an all-new experience. legoland.com/florida 

SeaWorld Orlando debuts “Infinity Falls,” the world’s tallest river rapid ride. Each raft will twist and turn through a lush jungle environment as guests experience up to Class IV river rapids. A unique vertical elevator lifts each raft for a dramatic launch into the river, 40 feet below. seaworld.com/orlando/rides/infinity-falls

Topgolf 
opens its second South Florida location in Doral. The 65,000-square-foot venue features golf games using microchipped balls that instantly score themselves, showing players the accuracy and distance of their shots instantly on a television screen in their hitting bay.  topgolf.com/us/doral

Universal Studios Florida opens “Fast and Furious – Supercharged” which immerses guests in the popular franchise, complete with authentic cars and characters from the movies. Now open. universalorlando.com

Georgia

Great Wolf Resorts
 opens its first Georgia property in LaGrange. Great Wolf Lodge Georgia features indoor water slides, a giant tipping bucket, wave pool, lazy river, and a family raft ride. Additional family-focused attractions outside the water park include the “MagiQuest” interactive adventure game and the indoor Great Wolf Adventure Park. Open. greatWolf.com/Georgia

Six Flags Over Georgia near Atlanta opens “Twisted Cyclone,” a hybrid roller coaster that goes from a 75-degree initial drop to three inversions at 50 mph. The coaster train, modeled after a classic 1960s sports car, combines a traditional wood coaster structure with a steel track. sixflags.com/overgeorgia/attractions/newfor2018

Wild Adventures in Valdosta adds “Megabugs! Adventure Encounters,” a new interactive area including more than 70 exhibits featuring big insects and arachnids. wildadventures.com

Idaho

Roaring Springs, the water park in Meridian, adds three new water slides in its new Bearfoot Bay expansion. Open. roaringsprings.com

Illinois

Great Wolf Resorts opens in Chicago’s northern suburb of Gurnee. The company’s 17th resort, Great Wolf Lodge Illinois features indoor water slides, a giant tipping bucket, wave pool, lazy river, and a family raft ride. Additional family-focused attractions outside the water park include the “MagiQuest” interactive adventure game and the indoor Great Wolf Adventure Park. GreatWolf.com/Illinois

Six Flags Great America in Gurnee adds the world’s largest loop coaster, the park’s 16th roller coaster. The 100-foot-tall ride features 32 face-to-face seats and takes daring riders through several 360-degree revolutions. Open.  sixflags.com/greatamerica/attractions/newfor2018

Indiana

Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari in Santa Claus adds two new thrills for kids celebrating the Swahili word for elephant. The “Tembo Falls” water slide complex features eight junior slides including twisters, helix, mini-bowl and two racing slides and “Tembo Tides” will have a junior wave pool featuring spray features for younger children. holidayworld.com

Iowa

Adventureland in Altoona opens Bernie’s Barnyard, an area created specifically for the park’s youngest guests with kiddie rides, a playground, arcade games, and more. adventurelandresort.com

Kentucky

Kentucky Kingdom in Louisville adds two new rides. “Scream Xtreme” will have riders soaring and spinning high above the park, and closer to the ground the new family ride “Rock ‘n Roller” will leave passengers of all ages dizzy. kentuckykingdom.com

Maine

Palace Playland in Old Orchard Beach opens the “Sea Viper” roller coaster. palaceplayland.com

Maryland

Six Flags America in Upper Marlboro debuts a new centerpiece for its Hurricane Harbor Water Park, “Wahoo River.” The themed adventure river will have seven water action zones complete with water arches, geysers, surging waves, waterfalls, and tipping buckets. Open. sixflags.com/america

Massachusetts

Six Flags New England in Agawam debuts “Harley Quinn Spinsanity,” a colossal swing ride that reaches up to 70 mph and spins riders up to 147 feet in the air. sixflags.com/newengland

Minnesota

Topgolf opens its first Minnesota location in Brooklyn Center, near downtown Minneapolis. In the 65,000-square-foot venue, guests can enjoy self-scoring golf games using microchipped balls that instantly show players the accuracy and distance of their shots on a television screen in their hitting bay. topgolf.com/us/minneapolis


Valleyfair in Shakopee opens “Delirious” in its nostalgic Route 76 area. The 70-foot looping thrill ride, which features a train that races around the inside of the track, completes 10 revolutions in less than a minute. valleyfair.com

Missouri

Silver Dollar City in Branson debuts the “Time Traveler” roller coaster, the world’s fastest, steepest and tallest spinning roller coaster. The ride features a 10-story, 90-degree vertical drop and three inversions: a dive loop, a vertical loop, and a zero-G roll along more than a half mile of track. Now open.  silverdollarcity.com/timetraveler

Six Flags St. Louis opens “Typhoon Twister,” in its Hurricane Harbor water park. The hybrid zero-gravity water slide and wave wall sends up to four people barreling down an enclosed 54-foot drop in a cloverleaf raft. sixflags.com/stlouis

Topgolf opens its first Missouri location in Chesterfield. Guests can enjoy point-scoring golf games using microchipped balls that instantly score themselves, showing players the accuracy and distance of their shots instantly on a TV screen in their hitting bay. topgolf.com/us/st-louis

Worlds of Fun
 in Kansas City introduces “Nordic Chaser,” a new family ride. Guests of all ages will board mini-ships that rotate around a circuit, providing the sensation of rising and falling along ocean waves. Now open.  worldsoffun.com

New Jersey

Diggerland in West Berlin, introduces The Rugged Riders and Farm Tractors, bringing to the park a fleet of more than 25 rides guests can drive, ride and operate themselves. The construction theme park for families also announced the Soaring Eagle Zip LineVentrac Tractors and Elevation Station – a scissor lift ride – set to open this season. diggerlandusa.com

Six Flags Great Adventure & Safari in Jackson opens “Cyborg Cyber Spin,” an anti-gravity gondola ride that spins on three separate axes. Twenty-four riders sit with their feet dangling as they twist and turn and are propelled up to seven stories above the ground. sixflags.com/greatadventure

Topgolf opens its second New Jersey location in Mount Laurel. The 65,000-square-foot venue features microchipped golf balls that score themselves, providing players with instant feedback on each shot’s accuracy and distance. topgolf.com/us/mount-laurel 

Six Flags

 

New York

Darien Lake in Darien Center opens the new “Tantrum” roller coaster taking riders up a 98-foot/90-degree vertical lift with a 97-degree drop reaching up to 52 mph rushing through features including an Immelman turn and tilted loop finish. Open. darienlake.com

