80 Epic Experience Gift Ideas and Creative Ways to Wrap Them Up

    The ultimate guide to toy-free experience gift ideas that are clutter-free, super fun and make lasting memories! Plus creative ways to wrap experience gifts up!

    2008 was a year that truly changed our family. In March we found out that our son had a tumor attached to his brain and one in his right arm. That year he was diagnosed with a disease called Osteoclastoma. In August our youngest daughter was born. She was very sick as well with what we would eventually come to know is Mitochondrial Disease and Primary Immune Deficiency. That Thanksgiving she spent her first holiday in the hospital.

    I know that all sounds like a pretty depressing opener for an article that promises epic Christmas gift ideas but here’s the thing. All that tough stuff we went through gave us some deep perspective.

    See that year we decided to focus on making as many memories as we can, whenever we can, for as long as we can. That was the year that we completely changed the way we do Christmas.

    We took our kids that December to Orlando to see Disney World. It was magic in the middle of extremely trying times. It was the beginning for us in a shift from not just giving presents, but giving PRESENCE.

     

    Giving Presence

     

    Think about your own childhood. With a few exceptions you probably don’t remember most of the toys or electronics you received that your parents probably spent a small fortune on. But I bet you can vividly remember the moments they spent with you.

    Instead of buying your kids the latest expensive toy this year that will end up broken on their bedroom floor in two weeks, think about what memories you can create with them that they can hold to forever.  It’s always a choice of where we spend both our time and our resources, so choose wisely. Make an intentional decision to give them presence this year instead.

    How you accomplish this can be as varied and exciting as the people on your list.  You can give an elaborate adventure package or something simpler closer to home but the focus is the same. Making memories. I’ll give you some ideas here and then I’ll share my favorite part; how we creatively come up with what to unwrap on Christmas morning. That’s right! Just because we focus on experience gifts doesn’t mean Christmas morning is any less exciting! It just takes a little thought and imagination!

     

    Just a heads up: Any and all opinions expressed are that of Mom Abroad. No compensation was received for this post. However please note that some of the links in this post are affiliate links.  That means if you click on a link and make a purchase, we may receive a small commission at absolutely no cost to you. This is how I am able to keep this blog up and running. I truly appreciate your support!

     

    Travel Experience Gift Ideas

     

    I’ll start with what we do. Every year we give our kids a trip. This vacation varies and has looked different from year to year but it’s always the “big gift” we focus on in our family.  Travel offers incredible opportunities for memory making but it doesn’t always have to cost thousands of dollars. Here are some travel related experience gift ideas:

     

    1. Hotel Stay

    2. Plane Tickets

    3. Cabin or Tent Camping

    4. Water-park Experience  (Aquatica, Volcano Bay)

    5. All-Inclusive Resort

    6.  Eco-Adventure Park tickets

    7. Sightseeing Attraction Passes like CityPass Tickets or Smart Destinations Go Card Passes

    8. Theme Park Tickets/Season Passes to Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, Sea World, or Busch Gardens

    9. Cruise Vacation

    10. Tickets to a Convention

    11.  Tours and Excursions

    12. National or State Parks Pass

    13. Big Bus or Trolley Sightseeing Tours

    14. Museum Membership

    15. Zoo Membership

    16. Railroad Trip/Eurail Pass

    17. Swim with Dolphins

    18. Adventure Passes

    Related Articles:

    Playa del Carmen with Kids — the Perfect Family Vacation Destination

     29 Tips For the Best Universal Orlando Vacation

     30 Day Trips from Charlotte 

     The Secret to Saving Money at Museums, Zoos and Aquariums

    How to Make the Most of Your Niagara Falls Family Vacation with the Niagara Falls Adventure Pass

     

     

    Something to Think About: Travel experience gifts can be particularly pricey, but to put it in perspective, you can add up what you were planning to spend on physical gifts for everyone in the family. You may find that the cost of a vacation isn’t too far off, especially if you plan a road trip to somewhere nearby or your trip is a staycation adventure with one night in a hotel. Remember that the gift of a vacation is something that your loved ones will remember for years, whereas the latest gadget or toy will quickly fade into the background and be forgotten. It’s just human nature!

     

    Indoor and Entertainment Experience Gift Ideas

     

    Get out and explore together! Look at local venues in your area. Chances are you can find a whole slew of cool cultural activities and dining options in your area. Groupon is a great place to look or make it super easy on yourself and pick up some great gift cards from Amazon.

     

    19. Movie Tickets or Fandango Gift Cards (AMC, Regal, Fandango)

    20. Restaurants Gift Cards for a nice Meal

    21. Play or Musical Tickets

    22. Concert or Symphony Tickets

    23. Paint Your Own Pottery

    24. Sip and Painting

    25. Escape Rooms

    26. Sporting Event Tickets

    27. Stand Up Comedy Tickets

    28. Froyo/Ice Cream Outing (Cold Stone, Menchie’s, Sweet Frog)

    29. Laser Tag

    30. Roller Skating Passes

    31. Bowling

    32. Indoor Rock Climbing

    33. Trampoline/Bounce House Passes

     

    Related Article: $25 Theater Tickets to Popular Shows

     

     

    Active and Outdoor Experience Gift Ideas

     

    Give the gift of an adventure! Here are some ideas for experiences that are sure to be unforgettable:

     

    34. Paint-balling

    35. Horseback Riding

    36. Scavenger Hunt

    37. Surfing Lessons

    38. Snow tubing/Snowboarding/Skiing Excursion

    39. Whitewater Rafting

    40. Mini-Golf/Driving Range

    41. Hiking Excursion

    42. Fishing Excursion

    43. Boat Rental

    44. Zip-lining

    45. Indoor Skydiving

    46. Helicopter Ride

    47. Go-Karting

    48. Scuba/ Snuba Diving

    49. Parasailing

    50. Flying Lessons

    51. Community Pool Pass

     

     

    Staying In and Pampering Experience Gift Ideas

     

    Sometimes too, it’s great to just relax and unwind with some special pampering or simply staying in for fun night at home. Here are some ideas for experiences that fit the bill:

     

    52. Activity Box Subscriptions

    53. Red-Box or Vudu Movie Night Gift Cards

    54. Family Game Night Games

    54. Puzzles to complete together

    56. Massage

    57. Spa Day

    58. Manicure or Pedicure

    59. Haircut or Color

    60. Afternoon Tea

     

     

    Learning Experience Gift Ideas

     

    If you know there’s a skill your loved ones would like to learn or already enjoys doing, buy them a class! Here are some ideas for fun learning experiences:

     

    61. Cooking classes

    62. Cake decorating classes

    63. Art Classes

    64. Photography Classes

    65. Music Lessons

    66. Karate Lessons

    67. Swim Lessons

    68. Dance Lessons

    69. Sewing Classes

    70. Gymnastics Lessons

    71. Ice Skating Lessons

    72. Language learning classes

    73. Improv/Acting Classes

    74. Coding Classes

    75. Summer Camp Session

    76. YMCA Membership

    77. Sports Team Registration

    78. Arial Silks Lessons

    79. Fitness Classes

    80. Yoga Classes

     

     

    What about relatives?

     

    Our kids have generous grandparents and other relatives, who with good intentions, lovingly load up our kids with latest toys, gizmos and gadgets. Most of the time we are delighted to let them. The way we see it, they are more likely to appreciate those material gifts from Grandma and Grandpa if it’s NOT the 50th item they’ve unwrapped on Christmas.

    However, if someone asks us for ideas we either share something from this list or let them know that we’d like cash to pool together with other relatives. Last year we pooled money from grandparents, aunts and uncles and put it together to get SeaWorld and Busch Gardens passes to go along with the Universal Studios passes from us. We took FIVE trips this year with these collective passes including meeting up at the parks with our extended family.

    We’ve found that most members of our family have been very receptive and enthusiastically gave their full support to gifting experiences. Especially when it involved spending time with them. It really is a win for everyone.  Because it has given us reasons to spend quality time together and it has become something my children look forward to each year.

     

    Something to think about: Experience gifts come with a BONUS! The gift of patience! Waiting for something and not getting instant gratification is an amazing life lesson. When you finally do your “experience gift”, think about how much more they’ll appreciate it!

     

    What About Santa?

     

    You may be wondering how this experience gift business works with Santa. For a long time we simply had our experience gifts come from “Santa” but eventually we switched our main gifts to coming from Mom and Dad and Santa just bringing a few items instead. I highly suggest the  “Something to wear, something to read, something you want, something you need” model for this. My friend Miranda does an awesome job explaining it on her blog Miranda in Charlotte article “You’re Doing Christmas All Wrong“.

    Now that our kids are older and we have very happily moved away from Santa entirely we just stick with the experience gifts only and a stocking full of some fun small items. Let’s dig into how we go about making Christmas morning special unwrapping our experience gifts.

     

    How to Wrap It Up

     

    You all agree- this year you’re ready to forgo the toys and make it all about experiences for Christmas. However, you still want to put something under the tree. Me too! But how in the world do you wrap an experience into a neat little bow topped box? How do you actually  give a vacation? How do you wrap a class? Here are a few easy ideas:

     

    • If you have physical tickets or passes you can wrap them up. This is the easiest and most straightforward way to wrap up an experience gift.

     

    • Get printing! Type up your travel itinerary… and print it! Make a flyer with info about an outing or lesson or subscription…and print it! Create a gift certificate…and print it! I like to use Pic Monkey, a super easy photo and graphic editing site and then print using a heavy weight paper like card-stock. Then slide your printed creations into a festive envelope of wrap them in a big cardboard box to throw your loved ones for a loop.

     

    • Take it even further by getting creative with your packaging. Think outside the box, so to speak. Last year when we gifted our kids passes for Universal Studios, home of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter I found giant sized Ferrero Rocher chocolates, took off the outer foil, opened them and placed a note inside about the passes. Then I attached some wings made out of card-stock and….voila! A giant Golden Snitch that made for a magical reveal on Christmas morning.

     

    • If you will be traveling consider putting some photos from the destination and including these in your reveal. If you are going for more than one day you can wrap each day’s itinerary separately and reveal what you will be doing day by day. This is what we’ve done in the past with our kids and it can be very exciting.

     

    • You can even make the printing itself more exciting! I’ve used sites like Shutterfly to create a puzzle that our kids had to put together on Christmas morning. Once assembled it revealed their experience gift.

     

    • Try to think of the practical, purposeful things you will need that go with your experience gift and have your family unwrap those items as part of your reveal. Our kids have unwrapped suitcases that we needed for our trip and even bottles of sunscreen! You could buy goggles to go with swim lessons, some popcorn and candy for a movie night. The idea here is to get something useful for your experience and not just something that will add clutter to your life.

     

    • Create a Scavenger Hunt with clues. This is fun no matter how old your loved ones are! You can create clues and use maps. I’ve used AAA for Trip Ticks and incorporated these handy maps into our scavenger hunt revealing each clue as we reached a new point on the map.

     

    • Yet another year we ran yarn all over the house starting at the foot of our kid’s beds, zigzagging, up and down the stairs, and all over the furniture and ending tied to the tree with tickets on the end.

     

     

    Something to Think About: It’s really never too late late to start giving experience gifts. And if you’re kids are really young it’s the perfect tradition to start! Our kids no longer have the expectation of a mountain of toys on Christmas morning but they can’t wait to find out where they are going.

     

    Hopefully, these ideas have sparked your imagination and made you think about giving meaningful memories with experience gifts sure to outlast any toy.

    What experience gift ideas do you have? Share in the comments if you have something to add to the list.

    For more family fun and vacation inspiration subscribe to Mom Abroad for more helpful travel tips! My newsletter offers a monthly dose inspiration & information for making the best memories on your next vacation. Visit Mom Abroad on Facebook  and  Instagram  and let us know if you’re giving experiences instead of “stuff” this year!

     

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    4 Fantastic Days in San Francisco

    Posted in Destinations by
    Lively, romantic and adventure filled San Francisco is the perfect destination for a four-day getaway. From iconic sites and tours to hiking and biking to drinking and dining here’s how we spent 4 fantastic days in San Francisco!

    Brian and I recently visited San Francisco to celebrate our 16-year anniversary. We try to make it a point to take a trip or two just the two of us every-year. We’ve been out to California before, but we’d never visited San Francisco together. This lively, romantic and adventure filled city just seemed like the perfect destination for a four-day getaway.

    We had so much fun running all over the beautiful Bay Area and really made the most of our time with our well-thought out itinerary. From iconic sites and tours to hiking and biking to drinking and snacking we really felt like we saw all the best San Francisco has to offer. I’ll save you the trouble of planning and loop you in on our awesome itinerary. Here’s how we spent our fantastic four days in San Francisco!

    Disclosure – Any and all opinions expressed are that of Mom Abroad. No compensation was received for this post. However please note that some of the links in this post are affiliate links.  Meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase using the link. I truly appreciate your support!

     

    DAY 1

     

    Coit Tower

     

     

    After dropping our bags off at the Hilton Hotel in the financial district we headed right up Kearney Street to Telegraph Hill. Atop this historic hill is one of San Francisco’s most recognizable locations, Coit Tower. Built as an observation tower in the 1930’s this 201-foot structure offers 360° panoramic views of the city and the surrounding bay. Sights stretch from the Bay Bridge, encompassing views of the Financial District, Russian Hill, Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco Bay, right up to Alcatraz. It was the perfect place to get a lay of the land and begin our adventures. While the hike up Telegraph Hill is quite steep there is an elevator inside the tower itself that takes you to the top for a fee of $9 for adults.

     

     

    Nestled inside the lobby of the art-deco tower is an equally impressive historic sight. The interior of Coit Tower is filled with frescos painted by local artists in 1933 as part of the Federal Art Project set up by President Roosevelt to keep artists employed during The Great Depression. Twenty-five artists joined efforts to paint a vivid portrait of life in modern California including shopping, farming, banking, shipping and city life.

     

     

    Fisherman’s Wharf

     

     

    Famished from our long flight we made our way over to Fisherman’s Wharf. This world-famous district along the northern waterfront is a vibrant hub of vendors, souvenir shops and attractions including Ripley’s Believe it Or Not Museum, the Maritime National History Park, and Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum.

     

     

    Boudin

     

     

    We made a bee-line to the Boudin Sourdough Factory for some lunch. We enjoyed soup and sandwiches in the casual cafe and then spent some time watching the professional bakers carefully craft batches of bread and shape and bake the dough into intricately designed animals through the 30-foot observation windows. There’s even a two-way intercom system where you can ask the bakers questions directly.

     

     

    We made sure to take a quick trip upstairs to where the Bistro restaurant is located to see the small museum and learn more about the history of the bakery and catch a peak at into the bakery itself and see (and smell!) where the “Mother” dough is kept in a special vault.

     

     

    Musée Mécanique

     

     

    Feeling satisfied from our savory sourdough lunch we made our way to the nearby Pier 45 to see the Musée Mécanique. From the outside, it doesn’t look like much, but believe me, it’s a great place spend a spend a few bucks. And by a few bucks I mean that’s all you will need for a fun time! This retro arcade offers a throwback to early 20th century games and mechanical oddities from self-playing pianos to fortune telling talking heads. All for the low price of QUARTERS. Admission is completely free, and the only money we spent was the handful of quarters I made sure to pack just for this museum. There are plenty of change machines on hand if you need it.

     

     

    Blue and Gold Bay Cruise

     

     

    We continued our orientation with San Francisco by taking a Blue and Gold Fleet Bay Cruise. This excursion was included with the CityPASS bundle of attraction tickets we purchased prior to our trip. CityPASS is such a great value! I find it always includes the very best attractions a city has to offer into one extremely easy to use package. We simply exchanged our ticket voucher at the Blue and Gold Fleet Bay Cruise ticket window and picked up our pocket-sized ticket book. We didn’t have to stand in line again for tickets at any of the other included attractions.

    Our one-hour Bay Cruise sailed around Alcatraz Island, past Angel Island and directly underneath the Golden Gate bridge. We enjoyed the fully narrated information about local landmarks but even more impressive were the breathtaking views. I definitely recommend doing this tour in the afternoon when the skies are blue, and you can enjoy unobstructed views of the San Francisco skyline and the majestic Golden Gate Bridge.

     

     

    Sea Lions at K-Dock

     

     

    We could see the famous California harbor seals basking in the sun on the floating docks from our Bay Cruise but decided to get a closer look from the viewing platform at Pier 39.  Last century, this cuddly bunch arrived and set up home right on the wharf.

     

     

    Pier 39

     

     

    We continued exploring the rest of the extensive Pier 39 complex. Refurbished in 1978 to resemble a quaint wooden fishing village, this 1905 cargo Pier now houses popular tourist shops and restaurants spread through two levels. There are also various street performers and amusements including a double decker carousel.

     

     

    Aquarium of the Bay

     

     

    Our CityPASS also included a visit to the Aquarium of the Bay at Pier 39. We strolled through the 300 feet of crystal-clear glass tunnels for a scuba diver’s view of over 20,000 marine animals from San Francisco Bay and surrounding waters. I was amazed by all the sharks and bat rays! The Aquarium offers the unique opportunity to touch them in their “Touch the Bay” pools along with sea stars and anemones. The river otters were adorable and really seemed to enjoy their watershed habitat.

     

     

    Lou’s Fish Shack

     

     

    After out aquarium excursion we were hungry for some seafood. Fisherman’s Wharf is home to some of the best! We wandered the various seafood merchant’s stalls selling clams, calamari, and oysters fresh from the ocean before settling on Lou’s Fish Shack. We had a quiet table on the second floor by the window where we could people watch. I dug in to the Dungeness crab. Brian enjoyed the Pacific Mahi Tacos and their California craft beer selection.

     

     

    Ghiradelli Square

     

     

    After dinner we headed west along the waterfront to Ghiradelli Square. A beacon bayside landmark since 1862, this former chocolate factory and woolen mill is now a three-level modern shopping and restaurant complex. The square retains the famous Ghiradelli trademark clock tower and the original Ghiradelli electric roof sign but the real draw here is the decadent desserts served in the soda shop and sold in the Ghiradelli store. We polished off a hot chocolate fudge sundae and banana split made with Ghiradelli’s home-made ice-cream and topped with lashings of cream. Vintage chocolate making machinery still operates inside the shop to demonstrate the process Ghiradelli uses to make their trademark chocolates.

     

     

    DAY 2

     

    Wheel Fun Bike Rentals

     

     

    Our second day in San Francisco began early. We took the Powell-Hyde Cable Car to Bay Street. It was just a short walk across the intersection from there to Taylor Street where Wheel Fun Bike Rentals is located. Booking our bikes ahead of time saved us money and made pick-up a cinch. We chose Wheel Fun Rentals not only because they had the best pricing available for e-bikes but because they offer a unique GPS audio guide.

     

     

    Krispy Kreme Donuts

     

     

    The previous evening at Ghiradelli we had seen an advertisement for their special Krispy Kreme donut. We had to check that out! After all we’d knew we’d soon be biking off all the calories! Krispy Kreme, an 80-year-old doughnut brand, plus Ghiradelli, a 165-year-old chocolate brand is truly a match made in heaven. The doughnut is filled with salted caramel filling, dipped in decadent chocolate icing, drizzled with caramel and topped with a blend of amber sugar, salt sprinkle and Ghiradelli mini chocolate chips. My mouth is watering again just thinking about it!

     

     

    Wave Organ

     

     

    Our first stop was in the Marina District at the end of Yacht Road to see the Wave Organ. Created in 1986, the acoustical art piece is certainly not the prettiest sight, but that’s not the point. The installation is meant to stimulate your ears not your eyes. Sound is created as the Bay waves move in and out of organ pipes made of PVC and concrete.

     

     

    Presidio – Palace of Fine Arts

     

     

    From there it was on to the Presidio. Once the nation’s premier army post, the Presidio, located on the northern tip of the San Francisco peninsula is now it is home to museums, restaurants, recreational paths and architectural remnants of the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exhibition. The most prominent of which is the Palace of Fine Arts. Easily one of the most beautiful historical monuments in San Francisco, we stopped by to explore the impressive structure. Originally designed to resemble a Roman ruin, it certainly took me back to Italy right there in the middle of the California coastline.

     

     

    Crissy Field and Fort Point

     

     

    From the Presidio we biked to Crissy Field. A tidal marsh once covered this field before it was used as a military airfield. In 2001 it was transformed into a waterfront park for recreation which now offers one of the most spectacular views of the Golden Gate Bridge. We took the opportunity to get some photos here before continuing our trek.

     

     

    Our final stop before getting on the Golden Gate Bridge was at Fort Point. Completed by the US Army in 1861, this fort was built partly to protect San Francisco Bay from any attack, and partly to defend ships carrying gold from California mines, it is the most prominent of the many fortifications that can be found along the coast and is a classic example of a pre-civil war fortress. It made it through the 1906 earthquake but was nearly demolished in the 1930’s to make way for the bridge. I’m glad it survived as it’s the perfect spot for photos at the base of the bridge.

