Jul 132013
 

Although we have made annual family visits to the Jersey Shore for the last 20 years, we still keep finding new things to do on our family vacations.  This year we discovered a Ground Round Sports Grille and Bowling Alley in Bradley Beach, the Silver Ball Pinball Museum in Asbury Park and the 9th Avenue Pier waterfront outdoor restaurant and mini-golf in Belmar.   Also discovered on the Asbury Park boardwalk, the Asbury Splash Park and Asbury Eighteen mini-golf which are perfect for families with younger kids.  All these activities offer a nice break from the beach.

The 9th Avenue Pier opened last year at the Belmar Marina and has been an instant hit offering a beautiful waterfront outdoor setting with bands and a menu that features Mexican, burgers, salads and seafood.  Food orders are made at the walk up window while waitstaff take drink orders and deliver the food when it is ready.

9th Avenue Pier restaurant in Belmar

Enjoy a relaxing family meal at the 9th Avenue Pier restaurant in Belmar

The water views of  from the 9th Avenue Pier are beautiful and relaxing.

View the Belmar Bridge from the 9th Avenue Pier restaurant

View the Belmar Bay and Bridge from the 9th Avenue Pier restaurant

The newly opened mini-golf course offers an opportunity to work off the calories after dinner.

Mini-golf is now open at the 9th Avenue Pier in Belmar, NJ

Mini-golf is now open at the 9th Avenue Pier in Belmar, NJ

In nearby Bradley Beach, we found another great family option at the Ground Round Sports Grille and Bowling Alley.  The Ground Round restaurant chain was very popular along the Shore before it went bankrupt several years ago.  Recently, former franchise owners have bought the rights to the name and begun to re-open restaurants using the Ground Round Sports Grille brand.  The food was fairly basic pub food, but the attached bowling alley made for a really fun night.  We couldn’t remember the last time we had gone bowling as a family. For our New England teens who are used to candlepin, the full size bowling pins at the Jersey Shore were a new twist.  This a a fun rainy day activity at the shore.

Bowling at the Bradley Beach, NJ Ground Round Sports Grille and Bowling Alley

A family bowling night at the Bradley Beach, NJ Ground Round Sports Grille and Bowling Alley

Another family favorite, particularly for the boys in our family, turned out to be the Silver Ball Museum in Asbury Park on the boardwalk.  The majority of the museum’s 100+ vintage pinball machines survived Superstorm Sandy and the museum was one of the first businesses to reopen on the Asbury Park boardwalk.  Our boys couldn’t get enough of those old time classics!

Pinball wizards at the Asbury Park, NJ Silver Ball Museum

Pinball wizards at the Asbury Park, NJ Silver Ball Museum

Also on the boardwalk in Asbury Park, the Asbury Splash Park and Asbury Eighteen mini-golf are open for business.  These are low tech attractions that are probably best for families with younger kids.  The $50 family fun pack is a great deal offering 4 passes to the Asbury Splash Park, 4 passes to Asbury Eighteen Mini-Golf, 4 beach badges and a daily parking pass for one car.

Asbury Splash Park on the boardwalk is open for business

Asbury Splash Park on the boardwalk is open for business

The Jersey Shore continues to be a great family friendly destination with the majority of classic attractions re-opening this year and new ones adding to the fun.  Looking for more ideas – check out our Top Ten list of family friendly Jersey Shore activities.

Jun 112012
 

After spending several days amid the beauty of Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks, we almost skipped the side trip to Nevada’s Valley of Fire State Park, located about an hour’s drive outside of Las Vegas.  We are glad we decided to take the turnoff at Exit #75 off Interstate 15 and spend a couple of hours among this park’s red sandstone formations.

Welcome to Nevada's Valley of Fire

Welcome to Nevada's Valley of Fire

The park’s 42,000 acres include about 10 miles of paved roads that provide access to a number of highly eroded and unusual features formed from shifting sand dunes millions of years ago.  There is an interpretive visitor center with bathrooms available, but food and water are limited so plan to bring a picnic lunch and make an afternoon of it.

Elephant Rock in Nevada's Valley of Fire

Elephant Rock in Nevada's Valley of Fire

The park also houses petroglyphs from when the Anasazi people lived in the area.  Be sure to climb the metal stairs at Atlatl Rock to get a good view.

