Category Archives: Travel in the US

Top 10 Family Resorts in North America according to Budget Travel

One magazine that I really like and look forward to getting in the mail  is Budget Travel. We are not of unlimited income and we do watch our pennies (sometimes more than other times) so this magazine helps me in budget traveling.

They recently wrote about the Top Ten Family Resort in North America.  I’m going to assume and hope that these resorts are somewhat budget since it is Budget Travel that is publishing this list but looking at these photos, I’m not sure.  I will have to admit, I had never heard of most of them so I am sure that I’ll be doing further investigating into these resort.  Nevertheless, here they are:

1. Woodloch Resort in Hawley , PA which is nestled in the Pocono Mountains.  There are activities for kids and adults of all ages and the great thing about this woodlochresort is that it is an all-inclusive resort.  Since we take family vacations every few years, this might be a great option for us rather than going to the Caribbean.  Family Circle and Better Homes and Gardens magazines are also calling Woodloch one of the best family resorts.

 

2. Villa Roma Resort in Callicoon, New York which is in the Catskiills.  Again, they have programs for the kids including horseback riding, a rock-climbing wall, and villa romago-carts (for an additional fee).   Wintertime brings ice skating, skiing, snowboarding, and even a Ski School for beginners.   They also have large enough suites to accommodate 8 people!

 

 

3. Blue Harbor Resort in Sheboygan, Wisconsin where they have an indoor water park which they would have to do in Wisconsin.  They also have a baby/toddler recreation pool.  Adults can swim in a lazy river floating around and around.  Budget Travel calls this one of the nation’s best  water parks.  I think this would be a great family vacation spot.

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4. Rocking Horse Ranch in Highland, New York is another all-inclusive facilityrocking horse where there is unlimited horseback riding and trail rides for children seven years old and older.  The ranch is on its own private lake so you can go kayaking, fishing and water skiing.  So much for all ages to do.  You’ll also  find tennis, beach volleyball, rock climbing walls, mini golf, and an exotic wildlife exhibit on the resort property. Additionally there’s an entire waterpark- plus an archery range, video arcade, plenty of organized activities.  We have previously done a Ranch vacation when the kids were 8, 10 and 13 and they still remember and talk about what fun it was.

 

5. Tradewinds Island Resort, St. Pete Beach, FL – This resort on the Gulf offers antradewinds activity club for its young guests that include making shark necklaces and meeting Capt. Redbeard and his trusty parrot.  The rooms, which are recently remodeled, will delight parents.  Though this looks very nice I personally want more than just a resort on the Gulf Coast of Florida.

 

6. The Westin Grand Cayman Seven Mile Beach Resort & Spa – this resort offers hilton los cabotwo bedroom suites for families.  Who wouldn’t want to go to a tropical getaway on this island.  You can spend your time walking Seven Mile Island or do an adult only activity while the kiddos are in the Westin’s Kids Klub.    The Kids Klub also has field trips.

 

7. High Hampton Inn & Country Club – Cashiers, North Carolina in the Blue Ridge high hampton Mountains on a private lake where you can go fishing, boating or swimming.  There are a lot of activities planned for the entire family.  This would be a vacation spot that Blogger Hubby would enjoy.

 

 

8. Clevelands House – Minett, Ontario  On Lake Rosseau there are many things to do including taking water skiing lessons from their Ski School.  Adults have clevelands houseover 120 events they can partake of during each week.  Clevelands House has one, two and three bedrooms cottages so your family can all stay together.

 

 

9. Hilton Los Cabos Beach & Golf Resort – Cabo San Lucas, Baja Mexico.  Who doesn’t love Cabo?  You’ll enjoy swimming in the bay of the Se of Cortez or a diphilton los cabo in one of the pools at the Hilton.  Horseback riding, fishing or a walk on one of the nature trails affords your family some valuable time together.  There is also a camp for kids ages 4-18 though I question having a club for an 18 year old.

 

10. Cragun’s Resort and Hotel on Gull Lake – Brainerd, Minnesota – this resort sounds too good to be true.  Even though it is in Minnesota, it has activities for both summer and winter so it is a multi-season resort.  In the summer there are activities around the lake including every imaginable water sport you can think of as well as boat rental.  There are also court games (volleyball, tennis) as well as a program to teach children how to play golf.  In the winter you will make use of the indoor sports facility,  For outdoor activities there is ice fishing, snowmobiling, cross country skiing, snowshoeing and lots more.  This is another type of resort that Blogger Hubby would enjoy.

craguns

With this list I’m sure you’ll find some resorts that were previously unheard of (at least by me) but will meet your needs.  I know that we definitely will be looking at some of these for our next family vacation.  Wondering if you have been to any of these resorts and what you look for in a resort vacation.