The Great Escape & Splashwater Kingdom in Lake George introduces “Pandemonium,” which takes 24 riders at a time on a ride that lifts, spins, and tilts at all angles. At sundown the ride’s colorful light package will illuminate the sky, providing a unique after dark experience. sixflags.com/greatescape

Splish Splash Water Park in Calverton opens two new water slides. On the Riptide Racer four guests simultaneously race head first on mats and get drenched as they sail down. Bombs Away features two dueling 300-foot slides perched from a 50-foot tower, combining the anticipation of the AquaLaunch capsule and visual impact of looping translucent fiberglass as guests await the floor to drop from beneath their feet. splishspash.com

North Carolina

Carowinds near Charlotte debuts Camp Snoopy, a newly expanded kids’ section featuring new rides, and a climb-and-play area, “Beagle Scout Acres.” Camp Snoopy will feature five new rides: “Camp Bus” that lifts guests into the air and lowers them back down to the ground; “Peanuts Trailblazers” puts guests behind the wheel of a Jeep-like vehicle on a small, round speedway; “Kite Eating Tree” sends a kite vehicle up and down a tree; “Pig Pen’s Mud Buggies” rotates around the popular Pig Pen character while bouncing on a bumpy ride and “Woodstock Whirlybirds” an oversized spinning bird’s nest. carowinds.com

Ohio

Cedar Point in Sandusky opens “Steel Vengeance,” a 200-foot-tall hybrid roller coaster featuring a 90-degree initial drop and a Twisted Snake Dive, a maneuver that puts the train into a half-barrel roll, lets it hang upside-down momentarily, before turning back to the direction of travel, just shy of a complete roll. Now open. cedarpoint.com

Oregon

Oaks Amusement Park in Portland debuts a new roller coaster that features a 72-foot vertical lift, a heartline roll, 97-degree loop, and top speeds of 45 mph. The public is helping the park name the new ride through a name-the-coaster contest. Now open. oakspark.com

Pennsylvania

Sesame Place in Langhorne debuts the “Oscar’s Wacky Taxi” ride. The wooden-steel hybrid family roller coaster has a bright yellow, taxi cab-inspired train featuring Oscar the Grouch.  sesameplace.com/philadelphia

Dutch Wonderland in East Lampeter Township opens its first suspended roller coaster named Merlin’s Mayhem featuring a 60-foot rise and two helix turns, making it the park’s tallest ride. dutchwonderland.com 

The Boardwalk at Hersheypark in Hershey opens two water rides. “Breakers Edge Water Coaster” seats four riders on in-line rafts and rockets them through splash-filled hills, tight turns, and sweet thrills perfect for the whole family. On the “Whitecap Racer” guests ride on a mat through turns and tunnels as they sail down six colorful racing lanes. Open. hersheypark.com

Thomas Town at Kennywood will open at the suburban Pittsburgh area park in West Mifflin. The addition will feature four new family rides based on the characters from the beloved children’s series, “Thomas the Tank Engine.” The rides include "Cranky’s Drop Tower," "Harold’s Helicopters," "Firefighting Flynn," and "The Convoy," as well as new shows, gift shop, play area, party pavilion and games. Open.  kennywood.com

Topgolf opens its first Pennsylvania location in Pittsburgh in the summer. The 65,000-square-foot venue features point-scoring golf games using microchipped balls that instantly score themselves, showing players the accuracy and distance of their shots on a television screen in their hitting bay. topgolf.com/us/pittsburgh

Waldameer Park and WaterWorld in Erie opens two new family-friendly rides. “Balloon Race” in Kiddieland sends riders spinning around and gliding up and down in colorful hot-air balloons, while the “CannonBowl” single- or double-tube water slide has drops, twists, and turns before it sends riders spinning around in a giant bowl. waldameer.com

Tennessee

Nashville Shores in Hermitage adds a new Aqua Park on Percy Priest Lake. Designed by Wibbit Sports, the on-the-water play area features monkey bars, action towers, wiggle bridges, a balance slide, and jump. nashvilleshores.com

Texas

Aquatica San Antonio debuts the Taumata Racer, and high-speed, 375-foot racing water slide including a 180-degree turn and tunnel. Now open. aquaticasanantonio.com

Cinergy Entertainment Group opens a new location in Edinburg in summer. The new entertainment center features cinemas, bowling, multi-level laser tag, elevated ropes course, game floor, escape rooms, premium food offerings, full-service bar, multiple event rooms, reserved ticketing, luxury recliner seating, and the Cinergy Epic auditorium. cinergy.com

Crayola Experience opens its fourth location in Plano. Located at The Shops at Willow Bend the magic of Crayola comes to life in a one-of-a-kind attraction is where color, chemistry, and technology magically combine to create a colorful adventure for a child’s imagination. crayolaexperience.com/plano

Schulman’s Movie Bowl Grille adds a 6,000-square-foot location in Denison featuring dine-in movie theaters, 24 Brunswick bowling lanes, an interactive arcade and amusement center, multi-level high-definition laser tag center, full-service restaurant, and a 100,000-square-foot mixed-use retail center. moviebowlgrille.com

Sea Life Aquarium
 and Legoland Discovery Center opens at the Shops at Rivercenter in downtown San Antonio. The complex consists more than 65,000 square feet of interactive and educational attraction space. sanantonio.legolanddiscoverycenter.com

Six Flags Fiesta Texas in San Antonio opens “Wonder Woman Golden Lasso Coaster,” a single-rail coaster that features a 90-degree drop, zero-G roll, and a 180-degree stall. sixflags.com/fiestatexas

Six Flags Over Texas in Arlington debuts “Harley Quinn Spinsanity,” a 24-seat gondola-style ride that delivers a combination of negative and positive gravitational forces as it twists and rotates on three separate axes in a continuous movement. sixflags.com/overtexas

Topgolf opens its 11th Texas location in Pharr, in the Rio Grande Valley. The 55,000-square-foot venue features self-scoring golf games using microchipped balls that score themselves, showing players the accuracy and distance of their shots instantly on a television screen in their hitting bay. topgolf.com/us/pharr

Urban Air Adventure Park, a trampoline park for all ages and fitness levels, opens two new locations in Killeen and Tyler. urbanairtrampolinepark.com