Petroglphys at Atlatl Rock in Nevada's Valley of Fire

Petroglphys at Atlatl Rock in Nevada's Valley of Fire

Remnants of a Civilian Conservation Corps work site from the 1930s can be found down a side turnoff.

Civilian Conservation Corps cabins in Nevada's Valley of Fire

Civilian Conservation Corps cabins in Nevada's Valley of Fire

In mid-April the temperatures approached 90 degrees and the limited available shade was very welcome.  We arrived at the time that many of the wildflowers were blooming along the sides of the roads and trails, adding some color to the bright red landscape.   Even the park’s hardy lizards and ground squirrels were out and about.

Lizard taking in the April sun in Nevada's Valley of Fire

Lizard taking in the April sun in Nevada's Valley of Fire

Be sure to bring plenty of sunscreen and water when you visit here.  Unless you really like it hot, the park is probably best visited during the winter, spring or fall as summertime highs easily top 120 degrees on many days.

Shade is limited in Nevada's Valley of Fire

Shade is limited in Nevada's Valley of Fire

Camp sites are available as are day use picnic areas.  Lake Mead is nearby but we didn’t get that far this visit.  We had to hit the road to get to Las Vegas in time for the Cirque du Soleil show “O” which features a dozens of swimmers cavorting in a 1.5 million gallon pool – talk about a contrast with the arid Valley of Fire!

The road to Nevada's Valley of Fire

The road to Nevada's Valley of Fire

We hope you enjoyed these photos, we will link them to the next Delicious Baby Photo Friday.


Bryce Canyon in a Day

 Posted by on May 21, 2012  1 Response »
May 212012
 

Known for its weirdly beautiful rock formations, Bryce Canyon is one of the smallest National Parks, covering about 56 square miles in south-central Utah, a 4.5  hour drive from either Las Vegas or Salt Lake City and two hours from Zion National Park.   Bryce Canyon City, on the park’s border provides serviceable overnight lodging options and the Bryce Canyon Lodge and campgrounds are available inside the Park.   We opted to take a daytrip to Bryce from our base camp at Zion.   The spectacular, but white-knuckle, drive in and out of Zion via steep switchback roads and  the Zion- Mt. Carmel Tunnel was an added bonus to a day that featured some of nature’s most unusual sculptures.

Bryce Canyon Overlook

Bryce Canyon Overlook

The famous Bryce formations  occupy vast amphitheaters carved from the eastern edge of the Paunsaugunt Plateau.  Millions of years of rain water and frost cycles are constantly dissolving the area’s colorful limestone rock and creating an unparalleled array of slot canyons, windows, fins, and spires, also known as  ”hoodoos.” Although trails are available to hardy hikers to walk along the floor of the amphitheaters, many visitors adopt our strategy and stick to the overlooks and rim trails.  Inspiration Point, Bryce Point and Rainbow Points are all favorites.

Hoodoos at Bryce Canyon

Hoodoos at Bryce Canyon

We spent about 5 hours in the park, which allowed plenty of time to visit the main amphitheaters, drive the full length of the access road, enjoy a picnic lunch at Rainbow Point and make as many stops as we wanted along the way.  Our hiking was limited to 1/4 mile or shorter walks to various observation points.

Balancing Rock at Bryce Canyon

Balancing Rock at Bryce Canyon

On a clear day there are views of three states and as much as 200 miles of visibility. Most of the major vantage points are located at 8,000 to 9,000 ft altitudes, which means that even in mid-April snow was still in evidence and we were happy to have fleece jackets and hats and gloves.

Bryce Canyon Rainbow Point Overlook

Bryce Canyon Rainbow Point Overlook

Bryce was a great day trip for a couple of adults, who didn’t mind spending 4 hours in a car roundtrip, plus the drive time in the park.  We noticed a few families where the tweens and younger siblings seem to lose interest in the views well before their parents did.  They were anxious for a little more activity than the overlooks offered.

Bryce Canyon Wall of Windows

Bryce Canyon Wall of Windows

Given that it was a cool somewhat overcast day in April, the crowds were thin and most of us adults lingered wordlessly for as long as we wanted just drinking in some of the world’s most amazing scenery.  Our only regret was that we couldn’t stay longer and do some hiking.  We’ll just have to go back again another day.


