August 27, 2013
Our whitewater experience started with a group meeting under the big tent. Our excursion leader was a dynamic twenty-year veteran with a set of powerful lungs and an energizing manner. She introduced herself and gave us a brief idea of what we could expect. Since we were rafting in early May, the water was still cold, and wetsuits required – luckily, ACE has a gear rental shop, and the process was seamless.
We filed onto the buses and started our journey. The first safety briefing occurred on the bus, and the guides did a great job of making it clear how important it is to follow instructions to the letter – which ensures that everyone has fun, and stays as safe as possible. This is the most important element to look for when choosing a whitewater rafting company, particularly if you want to tackle more challenging whitewater. A whitewater rafting company that is serious about safety is a company that deserves your (repeat!) business. ACE Adventures is always very professional and serious when it comes to safety, which is why they’re the top rafting company recommended by The Family Travel Files, and by my family personally.
Once we reached the river we were divided up and assigned to boats and guides, who again went over the safety precautions and rules, and made sure that we didn’t have any questions. Finally, it was time to hit the water.
The minute we put out feet in the river, we were glad we had the right gear on – the water was chilly, but the outside temperature was high enough that the effect was refreshing (if a little bit shocking), rather than uncomfortable. We practiced our strokes, all forward, all back, back left, back right, all of us endeavoring to match tempo and heed our guide’s shouted commands. After a few minutes she declared us as ready as we’d ever be and we headed downstream.
What followed was an exhilarating four hours. Whitewater rafting is impossible to understand until it is experienced, especially when you have the sort of conditions we had on our day, which included unusually high water levels, making for a heart-pounding and utterly unforgettable experience. As a team, our boat fought the river, battling nature with everything we had, and emerged victorious, if exhausted. Despite the challenging conditions, no one “left the boat” – despite one close call, when we all had to scramble to one side to keep the boat from flipping. It’s a rare experience that allows you to utterly focus on one thing, to devote your body and soul to an endeavor, and to share that singularity of purpose with six other individuals. We left the river that day with true sense of achievement combined with an elation which is unmatched by man-made thrills, such as roller coasters.
Note: ACE Adventure Resort, in Minden, West Virginia, offers a variety of experiences, for all skill levels and ages. We undertook one of their more challenging offerings (bested only by their Gauley season experience in the autumn), but whitewater rafting is a wonderful experience no matter what the challenge level. My family has been whitewater rafting together for years, and we started out on less challenging stretches of river before graduating to Class IV and V rivers.
So what are you waiting for?
August 23, 2013
Whether it’s a daytrip or a weekend escape, enjoying time together and making family memories matters. Fun, quick, and easy is the magic phrase for families. We have highlighted 12 of the best corn mazes and fall festivals in North America.
- The Texas Maze at Dewberry Farm near Houston is perhaps one of the best agri-adventures in the country. The eight-acre interactive corn maze includes dozens of “cornundrums” and a corn-cierge to facilitate the fun. See honey bees at work and add to that corn cannons, singing chickens, rubber duckie races, calf roping, and zip lining over the field.
- Dell’Osso Family Farm Corn Maze near Lathrop, California creates a corn maze large enough to be viewed by NASA from orbit. Along with the maze challenge they run a pumpkin tram, have pumpkin blasters, tire pyramid, lively hayrides, zip lining, aerial ropes course, and a plank plunge.
- One of the world’s largest corn mazes is at Richardson Adventure Farm in Spring Grove north of Chicago near the Wisconsin state line. Agri-entertainment activities include slides, pedal trikes, a 50-foot high viewing tower, zip lining, and a zorbing adventure inside an 11-foot orb.
- An agri-adventure at Marni Farm near Ipswich, MA includes 10 miles of pathways and hundreds of questions to be answered plus a larger-than-life spider web challenge, apple cannons, and thousands of pumpkins.
