Tag Archives: family fun

Baltimore Comic-Con: Where Real Nerds Keep Artists in the Spotlight

Baltimore Comic Con

Sure,  you know who Stan Lee is. You watch the Big Bang Theory (almost as religiously as I do) and can spot Stan’s cameo in every incarnation of a Marvel hero movie to hit the silver screen. Maybe you even know who Matt Murdock is.

If you also happen to know who Bill Everett was, then you’d have felt right at home at Baltimore Comic-Con.

Baltimore Comic-Con honors the heart of the comic book culture in a way that seems to be fading under the glare of the lights and mainstream media coverage at the larger “cons.” Which made it the perfect first con for our kids. 

Watching my nine year old in the ballroom of the Baltimore Convention Center as he sat mesmerized, listening to Joel Hodgson recount the materials he used to build Tom Servo (a Leggs egg and a gumball machine, by the way) was priceless. The kid loves MST3K. Um, who doesn’t?

 Upon walking into the lobby and seeing a group of cosplayers dressed in awesome Attack on Titan garb, my fifteen year old daughter squealed, “Yes! My people!Dr. Who Comic illustrator Kelly Yates Baltimore Comic ConTotal win.

For this parent of daughters, the prodigious amount of Girl Power on display at this convention was reason enough to go back next year. From a fierce female Thor and her pal Miss America, to Marguerite Bennett, author of several story-lines in the DC Universe including: Batgirl, Lobo and Lois Lane, to the budding talent of Kate Allen who creates, writes and illustrates her own comics and graphic novels, the level of estrogen-laden awesome was immense and powerful.

Of course there were the typical conference staples: baubles, gadgets, gear, merch, on-site appraisals, and a phenomenal cosplay costume contest. Truly something for everyone – even things you never knew you wanted, but suddenly had to have!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for an event where I can cozy up to Patrick Stewart (make it so – yes, please) or Benedict CumberDragon, but the community that begot huge conventions of Nerdom – like International Comic-Con San Diego (which was still relatively easy to get tickets to when I went back in back in ’94) – began at the roots.  With the art, the artists, the storytellers.

The expo hall was packed with artists from nearly every fandom you can name. Daughters one and two are major Whovians. You think you know Dr. Who…?  Not like they do! Getting to meet and enjoy a photo op with Kelley Yates was an epic moment.  Taking home one of his Dr. Who illustrations –signed– was their own personal nirvana. Maryland’s own Frank Cho (Mighty Avengers, Hulk – Marvel Comics) did an unbelievable demo in which he created a veritable masterpiece for the live audience.  Seeing the passion in the artists and getting a glimpse of how they bring a world to life illuminated my children with the reality of possibility…and that was the meat of the experience.  The rest was great, but garnish.

Meeting illustrators and creators of original graphic novels, artists who’ve expanded universes that began decades ago…to me, THIS is the living, breathing heart of any Comic-Con. Keep the marquee names on the red carpet, let Bruckheimer promote his next movie on the talk-show circuit. Keep the “cons” about the artists, the creative cosplay of die hard fans, the amazing and world-changing creativity of the true nerds. 

My advice?  Plan your trip.  Start designing your costume.  Save your pennies for must have merch, sure…but know who created the fantasy world you like to visit.  Follow the artists, and make a point to see them in action, in the flesh.  Next year – go to Baltimore Comic-Con!

Baltimore Comic Con Chicken Nuggets of Wisdom 

Authors: Lara DiPaola and Jamie Ratner

 

 

The International Spy Museum: Cloaks, Daggers and 007

International Spy Museum  

Across the street from the Old Patent Building in Washington, D.C.’s Penn Quarter neighborhood sits a building that looks rather unassuming. Don’t let the brick façade fool you into thinking that there is just another museum inside. You’d fall prey to a well-crafted cover. This is the International Spy Museum, and you’ve never seen anything like it.

The mission we chose to accept:

  • Establish Cover Identities.
  • Infiltrate operations at 800 F St NW, Washington, DC, United States – 20004: International Spy Museum.
  • Test family travel compatibility.
  • Get out alive.

There may have been more to it, but the message self-destructed in two minutes.

