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When buying Disney theme park tickets, families have the ability to upgrade to Park Hopper tickets. What does this mean? Instead of gaining admittance to one park per day, you have access to all four (plus water parks, if desired). Do you ‘need’ Park Hoppers? Most families believe the answer is yes, but in fact, it depends on your family’s plans in the theme parks, style of touring, and organization. Read on to find out when it’s really valuable to upgrade to Park Hoppers at Disney theme parks and when it simply doesn’t make sense.

Park Hopper myths:

1. It’s easy to ‘hop’ from park to park. The term ‘park hopper’ implies it’s only a hop, skip, and a jump from one Disney theme park to the next. In fact, it can take up to an hour to ‘hop’, depending on your luck with bus schedules and how crowded Walt Disney World is at the time of your visit. During a non-peak week in late April, it took me 45 minutes to get from Animal Kingdom to the Magic Kingdom, for example. Why? Disney busses don’t go directly from park to park. Rather, they go from park to hotel resorts, or from parks to the Ticket and Transportation Center, where you ‘hop’ onto different lines.

Even commuting from the Magic Kingdom to Epcot, both on Monorail lines, requires a transfer and occasional resort stops en route (plan on 30 minutes, depending on Monorail queues). Planning to drive your own vehicle? You still need to commute to your current parking lot, drive over, then park and commute again. This is not to say to avoid Disney transportation: we’re fans. Just know that while reliable and relatively stress-free, Disney transportation is not swift.

2. You can hop to a second park late in the day and still ride major attractions. Again, it depends on the season and how busy the park, but sometimes you can, and sometimes you can’t. If you spend your day at Epcot, for instance, and decided to hop to Hollywood Studios at 2 pm to ride Tower of Terror, you may run into difficulty if Fast Passes have run out for the day. Because your party cannot all obtain FP until they’re all in the park, there’s no way to secure Fast Passes until you’ve ‘hopped’.

3. The Park Hopper add-on barely costs anything. In fact, at $35 extra per ticket (over $50 extra with water parks), the cost adds up! Savings can be in the hundreds of dollars to opt out of Park Hoppers. If your family typically tours a park for most of any given day, then enjoys resort time, or likes to spend time in other areas not requiring theme park admission, such as Downtown Disney or Wide World of Sports, you may have no need of a Park Hopper. Just be sure to plan to attend evening shows and entertainment at the same park you visited earlier in the day. (This will take planning.)

You need the Park Hopper add-on if:

1. You plan to take advantage of a morning Extra Magic Hour and then get out. This is a wise strategy, as the Extra Magic Hour park tends to become overcrowded after the hour is up and regular park guests arrive on top of the resort guests. If you plan to leave a park by 10 am and hop to another, you’ll likely have time to arrive before lunch and secure the Fast Passes you need for the afternoon.

2. You plan to utilize the Park Hopper just for evening dining and entertainment (not rides). If you like the idea of arriving at a park early in the morning, focusing on rides, then leaving for a mid-day rest, then heading to a different park for a relaxing dinner and evening entertainment, the Park Hopper may be a great value to you.

3. You’re visiting at a very low-crowd time of year. In this case, you may not need a full day to accomplish what you want in one park, and your transportation time may be lower due to smaller crowds.

The post When to upgrade to Park Hopper tickets at Disney theme parks (and when not to) appeared first on Pitstops for Kids.

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What family hasn’t dreamed of a magical Disney vacation? The characters, the rides, the enchantment…and oh yeah, the cost! Planning a family getaway to Disney is not only expensive, but it can also be stressful and difficult. These days, there’s just so many different ways to “do” Disney that it can be nearly impossible to find the best deal. But I think I have discovered the best way to indulge in an unforgettable Disney escape that will please your family and your wallet–the Disney Vacation Club!

A look at the Disney Vacation Club and how you can get Disney Vacation Club points for less:

This wonderful timeshare program is a Disney lover’s dream. Wildly popular among Disney fanatics and vacation lovers alike, Disney Vacation Club offers an affordable and comprehensive way to get great accommodations and enjoy a wonderful variety of membership perks related to all things Disney.

How the Disney Vacation Club Works:

No longer must you stress over finding accommodations that not only fit your family, but also your budget. Here’s the basics of how it works:

  • Buy Disney Vacation Club Points – Use points like currency to book your accommodations at the resort of your choosing. This is also how you’re able to book the accommodation style you want (Larger accommodations = more points)
  • Your Home Resort – Each Disney timeshare owner who purchases points has a specific Home Resort. You can reserve a vacation at your Home Resort up to 11 months in advance, whereas at other DVC resorts, you can only do 7 months ahead of time.
  • Banking and Borrowing Points – Save your points for booking a better week or bigger accommodations. You are also able to borrow points from future years.
  • Annual Maintenance Fees – Just like all vacation ownership clubs, you will have to pay annual fees in addition to the cost of your initial purchase.

While Disney Vacation Club is insanely popular, I’ve found a great resource where you can purchase points for less, even at “sold out” resorts!