- Even more quirky fun for to the pumpkin season can be had at Hopcott Farms in British Columbia where pumpkin bowling, pig painting, and a free standing, water-filled interactive cranberry bog are part of the experience. Sever’s Corn Maze Pumpkin Slinging
- Sever’s Corn Maze not far from the Twin Cities has an exotic petting zoo with animals from around the world including lemurs and camels, and kangaroos.
- Gaeddert Farms Corn Maze in Kansas offers visitors a tire mountain and tire tunnel, pumpkin bowling, pumpkin cannons, corn cannons.
- To navigate the maze at Liberty Ridge Farm, Schaghticoke, NY visitors use corn texting for clues. Well-placed “CORNnundrums” make things more fun and interesting plus they have night scrambles.
- French Prairie Gardens Fall Harvest Festival in St. Paul, OR has a “Pigtucky” Derby and an opportunity for visitors to watch the secret lives of chickens.
- Hubb’s Corn Maze near Clinton NC has laser tag, a giant tire jungle, and steer roping.
- In Julian, CA the annual Julian Mining Company Fall Celebration includes apple cider making, candle dipping, tomahawk throwing, square dancing, fossil digs, and gold panning.
- The Great Maze in Danville, VT is the home of barnyard golf, 100′ of underground tunnels, and laser tag.
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Images provided Longwood Gardens, PA. Sometimes things change, so please confirm details before making plans. Copyright 2013.
August 6, 2013
Heights are not really my thing – I don’t like roller-coasters, cliffs or suspension bridges. Increasingly in recent years, I’ve had many friends (and family members) tell me how great zip-lining is, and how it’s “not-to-be-missed.” Who can pass up that sort of recommendation?
I really have to hand it to the folks at ACE Adventure Resort, in Minden, West Virginia. Our zip lining guides were knowledgeable, professional and very understanding of everyone’s individual comfort level re: heights & zip lines. They instantly put me at ease about taking “the plunge”, and were more than willing to explain the gear, its function and technical aspects, as well as the physics of zip-lining.
The experience was exhilarating, and while most of the zips were heart-pounding the serenity of the surroundings gave the experience an otherworldly calm which is hard to express. The views are breath-taking, as the course runs along the side of the beautiful New River Gorge. You even get a chance to zip along “Sunshine” the spot of the world record zip (183 people in one hour!)
For those looking to get more details, check out the ACE home page, which offers a detailed description of the entire course, as well as videos which explain the safety features and function of the harness, lines and more.
If you’re looking for an extra thrill they also offer a nighttime zip-lining experience. In their own words:
“Zip-lining by the light of day is fun, but how about in the black of night? They say everything is faster. OK, maybe not faster, but it sure feels that way. Suddenly reference points are all but gone. Shapes and shadows come out of nowhere. Your sense of hearing and sense of touch leap into overdrive. An otherwise, breezy zip line cruise becomes a white-knuckle plunge across unknown depths.”
So, who’s in?
After zip-lining in the morning it was time to try out some of the other great experiences offered at ACE: rock-climbing and rappelling.
We met at the “climbing hut” to pick up our gear and meet our guide – a friendly and knowledgeable young man, who explained the basics of what we were getting ourselves into and got us all geared up.
Once we arrived at the rappelling site, I expressed considerable nervousness about rappelling off the side of an 80-foot cliff. Unfazed, he talked me through the entire process, and offered to let me try out the start, without committing to the full-rappel. I latched on and slowly leaned back, as the guide quietly encouraged me and made sure I was feeling (relatively) safe and secure.
With that sort of professional (but not in the least pushy!) support, I felt confident enough to complete the rappel. When my feet hit the ground I admit to being shaky, but feeling great about overcoming my fear. The others on the trip with me had a blast, mastering the art of the rappel quickly and running up to the top to attempt it again with gusto. When we switched to climbing I fared better, attempting first a brief chimney climb, and then a more open rock face climb. Our guide demonstrated each climb to us, and pointed out great handholds to aim for, continuing to coach us once we began. It was an invigorating experience, and one I recommend highly.
