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Articles for ‘Family’ Category

Beyond the beach: 5 free things to do in Florida

Wednesday, March 25th, 2015

With approximately 800 miles of beaches, Florida offers plenty of free fun in the sun. But when you’ve gotten your fill of vitamins D and “sea,” consider these other amusements that don’t cost a dime.

SummerJazz on the Gulf via Pat Shapiro

SummerJazz on the Gulf via Pat Shapiro

Catch a free concert: Year-round warm weather means perennial outdoor concert season, so pack a picnic basket and a blanket. Options range from the Florida Orchestra’s Pops in the Park concerts in St. Petersburg and Tampa, to the SummerJazz on the Gulf series in Naples, to Springing the Blues in Jacksonville. In South Florida, free is chic, as with the New World Symphony Wallcast concerts projected onto a 7,000-square-foot wall in Miami Beach SoundScape. Sounds like music to our ears.

Southermost Point via nathanmac87 at Flickr Creative Commons

Southermost Point via nathanmac87 at Flickr Creative Commons

Get the picture: The best souvenirs also happen to be the cheapest: photographs. Florida is home to some prime photo ops, so grab that selfie stick and start making your Facebook friends jealous. Begin your shutterfest in St. Augustine, where you can catch the free ferry to Fort Matanzas National Monument in all its 16th-century glory. Then make your way down to Sarasota‘s Ringling Museum of Art on a Monday for free admission to its gorgeous estate. And finish up in Key West with a quintessential photo at the Southernmost Point buoy marking 90 miles to Cuba.

Loxahatchee Slough Natural Area stretch of the Florida Trail via Winnie Lo

Loxahatchee Slough Natural Area stretch of the Florida Trail via Winnie Lo

Take a hike: Keep that camera handy for a jaunt along the Florida National Scenic Trail. The 1,300-mile path stretches from the Everglades all the way up to historic Fort Pickens. Some parts of the trail are more developed than others, but plenty are suitable for hikers of all ages and fitness levels looking to get up close and personal with the Sunshine State’s flora and fauna.

Wynwood Walls via Phillip Pessar at Flickr Creative Commons

Wynwood Walls via Phillip Pessar at Flickr Creative Commons

State of the art: Warm weather is perfect for evening art walks, where you can gallery-hop and sometimes enjoy free wine and entertainment. If you’re in Miami, definitely head to Wynwood – a trendy neighborhood with a concentration of vibrant, larger-than-life murals. If you happen to be there on a Tuesday evening, stop by Wood Tavern for two free tacos — no catch.

Gulf of Mexico via Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater

Gulf of Mexico via Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater

Celebrate the sun: Floridians take our sunsets quite seriously. Whether we’re sitting on a beach, out for an evening stroll or even just stuck in traffic, we take a moment to appreciate the ever-changing cotton candy skies. There are even formal events to mark the end of the day. Two of the best-known take place at Mallory Square in Key West and Pier 60 in Clearwater Beach. Both events feature live entertainment, vendors and a family-friendly atmosphere against the backdrop of the setting sun.

 

Story by Dalia Colon

Cheap amusement: Parks that won’t break the bank

Wednesday, March 11th, 2015

Taking a vacation to hang with the world’s most famous mouse and his fairy tale friends may not be in the budget this year, but that doesn’t mean that adventurous, family-friendly fun is out of reach. Check out these comparatively budget-friendly options that offer everything from free parking and drinks to complimentary preview days.

Adventureland, Altoona, IA
Located just east of Des Moines, Adventureland entertains visitors with over 100 rides, live shows and attractions, including some of the nations most exciting coasters that challenge even the most avid thrill-seekers. Beyond the large-scale coasters, there’s also an array of water attractions at Adventure Bay, like Iowa’s longest lazy river, 20 water slides, pool with swim-up bar for both parents and little ones, 25,000-square-foot wave pool, sand beach sundeck, kid’s activity pool, splash pad and children’s rides throughout the park.

Adventure Bay

Photo: Adventure Bay via altoonachamber.org

The newest attraction to the park is Storm Chaser, a giant swing ride that takes riders 260 feet off the ground and spins them at 35mph. We recommend testing your bravery on this one with an empty stomach.

