What do the British do for a Family Holiday during Christmas?

 Posted by on October 10, 2013  Comments Off
Oct 102013
Butlins Bognor Regis

Butlins Bognor Regis

It is getting to be that time of year when families need to start planning where to go for a winter holiday.   Time with the kids and extended family members including grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles is a must, but, finding a place where everyone can get the right mix of activity, privacy, sun, fun, and food can be challenging.

Whether yours is a small family that wants to keep it simple and cook your own meals in a housekeeping apartment or lodge or a larger group that wants to stay at a themed oceanfront hotel with all the bells and whistles during the UK Christmas break, all-inclusive resorts can be a great affordable way to keep everyone happy.

Our European travel partners tell us that beachside resorts operated by Butlins are great destinations offering all inclusive plans that cover lodging, optional breakfast and dinner dining plans, and many activities including indoor waterparks, outdoor fairground rides, sports coaching, arts and crafts classes and day and night entertainment.   Butlins is very teen friendly with access to the VIP teen club included in most packages.  Teens can make new friends while they try their hand at beach volleyball and cricket or have fun on the high ropes course and ride the ziplines for a small activities fee.

Butlins offers there great resorts, each with their own personality, located in:

  • Bognor Regis, a   West Sussex seaside town that hosts a resort with three contemporary hotels, a spa, a celebrity chef restaurant, a 2012 Quality Coast Award beach and the South Downs National Park on their doorstep
  • Minehead, a beautiful seaside town in the heart of Exmoor in Somerset where  you’ll find their contemporary BlueSkies apartments, new restaurants and a sandy beach
  • Skegness, a  traditional coastal town in Lincolnshire where Butlins started back in 1936.  Today you’ll find some lovely restaurants, a beautiful sandy beach and a range of apartments as well as a mid-range hotel.

If you family is looking for someplace to getaway together, these resorts may be the perfect destination.

Image courtesy of Butlins

Butlin's-logo-1 (2)


Jun 062013

Vermont’s Smugglers’ Notch Resort is one our favorite four season family getaway destinations with a wide range of on site lodging options, pools, restaurants and many opportunities to explore Vermont’s Green Mountains.  This is one resort where there really is something for everyone from the youngest kids to  teens and tweens to mom and dad looking for a little adult time.

Arbortrek at Vermont's Smugglers' Notch Resort adds a treetop obstacle course for summer fun

Arbortrek at Vermont’s Smugglers’ Notch Resort adds a treetop obstacle course for summer fun

Year round, including summer, the resort offers a range of age appropriate kids camps and programs.  Summer options feature a number of special interest camps for teens and tweens including:

  • A 2-day/2-night hiking exploration on Vermont’s Long Trail which runs across the spines of the resort’s Sterling and Madonna Mountains.  The 4,000 foot elevations provide quite a view!  Nights are spent in wooden shelters on the trail.
  • A 4-day Survival Camp for 12-17 years olds which adds two days of wilderness survival training to the 2 day hiking and camping experience.  Some of the skills learned include plant and animal identification and tracking, as well as Native American stories and journaling. See this Smugglers Notch Survival Camp video for more info.
  • A Treetop Obstacle Course with over 50 elements brings aerial trekking to the resort’s  Arbotrek adventure center.  The whole family can do this activity together with two courses to choose from – the Apple Creek Course that serves ages 4 and up and the Back Forty Course for ages 8 and up.  Enjoy wobbly bridges, balance beams, zip lines, rope swings, cargo nets, and more connecting tree platforms anchored 3 to 25 feet above the ground.

In addition to the existing treetop canopy zipline tour, ArborTrek  is also launching a new climbing program that blends new belay technology with innovative climbing holds that make tree climbing easy and tree-friendly. In addition to tree climbs, climbers can challenge themselves on vertical challenge obstacles and a climbing wall that offers multiple routes ranging from easy to challenging.

Other specialty camps for teens and tweens include tennis and skateboard options.  This is definitely one family resort where the teens and tweens will never get bored.  Select the mix of age specific options and together times that work for your family and enjoy summer in Vermont.