     

     

    Biking the Golden Gate Bridge

     

     

    Biking over the Golden Gate Bridge itself was an unforgettable experience! Feeling the ocean wind in your face and sensing the majesty of this landmark was absolutely exhilarating. It’s an adventure that will stand out in my mind forever and easily our favorite experience in San Francisco. None of our photos really do it justice!

     

     

    Brunch in Sausalito

     

     

    Once we crossed the bridge, it was an easy 10-minute downhill ride into Sausalito, a quaint and charming little seaside town. We dropped our bikes off at the super convenient Sausalito Bike Return service and then made our way along the main avenue to The Barrel House for lunch. This was our favorite meal of our trip. Not only was the Eggs Benedict brunch perfection on a plate but the view we enjoyed of San Francisco and the Bay while we ate was simply spectacular.

     

     

    Ferry Building

     

     

    From Sausalito we took the Golden Gate Ferry back to San Francisco. The Golden Gate Ferry drops off at the iconic Ferry Building along the Embarcadero. This place is so much more than just a transit hub! Locally-produced artisan goodies like Cowgirl Creamery cheese, and Hog Island Oyster Company make it a foodie paradise! We were still pretty stuffed from our fabulous lunch but we did try the delicious Blue Bottle Coffee and Humphrey Slocombe’s ice cream. The flavors change every day at this inventive creamery, but the “Secret Breakfast”–made with bourbon and corn flakes–is one of three things that never come off the menu. I can attest that it was the best ice-cream I’ve ever tasted in my life!

     

     

    Exploratorium

     

     

    After leaving the Ferry Building we hung a right and walked along the Embarcadero to Pier 15 for a visit to the Exploratorium. Tickets to the Exploratorium were also included in our San Francisco CityPass. Since 1969 this renowned museum and global learning center has been wowing people of all ages with creative and interactive exhibits exploring science, art and human perception. We were simply amazed by all the unique hands-on displays!  From the tiny microbores to the giant inflatable installations it was a feast for our senses.

     

     

    Alcatraz Island

     

     

    Hanging another right out of the Exploratorium we continued up the Embarcadero to Pier 33 for our evening visit to Alcatraz. First, I must mention that a tour of Alcatraz isn’t a spur of the moment activity. Tickets to Alcatraz sell out months in advance with Night Tour tickets being the most difficult to come by, often selling out as soon as they go on sale 90 days before the tour date. I knew we wanted to do the Night Tour as it is substantially less crowded than the day time tours and more areas of the island are open to visitors. Furthermore, the National Park Service offers extra talks and programs exclusively in the evenings.

     

     

    Initially I had no luck finding anything available from the official Alcatraz Tour site. We purchased a tour that was bundled with the Alcatraz Night Tour from a Tour company. It was expensive but 100% worth it. I would do it again in a heartbeat. If you use a third-party vendor like we did just make sure it is a reputable vendor like Bay City. Many tours claim to visit Alcatraz when in fact all they do is sail by it.

    Alcatraz means “pelican” in Spanish, a reference to the first inhabitants of this rocky island. It’s location in the middle of the bay is both strategic and exposed to harsh ocean winds. In 1859, the US Military established a fort at Alcatraz to guard the Bay. In 1907 it became a military prison and in 1934 it became a maximum-security federal penitentiary which it remained until 1963. Commonly called “The Rock”, Alcatraz housed some of the most notorious criminals like Al Capone and George “Machine Gun” Kelly.

     

     

    The award-winning audio tour included with admission is truly OUTSTANDING! I really can’t express that strongly enough. It is unlike any other audio tour we’ve ever done. Not only does it walk you step by step through the extensive prison complex you are immersed in the sounds and narratives of the island’s fascinating history from first hand accounts of the actual guards and prisoners. You truly get a sense of what it was like to be in Alcatraz prison when it was in operation. You’ll even be walked through an extensive escape attempt complete with sound effects and an exciting description of what later become known as the Battle of Alcatraz. The talks given by the National Park Rangers where also excellent and kept us enthralled. From start to finish Alcatraz was one of our favorite experiences in San Francisco!

     

     

    DAY 3

     

    Big Bus Tour

     

     

    Included with our Alcatraz ticket package was a Big Bus Tour of San Francisco. It was just our luck that Big Bus Tours has a stop right at our Hilton hotel. It made it a breeze to hop aboard to begin our third day of exploring San Francisco from yet another angle.

    The unique thing about the city of San Francisco is that is comprised of around three dozen districts (or neighborhoods) and each has its own vibe, culture, and charm. The Big Bus tour was a great way to see some of the Districts we didn’t otherwise plan to spend a lot of time in on this trip. We were able to take in everything from Union Square and Little Italy to the Castro and Civic Center and even the not so appealing Tenderloin district.

     

     

    Golden Gate Park

     

     

    Having made almost a complete circuit we hopped off the bus at Golden Gate Park. A masterpiece of landscape gardening created in the 1890’s out of a sandy wasteland the park today is one of the largest urban parks in the world. The immense park stretches over 1000 acres from the Pacific Ocean to the center of San Francisco, forming an oasis of greenery and calm amid the bustling city beyond.

    Among the many attractions of the park are meandering paths, sports facilities, lakes, botanical gardens and major museums. The park is even home to a herd of bison. There’s so much to do within Golden Gate Park we could have spent our entire four days here and still had plenty to see but we decided to focus on a few of the highlights.

     

     

    California Academy of Sciences

     

     

    We used our handy CityPASS tickets once again to visit the California Academy of Sciences which sits on one side of the main concourse facing the De Young Museum of Fine Arts. CalAcademy (as it’s called for short) has been located within Golden Gate park since 1916 but settled into its new state of the art building in 2008. It houses the Steinhart Aquarium, Morrison Planetarium, and the Kimbrall Natural History Museum. The living roof which is accessible from a rooftop deck is filled with native plant species and designed to make the museum blend in with the surrounding parkland. We were wowed by the four story Rainforest Dome that took us on a vertical journey through four different rain-forest habitats complete with free flying birds and butterflies. The giant Tyrannosaurus in the atrium is also amazing!

     

     

    Japanese Tea Garden

     

     

    Crossing the main concourse again we headed to the exquisite Japanese Tea Garden. Here picturesque paths wind through the carefully manicured Japanese trees, shrubs and flowers. Built for the California Midwinter Fair of 1894, the garden transports you to this day, to another land. The koi fish pond and pagodas are beautiful and seem to almost have been painted into the landscape. The steeply arched Moon Bridge was a marvel as well, forming a dramatic circular reflection in the pond below.

     

     

    Haight-Ashbury

     

     

    Passing the exquisite Conservatory of Flowers, we made our way to the bottom of Golden Gate Park and onto the streets of “The Haight.” The corner of Haight and Ashbury streets was the nexus of hippie culture and the beating heart of the psychedelic “flower power” in the 1960’s. Once home to Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, and the Grateful Dead it is now one of the liveliest and most unconventional places in San Francisco, with an eclectic mix of people, cafes, vintage clothing boutiques and record stores, like the landmark Amoeba Records.

     

     

    Cable Car Museum

     

     

    From Haight-Ashbury we caught a Lyft to the Cable Car Museum. This free museum is actually the powerhouse of the cable-car system. Anchored to the ground are engines and wheels that wind the cables through the system of channels and pulleys that run beneath the streets of San Francisco. It was fascinating to observe them from the mezzanine level and then walk down-stairs to see them in action under the street. The museum also houses several early cable cars and mechanisms that control the cars –the last of its kind in the world.

     

     

    Chinatown

     

     

    We hopped on the Cable Cars yet again and headed over to China Town. Cable cars run down two sides of Chinatown and are an essential part of the area’s bustling atmosphere. This densely populated neighborhood with its colorful facades, teeming markets, temples, theaters, restaurants and stores is “a city” within a city. In fact, San Francisco’s Chinatown is the largest Chinese communty outside the country of Asia and the oldest in the United States. Chinatown actually attracts more tourists than the Golden Gate Bridge. We made sure to hit the top tourist sites like the Dragon Gate at Bush Street and Grant Avenue but we also took our time wandering down Stockton Street through the many markets, herbalist shops, tea stores and alleyways.

     

     

    Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory

     

     

    In one such alleyway we found the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory. The fortune cookie is actually a San Francisco invention! This shoe-box of a space, in operation on Ross Alley since 1962 is one of the last places in the United States where they are still made by hand. We watched as workers removed hot flattened cookies off the griddle press, placed a fortune inside, then deftly folded it into the traditional fortune cookie shape. It was fascinating how meticulous the workers were. Any tiny imperfection in the spherical discs caused them to be tossed into the “reject” pile. We bought a huge bag of these delicious fortune-less “rejects” for the bargain price of $4.50 and brought another bag of cookies that fulfilled their fortune cookie fate to bring home for our family.

     

     

    Dim Sum Dinner

     

     

    We continued our culinary explorations by checking out several of the bakeries dotting Chinatown selling traditional Chinese pastries and egg tarts. Then it was time for a Dim Sum dinner. Dim Sum is traditionally more of a brunch meal but there are many places in Chinatown that offer selections of delicious dumplings and pork buns into the evening hours for tourists like us. We dined at the Hang Ah Tea Room tucked into yet another quiet alley way. They claimed to be the first Dim Sum restaurant in the United States.

     

     

     

     

    DAY 4

     

    Muir Woods

     

    Since San Francisco has one of the best public transportation systems in the world there really isn’t a need to have a car when in the city. Plus, parking overnight can be crazy expensive. We opted to rent a car for just one day so we could head out to Muir Woods in a fraction of the time that it takes to use the shuttle service and then just return it at the airport before flying home. We started our fourth and final full day by picking up our rental car at a garage on Bush Street. The process could not have been easier and soon we were on headed toward the Marin Headlands.

     

     

    Muir Woods Woods National Monument was created in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt, making it one of the earliest national monuments in the country. It’s only 30 minutes away from San Francisco, but transports you to another time and place. For that same reason, it’s also a very popular park, famously crowded with incredibly limited parking. To curb this problem the park service instituted a reservation system in January of 2018. This is brilliant! We made sure to beat the crowds coming in on shuttles by visiting on a weekday in the early morning. I made our parking space reservation and purchased our park entry tickets together on-line ahead of time, selecting an entry time of 9:00 AM.

    We further avoided the crowds by taking the road less traveled. We hiked the Canopy View Trail which climbs up the canyon wall through thick sections of tall, straight, young redwoods.  This trail actually leaves Muir Woods National Monument and enters Mt. Tamalpais State Park. It descends pretty steeply and we found ourselves feeling thankful not to have hiked it going in the opposite direction. After a couple miles the trail loops back and eventually connects with the Redwood Creek Trail –the main trail in the National monument.

     

    One of the few remaining strands of first-growth coast redwoods, the woods are named for John Muir, a 19th century naturalist who was the first to persuade Americans of the need for conservation. Most of the old growth redwoods here are between 600-800 years old, and the oldest is about 1200 years old. Rising around 120 meters, these trees are truly ridiculously high and breathtakingly beautiful! My favorite section was the Cathedral Grove where the trees tower toward the heavens like sky scrapers. Redwood Creek bubbles out of Muir Woods and makes its way down to the sea at Muir Beach. We stopped by to take a look at this wide expanse of sand.

     

     

    Lunch in Sausalito

     

     

    We stopped in Sausalito on our way back again for lunch. This time we dined at The Napa Valley Burger Company. The large selection of burgers and an even larger selection of beers were the perfect post-hike meal!

     

     

    We continued our earnest research into Bay Area ice-creams with a stop in to Lappert’s Ice Cream. A family-run chain of ice cream (and gourmet coffee) stores. The flavours will whisk you off to far-off places like Manila Mango and Mexican chocolate cinnamon swirl.

     

     

    Lombard Street

     

     

    After making our way back across the Golden Gate bridge into San Francisco we decided to make full use of our rental car for the day and do the drive down Lombard Street. Running across the tip of the peninsula, Lombard Street is famous for the short, steep section on Russian Hill. Known as the “crookedest street in the world” it stretches for only one block between Hyde and Leavenworth streets yet has eight hairpin turns. The street was originally straight but the grade is so steep that developers had to make it curvy in order to drive down safely. During the summer weekends they close it off to through traffic so we were glad to be there on a weekday when we could drive down. In fact we went ahead and did it twice!

     

     

    Painted Ladies

     

     

    From iconic Lombard Street we headed to Alamo Square for another post card worthy vista. The grassy area here on the eastern side of Alamo square provides the perfect vantage point to view the Painted Ladies. Any Full House fan will surely recognize them right away from the opening credits or anyone who grew up in the 90’s watching Mrs. Doubfire. This set of six “Queen Anne-style” houses, built between 1895, are all painted in all different pastel colors, boast beautiful porches, and are between two to three stories high.  So many grand old Victorian houses line the streets in this area that it has been declared a historic district.

     

     

    Mission District

     

     

    Next we made our way to the Mission District or simply, “The Mission” as it’s referred to by the locals. Before the dot-com boom the Mission was the last ungentrified central San Francisco neighborhood. Historically the heart of the city’s Latino community, the area known for its bright eye-catching and thought-provoking murals.

     

     

    Every bit of wall on Balmy Street is covered by gorgeous artwork that speaks to local issues, human rights, and gentrification.

     

     

    There are vibrant murals around every corner! We encountered many more as we explored the area’s bakeries and eclectic shops.

     

     

    We headed up to El Techo de Lolinda for some drinks. Rooftop bars aren’t all that common in San Francisco, which makes El Techo special. The heat lamps kept us warm while enjoying cocktails and the panoramic views of the city.

     

     

    Of course, we absolutely had to get a mission burrito – a large burrito bursting with rice, beans and tender grilled meat and fresh fillings nestled inside a soft flour tortilla. There are loads of choices in this area, but we hit up a local favorite called Taqueria El Farolito. Cheap and delicious the carne asada “Super Burrito” was as big as my arm. I was glad we decided to share one between us along with some Modelo beer and Mango flavored Mexican Soda.

     

     

    Twin Peaks

     

    Our last stop for the day was a bit of a bust. We’d heard that the best view of the Bay Area sunset was from the top of Twin Peaks. Unfortunelty we really couldn’t see anything from the top as San Fransisco’s notoriously intense fog was in full force up there.  Did you know that San Franciscans even have a name for the fog? It’s Karl! With such an amazing trip we could hardly complain about this little run in with Karl!

     

     

    Cable Cars and Street Cars

     

     

    Finally, I mentioned several times throughout our 4 days in San Francsisco that we rode the famous Cable Cars. These moving landmarks are iconic, unique and insanely fun! What a thrill it was to hang off the side of these historic cars as they clattered up and down the hills, bells ringing.

    One of the best parts of our San Francisco CityPass tickets was that they included a 3-day UNLIMITED pass to ride ANY San Fransisco Municipal Transportation.  When you consider that a single one-way ride on the Cable Cars is $7 per person or a 3 day pass is $33 you really start to see what a great value the CityPASS package is.

    My top tip here is to completely skip the endless line at the stop on Hyde Street where the line begins/ends just below Ghirardelli Square. Instead, head to ANY other stop and just hop on. I can’t for the life of me figure out why people wait in the hours long lines instead of just walking to another stop. For an even less crowded experience take the California line! There were several times where we had these cable cars completely to ourselves!

     

     

    Also worth checking out are San Francisco’s historic streetcars that roll along the Embarcadero on the F Market & Wharves line.  The street cars are SUPER fun and a fast way to get from one end of the piers to the other. The historic streetcars are also included in the San Francisco CityPASS Municipal Pass along with all regular buses and BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) trains.

     

     

    San Francisco CityPASS is valid for 9 days starting with the first day of use, giving you plenty of time to see the best of San Francisco, and take the best memories home with you. We sure did!

     

     

    Have you been to San Francisco before?  What are your favorite things to do?

     

    For more family fun and vacation inspiration subscribe to Mom Abroad for more helpful travel tips! My newsletter offers a monthly dose inspiration & information for making the best memories on your next vacation. Make sure to sign up below and join us on Facebook for regular updates and related articles and on Instagram to see what we are up to in photos.

     


    Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this article, please save it to Pinterest by clicking the ‘P’ button on any image.

     

    Best of Busch Gardens

    The best of Busch Gardens thrill rides, family attractions, animal encounters, live shows and even where to eat, in one handy guide!

    Opened in Tampa, Florida in March 1959 by the Anheuser-Busch company as a free animal attraction alongside a brewery, Busch Gardens has since grown to a 335-acre theme park and one the nation’s largest zoos. Whether you enjoy thrilling white-knuckle rides, tropical gardens and immersive animal encounters, water adventures or lively musical shows you’ll love Busch Gardens Tampa Bay.

    With so many amazing attractions it can be difficult to know where to begin exploring. This guide is designed to highlight the best of Busch Gardens thrill rides, family attractions, animal encounters, live shows and dining locations.

    Disclosure – Any and all opinions expressed are that of Mom Abroad. No compensation was received for this post. However please note that some of the links in this post are affiliate links. Meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase using the link. 

     


    Busch Gardens Williamsburg

     

    Best of Busch Gardens Thrill Rides

     

    Busch Gardens is divided into African-themed regions such as the Congo, Egypt and Nairobi each featuring animals native to those regions. The rides in each area also tie into each area’s distinctive theme.

    Known as the “Coaster Capital” of Florida, Busch Gardens boats several sensational rides that can be classified as “thrilling”. These rides are sure to get your adrenaline pumping:

     

    The best of Busch Gardens thrill rides, family attractions, animal encounters, live shows and even where to eat, in one handy guide!

     

     Cheetah Hunt

     

    Named after the world’s fastest land animal, Florida’s first triple-launch coaster propels you from zero to 60 miles per hour in seconds while speeding across grasslands. Meant to give riders the feeling of being a cheetah on the hunt in pursuit of prey the coaster climbs to over ten stories before plunging 130 feet only to launch again twice more in bursts of intense speed over banked turns and rolled inversions. The turning, twisting, diving dash is a thrilling 3-minute chase and the parks longest coaster with 4,429 feet of track. Intense? Very. But is so smooth and fun you’ll want to ride again and again!

     

    The best of Busch Gardens thrill rides, family attractions, animal encounters, live shows and even where to eat, in one handy guide!

     

     Kumba

     

    “Kumba” is an African word describing the roar of the lion in the distance when you have crossed into its territory. An apt name for a ferocious coaster. This fast-paced thrill-ride features an initial 135-foot drop followed by a harrowing series of interlocking corkscrews producing three seconds of absolute weightlessness. Given the roughness of this older coaster we recommend sitting near the front of the train where the jostling isn’t as bad.

     

    The best of Busch Gardens thrill rides, family attractions, animal encounters, live shows and even where to eat, in one handy guide!

     

     Shiekra

     

    From 200 feet up, the fierce floor-less dive coaster, Shiekra holds you over the edge before it plunges a near 90 degrees straight down for an amazing start to this ride. The coaster reaches a whopping 70 mph as it loops back up, dives again and then zooms through an underground tunnel ending in a splashing finale. It’s not for the feint-hearted, but even I had to admit it’s a very smooth and exhilarating ride. Don’t worry about the watery ending, you won’t get wet as a rider.

     

    The best of Busch Gardens thrill rides, family attractions, animal encounters, live shows and even where to eat, in one handy guide!

     

     Scorpion

     

    The second roller coaster built at Busch Gardens with a 360-degree vertical loop, Scorpion has been thrilling park guests since 1980. Riders experience 3-G forces and speeds of 50 miles per hour as well as a fun helix towards the end of the ride. Another fun feature of Scorpion is the lap bar instead of an over the shoulder restraint. Something that is rather uncommon on rides with loops and which definitely adds to the thrill!

     

    The best of Busch Gardens thrill rides, family attractions, animal encounters, live shows and even where to eat, in one handy guide!

     

     Cobra’s Curse

     

    Cobra’s Curse is Busch Garden’s most recent coaster attraction. This wild-ride built around the legend of a snake king in Egypt takes you up a 70-foot vertical lift and then down a twisting track facing forward, then backward before racing into a free-spin frenzy. With a lower minimum ride height of 42” inches this is definitely a thrill ride to enjoy with the whole family.

     

    The best of Busch Gardens thrill rides, family attractions, animal encounters, live shows and even where to eat, in one handy guide!

     

    Montu

     

    The massive Montu coaster can be found in the Egypt section of the park. Named for an ancient Egyptian god of war the sprawling layout of this coaster features seven inversions including a 60-foot zero-G vertical loop. While the dips into and out of various trenches make you feel as though you are bounding across Busch Gardens the ride is incredibly smooth for its 20-year age. Ride in the back row for the most intense experience!

     

    The best of Busch Gardens thrill rides, family attractions, animal encounters, live shows and even where to eat, in one handy guide!

     

    Falcon’s Fury

     

    In the Pantopia part of the park you’ll find Falcon’s Fury. This unique freestanding drop tower is it’s the tallest of its kind in North America – standing at 335 feet.  If that’s not exciting enough, after reaching its impressive height this ride turns its riders downward 90 degrees so that they face the ground before plummeting them toward the ground in that position.  For a few seconds you’ll be flying like a falcon towards the ground at 60 mph before slowing down and returning to a normal angle. The amount of time that you are hanging in midair before dropping is variable adding to the suspense of an already exhilarating ride.