Discount coupons are usually available at Iowa HyVee and Taco John stores, so check them out when you’re in the neighborhood.

General Admission: $40 (ages 10+); $35 (ages 4-9 and 69+)

Lake Canobie Lake

Photo: Lake Canobie via ZelenyOko on Flickr

Canobie Lake Park, Salem, NH

Canobie Lake Park got it’s start in 1902 as a trolley park, which were parks created by U.S. rail companies, typically at the end of their lines by lakes, rivers and beaches, to drum up weekend business and provide a resting place for weekday commuters.  It’s also one of only a handful of family-owned amusement parks remaining in the country.  A strong sense of nostalgia remains in the park with their carousel that’s been running since 1906 and the 1930’s Dodgems bumper cars; but, the vintage charm is tempered by the thrilling appeals of a modern-day amusement park.

Canobie Ferris

Photo: Canobie Lake Park Ferris Wheel via milst1 on flickr

Wooden coaster, Yankee Cannonball, with it’s stomach-in-the-throat, air-time hills and the 97-degree drop of the steel behemoth, Untamed, provide the much-needed juxtaposition to the gentle rides remaining from the parks earlier, gentler days.

While Canobie doesn’t offer a full-scale water park, Castaway Island’s interactive play station with water slides, a tipping bucket and a variety of sprayers and water cannons provides the perfect cool-down spot for toasty travelers. For more water fun, hop on the Policy Pond log flume or get dunked like a tea bag on the Boston Tea Party splashdown ride that unleashes a gigantic plume of water guaranteed to drench the camera-toting bystanders.

Unlike most parks, parking is always free. Before visiting, check their Specials page for online-only promotions or to join CanobieClub for access to email promotions.

General Admission: $36 (over 48”); $27 (under 48” and age 60+); ages 3 and under are free; $25 (after 5pm)

Coney Island Nathan's Famous

Photo: Coney Island via drpavloff on Flickr

Coney Island, Brooklyn, NY

Clear your schedule for a rite-of-passage journey to the sacred birthplace of the hot dog. Come packing a Costco-sized supply of Pepto with stomachs empty as there’s no shortage of vendors eager to sell their version of this American culinary icon.

Located in the southernmost tip of Brooklyn, Coney Island is a neighborhood and beach well-known for it’s amusement area that includes more than 50 rides and attractions. It’s unique in that since it’s inception, it’s never been a singularly owned entity but rather a collection of independent owners, operators and vendors. For this reason, admission to enjoy the grounds is free and rides are pay-as-you-go, allowing the budget conscious to control their spend.

Coney Island Wonder Wheel

Photo: Coney Island Wonder Wheel via wallyg on flickr

While its true Coney Island suffered setbacks and seemed to be headed for permanent closure, the passion of several organizations has helped to revitalize this important piece of Americana. Luna Park opened in 2010 and new rides and shows have been attracting the world’s most curious to this uniquely urban play land.

Hours of operation vary and depend on the crowd and the whim of the owners. Enjoy a spectacular fireworks display every Friday starting the last weekend of June, running until the Friday before Labor Day.

General Admission: Free, pay as you go for rides and games

Hersheypark, Hershey, PA
Hershey, Pennsylvania is a fun-packed destination committed to preserving the well-respected legacy of Milton S. Hersey, founder of an American favorite, The Hershey Chocolate Company. Initially built as a place for Hershey Chocolate Company employees to relax, Hersheypark draws visitors from all over the world with over 70 rides and attractions, including 12 coasters, 14 unique water attractions in The Boardwalk at Hershey and 20 kiddie rides.

Hershey Water

Photo: Hersheypark via Joe Shlabtonik on Flickr

New this year is Laff Trakk, the first indoor, spinning, glow-coaster in the U.S. Riders spin through an exhilarating sensory adventure of sights and sounds with glimpses of colorful characters and a dizzying hall of mirrors.

Hershey Park’s website offers insider money-saving tips from where to get coupons to information on their preview program, which allows visitors to enter the park the night before their scheduled date of entry for a free 2 1/2 hour preview.