Photo courtesy ArborTrek at Smugglers’ Notch

Apr 302013

This recent Spring weekend found us in Saratoga Springs, NY cheering on the Princess as she participated in the Saratoga Invitational Crew races at Fish Creek on Lake Saratoga.  Our one night adventure included a quick tour of some of the city’s most famous landmarks, as well as an adults dinner and evening stroll around the thriving downtown.   Saratoga Springs is a college town, home to Skidmore College and SUNY Empire State College.  It is also a great base camp for exploring other nearby schools including Union College, RPI and Williams College.

Crew racing at Fish Creek in Saratoga Springs NY

Crew racing at Fish Creek in Saratoga Springs NY

Whether you visit for a college tour, rowing, or as part of a family vacation, make time to check out the many historic landmarks.  This Victorian era town is dripping with history, as it has long been a destination for travelers seeking relaxing mineral water spas, golf, summer outings at the country’s oldest thoroughbred race track,  and a range of performing arts.  Since the mid 19th century, Saratoga Springs was known for the healthful effects of its many mineral springs and spas.  During the 1930s, then NY Governor Franklin D Roosevelt championed the construction of public mineral baths, a swimming pool and other attractions in what is now known at the Saratoga Springs Spa State Park.   Several of these vintage spas continue in operation to this day.

Saratoga Springs Spa State Park historic building

Saratoga Springs Spa State Park historic building

The 2,500 acre park is the centerpiece of the city housing a number of classical spa buildings including the  Roosevelt Baths and Spa, as well as the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, the Spa Little Theater, the National Museum of Dance, the Saratoga Automobile Museum, and the Gideon Putnam Resort.  We visited early in the season when the park was still getting ready for summer.  The original 1930s era pool complex, and the larger 1960s era Peerless Pool Complex were not open although the Spa and resort and golf course were in fine shape.  The many picnic tables and walking trails made us wish we had more time to linger.

Testing the Mineral Water at Saratoga Springs Spa State Park

Testing the Mineral Water at Saratoga Springs Spa State Park

While the Princess stayed at the team hotel, mom and dad settled in downtown at the Hampton Inn and Suites which was clean and well run and offered a tasty hot breakfast with fresh fruit, pastries, make your own waffles and plenty of coffee.  Dinner at the Mouzon House across the street offered a decently prepared eclectic farm fresh menu, but, the early season waitstaff definitely needed some more training.  The downtown offered a lively mix of clubs and college students.  We enjoyed simultaneously watching the Red Sox and Boston Bruins on several of the screens at Dango’s Fitzgerald’s Irish Pub.  The Irish coffee was spot on!

Hampton Inn and Suites Lobby Saratoga Springs NY

Hampton Inn and Suites Lobby Saratoga Springs NY

With just a one night stay and most of our time devoted to the races we only got a quick sense of what Saratoga Springs has to offer.  We are pretty sure that between rowing and college visits we’ll definitely be back, but we’ll be sure to leave more time to get to know Saratoga Springs better!

Why Turkey is a Great Place to Visit with Teens

 Posted by on February 6, 2013  Comments Off
Feb 062013
Bodrum Castle on the Turkish Coast

Bodrum Castle on the Turkish Coast

We recently put out a call for ideas about spring break and summer family vacations around the world. One of our European travel partners suggested Turkey as a perfect destination. Families have been visiting Turkey for decades to soak up the sunshine, enjoy the vibrant culture and make the most of the gorgeous beaches, but as we all know, that’s not always enough to keep the teenagers entertained. Luckily there is a lot more than just great scenery to  offer, particularly on the Turquoise Coast, which is the south coast of Turkey where families of all ages will find plenty to make their holiday to Turkey one to remember!

One of the most popular resorts on the Turquoise Coast is Bodrum, a busy yachting port that has facilitated the town’s growth into a cosmopolitan holiday hotspot. This means there’s plenty to do for the young and fashionable people that arrive in Bodrum, which is great news for your teenagers, particularly older ones that can enjoy the trendy bars and nightclubs, although everyone will enjoy browsing the attractive boutiques that line Bodrum’s busy streets.