     

    The best of Busch Gardens thrill rides, family attractions, animal encounters, live shows and even where to eat, in one handy guide!

     

    Best of Busch Gardens Water Rides

     

    Florida’s sunny climate makes water rides a welcomed way to cool off on a hot day. Prepare to get completely soaked on these favorites:

     

    Congo River Rapids

     

    A seemingly gentle and relaxing 12-person raft ride turns exiting with a few surprise drops, waterfalls, and rogue water canons. You are bound to find yourself laughing along with your raft-mates as you go under geysers and drop into the white-water rapids at just the right angle to get totally drenched.

     

    The best of Busch Gardens thrill rides, family attractions, animal encounters, live shows and even where to eat, in one handy guide!

     

    Stanley Falls

     

    The old-fashioned log-flume ride Stanley Falls offers a more merciful experience as far as soaking goes but it is equally exciting. Take in the view from the top before barreling down the hill into the refreshing waters at the bottom.

     

    The best of Busch Gardens thrill rides, family attractions, animal encounters, live shows and even where to eat, in one handy guide!

     

    Best of Busch Gardens Family Attractions

     

    While thrill rides abound at Busch Gardens that doesn’t mean it isn’t ideal for tiny tykes and those who prefer tamer rides too. From classics to kiddie rides everyone will find something they love:

     

    The best of Busch Gardens thrill rides, family attractions, animal encounters, live shows and even where to eat, in one handy guide!

     

    Grand Caravan Carousel

     

    This Arabian stallions-themed carousel in the Pantopia part of the park is a classic merry-go-round attraction that anyone young or young-at-heart will enjoy.

     

    The best of Busch Gardens thrill rides, family attractions, animal encounters, live shows and even where to eat, in one handy guide!

     

    Ubanga-Banga

     

    These classic carnival style bumper cars are a blast!

     

    The best of Busch Gardens thrill rides, family attractions, animal encounters, live shows and even where to eat, in one handy guide!

     

     Tree Top Trails

     

    In the Jungala area you’ll find the Tree Top Trails a multi-level maze of rope bridges, crawl tubes and climbing nets. This area also offers a splash pad that’s great for letting little ones cool off.

     

    The best of Busch Gardens thrill rides, family attractions, animal encounters, live shows and even where to eat, in one handy guide!

    The best of Busch Gardens thrill rides, family attractions, animal encounters, live shows and even where to eat, in one handy guide!

     

     Wild Surge

     

    Burst into the sky on Wild Surge. This 35-foot mountain crater themed attraction is a much milder version of a drop tower.

     

    The best of Busch Gardens thrill rides, family attractions, animal encounters, live shows and even where to eat, in one handy guide!

    Sky Ride

     

    Get a bird’s eye view of the Busch Gardens in the Sky Ride. This slow ride on a gondola cable car takes you across the park and up above the Serengeti plain where you can see zebras, rhinos, and more. It’s a great way to take in the sights of the park while saving yourself some walking.

     

    The best of Busch Gardens thrill rides, family attractions, animal encounters, live shows and even where to eat, in one handy guide!

    The best of Busch Gardens thrill rides, family attractions, animal encounters, live shows and even where to eat, in one handy guide!

     

    Serengeti Express Train

     

    Taking the old-fashioned steam train ride through the expasive Serengeti Plain is another great way to rest tired feet while taking in prime viewing of all the exotic animals as they roam about. This relaxing train ride winds through all major areas of the park. With train stations stops in the Congo, Nairobi and Stanleyville this is a great way to see the Serengeti up close while you ride from one side of the park to the other.

     

    The best of Busch Gardens thrill rides, family attractions, animal encounters, live shows and even where to eat, in one handy guide!

     

     Sesame Street Safari of Fun

     

    The Sesame Street Safari of Fun area is aimed at preschoolers. With kid-friendly rides such as the Air Grover junior coaster, Elmo’s Tree House obstacle course and Bert and Ernie’s water play, little ones will stay entertained for hours. Kids are met with colorful characters all over. There is even a themed show starring Sesame Street friends and featuring fun songs and audience participation.

     

    The best of Busch Gardens thrill rides, family attractions, animal encounters, live shows and even where to eat, in one handy guide!

     


     

    Best of Busch Gardens Shows

     

    Speaking of shows…There are several entertaining options throughout the day at Bush Gardens featuring world-class performers and a few animal rescue rising stars. When you need a break from the rides (or some AC) check out one of the spectacular shows on offer:

     

    Turn It Up

     

    The hottest show on ice “Turn It Up” vibrantly celebrates skating with contemporary choreography aerial moments and electric pop music. You’ll find yourself alternately impressed by the athletic jumps and lifts and wanting to sing and dance right in your seats!

     

    The best of Busch Gardens thrill rides, family attractions, animal encounters, live shows and even where to eat, in one handy guide!

     

     Rock A Do Wop

     

    The Dragon Fire Grill hosts several shows throughout the day so if you can time your meal break to coincide with one of the productions. The Rock A Do Wop show features live musicians, singers and dancers performing rock songs that will give you a blast from the past.

     

    The best of Busch Gardens thrill rides, family attractions, animal encounters, live shows and even where to eat, in one handy guide!

     


    Busch Gardens Williamsburg

     

    Best of Busch Gardens Animal Encounters

     

    There’s more to Busch Gardens than amazing rides! In fact the park is based around the central theme of bringing the Serengeti in Africa to Florida; and as such It’s home to more than 12,000 animals belonging to more than 250 species – more than 30 of which are listed as threatened or endangered. Enjoy taking little detours between your ride adventures to check out all the animals in their state-of-the-art habitats. Their presence in the park adds so much to the atmosphere. Truly everywhere you turn, there are habitats to explore and animals to encounter. Be sure check the keeper times on the back of your park map to see special animal behaviors and feedings.

     

    The best of Busch Gardens thrill rides, family attractions, animal encounters, live shows and even where to eat, in one handy guide!

     

    Kangaloom

     

    Go down under to meet the animals of Australia in Busch Garden’s Kangaloom within Walkabout Way. Enjoy the up-close and personal opportunity to feed kangaroos, free roaming wallabies and wallaroos right from the palm of your hand. Be warned they have coarse tongues and tickly whiskers but they are adorable, and the experience is one you won’t forget.

     

    The best of Busch Gardens thrill rides, family attractions, animal encounters, live shows and even where to eat, in one handy guide!

    Busch Gardens Tampa Bay Kangaroo -Looking for some family fun in Florida? Here’s how have a terrific time in Tampa with kids and how you can save some big money on your visit.

     

     Animal Care Center

     

    The Animal Care Center in the Nairobi section of the park features a state-of-the-art facility where guests can view animals receiving treatment, x-rays, and other forms of medical and physical care. You can also find sample animal charts to scan to learn about the process of caring for each animal’s condition. For more, you can even check out an Animal Care Center Behind-the-Scenes experience.

     

    Myombie Reserve The Myombe Reserve is a quiet, secluded area of Busch Gardens filled with gorillas and chimpanzees. You can interact with primate pals here while enjoying the shaded covering of the majestic jungle.  Animal Care Center The Animal Care Center in the Nairobi section of the park features a state-of-the-art facility where guests can view animals receiving treatment, x-rays, and other forms of medical and physical care. You can also find sample animal charts to scan to learn about the process of caring for each animal’s condition. For more, you can even check out an Animal Care Center Behind-the-Scenes experience. Cheetah Run Cheetah Run offers an up close view of the world’s fastest animals on land in action. Busch Garden’s trainers will conduct daily sprints with the cheetahs which you can watch from the floor to ceiling, glass-paneled viewing areas or along a large open fence.  Edge of Africa Edge of Africa is a walking safari experience themed around an African village on the southern edge of the Serengiti Plain. Stroll along boardwalks and paths that deliver up close views of  majestic lions, hippos, hyenas, meerkats and more. You can also book one of the safari tours for even more in-depth animal encounters for an additional cost.

     

     Edge of Africa

     

    Edge of Africa is a walking safari experience themed around an African village on the southern edge of the Serengiti Plain. Stroll along boardwalks and paths that deliver up close views of  majestic lions, hippos, hyenas, meerkats and more. You can also book one of the safari tours for even more in-depth animal encounters for an additional cost.

     

    Myombie Reserve The Myombe Reserve is a quiet, secluded area of Busch Gardens filled with gorillas and chimpanzees. You can interact with primate pals here while enjoying the shaded covering of the majestic jungle.  Animal Care Center The Animal Care Center in the Nairobi section of the park features a state-of-the-art facility where guests can view animals receiving treatment, x-rays, and other forms of medical and physical care. You can also find sample animal charts to scan to learn about the process of caring for each animal’s condition. For more, you can even check out an Animal Care Center Behind-the-Scenes experience. Cheetah Run Cheetah Run offers an up close view of the world’s fastest animals on land in action. Busch Garden’s trainers will conduct daily sprints with the cheetahs which you can watch from the floor to ceiling, glass-paneled viewing areas or along a large open fence.  Edge of Africa Edge of Africa is a walking safari experience themed around an African village on the southern edge of the Serengiti Plain. Stroll along boardwalks and paths that deliver up close views of  majestic lions, hippos, hyenas, meerkats and more. You can also book one of the safari tours for even more in-depth animal encounters for an additional cost.

    Myombie Reserve The Myombe Reserve is a quiet, secluded area of Busch Gardens filled with gorillas and chimpanzees. You can interact with primate pals here while enjoying the shaded covering of the majestic jungle.  Animal Care Center The Animal Care Center in the Nairobi section of the park features a state-of-the-art facility where guests can view animals receiving treatment, x-rays, and other forms of medical and physical care. You can also find sample animal charts to scan to learn about the process of caring for each animal’s condition. For more, you can even check out an Animal Care Center Behind-the-Scenes experience. Cheetah Run Cheetah Run offers an up close view of the world’s fastest animals on land in action. Busch Garden’s trainers will conduct daily sprints with the cheetahs which you can watch from the floor to ceiling, glass-paneled viewing areas or along a large open fence.  Edge of Africa Edge of Africa is a walking safari experience themed around an African village on the southern edge of the Serengiti Plain. Stroll along boardwalks and paths that deliver up close views of  majestic lions, hippos, hyenas, meerkats and more. You can also book one of the safari tours for even more in-depth animal encounters for an additional cost.

     

    Lory Landing

     

    Make lots of new, feathered friends at Lory Landing. Inside this free-flight aviary you can hand-feed colorful lorikeets from a sweet cup of fresh fruit nectar as they perch on your hand. You’ll find photographers on hand to capture this exciting interaction for you. You can then purchase these photos as a souvenir.

     

    The best of Busch Gardens thrill rides, family attractions, animal encounters, live shows and even where to eat, in one handy guide!

    The best of Busch Gardens thrill rides, family attractions, animal encounters, live shows and even where to eat, in one handy guide!

     

    Best of Busch Gardens Dinning

     

    Enjoying all those attractions will work up quite an appetite. There are many great places to eat offering a wide variety of food from small stands and quick counter-service restaurants to full service sit-down dining.

     

    The best of Busch Gardens thrill rides, family attractions, animal encounters, live shows and even where to eat, in one handy guide!

     

    Zambia Smoke House

     

    You’ll know you are near the Zambia Smoke House in the Morocco Village area by the smell of the savory aroma of smoked meat. You’ll find fantastic ribs, beef brisket and rotisserie chicken all prepared on a wood fire fresh each day. Sides such as baked beans and corn on the cob compliment the meats and warm bread budding offers a little authentic taste of Africa for dessert. The outdoor covered patio is the perfect place to view Shiekra while enjoying lunch or dinner.

     

    The best of Busch Gardens thrill rides, family attractions, animal encounters, live shows and even where to eat, in one handy guide!

     

    Kenya Kanteen


    Kenya Kanteen located in the Nairobi Village area serves hot dogs, turkey legs and fries, on the patio overlooking the Serengeti Plain. It’s also a great spot to grab a treat and enjoy some people watching. Don’t miss out of on the decadent funnel cake sundaes!

     

    The best of Busch Gardens thrill rides, family attractions, animal encounters, live shows and even where to eat, in one handy guide!

    The best of Busch Gardens thrill rides, family attractions, animal encounters, live shows and even where to eat, in one handy guide!

     

    Twisted Tail Pretzels

     

    Grab a delicious pretzel and beer at Twisted Tails Pretzels inside the colorful Pantopia area of the park. This is also a favorite stop for a refreshing icee on a hot Florida day.

     

    The best of Busch Gardens thrill rides, family attractions, animal encounters, live shows and even where to eat, in one handy guide!

     

    Serengeti Overlook Restaurant

     

    Serengeti Overlook Restaurant & Buffet is an iconic, seasonal dining location that offers several different options. Choose from a nicer full-service dining room (the only full-service eatery in the park) or the counter service floor where you will find items like BBQ pulled pork sandwiches, pizza and salads. Both options offer exceptional views of the Serengeti Plain.

     

    The best of Busch Gardens thrill rides, family attractions, animal encounters, live shows and even where to eat, in one handy guide!

     

    Zagora Cafe

     

    Nearly immediately after entering the park you will find Zagora Café. Here you can dig in to standard theme park fare like chicken tenders, hot dogs and burgers or just grab a cold beverage.

     

    The best of Busch Gardens thrill rides, family attractions, animal encounters, live shows and even where to eat, in one handy guide!

     

    Dragon Fire Grill

     

    Dragon Fire Grill features a food court feel with various counters serving different styles of food. Portion sizes are plentiful and the food itself here is pretty tasty but the best part is being able to relax in the air conditioning while enjoying an entertaining live show along with your meal.

     

    The best of Busch Gardens thrill rides, family attractions, animal encounters, live shows and even where to eat, in one handy guide!

     

     Now you know all the best Busch Gardens has to offer and you’re ready to get packing!

     

    Save on Bush Gardens tickets by buying them ahead of time online. This deal provides free all day dining! Best deals are on FUN CARD passes and tickets that combine admission to other attractions.

     

     

    Look for even more Busch Gardens Tampa tips coming soon and check out our complete guide to How to Have a Terrific Time in Tampa with Kids and how to use the Tampa Bay City Pass to save on multiple attractions! Busch Gardens is included along with Zoo Tampa, the Museum of Science and Industry, the Florida Aquarium and the Clearwater Aquarium where you can visit Winter and Hope from the Dolphin Tale movies.

     

    Looking for some family fun in Florida? Here’s how have a terrific time in Tampa with kids and how you can save some big money on your visit.

     

    For more family fun and vacation inspiration subscribe to Mom Abroad for more helpful travel tips! My newsletter offers a monthly dose inspiration & information for making the best memories on your next vacation. Make sure to sign up below and join us on Facebook for regular updates and related articles and on Instagram to see what we are up to in photos.


    Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this article, please save it to Pinterest by clicking the ‘P’ button on any image.

     

    The best of Busch Gardens thrill rides, family attractions, animal encounters, live shows and even where to eat, in one handy guide!

    30 Day Trips From Charlotte, Part II

    Charlotte is the perfect base for day trips with kids throughout the Carolinas! Explore diverse landscapes, rich history, attractions, & temperate climate.

    15 Trips Over Two Hours Away

    My family and I came up for a visit to North Carolina when our oldest son was just six months old. We fell in love with the sheer diversity of landscapes, rich history, wide range of attractions, and temperate climate. We were so enamored that we decided to relocate to the crowning jewel of the state’s Central Piedmont Region, Charlotte.

    Having called the Queen City home for over a decade, it’s been the perfect place to raise a family. It’s also been an ideal home base for exploring the Carolinas and taking day trips with kids. We can easily reach the majestic mountains, the lovely lakes, or the state’s larger cities for world-class culture and entertainment – and make it home by bed-time!

    We have built up quite the cache of fond memories over the years exploring. We’ve created this list of our favorite family day trips from Charlotte or anyone seeking to explore the sister states of North and South Carolina.

    The following fifteen day trips with kids are located 2-3.5 hours away from downtown Charlotte, NC. For a list of fifteen day trips located under 2 hours away from Charlotte, check out The Commoner.

    Check out the map below for a regional view of thirty day trips from Charlotte.

     

     

    Asheboro, NC

    Travel Time: 02:00

    The North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro is the world’s largest natural habitat zoo and is a day trip with kids like no other. Home to more than 1,600 animals and 52,000 plants, great care has been taken to give you the best possible view while also providing expansive enclosures for the animals.

    The zoo is divided into two main sections. We prefer to start our day in the 500-acre Africa region. Here antelope graze on an open plain and giraffes tower at tree-top level, while zebras and elephants get up close and personal. In this portion of the park you also get the chance to look massive gorillas in the eye and muse at the antics of the chimpanzees.

    The North American Region, with more than 200 acres, covers everything from deserts to swamps to the American prairie. You’ll see bears, bison, elk, and wolves. We like to watch sea lions and polar bears in the newly expanded Rocky Coast habitat. This area also features a touch and learn center, where you can pet a Shetland pony, sheep, goats, and more. You will also find other attractions throughout the park to keep the kids busy, like a 4D theater, paddle boats, a carousel, ropes course, and a wide selection of restaurants and snacks stands.

    Plan on two to three hours each to tour the North America and Africa regions as major exhibits are about eight minutes apart. Comfortable walking shoes and strollers for little ones are a must. While there is a lot of walking there is a tram available to take you between park sections. You can also upgrade your tickets to take a guided safari tour in an open-air jeep through the 40-acre Watani Grassland exhibit.

     

    Charlotte is the perfect base for day trips with kids throughout the Carolinas! Explore diverse landscapes, rich history, attractions, & temperate climate.

     

    Greensboro, NC

    Travel Time: 02:00

    From Charlotte, the city of Greensboro is one of the most accessible day trips with kids and has a lot to explore.

    The leading attraction in Greensboro is the Greensboro Science Center. Part aquarium, part zoo, part museum – all for one admission price. Indoors you’ll find exhibits about dinosaurs, health and the human body, and the weather. SciPlay Bay an interactive children’s play space is perfect for young explorers. An array of shows are offered at the OmniSphere and Adventure theaters. Visit the recent expansion of the Wiseman Aquarium, showcasing an exotic array of sea life. Outside, you can see Nile crocodiles sunning themselves or watch gibbons swinging across their exhibit. Marvel at the meerkats standing watch or get up close and pet the animals in the farmhouse. If you are feeling brave, give the Skywild tree-top adventure a try.

    Afterward, spend the afternoon at Country Park, immediately adjacent to the science center. The park offers fishing with two stocked lakes, as well as paddleboats, playgrounds, and trails for hiking. It’s also a great place to enjoy a picnic.

    If your kids are older we recommend spending some time at the International Civil Rights Center and Museum. Many aspects of the civil rights movement are represented here including the actual Woolworth’s lunch counter where the Greensboro sit-in protests took place.

     

    Charlotte is the perfect base for day trips with kids throughout the Carolinas! Explore diverse landscapes, rich history, attractions, & temperate climate.

     

    Chimney Rock, NC

    Travel Time: 02:00

    Some of the best scenery North Carolina has to offer can be enjoyed at Chimney Rock State Park. From native wildlife and diverse vegetation, to educational trails and exquisite views, this post-card worthy park inspires and delivers at every turn. The signature 315’ spire overlooking Hickory Nut Gorge and Lake Lure is the highlight of the park and the best way to begin your visit. A unique elevator installed inside the rock will take up the equivalent of twenty-six stories to the top. Or you can enjoy the Outcroppings Trail, a more challenging, yet rewardingly scenic staircase hike to the summit. On a clear day, you can see almost seventy-five miles into the northeastern horizon from the top of Chimney Rock.

    The Devil’s Head balancing rock is another must-do for visitors. Kids and kids-at-heart will also love the Great Woodlands Adventure trail featuring twelve discovery stations with large handcrafted sculptures by local artists. Be sure to stop by the Animal Discovery Den, which contains exhibits and live critters.

    Finally, don’t miss the short hike to Hickory Nut Falls. This showstopper waterfall cascades 404 feet off a cliff making it one of the highest falls east of the Mississippi. We enjoy being able to take our shoes off and climb around the rocks at the base of the falls to experience it up close. Be sure to pack a lunch. Or pick one up at the Old Rock Café or the Sky Lounge Deli, and recharge at one of the scenic picnic spots.

     

    Charlotte is the perfect base for day trips with kids throughout the Carolinas! Explore diverse landscapes, rich history, attractions, & temperate climate.

     

    Lake Lure, NC

    Travel Time: 02:00

    There is no doubt that Lake Lure is one of the most idyllic places to visit in North Carolina and is one of the best day trips with kids. Indeed, this charming town has served as a popular filming destination for Hollywood, with movies such as Thunder Road and Dirty Dancing being shot in this upscale resort area.

    The 27-mile long lake provides ample opportunities for fishing, swimming, and boating, or simply to relax and unwind in the calm cool waters. Take the kids to the Beach at Lake Lure where they will have a blast at the water park or enjoy a guided tour of the sights and history from Lake Lure Tours at Rumbling Bald Resort. If you are looking to kick it up another notch, Lake Lure Adventure Company offers everything on the water from water skiing to wake-boarding to tubing. This makes it ideal for day trips with kids.