Virginia

Busch Gardens Williamsburg debuts “Battle for Eire,” a virtual reality attraction featuring a fierce fairy warrior named Addie who leads riders on an adventure through her homeland of Ireland. Addie’s goal is to rescue the Heart of Eire, which represents the magic of Ireland, with a little help from park guests. seaworldparks.com/buschgardens-williamsburg

Kings Dominion near Richmond debuts “Twisted Timbers,” a hybrid roller coaster featuring a 109-foot barrel-roll drop, three loops, and 20 airtime moments. The 3,351 feet of steel track make some maneuvers possible that were previously unimaginable on a traditional wooden coaster. Now open. kingsdominion.com

Ocean Breeze Waterpark in Virginia Beach opens a new family raft water ride with a patriotic theme.  Riders board four-person tubes at the top of a 70-foot platform before sliding into a dark, enclosed tunnel with a series of unpredictable twists, turns, and drops that lead to a thrilling and refreshing splashdown. oceanbreezewaterpark.com

Washington

Seattle’s Space Needle, one of the world’s most recognizable landmarks, is undergoing a 360-degree "spacelift." The new look includes a breathtaking, multi-level, floor-to-ceiling glass viewing experience. With nothing between guests and the view but seamless glass panels and innovative inclined glass benches, visitors will experience the intense feeling of floating on air above the beautiful Seattle landscape. The renovation includes the world's first and only glass rotating floor, lounge and unique dining experience. spaceneedle.com

Wisconsin

Noah’s Ark Waterpark 
in Wisconsin Dells opens a new water slide named “Raja – The World’s Largest King Cobra.” Riders will race side-by-side on tubes from six stories up along more than 335 feet of twists and turns at speeds up to 30 mph, concluding with a 37-foot plunge into the mouth of a massive snake. noahsarkwaterpark.com

Sky Zone opens a new 22,000-square-foot trampoline park in Greenfield. Guests experience “Freestyle Jump,” “Foam Zone,” “Sky Slam,” and “Sky Hoops,” as well as “Ninja Warrior Course,” a “Challenge Zone” that includes jousting pits and an aerial ladder, “Free Climb,” a climbing wall and “Fusion Dodgeball,” a new take on a classic backyard game that uses a trampoline court system as its venue. skyzone.com/greenfield

EUROPE

Belgium

Walibi 
in Wavre debuts a new family-friendly roller coaster. At its adjacent water park, Aqualibi the park opens a 700-square-meter aquatic playground for children. walibi.com/belgium/be-en

Denmark

Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen introduces “Winter in Tivoli,” the historic amusement park’s first winter-season celebration in its 175th anniversary. Operating Feb. 2-25, the park opens an ice-skating rink, shops, and restaurants. Select park rides will operate during the event as well. “Chess – The Musical” will play in the Tivoli Concert Hall. tivoli.dk/en

Germany

Holiday Park in Haßloch opens the Maya the Bee indoor zone with experiences celebrating one of the park’s most popular characters. holidaypark.de/en

Legoland Deutschland Resort 
in Günzburg introduces “The Great Lego Race,” a ride transforming the “Project X” roller coaster into a virtual reality experience that takes riders through a rollicking race. Donning VR headsets and using Bluetooth technology the ride will sync the virtual visuals with the roller coaster’s twists, turns, drops and climbs, creating an all-new experience. legoland.de/en

Great Britain

Alton Towers in Staffordshire opens the “Wicker Man” wooden roller coaster, the park’s first new coaster since 2013 and the U.K.’s first new wooden roller coaster since 1997. The coaster will tower nearly six stories (57.57 feet/17.7 meters) over the park and include a fire-like element. Now open. altontowers.com

Blackpool Pleasure Beach in Blackpool, England, opens “Icon,” a coaster that propels thrill-seekers forward at high speeds at the start of the ride and at a second point halfway through the two-and-a-half-minute experience. blackpoolpleasurebeach.com/icon

Legoland Discovery Centre opens at the Arena Birmingham in Birmingham, England, featuring play areas and adventures including Miniland, an interactive city made of Lego bricks, a 4-D cinema, creative workshops with a master Lego builder, and “Kingdom Quest,” an interactive chariot ride. birmingham.legolanddiscoverycentre.co.uk

Peppa Pig World in Ower, Hampshire, England, debuts two new rides. “The Queen’s Flying Coach Ride” takes families on a tour around the newly extended part of Peppa Pig World and “Grampy Rabbit’s Sailing Club” which takes guests along a new water route to discover Pirate Island. paultonspark.co.uk/attractions/peppa-pig-world

Sweden

Furuvik in Furuvik debuts “Spökjakten,” a dark ride that lets guests compete and collect points by scaring ghosts and other creatures. The park also opens Furuvik Havshotell, a 28-room seaside hotel and restaurant inspired by traditional yacht clubs and classic American boardwalk culture. furuvik.se/english

Liseberg in Gothenberg opens the “Valkyria” dive coaster featuring a vertical 50-meter drop. The ride climbs then pauses at the peak of the life hill briefly before plunging vertically into an underground tunnel at a speed of 105 kph. liseberg.com/en/home

ASIA

China

Little Big City in Beijing is a new family attraction that features interactive, handcrafted miniature locations. It depicts iconic buildings and streets of Beijing city to scale along with special effects and cutting-edge multimedia technology to bring the world class city’s colorful history to life. The attraction also includes more than 6,500 miniature “locales,” created in detail from extensive historical research. merlinentertainments.biz/little-big-city

Japan

Universal Studios Japan 
in Osaka debuts “Final Fantasy XR Ride,” a virtual reality roller coaster. The attraction, based on the "Final Fantasy" video game franchise invites guests to don virtual reality headsets as they board airships to explore various "Final Fantasy" worlds. usj.co.jp/e

Malaysia

Legoland Malaysia Resort in Johor Bahru introduces “The Great Lego Race,” a ride transforming the “Project X” roller coaster into a virtual reality (VR) experience that takes riders through a rollicking race. Donning VR headsets and using Bluetooth technology the ride synchronizes the virtual visuals with the roller coaster’s twists, turns, drops, and climbs, creating an all-new experience. legoland.com.my

LATIN AMERICA

Costa Rica

KidZania, a “mini-city” that allows children to role-play in more than 100 real-life occupations, opens in Heredia. From board member to baker and doctor to truck driver, kids can try their hand at real-life occupations. kidzania.com

 

Vacation With Sharks and Other Sea Creatures

Sharks continue to fascinate kids of all ages. Here are five ways to plan a family trip that incorporates sea-faring adventure and facilitates a greater understanding of our oceans and the creatures that live in the sea. 