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Hawaiian Babymoon using UAL and Marriott points

This post is written by Blogger Daughter:

My husband and I travelled to Hawaii for our first time in February 2012. It was so stunning, and such a special time for us. We truly had a blast. The entire time we promised ourselves that we would go back. At the time we thought it would be in  10 years when our kids are old enough to appreciate the trip and the beauty that is Hawaii.

We were wrong. We went back this past February for a “babymoon”. For those who may not be familiar with that term, a “babymoon” is a newer trend where expectant parents take a last vacation before the little one arrives. That is a lisa and natetrend that I am more than happy to jump on the bandwagon for.  The funny thing is, we went there  at the exact same time as we went last year. It worked out this way because I would be in my second trimester in February (which is a great time to travel for pregnant women) and I would also get a day off from work from President’s Day.   Besides, this way we can say we’ve gone to Hawaii twice in the same year. We like to pretend we’re ballers.

In actuality, it didn’t cost us that much. We had enough Ultimate Reward point that we transferred to United Airline miles to pay for one ticket and we had enough Marriott points to pay for 10 nights. But more on that later.

So why Hawaii again? We did think about all our options. We wanted somewhere where we could use our Marriott points to keep the expenses way down. We also wanted somewhere we couldn’t go easily once we have kids…you know, as a getaway for the two of us. We knew once we have children we won’t want to fly 11 hours away. Also, you can’t do Hawaii in a long weekend or even a week from the East Coast where we live, you need longer. If you bring the kids with you,  you want them to be old enough to remember it. We also photo: alohatopten.comwanted a location where there were fun activities to do but also relaxing, Remember I was pregnant.   That took Europe out. So Hawaii it was! The first time we visited the Big Island and Maui. We loved them both. Since there was so much to do and experience on the Big Island that we didn’t do the first time, we decided to visit that island again and Kauai.

The decision was made. Then it was time to actually book the travel. We have been Marriott credit card holders for about six or seven years now. My husband’s work allows him to put his hotel stays for business on a personal card and they partner with Marriott.  It made sense for us to get a Marriott credit card. We’ve been loyal to them since we got the card. They were definitely our first-in-wallet credit card. Well, we were loyal until my mom started learning about all these points and rewards and passing down some of the information to her kids. Now we have multiple credit cards but still use our Marriott a lot. Toblack sand us, it was more beneficial to have our hotel nights free when we travel versus a free flight. Free flights are great however they require more rewards so you don’t get to redeem as often. We redeem for free nights fairly often with Marriott. With Marriott, if you stay four nights you get the fifth night free. It was a no brainer that we would stay on each island for five nights with a total of ten nights in Hawaii, for the “cost” of eight.

The resort we stayed on the Big Island was the Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa. Marriott recently changed the levels of the hotels but this in February it cost us 100,000 points at this hotel ( I believe it is now 120,000). The resort on Kauai was the Kaua’I Marriott Resort and when we stayed it was 120,000 points, now 140,000 points.

This year we reached Platinum level with Marriott (the highest level) which made my husband very happy. I wasn’t aware that this was apparently a goal of his. With that comes automatic room upgrade if available. Unfortunately both resorts were at full capacity so we didn’t a room upgrade at either. We did however get a room upgrade the first time we went and it was great. We had a corner room so it was massive, just so much space. Even without the room upgrade the rooms are very spacious and very well decorated. We didn’t pay for an ocean view for either of them but could see the water at both.

We really love the Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa on the Big Island because it’s not too large and between the resort/pool area and the ocean is a waikoloawildlife refuge of sorts -this larger area has tidal ponds, lava rocks and paths to explore. Once you get to the ocean you can walk along the beach in either direction for a peaceful, secluded walk. The area does not have other resorts next door like they often do. Some of our favorite mornings were just talking a walk on the lava rocks watching surfers and keeping an eye out for whales while ogling at gorgeous houses we would see. Another plus was that we were within walking distance of an outdoor mall complete with a high end grocery store, shops and restaurants.

The resort on Kauai was also very nice. The view was spectacular and like the resort on the Big Island, it did not have resorts right next door. They had a good number of restaurants in walking distance. The beach was good with plenty of kauai marriottsand and we were protected in a bit of a cove. The pool area had a bit of a Grecian feel to it. Overall you could tell that this was a higher level resort. It was much larger and just more upscale. Even with the nicer feel, I’m partial to the resort on the Big Island.