You can buy or rent Disney timeshares through DVCTimeshares.com for less than if you purchased directly through the resort. Here, owners advertise their Disney timeshares for significantly lower rates. You can obtain Disney Vacation Club points and enjoy Disney vacations for less. The inventory on this site features all of the DVC resorts, including the many properties in Orlando, California, and Hawaii.

Popular Resorts

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Villas offer two sections of accommodations, both allowing you to view exotic wildlife such as zebras, giraffes, gazelles, and more right from your balcony. The resort also boasts award-winning dining options and gorgeous pools with a waterslide.

At Disney’s BoardWalk Villas, you get the privilege and convenience of being within walking distance to Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. This waterfront property provides access to the boardwalk, a carnival-themed pool, and a premium seafood restaurant.

Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa allows you to play a scenic golf course that doubles as a wildlife sanctuary, indulge in a wide variety of spa treatments at Senses, and splash around in resort’s pools and aqua-play areas.

Staying at Disney’s Beach Club Villas will make you feel as though you’re experiencing a romantic New England beach escape, while still being within walking distance to Epcot. Enjoy multiple pools and lagoons, delightful character breakfast buffets, and a Fantasia-inspired miniature golf course.

Disney’s Old Key West Resort offers a tropical Key West style retreat while residing in Lake Buena Vista just minutes from the Disney parks and attractions. On-site you’ll enjoy Caribbean cuisine, a pool with a sandcastle waterslide, and a state-of-the-art fitness center.

DVC Amenities 

While amenities vary by unit type, generally all Orlando timeshare resorts offer:

  • Choice of multi-bedroom units
  • Full kitchen or kitchenette
  • Multiple bathrooms with whirlpool tubs
  • Laundry facilities (some en-suite)
  • Living and dining areas
  • Private balconies

Resort amenities also vary by each Disney Vacation Club property, and each often has its own unique spin on its offerings. The majority of the DVC resorts feature:

  • Swimming pools
  • Hot tubs
  • Fitness centers
  • Access to golf courses
  • Dining options
  • Spa services

Disney Vacation Club resorts are also well-known for their Disney inspired decor and offerings. This allows Disney enthusiasts to relish all things Disney even when they’re not at the parks! You can enjoy gift shops, character dining opportunities, in-room celebrations complete with gifts and decor, and Disney-themed crafts and activities for kids.

Location

The most convenient aspect of these Disney Vacation Club timeshare resorts is their close proximity to the Disney parks! Most offer complimentary bus or monorail transportation, making it easy for you to get to where you want to be. As a Disney timeshare owner, you are also able to travel and enjoy Disney experiences outside of Orlando, including Hawaii and Hilton Head Island.

Having gone on vacation to many DVC resorts myself, I can honestly say they are worth it. Not only will the kids be over the moon, but you’ll find there is plenty to do with your significant other as well! And if you want to try one for less I definitely recommend DVCTimeshares.com as a more affordable option. They offer a wealth of information and knowledgeable specialists to help you understand it all, plus great deals on DVC points rentals and resales.

Have you ever tried any of the Disney Vacation Club resorts? What was your experience?

The post How you can get Disney Vacation Club points for less appeared first on Pitstops for Kids.

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Have you ever enjoyed turn-down service…in a tent? How about foot warmers, breakfast in your camp bed or nightly s’mores service? Even if you’re a hardcore camper, happy to rough it, c’mon…this sounds pretty great, right? Get your glamp on at the following glamping resorts in the western U.S.

Over the top:

The Resort at Paws Up, Montana

Located on Montana’s Blackfoot River, Paws Up going above and beyond for its tent camping guests, with private camp butlers, a concierge tent serving gourmet breakfast, snacks, and drinks, and luxury bedding. Plus, daily activities at Paws Up can include cattle wrangling, helicopter rides, hot air balloon journeys, and fly fishing.

Clayoquot Wilderness Resort, British Columbia

Each private tent at Clayoquot is described as five-star luxury, with an African safari experience feel in the heart of the Canadian wilderness. Sign up for spa treatments, fish for salmon, head out of bear sighting expeditions, or rock climb or mountain bike during your days here.

Bull Hill Guest Ranch, Washington

At the northeastern edge of Washington State near the Canadian border, guests at Bull Hill experience authentic ranch life, but sleep in comfort in glamping safari tents, each with a private bath or shower, wide front porches, and lodgepole railings.

Fireside Resort, Jackson Hole Wyoming

Jackson Hole has its share of luxury accommodations, but at Fireside Resort, you can pretend you’re roughing it in your own tiny house-style cabin. Enjoy a full kitchen, curl up by your own fireplace, and cross-country ski from your front door in winter. There’s an outdoor fire pit if your camping experience won’t be complete without a campfire!

Glacier Under Canvas, Glacier National Park, Montana

Under Canvas is a glamping resort company that currently operates in Glacier, Zion, Moab, and Yellowstone. At their Glacier location, safari-style tents and teepees are available just a few miles outside the national park, with the option to elevate your experience to a deluxe tent, cabin, or treehouse.

