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Articles for ‘Family Vacation’ Category

Best places to ride a dog sled in the lower 48

Monday, December 15th, 2014
Photo courtesy of Lake Placid Office of Sustainable Tourism

Photo courtesy of Lake Placid Office of Sustainable Tourism

With barely 1,000 miles of highway to Alaska’s more than 570,000 square miles, dog sledding is not only a popular sport, but a convenient means of transportation throughout the state.

It is a tradition for most and a lifestyle for some, namely those who take part in the treacherous 1,150 mile Iditarod Sled Dog Race from Anchorage to Nome (which is basically the Olympics of dogsled racing). There are companies in Alaska that offer a taste of that brutality year-round, allowing tourists to take dog sleds out for a spin.

But lucky for those of us that live in the lower 48, you don’t have to traverse the Great White North to try your hand at mushing. Here’s a look at the best places to ride a dog sled this winter that are a little closer to home.

Wintergreen Dogsled LodgeEly, Minnesota

The folks at Wintergreen invite people of all ages and fitness levels to participate in their dogsled experiences, which take customers through the boundary waters in northern Minnesota. The tours are crafted according to the customer’s skill levels, but no experience is necessary. Wintergreen’s website says its been operating for more than 25 years and had customers as young as 6 and old as 85 riding across the frozen wilderness.

Photo courtesy of Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge.

Photo courtesy of Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge.

You can go full Balto and do multiple-night trips where customers dog sled from lodge to lodge, or opt for a simple day trip. There are dozens of trips to choose from that vary in length, skill level, and route. There are parent-child trips, where the pair gets their own dogsled on which to explore. There are even trips aimed at improving customers’ photography skills.

Each of those categories has options for different skill levels, of course, and offers training – not just in dog sledding, but in dog care and harnessing, snowshoeing, camping, outdoor cooking, winter ecology, backcountry skiing, cold weather comfort and more.

The prices vary among experiences, age of participant and time of year, but an 8-hour day trip costs about $250 and the multiple night trips can cost more than $1,000. Prices for children are discounted. Book in advance, as some experiences are already full.

Nature’s KennelMcMillan, Michigan (Upper Peninsula)

One owner of this dogsled business has raced in at least seven Iditarods, which means the place is legit.

If you are looking for a small taste of dog sledding and don’t want to spend more than $100, Nature’s Kennel in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula may be your best bet. They offer a slew of sledding experiences, but the best deal is the half-hour trip.

Photo courtesy of Nature's Kennel

Photo courtesy of Nature’s Kennel

During the half-hour trip, which cost $75, guests are given a ride around Boyne Highlands Resort near Harbor Springs, Michigan. This option is available on all winter weekends and holidays. Pay double the price for the full hour.

Nature’s Kennel is owned by a husband-wife duo (and their two toddlers). They spend most of the summer getting ready for the winter, when they bring in a couple people to help guide the tours. This year, the helpers are a woman from Newark, Ohio, who owns her own kennel of Alaskan huskies, and a woman from New Zealand, who names the Himalayas as one of the most beautiful places she’s ever been.

Adirondacks region - New York

Home to the first Olympic dog sled demonstration and its own popular dog sled race, the Adirondacks can be the perfect place to take to the sled. Several resorts throughout the mountain towns offer sled rides to their guests, and some year-round residents still use dog sleds as a reliable form of transportation.

Photo courtesy of Lake Placid Office of Sustainable Tourism

Photo courtesy of Lake Placid Office of Sustainable Tourism

And the sleds they ride on are often made near home. Local craftsmen fashion sleds out of strong and lightweight ash trees native to the Adirondacks, ranging in size from children’s sleds to those meant to carry heavy loads.

Winter in the Adirondacks is a thing of beauty. There are cozy towns and inlets around nearly every remote turn. It’s hard to pick one little town in which to stay (they all have their allure at any time of the year, really), but Lake Placid is by far one of the most visited cities in the mountains.

The quaint town, populated with outdoor gear shops, snug breweries and inviting coffee shops, envelops Mirror Lake, which freezes over in the winter. When the snow falls and the lake freezes, dog sled drivers line Main Street and offer passers-by a ride across the lake. Prices vary, and mushers always check the safety of the frozen lake before taking out passengers. Notable places to dog sled: Golden Arrow Dogsled Rides and Thunder Mountain Dog Sled Tours.