As I mentioned earlier, we used points to “pay” for one of our flights. We had signed up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred card after talking to my mom about it. With the sign up bonus and our usage, we had enough to cover one of our tickets. We transferred the points to United and redeemed  40,000 for a non-stop round trip ticket from Washington Dulles to Honolulu. This vacation was barely costing us anything. Okay well maybe that’s not true. We still had food, rental car, spending money, and resort fees to pay for (yes, Marriott charges those).

Our time on both islands was an absolute blast. We spent our time exploring photo:aloha-hawaii.comremote beaches, going on some picturesque hikes, visiting a volcano and numerous waterfalls, sea turtle and whale watching, visiting the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific”, taking a helicopter tour, and enjoying some great food. Overall, a perfect vacation with my sweet husband.

To read more about their babymoon, head on over to their blog “Life as a Liberati

UPDATE:  Blogger Daughter and her husband welcomed a son the beginning of June.  Here is a photo of the little guy:

nolan

The Wanigan Race – Craziest Race EVER!!!!

Here  in a small community in Northern Michigan, a crazy and somewhat random race takes place every year.  It’s the Wanigan Race.  What, you never heard of a wanigan?  How could that be?  There are several definitions for a wanigan but the Free Dictionary states that it is “A boat or small chest equipped with supplies for a lumber camp.”  Um, not exactly what I have learned that a wanigan is but it is close is for the purpose of this race.

The Cheboygan Chamber of Commerce describes it as: “Back in the great days wanigan-logo-nodate-288x300when Cheboygan was the logging capital of the north in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, or so the story goes, lumbermen would strap logs together and make a cooking raft to gather on and eat their hot meals. This Cheboygan Jaycees sponsored race keeps the tradition alive as teams of up to six from all over compete with their versions of a “Wanigan.”

Per the Jaycees the rules are: You need a minimum of 3 people and a maximum of 6 people. The raft needs to be made out of logs though the decking can be made out of boards.  You need to make a structure on it that is at least 4 feet high and no more than 6 feet high and has three sides as well as a roof fully fit inside.  The cook needs to be able to fully fit inside and sit erect.  The stove must be wood burning. No charcoal, coal, propane, kerosene, gas, etc. may be used. All stoves must be homemade and not factory made. No modified camp stoves. A lined fire pit may be used instead of a stove. The fire cannot be started until your race has begun.

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The purpose:   As the Wanigan was historically the “Chuck Wagon” of the River; each raft must make 5 quarts of chili during the race. The ending temperature of the chili must be 160 degrees. The meat may be pre- browned and the other ingredients may be cut or diced beforehand. Chili must be assembled on the raft during the race (NO PRE MIXED INGREDIENTS), per the instructions from the Jaycees.

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All these rafts are paddling down the Cheboygan River, some take it very seriously; others have their coolers of beer on the raft and are enjoying the day.  Some don’t look like they are going to make it at all.  The course is about 4 miles long.
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Once you reach the end of the race, a sample is taken of your chili and a thermometer is inserted to see if it has reached the desired temperature.

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If you happen to find yourself in northern Michigan during the second weekend in July, head on over to Cheboygan to watch this crazy race.

Chincoteague Pony Swim

I’m sure many of you have either read the book “Misty of Chincoteague” or at least have heard of it.  It’s a childhood classic for many and the sequels that followed.misty

The ponies live on Assateague Island which both Maryland and Virginia claim.  There is a fence separating the island at the state boundary.   Chincoteague Island lies totally in Virginia.

No one knows for sure how the ponies came to live on Assateague Island though there are two theories.  Most people believe that the ponies are descendants of survivors who swam ashore from a sinking Spanish galleon ship which sunk off the coast of Virginia.  Others believe that they were brought here by farmers and released so the farmers wouldn’t have to pay a livestock tax on them.

Next week, the pony swim, made famous in the book, will occur.  This event has been taking place since 1925.  The purpose of the swim is to thin out the herds on Assateague Island by controlling  the overall size of the herd, keeping it from growing too large as well as being a fundraiser for the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department as they auction off the ponies.

On July 20th and 21st, approximately 150 ponies on the Virginia side of Assateague Island will be herded into two corrals on the island – the Northern Corral and the Southern Corral.  The next day, on July 22nd, the northern ponies will be walked along the beach in a southerly direction to meet the southern herd.  The swim will take place on July 24th during the slack tide – which is the period between tides when there is no tide.  Timing it for the slack tide makes it an easier swim for  the young ponies, which are born during spring or early summer,  and they are safe from any strong currents.  They will be swimming from Assateague Island to Chincoteague Island  which is about a three minute swim for the ponies.  The exact time of the swim will be announced the day before.