     

    Charlotte is the perfect base for day trips with kids throughout the Carolinas! Explore diverse landscapes, rich history, attractions, & temperate climate.

     

    Boone, NC & Blowing Rock, NC

    Travel Time: 02:00

    The mountain towns of Boone and Blowing Rock are only ten minutes apart and make for a great family road trip together. Begin at Blowing Rock, known as North Carolina’s oldest travel attraction. This immense rock cliff overhanging Johns River Gorge is buffeted by near-constant winds, fluming up from the valley below. These northwest winds sweep with such force that it returns light objects cast over the void. According to the Legend of the Blowing Rock, these strong winds carried a Cherokee brave back from the valley below into the arms of his beloved, a Chickasaw maiden. This maiden was waiting on the rock, as she prayed to the Great Spirit for three days for the brave’s return. Today, the Blowing Rock is a special place to experience the winds, in a place of legend, surrounded by spectacular views.

    Continue your adventures with a trip back in time care of the Tweetsie Railroad. Running between Boone and Blowing Rock, the Tweetsie Railroad is a Wild West adventure-theme park offering families a fun day out with old-fashioned charm. Tweetsie Railroad’s biggest attraction is old Number 12, a steam locomotive that takes you on a 3-mile journey though the North Carolina mountains. You never know when robbers or other unsavoriness may hop on board so stay alert!

    Stroll down Tweetsie’s Main Street to visit the shops and eateries, or catch a stage show complete with Can-Can dancers and toe tapping music. Ride the chair lift up Miner’s Mountain and try your hand at panning for gold at the Gem Mine. Ride the Mouse Mine train and visit the critters at the Deer Park petting zoo, or delight in one of the many fun amusement rides at the County Fair. Just be sure and say “howdy” to any of the many costumed characters around the park. Some might even be outlaws!

    End your day in downtown Boone with dinner at the Dan’l Boone Inn. For over 50 years this longtime favorite has been serving homecooked meals just like you remember at Grandma’s house. The all-you-can-eat, family style dinner offers fried chicken, Salisbury steak, country ham, biscuits, mashed potatoes, and an array of vegetables. Just be sure to save some room for dessert! It’s a perfect end to fun day trips with kids!

     

    Charlotte is the perfect base for day trips with kids throughout the Carolinas! Explore diverse landscapes, rich history, attractions, & temperate climate.Photo by Gavin Candish

     

    Linville, NC

    Travel Time: 02:15

    Venture a few miles off of the Blue Ridge Parkway to Linville Caverns for a unique view of nature at work within the mountains. Informative half-hour guided tours leave just minutes apart throughout the day. Tours offer visitors an opportunity to walk beside an underground stream full of blind trout, get a close-up view of stalactites and stalagmites, and observe other natural formations. You’ll even get to experience what it’s like to be in total darkness. Don’t worry, guides turn the lights back on quickly. The 52-degree year-round temperature inside the caverns is more than welcome during a humid North Carolina summer.

    Afterwards, take a short drive southward to Linville Falls. Here there are a number of trails you can hike for various views of the falls and of the Linville River, which descends more than 2,000 feet in only twelve miles. The upper part of the falls rolls over fifty feet and disappears into the mountain. The lower falls drops another sixty feet. You can hike down the trails bordering the falls and wade in the cool waters.

     

    Charlotte is the perfect base for day trips with kids throughout the Carolinas! Explore diverse landscapes, rich history, attractions, & temperate climate.

     

    Asheville, NC

    Travel Time: 02:15

    Ashville is western North Carolina’s biggest city, and has become a cultural and educational center for the region. Yet its mountainous beauty still remains its biggest draw. There’s no finer place to take in the beauty of the region than from its most remarkable attraction: the 8,000-acre Biltmore Estate.

    Completed in 1895, George Vanderbilt’s 250-room chateau is as impressive today as it was more than a century ago. Truly a wonder of architecture and artistry, it took a total of one million hours of labor to complete. Although no longer occupied by the family, the home includes more than 50,000 works of art, furnishings, and antiques which Vanderbilt spent years collecting in Europe and Asia. Highlights include the magnificent banquet hall with it’s seven story ceiling, the Library with thousands of books, the massive indoor swimming pool, and bowling alley. You also won’t want to miss taking a stroll around the exquisite forty-acre gardens and pools designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, the nation’s father of landscape architecture.

    A trip to the Estate won’t be complete without a visit to the winery, where award-winning sparkling red, white, and rosé wines are produced in a converted dairy barn. Enjoy a complimentary tour of the winery and tasting afterwards. There is even free grape-juice for the youngsters. We recommend grabbing a bite to eat at Cedric’s in the adjacent Antler Hill Village followed by ice-cream at the Creamery to top off your day.

     

    Charlotte is the perfect base for day trips with kids throughout the Carolinas! Explore diverse landscapes, rich history, attractions, & temperate climate.

     

    Seven Devils, NC

    Travel Time: 02:20

    While we do most of our day trips in the summer months, winter in North Carolina offers the opportunity for one of our favorite family seasonal activities: snowtubing! With more than thirty lanes ranging in length from 400-1,000 feet, Hawksnest in Seven Devils, NC is one of the largest and longest snow tubing parks on the east coast. Here you’ll find four different areas of terrain to satisfy every type of snow tuber; from tots riding with their parents to teens looking for thrill and speed. Two conveyor belt lifts are available to take you back to the top of the hill to make it easy to ride again and again.

    The lodge offers restroom facilities, a nice café, and observation area. Sessions take place in two-hour increments. It’s a good idea to purchase your tickets ahead of time online and complete the liability waivers, so you and your kids can jump right into enjoying all that fresh powdery snow.

     

    Charlotte is the perfect base for day trips with kids throughout the Carolinas! Explore diverse landscapes, rich history, attractions, & temperate climate.

     

    Greenville, SC

    Travel Time: 02:25

    Nestled up against the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the heart of South Carolina’s Upcountry, Greenville is more than a little charming. The newly revived and now thriving downtown is full of fun things to see and do.

    Falls Park on the Reedy, right off Main Street, is our favorite place to explore with its mesmerizing waterfalls, romantic rockwork, and impressive Liberty suspension bridge. From here you can have a picnic on the grassy knolls or grab a bite to eat at one of the quaint side-walk cafés.

    Take your outdoor adventures further and rent bikes from Reedy Rides. Head out on the novice-friendly GHS Swamp Rabbit Trail or check out one of Greenville’s great museums. Those interested in local history will love the Upcountry History Museum while creatives will enjoy the Greenville County Museum of Art or the Carolina Music Museum. Little ones will love the nearby Children’s Museum of the Upstate.

     

    Charlotte is the perfect base for day trips with kids throughout the Carolinas! Explore diverse landscapes, rich history, attractions, & temperate climate.

     

    Banner Elk, NC

    Travel Time: 02:25

    Just 95 miles northwest of Charlotte you’ll find what is arguably the top scenic attraction in the North Carolina mountains — Grandfather Mountain. The 5,945’ peak was named for its profile as it appears from about seven miles north. As the name suggests, from this vantage point the mountain looks like a bearded grandfather. The park offers a nature museum and many miles of unique trails but is best known for its Mile-High Swinging Bridge. The bridge extends majestically over a natural gorge filled with hard-wood trees and rhododendron. It is known as the swinging bridge due to its tendency to sway in high winds. Those brave enough to venture onto the bridge are rewarded with one of the best views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. An audio CD that comes with your admission ticket is particularly great as it describes the many wondrous things you are seeing as you drive through the park. Reinforced learning such as this is complementary to any day trips with kids.

    Just a short drive from Banner Elk is the small town of Valle Crucis, home to the original Mast General Store & Annex. Opened in 1883, the Mast General Store quickly grew in reputation for carrying everything from “cradles to caskets.” Even today, you’ll find shelves filled with vintage items and unique gear. Take some time to wander each room, listening to the old creaky floors, and see advertising posters untouched since Mr. Mast hung them decades ago. Discover toys you loved as a child or housewares your great grandmother might have used. Let the kids pick a few pieces of candy from the overflowing barrels then stand at a counter where locals once bartered to pay. From past to present this mercantile really is a delight for all generations.

     

    Charlotte is the perfect base for day trips with kids throughout the Carolinas! Explore diverse landscapes, rich history, attractions, & temperate climate.

     

    Sliding Rock, NC

    Travel Time: 02:30

    A day trip to Sliding Rock is perfect for families looking for a little adventure. This naturally occurring 60’ waterslide has been developed by the U.S. Forest Service into a recreation area. It’s an exhilarating blast as you speed down the huge rocks along with 11,000 gallons per minute of 60-degree water, flowing into a 7’ deep pool. Make sure any kids participating in the slide are strong swimmers. You can walk smaller children down the rocks a bit and let them have a short slide.

    There is a small fee to enter the recreation area. The park is open year-round but the bathrooms and changing rooms are only open between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Lifeguards are on duty during that time as well. If you aren’t brave enough to try the natural waterslide, it’s just as much fun to stand on the viewing platform and watch the daredevils.

    After you slide, stop by Looking Glass Falls. The 60’ waterfall is named after Looking Glass Rock, believed to be the largest single piece of granite in the southern Appalachians. This stunning roadside waterfall is easily accessible; you can park at the side and walk down to the bottom of the falls.

     

    Charlotte is the perfect base for day trips with kids throughout the Carolinas! Explore diverse landscapes, rich history, attractions, & temperate climate.

     

    Burnsville, NC

    Travel Time: 02:35

    If you are looking for day trips with kids that stand apart from the ordinary, make your way on the Blue Ridge Parkway to Burnsville. Here Mount Mitchell rises dramatically to 6,684’ – the highest point east of the Mississippi River in one of the nation’s oldest state parks (1915). You can drive your vehicle all the way up to the summit. From the parking area, walk up a quarter mile paved trail to the observation deck for 360-degree unmatched views of Mount Mitchell State Park’s spruce-fir forest.

    Most days, the summit is covered in clouds of fog so watch the weather and try to visit when skies are clear. Even with the fog the hiking trails are still some of the most spectacular we have ever experienced. Choose between a short stroll from the summit, perfect for families, or longer more extensive trails for seasoned adventurers. We recommend with Balsam Nature Trail which has the feel of an epic Canadian Redwood forest right in the middle of North Carolina.

    Enjoy a relaxing meal in the restaurant within the park, located about halfway between the park entrance and the summit. Open May through October, it has a casual menu and spectacular views. There’s also a shady picnic area located at the north entrance of the summit parking lot. Picnic tables, stone-built grills, and drinking water are all available for use. There is also a small museum that explains the cultural and natural history of Mount Mitchell that is free for visitors to enjoy.

     

    Charlotte is the perfect base for day trips with kids throughout the Carolinas! Explore diverse landscapes, rich history, attractions, & temperate climate.

     

    Durham, NC

    Travel Time: 02:40

    Perhaps most famous for Duke University and the Durham Bulls baseball team, this cute college town also has a lot to offer for families. At the Museum of Life + Science you’ll find wonder among a wide range of exhibits. Start your visit outdoors in Hideaway Woods, a two-acre discovery environment. Splash in the man-made stream and explore the eight hand-crafted treehouses that are connected by rope bridges. Animal lovers can watch lemurs climb trees or pet goats and alpacas. Then take a walk through the dinosaur garden.

    Make sure to stop by the Magic Wings Butterfly House, one of the largest butterfly houses on the East Coast. Inside this gorgeous glass conservatory, you’ll be surrounded by lush tropical plants and butterflies from Central America to the Philippines. One might even land on your finger!

    Grab lunch at Sprout Café and then head inside to explore the aerospace exhibit. Here you can climb inside a command module and explore a satellite mapping table. Included is a display of the Apollo 15 and Enos, the first U.S. spacecraft to orbit the earth. Then embrace your inner Einstein at The Lab, an interactive experimentation station.

     

    Charlotte is the perfect base for day trips with kids throughout the Carolinas! Explore diverse landscapes, rich history, attractions, & temperate climate.

     

    Raleigh, NC

    Travel Time: 02:50

    Founded in 1792, Raleigh is the oldest state capital to have been planned and established by a state as the seat of government. Raleigh today both gleams with 21st century innovation and holds dear its history. Often dubbed the “Smithsonian of the South,” Raleigh has an abundance of high-quality, free museums and historic attractions all within a few within a few city blocks. This makes it ideal for day trips with kids.

    Begin your day with a tour of the CapitalLearn how this landmark building factored into Civil War history in Raleigh. Explore the Gothic architectural style, stately Library Room, historic house and senate chambers, and the gorgeous rotunda.

    Keep the history lesson going at the North Carolina Museum of History. More than 14,000 years of N.C. history, from earliest inhabitants through the 20th century is featured through 150,000 fascinating artifacts, multimedia presentations, and interactive exhibits for all ages. The permanent exhibit, The Story of North Carolina is a must-see and even includes a replica of the 1903 Wright Flyer.

    Finish your day with a visit to the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. The Southeast’s largest natural science museum offers seven floors of immersive exhibits plus live animals, 3D movies, a three-story multimedia theater housed inside a 70-foot globe, working research labs, and hands-on investigate labs. Don’t miss the neighboring Nature Research Center, which houses a veterinary clinic with a public viewing window and two-way intercom, so guests can ask questions.

     

    Charlotte is the perfect base for day trips with kids throughout the Carolinas! Explore diverse landscapes, rich history, attractions, & temperate climate.

     

    Cherokee, NC

    Travel Time: 03:00

    On the western edge of North Carolina, nestled between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the western end of the Blue Ridge Parkway, you’ll find the town of Cherokee. Located within the Qualla Boundary – commonly referred to as the Cherokee Indian Reservation – Cherokee is the cultural center of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Here in this nation-within-a-nation, on a remnant of their once vast homeland, about 8,000 members of the tribe live and work.

    The best place to begin exploring is at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian. The museum gives you an introduction to the Cherokee heritage, history, and culture through the use of computer generated imagery, special effects, and audiovisual shows. These elements tell the story of the Cherokee and their ancestors from 12,000 years ago through to the present day.

    One of the most enlightening places to visit and see Cherokee history come alive is at the Oconaluftee Indian Village. The village is an authentic recreation of an 18th century Cherokee Indian community. Meet tribal members and watch as they hull canoes, make pottery and baskets, shoot blowguns, and do beadwork. You can also visit the seven-sided Council House to learn how the Cherokee tribes functioned.

    Take some time to hike the stunning waterfalls of the Qualla Boundary. Five miles off Big Cove Road from Saunooke Village you’ll find Mingo Falls with its impressive 120’ cascade. Further east on US19 isSoco Falls. A short walk leads you to a viewing platform. Or you can brave the steep trek to the base where you will be rewarded with beautiful views of the double waterfall from below.

     

    Charlotte is the perfect base for day trips with kids throughout the Carolinas! Explore diverse landscapes, rich history, attractions, & temperate climate.

     

    Charlotte is the perfect base for day trips with kids throughout the Carolinas! Explore diverse landscapes, rich history, attractions, & temperate climate. Whether you’re here for a day or two, or here for much longer, there’s a wide range of activities for the whole family.

    If you enjoyed this article and want to get the scoop on day trips located less than 2 hours away from Charlotte, check out The Commoner.

     

    Loved this article? Pin it!

     

    Charlotte is the perfect base for day trips with kids throughout the Carolinas! Explore diverse landscapes, rich history, attractions, & temperate climate.

    How to Have a Terrific Time in Tampa with Kids

    Posted in Destinations by
    Looking for some family fun in Florida? Here’s how have a terrific time in Tampa with kids and how you can save some big money on your visit.

    We kicked off our summer this year with a four-week road trip south through sunny Florida and back through Georgia. Our first destination was the beautiful bay-front city of Tampa. With white sand beaches that consistently rank as some of the best in the country bordering the blue-green waters of the Gulf of Mexico you really can’t go wrong spending some time by the sea here. No matter what season it is elsewhere. But there’s so much beyond the beach that beckoned us to Tampa. From thrilling theme parks to top-notch animal attractions, amazing museums and fun places to eat we sure filled out our itinerary. Here’s what we did in Tampa with kids and how you can save some money enjoying top attractions too!

     

    Disclosure – Any and all opinions expressed are that of Mom Abroad. No compensation was received for this post. However please note that some of the links in this post are affiliate links. Meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase using the link. 

     

    Busch Gardens

     

    First up was the “Coaster Capital” of Florida, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. Our kids love a good theme park and this this place is the ultimate in family adventure! You’ll find a unique blend of thrill rides, live shows, family attractions and one of the nation’s largest zoos.


     

    Busch Gardens boasts seven word-class coasters including the newest addition, Cobra’s Curse, Florida’s first triple launch coaster Cheetah Hunt, the ferocious floorless dive coaster, Shiekra and classics like Kumba, Montu and the Scorpion.

     

    Busch Gardens Tampa Bay Shiekra- Looking for some family fun in Florida? Here’s how have a terrific time in Tampa with kids and how you can save some big money on your visit.

     

    The thrills don’t stop with the coasters. Check out Falcon’s Fury if you like drop rides like my kids and husband.

     

     

    There are also tamer, but no less fun, classics like the Ubanga Banga bumper cars and the carousel.

     

     

    And it wouldn’t be a Florida theme park without water rides! Cool down by getting soaked on the old-fashioned log flume at Stanley Falls or take on the Congo River Rapids.

     

     

    While our kids are older they would have gone giddy for the Sesame Street Safari area when they were in preschool.  With half-pint sized rides such as the Air Grover junior coaster, Elmo’s Tree House and Bert and Ernie’s water play area there’s so much to offer for the younger tykes too.

     

     

    Jungala is another awesome area for kids who aren’t quite tall enough for the big coasters. Here you can climb a three-story maze of rope bridges and nets. Soar above the treetops on Jungle Flyers, and burst into the sky on Wild Surge.

     

     

    More than 300 species of animals call Busch Gardens home including giraffes, meerkats, lions, and a hippo. We loved taking little detours between our ride adventures to check out all the animals in their state-of-the-art habitats. Their presence in the park adds so much to the atmosphere.

     

     

    Taking the old-fashioned steam train ride through the Serengeti Plain or hopping onto the Sky Ride that crosses the park are great ways to rest tired feet while taking in prime viewing of all the incredible animals.

     

     

     

    If you want to get up close and personal with the animals visit the Kangaloom where you can feed kangaroos from the palm of your hand. Or head over to Lory Landing where you can feed the colorful Lorikeets. You can also book an Edge of Africa Safaris ride for even more in-depth animal encounters for an additional cost.

     

     

    When you really need a break (or some AC) check out one of the spectacular shows. The ice-skating show “Turn It Up” is our favorite! We were blown away by the choreography and catchy tunes!

     

     

    Be sure to take in the surroundings too. It’s not called Busch GARDENS for nothing. The foliage and greenery all throughout the park are amazing and provide ample shade.

     

     

    Buy Bush Gardens Tampa Bay Tickets Online For All the Best Deals and Offers!

    You can save big by buying your tickets ahead of time on-line.

    For a limited time get your ticket online and Get FREE Dining!!

    If you’re going to do Busch Gardens plus other activities in the Tampa area consider getting a City Pass for an even bigger discount on bundled attractions. More on that in a minute!

     

     

    Look for my complete guide to Busch Gardens Tampa with kids soon!

     

    The Florida Aquarium

     

    Located on the Tampa waterfront, The Florida Aquarium is unmistakable with with it’s blue shell-shaped dome. This modern aquarium serves as a family friendly home to 200,000 breathtaking sea creatures, ranging from massive Sand Tiger Sharks to cute African Black-Footed Penguins.

     

    Florida Aquarium -Looking for some family fun in Florida? Here’s how have a terrific time in Tampa with kids and how you can save some big money on your visit.

     

    The purpose of the Florida Aquarium is to enable visitors to follow a drop of water from its first appearance in an underground spring to its arrival in the sea passing through various habitats along the way. The conditions of each habitat are recreated in various tanks throughout the aquarium.

     

     

    The impressive Coral Reefs for instance, takes visitors underwater for a panoramic view of a coral colony teeming with tropical fish.

     

     

    Each window represents a different ocean microhabitat and reflects the changes in sea-life as the depth increases or topography changes. This is remarkable for visitors to experience because it is something that is usually only seen by scuba divers.

     

     

    Speaking of scuba divers, real life divers interact with guests by playing a trivia style game game. Our kids really enjoyed being a part of the action.

     

     

    Ocean Commotion is the newest exhibit in this area and the name is spot on. Kids will love the jelly fish and and predators like the lion fish and giant octopus.

     

    Florida Aquarium -Looking for some family fun in Florida? Here’s how have a terrific time in Tampa with kids and how you can save some big money on your visit.

     

    The aquarium also features several exhibits where you can get hands-on with the sea-life. The Touch Tank is home to animals with no backbone, such as sea stars, sea cucumbers and anemones. Kids can also feel real rays and sharks at the interactive Stingray Beach and even touch a Horseshoe Crab.