Yellowstone Dog Sled AdventuresBig Sky, Montana

In Yellowstone National Park, winter is a nine-month experience, making the terrain excellent for mushing. In the high altitude and cold, the Alaskan Huskies thrive. Even during the three blissful months of “summer,” when most of the snow melts, Yellowstone Dog Sled Adventures is operational and the dogs are running.

Photo courtesy of  Yellowstone Dog Sled Adventures

Photo courtesy of Yellowstone Dog Sled Adventures

This company offers two options – a one-hour trip and a half-day trip (cost is $95 and $195, respectively, for adults. Kids rates are $45 and $150.) The half-day trip seems the more desirable of the two. It takes riders through the mountains of Montana and offers scenic views and photo opportunities. There are different options within the half-day trip, in which patrons can choose to ride with a guide (cuddled up in a sleeping bag on the back), tandem (you drive while another person in your group rides), or drive your own sled.

The owners warn that these trips are not for the faint of heart or lung. Even at the lowest altitude in Yellowstone, you are still at an elevation about a mile high. Although the sledding trips probably won’t take you from the highest to lowest point in the park, the high altitude and thin air make the trips inhospitable to inactive folks.

Mountain Musher Dog Sled RidesVail Valley, Colorado

The Mountain Musher tour runs a private trail through Aspen groves and pine forests in the Rocky Mountains. The trails aren’t shared with snowmobiles or cross-country skiers, although they may be shared with wildlife such as elk, fox, coyote and deer.

There are several sledding businesses operating throughout the Rockies, at least one of which recently underwent animal abuse accusations. Mountain Musher has been in business since 1989 and often receives positive reviews.

Photo courtesy of Mountain Musher Dog Sled Rides

Photo courtesy of Mountain Musher Dog Sled Rides

Two trips leave daily – once in the morning and once in the afternoon – and last about two hours. Two people (or one adult and two small kids, or three small kids) are allowed per sled, and a musher stands behind the passengers and controls the dogs. The ride is about six miles and costs $175 a person. But you get a snack of homemade pumpkin bread and hot cocoa midway through the trip, plus a nice photo opp. If you want the sled to yourself, it’ll cost you the price of two people ($350). Holiday prices are also elevated, so if you’re looking to get the experience on a budget, avoid the end of December, MLK Day weekend and Valentine’s Day weekend.

Reservations are required, but make sure you’re committed – you’ll be charged if you cancel your trip.

Story by: Ally Marotti

Top 5 travel destinations with cheap and enjoyable off seasons

Friday, August 15th, 2014

The same way Canadian geese fly south in late fall, we travel-lusting people of the world all seem to flock to the same locations at the same time—Mexico and the Caribbean in March, Europe in June, Hawaii pretty much anytime of the year.

Fighting the instinctual urge to travel during peak season means cheaper rates and smaller crowds. Avoid paying an arm and a leg; here’s a list of travel-friendly shoulder seasons to take advantage of year-round.

Utah in summer

The Rocky Mountains in general are breath-taking during the summer. Salt Lake City and Park City draw in large numbers of skiers and snowboarders in the winter, so that’s when they make their bread and butter. The summer months see smaller crowds. Ski-centric towns usually drop their hotels rates by $100-$200 during summer and fall. To the southeast and less elevated part of the state, Moab is home to nature-carved red rocks not to be missed. Strike out on a more frugal outdoorsy vacation from June-September to experience some of the best mountain biking, hiking, white water rafting and outdoor concerts in the nation.

moahb

Arches National Park, Moab, Utah; Credit: Gautam Dogra ©

New Orleans in late summer and fall

Mardi Gras may only come once a year, but New Orleans is full of life year-round. The absolute cheapest time to go is in the peak of summer, but it’s hit or miss on if you’ll enjoy yourself. It depends on how you feel about extremely damp heat. So let it cool down a tad; plan your jazzy trip for the tail end of summer or early fall. The 4-star JW Marriott New Orleans has rates as low as $149 in August, while they reach a high not at $289 during February festivities. The party on Bourbon Street never actually stops, so be sure to pack your party pants.