Make sure to head over to The Family Travel Files to check out our articles about all the great family activities available at ACE Adventure Center, including an article on their zip-lining experiences!
Make it happen. Check them out on FACEBOOK. ACE Adventure Center and Resort. Oak Hill WV, 25901. Toll-free 1-888-ACE-RAFT (1-888-223-7238), (304) 469-2651 or www.aceraft.com
July 11, 2013
For active families summer family vacation time is precious and it is pointless to spend a minute or a dime on predictable and boring activities in vacation places without a natural WOW! Factor.
Here’s the scoop. Vacations with a natural WOW! Factor deliver not-to-be-missed moments and one-of-a-kind thrills often seen on the Discovery Channel. Things like surfing a river rapid; hearing the roar of the incoming tide; watching a geyser explode; creating echoes from a mountaintop. I know of dozens of amazing family vacation ideas guaranteed to amaze, thrill, and yield unique family vacation memories. My list includes places where Mother Nature will impress even the most jaded adults and generate a WOW! from the kids. I am sharing a few examples on a short list below. For more ideas browse our Family Adventures lifestyle folder and see just exactly who delivers adventures with a natural WOW! Factor?
ACE Adventure Resort near Oak Hill in Southern West Virginia – Roll down a river. ACE has created a micro adventure area amid the forest bordering the New River. The complex is heaven for active families of all ages because from one location day adventures can easily be arranged so no two days will be the same but all will be awesome. Activities include guided zipline canopy excursions, mountain biking, rock climbing, rappelling, horseback riding and giant, crazy-fun lake toys for downtime near the lodge. WOW! Factor: This is the place to share an active day on a river whitewater rafting. The New River and the Gauley offer ways for families to share awesome adventures for any age. Paddle the rapids with your kids – bounce, lean, squeal and even scream before stopping for an awesome lunch along the shore. If the water is just right guides will practice their best raft surfing skills – a high energy WOW for everyone. Bonus points: The meals on site are healthy, tasty and just plain awesome making any stay carefree for mom too. Make it happen. ACE Adventure Resort Oak Hill WV, 25901. Toll-free 1-888-ACE-RAFT (1-888-223-7238), (304) 469-2651 or www.aceraft.com
Lucerne, Switzerland – Hike to the sky and touch a glacier. The Lake Lucerne Region is a “pocket-size version” of the country offering oodles of amazing outdoor activities only footsteps or a short boat excursion from the city center. The city, framed by the Alps, is known for lively festivals and awesome lake sports, family-friendly museums, lakeside cafes and eateries. It makes a comfortable, first-class family vacation base any time of year but I think summer is most magical. You will find mountain-slope slides on Pilatus, dragon spotting moor walks, and oodles of ways to enjoy the lakefront. WOW! Factor: Last August my family and I had the opportunity to spend time in Lucerne and to hike three full days. There is no better way to experience and actually share the awesome beauty of the Alps with your kids and there is no better company to hike with than ECHO Trails. They make dreams happen in style arranging the perfect amount of hiking with unique mountaintop dinning, and cultural encounters including cheese & chocolate sampling and the chance to create your own echoes or try yodeling. Bonus points: The active, lively day tours are led by native English speakers; family discounts apply; and Rene (the founder) is a pro at customizing vacation programs to fit families of all ages. Make it happen: Details for daily departures are available at www.echo-trails.com
