Thursday, January 31, 2013

5 FREE Things To Do In The Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge Area

The Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge area is chock full of activities and fun family adventures. The good news is that there are quite a few FREE places to check out. I have highlighted 5 below.

1) The Smoky Mountains National Park- Duh!! This beautiful expanse of park providing the scenic backdrop for the area seems like a no-brainer, but quite a few visitors to the area never step foot in the actual park. We took a narrated tour in to the park and our guide told us that it is approximated that half of all visitors to the area don't actually go to the national park. Cades Cove, Clingman's Dome and Sugarlands Visitor Center are just a few of the highlights to visit while in the park.

2) Visit The Christmas Place in Pigeon Forge. This mega-store features anything and everything Christmas. The kids will love perusing the many displays and enjoying the Christmas spirit all year long. Across the street, The Inn at Christmas Place is a Christmas-themed hotel that is also fun to explore to check out the displays.

3) Stroll the streets of Gatlinburg. Taking a walk down the quaint streets of Gatlinburg is great for people-watching and checking out the fun trinket shops and candy-making stores. Head on over to the riverwalk along the Little Pigeon River, right off the main drag in Gatlinburg. A little quieter stroll and lovely scenery.

4)  Old Mill/Patriot's Park. The Old Mill Shopping District features the Old Mill itself, which sits along the Little Pigeon River,and some cute shops including the Old Mill's general store. I enjoy the restaurant at The Old Mill, although this is not free, it is definitely tasty. Walking around the grounds is free, but if you want to take a tour of the inside of the mill, there is a small fee.  Patriot Park is next to the Mill and is a nice park featuring displays pertaining to American heritage and patriotism. It was a perfect place to let the kids run off some energy.

5) Drive the Arts and Craft Loop. This loop has a plethora of handmade arts and crafts from local artisans. Take the loop and check out painting, pottery, wood crafts, leather crafting, candles, glass-blowing, basket weaving, quilting and more. There is no fee to just take the loop and stop to watch the artisans at work; however, if you don't wish to drive it yourself, there are trolleys available for a nominal fee that will take you along the loop.

The Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge area has so many fun family activities- many of which are free or very budget-friendly. Take some time to check them out on your next trip to the Smokies.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Louisville Slugger Museum

A unique and fun place to visit in Louisville is The Louisville Slugger Museum. See 125 years of bat-making history by touring the "bat-making" production line and exhibits. Kids, adults and baseball fans alike will find a fun baseball and historical experience. Take a picture with the World's Biggest Bat, try out the batting cage using replica bats used by legends Babe Ruth and Ted Williams, or enjoy the baseball-themed 13-minute film, "The Heart of the Game." Kids will love playing on the glove sculpture and baseball fans won't want to miss the museum gallery exhibits. After the guided factory tour, everyone will receive a FREE miniature Louisville Slugger bat

This is a fun and exciting destination in the Louisville area and one the whole family can enjoy.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Enjoy A Zoo Visit: St Louis Zoo

One of my favorite vacation activities is to visit different zoos around the country. Most areas that you might be visiting will have a zoo within a comfortable driving distance and it is a good activity, particularly when traveling with young kids. Educational, fun and an ideal way to get outside and move around.

I have been to the St. Louis Zoo several times and have always enjoyed it. Located in the famous Forest Park of St. Louis and with 19,000 animals and 655 species, it is no wonder that there are 3 million visitors a year to this zoo. The best part about this zoo is that it is FREE to enter. You can visit 6 "zoo zones" and see animals from every continent, including one of the nicest penguin/puffin exhibits I have seen at any zoo. For an additional cost, there is a separate children's area, 4-D movie, railroad, carousel and sea lion show. We have a membership at another zoo, which has reciprocal benefits with the St. Louis Zoo. While the zoo itself is free, you can receive discounts on the paid attractions with reciprocal memberships.
Parking is a bit hefty if you want to park in the zoo parking lot, but if you arrive early, there is close parking that can be obtained for free.

A visit to this zoo is a definite must for a trip to St. Louis!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

One Of A Kind Museum: National Museum of the US Air Force

If you are traveling through Ohio, particularly across Interstate 70, schedule a stop at the world's largest military aviation museum, The National Museum of the US Air Force. I have made dozens of trips over the years and my kids enjoy visiting and seeing all of the planes. More than 350 airplanes and missiles are displayed in exhibits exploring the beginnings of air travel with the Wright Brothers to World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam War, Cold War and Space Exploration Gallery. There are also special displays depicting artifacts from the Holocaust and the Bob Hope Tours to entertain the troops. If the weather is nice, a trip outside to see the outdoor Memorial Park and Air Park is a must.

One of the best parts of visiting the museum, is the chance to tour the Presidential Gallery, which houses the Air Force One that was in service for many Presidents, including the plane that escorted the body of John F. Kennedy following his assassination. There are many other Presidential aircraft on display as well. Here's your chance to stand on the steps of Air Force One and give your best presidential wave! This special gallery is accessible by shuttle from the main museum and adults will have to provide an ID in order to travel to that part of the base.

A trip to this museum will take several hours to tour and it is completely FREE to enter. The only charge comes if you wish to view an IMAX film. I highly encourage a stop at this one-of-a-kind museum!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Great 1-Night Trips: Indianapolis

Indianapolis is such a great city! The destinations in this 1-night stay work really well together because both are incredibly kid-friendly and one is mainly an outside attraction while the other is strictly inside so you can plan according to the weather.