Dunton River camp, Dunton, Colorado

Dunton River Camp operates three camps in Colorado, but the Dunton Hot Springs location is the place to be for alpine meadow views, hot springs, and open-air tenting. Need more cover? Wooden cabins are on offer in addition to the river tents.

AutoCamp, Russian River, California 

Camp overnight in an Airstream trailer decked out with showers, hotel bedding, and extra touches. Only 90 minutes north of San Francisco, AutoCamp’s Russian River location is within easy distance of the Sonoma wine scene and plenty of outdoor recreation in the California redwoods. Choose between Airstream camping or luxurious canvas tent glamping.

Terra Glamping, California

Located on the northern California coast on Highway 1, all of Terra Glamping’s ten safari tents have ocean views. Ideal for whale watching, stargazing, or simply relaxing in a hammock or with a good book in hand, the Terra Glamping experience comes with hot showers, a deluxe continental breakfast, and memory foam mattresses.

Less ‘glamp’, more ‘camp’:

Doe Bay, Orcas Island Washington

A long-time retreat with a friendly commune feel right on the coast of Orcas Island, Doe Bay caters to earth-friendly types with organic produce at their on-site market, tent camping spaces, yurts and canvas tents, and clothing-optional outdoor soaking tubs and saunas.

Lakedale Resort, San Juan Island, Washington

Neighboring Orcas Island, San Juan Island’s Lakedale Resort offers the perfect glamping vacation for families with children, with tents that include breakfast and hot water bottles delivered to your bedside, or cabins next to all the lakeside action, which includes kayak rentals, paddle boards, arts and crafts, and more.

Willow Witt Ranch, Ashland, Oregon

A farm stay perfect for families that includes canvas-sided, wood-floored tents in addition to farmhouse accommodations, Willow Witt is tucked into the mountains about thirty minutes from Ashland in Southern Oregon. Meet the farm animals, hike on nearby trails, and enjoy the communal outdoor kitchen.

Treebones, Big Sur, California

Stay in a canvas yurt perched on the edge of the California coastline. You can even camp in the ‘human nest’, a cozy shelter that resembles a bird’s nest. Treebones boasts an organic garden, inspired architectural designs, and even a sushi bar on premises. Note that Highway 1 south of Treebones is currently closed after the impressive winter storms of 2017. Approach from the north.

River Dance Lodge, Kooskia, Idaho

Located near Lewiston, Idaho, River Dance Lodge offers glamping tents outfitted with old-fashioned pitchers and wash basins, wood stoves, and clawfoot tubs heated by propane (think hot tub!) within listening distance of a rushing river. Guests utilize a shared washroom. Plus, you’re within a stone’s throw of the best of Idaho’s outdoor recreation, including river rafting, lake swimming, and fishing.

The post Glamping trips to book this summer appeared first on Pitstops for Kids.

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When planning your next family vacation, do you daydream about a mythical place when cell service drops to zero and the front desk staff has no WiFi code to give? Such places exist, and they’re ripe for family adventure! From budget-friendly to bucket list-worthy, these diverse getaways all guarantee time away from screens…for both your kids and you.

Western states:

Experience the Wild and Scenic Rogue River: In the heart of Southern Oregon, the Rogue River offers 84 miles of wilderness untouched by roads, power lines, or cell service. OARS rafting trips on the Wild and Scenic are ideal for families seeking togetherness with a splash of excitement.

See Mt. Rushmore by bicycle: Bicycle Adventures’ six-day family cycling trip through South Dakota may not be completely devoid of connectivity at all times, but your kids won’t have a free hand to hold a phone…they’ll be too busy cycling the Mickelson Trail, the top-rated paved bike path in the US, past Crazy Horse, the Badlands, and the Black Hills.

Camp in a yurt on the Oregon coast: The Oregon State Park system is peppered with cozy, warm, and welcoming yurts in their campgrounds, which are open for families year-round. And it’s hard to beat the $40/night price tag. Alternative: take a PacNW coastal road trip!

Overnight in a treehouse: Out ’n About ’Tree-sort’ is located near the Oregon-CA border along the Redwoods Highway. Kids can climb rope ladders, pick their bunks, and even zip-line the next morning.

Paddle the San Juan Islands marine trail: Join Crystal Seas Kayaking for a multi-night kayak trip from a basecamp at San Juan Island, Washington, to a smattering of outlying islands along the famed marine trail. Camp in tents at night and learn to navigate your sea kayaks during the day.

Backpack the Jefferson Park Wilderness: Located in Central Oregon near the tiny town of Sisters, the Jefferson Park Wilderness can be accessed via the Pacific Crest Trail and offers some of the most dramatic scenery of the entire Oregon section. Families can backpack the area in 2-3 days, or plan a day hike from rustic Ollalie Lake Resort.