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming – Walk on the wild side. It is almost impossible to say where to start for a perfect family adventure. The American West is dotted with WOW factors framed by plateaus, plains, mountains, rivers and raging waterfalls. The shear enormity of the sky and the abundance of wildlife are in itself rewarding. The night skies blanket the earth with millions stars and fireflies dance along trails leading to campfire conversations. There are classic rodeos, cowboy poetry, bison herds, and trail rides to be enjoyed. WOW! Factor: Yellowstone and its sister Grand Teton National Park deliver the richest diversity of wildlife this side of the Serengeti. Expect to see or at least hear grizzly bears, moose, elk, bison, wolves, deer, coyotes, marmots, hawks and eagles – not the same as going to the zoo. Add to that mountain peaks soaring above 13,000 feet, pristine glacier-carved lakes, thick spruce and fir forests, alpine meadows and rushing creeks, and let’s not forget geysers, fumaroles, steam vents and mud pots. Bonus points: Austin Lehman Adventures has organized several family departures to maximize the WOW factor for all ages. Make it happen. Toll-free 1-800-575-1540 or www.austinlehman.com
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona – Stand along the edge and hear the Canyon whisper. Northern Arizona is one of my favorite family vacation destinations. Flagstaff because of the Museum of northern Arizona and the Lowell Observatory; Williams because the Grand Canyon Railway’s “Rails to the Rim” living history excursion, and Grand Canyon itself (North or South rim) which must be experienced to be believed. WOW! Factor. The sheer size of the Canyon which measures a mile (1.6km) deep, 277 river miles (446km) long, and in some places 18 miles (29km) wide cannot be explained it must be seen and felt. The sights, sounds, textures and aromas along the rim and in the Canyon, plus the rich menu of things within the park to be discovered and shared, will jam pack a family adventure and create memories good for a lifetime. Raft the Colorado River; hike to the Canyon floor or even rim to rim and make sure to take advantage of the exceptional ranger led programs throughout the park. Bonus points: Check out the Junior Ranger Discovery Pack which enables youngsters to explore the wonders of Grand Canyon ecology. The pack contains binoculars, hand lens, field guides, and other important tools for making discoveries. Make it happen. Visit the Grand Canyon National Park website, www.nps.gov/grca
Bay of Fundy & Hopewell Rocks, New Brunswick – Step to on the ocean floor and hear the tidal roar. New Brunswick is naturally beautiful and the perfect “au natural” vacation for families. Once you enter the gates of Bay of Fundy National Park you may never want to leave. The programs offered by the rangers are excellent. The trails in the park are varied and well maintained. Not-to-be- missed are the tidal pools and the ranger led shoreline ecology walks and the nightly fireside talks.Hopewell Rocks Bay of Fundy Family with Ranger WOW! Factor. Not far from the park is world famous Hopewell Rocks Interpretive Center with an amazing story to show and tell about the power of the sea and its connection to all of us. In addition to colorful information panels, large visual and touchable displays that children enjoy, short video and audio clips it is actually possible to walk on the ocean floor. Bonus points: In Alma at the doorstep of Fundy National Park is an outstanding outfitter – FreshAir Adventure – that provides awesome day adventures along the coastal area. Kayak with them for an extra WOW. Make it happen. For kayaking go to FreshAir Adventures and for the big picture go to Bay of Fundy Tourism.
Content researched and posted by Nancy Nelson-Duac; Editor at FTF; images courtesy of ACE Adventure, ALA Adventures, and Hopewell Rocks NB. Copyright 2013.
March 19, 2013
Summer camp by definition is pure fun, so imagine a summer camp for the whole family. A place with no schedule conflicts, no dishes to do, no chores to complete, forget the laundry – a place where everyone gets in on the fun. Each summer Kingsley Pines provides just that – a family camp.
Here’s the scoop. Located on picture-postcard Panther Lake in Southern Maine, Kingsley Pines has a splendid private sandy beach framing crystal clear water with an average water temperature of 75-80 degrees. More than 80 acres of old tall pine trees shade the grounds making summer days feel easy. The annual summer family camp program allows all family members to enjoy the great outdoors in a beautiful setting, with the amenities of an all-inclusive resort.