     

     

    The Wetlands Trail is home to free flying birds, turtles, alligators, and huge snakes. The Roseate Spoonbills were incredibly beautiful, but our favorite was the fun-loving and feisty river otters. They moved too quickly to get great photos, but kids will love watching them play.

     

     

    Possibly the coolest, and most unique exhibit at the Florida Aquarium is the Journey to Madagascar. Here, you’ll find the cutest ring-tailed lemurs you’ve ever seen along with colorful chameleons, and other animals from the Indian River Reef. Considering that that 80% of Madagascar’s plants and animals are exclusive to that country only it’s really a rare and wonderful opportunity to get to see them this close.  Be sure to step into the tree shaped alcove for a look and listen to the hissing cockroaches.

     

     

     After exploring the exhibits inside, venture outside to see Explore-A-Shore a two-acre rain-forest themed zero-depth wet and dry play area complete with dump buckets, spray zones, flowing fountains and slippery slides. Relax and enjoy a drink at the nearby cantina bar or a snack at Café Ray while kids play next to you in the splash pad.

     

     

    If you are looking to take your adventure further sign up for one of the behind the scenes programs or take the family on a 90-minute  Wild Dolphin Cruise through Tampa Bay. Aboard the Aquarium’s Bay Spirit II you’ll experience the incredible animals that thrive in these local waters, including over 500 wild bottlenose dolphins

     

     

    Clearwater Aquarium

     

    Just a short drive from Tampa is the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. Now you might be asking, “Why visit another aquarium when we already went to the Florida Aquarium in down-town Tampa?”

     

    The Clearwater Aquarium is quite different from the Florida Aquarium in Tampa and truly pairs perfectly with the former excursion. This facility is actually a working animal hospital focused on the important ongoing work of rescue, rehabilitation and release of marine life such as dolphins, sea turtles, sharks and otters.

     

    Clearwater Aquarium -Looking for some family fun in Florida? Here’s how have a terrific time in Tampa with kids and how you can save some big money on your visit.

    Clearwater Aquarium -Looking for some family fun in Florida? Here’s how have a terrific time in Tampa with kids and how you can save some big money on your visit.

     

    The Clearwater Aquarium also happens to be home to the star and inspiration of the Dolphin Tales movies, Winter, and her pals and fellow movie stars, Hope and Nicholas.

     

    Clearwater Aquarium -Looking for some family fun in Florida? Here’s how have a terrific time in Tampa with kids and how you can save some big money on your visit.

     

    When you arrive, be sure to find out when the Daily Presentations are taking place. The schedule here is filled with fun, educational presentations about the animals and rehabilitation efforts.

     

     

    The presentations were extremely educational. The kids learned a ton about the animals, in particular the dolphin’s and Winter’s remarkable story. They even got to hold her special prosthetic tail.

     

    Clearwater Aquarium -Looking for some family fun in Florida? Here’s how have a terrific time in Tampa with kids and how you can save some big money on your visit.

     

    We were able to watch a presentation with Hope the dolphin during our visit.

     

    Clearwater Aquarium -Looking for some family fun in Florida? Here’s how have a terrific time in Tampa with kids and how you can save some big money on your visit.

     

    Helpful employees and volunteers are happy to talk about the various animals. They were so friendly to my kids, and we were able to ask lots of questions.

     

     

    Of course, Winter the dolphin is the highlight of the aquarium, and she lives with her friend Hope in a large tank that is the showcase of the aquarium. You can also meet Winter in “character” form.

     

    Clearwater Aquarium -Looking for some family fun in Florida? Here’s how have a terrific time in Tampa with kids and how you can save some big money on your visit.

    Clearwater Aquarium -Looking for some family fun in Florida? Here’s how have a terrific time in Tampa with kids and how you can save some big money on your visit.

     

    The Clearwater Marine Aquarium is also home to several rescue turtles pelicans, otters, sharks, and stingrays. There are various shows and educational talks offered throughout the day featuring each animal.

     

    Clearwater Aquarium -Looking for some family fun in Florida? Here’s how have a terrific time in Tampa with kids and how you can save some big money on your visit.

     

    In addition to the Winter and Hope dolphin interactions, we also watched a dolphin show starring Nicholas. Nicholas was found with his mom stranded on a beach. He now lives in the enclosure outside so make sure you head outdoors to see him.

     

     

    You’ll also find some fun play-scapes for the kids and set pieces from the Dolphin Tale movies, like the boat house used in the films.

     

    Clearwater Aquarium -Looking for some family fun in Florida? Here’s how have a terrific time in Tampa with kids and how you can save some big money on your visit.

    Clearwater Aquarium -Looking for some family fun in Florida? Here’s how have a terrific time in Tampa with kids and how you can save some big money on your visit.

     

    We also took advantage of adding the boat tour to our tickets at this aquarium.

     

    Clearwater Aquarium -Looking for some family fun in Florida? Here’s how have a terrific time in Tampa with kids and how you can save some big money on your visit.

     

    This was amazing! We chose the last cruise of the evening, so we could see the sunset, but we also had the treat of seeing several dolphin pods in the bay feeding.

     

     

    There was a fun trivia game as part of the cruise which really encouraged my kids to pay attention.

     

    The real star of the evening though was getting to watch the sun set over the Bay.

     

     

     

    The aquarium itself isn’t very big but it can feel crowded. I recommend planning your visit for the late afternoon or early evening. This was ideal as we felt like we had the aquarium almost to ourselves and the helpful staff both at the aquarium and on the boat took so much time to talk to us. We’ll definitely be back to check out the new additions coming soon to the Clearwater Aquarium.

     

    Clearwater Aquarium -Looking for some family fun in Florida? Here’s how have a terrific time in Tampa with kids and how you can save some big money on your visit.

     

    ZooTampa at Lowry Park

     

    Six miles north of downtown, ZooTampa brings visitors together with animals from all seven continents to create unforgettable natural connections.

     

     

    Over 2,000 animals call ZooTampa home, so everyone is sure to find their favorite.

     

    Zoo Tampa -Looking for some family fun in Florida? Here’s how have a terrific time in Tampa with kids and how you can save some big money on your visit.

    Zoo Tampa -Looking for some family fun in Florida? Here’s how have a terrific time in Tampa with kids and how you can save some big money on your visit.

    Zoo Tampa -Looking for some family fun in Florida? Here’s how have a terrific time in Tampa with kids and how you can save some big money on your visit.

    Zoo Tampa -Looking for some family fun in Florida? Here’s how have a terrific time in Tampa with kids and how you can save some big money on your visit.

     

    Ours was most definitely the new baby orangutan. Just look at that sweet face!

     

    Zoo Tampa -Looking for some family fun in Florida? Here’s how have a terrific time in Tampa with kids and how you can save some big money on your visit.

     

    Animal Experts were on hand to educate and provide all kinds of great insight about the animals including their diet and behaviors.

     

     

    It’s easy to see why Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo earns top ratings for families. There are ample opportunities for kids to have up-close animal encounters throughout the zoo with amazing species like Aldabra tortoises, greater one-horned Indian rhinos, stingrays, lorikeets and more. We got to feed a giraffe from a feeding plateau overlooking the savanna.

     

     

    We also really enjoyed the Expedition Africa safari ride that is included with your admission. This behind the scenes adventure takes your right into the heart of the animal exhibits. Just be sure to que up early in the day as the wait times can get long.

     

     

    Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo is known for having one of the most beautiful, tropical, wildlife zoological settings in the world. The landscape what really set this zoo apart for me. I loved all the beautiful big oaks with hanging Spanish moss offering shade everywhere.

     

     

    Little ones will love Wallaby Station where you can find the Tasmanian Tiger family coaster, bumper boats, a petting zoo, splash pad and  the ever-popular Jungle carousel!

     

     

    Museum of Science and Industry

    The Museum of Science and Industry, nicknamed “MOSI”, was another huge hit with our curious kids! What’s not to love? With three full floors of more than 450 hands-on exhibits it’s an imaginative scientific playground of epic proportions.

     

     

    Here kids learn about physics, optics, geology and math through doing fun things like playing a game of tug-o-war or operating a robot.

     

     

    They even get to try things that seem kind of crazy like lying on a bed of nails or touching lighting.

     

     

    Our family’s favorite was getting to experience what hurricane force winds feel like inside a simulation chamber.

     

     

    They also also got a kick out a trying on a pair of drunk driving goggles to see how alcohol consumption affects your vision and coordination. Challenging each other to a game of Mind Ball where they moved a ball with their brain waves and learning about plate tectonics by trying to build with blocks on a shaking table were also big fun!

     

     

    Connectus, the all new permanent exhibit brings you face-to-face with the future, giving access to new technologies before they are released to the public like a self-driving car.

     

     

    You can let your creativity run wild in Idea Zone, where anyone can design and engineer hands-on-projects.

     

     

    The MOSI also features the Saunder’s Planetarium where you can Discover the night sky. Outside a new 36-foot-high multilevel Sky Trail ropes course, complete with a zip line will get your adrenaline pumping! You can enjoy both these these add-on experiences for an additional fee.

     

     

    The Columbia

     

    All that exploring builds up quite an appetite! We headed to “Ybor City” for some exceptional eats. Not actually another city but part of Tampa itself Ybor (pronounced EE-bor) was once Tampa’s hand rolling cigar center and is now known as its Latin Quarter. This National Historical Landmark District is home to the oldest and largest Spanish restaurant in the United States.

     

    The Columbia Restaurant -Looking for some family fun in Florida? Here’s how have a terrific time in Tampa with kids and how you can save some big money on your visit.

     

    In operation since 1905 The Columbia Restaurant takes up an entire city block and is able to seat 1700 people! We ate in the gorgeous El Patio room but each of the 15 dining rooms are absolutely incredible!

     

    The Columbia Restaurant -Looking for some family fun in Florida? Here’s how have a terrific time in Tampa with kids and how you can save some big money on your visit.

    The Columbia Restaurant -Looking for some family fun in Florida? Here’s how have a terrific time in Tampa with kids and how you can save some big money on your visit.

    The Columbia Restaurant -Looking for some family fun in Florida? Here’s how have a terrific time in Tampa with kids and how you can save some big money on your visit.

    The Columbia Restaurant -Looking for some family fun in Florida? Here’s how have a terrific time in Tampa with kids and how you can save some big money on your visit.

     

    Being Cuban myself it was a little slice of heaven for me. Everything we ordered was phenomenal from the roasted pork, to the sweet plantains, and authentic black beans and rice. And of course the warm Cuban bread that comes with every meal was perfection.

     

    The Columbia Restaurant -Looking for some family fun in Florida? Here’s how have a terrific time in Tampa with kids and how you can save some big money on your visit.

    The Columbia Restaurant -Looking for some family fun in Florida? Here’s how have a terrific time in Tampa with kids and how you can save some big money on your visit.

     

    If there’s one thing you’ve got to try in Tampa it’s a Cuban Sandwich! Did you know that Tampa is actually the birthplace of the Cuban sandwich? There’s no better place to experience this deli delight than the historic Columbia restaurant.

     

    The Columbia Restaurant -Looking for some family fun in Florida? Here’s how have a terrific time in Tampa with kids and how you can save some big money on your visit.

     

    It was our great pleasure to get a private tour of the restaurant from one of the owners after our meal. He happened to be on hand as were were on our way out and giving our compliments. He happily spent over an hour taking us through the 15 ornate dining rooms replete with artifacts. Everything from the floor tiles to the chandeliers has a fascinating story that only added to our experience. We even toured the kitchen to see how the delicious food is made.

     

     

    I’d love to come back for dinner and catch one of the Flamenco floor shows but we made one more stop on our Cuban food adventure.

     

    La Segunda Bakery

    The soft mouth-watering Cuban bread that has been served at the Columbia Restaurant for over 100 years comes from La Segunda Bakery. We simply  had to make the short drive over to check it out for ourselves and sample their desserts.

     

    La Segunda Bakery -Looking for some family fun in Florida? Here’s how have a terrific time in Tampa with kids and how you can save some big money on your visit.

     

    The welcoming staff were happy to chat with my kids about the sweets and the history of the bakery. Try a slice of flan pudding, a senorita or my favorite, the guava pastries.

     

    La Segunda Bakery -Looking for some family fun in Florida? Here’s how have a terrific time in Tampa with kids and how you can save some big money on your visit.

     

    Saving with CityPASS

     

    The Tampa Bay area CityPASS can be a great option for saving money on attractions. With the CityPASS, you can get admission to Busch Gardens, The Florida Aquarium, Tampa´s Lowry Park Zoo, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and a choice of either the Museum of Science & Industry  or the Chihuily Collection.

    Save 51% or more on Tampa Bay’s 5 Best Attractions with CityPASS. Shop Now!

    The CityPASS booklet not only includes entrance tickets for the attractions, but also provides special discounts on the merchandising stores, or discounts on upgrades. Another added bonus is that the booklet lets you save time waiting in admission lines.

    When you add up the admission price of everything you can do with your Tampa Bay CityPASS  you save over 50% by bundling the attractions together. Basically, you pay half of what you would if you purchased tickets separately. Especially if you are traveling to Tampa with kids those savings add up quick!

    How to schedule using of the Tampa Bay CityPASS

    • Give Busch Gardens a full day. You will need it and won´t regret it.
    • The aquariums and the Museum of Science and Industry can each be done in about half a day. You can easily do one in attraction in the morning, grab some lunch (at The Columbia!) then check out another in the afternoon or evening.
    • It takes about half a day to visit Zoo Tampa. However, it involves more walking than either aquarium so you might want to allot an entire day.

     

    Have you visited Tampa with the kids before? Did I miss any must-see spots? Share your favorite family things to do in Tampa with kids in the comments!

     

    Looking for more family fun inspiration? Subscribe to Mom Abroad for more helpful travel tips! My newsletter offers a monthly dose inspiration & information for making the best memories on your next vacation. Make sure to sign up below and join us on Facebook for regular updates and related articles and on Instagram to see what we are up to in photos.


     

    Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this article, please save it to Pinterest by clicking the ‘P’ button on any image.

     

    15 Fun Things To Do In Pittsburgh With Kids

    Posted in Destinations by
    Pittsburgh has a ton to offer for families! The hardest part is deciding what to enjoy. Check out our list of 15 fun things to do in Pittsburgh with kids!

    My husband grew up on the outskirts of Pittsburgh in the sleepy suburb of Charleroi. We still have family in the area and we love to visit them as often as we can. Not only because we have wonderful relatives but because Pittsburgh is a perfect place to visit for some family fun.

    From the moment you come out of the Fort Pitt tunnel and catch sight of Pittsburgh’s spectacular skyline and mighty rivers you just know that all kinds of adventures await.

    With so many outdoor excursions and exciting attractions from amusement parks to zoos, museums and more it’s easy to too see why Pennsylvania’s second largest city has dubbed itself “Kidsburgh.”

    There’s always something new to discover each time we visit. The hardest part is deciding on what to enjoy. We’ve put together this list of the very best family-friendly attractions, so you know just what to do on your next trip to Pittsburgh with kids.

     

    Ride the Incline

     

    A great way to get a lay of the land is to hop aboard a beautifully restored cable car and take a ride on Pittsburgh’s famous funiculars to the top of Mt. Washington. Known in the Steele City simply as “inclines” there are two of Pittsburgh’s original 19 still in operation.

     

     

    Choose from the Monongahela Incline the nation’s oldest and steepest incline in operation or the Duquesne Incline offering a Welcome Center, pictorial history of the city and a look at the hoisting equipment used to scale the slopes of Mt. Washington.

     

     

    The inclines were built more than a century ago and once served as a popular mode of transportation for steel mill workers to travel down the steep hills into the city and back home again. Rescued and restored by local citizens they now operate seven days a week.

     

     

    Whether you choose to ride the Dusquene Incline or the Monogahela Incline both will treat you to spectacular sweeping views of the city. In fact, the Pittsburgh skyline was named one of “America’s Most Stunning Views” by USA Today in 2014.

     

     

    Kids of all ages will enjoy the slow ride and watching the cable cars going up and down the hill and the boats and barges that frequently travel on all three rivers. Parking is available at the lower station on Carson Street or at Station Square. The inclines are cash only, but ATMs are available inside.

     

     

    Carnegie Museum of Natural History

     

    From colossal dinosaurs to gems millions of years in the making there’s a lot to sink your teeth into at the Carnegie Museum of Natural history. This world-class museum plays a unique role in the region with educational and cultural programming and exhibitions that families love to visit together – including the world’s third-largest dinosaur repository. Our kids could have spent the entire day exploring the Dinosaurs in Their Time section alone, especially the Bone Hunter’s Quarry where they could dig up dinos just like a real paleontologist.

     

     

    Each of the Carnegie’s four floors of exhibits is filled with hands-on activities and beautiful displays. You’ll want to hit the Hillman Hall of Minerals and Gems and don’t miss the mummies in the Walton Hall of Ancient Egypt. The 1,900-square-foot Discovery Basecamp is also a huge hit with kids. This interactive learning area is designed to let you discover the wonders of the natural world through touch.

     

     

    Carnegie Museum of Art

     

    The Carnegie Museum of Art is connected to the Natural History Museum and included under the same admission ticket. You’ll quickly realize what an amazing deal this is when you step inside the expansive galleries.

     

     

    The museum features both permanent and temporary exhibits covering a broad spectrum of visual arts. With a dynamic collection of nearly 35,000 works of art there’s something to inspire everyone. You’ll find creativity around every corner as you experience paintings, sculptures, drawings, photographs, architecture, decorative arts and digital imagery.The Art museum also offers drop-in gallery activities, guided tours for families and hands-on art making for creative kids.

    We are particularly impressed by the incredible collection of French impressionist paintings. You’ll spy pieces from Monet, VanGogh, Degas and Gaugin on prominent display.

     

     

    The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh

     

    The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh offers hands-on learning and serious fun for families. When our kids were younger this was their absolute favorite spot in the city.

     

     

    What started in a historic building expanded into a massive five stories of play and learning. You’ll find an awesome MAKESHOP® filled with crafting and creating supplies, and cutting edge digital media perfect for thinking up and building exciting projects. Kids can try their hand at pottery and a variety of crafts in the Studio! You can even ink your own silk screen.

    Active kids will love the Limb Bender, a two-story climbing structure and the Garage, a massive room where you can build a car and send it down a test track, drop parachutes from the top level and slide the super spiral slide.

     

     

    The top floor features a huge water play area. Kids can throw on a smock or just get soaked while they pump and move water in all directions at the fountains, channels, dams and water tables.

     

     

    Adults may even find themselves a bit nostalgic over the areas dedicated to famous Pittsburgh native Mr. Rogers and Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. The famous, heart-warming puppets from the Neighborhood of Make Believe are part of the exhibit.

    You won’t want to miss the fun optical illusions in the Attic or the Gravity Room and the outside play area. The traveling exhibits are also spectacular!

     

     

    The Carnegie Science Center

     

    The Carnegie Science Center is another four stories of amazing hands on learning for any age. There’s is just so much to see here!

     

     

    Visit Roboworld, where you can challenge a robot to a game of basket ball or air hockey. Investigate the wonders of the human body in Bodyworks. Discover river science in H20h or view the stars in the Buhl Planetarium. You can also enjoy an educational shows or popular movies on Pittsburgh’s biggest screen at Rango’s Giant Cinema.

     

     

    Our top spot to see inside the Science Center is the renowned Miniature Railroad and Village. This full working model fills an entire large room and features dozens of Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania landmarks including the famous Fallingwater house, Forbes Field and Luna Park. Look for all the secret moving surprises and the change from day to night. Each year something fresh pieces are added so there’s always a new wee wonder to discover.

     

     

    The fun continues outside where you can dive deep into history with a tour of the USS Requin. Located outside the museum right in the Ohio river. A tour of this authentic navy submarine is included in your Science Center admission.

     

     

    Also included in your Science Center admission is access to the adjacent Highmark SportsWorks center. Here, you can climb to new heights on the ropes course and rock wall. Or challenge your kids to a sprint all while learning about the physics of sports.

     

     

    Senator John Heinz History Center

     

    The Senator John Heinz History Center, the largest museum in Pennsylvania, is also huge on family fun. With six floors of long-term and changing exhibitions, the History Center presents compelling stories about Pittsburgh’s rich tradition of innovation and connection to 250 years of America’s growth and progress.

     

     

    Artifact collections and educational programs help solidify the city’s connection with the past, present, and future, and hands-on learning is not only allowed, it’s encouraged. Fun exhibits include a toy display, original set pieces from Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, and even life-sized hometown hero displays like Rosie the Riveter. Kids will love the scavenger hunt that includes a different stamp for each floor.

     

     

    You’ll find yet another two-for-one deal here as the Heinz History Center is also home to the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum which is included in your admission. Artifacts and interactive activities celebrate the legendary moments and players that have been a part of Pittsburgh.

     

     

    Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium

    The Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium is one of only six major zoo and aquarium combinations in the United States making it yet another two-for-one deal and awesome destination for family fun! The 77 acre zoo is laid out in an easy-to-tour circular path. This is great because it enables you to see the over 2,000 animals that call the Pittsburgh Zoo home very easily. From anteaters to zebras everyone is sure to find their favorite.