Herd sheep on a Leaping Lamb Farm Stay: Located in the coastal mountain range by Corvallis, Oregon, Leaping Lamb Farm offers families a cozy cabin stay complete with farm chores in the mornings, and the run of the farm the rest of the day. Hike, tend to animals, or just read a book on the porch for a long weekend.

Cruise through Southeast Alaska: Families can experience SE Alaska like a local with Alaskan Dream Cruises, which depart from Sitka on small, 30-40 passenger vessels. The ship stops daily in small, native-owned ports where families kayak, hike, and learn about the coastal wilderness.

Yosemite National Park ‘in reverse’ backpacking trip: Want to experience Yosemite in the summer…without the crowds? Start at Tuolumne Meadows and end on the valley floor, hiking a portion of the John Muir Trail with a Yosemite Backcountry Permit. Until your last day, you’ll be able to count the number of people you pass on one hand.

Houseboat on Lake Powell: Spanning Arizona and Utah, Lake Powell isn’t precisely isolated, but cell service is pretty much non-existent, which means you can get there easily then spend up to a week in complete relaxation with your crew.

Mountain states and Midwest:

Raft the Lower Salmon: With OARS at the helm, a trip through the gorges of the Lower Salmon River in Idaho isn’t as risky as it sounds. Mostly, it’s all fun and games, with sandy campsites and delicious food to round out days of sunshine and Class III rapids.

Navigate the Gates of Lodore: Rafting the Green River in Colorado with OARS will uncover American Indian ruins and evidence of the lingering wild west, but no bars on anyone’s phone.

Get in the saddle at Three Bars Ranch: A dude ranch vacation can be the ultimate family retreat, and at Three Bars, you get to enjoy a ‘family camp’ atmosphere with the Canadian Rockies as a backdrop. Cell service can be found if you seek it out, but don’t worry about the kids noticing: they’ll be too busy with their adopted horses for the week.

Explore the backcountry of the Tetons: Families may think they’ve seen Grand Teton National Park…until they experience three days of Lake Jackson kayaking with OARS. The wilderness is stunning, and even in the peak of summer, no one else is in sight for hours.

Stay in a ghost town at Dunton: Dunton, Colorado is a 200-acre restored ghost town that has been transformed into a remote mountain escape. You’ll lose cell service before you even get there, transporting you back a century as you stay in a cabin near a saloon, dance hall, and hot spring.

Cowboy up at Colorado Vista Verde Dude Ranch: Yes, another dude ranch, because this one is open year-round! At Vista Verde, families have no access to wifi, and fill their days riding or, in winter, skiing at nearby Steamboat Springs.

Canoe the Boundary Waters: Start in Ely, Minnesota, where Boundary Waters Outfitters will get you geared up for a guided family trip of this remote wilderness area. Families will be removed from everything except the sound of an oar on the flat, calm surface of the water.

East Coast:

Hike hut-to-hut with the Appalachian Mountain Club: AMC lodges are located through New England along the Appalachian Trail. Families can hike hut-to-hut for a backpacking trip they’ll never forget, or hike one-way into the Highland Center, where they can be outfitted for day trips in summer or winter.

Milk cows near Shenandoah National Park: Belle Meade Farm is located in rural Virginia, an easy road trip from Washington DC but a world apart. Families can help care for animals, swim in the large outdoor pool or the swimming pond, and easily access the less trafficked entrance to Shenandoah National Park.

Channel your inner Thoreau at Spencer Pond camps: Stay in an off-the-grid mountain cabin in rural Maine at Spencer Pond where you can fish, hike, hunt, or paddle the Northern Forest Canoe Trail. Chances are good of seeing moose!

Enjoy R&R at Little St. Simon’s Island: This privately-owned island off the coast of Georgia is only accessible by boat, but the cabins here are not just for luxury travelers. While you are served gourmet meals, accommodations are quaintly rustic, and the emphasis is on nature and outdoor living. Read another review!

Unwind at Little River State Park: Vermont state parks are an oasis for nature-loving families, and one of the best for a low-tech, budget family vacation is Little River State Park. Families can combine camping with extensive interpretive programs and tours of the area’s history.

Experience an old-fashioned family camp at Mt. Snow: If you’d rather someone else do the cooking during a Vermont getaway, head to Mt. Snow for their family camp, which includes an unplugged itinerary ideal for family reunions and multigenerational vacations.

Set sail with a Windjammer cruise off coast of Maine: You don’t have to know how to sail—yet—to go on a Windjammer cruise. But you’ll be amazed what you learn as you sail up the coast of Maine, taking in the sights and enjoying wonderful cuisine.

Boat on Smith Mountain Lake: The beauty of a houseboat trip is the guaranteed alone time with your family; on Smith Mountain Lake in southwest Virginia, you may have the lake nearly to yourselves.

Bond as a family at High Hampton Inn and Country Club: Kids will think of High Hampton as the most amazing summer camp in the heart of North Carolina. Parents will immediately recall the movie Dirty Dancing. Either way, everyone wins.

The post 25 Unplugged family vacation ideas appeared first on Pitstops for Kids.

