Blurr at Marriott Starpass

When it comes to family travel, you might be wondering where to stay that will keep your teens and toddlers smiling?

From manicures to “mocktails”, the options for teens have multiplied significantly in the last decade. Many resorts now offer uber-hip, teen-only spaces, providing a contemporary hang out for dancing, games and music.

Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas led the way with their swanky 14,000 square-foot club Crush.

San Diego’s Hotel Del Coronado’s features the popular, teen-only Vibz.

Headed to Tucson?

Your teens will be all smiles when you check into the JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort . They’ll be quick to check out the new Blur lounge where Play Station and “PopTails” are underway.

Contact: ww.atlantis.com/kids/kidactivities/crush.aspx; www.clubatthedel.com/Default.aspx?p=DynamicModule&pageid=304444&ssid=190881&vnf=1; www.jwmarriottstarrpass.com/Tucson-Arizona/Blur-Teen-Lounge-99.html

Published in Family Travel Blog

Take a break from work, school and routine. Add a healthy dose of sunshine or snow, or better yet, both, as a quick-fix remedy for those eager to explore. Here are eight great ways to recharge.

Road Trip. If you’d like to cover some country with your kids consider teaming up with the folks at Tracks & Trails. They create custom, self-drive RV vacation packages that take the guess work out of an adventure-filled road trip. Specializing in the western U.S. and Canada as well as Florida, these travel pros make all the National Park and activity reservations and chart your itinerary from start to finish. You’ll receive your own “Adventure Kit” chock full of detailed maps and travel tips as well as suggested family-friendly hikes, points of interest and outings along your route.

Contact: (800) 247-0970; www.tracks-trails.com


Volunteer in the Virgin Islands. Give back during your beach holiday and receive a $100 resort credit. Stay at the Westin St. John Resort & Villas and everyone benefits when you join the Friends of the Virgin Islands National Park for a day of beach cleaning and trail maintenance. Junior guests receive a free sports bottle or tippy cup when checking in to the resort. Later the containers will be filled with free beverages. The Westin Kids Club also offers a full range of outdoor activities as well as arts and crafts and movies. Teens have their own special place to convene, a 1,200 square foot Teen Center where young people can make plans to enjoy water sports, watch movies or play volley ball on the beach.

Contact: 888.627.7206; www.westinresortstjohn.com


Barbados Bound. With 3000 hours of sunshine each year and an average temperature in the mid-80s, sun-seeking families will find plenty to smile about when visiting this 166 square mile destination in the Caribbean. Expect history, culture, food, music, beautiful beaches and the chance to see Hawksbill and Leatherback turtles. Book the Take me to Barbados package and receive one free when staying for five nights. Also, children 16 and under stay and eat free at participating hotels. This and other value-added packages are available through travel agents. American Airlines has nonstop service from Dallas-Fort Worth to Grantley Adams International Airport in Bridgetown, Barbados.

Contact: 212-551-4350; www.AA.com; www.visitbarbados.org


Beech Mountain, NC. Visit “Eastern America’s Highest Town” . The resort, which rests at 5,500 feet, offers 13 runs and two terrain parks on 95 acres, as well as views of four different states.   If slope-side skiing or snowboarding wear out the younger bunch, head to the free youth sledding hill, sponsored by the Town of Beech Mountain for the benefit of those 12 and under. Check out the tubing park and the 7,000 square foot ice skating rink for more winter weather fun. Receive two free lift passes with a three night stay. Some restrictions apply. In summer, hike, bike and enjoy the natural beauty.

Contact: 800-468-5506; www.beechmtn.com; www.skibeech.com


South Beach, FL. After a full day splashing in the surf, what could be more fun than building a tented fort in your hotel room? Loews provides extra in-room sheets plus flashlights so kids can get creative once they’ve emptied the sand from their shoes. As part of their Sundown Survival Kit for Kids, junior guests can also take advantage of movies and enjoy a milk and cookie nightcap. Youngsters will also want to visit SoBe Scoops, a retro ice cream parlor, decked out in vintage style and offering old-time favorites like rock candy, candied apples and crème soda. Kids can invite their parents to join them at SushiSkool, where the whole family can learn how to roll sushi and maneuver chopsticks. The resort also offers camps for kids of all ages, healthy menus and swanky Kidbanas by the pool.  Pets are welcome too.

Contact: 1-800-235-6397; www.loewshotels.com/en/Miami-Beach-Hotel


Aruban Holiday.  Enjoy family travel specials at this all-inclusive resort where meals, snacks, resort activities and the Kids Club are all included in your rate. The whole clan will also enjoy an Aruban Beach Party featuring live entertainment, festive music and local food. Enjoy snorkeling, sailing, kayaking, tennis, pool play or building sand castles on the white sand beach.

Contact: 1-800-858-2258; www.occidentalhotels.com/grand/Aruba.asp


Big Bear Mountain. Southern California’s Big Bear Mountain sees plenty of the big white flakes during the winter season, bringing smiles to the faces of skiers and snowboarders who always want to make tracks during the snowy season. During the off years, the resort has top notch snowmaking systems providing quality snow for thousands of skiers and snowboarders in the region. Who knew you could enjoy mountain life just two hours from Downtown Los Angeles?

Contact: 909.866.5766; www.bigbearmountainresorts.com


Limelight Lodge, Aspen, CO. Join your college-aged kids and take part in the Limelight Lodge’s Insider Tracks tours, designed for experiences skiers. Professional adventure specialists will show those with intermediate to advanced ski or board skills, the local take on the four mountains that make up Aspen and Snowmass. Participants will find the best powder and the secret chutes along with tips on how to make the most of a day on these famed Rocky Mountain slopes. Back at the lodge, enjoy homemade granola, a soak in the hot tub, a family dinner and the use of multi-lingual computer stations. Ask about the Ski Free package which includes up to two lift tickets per day in the room rate. Pets are welcome. During the summer months, hike into the hills, stroll through town, catch the latest at local museums, check out the mountain biking trails and be on the look out for Hollywood stars who like to relax in the mountains just like you. 

Contact: 1- 800-433-0832; www.LimelightLodge.com

Published in Resorts

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 Facebook, video games 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 feel 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.
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 a 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

  • The Event.
    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.

If you go:

www.wingsoverwillcox.com

800.200.2272

The birth of empathy between siblings is a beautiful thing to witness.  One of the many unexpected joys of living abroad is watching the way such a powerful experience changes your children.  For the better.  Kids who travel together, learn to rely on each other in a deeper way than life in suburban America demands.

Published in Travel Essays