     

    If you are visiting in the summer we suggest heading into the zoo section first and then heading to the aquarium later in the day when its hotter. You can also cool off in the fun misting fountains outside. The kids loved the ray touch tank and the shark tunnel but their favorite has to be the playful penguins who can be seen splashing around in and out of the water in their exhibit.

     

     

    Don’t miss Kid’s Kingdom and Discovery Pavilion.  Here kids can take a break from viewing the animals and climb on the climbing structures, slide down slides, ride on a scooter, and enjoy some interactive fun.

     

     

    Fort Pitt Museum and Block House

     

    Step back in time to Pittsburgh’s birthplace at the Fort Pitt Museum and discover the world-shaping events that took place in this part of Pennsylvania. The museum explores the history of the region from 1754 through the present including Pittsburgh’s role in the French & Indian War and the American Revolution.

     

     

    Kids will love the challenging scavenger hunt and costumed characters on hand to answer questions and engage in living history lessons. Our crew enjoyed playing period games and learning how to fire a canon from the museum’s artillerist.

     

     

    The Blockhouse outside the museum is the only surviving structure of the original Fort Pitt and the city’s oldest building. Admission is free and open to the public year-round. It’s a quick in and out for families that want to learn a little more about the city and its pivotal role.

     

     

    The museum and Block House are both located in Point State Park. Take some time to stroll the park grounds. Don’t miss the giant fountain where you can catch a view of where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers converge to make the Ohio River. It’s a great place to just slow down and take in the city or enjoy a picnic.

     

     

    Visit Kennywood Amusement Park 

     

    Fifteen minutes from downtown Pittsburgh you’ll find Kennywood, one of the oldest amusement parks in America. Designated a National Historic Landmark this famous institution combines nostalgic charm with modern thrills and kid-friendly classics.

     

     

    Featuring 31 rides that go from mild to wild you’re certain to find something for everyone to enjoy. Little ones will love Kiddieland while brave big kids and adults alike will enjoy the park’s six coasters. Our crew was crazy about the historic wooden coasters the Jack Rabbit, the Racers and the thrilling Thunderbolt. Phantom’s Revenge is another must-do for anyone who enjoys coasters.

     

     

    Noah’s Ark an old-school walk-through attraction that recently celebrated its 80th anniversary is also must-do experience, even if just once.

     

     

    You can bring your own food into the park but be sure to try The Potato Patch that serves fresh cut fries with an assortment of toppings….bacon, cheese or gravy!! You also won’t want to miss the ice-cream dipped in chocolate and covered with nuts, sprinkles or both!

     

     

    Primanti Brothers

     

    When it comes to Pittsburgh eateries none are more famous than Primanti Brothers. This chain of sandwich shops began in the Strip District in the 1930s. Originally a wooden lunch stand serving huge, hearty sandwiches to Depression-era truckers pulling up to the loading docks across the street Joe Primanti’s sandwiches became famous in part because they are so unusual.

     

     

    Each sandwich comes topped with coleslaw, and French fries –something you’d typically see as side items. These toppings are wedged between two thick slices of Italian bread, along with tomatoes, provolone and a meat of your choosing. They deliver it wrapped in paper and it is definitely a two-handed meal.

     

     

    We recommend going for the “Pittsburgher” for the fully iconic experience. Our kids also enjoy the small man fries.

     

     

    With several locations throughout the city it is easy to add a visit to Primanti Brothers into your plans. If you can though try and visit the original location. A colorful mural of notable Pittsburghers hangs along one wall and is something of a landmark itself.

     

     

    Gateway Clipper

     

    Pittsburgh is known as the City of Bridges and the best way to see them is by boat. The Gateway Clipper Fleet offers several kid-friendly cruise option aboard the old-fashioned paddle boat style ships. Choose from the Ice-Cream Sunday, Galactic Battle Cruise, Good Ship Lollipop Cruise, Princess Cruise, Superhero Cruise, Pirate Dinner Feast or you can simply select a Three River Sightseeing cruise. You really can’t go wrong with any of their excursions.

     

     

    The hour-long narrated sightseeing cruises offer exceptional views of Pittsburgh from the Alleghany, Monongahela and Ohio Rivers while giving you all kinds of interesting insight into the city the water surrounds.

    There is seating both indoors and on the open-air top-deck but we like to sit outside on the covered patio in the shade. Snacks are available on board, or at the snack bar at the dock.

     

     

    Pittsburgh Pirates Baseball Game

     

    No matter where you go in the City of Champions you’ll find Pittsburghers proudly waving banners and wearing black and gold the colors of the three major professional teams. The Steelers, Pirates, and Penguins offer so many opportunities to catch a major league game. All are great but there’s nothing quite like a baseball game at PNC Park.

     

     

    The classic-style ballpark sits right on the river and every seat has an amazing view of the city skyline. If you visit on a Friday you’ll get a free T-shirt just for being there! We also suggest that you spring for the All you can eat seats! This special section in the park gets you all the food and drink you could want from the concessions. Perfect for kids to chow down on hotdogs, hamburgers, popcorn, peanuts and ice-cream while rooting for the Buccos!

     

     

    We recommend parking at the Ft. Duquesne and Sixth Street garage and walking across the Roberto Clemente bridge to PNC Park.

     

     

    Just Ducky Tours

     

    Another awesome option if you want to change up your view of the city is to climb aboard Just Ducky Tours.  We’ve enjoyed these iconic tours in several cities across the world and they don’t disappoint but Pittsburgh’s prime position at the convergence of three rivers is particularly ideal for this type of tour.

     

     

    The fully-guided adventure starts with an entertaining drive through Pittsburgh’s vibrant downtown. You’ll learn interesting facts and quirky trivia about the important buildings and historic sites as you pass them.

     

     

    But that’s not all! Once the tour of the city by land is over, then it is time to venture into the water. No need to disembark to board a boat! The WWII amphibious vehicle becomes the boat in a matter of minutes. You’ll cruise the serene waters and greet friendly Pittsburgh neighbors with a quack, quack, quack.

     

     

    The height of excitement for the kids is getting a chance to drive the duck boat! This is a fun and unique way for the entire family to enjoy a guided tour of the city.

     


    Hofbrauhaus

     

     If you have never visited a Hofbrauhaus then we highly recommend having dinner at the one in Pittsburgh. Modeled after it’s impressive namesake in Munich it will make you feel like you are experiencing a bit of Europe right in the Steel City.

     

     

    Not only is the German food and beer there delicious, but you can’t beat the waterside views from the restaurant’s bier garten deck and the lively atmosphere.

    The large communal tables inside are perfect for families and the generous appetizers are made for sharing. Our kids loved the giant pretzels and potato pancakes with applesauce.

     

     

    Hofbrauhaus also features a fabulous children’s menu that includes a Kinder Schnitzel- perfect for easing the kids away from the chicken fingers and fries towards some more traditional German food.

    Us adults enjoyed the selection of four freshly brewed biers that Hofbrauhaus offers year-round, along with the seasonal selection. There’s nothing like a huge mug of Sommer Weizen at the end of a hot July day!

     

     

    The Strip District

     

    Located just outside of downtown along the banks of the Allegheny river is the Strip District. Home to a large assortment of international grocery stores, and retailers, eclectic shops and cafes. We always make sure to stop here whenever we are visiting Pittsburgh for great food and shopping.

     

     

    Although we have visited many times it seems that every time we walk down Penn Avenue we discover a new business worth exploring. Even so, our kids have a few hard-core favorites. We can’t miss a visit to Grandpa Joe’s Candy Shop where they carry every kind of sugary candy you can imagine. Our kids love to fill a box to the brim from a huge selection on the walls for just $5.

     

     

    Another fun stop is Yinzers. The perfect place to pick up some Pittsburgh paraphernalia. They have all the Steelers, Penguins and Pirates black and gold gear one could ever want. There are tons of other fun souvenir shops that line the main street. If your family wants to take a piece of Pittsburgh home with you these shops are where to do it.

     

     

    Want to know how you can visit many of these amazing attractions in Pittsburgh for FREE? Check out my Secret to Saving Money at Museums, Zoos and Aquariums across the U.S. and abroad.

     

    Looking for more family fun inspiration? Subscribe to Mom Abroad for more helpful travel tips! My newsletter offers a monthly dose inspiration & information for making the best memories on your next vacation. Make sure to sign up below and say hello on Instagram or Facebook!


    Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this article, please save it to Pinterest by clicking the ‘P’ button on any image.

     

    Pittsburgh has a ton to offer for families! The hardest part is deciding what to enjoy. Check out our list of 15 fun things to do in Pittsburgh with kids!

    How to Pack Like a Pro for Your Family Vacation

    All the best tips and tricks to help you pack like a pro for your family vacation. Learn how to avoid common planning pitfalls methodically manage the mounds of clothes, eliminate the extras, and save space in your suitcase…along with your sanity!

    We just returned from a four week road trip. I love going on these trips with the kids. It’s a time when we all take a step away from our everyday lives, disconnect a bit, and really enjoy our time together.

    Let’s be honest though…Vacations as a parent are a LOT different than the restful trips I remember having in our pre-parenthood days. With the addition of each child comes more clothes, toys, electronics, and the need for new packing strategies. As a parent you’ve got to have a plan in place. There are things you will need to do before you go, things you will have to pack in your suitcase, and things you will need on the plane or on the road to make your trip as stress free as can be.

    I’ve picked up quite a lot of useful tricks over the years and gone through a lot of trial and error till we reached a fantastic flow to our travels. I’ve created this thorough guide to help you avoid common planning pitfalls and pack like a pro. These tips and tricks will help you methodically manage the mounds of clothes, eliminate the extras, and save space in your suitcase…along with your sanity!

    Disclosure – Any and all opinions expressed are that of Mom Abroad. No compensation was received for this post. However please note that some of the links in this post are affiliate links. Meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase using the link. 

     

     

    First Things First, Make a List

     

    Before heading anywhere, do yourself a favor and take the time to actually sit down and think about your trip. Start by checking the weather. This will largely dictate what items you should pack and prevent you from packing non-essentials. Just remember that blazing hot destinations can get chilly at night.

    Make note of how many days you’ll be traveling and nights you’ll be sleeping away from home. Consider how you will be spending your vacation and what activities you will be doing. How often will you change locations? Visualize the different scenarios you’ll be dressing for. Planes rides, hikes, theme parks, days at the beach, to get an idea of what you realistically need.

    You want to take as little as you can get by with but also enough to have the comforts and conveniences that are unique to your family culture.

    Once you’ve thought about what you will be doing and for how long it’s time to make an actual list. Write out every item you want to include in your suitcase from clothes to toiletry items, accessories to electronics. I like to keep a running list on my phone. I start with a basic template as a starting point and then add items particular to our travel destination. Then, I make a second copy that I call the “elimination” list and erase items as I pack them. I use the original at the end of our trip to make sure I’ve re-packed everything.

    The earlier you can start making your list the better! That way, if you need to purchase something in preparation, you’ll have enough time to do so! As I begin to gather items I like to lay everything out on a cleared floor space or on my dining room table. Its nice to use it for something other than Thanksgiving!

     

    Roll Clothes Instead of Folding Them

    Now it’s time to rock and roll with your packing. Literally! Fold your clothes long-ways, then starting at one edge, tightly roll the item like a burrito. Pants, shirts, dresses, skirts, even underwear! You will be amazed how much this step will maximize space and minimize wrinkling.

     

     

    Use Packing Cubes!

     

    Next up is the pièce de ré·sis·tance in the pro packer’s arsenal…Packing Cubes!

    What is a packing cube you ask? Why only the most magical invention for family packing ever!

    You know that struggle you have to get your over stuffed suitcase to close? How about when your sweet daughter messes up all your neat piles rummaging through the suitcase to find her nightgown? Packing cubes solve both these problems and more!

    These soft, rectangular, zippered bags essentially turn your suitcase into a dresser with little removable “drawers” of clothes arranged by outfit or type. The cubes are thin enough that they don’t take up any room, but still allow you to contain each set of “rolled” clothes in an ideal fashion.

    Their modular make up optimizes space and makes them easy to stack and arrange in your suitcase. You will be AMAZED at how much each packing cube can hold and keep together especially when you use the clothes rolling method.

     

     

    Packing cubes also easy to unpack as they’re easily transferred from suitcase to dresser – ideal for multi-destination trips. You simply pull out your “drawer” when you need it at your destination and your items are all still organized into a consolidated space. They are also great to throw in actual drawers in a hotel room or ship cabin but more on that later.

    Packing cubes come in a variety of sizes and colors. My favorites come with a mesh or clear side allowing you to have a peek inside without having to open it.

    I am telling you, these things are life-changing. They completely revolutionized the way we pack. If you take one thing away from this post let it be USE PACKING CUBES!

    Now, not all packing cubes are created equal so here are a few of my favorites…

     

     

    Let’s talk more about exactly how to pack these cubes…

     

    Rather than putting all the same types of garments in the same cube put together an outfit for each person in your family and then place your rolled outfit sets into the cubes.

    It may sound a little counter-intuitive at first and even a bit over the top. But this tactic is particularly perfect when it comes to getting great coordinated photos on your family vacation. You can read more about this and all my tips for better vacation photos HERE. This method also makes it super easy to get your family ready and out the door adventuring and even switching gears to another activity later in the day.

    For example, if you are headed out on a cruise and will need two sets of clothes for one day pack all your casual outfits for your shore excursion together in one cube and your dressier clothes for dinner that night in another. Think about how easy it will be when you return from your day of adventuring to get ready for a nice dinner when everything is already together and ready for you.

    It’s tempting to overpack as you envision spills and no access to a washing machine. However, I find that we are so busy when traveling that we rarely have a chance to change out of our pre-planned outfits unless there is a major mess. I pack one outfit per person for each day or activity and a couple spare sets for spills or unexpected weather changes.

    Another tip if you have older kids like me is to let them have input on the outfits BEFORE you pack the cube. That way what they pre-picked and want to wear is already ready to go.

     

     

    Putting it all in the suitcase

     

    I like to pack the medium sized cubes vertically with each cube standing on its side with the handle on the top. This allows you to maximize space even further without things spilling out the sides. With the largest size cubes, I like to lay them horizontally and stack them.

    It’s kind of like putting together a puzzle. Try not to leave too much extra space as you don’t want your perfectly packed cubes to move around and get wrinkled or even damaged. If you have a lot of spare space, place your packing cubes at the bottom near the wheels, and make use of a built-in elastic suitcase strap, to minimize movement. The flipside of this advice is that if you’re planning a shopping spree or bringing home a few souvenirs, leave enough room for those.

     

     

    Undergarments

     

    While I highly recommend packing your tops and bottoms by day I pack our undergarments and pajamas separated by person. This makes it easy for my kids to grab what they need at the end of the day as they shower and get ready for bed. This is the perfect use for smaller sized packing cubes.

    Also note that while it’s important to pack enough underwear for each day plus extra you don’t need a lot of pajamas. I only pack one pair for every 3 nights.

     

     

    Swim Suits

     

    For swim suits I use yet another packing method. I again group by family sets with coordinated colors in mind and then put the sets in vacuum seal plastic bags. The spandex material in swim suits means they don’t wrinkle at all and the plastic bags are great to use for wet bathing suits and towels especially if you go swimming on the last day of your vacation and your items don’t have time to dry. These plastic bags prevent wet items, possibly doused in chlorine from mixing with your other laundry.

     

     

    Socks and Shoes

     

    Shoes touch the ground and can just be messy, so I like to keep them in their own section or even their own suitcase entirely. Plastic shower caps are a great way to keep your shoes from touching other items in your suitcase. I even use them when packing all our shoes in their own bag as they do such a good job of keeping shoes together and organized. I find the more I stay ahead of my kids in the chaos the better.

    Try to limit your shoes to your favorite well-broken in pairs. There’s nothing that will ruin a vacation day like having to listen to your kids whine about blisters. Pick shoes that are versatile, comfortable and can be dressed up or down. That way, you will be prepared for anything your vacation can throw at you, including a night on the town or a morning on the treadmill. Teva sandals are some of my favorites for travel! You can fill shoe cavities with socks to save space and to help the shoes keep their shape.

     

     

    Choose the Right Luggage

     

    Don’t waste your weight limits on a heavy suitcase. Check the weight before you buy and try to select something that is lightweight. I avoid extra bells and whistles that weigh down the bag like a fancy built in power bank and focus instead on something that rolls easily.

    The easier a suitcase is to roll the easier it is to be maneuvered by your young travelers. Our kids have a much easier time managing suitcases that have four rolling wheels than the kind that tilt and only have two. Our American Tourister by Samsonite suitcases we gifted our kids for Christmas have been amazing for travel and the bright fun colors make them a cinch to spot on the baggage carousel.

    Bottom line to remember when it comes to luggage is that a better-quality suitcase will work out cheaper in the long run.

     

     

     

    Road Trip Tips

     

    If you will be renting a vehicle carefully check the size of your car before booking. If you’ve planned well, you should know how many suitcases and bags you’ll have. Good car rental sites will tell you how many suitcases will fit in the trunk. Saving a few dollars with the smallest possible car, might become problematic when all five of your suitcases don’t fit. If it’s only a few dollars extra to upgrade to a larger size vehicle, your peace of mind is worth it.

     

     

    When traveling on multi stop road trips pack all the clothes you need for one destination in the same suitcase together. Again, this is where packing by day instead of clothing type with your cubes comes in handy. This allows you to leave the unused bags in your vehicle making it easier to get in and out of hotels. I keep in mind which suitcases I need as I load our vehicle placing the suitcases I won’t need in first toward the back. I swap them around as we move from one location to another.

    You’ll also want to put together a kit of things to keep your kids entertained on the road such as travel games, mad libs and workbooks.  I like to use collapsible car storage organizers to keep everything organized and easily accessible.

     

     

    Flying

     

    If you will be traveling by plane split your clothing packed cubes up between checked suitcases. This works as a sort of insurance in case one suitcase gets lost by the airline.

    Speaking of airlines…Make sure to check airline weight limits before you pack your suitcase. Some discount airlines have very strict carry-on weight and size limits (these vary by airline). Often a personal item (like purse or small laptop bag) is acceptable in addition to your regular carry-on luggage. But be careful to check if the carry-on weight limits cover individual items or combined.

    Make sure to weigh your suitcase BEFORE heading to the airport. We use a portable luggage scale so there are no surprises at the airport. They are small and easy to store in your suitcase or carry-on. Make sure to aim for a few pounds lighter than your baggage allowance as most scales at airports are skewed around 3-5% heavier than hand-held luggage scales.

    If you do run into an issue with an overweight bag your packing cubes can save the day here again as all you have to do is remove one (hopefully only one) from the overweight suitcase and place it in another. You can even just use the packing cube handle to carry it on as a “personal” item and even make it do double duty as a pillow –might as well!

    Make use of the built-in lock if your suitcase features one, otherwise buy a travel-friendly padlock that is TSA approved. If you use a non-TSA compliant lock, you might find it cut or broken when you pick up your suitcase from the carousel.

     

     

    Unpacking

     

    Once you arrive at your destination remove the packing cubes from your luggage and place them in your hotel room or cabin’s dresser drawers. That’s yet another nice aspect of the packing cubes….no refolding or resorting. It’s all done.

    Your suitcase will then be empty and ready for dirty laundry. Don’t just dump all your dirty laundry back into the suitcase though. We use a portable pop up hamper to contain the clothes. Just as they would at home I have my kids sort their clothes by color. Once the hamper gets full transfer the clothes to plastic space bags and suck it all down to save space that can be used for souvenirs. Now when you get home all you have to do is unseal the bag and dump the contents directly into your washing machine.

     

     

    Personal Bags

     

    While I recommend communal packing for most items, everyone in our family also gets a personal bag that they keep with them on road trips and plane rides.

    For us adults, we use this bag for valuables and essentials such as medications and important documents and electronics like our laptop, cameras and chargers. We use a lap top bag that has multiple compartments for keeping everything organized and tidy and a camera and drone back pack especially designed to keep all my equipment safe.  I like to keep important documents easily accessible, so we don’t hold up lines while digging in our bag. It’s also a good idea to keep a copy of passport and travel insurance documents in your checked-in luggage. You should also email a copy to yourself so you will have copies in case the originals are stolen or lost.

    Our kids use their back packs to store things they need to keep them entertained while traveling. This includes books, magazines, their tablets, travel games and playing cards. These book bags also double as our day bags when we reach our destination.

    I also make sure to always pack spare underwear and a toothbrush in our carry-ons.

     

    Planning a trip to Universal Orlando Resort? Here are our 29 tips and insider tricks help you avoid crowds, save money and make the absolute most of your Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure and Volcano Bay vacation.

     

    Toiletries

     

    I like to pack toiletries in their own small suitcase along with other personal care items. I use a hanging shoe organizer to hold all of our toiletries. Once it is ready to pack I fold it accordion style and drop it into the suitcase. When we arrive at our destination all I have to do is hang it from the hooks on a door. Everything is easy to access and stays super organized!