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Acadia National Park may be quite a hike from the nearest urban center or major airport, but this beautiful corner of downeast Maine offers families unlimited adventures, from bikes to boats to hiking trails and, if you’re lucky, the earliest sunrise in the continental US! Acadia is a relatively small park, and offers a lot of short, gentle hikes (and some tough ones as well) in addition to their expansive network of bicycling carriage trails.

Acadia National Park with kids:

These carriage trails are perhaps what Acadia is best known for (in addition to lobster, blueberries, and the rugged Maine coast, of course!) and are perfect for an easy Acadia hike or bike excursion. After a day in the park, you shouldn’t miss Sand Beach (Park Loop Road). A beautiful beach with great spots for checking out tide pools, kids may even want to take a dip…although the water is almost always freezing!

The lovely town of Bar Harbor is located just a mile or so from the park. Bar Harbor has everything you’ll need—outdoor stores, restaurants, and an ice cream parlor on almost every block! Below, get the nitty-gritty on navigating the carriage trails, plus two other great things to do with young kids in Acadia National Park:

Bike the carriage trails:

Perhaps the best way to see the park with young kids is via bike. I rented a bike at Acadia Bike Rentals and took Homer (3.5) and Greta (1.5) out for a ride around Eagle Lake. The folks at Acadia Bike were friendly and helpful, and had me set up and ready to ride in just a few minutes. If you’re visiting during peak seasons—summer and fall—they recommend that you contact them before you travel to reserve your bikes, especially if you plan to rent specialized equipment, like a child’s trailer or tagalong.

To save you from some of the pitfalls that I encountered, I’ll include a few helpful carriage trail tips if you’re riding with or pulling young kids. Access to the carriage trails is within riding distance from Bar Harbor (where most bike rental shops, including Acadia Bike, are located), but it’s about two miles and a lot of it is uphill. You never really know how heavy your kids are until you’re hauling them up that hill! I walked a good portion of the trip to the carriage trails, but I did manage it with enough juice left over for a good morning ride.

I had two toddlers (3.5 and 1.5 years old) sharing a seat, and had to endure a lot of bickering and squirming from the trailer. It might have worked better to have the younger one in a child seat, and the older one in the trailer. Even better, if you have two adults on the ride (sadly, we had one parent stuck at work all day), you can split them up and share the burden—literally!

Visit Mount Desert Oceanarium:

Located on the north side of Mount Desert Island, just a few minutes drive from Bar Harbor, is the Mount Desert Oceanarium. The Oceanarium hosts the Maine Lobster Fishing Program, the Maine Lobster Hatchery, the Thomas Bay Salt Marsh, and the Discovery Touch Tank. My advice? Call ahead! You can’t tell from their website, but the only way to see the Oceanarium is by guided tours that go every 1.5 hours or so. Also, a lot of the tour involves lectures on various subjects from a local expert, so very small kids might be too squirmy to enjoy the visit. When we showed up, the last tour of the day had already started and we were able to join them for the last part—the Discovery Touch Tank. In hindsight, this was the best thing that could have happened for us, since our kids are too young to sit through a lecture-format tour anyway. If you have very little ones, you might see if they can accommodate you by giving you a brief tour or letting you join up with another group at the touch tank, since this is definitely a toddler favorite!

Eat at Jordan’s Restaurant:

When I was in college (in Maine, albeit a little bit farther south), I remember coming to Acadia to snowshoe with friends and having a delicious breakfast of blueberry pancakes at Jordan’s Restaurant (80 Cottage Street). I’m happy to report that Jordan’s is still there, and still serving up some tasty pancakes 10 years later! Needless to say, my kids ate blueberry pancakes for lunch every day of our trip…with blueberry juice, of course!

The post Three things to do in Acadia National Park with kids appeared first on Pitstops for Kids.

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We love national park lodges! Our favorites offer incredible scenery, rustic ambiance, and a quiet, intimate feel, but also offer a few modern conveniences. Where to stay in Sequoia National Park? The winner for us is Wuksachi Lodge.

Located in the heart of Sequoia National Park at the Wuksachi Village, the lodge is the only lodging in the immediate area. In fact, you won’t even find a convenience store, gift shop, or visitors center adjacent. What this means: lower crowds year round. You’ll have what you need: the lodge offers a nice gift shop of its own, and families who bring snacks and groceries can use the mini-fridge in their room. The lodge offers a fantastic dining room for nicer meals, and hiking trails are abundant.

While at Wuksachi, you’re only a few minutes by car or shuttle to all the main Sequoia National Park attractions, including the Giant Forest, Giant Forest Museum, and Moro Rock. You’re only 25 minutes or so from Kings Canyon National Park. Certainly, Wuksachi can be a base camp for both parks.