Apr 292012
 

Zion National Park is known for challenging hiking trails such as the trip to Angel’s Landing that rises almost 1500 feet in 2.5 miles and requires the hiker to cross near vertical rock faces using small footholds and chains bolted into the rock.  Another classic, the Narrows, involves miles of strenuous walking in the Virgin River – it is only open in the summer and fall when spring water levels drop to safe levels.

For those visitors with smaller kids, older adults, and others that don’t see themselves tackling those more challenging trails, Zion still offers some lovely options including our three favorites for all ages:  The Emerald Pools Lower Trail, The  Pa’rus Trail, and The Riverside Walk.  Each of these trails is suitable for all ages yet allows access to some of Zion’s most beautiful scenery and wildlife.  In this article we feature photos from our stroll along the Emerald Pools Lower Trail.

The Emerald Pools Lower Trail is accessed via a footbridge over the Virgin River located opposite the Zion Lodge

The Emerald Pools Lower Trail is accessed via a footbridge over the Virgin River located opposite the Zion Lodge

The Emerald Pools Lower Trail travels a rolling .6 miles of paved trail through cottonwoods and river bottom vegetation.  We saw a number of mule deer filling up on the spring greens.

Mule Deer seen along the Emerald Pools Lower Trail at Zion National Park

Mule Deer seen along the Emerald Pools Lower Trail at Zion National Park

The short walk soon brings you to a stunning canyon alcove that houses the Lower Emerald Pool, which is fed by waterfalls from the Middle and Upper Pools located higher up the cliffs.

Waterfalls feed Zion's Lower Emerald Pool

Waterfalls feed Zion's Lower Emerald Pool

The trail can be slippery when the waterfalls are running as the trail actually runs through the mist behind the falls.  At this point, you can continue via a rougher, steeper trail to the Middle and Upper pools and eventually make a loop back to the Grotto picnic area and then back to the Lodge or a shuttle bus stop.

The trail continues behind the waterfall then heads higher up the cliffs towards the Midde and Upper pools

The trail continues behind the waterfall then heads higher up the cliffs towards the Midde and Upper pools

If your group is not that ambitious you can return the way you came for an easy 1.2 mile round trip.  Either way the views of the surrounding cliffs are stunning.

Cliffs seen from the Emerald Pool Lower Trail

Cliffs seen from the Emerald Pool Lower Trail

Later this week we’ll share some photos from some of our other favorite Zion National Park trails for all ages.


Mar 052012
 

When visiting Rome, old and new art and architecture are constantly juxtaposed with one another.  This is a city where the Modern Art Museum features art from the last two centuries and the age of buildings is measured is millenia.   No where is the contrast between old and older more apparent than during a visit to the Colosseum.  Completed in the year 80 AD, the Colosseum is the largest amphitheatre ever constructed by the ancient Roman Empire and is an engineering marvel.  #1 Son described it as the biggest, oldest man made building he has ever seen.

The exterior of Rome's Colosseum

The exterior of Rome's Colosseum

Yet, despite its age, the Colosseum is surrounded by modern roads, cars, and of course, tourists!    #1 Son’s school group used the Roma Pass which for 30 euros covered city transportation for three days and free admission for two museums or sites including the Colosseum.   After the first two uses, Roma Pass gives the holder a reduced admission price at other museums and sites, exhibitions, and events.  Waits for access to the Colosseum can extend as long as two hours in the hot Italian sun but on a chilly February day the site was relatively empty.

The last of Rome's unusual February 2012 snow storm melting at the Colosseum

The last of Rome's unusual February 2012 snow storm melting at the Colosseum

Looking through the photos #1 Son brought back from his class’s visit to the Colosseum we are amazed that a structure this large was built without the types of heavy machinery available today.   The ampthitheatre was built to hold 50,000 spectators.  It is over 600 feet long and over 150 feet high.    The outer wall, much of which is no longer in tact due to earthquakes, is believed to have used over 100,000 cubic meters of travertine stone and was held together by 300 tons of iron clamps since mortar had not yet been developed.

The Colosseum has seating for 50,000 spectators

The Colosseum has seating for 50,000 spectators

The Colosseum was home to Rome’s violent gladiator contests, mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on mythology.  It was in active use for hundreds of years.