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After the swim, the ponies are given an opportunity to rest before they are paraded Main Street to the carnival grounds.  The next day, July 25th the foals will be auctioned off.  This event gets really crowded so come prepared whether just to observe or to purchase one of the ponies.  Again, bring sunscreen, wear a hat, bring plenty of fluids as it gets hot during July, and bring a folding chair as the bleachers fill up quickly.

photo from The Baltimore Sun
photo from The Baltimore Sun

The next day, Friday, July 26th, the adult ponies will swim back to Assateague Island where they will have another year to live in the wild.

Assateague Island is worth visiting.  There is camping on the island as well as motels in nearby Ocean City, Maryland as well as on Chincoteague Island.  Fall is a particularly beautiful time for the island.  There are many birds to observe and water fowl.  Kayakers flock to this area. One caveat: bring bug spray and if you camp, camp by the shoreline so the breeze will blow away the bugs.  When in Chincoteague, stop by the Misty of Chincoteague statue and take a photo.

The Pictured Rocks in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

This post is written by Blogger Hubby

Jane and I had been to the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore along Lake Superior in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan about four years ago.  On that occasion we did the normal tourist thing – we viewed the lakeshore from a concession tour boat out of Munising Bay.  The lakeshore consists of multi-layered sandstone cliffs streaked with colorful mineral stains that tower up to 200 feet above the water.  Centuries of crushing ice and battering waves carved the sandstone bedrock into sculptured cliffs, eroding them inland.  The sculpturing includes protruding rock formations, caves and arches with lake water rushing through.

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I recently revisited the lakeshore with my brother and our kayaks to view the cliffs up close and personal.  There were several things we considered in planning the trip to make it a safe and enjoyable experience.

photo from picturedrocks.com
       photo from picturedrocks.com

1)   We monitored the wind conditions online in order to have some confidence that conditions will be safe for kayaking when we arrive.

2)   We researched nearby, inland kayaking locations as a backup ‘plan B’ if wind conditions are poor.  We found that the Indian River and Au Train River have canoe/kayak trails.

3)   Finally, we looked at the National Park Service website for the Pictured Rocks to find access sites to the lake.  We know that weather and water conditions can change suddenly on the Great Lakes so we wanted a site where we could get off the water in a short time.

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The trip to Munising is about 2 ½ hours from the Mackinaw Bridge that connects the lower and upper peninsulas of Michigan.  It includes a 25 miles stretch of perfectly straight highway through the Seney National Wildlife Refuge.  The principle access to the lakeshore is at Miner Beach where there is lots of parking and a toilet.  We were glad we brought a pair of  ‘wheels’ for the kayak because there was a somewhat long boardwalk from the parking area through the woods before you get to a set of stairs down to a sandy beach and to the water’s edge. The water conditions were just right, and we took our time exploring the cliffs and rock formations, and taking lots of pictures. This is a tremendously beautiful and unique natural resource, and we are fortunate that it is protected by the NPS and open to the public.  We stopped at a sandy stretch and had our picnic lunch on the beach.

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The only dicey experience we had was from the waves created by some of the tour boats that came by too close and too fast.  We just turned into the waves and rode them, also watching for the back waves coming off the cliff walls back into the lake.

If you are looking for a place to do some kayaking, hiking or to get away, I would recommend visiting The Pictured Rocks in Michigan.

Where do you like to watch Fireworks?

As we get ready to celebrate the 4th of July I reflect back on the different places where we have watched fireworks.

I grew up in a Boston suburb and we would take the subway into the city to watch the fireworks and listen to the Boston Pops in the Hatch Shell along the Boston fireworksEsplanade on the banks of the Charles River.  They would always conclude the program playing the 1812 Overture and had real Horwitzer cannons firing off across the Charles in tune to the music.   At one point the church bells would ring in unison.  Such a powerful rendition.  Of course at the end the fireworks would begin.  Those memories are seared into my mind with great fondness.

Then we moved – to one of the Washington DC suburbs.  Where I once thought that nothing could top Boston for fireworks, I was wrong.  We would drive into Arlington, Virginia and park across from the Lincoln Memorial.  As it got close to 9 PM we would start to walk across the bridge to stand in front of the Lincoln washington dc fireworksMemorial — some of us in the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool.  We stood there with one of the greatest President’s behind us, the Washington Monument in front of us and the sound of the  fireworks reverberating off the buildings around the mall.