Lodging:

Wuksachi’s main lodge houses The Peaks dining room and a cozy lobby, plus classrooms used by the national park service and ranger programs downstairs. In the winter season, this is where you’d come for nordic ski or snowshoe rentals as well. Guest rooms are located a very short walking distance away (everything is connected by foot paths) in additional buildings situated in the woods. Room categories include Standard, Deluxe, and Superior, sleeping four, five, and six respectively. My Superior room included sleeping for four in the main room, plus an alcove with sitting area and pull out sofa to sleep two more. With six in the room, it would have been cozy, but do-able. Bathrooms include tubs, and coffee service and mini-fridges are standard. Wifi is free throughout the resort.

Rates:

Rates vary widely by season, but start at $157 for a standard room in the off-season (at the time of publishing). We recommend a bed-and-breakfast package, because you won’t want to miss the lodge breakfast! Find reservation information for Wusachi Lodge (and many other Sequoia, Kings Canyon, and Yosemite lodging options). 

Dining:

The Peaks is a beautiful dining venue in the main lodge, overlooking fir and pine forest through wide windows. The Peaks’ head chef lived in Alaska for a decade: order salmon! Dinner is an upscale event (families wanting something very casual will need to eat at the nearby Lodgepole Village and visitor center in peak season). Breakfast includes menu items as well as a wonderful buffet breakfast. I recommend filling up on the buffet before heading out for the adventures of the day! Box lunches are also available to lodge guests.

Read a full review of what to do in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. If you’re looking for more casual lodging in the parks, we suggest John Muir Lodge in Kings Canyon National Park.

Directions:

Access Wuksachi Lodge via the General’s Highway through Sequoia National Park, using the Highway 198 entrance. From the park entrance, the lodge is approximately 30 minutes by car (due to winding roads).

As I disclose whenever applicable, I stayed at Wuksachi Lodge as a guest of the resort, for the purpose of review. All opinions and tips are my own.

The post Where to stay in Sequoia: Wuksachi Lodge review appeared first on Pitstops for Kids.

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If you’re visiting both Jasper and Banff national parks on your Canadian Rockies vacation (and you should be!), you will drive the Icefields Parkway connecting the two parks. This 3 hour stretch has been described as one of the most scenic highways in the world, and after our fall 2013 visit, I concur. The parkway takes approximately 3.5 hours to drive, but families will definitely want to stop along the way. Where to plan you pit stops:

Sunwapta Falls:
About 30 km from Jasper, you’ll come to Sunwapta Falls. Signage clearly marks this point-of-interest, but you can also spot it by the resort and restaurant sitting roadside. Stop for a snack or trip to the restroom, but definitely drive beyond the resort to the falls, which can be viewed from above next to the parking lot or from a footbridge a few yards down. The falls are impressive (yes, even if you’ve been to Jasper’s Maligne Canyon), and even though this isn’t a hiking location, it’s a great place for photos and to let kids stretch their legs.

Icefield Centre:
Athabasca Glacier lies at the approximate halfway point of the Icefields Parkway, as visitors steadily climb up into the mountains from either direction. At the glacier you’ll find the Icefield Centre, a huge building run by Brewster’s Canada. On-site is a restaurant and cafe, plus hotel rooms and a large observation deck. On the ground level is Brewster’s Glacier Adventure.

One look out onto the glacier from the deck, and your kids will see what Glacier Adventure is, and probably want to do it: visitors board bus-sized all-terrain vehicles and drive out onto the ice, where they can stand out on the glacier. Sounds cool, but is it worth the $49/adults and $25/kids ticket price? That depends on what you want out of it: if you want to be able to say you’ve walked on a glacier or simply love cool vehicles, the answer is yes. If you expect an adventurous experience or a hike, the answer is no.

The vehicles, called Ice Explorers, take you along a short but steep road (the second steepest commercial road in North America, to be exact) leading onto the ice. Once there, they park in a snowplowed area the size of a small parking lot along with other Ice Explorers and let you out to walk on the snow. What we liked most about the experience: the interesting facts presented by our guide. Note: Expect to get your feet wet unless wearing waterproof boots, and bring gloves and a jacket.

Parker Ridge trailhead:
There are multiple trailheads along Icefields Parkway, all clearly marked (and most with parking areas and decent pit toilets). One of manageable length for a brief stop is Parker Ridge, which lies just beyond the Icefield Centre toward Banff. The 3 km round-trip hike offers views of the Saskatchewan Glacier and Mt. Castleguard on a clear day.

Peyto Lake and Bow Summit:
Peyto is a short road-side hike to the lake, with the option of hiking further toward Bow Summit for alpine wildflower viewing and meadows. This is the highest point on the Icefields Parkway. Picnic tables make this a great place to stop and picnic and photographers will be happy!

Lake Louise:
Only 57 km from Banff, Lake Louise is a must-do stop, if not an overnight or all-day excursion. From the Lake Louise exit, the lakeshore is only a few kilometers away. Park in the large parking lot and walk to the lake to take in the views and snap some photos, gawk at beautiful Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, and, if time permits, take a hike. The lake loop is an easy walk for kids of all ages, but if you have time, we recommend the 7 km round trip ascent to Lake Agnes (trail departs directly from Lake Louise). For your efforts, you’re rewarded with tea, coffee, or a snack at the picturesque Lake Agnes Tea House at the top.