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1. Summer of Shark, Princess Cruises.

If your crew is known to binge on the annual Shark Week programming, you’ll want to join the cruise line’s Discovery at SEA program, offered in partnership with the Discovery Channel, for a fully immersive experience honoring the great finned creatures. Expect elevators, restaurants and other public spaces decked out in shark style as well as themed events, culinary offerings and other shark-centric festivities. 

Children and teens can head to the newly designed Camp Discovery where age-appropriate shark-themed activities will be underway, including shark face painting, the crafting of shark clay models and shark inspired jewelry. For those seeking more of an adrenaline rush, ask about the shark diving and whale shark encounters available during some sailings.

Contact: www.Princess.com

 Swim with whale sharks 

2. Cancun, MX.

Swimming with the largest fish in the sea is a thrill worth seeking. Whale sharks reach lengths of 40 feet and can weigh 15 tons. Despite their imposing presence, the gentle creatures peacefully share the warm seas with visitors who arrive via boat from the shores of nearby Cancún. Two at a time, along with a guide, you'll don a life jacket or wet suit and fins before jumping in for a swim with these plankton-slurping vegetarians. No touching is allowed (the mega-fish are considered a "vulnerable species") but you can swim alongside as they thrust forward their supersize square jaws and begin filtering everything in their path like a water-born vacuum cleaner. 

 Contact: cancun.travel; solobuceo.com.

Atlantis

3. Atlantis Resort. Paradise Island, Bahamas.

Slip, slide and walk among sharks at this expansive island resort where families have access to141 acres of adrenaline-pumping water play. Head for the Leap of Faith slide at the top of the Mayan Temple, plop in an inner tube and hang on for the ride. You’ll twist and turn through a tunnel, dropping almost 60 vertical feet, before emerging in a clear, acrylic tube deep within a shark-filled lagoon. For those who want to stay dry, panoramic windows offer views of Hammerheads, Reef Sharks and barracudas. The more adventuresome can don specially designed underwater helmets and walk with the sharks inside their exhibit.

Contact: AtlantisBahamas.com.  

4. Cabo San Lucas, MX.

Join the trip to Cabo Pulmo to experience 300 species of fish, 200 marine invertebrates as well as Bull Sharks in what is called the world’s most “robust and healthy marine reserve”. For the more adventuresome (and those over 15) consider the Cabo Shark dive that includes swimming with silky, blue, smooth hammerhead and mako sharks. The organization’s founder and professional shark dive guide, Jacopo Brunetti, is an Italian marine biologist, PADI scuba instructor, and a shark behavioral expert. His goal is to encourage shark viewing and diving as an eco-sustainable activity.

Contact: http://cabosharkdive.com

Family Dive trips

5. Family Dive Trips.

Learning to scuba dive is a great way to learn about sharks and other creatures of the deep blue sea. Tom and Margo Peyton, co-owners of Family Dive Adventures, advise families to choose family-friendly destinations where the water is warm, clear and there is no current. They often  recommend  Bonaire, Grand Cayman and St. Lucia for beginners and early diving practice. The company provides group and custom dive trips and has certified more than 5,500 children during the last two decades. Ask about Kids Sea Camp, during which children and their parents learn about sharks, manta rays and the latest in global marine conservation. Contact: 

www.FamilyDivers.com 

Resource: Check out the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week programming for a massive menu of documentaries, videos, shark cams, virtual dives and “fintastic” facts. Contact: www.Discovery.com

Powder Mountain, Snow Basin, Stir Olympic Memories

Maybe you’ve never heard of Snowbasin or Powder Mountain, two ski resorts a short drive east of Ogden, Utah.

But what about the Winter Olympics (you know, this year, the ones in PyeongChang)? You’ve heard of them, right? Back in 2002, Snowbasin hosted the downhill, super-G, and combined events for the Salt Lake City games.

And Powder’s claim to fame: It’s the largest ski resort in Utah, in terms of skiable acres (8,464) and the eighth largest ski resort in America, when measured by slope length.

Powder and Snowbasin are, as my dad likes to say, two peas in a pod because they’re in the same valley. But they are very different peas. One is more corporate, the other counter-culture. They look different and feel different, but they have the same sublime snow, plus Utah’s legendary outdoorsy vibe.

Looking for Powder Mountain and Snowbasin

If you can find them, that is. It’s a challenge for these resorts to compete with the flashier Park City area mountains. They’re not as close to Salt Lake City and they don’t have the million-dollar marketing budgets. This lack of hype could lead you to believe you’re in the middle of nowhere, when, in fact, you’re somewhere really special.

Which pretty much describes how I felt when we checked into our little place overlooking the Pineview Reservoir in Huntsville, Utah, about halfway between Snowbasin and Powder Mountain. It was surrounded by snowcapped mountains and seemed almost desolate, even though we were here at the height of ski season.

Of course, “Where are we?” also applied to our lives. When you’re constantly on the move, you wake up on some mornings and ask yourself, “Which state am I in, again?” Then you look out the window and see mountains and snow, and you say, “Oh, Utah.”

Elliott Family skis Utah

Riding up Powder Mountain

You can’t quite see Powder Mountain — or “PowMow” as the locals call it — from our place. The resort is accessible from nearby Eden by a narrow, winding road. A sign ominously warns motorists that chains are “required” during ski season, but on the day we drove up to PowMow, the roads were completely clear.

By the way, it’s true that this has been one of the worst ski seasons in memory as far as snow goes. No matter where we’ve visited — Colorado’s Wolf Creek, Purgatory, Crested Butte or Eldora — the snow has been uniformly disappointing. I wondered what a place that modestly calls itself Powder Mountain might be able to offer.

More than I thought, it turns out. Powder Mountain is enormous, but it also keeps its snow like a reservoir holds water. It breaks ski resort traditions in many ways. First, you drive up to the base and then ski down, like Snowshoe Mountain in West Virginia. It also emphasizes quality over quantity, limiting lift ticket sales to 1,500 per day. This, the resort promises, ensures the lowest skier density of any major ski resort in North America.

PowMow’s Runs

PowMow’s runs are broad and gentle. Even the black diamond slopes — the most difficult ones — have a bluish tint, meaning they are not heart-stoppingly scary. Also, the average skier is, as my middle son would say, a dude. I’m talking jeans, last decade’s snowboard, long beard, and a headset playing the Grateful Dead. PowMow’s unofficial, somewhat revolutionary motto is “Powder to the People.” 

