Tag Archives: family travel

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!

Diagon Alley!

It is no secret that I am a 40-something mud blood still waiting for my letter from Hogwarts. I remain convinced that a wolf ate the owl that was headed to my house, letter in beak. Further proving that I am no muggle, Universal Studios has finally announced the opening date for the NEW Diagon Alley at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter… July 8th, 2014

My Birthday!!!!

 

harry

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.

 

 

Tips for the Aspiring Traveler: Go. See. Do.

Travel is my lifes work

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“I’d love to travel, if only ________.”

Have a long list of ways to fill in that blank? Here is the thing, all of them are invalid. Why? Because you’re looking at travel entirely wrong.

As a kid, the longest trip we ever took was the trek from our home in California to visit family in Illinois. Not exactly an exotic safari. Though, my Uncle Jeff had me convinced “Big Game,” lurked in the wooded area behind Grandpa’s farm.

There’s a Squatch in them woods!

I’d hem and haw about how we never went anywhere “cool.” Wasted endless afternoons daydreaming about setting out on Hemingway-esque adventures in Paris or Spain. In my mind, the journey had to be epic or it wasn’t worthy. Then I ended up living in Spain.

My time in Spain opened up a whole new world. Take a road trip, catch a ferry, and you’re in Morocco exploring the Kashba (nearly getting sold for two camels, a monkey and an iguana – a story for another day.)  A day jaunt to Portugal meant tasting the best clams ever to pass human lips. The World’s Fair in Seville, art, and architecture in Madrid, wine at the little bodega down the street. My wanderlust was ablaze.

I was a Traveler.

In retrospect, what I was doing in Spain wasn’t all that different from traveling with my family as a kid. Road trips, weekend excursions and exploring the world nearby. Sure, I was collecting stamps in my passport, but the basic concept was the same; Go. See. Do.

When I talk to people about travel or travel writing the conversation often turns to the statement above. Their “If only,” is then followed by a packing list of the reasons they can’t travel; the kids are too young, money is tight, I just don’t have the time. Pick a reason, I’ve heard it. My answer is always, “You can. All you have to do is; GO. SEE. DO.”

travel defThere isn’t anything in Webster’s definition that says your trip must be an extended, expensive sojourn requiring months of planning, or an extensive itinerary. Here are my favorite tips for the aspiring traveler in us all;

  • Fill up your tank and drive as far as half of it will take you. Explore what’s there!
  • Hop a train. Or any other form of public transportation, and get off at a stop you’ve never been to.
  • Be a tourist in your hometown. Go do all the things people from out of town flock to.
  • Follow a cause. Pick a way to give back in the town next door. You’ll see a whole new side of that city.
  • Let your taste buds transport you. Discover the exotic at ethnic eateries. Do a Gastro Pub Crawl.
  • Escape down the street. Make a reservation at that luxury hotel downtown. Do it in their offseason and you’ll save money and still get the five-star treatment.

As you explore you’ll be expanding your horizons without breaking the bank or using up all your vacation days. Trips like these are great ways to acclimate kids to travel. On top of that, you’re building a lifetime of memories.  Plus, when it comes time to plan that epic adventure, you’ll have the time, money and travel chops to do it.

Redefine what it means to be a Traveler by changing the way you define travel, and you’ll change your world.

 

 

 

Confession: I Do Not Have a Disney Side

Unless you live in a cabin deep in the woods, shunning all forms of media (old, new, print, social and maybe even carrier pigeon) you’ve likely caught wind of the new Disney ad campaign, “Show Your Disney Side”. While I love the idea posed here that each of us has an Ariel, Belle, Pooh or Goofy just waiting to burst free at the next quarterly sales meeting, I have to admit… I do not have a Disney Side.

disney side

I’ll pause here to allow you time to scoop your mandible off the rug.

Does it seem odd that one who has been lucky enough – and I do realize I am very fortunate – to be included at many Disney happenings from press events to trips and parties, was even as a guest at an event with First Lady Michele Obama, doesn’t consider herself to have a Disney Side?  Maybe I should start at the very beginning. I hear that is a very good place to start.

My mother was among the first be-gloved and shiny faced children to walk through the gates of Disneyland when it opened in 1955. In a childhood that was far from storybook, this is a memory she would cherish and retell to her own children with a wonder that only Walt could evoke. Growing up, even when money was tight, my parents would find a way to be sure we’d be able to make the two hour trip to nearest movie theater to see Pete’s Dragon, Bed Knobs and Broomsticks or the latest Disney offering.

I can still recall the feel of ripping that green “E-Ticket” ride coupon out of the book and handing it over to the attendant for my first ride on the the Submarine Voyage in Tomorrowland. I was so convinced that magic was possible. I’d been transported to a world I’d read about in a book. Books were my best friends, the characters within kept me company in a lonely, socially awkward early childhood.

Vintage Disney taken from a scrapbook my mother made. My most prized possession in the fifth grade? My The Fox and The Hound  lunch box.

I may or may not have gone to Disneyland in matching outfits with a beau or two in my teens. (note: if anyone has photographic evidence of this (Ted) I will pay top dollar for all copies and the negatives.)

When I found out that I my first child was on the way, choosing the nursery theme was easy. Classic Pooh.. that’ll do Piglet, that’ll do.

That child’s first movie, at one week old? The Lion King.  In this house the words, “It’s the circle of life Simba” can be heard at least once a week.

When it came time to gift my second child with her first stock – also a family tradition, teaching them economics is important –  what was it?

GM.

No that was me. Smart move eh? She got Disney. Her’s is doing far better, needless to say.

When Halloween rolls around everyone from Pooh and his Honey Pot (Me and Lil Nugget Number 2 when she was an infant), to just about every Princess, Toy Story character and Nightmare Before Christmas cast member has made an appearance.

And the parties, oh the parties. You’re thinking the kids aren’t you? Well how about the Lilo and Stitch party the threw for me on my 28th birthday?

Disney is so much more than a side for us. Our first visit to Disney World, we planned for over a year. The price tag that was eye popping, but manageable because we got lots of advice from experts in the blogging community (it was not a hosted or comped trip).

Seventeen hours of driving with four kids in the car. We finally arrive after 2,167 “are we there yets,” and it turns out mom missed the confirmation email a month ago and they CANCELLED our trip.

Me and my now 14 year old daughter.

Adding to the pain, the Disney hotel we researched for so long before finally settling on, was fully booked. I turned into a puddle of tears right there in the lobby.

Do you know what they did? This huge global company that owns… well… half the globe. Did they turn us away? Did they offer to return our deposit and send us to the motel down the street with their condolences? Nope, they weren’t going to let the magic die for us. They put us up in another Disney hotel, a better one. Made sure all the add-ons I’d set up for our kids, including an in-room birthday party my mom arranged for our youngest son, were transferred to the new room. The even made sure to check on us.

Did they know I was a blogger? No. They just knew I was a mom. We were a family. This was supposed to be a magic trip for us and they were going to be sure it was.

It was. It still is.

We stayed at Kidani Villas where the Warthogs sang along with my oldest as he played Ukelele on the balcony at night. Giraffe wandered near our windows in the morning. We met cast members that worked in the hotel who we still send Christmas cards to.

So when you ask me if I have a Disney Side I say, no. No I do not have a Disney Side.

Disney is part of my family.

This post was not sponsored or compensated in any way. None of the items or events I’ve written about here were part of any blogger perks or programs. Disney is truly a part of our family and this post was a love letter of sorts.