See our video review of more things to do in the Canadian Rockies:

Jasper and Banff - YouTube

Tip: Remember that you’ll pass the national park ticket booth on either end of the Icefields Parkway. At the time of this writing, admission to the parks was almost $10 per day for adults (almost $5 for kids) or a family fee of under $20 per day. You only need to pay once, and display a receipt on the dashboard of your car.

As I disclose whenever applicable, we were hosted for some activities along the Icefields Parkway, for the purpose of review.

The post Five stops along the Icefields Parkway in Jasper and Banff National Parks appeared first on Pitstops for Kids.

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Tucked away on Washington state’s Olympic Peninsula, Olympic National Park offers the best of not one, not two, but three worlds: temperate rain forest, ocean beaches, and mountain peaks await visitors to this unique park. No matter the season, families can escape metropolitan life in only a matter of several hours (approximately three from Portland and Seattle) and find themselves hiking between moss-covered Sitka spruce, beach-combing along wild coastline, and even skiing.

Park Overview: Olympic National Park is unique not only in its ecosystem, but in its geography; the majority of the interior of the park is free of roads (great for backpackers and wildlife, not so great for traveling families). In order to see the park, visitors must skirt the boundary on Highway 101, which is certainly scenic, but makes for quite a bit of car time. We suggest making a ‘home base’ on either end of the park, staying in Lake Quinault Lodge on the southern end or Port Angeles on the northern end. (If you have time, do both!) We chose the southern end for its rare rain forests, and saved the drive through the length of the park for another trip.

Where to stay: Lake Quinault Lodge sits on national park land just past the southern entrance to the park, its back porch and lawn leading straight to the shores of beautiful Lake Quinault. We love this lodge for its rustic yet elegant charm, kid-friendly features such as croquet sets, board games, and even an indoor pool, and proximity to incredible hiking in the Quinault Rain Forest (one of only three temperate rain forests in the world).

What to do: Trust me, you won’t be bored! In the Quinault Rain Forest area, families can enjoy many day hikes under three miles in length that hold kids’ attention as they weave through jungle-like forests, follow ice-cold streams, and end in crashing waterfalls. Our favorites are the Maple Glade and Cascading Terraces trails, both starting right across the street from Lake Quinault Lodge at the ranger station.

Further north (back on Highway 101), kids will want to stop to explore any of the short, forested paths from the highway to the ocean near Kalaloch, all of which open out upon the wide, long-stretching beaches along this part of the coast. (Look for the huge, wind-blown trees barely hanging onto the ocean cliff-sides…their exposed roots make for great jungle gyms!)

From Kalaloch, continue north on Highway 101 to the turnoff for the Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center (15 miles further on Upper Hoh Road). The center is only open seasonally, but families will find excellent picnic areas and self-guided hikes through some of the most dramatic rain forest yet! Check out the Hall of Mosses for a good taste of this terrain that even preschoolers can hike.

Extra Tip: for a good resource on all area hikes, click here!

A word on Twilight Territory: If you have a tween or teen in the car itching to see Cullen and Quileute country (or just admit it…it’s you, isn’t it?) the town of Forks is just 10 minutes further up Highway 101 from the turn-off to the Hoh Rain Forest. You’ll be tempted to make the detour, but trust us, it’s not worth it unless you’re heading in that direction anyway (or like cheesy souvenir shops and the like). If you’re not continuing further north but simply must make the trek (I understand, I really do), do the rest of your crew a favor and drop them off at scenic Ruby Beach, a national park site just past Kalaloch. The kids will have much more fun running on this beautiful beach, climbing its sea stacks, and playing in the creek that runs from forest to surf. And after you’ve driven through Forks, continue on to La Push’s First and Second beaches…they really are lovely.

Check out all we loved about Olympic National Park and Lake Quinault Lodge on the Pit Stops for Kids’ Kid Cam:

The post Olympic National Park with kids appeared first on Pitstops for Kids.

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As families, there reaches a moment where you feel that you need that fun environment. Recreational activities are important in that they give the family a break from the busy weekly schedules. Kids need to develop strong bonds among themselves and also with their parents, and they can do this comfortably during family travels.

Family travels can appear to be fun, but if great care is not considered, then it can result in many unhappy times. Family travel tips, driving safety tips, and tips on what to do after an accident are essential during family travels. You don’t want to have to call a relative back home to say you have been involved in a car accident Utah I-15 today, but you must be ready in case it happens.

Travel Tips When Taking Kids Out For Fun

Kids should be handled with a lot of care. Their small activities can result in accidents if not well supervised. Therefore, it is crucial to learn how to deal with kids during family travels. Important travel tips include:

1. Traveling With Basic Medicines

Kids’ immune responses are not that strong compared to those of adults. There is a possibility of travel-associated illnesses to arise during the family trip. Some of these upsets include stomach pain, headaches, back pain, and allergic responses, possibly after an encounter with an allergen.