And here’s something else you normally won’t find at an American ski resort: A snowcat, the kind used for grooming slopes, utilized instead to transport skiers from one ridge to another.

I didn’t have to imagine what this place would be like with good snow, because Powder Mountain had the best snow I’ve skied on all year. That’s what you get when you create a ski resort at the top of the Wasatch Mountain Range. Lots and lots of snow that sticks to the ground when everyone else has gone to the beach.

On the fixed-grip chairlift, a guy from Houston told us about the last powder day at PowMow, and I could swear those were tears in his eyes. Here, the snow is something like a religion. 

Chasing Olympic dreams at Snowbasin

Snowbasin may share a valley with PowMow, but in many ways, feels like it’s on another continent. Sure, the snow is still great (I base this on two visits, one in February and the other in late March). But the slopes here are a little more serious.

There are two Olympic downhill runs. Have you ever stood at the top of a downhill run? Just take the Allen Peak Tram to the top and take a peek down Grizzly, the start of the men’s downhill course. It starts with a wall of snow that you basically plunge down, reaching speeds of 70 miles per hour. Even the slightest miscalculation can send you careening off the slope and to to the hospital. I made careful turns down that black-diamond slope until I reached the bottom.

Speaking of Olympics, Salt Lake City is making a bid for the 2030 games, which has the folks at Snowbasin excited. They can already envision the athletes coming back to the top of Allen Peak and competing again. That would be something.

Snowbasin is known for two other things: First, its base lodge is among the nicest in the west. It looks more like one of those upscale ranches in Wyoming than a ski lodge, with soaring ceilings, 360-degree fireplaces and gourmet food. And second — and this may come as a surprise — it offers some of the longest and most family-friendly runs I’ve ever been on. Try Elk Ridge, accessible from the Strawberry Gondola, for some pure carving pleasure.

Ah, and the views! Both Snowbasin and Powder Mountain have incredible vistas of the reservoir or of Ogden and Salt Lake City. But on a clear day, from the top of the Allen Peak, it’s said that you can see all the way to Colorado, Idaho, Nevada and Wyoming.

I’m glad we landed here now, as the Olympics are underway. I can’t think of a more perfect time, or place.

You can read more about Christopher Elliott's family travel adventures at Away Is Home.

 

Why Crested Butte is Colorado's Most Serious Ski Resort

Crested Butte is Colorado's most serious ski resort. Seriously challenging, seriously scary -- and seriously fun.

The mountain's almost-vertical, double black diamond runs, most of them accessible from a T-bar lift, are in a class by themselves. (A T-bar? Haven't seen one of those in years.) These slopes will put the fear of God in you even if you're a lifelong skier.

And yet, the fun is serious, too. A series of much more forgiving blue and green runs are available for your kids, and there's no shortage of things to do in town, none of which involve you staring into a snowy abyss.

 

"I'm not going there" 

Although Crested Butte is only a few miles over Italian Mountain from Aspen, Colorado's most high-profile ski area, it might as well be on a different planet. People don't come here to be seen, and there are no paparazzi tracking the few celebs who venture over the hill. 

Instead, everyone is here to ski.

As soon as we picked up our lift tickets, we headed straight to the mountain.

We'd already skied two resorts in Southern Colorado, some of which presented us with challenging terrain. But this was different. Really different. After a warm-up run on the Red Lady Express, which has a lot of mellow runs perfect for families, we headed over to the Silver Queen Express, a quad that services some of Crested Butte's steepest terrain.

The last few hundred feet of Silver Queen are almost pure vertical, and you get the sense that coming down might be a chayllenge.

It is.

"OK, kids," I said to my two boys, ages 13 and 15. "Playtime's over."

Skiing down Triangle, a single black diamond run, demanded our full attention. But after a fresh snowfall, the mountain face was manageable. Then my middle son, Iden, made a turn and headed for the trees -- rated the most difficult terrain -- lured by ungroomed boulder-size moguls and cliff-like steepness, and ...

"I'm not going down there," his older brother declared.

Fortunately, you can change your mind and live to tell the tale. We pivoted on our skis and came down International, another black diamond run.

 Wendy saves the day.

The next day we met up with Wendy Fisher, a former Olympic athlete and X-Games competitor who offers ski clinics to people who might find the mountain a little intimidating. Yeah, that would be us. 

After just one trip down an easy run, Fisher diagnosed our problem: We were leaning too far back on our skis, which tires you out quickly and limits your ability to control your skis, especially on the steeps.

Fisher is part mountain guide, part storyteller, part instructor. She has an encyclopedic knowledge of Crested Butte, is happy to regale you with stories of the 1992 Winter Olympics, and is eager to offer tips on improving your form. Iden, the fastest skier in our group, learned how to regain control even when zipping down the hill. Fisher showed Aren, our most cautious skier, how to relax a little and enjoy his runs.

And me? Well, I had years and years of bad habits to overcome. I tend to ski with both my legs glued together. In German, it's called "wedeln." Fisher showed me how to trust my equipment, keep my legs apart, and let gravity do more of the work.

Thanks to Fisher, we spent the next few days skiing every open run -- yep, even those seriously hard black diamonds. Thanks, Wendy.

About that fun ...

There's much more to Crested Butte than its legendary slopes. After two days of intense skiing, we got off the mountain and headed into town. We met up with Nel Burkett, curator of the Crested Butte Heritage Museum, who took us on a walk through the historic downtown and then offered a brief tour of the museum. It's funny, but when I asked the kids what they remembered, they said, "That's the town where all the buildings burned down." True, more than a few buildings on the tour had burned to the ground at some point in history.

Crested Butte has a fascinating history as a coal mining town and a center for environmental activism, and there's still an interesting mix of money and idealism here. You can find impressive, million-dollar mansions in the hills, but you can also run into a few old-timers who live more modestly. And you can visit shops and hole-in-the-wall restaurants that remind you more of a college town like Berkeley, Calif.

Speaking of restaurants, there are more than a few tasty choices here. Our favorites included Teocalli Tamale, with its generous burritos and a library of palate-blowing hot sauces. And there's Secret Stash, which claims to have the best pizza in the world. Who am I to disagree? For a more formal dining experience, try the Magic Meadows Yurt, which involves a brisk snowshoe walk through the woods to a backcountry cabin heated by a wood-burning stove, with live music and a five-course meal prepared by a private chef.