New Orleans; Credit: Jeff Turner©

New Orleans; Credit: Jeff Turner ©

Ireland in March

You’d think with St. Patrick’s Day in March, Ireland would be a giant island of festivities and high hotel prices. Actually, the holiday in its homeland isn’t the drinking day it’s become in the U.S. It can cost $200-$300 less to travel during early spring, namely March, than in the summer. Don’t worry about the weather; it’s rare to have anything more than an occasional flurry in Ireland’s winter due to The Gulf Stream, and by March, some of that famous green is starting to regain it’s hue. Book now so you can start planning your itinerary.

Muckross Head, County Donegal, Ireland; Oisin Mulvihill ©

Muckross Head, County Donegal, Ireland; Oisin Mulvihill ©

Mexico in summer

Northern Americans and anyone who shares their latitude, know that the only thing getting them through winter is the dream of a beach vacation in the spring. To Mexico they go! Spring breakers, families, couples, girls weekends, everyone. Except you, you savvy little cheapo, you. All-in-one packages for July travel will only set you back about $800-$900, while the same package in February and March clocks in at $1,000-$1,100. Hold off on the all-inclusive Cozumel package until June or July. It’ll be hot, but you’ll have constant access to a pool and/or beach, and your tan will be legend. Be careful of hurricane season, which is known to pick up in August toward the end of the summer.

Playa del Carmen, Mexico; ramonbaile ©

Playa del Carmen, Mexico; ramonbaile ©

Costa Rica in July and August

Central America is a beautiful destination where most nations are affected by a wet and dry season. Costa Rica’s wet season runs June to November, which leaves it pretty empty of tourists. No one wants to go and get rained on, true, but this wet season acts a lot like an isolated daily shower. July and August typically see the least amount of rain within this time period. The short-lived rains sometimes happen over night and if they strike during the day, it’s usually not enough to ruin your plans.

La Fortuna Falls, Costa Rica; Credit: Kyle May ©

La Fortuna Falls, Costa Rica; Credit: Kyle May ©

 

Cheap Family Labor Day Getaway: St. Louis

Thursday, August 8th, 2013

We know that when you’re trying to travel with family, there’s only one thing better than cheap—free. For a cheap getaway filled with free things to do this Labor Day, look no further than St. Louis, Missouri. St. Louis is, after all, the patron saint of savings (probably). Considering the free zoo and the free museums, this is our kind of town, and we put together a list of stuff to do in the Lou.

Saint Louis skyline

City Views and Muddy Blues

The Gateway Arch defines the St. Louis skyline and if you haven’t had a chance to see this architectural masterpiece, we recommend you head straight there. After you take the ride to the top ($10 adults, $5 kids), take some time to walk along the riverfront.

If you have a taste for those St. Louie blues, or some fun festival food, stroll on down the cobblestone streets of Laclede’s Landing to the Big Muddy Blues Festival. Two of the three stages are free, and kids are welcome.

After you walk around, let your kids climb around at the City Museum. Don’t let the name fool you—this place is less like a museum and more like a four story jungle gym made out of recycled materials (including an airplane, a school bus, and—you guessed it—a giant whale). It’s something your kids will never forget. The playtime experience is 12 bucks a pop, but this uncommon place, and the uncommon chance for you to take a breather, is worth every penny.

End the night with some of the best ice cream in the country. Ted Drewes on Chippewa is one of the oldest and best known ice cream (sorry, frozen custard) shops in America. Located on the old Route 66, this place serves concretes so thick you can hold them upside down, and has done since 1929.

 

Z is for Free Zoo

Start off day two with a little adventure by checking out the Saint Louis Zoo. This is our absolute favorite type of zoo—the free type. With over 90 acres, the zoo is one of the largest and best in the country. And if you get there before 9am, the children’s zoo is free too.

Afterward, save a few bucks on lunch by packing a picnic in the park. Then browse around the free art museum, free history museum and free science center, all of which have free parking.

When dinner time rolls around, it’s a short drive to St. Louis’ Italian neighborhood, the Hill. These authentic, family owned Italian restaurants serve up the best food in the city. Taste the classics as they were meant to be tasted, or try the city’s signature toasted ravioli.