General Admission: $61.95 (ages 9-54); $38.95 (ages 3-8 and 55-69); $24.95 (ages 70+)

Lake Compounce

Photo: Lake Compounce via milst1 on Flickr

Lake Compounce, Bristol, CT

Not only is Lake Compounce the oldest, continuously-operating amusement park in North America, it’s home to Boulder Dash, which has been consistently voted as the world’s #1 wooden roller coaster. Known as a terrain coaster, Boulder Dash uses the mountain as it’s base and follows it’s thrilling topography past trees and boulders with 115’ drops and speeds up to 60mph.

Boulder Dash

Photo: Boulder Dash at Lake Compounce via milst1 on flickr

Surrounded on three sides by a mountain and boasting a lake, the park stays in synch with the natural beauty of its setting. The Mark Twain sternwheeler cruises the lake, while a vintage open air electric trolley transports guests to the base of Southington Mountain where they can board gondola cars with promises of breathtaking views on Skyride’s 700-foot climb to the summit.

Crocodile Cove Water Park is included in the price of admission and offers guests an opportunity to cool down on those hot summer days. While not as large as some other water parks, this watering hole is unique in that park-goers can choose to ride traditional slides that empty out into the lake or soak up the sun on the sandy beach.

The Dino Expedition attraction is the latest addition to this park and guests of all ages will come face-to-very-large-teeth with lifelike animatronic dinosaurs up to 40 foot long on self-guided pathways. Even the smallest paleontology-enthusiast can get in on the action with the open-air fossil dig where they can unearth fossils.

Those looking to trim costs will be happy to hear this park offers free water and sodas all day.

General Admission: $40.99 (52” or taller); $30.99 (under 52”)

Michigans Adventure

Photo: Michigan’s Adventure via Roller Coaster Philosophy on Flickr

Michigan’s Adventure, Muskegon, MI

Having the distinction of being Michigan’s largest amusement park, Michigan’s Adventure doesn’t disappoint with over 60 rides and attractions, including Wildwater Adventure. The price of admission gives park-goers access to both parks, good news for those watching their bottom line.

This park appeals to all ages with their balance of family-centric rides, like bumper cars, go-karts, and paddle boats fashioned to look like swans, with thrill-seeking rides like mile-long Shivering Timbers wooden coaster that reaches heights of 125 feet. It’s also one of the only coasters in the world to feature a crooked trick track that unexpectedly tosses riders from left to right.

Shivering  Timbers 2

Photo: Shivering Timbers at Michigan’s Adventure via Roller Coaster Philosophy on Flickr

Like most parks, eating onsite can leave you scraping the bottom of your pocketbook, so many visitors chose to pack a cooler and picnic in the parking lot. General admission, food and drink discounts are available when purchased online and local retailer, Meijer, often offers in-store discounts.

General Admission: purchase online for $29.99, ages 2 and under are free

Palace Playland Ticket Booth

Photo: Palace Playland via Joe Shlabotnik on Flickr

Palace Playland, Old Orchard Beach, ME

With free admission and ample parking, New England’s only beach-front amusement park covers 4 acres and lets vacationers set their own budget. Pay for rides individually by purchasing tickets or splurge for the all-day pass that gives your unlimited access to over 25 rides and attractions. The park delivers fun for all ages, with gentle giants such as the carousel and Ferris wheel to the hold-onto-your britches pendulum swing of the Adrenalin. The steel Italian-made coaster, Galaxi, taxis riders several stories up for the best views of the beach before sending them careening back to solid ground.

The 24,000 square foot arcade contains more than 200 games, with such classics like Skeeball and Fortune Tellers and the modern coin-operated video games.

Palace Playland Arcade

Photo: Palace Playland Arcade via Joe Shlabotnik on Flickr

Palace Playland lets attendance and weather be their guide when setting a daily closing time, creating the romantic illusion of an endless summer.

General Admission: No fee for admission. $32 day pass with unlimited rides, $24 kiddie pass recommended for kids under 42” tall. $1.30 single ticket (each ride takes 2-4 tickets)

 

Story by Maria Barnes

Get away and get warm: 5 cheap all-inclusive getaways

Thursday, January 22nd, 2015

warm beach chair

It’s cold outside. Unbearably cold, really. So cold there’s no other option than to migrate south, to a place so perfectly tropical it makes you warmer just thinking about it.