When you enter this exhibition of espionage it is rather apparent that you aren’t at the Smithsonian any more. Check your identity at the door and get ready to enter, “Spy School.”

An elevator whisks you into an antechamber where the lights dim and a panoramic screen alights with a history of the importance and impact of spy-craft throughout the ages. As the lights come back up you’re escorted into a room where you’ll choose and memorize your Cover ID, an important step in your mission.

Offical Letter from the Canadian Ambassador and signed screen play from Argo

Our kids loved this! Okay, so did I. (could you tell?)

The International Spy Museum is the only public museum in the US solely dedicated to the spy-craft, history, and contemporary role of espionage. Open since July 2002 and in development since 1996, the museum features the largest collection of international espionage artifacts ever placed on public display – many have never been seen by the public. (Yes, that lipstick pistol is REAL!) These artifacts – from a 1777 letter by George Washington authorizing a New York spy network (ahem, fans of Turn) to a 1980s coat with a camera concealed in a button – really do serve to “uncover” the real-life impact of espionage.

This really is an immersion experience, how “deep” you go into your cover is up to you.

Once you choose your cover you move on to the next area where a lesson in the tools of the trade awaits. The kids got really into the interactive portion; climbing through air ducts, searching for listening devices, learning the lingo. My husband and I – both big fans of the show “The Assets,” as well as movies like “Argo” – were drawn to the video screens where the actual players in these real-life dramas tell their own stories. The irony of the kids pulling us away from the TV was not lost on me.

Other exhibits we found both intriguing and educational in our journey into the hidden world of intrigue include:

The Secret History of History – This series of galleries chronicles the history of spying from biblical times to the early 20th century. There is even a reconnaissance pigeon display. Leave it to the French to play fowl.

Spies Among Us – These exhibits, films, and videos examine espionage through World War II, showcasing real-life spy stories. I’m sort of a romantic when it comes to this period in history. Sitting in a mock bunker and listening to encoded radio messages sent by the French Resistance and trying decode them was almost like being in a time machine.

Exquisitely Evil: 50 Years of Bond Villains – This was my favorite! It takes you from the 60’s and Dr. NO all the way to Skyfall. Ian Flemming’s typewriter, Bond movie posters in nearly every language , and hello… Duran Duran music! More than just geekery for nerds like me, the exhibit shows the evolution of how the pop culture vision of the “Bad Guy,” has been influenced by the changing times, and fears. This area is also the most fun for kiddos. I won’t give anything away but let’s say I got startled by something here and the kids are still laughing at me. When a museum becomes part of family lore, you know it had to be good.

I’ll admit to having been a bit disturbed by the final exhibit, The 21st Century. Until that point most of our visit dealt with the historical past, it felt a bit fantasy – like a place you were just visiting. When you get to this final stop you’re made to really think about here-and-now issues; weapons of mass destruction, cyber warfare. Those hit close to home. Framed against all I’d already seen, I couldn’t help but think, “those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it.”  

Luckily the last stop on your visit is the gift shop. Nothing like exercising the credit card to make you forget cyber crime… doh! Actually this is the perfect ending. The shop is packed with books written about and by spies, fun trinkets, toys the kids “had” to have and even some of my favorite British treats. I’d hoped for Sean Connery, but happily settled on taking home some chocolate dipped Digestives biscuits.

Family Travel fun at the Interantional Spy Museum

International Spy Museum 411

Address:

800 F St NW, Washington, DC 20004 – Phone: (202) 654-0950

Parking:

The museum is partnered with this nifty service called Parking Panda. You can purchase a guaranteed parking space in advance of your visit for as little as $16 depending upon when you go. That is pretty darn cheap for DC! There are several public garages nearby as well as some (very hard to get) metered spots on the street. 

Nearest Metro Station:

Gallery Place/Chinatown stop.