Now we are in an extremely small village in northern Michigan, living on a Lake and we have our fireworks the night before the 4th.  A barge goes out in the middle of the Lake and they set off our fireworks – about 15 to 20 minutes worth of fireworks.  Have I seen better fireworks – you betcha but nothing can top wearing our sweaters sitting around a firepit making S’mores while watching our fireworks.

What have been some of your more memorable fireworks memories that you have seen over the years?

Mackinac Island, Michigan

Looking for someplace to go that is a little romantic, a little old fashioned and still get some exercise? Have you ever seen “Somewhere in Time”, the movie with Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour? Well, that location really does exist and it is called Mackinac Island.  It is located in the Straits of Mackinac which is the body of water that connects Lake Michigan with Lake Huron. There are no motor vehicles on the island other than emergency vehicles.  You are either going to be walking to get around, riding a bicycle or having a horse drawn taxi or carriage ride.  Sounds pretty good to me.

To get to this unique island you could fly Delta to Pellston, Michigan which is the closest airport but in my opinion the most expensive. Another alternative is to fly into Chippewa Airport located in Sault Ste. Marie, MI.  From there you could rent a car or take a bus the 33 minutes to the docks in St. Ignace, MI.   If you do decide to fly into Pellston, there are two shuttles that are located in the main terminal of the airport that can transport you to the ferries which are about 15 minutes away in Mackinaw City.  Finally , you could fly into Detroit and rent a car for the almost 5 hour drive north.

Pellston is a very unique regional airport that is only serviced by Delta Airlines.  Sault Ste. Marie does not have the decor that Pellston does.

Waiting at this airport is very pleasant.
Waiting at Pellston Airport is very pleasant.

There are several ferry lines that go over to the island as well as hydrofoils. The ride is fairly short, about 20 minutes when using Shepler’s Ferry service but if you choose to use Arnold, they use a real ferry and it takes about 40 minutes.  A couple of times a day, Shepler’s has what they call their Mighty Mac ride which is the same price.  This special 5 minute longer trip goes under the Mackinac Bridge with a short narrative.  My special travel tip is to go to the Shepler website because they are often a few dollars less expensive and they do have online specials.  We got one yesterday that was 3 adults for $62.  There is free day parking at Shepler’s as well

When we travel we usually take our bicycles  with us or you can rent them on the island. As of yesterday, the price to bring a bike onto the ferry was about $9.  You can rent bicycles, tandem bicycles, chariots to hitch to your bike to have your child ride in behind you. If you ride around the lake shore road, which is M- 185, it is about 8 miles long, flat and has no cars.  The only highway that has no automobiles!

Bring your own bicycle or rent one of the island
Bring your own bicycle or rent one on the Island.
Horse drawn carriage is a favorite mode of transportation on the Island
A relaxing way to get around the Island

Fort Mackinac, a fort the British built for the Revolutionary War, is on the island.  It was used by the Americans during the War of 1812 to protect the Great Lakes.  Two important battles were fought there.  You can tour the buildings. on the fort, watch the canon being fired on the hour as well as rifle shooting demonstration.    The Governor of Michigan has its summer residence on the island near the fort.

Fort Mackinac
Fort Mackinac

We like to walk along the wooded paved path to the side of the island to view the Natural Arch. Looking through the Arch you can see more of the Straits of Mackinac.  We then walk to the right and down the 204 stairs to the lake road and walk back to the downtown along this plesant road.  We pass what I think is the most beautiful hotel on the island – Mission Point Resort.  It really is a throwback to the older times with Adirondack chairs on the lawn overlooking the water, a putting and shipping green, beautiful hours and just a drop dead gorgeous location.

Natural Arch
Natural Arch

On Mackinac Island is the Grand Hotel which holds the distinction of having the longest porch in the world – that’s right, the WORLD. Unless you are staying at the hotel you have to pay $10 to gain admission to the porch. This hotel has a style of elegance that is not found in many places and there is a strict dress code..   This is a relaxing way to spend the day.

the longest porch in the world at 660 feet
The longest porch in the world at 660 feet

There are many things to do on the Island and is perfect for the entire family.  I hope you get to visit this jewel sometime soon and when you go there, get some fudge.  They are known for great fudge!  My favorite is Joanne’s Fudge but Ryba’s is very good also.

To see more of the island, watch “Somewhere in Time”