At the end of the day, we always found ourselves out in the snow and cold. Crested Butte is one of the coolest places in Colorado, thanks to high mountains that pull freezing air into the valley. On a clear, subzero night, trudging through the fresh powder, we looked up and marveled at a thousand stars bracketed by dark mountains.

Crested Butte may be a serious resort, but at that moment I couldn't wipe the grin off my face. I think it was frozen in place.

What's an EAT Vacation?

One of the hottest trends in travel is EAT vacations. We’re not talking about tours with celebrity chefs. Rather, families are looking for trips that provide memorable Experiences, real Adventure and Transformative moments. 

Here are five ideas that may fit the bill.

Visit Palau for family travel

1. Discover Palau.

Located in the westernmost corner of Micronesia, Palau, an archipelago of more than 586 islands, consistently ranks as one of the world's best dive destinations. Pay off for the lengthy travel time includes 1,450 species of fish, 500 species of coral as well as rare sharks and stingrays.

You’ll want to reserve a day to snorkel amidst the moon and golden jellies of Jellyfish Lake. A short hike delivers snorkelers to a 12,000-year-old marine lake where millions of gelatinous creatures waft through the water following the arc of the sun. Families can safely submerge and follow the magical migration. Thanks to evolution, these jellyfish are void of their sting. There is also considerable WWII history in the area, including sunken ships and planes.

Contact: www.Visit-Palau.com ; www.FamilyDivers.com


visit Cambodia Angkor wat familytravel

Angkor Wat, Cambodia.

Fans of the Tomb Raider film series will particularly enjoy exploring the Angkor Archeological Park, unfolding deep within the Siem Reap province. While hundreds of archeological and artistic temples and ancient structures remain, the most familiar (it’s on the Cambodian flag) is Angkor Wat. Built in the 12th century to honor Vishnu, a Hindu God, the temple's bas relief galleries inform modern visitors of life in ancient times.

Also of note is the remarkable water system, including moats, canals and reservoirs, that once provided water and crop assistance for the thriving communities. Visitors arrive via river cruises on the Mekong or a stop in Siem Riep where lodging and tours are plentiful.

Contact: www.VikingCruises.com ; www.TourismCambodia.com.

May your way into the Colorado backcountry. Huts.org familytravel

Choose your backcountry.

For an EAT trifecta, establish a pure connection with nature, off the beaten path. Hike, paddle or float into a pristine location where your family can learn or hone their wilderness skills. Choose a destination suitable for the ages and abilities of your crew. Encourage each person to take responsibility for the adventure whether that is early research, carrying a small pack, collecting kindling or serving as master storyteller around the fire.

For the youngest set, get started with an overnight in the backyard or a nearby park. That way, should the weather or unforeseen forces create a kink in your plan, warm and dry shelter is nearby.
Contact: www.Backcountry.com; www.NPS.gov  ; www.Huts.org

Dali with kids familytravel.com

The Dalí Museum. St. Petersburg, FLA 

The budding artist in your clan will be transformed by a visit to this 66,450-square-foot museum that houses the most comprehensive collection of Salvador Dali’s works in the world. Enjoy the priceless collection of masterpieces, paintings, photographs, watercolors and books sure to inspire the whole family.

Younger children will enjoy the “Dillydally with Dali” program offered daily, which includes puzzles, games, story hour and creative expression. Be there on the first Saturday of the month, for Breakfast With Dali, a morning that includes a junior-focused tour, followed by a buffet breakfast. Children under five are admitted free.

Contact: www.TheDali.org ; www.VisitStPeteClearwater.com

Boundary waters canoe trip familytravel.com

Boundary Waters Canoe Trips. Ely, MN.

Ease your canoes into the pristine water and look forward to peaceful days of paddling amidst a sparsely populated, one million-plus acre expanse of wilderness. Listen to the waves lapping against the shoreline and the haunting lullaby offered by local loons as you drift to sleep in one of 2,000 secluded campsites that dot the lake region. Wake to the sounds of birds chirping in the birch trees and enjoy breakfast over a campfire. Then set out to explore more of the 1,500 miles of canoe routes that crisscross the waterways.

Contact: www.boundarywatersoutfitters.com  www.ExploreMinnesota.com.

 

 

 

Winter Adventures for Families

Warm up to the wonders of winter adventure.  Here are five, high energy family travel ideas to consider:

​1. ​Juneau, AK.

Visit this world-class winter destination and trade long lines and crowded restaurants for endless views and pristine solitude.
Pop on your skis and put things in perspective as you glide across Mendenhall Glacier Lake. With a massive glacier as your backdrop, your whole family will enjoy speeding across the flat terrain while taking in some of the most majestic scenery imaginable. Check out the groomed Nordic trails at Eaglecrest, a community-owned ski resort on Douglas Island just minutes from Juneau.

The most adventuresome families will find challenging terrain and untouched routes along with insider knowledge through experienced heli-skiing operators in the area.

Contact: www.TravelJuneau.com ; www.Alaska.org.

Ski Yellowstone National Park

​2. ​Yellowstone National Park​.​

Discover the magic of our first National Park cloaked in her winter finery. New snowfall serves as the perfect backdrop for a Nordic adventure to a steaming backcountry geyser, a snowshoe around Old Faithful or wildlife viewing in the Lamar Valley. Venture to and from your overnight at the Snow Lodge via snow coach, stopping enroute to observe animals on the move, icy waterfall formations and the evening alpenglow on the mountains. Guided adventure and snowmobile tours are available.

Contact: www.yellowstonenationalparklodges.com ; www.VisitMt.com


​3. ​Winter Park, CO.

Explore more than 60 miles of groomed trails on skate skis when you visit this family favorite in the Colorado Rockies. In addition to making the most of free skiing lessons offered by the Nordic Center at the YMCA of the Rockies’ Snow Mountain Ranch, expect good times ice skating, playing broomball, tubing, sledding, and creating arts and crafts. Get cozy for story time, with hot chocolate and s’mores by the fire. Contact: www.ymcarockies.org. www.visitGrandCounty.com ; www.Colorado.com

​4. ​McCall, ID.

Bring your favorite furry friends for a day of outdoor fun in this forested mountain town located two hours north of Boise. Dogs are welcome on Nordic trails in several locations throughout McCall, where views of Payette Lake are paired with fresh air and contagious enthusiasm for adventure. At Jug Mountain Ranch, discover the Lyle Nelson Nordic & Snowshoe Trail system, designed by the local Olympian. Skate ski tracks for all abilities send explorers through open meadows and pine scented forests. Fido will enjoy romping through the snow as you and the family navigate trails at the Tamarack Resort, where lessons and guided tours are also available.