View overlooking the Colosseum arena floor

View overlooking the Colosseum arena floor

The main arena area measures 272 ft by 157 ft.  It originally had a wood floor that covered a maze-like underground zone known as the hypogeum, which was made up of a two-level network of tunnels and cages where gladiators and animals were held before the contests.  A series of tunnels connected this underground world to the outside so performers and animals could enter the site without being seen by the waiting crowds.

The Colosseum hypogeum contained cages for gladiators and animals

The Colosseum hypogeum contained cages for gladiators and animals

Over the years the Colosseum has been badly damaged by earthquakes, looters, acid rain and car exhaust.  The site is under constant restoration as the city battles to preserve this important piece of history for the centuries to come.

Restoration is ongoing at Rome's Colosseum

Restoration is ongoing at Rome's Colosseum

Clearly the Colosseum is a “Must Do” on any trip to Rome.  Of couse, it is so big it is hard to miss.  If you visit with your teen or tween let us know what they think.

Like these photos? Hop on over to the Delicious Baby Photo Friday Page for more family travel photos!


Jan 242012
 

We recently asked the teens to think back on all our family trips and choose the one they would most like to revisit.  Without blinking they said it would have to be Yellowstone National Park.  Yes, Yellowstone beat out Disney, Hawaii, South Dakota, the Jersey Shore, San Diego, Bermuda, a cruise, the Bahamas and many other destinations.  Why?  Because it truly is a one of a kind experience that can’t be had anywhere else.  If you haven’t been there yet, make sure you take your teens and tweens to Yellowstone before they go off to college.  Yellowstone is the stuff that lifetime family memories are made of.

The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone carves out dazzling multi-color cliffs

Established as the country’s first National Park in 1872,  Yellowstone is located in the northwestern corner of Wyoming with small tracts of adjoining land in Montana and Idaho.   The Park contains over 300 geysers and 10,000 thermal features as well as thousands of buffalo, elk, bear, wolves and more.  It encompasses over 3,400 sq miles which is just about equal to Delaware and Rhode Island combined.    We think it is more than worth the money to stay in the Park’s lodges or campgrounds as driving in and out of the park each day can be time consuming and some of best times to enjoy the most famous attractions are early and late in the day when the day trippers are gone.   During the peak hours for crowds, get off the roads and take a hike or go swimming in hidden away thermal warmed streams.

Thinking back on our visit, we came up with our top five favorite experiences.  If you need some encouragement to start planning your family visit to Yellowstone, here they are:

  • Yellowstone’s amazing geysers and thermal features:  If you didn’t know it, Yellowstone sits directly on top of an active volcanic caldera.  Its about 10,000 years overdue for an explosion but don’t let that stop you from visiting!   The heat from deep underground powers an amazing array of geysers, hot springs, mud pots and fumaroles.   Be sure to get beyond the congested viewing area at Old Faithful and walk the trails of the Midway Geyser and Upper Geyser Basins.  Take the time to stop and walk the boardwalks of the Mud Volcano trail as well as any other interesting features you see from the side of the road.  You definitely don’t have these at home!
Firehole Spring in the Lower Geyser Basin

Firehole Spring in the Yellowstone Lower Geyser Basin

  • Yellowstone’s awesome wildlife:  Despite the fact that wolves, bears, moose, elk, coyotes and many other animals live their lives pretty much the way they have been for thousands of years, suburban teens are likely to enjoy some unexpected up close and personal encounters with the wildlife.  We encountered a buffalo parade created when about 20 mom, dad and baby buffalo decided the nights were getting chilly and it was time to move to winter quarters near Old Faithful.    Elk are a common sight in the northern sections of the park and many other animals can turn up at unexpected times and places.
Buffalo can weigh over 2000 pounds so stay back a safe distance

Buffalo arriving at his winter home near the Old Faithful Inn

  • Swimming at Firehole Falls:  Much of Yellowstone is located at a 7,000+ foot high elevation, so you wouldn’t be surprised to see cold, clear mountain streams.  What is a surprise is to see steaming, near boiling water running out of thermal areas – be sure not to touch.  Neither the cold nor the hot makes for ideal swimming conditions, but, if you have a sense of adventure and are up for a little exploring off the beaten path there are a couple locations where hot meets cold to create some truly amazing swimming holes.  We still talk about our afternoon at Firehole Falls which is  located on the Firehole Canyon Drive,  off the Grand Loop Road just south of Madison Junction.  Stairs provide access from the road above, but this is definitely a swim at your own risk location — no lifeguards here.  We spent an afternoon floating in the current and enjoying the water.
Below  Firehole Falls