The trip becomes uncomfortable if one of the kids get sick. Therefore, it is advisable to carry a few over-the-counter medications for your children during the trips. Common medications include headache medicine, upset stomach medicine, motion sickness medication, and other medication that may apply during the trip.

2. Carry a Car Seat

According to the laws of many states, kids need to travel while sitting in their car seat. The law should be upheld to avoid being on the wrong side of the law. Children become uncomfortable when using the seats in the car, and as a result, they get restless and bored.

In addition to that, when a child is using a car seat, the chances of being injured during emergency braking is very minimal. Car seats can be bought in most any store or online. If the car is rented, ensure that it has a car seat. If it doesn’t, carry your car seat from your place.

3. Carry New Toys and Books

Family travels are events that should keep the family together. To reduce the travel boredom, always carry kids’ toys and funny books that will make the children happy during travel. The toys also keep the kids busy and can avoid disturbances to the driver.

Car Safety Rules and Defensive Driving Tips

The safety of the people in the car during travel should be enhanced at all times. Safe driving is something that should be a habit so that it can be done to perfection. General car safety practices include:

1. Wearing your Seat Belts

Seat belts always ensure that you are protected whenever a crash occurs. During an accident, it will be easier for you to be thrown out of the car whenever you are not wearing a seat belt compared to when the belt is on. Your family will be so much safer when all the seat belts are on during a road trip.

2. Stick to the Speed Limit

Road construction on highways will show different speeds that need to be maintained to keep drivers safe. A driver should strictly adhere to these speed limits. Exceeding the speed limits may put your family and other road users at risk.

Defensive driving is also important and it can be achieved through tips like:

• Being aware of what other drivers around you are doing and expecting the unexpected

• Keeping a good distance between you and the car in front of you, especially when the weather is bad

• Assume other motorists will do something crazy and always be prepared to avoid it

What to do right after an accident

Accidents are always unexpected. Always read articles that give guidelines on what to do after an accident. After an accident:

• Immediately stop at the scene of the accident

• Protect the scene of the accident by putting up warning signs that can show other motorists that an accident has occurred

• Call the police to report the accident

• Seek medical attention 

• Take pictures and keep a file of all that has happened and always seek to protect your rights

Family travels should always be made as interesting, but safe, as possible. Ensure that you follow the outlined procedure above so that you can have a wonderful family travel experience. More information can be gathered online.

The post Tips for family leisure travel appeared first on Pitstops for Kids.

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It is that time of the year when most of us are already planning for our next travel destination. After a long stretch of body chilling winters, summers make us all happy for all the right reasons. Families traveling with kids have an extra reason to be excited for all the family bonding that they will be having on their holiday. However, parents have to do some extra planning when traveling with kids and it often sends them into a panic mode. You will often spot parents on holidays that look more exhausted instead of being relaxed while on a holiday.

If you plan your packing right, your parental role will not keep you from enjoying your holiday to its fullest. Here are a few things that you should pay attention to when prepping up for traveling with kids. 

Bags

The most dominant element of the entire family traveling feat is the luggage. Often families with kids are spotted at airports and train stations with oversized bulky suitcases and that too multiple in number. They are not only a hassle to manage especially when you have kids to manage too, and can also add up on your cargo fare especially in the case of air travel. Most couples argue that taking large suitcases is inevitable because there is a lot to pack when traveling with kids and packing light is next to impossible. However, it is still very much doable if you plan it right. 

Try to go with medium sized suitcases and make a list of things that you can cut down on. For example, if you have booked yourself a place that will have a coffee maker or a microwave oven, you can leave your baby’s bottle warmer behind. Likewise, instead of taking a sterilizer, go for sterilizing tablets. If your kids can walk and can carry a backpack, let them have their own backpacks for their stuff and have them carry them.

Clothes

What you wear is an important part of your travel fashion. When choosing what kind of clothes to take on your trip factor in the dynamics of your destination, expected weather conditions and your comfort level with managing your clothes along with kids. It should be understood that your clothing for a cold mountainous region would be different from your clothes for a beach holiday. Ideally, for summer travels pack light clothes with a few tee shirts and a couple of shorts and jeans. You can pack one pair of formal shirt and dress pant if you plan to fine dine or visit a formal casino or a ball. 

Shoes

Avoid taking too many shoes. A pair of comfortable joggers or running shoes that can offer you good support and grip and a pair of Hawaiians should be good enough. When traveling with kids, expect to be on your foot and often running around after the munchkins at parks and malls. Comfortable shoes are important to keep you from having those obnoxious sore feet.

Watches

Being a parent on your trip does not mean that you have to throw your class and luxury outside the window. Since your clothing will not have much to say about your persona, you can cover up the shortcoming buy sporting a luxury watch such as a mens Rolex watch. You do not need anything else to make a statement when you are wearing something as empowering as a Rolex.

The post How to travel in style with kids appeared first on Pitstops for Kids.

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