However as modern as Bodrum may be, it has a rich history to uncover. Take your teens to Bodrum Castle, an impressive medieval structure offering stunning views of the bay, and also happens to have the Underwater Archaeology Museum within its grounds. Of course, no family-friendly resort is complete without a waterpark too, and in Bodrum it’s the Dedeman Aquapark where teens can delight in the thrills of the high-speed waterslides and wave pools, while mom and dad relax poolside and sip a cool drink.

A little further down the coast is another popular family resort – Dalaman, characterised by its stunning coastline that has plenty to offer visitors with an adventurous streak. The almost luminously blue sea offers plenty of spots in which families with teens and tweens can try their hand at watersports such as jet skiing and kayaking, and of course, the ubiquitous banana boat rides!

Dalaman also has a number of great attractions close by that are always a hit with teens, including the famous Pamukkale, an enormous mineral water spa that’s great fun to explore and relax in. For particularly daring teens, treat them to a rafting experience down the Dalaman River for a day out they won’t soon forget, or if your teenage children prefer to stay dry, a shopping trip to the sophisticated town of Kas will be a day out you can all enjoy together.

When looking for a new exotic family vacation destination, consider Turkey for Spring Break or any time of the year.

Photo courtesy Wikimedia

Jan 272013

The 65,000 square foot CoCo Key Water Park Boston North Shore is a pretty impressive sight when you first walk through the doors. CoCo Key is the largest indoor water park in Massachusetts and any time it is open the park is a beehive of activity as kids, tweens and teens make the most of the park’s brightly colored slides, sprays, pools and water features.

CoCo Key Water Park Boston North Shore main water slide and spray area

CoCo Key Water Park Boston North Shore main water slide and spray area

Located in Danvers MA, just 19 miles north of Boston and adjacent to the 364 room Doubletree by Hilton Boston North Shore hotel, CoCo Key Water Park Boston North Shore includes multi-level water slides, spray decks, bucket dumps, water actvities, four-story high enclosed tube slides, a lazy river, and a wading pool for younger kids.   The action never stops as the kids scamper from one splashy activity to the next.

The stairs for the big slides tower over the rest of the CoCo Key Water Park Boston North Shore

The stairs for the big slides tower over the rest of the CoCo Key Water Park Boston North Shore

One of the best parts of visiting CoCo Key during the winter is that no matter what the weather is like outside, its is a near perfect 84 degrees inside.  It was well below freezing when we were there but the climate controls were working perfectly.  A quick serve restaurant and a bar overlooking the action offer refreshments for kids and adults (the margaritas looked pretty chill).  The water features are surrounded by plenty of tables to act as base camp for the day.  And if the kids need a break from the water, the arcade is well stocked with video games and prizes for all ages.

All ages get into the scene at the CoCo Key Water Park Boston North Shore

All ages get into the scene at the CoCo Key Water Park Boston North Shore

The park caters to families with kids ages 2-12, although families with slightly older teens and tweens can definitely enjoy CoCo Key as part of a family stay at the hotel.  On our recent visit to the Doubletree by Hilton Boston North Shore , our 16 year old teen and a friend were found enjoying the lazy river and the big tube slides before heading off for an hour at the arcade and an extended visit to the hotel pool, hot tub and workout area.  They said the Water Park was fun for a few hours and would be a great place to spend time hanging out with younger siblings during a family vacation to explore Boston and the surrounding North Shore towns including Salem, Rockport and Gloucester.

CoCo Key Water Park Boston North Shore is popular with kids, teens and tweens

The arcade at the CoCo Key Water Park Boston North Shore is popular with kids, teens and tweens

For local residents, day passes, half day passes and season tickets are available.  CoCo Key is also a popular destination for birthday parties and group outings.  Be warned that it can get crowded on weekends, particularly in the middle part of the day.  Hotel guests can avoid the crowds by visiting in the evening hours – the Water Park stays open until 9 pm on Thursday, Friday and Saturday and many school vacation days.

For hotel guests, family discount packages can mean a fun affordable weekend getaway or provide built-in evening entertainment when using the Doubletree as a base camp for visiting Boston and the North Shore.  However, if booking a hotel stay, be aware that the Water Park is often closed on non-holiday Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.  Book by January 31st for a discount on an overnight visit during the mid-February Massachusetts school vacation week.  The Ultimate Waterpark  Package includes CoCo Key access, arcade game cards, breakfast and overnight accommodations.  The hotel has recently renovated a number of rooms to create family suites located near the Water Park.