Hours of Operation:

Open Daily 10:00 am – 6:00 pm (Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas day)

Admission:

$21.95, Adults (ages 12-64) $14.95, ages 12+

$15.95, Seniors (65+), Military & Law Enforcement

$14.95, Children (ages 7-11)

FREE, Children (ages 6 and under)

SPY Combinations:

$27.95, Operation Spy + General Admission

$27.95, Spy in the City + General Admission

$39.95, Spy in the City + Operation Spy + General Admission

$24.95, Operation Spy + Spy in the City

My International Spy Museum Tips

  • Take the Metro!
  • Buy your tickets in advance, the lines can get long
  • Plan on a minimum of three hours
  • Push buttons, turn knobs, look closely there is more to see than you’ll notice at first glance
  • If there is a long line for an activity station, come back later. Groups tend to dwindle and if you miss something you’re really missing out
  • I highly recommend purchasing the full combo ticket for your first visit

 

(Lead Photo Courtesy of the International Spy Museum)

 

 

Busch Gardens Williamsburg Food & Wine Festival: Family, Fun, & Food!

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Wouldn’t it be fabulous if you could zip around the globe in one day, making stops at your favorite spots and giving jet lag the slip? Until the descendants of Gene Roddenberry come through with that molecular transporter we were promised, you may just need to take a trip to Busch Gardens® Williamsburg.

Yes, Busch Gardens® Williamsburg is an amusement park that can take you around the globe in a single day (or a couple if you’d like.) 

As an Ambassador for the park, my family and I recently visited the park to put this concept to the test. Was it a coincidence that we just so happened to be there for opening weekend of their annual Food & Wine Festival?   

Yeah, no.

Don’t get me wrong I love a log flume as much as the next girl, but really you’ve seen one you’ve seen ’em all. Now if you’ve got goat cheese crepes and a Côtes du Rhône, that’s my kind of thrill ride!

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Deemed, “The Most Beautiful Theme Park in the World”, Busch Gardens® Williamsburg takes you on a global adventure featuring rides, shows, and YES food from delightful destinations like: Italy, France, Ireland, Scotland, Greece, Canada and Germany. Grab their mobile app on iTunes or in the Google Play Store to help you navigate better than Columbus! Trust me, it’s much better than using a standard park map.

Talk about globe trotting!

The park also boasts an array of wildlife, making this more than just a spot for wild rides like Verbolten. The teen daughter suckered me into riding this one. Um, it drops you… on purpose! I literally did not stop screaming for the entire ride – maybe a few minutes after as well. We all fell in love with the majestic, and a bit mischievous Clydesdale horse and big fluffy sheep in Scotland. The cheeky nine year old had to ask why the Bald Eagle didn’t have any pistachios. 

Damn you Colbert!

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My anglophile offspring were in dazed by the swinging scene in England where Busch Gardens® Williamsburg has welcomed another British invasion with their London Rocks show. These kids watch far too much Dr. Who.

Sculptures and sculptured gardens mark your entrance into Italy. Grab a gelato and stroll through a piazza dotted with shops that feature Florentine glass and fun Italian-esque baubles. I loved that many of the rides here played off a Da Vinci theme. It opened up some great conversations about the time we’ve spent in Italy and the places that my husband’s family still lives. Other than that “center” in Florida, I can’t think of another theme park that sparked such amazing conversations. 

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One thing Busch Gardens® Williamsburg does really well, is mixing rides for all age groups into each area you visit. The big kids can test their nerve on Loch Ness while the smaller thrill seekers can ride the mini Clydesdales just feet away. As the day winds down, and feet get tired, hop on the REAL steam locomotive train that circles the park and revisit the palaces you loved most. 

Another great way to find a respite during your day is a private cabana. We rented one for the day, and it was BRILLIANT!

Nestled in the Wild Reserve next to Lorikeet Glen, our cabana included seating for four, a lockable storage area, FOUR Quick Queue® passes, a spacious mini-refrigerator, EIGHT bottled drinks (we grabbed VitaminWater, bottled water and sodas), PLUS complimentary photo. Note the photo is one of those where you look ridiculous screaming on a roller coaster, not the photos with the Clydesdales – learned that one the hard way. The Queue® passes alone are $20 a pop, and we all know how NOT cheap drinks are in a theme park, combine that savings with having a place to rest and store the loot you found in France and the cost of a cabana makes total sense. They start at $70 in the low-season and go up to $120 during peak times.

kaytie and the dale

The culinary portion of our global tour took us from crepes and wine in France, to beer and cheese in Belgium, gaspatcho (one of my favs!) and sangria in Spain to bangers and colcannon in Ireland. Each country featured dishes authentic to the culture they represent, and paired with iconic adult libations of each nation. The festival also featured the Art of Food, with exhibits highlighting culinary artistry from melon carving to cake artists that had been featured on Food Network. Nibbles range from $4 up to about $14 for wine tastings.