All-inclusive resorts across the Caribbean have made it easy even for those of us still a little cash strapped from Christmas spending to find affordable getaways. And with the packages they offer – which often include airfare and a three- or four-night stay – getting time off work shouldn’t be much of a barrier.

Check out our list of five affordable and blissfully warm all-inclusive getaways, but first, here are a few tips to remember before you book:

  • Check around when picking your travel dates and see if the resorts are offering any promotions that could save you some cash. CheapTickets offers a new promo code for hotel discounts every week.
  • Book your reservations and flight at the same time for an even better deal.
  • Factor some extra excursions into your budget. Although some packages do include tours of the area, some excursions you might regret missing out on cost a little extra.
  • Double check which drinks are free and which are included. Typically, you have to pay extra for the more high-end alcoholic beverages.

Majestic Elegance Punta Cana – Dominican Republic

Sunrise in Punta Cana. Courtesy of Sasvata (Shash) Chatterjee.

Sunrise in Punta Cana. Courtesy of Sasvata (Shash) Chatterjee.

On the eastern-most point of the Dominican Republic lies Punta Cana. There, the sea breeze rustles the leaves of the long skinny palms, which reach out high and far over the Caribbean. It’s an oasis of resorts surrounded by the rich culture of the Dominican Republic, and packages at the all-inclusive Majestic Elegance Punta Cana incorporate both aspects of the area. Adventurers can explore nearby semi-deserted islands, visit the historic city of Santo Domingo or traverse the several natural parks that are close by. If venturing out isn’t your thing, there’s really no reason to have to leave the resort. There are six restaurants, nine bars and 24-hour room services. There are rooftop bars with panoramic views of the beach and cabanas to escape under if the sun gets too hot. The resort hosts fashion shows and beach parties some nights, and if guests need a reprise from the salt water, they can take a plunge in the resort’s Turkish baths.

Rooms average $354 per night when booked through CheapTickets.

Riu Negril – Jamaica

Riu Negril in Jamaica. Courtesy of Channone Arif.

Riu Negril in Jamaica. Courtesy of Channone Arif.

The Caribbean water is so clear in Negril, you can see what color your toenail polish is beneath the calm waves. One of Jamaica’s go-to beaches, Negril is nestled between coves on the west side of the island. Riu Negril resort has three restaurants and five bars (three of which are poolside), and they’re open 24 hours. The restaurants are themed – there’s a gourmet restaurant, steakhouse and Italian restaurant – but we recommend trying the local flavors. You’ll never taste jerk sauce like you will in Jamaica, and a taste of that is almost worth the trip itself. Of course, the other all-inclusive perks at the resort don’t hurt. There’s a club (a discoteque, as they call it), with admission and all drinks included in the package (try a Red Stripe, you won’t regret it). Venturing out of the resort is a must as well, with rich Jamaican culture at hand and mountain activities available. From the resort, you’ll have a view of Booby Cay, known for its birds and wildlife. Just up the beach, Rhodes Hall Plantation offers horseback rides along the beach. And don’t forget, Montego Bay is just over an hour’s drive away, teeming with markets and Rastafarian culture.

Note: The wifi in the room is not included in the package. But all that time online can probably wait until you’re back in the cold north, right?

Rooms average $341 per night when booked through CheapTickets.

Omni Cancún Hotel and Villas – Cancún, Mexíco

A beachfront in Cancún, Mexíco. Courtesy of Ricardo Diaz.

A beachfront in Cancún, Mexíco. Courtesy of Ricardo Diaz.

Not only is it warm in Cancún, relaxation is part of its culture. That’s evident in the atmosphere of this ocean-front resort. Tiki huts on the beach mingle with palm trees swaying in the wind. Most rooms offer private, ocean-view balconies with views of the Mexican sunrise. Surrounded on water on two sides, guests can stay in the hotel or in a villa at this Mayan-inspired resort. Three pools connected by waterfalls flow into each other at the resort and are open 24/7. (And there’s a separate pool for the kids). There’s a jacuzzi bar guests can swim to and sit in while imbibing in a drink. The resort has a spa and beach cabanas that can be reserved for the day. The Cancún sands have become home to four of the eight species of sea turtles, and guests can witness their nesting season May through September. Female turtles migrate from feeding areas and lay an average of three nests per season. Cancún’s turtle program keeps guests at a distance safe enough for the turtles, but close enough for the experience.