They offer a wide variety of relaxing, fun, and challenging activities for children and adults. Activities include, archery, art, basketball, canoeing, climbing tower, fishing, hiking, kayaking, low ropes course, mountain biking, water-skiing and wakeboarding, just to name a few. All activities are optional, and parents are free to attend an activity with their child. Supervised activities are provided for children four and older. Bonus points: In addition, organized activities are also available for adults. Of course there is always the option to just sit and relax on the beach or read a book on the lodge porch.
The facility includes private cabins that are located along the lake or nestled among their great pines. Many of the cabins have private bathrooms. Cabins without bathrooms share modern bathhouses nearby and not to worry, all cabins have electricity.
Go for the food. Not surprising, Family Camp is known for its great food. The chef has established a reputation for creating appealing and delicious meals. Guests enjoy Maine blueberry pancakes, homemade cinnamon rolls, steak and chicken barbecues, and of course a traditional Maine lobster bake. Bonus points: There are always specially prepared dishes for vegetarians and of course many kid-friendly options. Meals are served buffet style and eaten at lakeside picnic tables or inside the modern and spacious dining hall.
The annual Family Camp is held the last two weeks of August. If this sounds like fun, make plans early. Due to the camps popularity, it fills up fast. If the whole family can’t make it one parent with the kid or kids will do. The atmosphere is friendly and unassuming so single parents with children fit right in.
Make it happen. Kingsley Pines Family Vacation Camp, 51 Coughlan Cove Road, Raymond, ME 04071. Toll free 1-800-480-1533, (207) 655-7181 or www.KingsleyPines.com
Content by FTF and images provided by Kingsley Pines. Copyright 2012
March 15, 2013
San Francisco’s South Bay area is the ideal spot to share fun and learning. From lively festivals and events to inspirational theater and live music, the area is loaded with ways to share fun with kids.
Here’s the scoop. When I think of Mountain View I think of Stanford but the San Jose area offers dozens of opportunities for young families to share fun and learning including watery adventures, shopping, and ways to interact with science and nature. From the tranquility of the Japanese Friendship Gardens or shopping excursions at San Jose’s Santana Row to discovering mammoth bones at the Children’s Discovery Museum or watching movies taken of Mars, there’s something for everyone. For planning purposes I have assembled a list of sure bets – some of them free and the rest worth the coins.
March 14, 2013
In “SoCal” it is easy to create family vacations that include fun and learning. Kayak along the coast or fly a kite on the beach. Rent bicycles to explore the oceanfront boardwalk or go whale watching off Dana Point. Make time to enjoy a sunset with your kids.
I have assembled a few of the best family vacation ideas for your perusal and there are many more in our family Spring Breaks folder.
February 13, 2013
School breaks and spring family vacation time provide the perfect chance to take a break, have fun, and share a learning experience with your children.
The Spring Break folder at theFamilyTravelFiles.com is loaded with ways to create and share unique learning experiences. From stargazing and living history to tide pools and animal encounters the possibilities are endless. Trying something new in a new place may be just what everyone needs or returning to a favorite museum and a comfortable pastime may be even better.
“I have always looked at learning opportunities as an added family vacation value because learning together makes all the difference in how successful your children will be in their studies,” according to Nancy Nelson-Duac, Editor of the popular family vacation planning website. She goes on to say, “The trick is to find places and activities of interest and share the discovery with your kids or grand kids.”
The top 10 choices for exceptional family learning experiences include not just museums, aquariums and zoos but also energizing activities in nature.
- Dallas: The Perot Museum – Dinosaurs, gigantic gems, and a leap frog forest.
- Long Beach: Aquarium of the Pacific –Touch tanks and Free Shark Lagoon Nights
- Oakland: Chabot Space and Science Center – Bill Nye’s Climate Lab discoveries.
- Atlanta: Fernbank – See Extreme Mammals: The Biggest, Smallest, and Most Amazing.
- West Virginia: Bridge walks and mountain biking.
- Tennessee: Ziplining and rope antics in Gatlinburg.
- Seattle: EMP –Celebrating Jimmy Hendricks with outrageous outfits, and rare concert footage.