The Busch Gardens® Williamsburg Food & Wine Festival runs Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from May 23 – June 29th for 2014.

Busch Gardens Collage

The whole family had a blast, we can’t wait to head back for Halloween!

 

This post was made possible in part by my participation in the Busch Gardens® Williamsburg Ambassador program. My family and I were provided park passes in order to experience the park and share with my readers.  All other items, including the Cabana, food and wine (oh the wine), I paid for. My opinions and those of my family are 100% our own – because YOU deserve nothing less!

Hiking Maryland: 3 fun trails to do with kids

Waterfalls, covered bridges, history and nature abound on trails all around Maryland. With the unique topography of the state, you can hike a mountain trail one day, a shore side trek the next. The best part? Many of these trails have something that is perfect for the whole family.

Patapsco State Park

waterfall patapsco

This was our family’s first hiking adventure, a good one too. Entering the park at the Hilton area you’ll find a recycled tire playground that is a blast for kids in the 5-12 year old range. There are also several pavilions and picnic areas to rest those tired feet after you’ve trekked up the the falls.

Taking the Forest Glen Trail, you walk down a fairly steep incline that levels out at a creek.  (note to self: you’ll have to walk back up this – oy vey!) Following that you’ll pass through a very cool tunnel and can connect to the Grist Mill Trail which takes you along the shores of the Patapsco River. Parts of this are paved, a nice break on the knees. We found a hoard of sea glass along the shores.

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Up next is the Iron Bridge, with stunning views of the river that flows beneath, and just enough sway to make it a little unnerving. The day we visited, Park Rangers had set up in the parking lot with a wonderful display of the history of the area. Dude, women used to camp in heels… no joke!

From there we scaled a bit of a steep trail to a lovely little waterfall. There were lots of other families on the trails, dogs and a few horses too.

This was our first family hike and we got twisted and turned around (um, someone should have really learned to read maps better) so my account of the distance, had we followed the loops properly, maybe be a little off. It took us about 3 hours total.

 

Gunpowder Falls

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Or as I call it, “The Covered Bridges of Harford County.” Which could be a misnomer as the trial dips into Baltimore County as well, but “Harford” sounds so much sexier. This lovely trail has all the romance of Eastwood meets Streep, and a history lesson too!

Were you to hike the whole of this state park, you’d end up totaling around 120 miles. Yeah, not us. We headed out from the Central Area, which borders the Big and Little Gunpowder Falls as they flow into the Days Cove.

As we wove our way deeper into the woods, there came a noise that sounded much like a fusillade. As it turns out, it was only the sound of cars as they traversed the covered bridge. It did lead my kids to wonder if that noise was what gave the falls their name – Gunpowder. Silly kids. 2014-05-24 12.23.40

This trek is one that is more suited to those who don’t mind a scaling a few rocks, searching for hidden trails (they just aren’t marked that well) and braving some steep slopes. The pay off is a pedi a la Mother Nature, as you dip your tired toes into rushing, clear, cool water in the numerous areas that are perfect for a dip, or sunning yourself on a boulder.

Be sure to leave time for a picnic under the trees next to the parking area and the Smithy, where they host Blacksmith demos. Adjacent to the Smithy is a historic country store and across the street is a lovely little museum. All are a great way to turn your nature trek into a history lesson too. BONUS!

Rachel Carson Conservation Park

hiking maryland

This Howard County gem is a great trail to start off with if you’ve got younger children, or are new to hiking. (or say, like… you’re not that great with maps and such.)

There are a few loops in this trail, some you may have to share with a few horses, all are shared with an abundance of avian pals.

The trail itself is marked very well, mostly hard packed dirt and – depending upon which loop you take – follows a lovely stream. There is even a hidden pond, near which we met some very friendly toads!

Rachel Carson herself was a writer, environmental activist, and local resident. The trail is imbued with her spirit, making a hike here peaceful and pleasurable.