Rooms average $265 per night when booked through CheapTickets. 

Barcelo Maya Beach – Riviera Maya, Mexíco

Barcelo Maya Beach. Courtesy of kartfamily.

Barcelo Maya Beach. Courtesy of kartfamily.

On the shores of the Yucatán, about an hour’s drive down the coast from Cancún, lies Playa del Carmen. The area was a port for ancient Mayans pilgrimaging to Cozumel, a sacred island with a shrine to the goddess of fertility and childbirth. It is the capital of the Riviera Maya, where open-air restaurants and shops mingle with Mayan ruins. Nearly everything about this resort, located just south of Playa del Carmen, was inspired by the ancient Mayans. The three restaurants and three bars, which were recently renovated with Mayan-inspired architecture, serve Mayan-inspired food, along with other international cuisines. Guests can get a Mayan spa treatment at the resort’s spa. The sand is white and the water is clear – so clear guests can see the stunning coral reef separating the mainland and Cozumel. And on a clear day, guests can see the island so many Mayans visited in their search for fertility.

Rooms average $332 per night when booked through CheapTickets.

Royal Solaris Los Cabos – San José del Cabo, Mexíco

Royal Solaris Los Cabos. Courtesy of Michael Allen Smith.

Royal Solaris Los Cabos. Courtesy of Michael Allen Smith.

San José del Cabo is located on the southern most tip of Baja California, near where the Gulf of California blends in with the Pacific Ocean. If guests get bored of staring out at the Pacific Ocean, they can turn around and enjoy a backdrop of the Sierra de San Larazo Mountains. Touristic growth has remained on the outside of the San José del Cabo town center. Guests venturing out of the resort to experience the Baja culture can see the cobblestone streets, adobe houses and a square that sits in front of a church from the 1700s that remain in the town center. The resort itself is kid-friendly, with a waterpark and an ocean-view hot tub. With Baja being a favorite getaway for American celebrities, you may spot a star among all the tropical beauty.

Rooms average $201 per night when booked through CheapTickets. 

 Story by Ally Marotti

7 breathtaking cruise ports around the world

Thursday, January 15th, 2015

It’s “wave season.” That means from January-March every year, cruise lines and cruise distributors offer their cheapest rates in an effort to get people to book their cruises early in the year. Cheap cruises–we’ll take it! Here are some cruise ports that will take your breath away from the deck of the ship as you glide into port.

Port of Venice, Italy

Venice's grand canal at night. Courtesy of Kosala Bandara.

Venice’s grand canal at night. Courtesy of Kosala Bandara.

By land or sea, Venice is one of the most beautiful cities you’ll ever see. People visit Venice to see the canals, to eat the food, to experience the culture and learn some history, before it all sinks beneath the Adriatic Sea. But what visitors don’t necessarily expect is how the water weaving between each and every block plays with the light. In the daytime, the blue of the canals contrasts the color of the architecture, making its orange hue even more vibrant. At night, the lights play on the water, dancing and illuminating the canals to the point that almost becomes a second light source. The best time of day, though, is twilight. That time of day when the sun has dipped below the horizon but it’s not quite dark yet. A purple hue falls over the city and envelopes everything in a way you can’t experience anywhere else. Plan a cruise that docks just as the sun sets to experience the magic.

Port Vell, Barcelona, Spain

A view of Port Vell in Barcelona from Montjuïc. Courtesy of David Merrett.

A view of Port Vell in Barcelona from Montjuïc. Courtesy of David Merrett.

Continuing around from Italy and through the Mediterranean, is Barcelona, the capital of the autonomous region of Catalonia. Barcelona is steeped in history that remains visible today and is evident as soon as your cruise ship begins making its approach toward Barcelona’s Port Vell (that means “old port” in Catalan). If you can peel your eyes away from the beautifully blue Mediterranean waters and palm trees gently blowing in the sea breeze (and maybe a few topless women on a beach nearby, because, well, this is Europe), you’ll be taken aback by Barcelona’s architecture. To your right as you approach the port, you’ll see the outlines of Antoin Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia, the famed yet unfinished church that’s been under construction for decades. To your left, you’ll see the ancient fort perched atop Montjuïc, which served as a lookout for invaders from the sea. The ship will dock at the base of La Rambla, one of the most vibrant and well-known boulevards in the city. When you step onto that Barcelona soil, your adventure really begins.