 Contact: www.tamarackidaho.com ; www.jugmountainranch.c om; www.VisitIdaho.org

Maine huts FamilyTravel.com

​5. ​Kingfield, ME.

Explore more than 80 miles of trails via cross-country skis or on snowshoes in the backcountry of western Maine. Enjoy your off-the-grid adventure by day and then relax in a comfortable hut over night where a warm bed and tasty meals await. Considered “boutique hostels”, the huts, run by a non-profit organization, feature state of the art green energy systems that generate and store their own power. Make tracks from hut-to-hut on your own or with a guide. Contact:  www.mainehuts.org  

A great read for kids to go with your winter adventures!

 

Warm Up To These Winter Festivals

Winter months provide the opportunity to enjoy festivals and gatherings that celebrate all things icy and cold.

Here are five places where you can chill out with carvers, climbers and history makers: 

Ouray, CO

This southwestern Colorado mountain town, known for its picturesque jagged peaks, is home to one of the country’s premiere ice festivals. Competitors of all levels, climbing companies and spectators gather for the event and the opportunity to demo the latest ice tools, apparel and gear. Family members can access dozens of interactive and educational climbing clinics through out the festival. For many, the highlight is watching the world’s best ice and mixed climbing experts battle for the top prize. 

Contact:www.OurayIcePark.com

Whitefish, MT.

The Annual Whitefish Winter Carnival kicks off with the coronation of a king and queen, followed by a Penguin Plunge (a hole is cut into Whitefish Lake and participants take a dip to raise funds for charity). Visitors are welcomed by mountain men, penguins and Viking divas, otherwise known as the costume-clad volunteers who share stories and point the curious toward the old-fashioned Main Street parade, an ice sculpting contest, a kid’s carnival, a pie social and a pancake breakfast. You can also expect a torch-light ski parade, ski-joring, cross-country ski races, and a figure skating demonstration. The festivities are open to the public and most are free. 

Contact: www.whitefishwintercarnival.com

Washington Crossing Reenactment, Bucks County, PA.

George Washington’s daring 1776 Christmas Day crossing of the Delaware River and defeat of the opposing troops in Trenton is considered an important turn of events in the Revolutionary War. This historic scene is reenacted twice during December, as thousands gather on the banks of the Delaware River to garner a glimpse of the past. Witness participants, clad in Continental military dress, listen to “George Washington’s” inspiring speech, before he leads them across the icy river in replica Durham boats. December 10 and 25, 2017.

Contact: http://www.washingtoncrossingpark.org/park/crossing-reenactment/ 

Stowe, VT -

The Annual Stowe Winter Carnival offers a seasonal wonderland of family fun. Expect kooky sporting events, ice carving competitions, ski movies, Kids Carnival Kaos and Snowgolf and Snowvolleyball tournaments. Tour the Northern Vermont town, while watching professional ice carvers manifest clever Ice creations throughout the village. The Vail Resorts Epic Pass now offers unlimited, unrestricted access to Stowe Mountain Resort.

Contact: ; www.stowewintercarnival.com  

Aspen, Co

With a nod to the town’s Nordic heritage, local Aspenites began celebrating the popular winter festival, Wintersköl in 1951. Surrounded by the peaks of the Elk Mountains, visitors celebrate the “toast to snow” with four days  of festivities including a quirky canine fashion show, torchlight ski parades, a soup cook-off as well as broomball and fat biking competitions. Make time for downhill and cross-country skiing as well as shopping, dining and spa time.

Contact: www.aspenchamber.org.

Five Coastal National Parks You'll Want To Visit

If you and your family are yearning for a seaside holiday, these coastal National Parks may fit the bill.

Here are five to consider:  

1. Olympic National Park, Port Angeles, WA

Brimming with thousands of years of human history, your family can contemplate the complexity of the natural world amidst lush rain forests, glacier-capped mountains and richly-hued seaside tide pools.  There are wild animals to observe, trails to hike, rivers to fish and more than 70 miles of untamed coastline to explore.  Rangers are in residence to provide input during interpretive walks, campfire programs and to help decode the starry sky. Stay in the park lodge, in cabins or pitch a tent in your own campsite. , Built in 1953, Kalaloch Lodge is the only coastal lodging in the Park.

Contact: https://www.nps.gov/olym; www.thekalalochlodge.com.

2. Cumberland Island National Seashore, St. Marys, GA.

Bypass the crowds and head for Georgia’s largest and southernmost barrier island.  Pristine beaches, mud flats, dune fields and salt marshes provide respite for shore birds, sea turtles, wild turkeys and wild horses. Kayak, fish, and hike by day.  Enjoy the bounty of stars visible from your family’s campsite. (No other lodging is available on the island.) A 30-minute, daily dockside program offers insight into the island’s history, culture and ecosystem. Other lengthier tours are also possible. Check the web site for times and availability.

Contact: https://www.nps.gov/cuis

3. Virgin Islands National Park, U.S. Virgin Islands.  

Explore the underwater world via a 225-yard trail where snorkelers are treated to a signed introduction to the region’s fish and marine life. While 40 percent of the park is under the water’s surface, there is plenty to do on land. Stroll the beaches, hike or tap into the region’s history at the visitor’s center.

Ranger led programs include bird watching, hiking, yoga on the beach, lionfish safaris and sky watching. Inside the park, resort lodging and camping are available. An extensive array of possibilities are available outside Park boundaries. (recovering from hurricane damage)

Contact: https://www.nps.gov/viis; http://www.CaneelBay.com.

4. Padre Island National Seashore, Corpus Christi, TX. 

This Park protects the longest stretch of undeveloped Barrier Island in the world, a landscape that includes dunes, tidal flats, prairies and 70 miles of coastline. Home to more 380 species of birds, the Park also provides a safe haven for Kemp’s ridley sea turtles. Hatchling releases, often open to the public, occur from mid-June through August. Ranger-led interpretive programs broaden the experience with walks and talks and birding tours.

Contact: https://www.nps.gov/pais

5. Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Porter, IN 

Geocaching is a favorite activity of families who choose to explore this 15,000-acre Midwestern lakeshore. Be on the lookout for the rare Karner blue butterfly. Climb over dunes, along rivers and through wetlands as you choose from 50 miles of meandering trails. Take the Succession trail to the top of a dune for a view of the Chicago skyline. Kayak via the Lake Michigan Water Trail or claim your spot along the 15-mile stretch of sandy beach. 