The Indianapolis Children’s Museum is one of the nation’s top tourist draws and the world’s largest children’s museum. For those of you that have never been, it is huge and the kids will LOVE it! We spent at least 4 hours there and could have spent more time. From the fantastic dinosaur exhibit to the train exhibit, indoor carousel, toddler/preschooler play area and special touring exhibits, there is definitely something for everyone. They also have a cafeteria on the premises so you don’t have to leave for lunch. If you have kids, make sure you visit this great museum.

Conner Prairie is such a terrific place to visit and learn about early American history in a fun and interactive way. It is one of the nation’s largest outdoor living history museums and really brings history to life with costumed historical interpreters playing the part of their time periods. From the Indian encampment to the Prairetown,animal encounters, working farm and dedicated kids’ discovery areas, Conner Prairie will provide the whole family with hours of activities. My kids loved the old-fashioned dress-up play area and the Indian encampment the most, but my daughter was also enthralled with all of the baby animals in the farm area (we were last there in the spring and the baby animals were plentiful).

Indianapolis has a lot to offer in the way of hotel accommodations. I would recommend checking out the Caribean Cove Hotel and Waterpark. While we have not stayed there, I know that they offer special deals for some of the Indianapolis attractions.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Christmas Light Extravaganza

Christmas light displays can be so much fun for the whole family to enjoy. What a wonderful time for the family to appreciate Christmas together and make memories for years to come.There are several around the southwestern Ohio area that are great for adults and kids alike.While I have focused on several of these events, you can use the Christmas light finder website to find local displays in your area.

I really enjoy Woodland Lights. The lighted path, rides, reindeer,carriage rides and visits with Santa add to the Christmas spirit, plus it is reasonably priced.

Clifton Mills is another beautiful light display and while a little more expensive, it truly is unique with a dancing light show synchronized to music. They also have a miniature village and Santa museum.

Whispering Christmas in Eaton, Ohio is yet another option for Christmas lights and the good news is that it is free. Go to the link below and it should be mentioned as you scroll down to the December events.

Of course, there is always the Cincinnati Zoo Festival of Lights. It is a very beautiful display; however, it can also be very crowded, particularly on the weekends. If you can arrive earlier in the afternoon and enjoy the animals while already being in the zoo before it gets dark, your chances of encountering less crowd and stress will be greatly reduced!

The Christmas Ranch near Cincinnati was featured on Good Morning America and HGTV. Visit the website for more details on all they have to offer.

In Sharonville (near Cincinnati), you can enjoy a drive-thru display at The Holiday In Lights at Sharon Woods. There is also a Santaland where you can venture out of your car and enjoy some Christmas festivities.

Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park also hosts a beautiful lights display. You will be amazed at the 2 million lights used to make hundreds of light displays.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

5 Things: Must-See Attractions at Disney's Animal Kingdom

If you are visiting Disney World, each park has some must-see attractions that should not be missed. My kids love the Animal Kingdom at Disney World and I have listed our top 5 rides/shows that you will not want to miss. Some people do not have an entire day to devote to each park, and if you only have a small amount of time or are there on a extremely crowded day, hitting a few of the highlights will make your time seem very well-spent.

1) Kilimanjaroo Safari Expeditions-
Ride jeeps into the African savanna for some real-life encounters with animals such as lions, giraffes, rhinos, zebras and the list goes on. It is a wonderful attraction with such attention to every detail and probably the closest that most of us will ever be to a real African safari.
There are fast passes for this ride and I recommend getting one upon arrival if the lines are already getting long.

2) Festival of the Lion King-
A 30-minute Broadway-style musical show based on the music and characters from The Lion King. Even though it is 30 minutes in length, the action and colors will definitely keep the attention of younger children. My kids really enjoyed this show and asked to go back and see it again. 

3) Expedition Everest-
Cleverly themed Mt. Everest-inspired high-speed roller coaster with a fun twist: an encounter with a very realistic Yeti. This ride is not for young children or those who do not enjoy high-intensity rides; however, for thrill seekers, this is a must.
Fast passes are available and I highly encourage getting one early in the day. 

4) Finding Nemo-The Musical-
This musical experience is definitely one of my favorites at any of the parks. The show is 30 minutes in length and fashioned on the Pixar film, Finding Nemo. I loved the positive energy and colorful artistry of the show and my kids enjoyed seeing their favorite characters come to life. 

5) Tree of Life-It's Tough To Be A Bug-
The Tree of Life is the centerpiece to the whole park and is so unique with the numerous animals carved into it. There are trails encircling the tree so that you can walk at your own pace to look at the carvings and take pictures. The show, It's Tough To Be A Bug is a 3-D movie based on the film, A Bug's Life. I really like the special effects involved with the movie, although I will say that my toddler was a bit afraid as were a few others in our showing.There are also fast passes available for the 3-D movie.

Trying to catch all of these attractions in one day does not have to be difficult as long as you take advantage of the fast passes and keep an eye on show times. I will have a list of slower-paced and less crowded attractions around the park in a later post.
If you are planning a trip to Disney, don't overlook this awesome park. It is a great park for younger kids and they will love the myriad of animals that can be viewed up close and personal.