Port Santorini, Greece

Santorini port. Courtesy of Shane Gorski.

Santorini port. Courtesy of Shane Gorski.

The whitewashed buildings stand out starkly against the vibrant blue of the sky and sea as you approach the Grecian island by way of the Aegean Sea. Tales of Greek monsters are nowhere near your mind as you sail toward Santorini, but you wonder if maybe this is Mt. Olympus because only the gods could tread somewhere this beautiful. The crescent-shaped island is southeast of Greece’s mainland and is the remnants of a volcanic eruption that destroyed the earliest dwellers. As you approach the island’s main port, Athinias, you’ll see the remnants of the centuries-old eruption in the dark, steep cliffs holding up the white towns and villages.

Papeete port, Tahiti, French Polynesia

Tahitian palm with the island of Moorea in the background. Courtesy of Lori Branham.

Tahitian palm with the island of Moorea in the background. Courtesy of Lori Branham.

You may feel as though you’re a castaway finally washing ashore in Tahiti after the hundreds of remote miles you traveled through the South Pacific to arrive. But at least you’ve arrived to paradise. The largest in the Windward group of French Polynesian islands, Tahiti is an explosion of green among the vast blue, with mountains jutting upward and palm trees framing the port. Tiki huts line long docks jutting out into the pristine waters. The island is centered on volcanic mountains, and is famous for its black sand beaches, formed with bits of lava fragments. Much of Tahiti’s beauty also lies beneath its waters. Farming for the Tahitian black pearl is a huge part of the countries economy, and coral reefs surrounding the island teem with colorful wildlife.

Misty Fjords port of call, Alaska

Misty Fjords, Alaska. Courtesy of Andrew Malone.

Misty Fjords, Alaska. Courtesy of Andrew Malone.

Although there are dozens of ports of call in Alaska (and most Alaskan cruises hit several per trip), Misty Fjords is not to be missed. The cruise ship is dwarfed by the rising, snow-capped mountains seemingly enveloping the fjord on all sides. A fjord is a narrow inlet lined with steep cliffs that was formed by a glacier. And this one will take your breath away. There are 1,000-foot waterfalls, sheer granite cliffs, pristine lakes and low-hanging mist in this remote section of the Alaskan panhandle. While you are awe-inspired from the landscape, make sure to keep your eyes peeled for wildlife such as bald eagles, grizzly bears and moose peeking out toward the ship.

Kona Port, Kailua Kona, Hawaii

Kailua-Kona after sunset, with volcanic rocks on the beach in the foreground. Courtesy of Steve Dunleavy.

Kailua-Kona after sunset, with volcanic rocks on the beach in the foreground. Courtesy of Steve Dunleavy.

There are about 150 distinct ecosystems throughout the Hawaiian islands, and you’ll be able to see a slew of them as you cruise into the port in Kona. Ships use the port at Kailua Kona, on the western side of the Hawaiian island. The Kona Coast has been distinguished by recent lava flows that continue to build on top of each other. Lush vegetation grows in over the flows as time goes by, making it possible to go from lush vegetation to a landscape of barren, hardened lava just by turning a corner. Some beaches also feature black sand. Whales are likely to be seen on cruises traveling now through April.

Reykjavik, Iceland

Downtown Reykjavik, Iceland. Courtesy of O Palsson.

Downtown Reykjavik, Iceland. Courtesy of O Palsson.

For being the capital of Iceland, Reykjavik offers some surprising small town charm. Nordic settlers founded the town that has grown up along the pristine Atlantic coastline in 874. Iceland seems to have a little bit of everything, as far as geologic formations go, and cruising into Reykjavik will give you an introductory taste. There are inlets and peninsulas, straits and islands, mountains and glaciers. There are volcanoes and hot springs, ice fields and thermal pools, all engulfed in a bubbling yet sophisticated culture gathered around fresh seafood. Iceland offers snapshots of landscapes that can’t be seen anywhere else in the world, and Reykjavik is the beautiful gateway. Make sure you look up at night for a potential glimpse of the Aurora Borealis.

Story by Ally Marotti

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…)