    To keep items from leaking in transit add a layer of plastic wrap over the opening before replacing the lid. This reduces the chance of leaks and explosions caused by air pressure changes in an airplane cargo hold or from being smooshed and jostled in your trunk on road trips. In order to save plastic and time, just wrap the neck of the bottle underneath the screw top. If you are using your own travel-sized bottles only fill them three quarters full. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

     

     

     

    Medications

     

    I keep a bag of medications in our toiletry suitcase.  This bag has Benadryl, Tylenol, anti-diarrhea meds, anti-itch cream, Band-Aids, Neosporin, Lysol wipes and antacids. Basically a mini-CVS in our suitcase. Life happens, and you don’t want to be making a run to the drug store at 2 AM when your kid can’t sleep due to bug bites.

    To cut down on space remove medications from their box and cut the part of the packaging out that shows the active ingredients and dosing information and put it into a snack size Ziploc bag. This makes it easily identifiable, reduces bulk and lightens your load at the same time.

     

     

    Accessories

     

    There’s nothing like accessories to take an outfit from good to great, so don’t leave them behind when you go away. But remember, you don’t need your whole jewelry box. Choose a few fun pieces that make a splash but that you wouldn’t be broken up over losing. To keep your jewelry from getting tangled place it between two sheets of Glad Press’n Seal wrap or use a roll up organizer. I love these inexpensive bags that I can hang in our hotel bathroom or closet. Hanging organizers are also perfect for my girl’s hair accessories.

    Another tip is to nest hats and purses inside of one another to save space and help them keep their shape. I put my smallest bag, usually a fanny pack, inside a versatile purse and then put that inside of a bigger pool/beach bag.

     

     

     

    Snacks

     

    For some reason, kids get ten times hungrier while traveling than when they are at home. You are going to want to pack snacks. Then when you think you have enough, PACK MORE SNACKS. You can’t really over-do it when it comes to munchies. Especially since it’s loads cheaper to stock up at a your local supermarket than it is to have to buy snacks with inflated prices at gas stations or in a vacation town. Stock up before the trip and you’ll be extremely thankful you did!

    If you are road tripping pack snacks in a plastic container and place it somewhere easily accessible in your vehicle. Brining your own dry snacks on the plane will also save you money on over-priced airline food and give you the flexibility to choose healthier options like protein bars and dried fruit.

     

     

    If You Can Buy It, Don’t Pack It

     

    Obviously, I’m talking within reason. I’m not suggesting you buy a whole new wardrobe at your destination. However if you can buy a huge pack of diapers and baby formula when you land, take as much as you’ll need for your travel day (plus a little extra) and pick-up the rest when you arrive at the local market.

    Ask yourself if the hassle of bringing an item with you is worth the savings. Case and point here for me is our beach chairs and umbrella. I used to load them up for our beach vacations and we would lug them down to the beach and rinse them off after. The we would have to carry them back to our hotel room where they would need to dry before reloading. Then we just started paying the $25 to rent two beach chairs and an umbrella at our hotel. Totally worth it! Think about what makes sense for you to leave behind and just rent or purchase at your destination.

     

    Pack an Extra Suitcase

     

    If you know you’ll be bringing home a lot of souvenirs, pack an extra suitcase. Simply pack your clothes in a smaller suitcase then put that smaller suitcase inside of a bigger suitcase. When you arrive, you’ll have a whole empty suitcase to fill with your purchases. Alternatively you can pack a collapsible duffle bag.

     

     

    Now you should be ready to pack like a pro for your next family adventure.

     

    Let me know below if you’ve got any awesome tips that I’ve missed! I’m always down to learn new tips and tricks for travel!

     

     

    Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this article, please save it to Pinterest by clicking the ‘P’ button on any image.

     

    Subscribing via email is the best way to get helpful travel tips from Mom Abroad. My newsletter offers a monthly dose inspiration & information for making the best memories on your next vacation. Make sure to sign up below and say hello on Instagram or Facebook!


    18 Summers — That’s All We Get

    Posted in Reflections by
    18 summers. That's all we get. Make them count.

    Every night before bed lately I look at our summer itinerary. Dreaming of our upcoming vacation time is, quite honestly, what’s motivating me through the gauntlet that is most of May.

    I am traveling solo with the kids on a four-week road trip south this summer. We’ll come home for a week and head out on another road trip north (this time with Dad too) and eventually back south again in August.

    I am excited to just get be with my kids again. No homework. No projects. No activities. No lunches to pack. No carpool.

    Don’t get me wrong. I love my kid’s school. I love their activities. I could not adore and appreciate the amazing people who pour into my kid’s lives more. I am just really looking forward to getting out of the hustle and bustle of our routine (which feels especially frenetic at the end of the school year) and back to a place where we have more TIME to just enjoy each other. Where I don’t have to share my kids with anyone.

    Summer has become this season that I hold sacred with them. Aside from one truly special week of sleep-away camp it’s just me and them, making memories.

    My kids are all at this amazing point where they can do so many things. They can ride the big roller coasters. They can dine at fancy restaurants. They can swim, and zip line and hike and read books and watch movies I actually find interesting. They can handle long road trips. They truly enjoy museums. They don’t need diaper changes or naps. Okay, sometimes they do need naps. But the point is they are *big*. And capable. And smart. And so much fun.

    I feel this sort of consciousness of how fleeting and precious this period is. They will continue to grow at this break neck speed and once these years are gone, they will be gone forever and irretrievable. I’ll blink and they’ll be spending their summer as a foreign exchange student in Spain or working to save money for a car.

    18 summers. That’s all we get as a family. Over half of them are gone. Maybe more.

    And so I’ve had the overwhelming desire to spend as much time with them as I can. Because I can. I realize it’s a privilege and one I am grateful for.

    So even when my mid-section may look like I just delivered them yesterday, I’ll put on the bathing suit and throw diving rings until dark. I’ll let them stay up and catch lightning bugs. I’ll pay $5 for an ice cream cone, even though I could buy a gallon at the store for that much. I’ll ride their favorite ride one more time with them. Because before I know it we’ll be back in the thick of another school year and that much closer to them being grown and gone.

    18 summers. That’s all we get. Make them count.

     

    Disclosure – Any and all opinions expressed are that of Mom Abroad. No compensation was received for this post. However please note that some of the links in this post are affiliate links. Meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase using the link. 

    Looking to make some amazing memories this summer with your kids? Check out the Busch Gardens FUN CARD!

     

    Subscribing via email is the best way to get helpful travel tips from Mom Abroad. My newsletter offers a monthly dose inspiration & information for making the best memories on your next vacation. Make sure to sign up below and say hello on Instagram or Facebook!


    22 Tips to Help You Get the Best Vacation Photos

    Whether you are snapping travel pics with your phone or a fancy camera, these 22 tips will help you improve your travel photography so that you get the best vacation photos every single time. #travelphotographytips #familytraveltips #travelphotography #photography #photographytips #familytravel #familyvacation #travel #traveltips #vacationphotoinspiration

    Family vacations are all about making memories. You want to be able to preserve those memories forever in photos that really capture your time together and the adventures you had. Photos have a way of bringing us back to those times together like nothing else. Fortunately, it’s easier than ever to get amazing images with just a little know-how and some good equipment.

    After years of family travel and working as a professional photographer there are a few skills that I’ve picked up for taking awesome family travel photos. I’ve created a list of easy photography tips to help you get the best shots from your family trips too. My tips are not hard or technical, but simple suggestions that can help even the most haphazard shutterbug take better photos with minimal effort. Here are the things to you need to know to get the best family vacation photos.

     

     

    Disclosure – Any and all opinions expressed are that of Mom Abroad. No compensation was received for this post. However please note that some of the links in this post are affiliate links. Meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase using the link. 

     

     

    1. Get Fancy

    Phone cameras have come a long way and I certainly love the dual cameras on my iPhone 10 but if you want to up your photography game, step one should be to upgrade your equipment. This doesn’t mean you necessarily need to go directly to an expensive dSLR and 10 different lenses.  If you’re currently using your phone camera, a good starting point would be investing in a mirrorless camera.  They are smaller than a traditional dSLR and therefore easier to carry around and are usually significantly cheaper, so you can worry less about them while traveling.

    I actually had an expensive SLR and opted to trade it out for a mirrorless SLR several years ago and will never go back. I shoot with a Sony Alpha 6000. The mirrorless system means it is smaller and lighter while the interchangeable lenses give me all the versatility of large SLRs with almost limitless functionality and features. I love pairing my Sony Alpha with fast prime lens. This makes it absolutely amazing in low light in places you may find yourself like a dimly lit restaurant with a moving kid…

     

     

    If you don’t have a “real” camera and you prefer to use your phone instead, that’s a-okay. You can apply the rest of my tips with your phone’s camera too.

     

     

    2. Get Packing

    Regardless of which camera you choose, I would suggest getting in the habit of taking it everywhere.  I have never once regretted having my camera with me but can name countless times I’ve regretted leaving it behind. You don’t need a whole arsenal of accessories and lenses, but you do want to have your camera on hand. Keeping your camera in your purse or in a back-pack that’s always with you will ensure that you never miss an opportunity to capture precious memories. And don’t forget to bring a back-up battery and memory card!

     

    3. Get Familiar

    No matter which route you go with your camera you’ll get the most out of it by getting familiar with all its features. You definitely don’t need to be a pro, but you need to know how to change the aperture and shutter speed (if this option is available) or the scene setting (for point and shoot cameras). If you are like me and not keen on reading a manual, YouTube offers endless tutorial options for just about any popular camera model.

     

     

    4. Get Rid of Cheese (and Say this Instead)

    This sounds ridiculous but my number one tip for getting more natural smiles from your family is to have them say, “Thursday” instead of the traditional “Cheese”. When someone says “cheese” their mouth stretches unnaturally and their jaw clenches. It looks awful! When you say something that ends in an “ay” sound it causes you to make a more genuine smile. Somehow, we settled on “Thursday”. We’ve never had a picture where we’ve said this and had anybody not smiling or with a forced smile. It’s such a simple trick that works with any age. Try it right now: say “Thursday!!” and just feel your features lift and the twinkle in your eye. Okay, maybe not that last bit, but give it a try anyway.

     

     

    5. Get Some Perspective

    Most of the time, we shoot from our normal eye-level vantage point because it’s the easiest and most obvious. It’s also the most boring. I’m not saying you should abandon a straight forward shot completely, but if it’s the only way you ever shoot, try experimenting with a few different perspectives.

    Often times getting low is the way to go. Especially when getting photos of kids. Shooting from the height they are playing at brings you into their world. It can add dimension and interest to landscapes too making you feel like you are a part of the image rather than looking into it. It’s much more visually appealing.

     

     

    On the flip side taking an image from above can be equally interesting. Drones offer a really cool way to capture a totally different perspective on your family vacation. Plus, they are super fun to fly!! We love our Mavic Pro by DJI that folds down compact and is easy to use. Check out this deal for up to $150 off DJI drones!

     

     

    DJI Mavic Pro-Fly For Miles, From Your Pocket.

     

    While people are the most important part of your family vacation photos don’t forget to capture the often-overlooked details. Go ahead and grab a shot of your child’s toes in the sand or those colorful bowls in the marketplace. You might have a tendency to shoot from wherever you are at the moment but getting close images can help bring the story of your family’s adventures to life, especially when paired with photos of the entire scene.

     

     

    6. Get Lit

    Good light is essential for fabulous photos! The first couple hours after sunrise and the last couple hours before sunset are known by photographers as “The Golden Hour”. This is an ideal time to shoot landscapes, cityscapes, portraits, and just about anything as it paints everything with a soft, almost ethereal light. It also happens to be a great time to avoid crowds.

     

     

     

    Of course this does not mean that I suggest you only shoot during the early morning and late afternoon hours.  Shoot all day and all night but pay attention to where your light is coming from and how to work around it. Seek open shade or diffuse the sunlight through tree branches, windows, behind buildings, etc.On the technical end you can manipulate how much light you let into your camera by controlling the aperture and the shutter-speed. Many cameras will also allow you to compensate the exposure up or down.

    Generally, you want to have the light behind the photographer so that it hits your subjects evenly but there are some situations where it can be awesome to totally flip the rules and shoot into the light. That’s how you capture stunning silhouettes. Just remember to make the sun work for you rather than vice versa and don’t be afraid to move people and items around a bit for better natural light.

     

     

     

    7. Get Inspired

    Before you head out on vacation do some research on what your destination has to offer. I like to specifically do an image search to see what types of shots really grab my attention. My favorite tools to use for this are Pinterest, Instagram and Google image search. Pinterest and Instagram can especially be a gold mine for beautiful photo ideas and locations since they are image heavy platforms. You can easily save your findings in both the platforms too! I save images right to my phone’s camera roll, so I have them as a reference when I’m out capturing my own images.

     

    There is so much magic at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando, Florida that can easily be missed if you don’t know where and what to look for. Here are 30 thing not to miss at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter including hidden gems and top tips for planning your trip.

     

    8. Get in the Picture

    This goes out to all the Moms and Dads who do the bulk of the family photography! Make sure YOU are in some vacation photos. When your kids are all grown up and looking at old vacation photos, you want them to know you were right there in the action also. Embrace the selfie! Selfies get a bad rap, but they have a way of bringing you into the moment too and offer a fun perspective.

     

     

    Don’t be shy about asking a stranger to take a photo of you with your group. They are probably on vacation too and happy to help out! And don’t be afraid to check the photo and ask for a repeat if feet get cut-off. This goes back to being familiar with your camera. The more you know about it the easier it will be to tell someone else how to capture a great image for you. Make sure to offer to reciprocate for them as well!

     

     

    I also love to utilize photo pass type programs at theme parks and resorts. This is a great way to get photos of your whole family from someone who is generally pretty experienced and in all the best pre-planned places to catch the action. Often you can get a deal when purchasing all your photos from a visit instead of just an individual shot. I try to let the Photographer know that we’ve purchased a pass and would like to have several photos taken. The photo pass system was how we captured so may shots on our trip to the Riviera Maya…

     

     

    Another great way to make sure you get in some shots is to get your kids involved. Hand over the camera and let them be the photographer. You may be amazed at what they capture from their perspective!

     

     

    9. Get Candid

    This is another big one for parents so listen carefully. It is okay, and in many cases preferable, to get photos of your family NOT looking at the camera. Trust me. Telling a genuine story of your kid’s childhood definitely includes them NOT starring into your camera. No fake smiles or stiff poses. You want images that capture real experiences and authentic emotions. One of the best things about cameras today is that you can shoot continuously with basically no lag time, allowing you to capture candid moments more easily. The end result are more natural images.

    If you own more than one lens don’t be afraid to go “long”. Choose a lens anywhere from 85 -210 mm and just stand take a step back and let the moments happen without you near or even noticing that they are being photographed at all. I took these shots from my beach chair while my daughter enjoyed the ocean with my long lens

     

     

    Even in the typically posed shots you can make things interesting just by being willing get a little silly.

     

     

    10. Get into Position

    While candid photos are my favorite, it’s also totally okay to coach your kids along to great images. I know it seems like I’m contradicting myself here, but, let’s get real. Kids can be ALL OVER the place ALL the time! So occasionally I will say, “Hey, guys, run out into those waves together or “Let’s see how high you can jump!” This way kids are still doing their kid thing, but I am ready and waiting to get a great shot. Another tip to be poised for just the right action shots is to get a bit ahead of your family and then capture them coming towards you.

     

     

    11. Get Away from Using Flash

    Ninety-nine percent of the time I prefer to shoot without flash. Sometimes it’s necessary but I always prefer to use natural light. When shooting at night good gear makes all the difference. Opt for a fast lens that lets in a lot of light. A wider opening in the lens, i.e. the aperture makes it easier to capture great images in low light.

     

     

    If you only have an iPhone (like the image below was taken with), try to stabilize it as much as possible, so it has a better chance of picking up light. If nothing else, try to find any light around — like a street light or a window— and position it so it falls directly on your subjects. A lot of time the light you do get without a flash can be much more interesting.

     

     

    12. Get Up Early

     

    This may seem like a crazy tip for a family vacation but if you want truly stunning photos (and some pretty amazing lighting), make sure to rise early to beat the crowds. Especially if you’re going to a tourist hot spot (like the Wizarding World of  Harry Potter at Universal Orlando pictured below)– –the earlier you arrive, the more likely you are to get a picture without hundreds of other people crowding the photo. Plus, you’ll avoid the harsh sunlight that usually starts to hit around late morning and early afternoon.

     

     

    13. Get Wide

    If getting your crew up early just really isn’t your thing, consider a wide-angle lens. People have often remarked on how un-crowded our vacation photos are. While we do try to travel in off seasons my secret to cutting other vacationers out of my images really lies in using a wide-angle lens. I’ve come to find that time and time again, the wide angle makes photos look way more interesting because it allows for extra detail in the photo that is normally cut off of the sides. It captures what your eye sees plus the periphery.

    This gives your images some context. Instead of having a bunch of close-ups of your child’s face and looking at it years later and wondering where that was taken, remember to step back and capture your surroundings too.

    Just remember that when photographing people though with a wide-angle lens keep them towards the center of the shot so they don’t get distorted.

     

     

    14. Get Snapping

    One of the many benefits of taking photos with digital cameras is the ability to take a ton of photos in succession. The more images you have the more likely you are to capture some that are truly spectacular. One tip for capturing the perfect frame is to use a burst mode or continuous shooting.  Sometimes it takes a lot of shots to get just what you were looking for. A combination of patience and lots of attempts will often land you the most spectacular images.

     

     

    15. Get Wet

    Gone are the days of buying disposable underwater cameras from the local drug store. Now, there’s a ton of gear out there to help you take really awesome photos underwater. We like the Olympus Tough and the Go Pro lines. I also recommend purchasing a floating wrist strap. That way you never have worry about your camera sinking if you accidentally let go.

     

     

     

    This is another situation where its fun to hand the camera over to your kids and see what they capture.

     

     

    16. Get Steady

    Tripods are especially great for indoor situations where keeping your camera stead is key. You can use a slower shutter speed to let in more light while the tripod keeps the camera from moving and making the image blurry. If you don’t have a tripod, you can balance your camera or phone on a flat surface, like a table, to keep it steady. Or find something nearby that can be used to steady your camera. Here I made use of pillar to prop my camera on while getting photos at Universal.

     

     

    Table top tripods are a great compact option as well as flexible tripods like the gorilla-pod. Gorilla pods have magnetic articulating legs that can be twisted to grip in place just about anywhere. I love this because you can get unique shots that most people don’t even think about taking.

    If you are using your iPhone camera make use of the volume button instead of tapping your screen to reduce camera shake in your shot.

     

     

    17. Get Comfortable

     

    If you’re using a camera with interchangeable lenses, pick a few favorite lens and get comfortable with them.

    My favorite focal lengths are my 35 mm f1.8 and 28 mm f2 and my 16 mm 1.4 for wide angle shots. Prime lenses are lenses that have a fixed focal length and don’t zoom in and out. I personally feel like the image quality is clearer, but of course there is always a give and take with whatever lens you choose. The trade-off with prime lenses is that you have to do all the zooming with your feet. That means moving closer or further away to frame your images.

    On the flip side a lens that covers the wide to mid-range zoom can be really convenient. Try to look for one that is fast and has built in stabilization. A really great way to find out if a lens is right for you is to take it for a test drive by renting it. I use Lens Rental to get a feel for a lens before deciding to purchase it.

     

     

    18. Get Control

     

    If you can shoot in a manual mode, go for it! Leveling up to manual mode gives you the greatest control over your images. The next best thing, and a great step on the way to manual shooting is to choose a partial manual mode. My favorite of these is aperture priority. This means I can control how narrow the aperture is while the camera will decide what the shutter speed should be. It’s a great mode for capturing that shallow depth of field. That buttery smooth background blur is called “bokeh” and it’s controlled by your f stop. I’m a big fan of staying as low as possible with your f stop. It will help you capture the tiny details leaving extraneous information out of the frame wile drawing the eye in.

     

     

    19. Get Composed

     

    Great photos start with great composition. This begins, basically enough, by deciding exactly what you are taking a picture of. The human eye can only take in so much information at a time. The more you are able to “guide” the eye through your photo, the better.

    The simplest thing you can do when it comes to composition is to apply the “Rule of Thirds”. This super simple design common concept makes photos more balanced and interesting.

    Imagine placing a three-by-three tic-tac-toe type grid over your photo that divides your image into nine equal parts by two equally-spaced horizontal lines and two equally-spaced vertical lines. The dividing lines and spots where they cross are where a viewer’s eye is drawn. Important composition elements should be placed along the dividing lines or their intersections. Essentially you want to place your focus on either line of the outer divides isolating the subject in the left or right third of the frame (or top and/or bottom third). This weighting of the image will give it dimension, interest, and appeal. To easily apply this technique to your photo, turn on your camera’s grid feature if you have it.

     

     

    There is one exception to the Rule of Thirds, and that’s when you are composing a shot to purposefully be symmetrical. A shot where everything is symmetrical in the frame can also have a powerful effect. It adds stability to photographs and can give your compositions a sense of calm, peace, and is just all around aesthetically pleasing.