Before you go to the airport Monday, try out Ari’s Restaurant and Bar for breakfast. St. Louis Magazine calls this the Cheapest Breakfast in Town, and it’s hard to argue with their math. Ari’s buffet style breakfast is $6.95 for adults, and $3.95 for kids. And that includes the coffee.

Boardroom meets bedroom in a Fort Lauderdale suite

Friday, July 20th, 2012

A room that multitasks: The conference suite at Sheraton Suites Plantation, Ft. Lauderdale West.

By Mara Tilen

We get it. Spending your work week in hotel rooms can get monotonous after a while, but look at the bright side: Sometimes that hotel room is a gateway to a cheap vacation. Case in point: South Florida, a sunny, affordable destination that begs to be explored when the client meetings are said and done. With a thriving nightlife scene, serene spas and a 600,000-square-foot convention center, you’ll feel that much more productive in beautiful surroundings. (more…)

Disneyland on a dime: 7 money-saving tips

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

 

Catch Disneyland's new Mickey's Soundsational Parade, one of many freebies within the park.

By Amanda Ficili

There’s never been a better time to visit the Disneyland Resort and with the upcoming openings of Cars Land and Buena Vista Street, you’ll want to get those bags packed and ready for an unforgettable summer vacation. (more…)

5 tips for cheap vacations with kids

Monday, April 16th, 2012

 

Not-so-cramped-quarters: Courtyard by Marriott Anaheim at Disneyland Resort offers family suites on the cheap.

By Valerie Moloney

As the self-designated CEO of the household, I embrace any opportunity to shave money off the family budget. I’ll buy Irish Spring even if passion fruit pomegranate body mousse smells much prettier. I frequent flash sales, and scour the boards for promo codes (because who wants to pay for shipping?). (more…)

Florida’s cheap thrills, from mermaids to mullet tosses

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012

By Valerie Moloney

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Florida is proud of its offbeat status — and cheap vacation deals. Where else would gators, Goths and bats share the same real estate? Expand your Floridian context beyond a Disney vacation this year to experience the sandy underbelly, and go back to your home state with a few quirky tories and a better tan. (more…)

All about adrenaline: Spring ramps up with new rollercoasters

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

 

Six Flags Great America's X-Flight is scheduled to open this May. Credit: Six Flags Great America

By Angie Jaime

Spring is here early (thanks global warming) and that means only one thing — time to take a family vacation to scope the season’s latest theme park expansions.

Heartland thrill junkies can soar at 3,000 feet on Six Flags Great Americas latest, X-Flight. Five inversions, a 12 story drop and a zero-gravity roll are more than enough to get the adrenaline pumping. Designed by the Swiss engineers behind the Raging Bull, SUPERMAN and BATMAN rides, the X-Flight is the first of its kind in the US. The unique “wing” design pairs riders on either side of the track, creating the illusion of free flight. This ride will make its home in the County Fair section of the park, replacing the old school Iron Wolf in May.

(more…)

Budget in the ‘Burg: Virginia’s answer to a cheap spring break

Monday, March 5th, 2012

Lesson learned: The Historic Powhatan Resort boasts its own piece of colonial Americana -- a manor house circa 1735.

By Valerie Moloney

Chances are, if I said Old Dominion, not everyone would know the reference to my home state of Virginia. Now allow me to make a statement that resonates with everyone: Virginia is a hotbed for cheap spring vacations. While my hometown Virginia Beach, Va. is one of the beach capitals on the East Coast, I was always partial to the place that enriched my understanding of 1770s America: Williamsburg. And besides, the theme parks kicked butt. (more…)

Disneyland Hotel: A magical makeover on park grounds

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

Royal sleeping quarters: Headboards powered by fiber optics recreate the Disneyland skyline -- complete with fireworks.

By Amanda Ficili

The Disneyland Hotel, which has undergone many changes and makeovers since its birth in 1955, got another facelift worthy of its iconic status. The massive, two-year renovation project did not leave a single inch of the property untouched. With its lavishly redecorated guest rooms, imaginative redesigned pool and water play areas, stunning courtyards and landscaping and delicious dining options including a one-of-a-kind interactive bar, it’s no surprise why the property is a guest — and my personal — favorite.  (more…)