All and all, a day or a weekend at CoCo Key is a great way to get a break from New England’s cold winter weather while spending some fun time with family and friends.

We want to thank CoCo Key and the Doubletree by Hilton Boston North Shore for hosting our recent complimentary overnight visit to the hotel and water park.  The opinions in this review are solely our own.


Sep 272012

Vermont continues to be one of our favorite family ski destinations year after year.  Just a few hours from home we find easy access to big mountains,  expansive snowboard terrain parks, and  a wide range of great off slope activities, lodging and restaurants that appeal to our teens as well as mom and dad.  Families taking a ski vacation with teens and tweens need to be honest about each family member’s skiing abilities and interests.  Some teens may want to ski hard all day while others are pretty rusty and might benefit from a private lesson or all day camp.  Mom might want a spa and dad might want to ski a half day before taking a turn on a snowmobile tour.

Hockey Princess gets a snow boarding lesson

For teens and tweens with little ski or snowboard experience, a private lesson will get them on the slopes quickly

For a multi-day ski vacation, unless your family plans to ski together every day, the major options for making sure the teens and tweens have a buddy at the mountain are to bring a friend or seek out resorts with teen and tween-specific ski school and mountain camp offerings.

Three of our favorite Vermont ski resorts that have lots to offer  teens, tween and their parents, regardless of each individual’s level of skiing or snowboarding ability, are:

Smugglers’ Notch: Join the Notch Squad

With two mountains and Ski Schools options for younger and older teens, Smugglers’ Notch gets our vote for one of Vermont best destinations for families with skiers of all ages and abilities.   During our visit, the Notch Squad program for ages 11-15 really filled the bill offering small group snowboard lessons at several levels of expertise.  The instructors were friendly and upbeat and were able to quickly connect with our teen.   We understand that this winter Smuggs will be revamping some of its programs for older teens so be sure to ask what is available when you call to book a vacation.

The Notch Squad on the move

Smuggs is a destination resort where most visitors stay for a weekend or longer.  If you are looking for things to do off the mountain – either with or without the teens – snowmobile rides, ice skating and the Arbor Trek zip line tours are great fun.  Smuggs has a wide range of condo lodging options including some that are large enough for extended families or two families traveling together.

Stowe Mountain Resort: Explore Stoked Teen Camp

Stowe, Vermont is a classic alpine town with four seasons of dining and outdoor activities that are fun for mom, dad and the teens and tweens.  Multiple mountains mean that skiers of any level can find the perfect trail at the Stowe Mountain Resort.  Green trail skiers will enjoy the 2.5 mile Toll Road trail from the top of Mount Mansfield while more advance skiers and boarders will never run out of options.  Off the mountain there are many great restaurants, stores and activities such as Dog Sled rides.  The Mountain Road is lined with a wide range of hotels, motels, condos and bed and breakfasts.

The full day Stoked Teen Camp for blue/black skiers and riders, aged 13-17 years, is grouped by skill level.  It is offered during major vacation periods.  For families where 24×7 togetherness gets to be a little much on a ski vacation, the Stoked Teen Camp allows the teens the run of the mountain with built in supervision, lessons and the opportunity to hang with kids their own age.  More traditional ski school options are available for tweens and younger teens up to age 14.

Killington: Chill in the SnowZone 

With over 140 trails, Killington is synonomous with skiing in Vermont.  Trails include “Outer Limits” a double black diamond mogul trail that is the steepest mogul run in all of New England. It also has the longest trail in the east in  the 6.2-mile  “Juggernaut” and boasts  five snowboard and alpine parks.

For older teens, ages 13-18, the SnowZone program offers ski and snowboard lessons designed especially for teens of all ability levels, with a promise that there will be no more than 5 teens in a group.  The half day and full day lesson programs include a lesson-only, lift ticket and rental equipment including a snow sports helmet is additional.  A smiliar program for tweens and younger teens is available via the SuperStars program.