     

     

    Another easy thing you can do to improve your family vacation photography is ensuring you compose a shot for leading lines. Try to use natural features like roads, fences, shadows and even the curve of a hat to draw the viewer into your scene. To be most effective, you should try to create your overall composition so that the lines appear to be moving in or out of a corner(s) of the image. …

     

     

    Finally, “framing” is an important part of composition too. We all know that a frame is something that goes around a picture. Framing in composition is something that frames your main subject to call even more attention to it. This is probably one of the easier composition techniques in photography. Framing brings more depth to the picture and a better focus on what the main subject is. Plus – it’s a great way to highlight something that is always photographed; it brings a new perspective and interest to the subject.

     

     

    20. Get Colorful

    While you want to make sure you are doing everything you can behind the camera to get great photo you also should consider how what your family wears factors into the images too. The colors you wear should compliment one another and the background. I love to the way bright coordinated colors can pop and really add a sense of fun to family vacation photos.

     

     

    21. Get Editing

    I don’t have much time to mess around with editing. I’d rather get a great shot right out of my camera than have to go back and make changes. I’m also not a big fan of photos that don’t really represent the colors, and sights as they actually were. Sometimes however,  a little editing really works wonders for a photo. Brightening the shadows or increasing the color saturation are among the minor teaks that can make all the difference in taking a photo from drab to fab.

    Just be sure not to go overboard. The trick to maintaining the integrity of your photo is to not filter and edit them too heavily. Over-editing can have the opposite effect you want and potentially ruin your photos.  Instead of using filters which tend to compromise quality, try the more manual route by tweaking brightness, contrast, temperature, etc. Sometimes all it takes is just removing some shadows (like I did with the photo below) or bringing out some colors to make an image pop. Remember you want your images to accurately convey the memories you are capturing

    Just starting out I recommend finding a simple program that’s easy to understand and intuitive. I use a few different applications, but I am a big fan of Pic Monkey for beginners. Not only can you edit images and back them up on-line you can create collages and all sorts of other design templates with your images.

     

    Also, while a lot of professional photographers will shoot in a raw photo format, you really don’t have to. It takes up a ton less storage space to work with JPEGs and is perfectly fine for non-professional photography.

     

     

    22. Get Going

    You don’t just pick up a camera and become a great photographer overnight.  It takes months, years, even decades, and even still you’ll always have more to learn. The more you practice the better you will become, I promise.  The same goes for editing.  I look back on old photos of mine that I want to shake my head at, as I’m sure I will also do with my current photos one year from now, but they serve as a pleasant reminder that if you’re passionate about something and you put your heart into it you can do anything you want.

    As with any skill, the more you keep at it, the faster you’ll improve. Practice taking photos as much as you can! You’ll eventually start to learn and see what works vs. what doesn’t. And don’t get hard on yourself at first–the skill will develop the more you work on it!

    So, who’s ready to take awesome photos on your next family vacation? Even if you apply just one of these tips to your next trip you’ll be on your way to getting better images.

     

    What other travel photography tips would you add to this list? Got any travel photography questions that I can help with? Want any feedback or tips on your travel photos? Drop me a line below and be sure to connect with Mom Abroad on Facebook.

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    All the Best Universal Orlando Food and Drinks

    From serene sit-down restaurants to quick grab and go snack carts Universal Orlando Resort offers up the some of the tastiest, most iconic and deliciously daring eats you’ll ever experience. Don’t plan your next trip to Universal Orlando Resort without checking out this list of the best beverages, sweet treats, quick eats and full-service favorites.

    Universal Orlando Resort is the ultimate in family fun…and food! We’re not just talking your standard theme park grub like hot dogs, burgers, and fries. Sure, you can find that fare but with over 50 dining locations from serene sit-down restaurants to quick grab and go snack carts Universal also offers up the some of the tastiest, most iconic and deliciously daring eats you’ll ever experience.

    Don’t plan your next trip to Universal Orlando Resort without checking out this list of the best beverages, sweet treats, quick eats and full-service favorites.

    These delectable dishes are scattered throughout Universal Orlando, Universal Islands of Adventure, the new water park, Volcano Bay and that sensational strip in between the parks known as CityWalk.

    Just remember that calories don’t count on vacation!

    Disclosure – Any and all opinions expressed are that of Mom Abroad. No compensation was received for this post. However please note that some of the links in this post are affiliate links. Meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase using the link. 

    Beverages

     

     

    Butterbeer, Butterbeer and more Butterbeer! –Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade

     

    We begin with Butterbeer because it is our absolute favorite flavor at Universal. Quite possibly anywhere! If you only allow yourself one indulgence you simply must savor some of this sweet, refreshing, frothy, golden-goodness that can only be found within the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Thankfully there are several options for where to nab some. You’ll find the shortest lines for libations at The Fountain or Fair Fortune and the Hopping Pot in Diagon Alley and at The Hogs Head in Hogsmeade.

     

     

    Butterbeer is offered in a cold variety which is a very tasty carbonated bit of yumminess as well as a frothy frozen version. A warm version of Butterbeer is also available seasonally. Frozen is our favorite but we recommend trying them all. Don’t let the “beer” aspect throw you. Just like “root beer” there isn’t anything alcoholic about it so its perfect for witches and wizards of any age. Indeed, no trip to the Universal parks is complete without at least one cup of this heavenly drink.

     

     

    Pumpkin Juice –Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley

     

    Butterbeer isn’t the only beverage beloved in the Wizarding World. Pumpkin Juice was a favorite of Hogwarts students and is now available for you to try too. A combination of pineapple and apple juices mixed with pumpkin spice flavoring, it tastes like fall in a bottle. You can find bottled pumpkin juice at several refreshment carts, in gift shops such as Honeydukes or on tap at the Leaky Cauldron.

     

     

    There’s also a carbonated version called “Pumpkin Fizz” available at the Three Broomsticks. It is slightly less sweet but very refreshing.

     

     

    Pick Your Potion — Eternelle’s Elixir of Refreshment

     

    Stop by Eternelle’s Elixir of Refreshment stand and mix your very own potion using “Gilly Water” and the additive of your choice. Choose from Fire Protection Potion, Babbling Beverage, Elixir to Induce Euphoria, and Draught of Peace. While the potions don’t fizz or bubble as one might hope, they still offer a fun way to mix up a flavored beverage that tastes pretty similar to Powerade. The tiny potion bottles make great souvenirs.

     

    Flaming Moe — Flaming Moe’s

     

    One of the most unique beverages you can try at Universal Orlando is the Flaming Moe. This non-alcoholic mocktail was inspired by an episode from the long-running animated series, The Simpsons. It can be found in the Springfield Fast Food Boulevard section of the parks. The fruity orange soda type drink is tasty to be sure, but its real appeal is that it’s actually flaming…or to be more accurate “smoking”. Each drink comes with a bit of dry ice separated by a grate built into the souvenir cup allowing the beverage to bubble, fizz, and release puffs of smoke.

     

     

    Fishy Green Ale — The Fountain of Fair Fortune

     

    So now you’ve heard of Butterbeer and Pumpkin Juice but there is yet another beverage that can’t be missed in Diagon Alley. The Fishy Green Ale is a delightful mash-up of mint and cinnamon complete with blueberry-flavored boba “fish eggs” at the bottom. I realize that all sounds a bit odd but it’s actually quite amazing.

     

     

    Moose Juice and Goose Juice — Seuss Landing

     

    Inspired by Dr. Seuss’s Sleep Book, you can enjoy a refreshing slushy drink in several fun flavors at Moose Juice Goose Juice is Suess Landing. The green option tastes like tangy sour apple and the orange is unsurprisingly, orangey. The best part is that if you have the Universal refillable cup this treat is included as a beverage option.

     

     

    Sweet Treats

     

    Giant Pink Donut — Lard Lad Donuts

     

    Every trip we make to Universal Orlando must include at least one giant pink-frosted Lard Lad donut. Located in the Simpsons-themed Springfield portion of the parks, this sweet treat is not only iconic it’s also quite yummy! Soft and fluffy with the perfect proportion of frosting and sprinkles it’s easy to see why this is Homer Simpsons favorite snack and why Universal sells upwards of 50 dozen of them per day. One donut is big enough to share among our family of five making it the best deal in the parks for a treat at around $6.

     

     

    Brain Freezing D’oh-nut Sundae

     

    If that wasn’t enough to satisfy your sweet tooth you can up the ante with a Brain Freezin’ D’oh-nut Sundae. A sprinkled, pink-frosted donut is sliced in half and filled with vanilla or chocolate ice cream and your choice of topping including caramel, hot fudge, rainbow sprinkles, chocolate sprinkles, peanuts, Reese’s Pieces, and Oreo cookie crumbles.

     

     

    Chocolate Chili Ice Cream — Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour

     

    Fight off the Florida heat with a cool treat from Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlour. Located in the heart of Diagon Alley, here you can try fun flavors like Earl Grey Tea, Lavender, Apple Crumble, Salted Caramel Blondie or even Butterbeer ice cream! Creamy soft-serve ice cream, plus ribbons of golden Butterbeer? Yes, please.

     

     

    What really knocked our muggle socks off though was the Chocolate Chili ice cream. I say that as someone who doesn’t really like chocolate (I know, I know what’s wrong with me?) or particularly spicy food. Imagine our surprise then when we were all blown away by this flavor. It goes down smooth and creamy and then seconds later the magic happens as your mouth feels wonderfully warm from the heat of the “chili”. Just trust me and try it!

     

     

    Tip: No samples are allowed at Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlor so be ready with that in mind.

     

    Massive Milkshakes — Toothsome Chocolate Emporium

     

    Toothsome Chocolate Emporium and Savory Feast Kitchen is City Walk’s newest full-service restaurant. With an over-the-top 19th century steam-punk meets Willy Wonka theme this eatery offers everything from classic dishes like steak and burgers to unique brunch offerings which are served all day.

     

     

    It’s the delectable desserts here are what really take the cake (see what I did there?). Especially the massive milkshakes which come topped with treats like full-size slices of cake, brownie, mounds of whip cream and sprinkles, strawberries or even a whole chocolate covered banana depending on which flavor you choose. The hardest part will be deciding what to get.

     

     

    Tip: There is a separate dessert line on the left side of the building for those just wanting to satisfy their sweet tooth. Otherwise I’d highly recommend dining here at an “off” hour. We’ve always had good luck going around 4PM.

     

     

    Maple Bacon Bar — Voodoo Doughnuts

     

    Because a steam punk themed chocolate factory just wasn’t quirky enough CityWalk’s newest eatery to open is Voodoo doughnuts. The over-the-top doughnut shop is a fast-growing West Coast chain, making its very first appearance east of the Mississippi at CityWalk Orlando.

     

    Nobody does eccentric doughnuts like Voodoo. Their selections come covered in Tang, frosted with grape dust, flavored with Butterfingers, or with various childhood favorite breakfast cereals. We enjoy get the Fryer Flight, so we can try a little bit of everything. My personal favorite flavor is their Maple Bacon Bar, but my kids are crazy for the Voodoo doll signature doughnut.

     

     

    Minions Candy Apple — Studios Sweets

     

    The confection counter at Studio Sweets is an array of tempting choices. I’m always drawn to the selection of Minions themed treats. Minions candy apples, Minions S’mores, Minions cupcakes…you can’t go wrong with any of them.

     

     

    Pumpkin Pasty — Sugar Plums

     

    Pumpkin pie is one of my all time favorite foods and not just at Thanksgiving. Imagine a hand held version of that pie with a flaky crust and perfect pumpkin filling. I’d say that’s magic indeed! I always grab at least one of these perfect pastries from Sugar Plums in Diagon Alley but they can also be found at Honeydukes in Hogsmeade.

     

     

    Chocolate Frogs — Honeydukes

     

    This colorful candy store inside Hogsmeade is the place to satisfy your sweet tooth. Its not just your typical candy store though. Here you can find all the candy featured in the Harry Potter books and then some. Our favorites include the chocolate frog –a solid hunk of milk chocolate in the form of a frog. It comes housed in a pretty pentagon-shaped box and includes a wizard collector’s card.

     

     

    Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans — Honeydukes

     

    Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans are another must try treat. Though some beans offer more of a trick than a treat.  Billed as a “risk with every mouthful, “these beans can range in flavors from chocolate and peppermint to dirty socks and liver! It’s a remarkably fun experience to see which way it will go. And yes vomit-flavored beans really do taste like vomit. But your kids will love them. In fact, my kids love everything inside Honeydukes. Something about the intoxicating smells of chocolate and colorful candy enchants them into spending some of their souvenir money. And why not? It’s vacation!

     

     

    Cotton Candy — Honk Honkers

     

    Walking into Seuss Landing in Universal’s Islands of Adventure is like stepping into one of your favorite childhood storybooks. Throughout this section of the park you can find some wonderfully whimsical treats to eat. Our favorite is the cotton candy from Honk Honkers. Each treat here is made to order so be prepared to wait while your sugary goodness is spun into a candy cloud of massive proportion. You can even add toppings like sprinkles or attached it to a lolli-pop “unicorn” base.

     


    Quick Service Eats

     

     

    English Breakfast — The Leaky Cauldron

     

    This traditional British pub located in Diagon Alley is the quintessential dining experience for any Harry Potter fan. On offer are cottage pie, fish and chips, bangers and mash, Scotch eggs, and a great children’s menu full of kid favorites like mac and cheese. The sticky toffee pudding is also a winner as it tastes almost like a cake version of Butterbeer.

     

     

    What many don’t know is that the Leaky Cauldron is also a great place to grab breakfast. For a fully immersive experience we recommend getting the full English Breakfast. Having lived in the U.K. ourselves this gets high marks for authenticity and taste.

     

     

    Chicken and Waffles — Cletus’ Chicken Shack

     

    Fast Food Boulevard is also the home of several Simpsons themed quick service restaurants inspired by the eateries of Springfield. The cafeteria style food court includes Krusty Burger, The Frying Dutchman, Flaming Moe’s, Cletus’ Chicken Shack, Luigi’s Pizza, and Lisa’s Teahouse of Horror. We can’t resist the Chicken and Waffles from Cletus’. Double battered, extra crispy fried chicken breast between two golden waffles and drizzled with maple syrup mayo and a side of tater tots. Mmmm.

     

     

    Mucho Macho Nachos — Bumblebee Man Taco Truck

     

    ¡Ay yi yi! Another surprising Simpson’s area favorite is the Bumblebee Man Taco truck. All three soft-shell taco choices are as delicious as they are different. The carne asada taco, made with grilled skirt steak with shredded lettuce, guacamole, and salsa is our top choice for a traditional taco but the Korean Beef Tacos topped with zesty cucumber radish slaw are also amazing! For a shareable snack for the family we love to dig into the mucho macho nachos.

     

     

    Turkey Legs — Thunder Falls Terrace

     

    What kid, or kid at heart, doesn’t want to walk around the Jurassic Park area posing with animatronic dinosaurs while eating a giant hunk of meat? It simply must be done! These ridiculously large portions of protein can be found at Thunder Falls Terrace.

     

     

    With ample indoor seating this venue is a great place to take a break while watching the big splash down from the River Adventure ride from a safe and dry distance.

     

     

    The Great Feast — Three Broomsticks

     

    Looking to feed your crew a hearty meal in Hogsmeade? Step inside the rustic-looking Three Broomsticks Pub and order “The Great Feast”. Meant to feed your whole family, The Great Feast is actually a great value for the money. It includes a large salad as well as a platter of char-grilled ribs, smoked chicken, corn on the cob, roasted potatoes and vegetables. Wash it down with one of the beers brewed special for Universal Orlando that can be found in the adjacent “Hogs Head” bar section of the restaurant.

     

     

    Jerk Shrimp Mac and Cheese — Whakawaiwai Eats

     

    This savory and satisfying Jerk Shrimp Mac and Cheese has to be Volcano Bay’s finest culinary masterpiece. Seasoned with mouth-watering Jamaican jerk-spiced, pan-seared shrimp and tossed with pasta shells in a creamy, white cheddar cheese sauce. It’s so good, you might be tempted to just dive in and devour the whole thing yourself, but the huge portion is more than enough to share.

     

     

    Personalized Pizza — Red Oven Pizza Bakery

     

    Red Oven Pizza Bakery is nothing like what you would expect from theme park pizza. The Neapolitan-style, thin-crust pizzas feature top-notch ingredients, from the hand tossed dough made fresh in the open kitchen to a wide array of fresh toppings to choose from. Select classics such as Margherita and Bianca or personalize your pie and watch as its put together before your eyes.  You can enjoy your meal on the go with a convenient take-out window, or sit down and relax in a covered, outdoor seating area.

     

     

    Other Quick Eats with Atmosphere…

     

    If you’re dining with a non-adventurous eater and looking for more traditional park cuisine like basic burgers and chicken nuggets we would recommend a venues that at least comes with a side of atmosphere. We enjoy Mel’s Drive-In with it’s 1960’s juke-box joint theme and Louie’s Italian restaurant based on the neighborhood restaurant in The Godfather. Another favorite is the Monster’s Café which features Universal’s classic monsters such as the Mummy and Frankenstein.

     

     

     

    Full Service Dining

     

     

    Bento Box Burgushi — Cow Fish

     

    Cow Fish is one of our all-time favorite family restaurants. We happen to have one of the only other locations in our home town of Charlotte so we already have access to the awesomeness that is Burgushi and yet our kids request to eat here every time we are in Orlando. The appropriately named fusion restaurant brings together fresh sushi and inventive burgers for a menu that will knock your socks off. We love to grab at least one Bento Box for a little taste of everything.  It includes a mini-burger along with your choice of sushi roll and three tasty side items! Even the kid’s meals come in these fun Bento boxes complete with the cutest rice krispy roll topped with Swedish Fish “sashimi” style.

     

     

    Elotes — Antojitos Authentic Mexican Food

     

    Antohitos is another one of our favorite City Walk restaurants. The classic menu is based on the cantinas and markets around Mexico City. Using the freshest ingredients and serving their foods marinated, roasted or grilled to perfection you really can’t go wrong with any of the menu items.

     

     

    We love the steaming fresh fajitas and Mexican street corn called “Elotes”. Add in the entertainment from a live mariachi band serenading you through dinner and a fresh blood orange margarita and it doesn’t get any better!

     

     

    Shrimp! — Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.

     

    Another good option in CityWalk is Bubba Gump, especially if you are a fan of the 1994 movie Forrest Gump from which the restaurant gets its inspiration. Unsurprisingly you can enjoy shrimp served in just about every way possible as well as southern and Cajun-centric cuisine. We suggest Lt. Dan’s Drunken Shrimp. And be sure to brush up on your Forrest Gump trivia before you go!

     

     

    Lobster Roll — Lombard’s Seafood Grille

    For a fresh catch inside the parks head to Lombard’s Seafood Grille in the San Francisco section of Universal Studios. The park’s most upscale eatery serves a variety of fried seafood, salads, burgers, and an awesome lobster roll. Sometimes they even offer a prix fixe menu that includes a front row seat for the evening lagoon show.

     

     

     

    Jumbo Combo — Hard Rock Café

     

    The World’s largest Hard Rock café remains a solid choice for families looking for something to satisfy everyone. You’ll find salads, sandwiches, nachos, wings and ten different burgers to choose from. We like to split the the Jumbo Combo of all the best appetizers as we take in the huge collection of music memorabilia and rock out to classic tunes.

     

     

    Fresh Made Pasta — Vivo Italian Kitchen

     

    Vivo is an Italian restaurant with excellent service offering up a menu of authentic tried and true classics in a modern setting. Although its located in the heart of CityWalk Vivo definitely doesn’t have the feel of a theme park restaurant. Which can be a welcomed change of pace. Our favorite aspect is the open kitchen that allows guests to watch as chefs prepare fresh sauces, pizza and bread before your eyes as well fresh pasta by hand.

     

     

     

    Whether it’s a sundae made from donuts, a perfect pumpkin pasty or bento box filled with inventive burgushi, there are endless opportunities to delight and surprise your taste buds on your next Universal Orlando vacation. Dig in and enjoy!

     

    For more help with planning your Universal vacation be sure to check out all my best insider tips and tricks for Universal Orlando and my guide to 30 Things you won’t want to miss in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter full fun pictures and hidden gems.

    And make sure to save on your Universal park tickets with this awesome deal from Best of Orlando! 5 Days for the Price of 3!


    Universal Orlando Ticket Discounts!

    Have you been to Universal Studios Orlando? Is there anything else we sure be sure to try next time we are in town? Share your thoughts, opinions and favorite foods below.

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    From serene sit-down restaurants to quick grab and go snack carts Universal Orlando Resort offers up the some of the tastiest, most iconic and deliciously daring eats you’ll ever experience. Don’t plan your next trip to Universal Orlando Resort without checking out this list of the best beverages, sweet treats, quick eats and full-service favorites.

    From serene sit-down restaurants to quick grab and go snack carts Universal Orlando Resort offers up the some of the tastiest, most iconic and deliciously daring eats you’ll ever experience. Don’t plan your next trip to Universal Orlando Resort without checking out this list of the best beverages, sweet treats, quick eats and full-service favorites.

     

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