- Space Coast: Kayak at the zoo and walk through the tree tops.
- Virginia Beach: Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center – Boat excursions and behind the scenes encounters.
- Orlando: Forever Florida – Treetop EcoSafaris and horseback adventures.
Checkout more than 300 Spring Break family vacation ideas which feature ways to combine learning and fun.
About theFamilyTravelFiles.com. Founded in 1998, theFamilyTravelFiles.com is one of America’s top-rated online family travel resources offering more than 1000 pages of timely family vacation ideas and trip planning information. The website specializes in displaying family vacation ideas, destination information for adults planning family vacations, advice about family trips, and family travel deals. To assist in narrowing searches, colorful vacation idea folders are visible throughout the website.
Lisa A Duac Publisher (813) 968-4799 or publisher@theFamilyTravelFiles.com
Nancy Nelson-Duac (817) 573-6920 or editor@theFamilyTravelFiles.com
December 14, 2012
Each year during the holiday gifting season things get blurred by commercial nudging and obligations to “just do something” for family. And once the gift is unwrapped and the day is complete have you ever wondered – is that all there is?
The answer – there can be more if you gift an experience not a thing – a vacation in a box.
Think about giving travel to those you love. It can be sought after festival tickets, a rental car or rail pass,
CityPASS offers amazing urban adventures for families.
an invitation to a beach house for a week in the spring, or an amazing trip meant to be shared with family. Giving travel means the recipient will reap enjoyment as memories are created and the gift lives on with photos, videos, tweets, Facebook posts and best of all family storytelling.
I do not remember what gifts I found under the tree or received on my birthday. I do remember family vacations and days spent one-on-one with my mom, dad or grandmother. I recently asked my adult kids what gifts they remember and except for matching stereos there recollection of holiday memories did not include things but it did include the time we spent as a family and the experiences we h f the Grand Canyon, sea kayaking off Baja California, whitewater rafting, ziplining, living history at Hampton Court, Amtrak to Chicago, and visiting amazing places including San Diego, Hollywood, Montreal, PEI, Costa Rica, Ireland, Scotland, and urban adventures with CityPASS.
I know from experience that giving experiences instead of things pays off with valued family memories which keep on giving. Gift a family adventure with nature at ACE Adventure Resort in Southern West Virginia; give a guided family adventure- Austin Lehman Adventures; consider an urban adventure with a CityPASS ; think about giving an apartment in London or Paris with a Eurail Pass. The possibilities endless- the memories priceless.
November 27, 2012
Families may create magical moments amid miles of twinkling lights.
Thinking of going away for the holidays? Time is running out. I know from experience when kids are involved getting away during the holiday season takes extra planning and often means finding fun in small doses. Less may actually be more during this often hectic season. For weeks we have been adding unique ideas and clever options to our newest vacation activity folder aptly named “Away for the Holidays”.
The new folder offers hundreds of suggestions for holiday experiences and mini adventures including awesome museums, miles of holiday lights, and plenty of yuletide traditions ideal for families. The menu of ideas in the folder provides a complement to our popular “Santa Trains & Holiday Lights” and the Snow Places folders found on our homepage and featured throughout the site.
The articles highlight unique, as well as traditional ways to share good times and create memories with children. The collection of festive holiday vacation activities includes the best places to find miles twinkling lights, and great shopping spots but also King Tut and Buddy the Elf in Seattle, awesome dinosaurs in Toronto and Atlanta, SCUBA Santa in Grapevine, Texas, snow tubing in North Carolina and Southern West Virginia, the magic of Dollywood and Winterfest in Pigeon Forge, LEGO Land snowy days, zoo nights in Orange County, oodles of lively events in Washington DC, and holiday traditions along Boston’s Freedom Trail. The complete list of holiday ideas may be viewed by selecting the Away for the Holidays folder located on the homepage.
I wish you happy holidays!
Editor for theFamilyTravelFiles.com