Contact:  https://www.nps.gov/indu

Are We A SCUBA Family?

Could We be… A SCUBA Family???

I’m a skier. Raised in New England, I cut my teeth on the icy slopes of the White Mountains. Eventually I moved west and learned to ride powder, ski the trees and pop through double-black chutes. My dream was always to imbue my family with the same passion for flying down snow covered slopes.

Trips Guys Love

Give the guys in your life the gift of travel.

Here are five ideas to consider: 

The Ranch at Emerald Valley, Colorado Springs, CO.

Visitors to this high mountain, luxury outpost in the Pike National forest can team up with man’s best friend ( Reba, the fly fishing dog ) for an afternoon of casting for trout in one of two lakes on the secluded property. Later, give Reba a rest while exploring the surrounding area on horseback or hike to nearby lookout points. Challenge friends and family on the archery range or fireside for a masterful game of chess.  Share stories while enjoying  fresh, gourmet fare at the dinner table, in the hot tub or around the cozy fire pit. It's all part of the Broadmoor's Wilderness experience which also includes Cloud Camp and a Fishing Camp. 

Contact: www.Broadmoor.com.

Fly Fishing Adventure, Jackson Hole, WY.

Catch the attention of fly-fishing enthusiasts with the promise of an overnight fishing trip on the South Fork of the Snake River.  The extraordinary experience includes a two-day float through some of the most coveted, trout-rich water in the western United States.  As the sun sets on the initial day, anglers arrive at the South Fork Hilton, a fully outfitted camp tucked in the pines with a steep, canyon wall as backdrop.

The overnight includes a deluxe dinner, tall tales and roasted marshmallows around a campfire. Participants rest up for the next day’s action in cozy platform tents. Day two promises stunning scenery, 16 miles of braided waters and the option to expand the adventure while wading gravel bars and maneuvering up productive side channels.

Contact: www.WorldCastAnglers.com;  www.WyomingTourism.org. 

Big League Tours.

Are the men in your life fans of Fenway?  Are they eager to cheer inside Wrigley Field? If the idea sounds like a home run, then a Big League Tour might be a perfect fit for your favorite baseball fan.  Word is tour participants hang out with MLB players, get on to the field, inside the dugouts and catch a batting practice in venues that continue to infuse allegiance to the game. Tours and vacation packages make it possible to hear the crack of the bat in your Dad’s favorite cities or an entire region.

Contact: www.BigLeagueTours.com 

Zion Adventure.  Springdale, UT.

Send your guy to the slots where he can take on the famed canyons on his own or with a guide. The Narrows, a 16-mile corridor, can be hiked in one rigorous day, but most recommend an overnight or the Bottom Up hike that enables hikers to see some of the most stunning aspects of the canyon in four to six hours. Either way, Dad will thank you for the opportunity to experience the splendor of the twisting slots, where carved sandstone rises to the bright, blue western sky.

Contact:  www.zionadventures.com; www.nps.gov/zion.  

Bob Bondurant Performance Driving School – Phoenix, AZ.

Channel your guy's need for speed with a visit to this premier performance-driving academy. He’ll get the chance to sharpen everyday driving skills, learn skid control or don a fire suit and helmet and hit the track for some high octane track time. Learning the Bondurant Method, crafted by Bob Bondurant as a way to train pros as well as daily commuters, promises to shape drivers into capable and confident roadsters while having the time of their lives. Contact: www.Bondurant.com; www.VisitPhoenix.com

Family Hikes

Take a hike — and take the whole family with you.

Here are five scenic destinations to consider:

The Importance of Adventure

When I was knee-high to the cattle roaming near my Midwestern home, my grandfather gave me a block of old barn wood for my birthday. Burned into it was that famous Helen Keller quote, “Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.”  My grandfather knew a thing or two about growing things in the dirt, and about his precocious granddaughter.

Later, in a relatively abbreviated period of time, I went from a deliciously luxurious life spent marinating in grand adventures, near and far, to the sometimes austere and certainly crazed life of a single mama running her own business and running after a tiny human.

Where do great adventures factor in?

Do I still take that Chamonix ski trip, but this time pack in my kiddo instead of my ice tools?  Do I throw caution to the Montana wind and buy a ticket to New Zealand? Or do I now buy two tickets and download 20 hours of cartoons to the iPad for the flight?  And do I realize a lifelong dream of learning how to sail, press pause on my Montana life and allow the winds to carry me around the globe…albeit this time with a tiny-human sized life jacket aboard?

The answer is simple.  Yes, yes and YES!

I’ve made many mistakes at this parenting game that I've tackled on my own.

But what I am most proud of, what really sends the gooey, chocolate center of my heart into palpitation, is when my daughter runs up to me and says, “Mama, let’s go on an ADVENTURE!”

Now, to a nearly 3 year old the term ‘adventure’ means a slew of different things.  We often load up on crusty bread and ‘adventure’ on our bikes to the MSU duck pond and share carbs with our webbed friends.  We also ‘adventure’ to nearby Yellowstone National Park for geyser gallivanting, to practice our elk calls and then spend the evening bouldering on grassy slopes high above Gardiner with Electric Peak on the horizon.  And most recently, ‘adventuring’ has included Kaia’s inflatable dragon floatie that we’ve launched for many aquatic missions across Montana’s rivers and lakes (Lake Upsata is a recent favorite…full of lily blossoms, loons and trumpeter swans!).

As my daughter grows older, she continues to astound me with her simple wisdom.  She is correct in that ‘adventuring’ does not always have to include lengthy plane rides, schlepping gear up a far-flung mountain or river, and scaring myself silly in general.  All of that is good in moderation, but what we are so lucky to enjoy in Montana is the spectrum of adventure.  From meandering ambles scouting for bear grass on the Whitefish Trail in northwestern Montana, to leisurely canoe paddles in the stunning Missouri River breaks, to dawn patrol backcountry ski days filled with homemade muffins and fresh powder tele turns in Hyalite just south of Bozeman…we can fill our boots with adventure in any fashion we choose.

All we have to do is walk out our front door.

Becky Edwards is a runner, climber, skier and all around mountain lover who resides in the shadows of the Bridger Range with her daughter, Kaia, two furry wolf pups and a cat named Pickles.  She owns a communications and marketing consulting company: Sun Snow Creative.

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