Below Firehole Falls the water calms enough for swimming

  • Fishing on Lake Yellowstone:  The waters of Lake Yellowstone are hundreds of feet deep but if you go with a guide the fish are easy to find.  Keep all the invasive lake trout you catch but throw back the native cutthroat trout.  We booked a half day trip with a guide, leaving from the Bridge Bay Marina.   They provided all the fishing tackle, bait, and life jackets required, as well as critical insight as to where the fish were biting that day.  Don’t want to actually touch the bait or the fish?  They will even deal with the that too!
FIshing guide at lake yellowstone

Our Lake Yellowstone fishing boat charter came fully equipped with a great, teen and tween friendly guide

  • Family Hiking off the Beaten Track: it really isn’t hard to get away from the crowds at Yellowstone.  Ask a ranger or consult a map to find a trail that will work for your family.  We took a 5 mile hike around Beaver Pond, but you might also prefer exploring the 2.5 mile boardwalk system at the Mammoth Hot Springs thermal terraces in the evening when the crowds are gone.   Make sure the teens leave the headphones back at the lodge and you are in for all kinds of interesting conversations.
Mammoth Hot Spring Terrace at Yellowstone Mammoth Hot Springs

Mammoth Hot Spring terraces are magical at twilight

We stayed for 6 days and felt like we just scraped the surface, just like this article barely communicates the wonders of Yellowstone and the great family experiences we enjoyed together.  Want to learn more?  Click the links in this article to visit many other posts we have done on Yellowstone and start planning your trip.  We divided our time between the Old Faithful Lodge and the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel.  Both were very comfortable.  Whether you go for a day or a week, camp, stay in a lodge or opt for driving in from one of the gateway towns be sure to put Yellowstone on your family vacation bucket list!


Sep 042011
 

Whether you arrive by ship or fly direct to Anchorage it is definitely worth taking a few days (or more) to explore the area around Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula.  We spent a little over a week in the area and felt like we barely scratched the surface.   Depending on what else you are doing on your visit to Alaska with teens or tweens you can pick and choose from our top ten list or try to fit them all in.   Each of the links below will take you to a more detailed article about our experiences traveling around the area.  Each article includes lots of photos as well.

Best Teen and Tween Activities in and around Anchorage

Best Teen and Tween Activities in Whittier and the Kenai Peninsula

Hints for a Successful and Sane Alaska Trip with Teens and Tweens

Teens at the top of Mt Alyeska

As with any family vacation that packs a couple of parents and their teens and tweens into cars and hotels for days on end, be sure to build in down time, book lodging situations that will give everyone some room to breath, plan to be outside a lot, and let the teens and tweens have a say in the itinerary.  We also recommend asking the teens and tweens to help out on the photo crew – our #1 Son took many great shots that we might not have noticed, including some really nice ones of Alaska’s summer wildflowers, as well as most of our photos from the Flattop Hike and the Coastal Trail bike ride.

Note that we paid our own own way for all activities and lodging on the entire  trip and were pretty happy with all our arrangements.  However,  there are a couple of folks we just have to give extra kudos including:

  •  The Alaska Serenity Lodge in Soldotna.  On a lake and just off the beat track it was the perfect place to chill out, roast marshmallows, enjoy the hot tub, and be totally amazed about how it never gets dark out in late June and early July.
  • High Adventure Air in Soldotna made our fishing/bearviewing/flightseeing day a major success.  We particularly appreciated their waiting when we forgot our fishing licenses and had to rush back to the lodge to get them first thing in the morning!

We also recommend checking out some of the discount coupon books that are available online.  We purchased the Northern Lights book for about $50 and saved hundreds with two for one discounts on museums, raft rides, tram rides and the glacier cruise.  Just looking through its pages can give you some great ideas on activities and outfitters.

Finally, if you plan to do any amount of driving around the state be sure get a copy of The Milepost guide which is likely to have a better idea of where you are going than many GPS systems.  We found it to be very helpful, particularly when we made the spur of the moment decision to drive to Willow via Hatcher Pass rather than the main highway.

We’d love to hear if reading our blog influences your choice of what to do with your teens and tweens when your family visits Alaska.  Please leave a comment or drop us an email to let us know how you do!