Killington is known for being one of the first Vermont mountains to open and one of the last to close.  Discounted single day tickets for non-peak times are on sale until October 11th and the mountain expects to be open by Thanksgiving, if not before.  Off slope the fun continues with sleigh rides, tubing, snowmobile rides and a great spa.

Our Top Tip

Our top tip for a successful family ski vacation with teens and tweens is to make some up front assessments about priorities and skill level, then look for a resort with a wide range of on and off slope options including teen-specific ski and snowboard schools if you are not bringing a friend of similar ability to keep yout teen company on the slopes.

Looking for more family ski and snowboard ideas?  Check out all the great family travel blog ski links on the Mother of All Trips Back to Ski page.

Aug 202012
Boston's Omni Parker House Hotel

Boston’s Omni Parker House Hotel

We are always looking for hotels and destinations that go above and beyond to cater to teens and tweens in unique and creative ways.  This summer, Omni Hotels and Resorts  hit a homerun by launching its Teen Concierge program at a select number of properties.  The best part about the program is that the Teen Concierges are teenagers themselves, not adults pretending to know what teens want.  They effectively act as peer advisors and are available to offer an  insider teen’s perspective on finding activities, restaurants and attractions that won’t have teens wishing they had stayed home. The Teen Concierge can also text or email with the teen  or chat via Twitter and Facebook if they need pointers while touring the town or before they arrive.

The historic Omni Parker House in Boston is one of seven properties offering the program this summer.  The Omni is located on the Freedom Trail and is very close to Boston’s historic waterfront and subway, fondly known as the “T”.   We recently spent some time chatting with Liz, the Teen Concierge at Boston’s Omni Parker House.

Here is what we learned about this creative program:

Question:  Tell us about your role as an Omni Teen Concierge and how the responsibilities differ from a traditional Concierge?

Liz: Most of my time is spent in the lobby greeting our guests and assisting them with their needs.  As a teenager, I can relate to our teen guests and give them good advice and direction about to what to do and where to go around Boston.

Typically, older teenagers are here visiting colleges.  The younger teens are here for a family vacation.  A Red Sox game is a common reason for a trip to Boston.  Directions and fun places to eat are the most asked questions. Boston has a great deal of pubs, and there are a lot of funky, unique restaurants too.

 Question: What are your top recommendations for teen oriented activities around Boston?

Liz: The food trucks are pretty cool.  There is a food truck APP that tells you where and when the different food trucks will be across the city. There are so many retail stores all across Boston, especially in downtown Boston, closest to the hotel.  A lot of teens don’t necessarily want to go spend a day at a museum or go to a traditional restaurant.  They just want to go “hang out” in the city and get their own feel for what Boston is all about.

There are a lot of unique restaurants like “Fire & Ice” and“Fajitas & Ritas” .  The ultimate “hidden gem” is “Bodega”, a sneaker and clothing store hidden behind a secret entrance within what appears to be just a convenience store.

Question:  What has been the most unusual request you have gotten and how did you deal with it?

Liz: We had a teenager that was looking for a specific rare sneaker.  We sent them to “Bodega” in the Back Bay neighborhood and found them!

Question:  Overall, what do you think makes Boston a great city for families to visit with their teens?

Liz:  Boston is a safe city.  There are so many shops, restaurants, and safe public areas to visit.  The “T” makes it so easy to get around town and even visit Harvard Square in Cambridge too.   The Omni Parker House is in a great location for teens.  We are in the center of downtown Boston.   You can walk just about anywhere or hop on the “T”.  We pride ourselves on our ability to personalize all of our guests’ experiences in Boston.

Even though we’ve lived in the Boston suburbs for years, Liz knew more about cool things for teens to do in Boston than even our teens.  If you are visiting Boston with teens, check out the Omni Parker House and ask for Liz.  And, if you are visiting other areas, check out the Teen Concierge programs at the following Omni properties: Omni Berkshire Place in New York City,  Omni Chicago Hotel, Omni Shoreham Hotel, Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate, Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort and the Omni Hilton Head Oceanside Resort.

Thanks to our friends at Omni Hotels and Resorts  for setting up this interview and providing the photo of the hotel.