Why did we take up hiking?

Aside from the obvious health benefits and the whole communing with nature stuff, we’ve found that forcing the kids to unplug – as contentious as that can be – brings about a remarkable transformation. The typical bickering, becomes giggling. Dad stepping on a snake (yes, that happened) can be funnier than a viral YouTube video. Singing Disney tunes can replace their playlists. But obviously you can’t take the Disney out of the kid – or as we call her, Aeriel’s Fresh Water Cousin. 

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Go see what nature can do for you!

Have a favorite hiking trail, in Maryland or your home state? I’d love to add it to our list! Tell me about it in the comment section.

 

 

Lauderdale By The Sea: Not the Lauderdale You’re Thinking

I was 19. It was Spring. We had a car and Ft. Lauderdale wasn’t that far from the Naval training facility in Orlando. So, this California girl took her first trip to an East Coast beach. Really, what teenager with a car, a paycheck and a swimsuit wouldn’t go? It was a weekend to remember.

Fast forward more years than I care to count.  Traveling Mom reached out to me to ask if I’d like to bring the brood “down the shore” to cover the annual Family Fun Week events in Lauderdale By The Sea. Florida. My first thought? Oh heck no, what if I left my “mark” in Lauderdale and they found out?! Okay, it wasn’t that dramatic. It was more of a “Hmm” moment. I couldn’t fit the picture of my kids into my memories of the Ft. Lauderdale I knew. Ah, but you see I wasn’t exactly paying attention to the offer. Did you know that Ft. Lauderdale and Lauderdale By The Sea (LBTS) are two different places, close on a map but worlds away?

I sure didn’t.

LBTS is an adorable little village, harkening back to the golden days of giant floral print shirts, women in cat-eye glasses and The Flamingo Kid. Dotting the nearly pristine shoreline are boutique hotels like the Tropic Seas, where we spent one wonderful night and a day tromping the 50 yards from the front door of our brightly painted room to the shore.

During Family Fun week, the village is chocked full of great activities and discounts that make the stay that much more memorable.

The kids can take skim-boarding classes at Alley Oop Skim, have a blast at a chocolate making demonstration at Kilwin’s, or fish from the pier in the annual fishing competition. The whole family can explore the wonderful world of “Crush” and company on a Sea Turtle walk (best for older kids). Many of the shops and vendors offer discounts for families who have purchased the Family Fun Week Discount Card. There are also tons of FREE activities, from live music to movies, and more.

The food? Amazing! We enjoyed an amazing breakfast at Athena By The Sea <—um… imported Feta. HELLO. AWESOME.

The best part of our visit was our stay at the charming, homey and simply sublime, Beachside Village Resort. A slice of The Cape in South Florida, staying here was more like coming home to visit family than staying at a resort. The rooms are each inspired by cities on Cape Cod, decorated in bright white and infused with welcoming style and outstanding amenities. With two pools, a welcoming fire pit, shaded outdoor seating and even grills for you to fire up, this place has it all. PLUS it’s only a hop across the street from the beach!

As grand as all that sounds -and is- the very best part of the stay is the people who run the place. Talk about family-friendly! They treat you like their own. Every need anticipated and met. The owner of the resort also owns three of the villages best eateries and he welcomes you to dine with his “family” by providing a free breakfast at The Village Grille. Ah but dinner at this place is simply mouth watering, a perfect marriage of foodie-fabu and family-friendly.

The sushi at The Village Sushi bar was OUTSTANDING (and my family is a bunch of sushi snobs)

If you’re looking for lots highrise luxury hotels or hopping night life, this isn’t the beach town for you. However, if you’re looking for great beaches, friendly people, businesses that do it right when it comes to family fun, or even an awesome place for your family dog to vacay (this place is the picture of dog-friendly), Lauderdale By The Sea is where you need to be planing your next Florida stay!

Want to learn and see more about LBTS? Visit the LTBSevents page on Pinterest!

 

Disclosure: I was invited, through my affiliation with Traveling Mom, to visit Lauderdale By The Sea during their Family Fun Week promotions. I was compensated for my honest review. AS ALWAYS, my opinions are my own, because YOU deserve no less!  

 

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