Family Trips Before Back-to-School Before the kids go back to class, says the Family Adventure Mom, spend a long weekend together in one of these fun locales.
1/8 Boston Founded in 1630, Boston’s an old city with a major new attraction that opened in June. The Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum—near the site where the Boston Tea Party occurred in 1773—employs high-tech wizardry to dramatise the events leading up to the American Revolution. See portraits of King George III and patriot Sam Adams come alive and start debating, watch a Tory and a colonial woman share their views in holographic projection, and feel the vibration of gunfire and galloping horses in the Minuteman Theatre. You can even toss faux crates of tea into Boston Harbor.
Photography courtesy Michael Blanchard
2/8 Houston Spanning 2,500 acres (975 hectares) on the Texas Gulf Coast, the Armand Bayou Nature Center in Greater Houston is one of the largest urban wildlife refuges in the U.S. Until the late 1800s, Native Americans hunted and fished by the bayou, and to this day, it teems with 370 animal species, from snakes and swamp rabbits to armadillos and alligators. More than 220 bird species reside or rest at the preserve, which is situated along the Central Flyway, North America’s premier bird migration route. On a night-time owl prowl, guided canoe trip or boardwalk stroll, you and the kids can explore hardwood forest, coastal salt marshes and one of the region’s few remaining native prairies.
Photography courtesy Armand Bayou Nature Center
3/8 Paris Since April 1992, Disneyland Resort Paris has welcomed 250 million visitors, making it Europe’s top attraction. The 4,800-acre (1,900-hectare) park is celebrating its 20th anniversary in spectacular fashion. The festivities include Disney Dreams!—a lavish new light show with lasers, fireworks, animation and water sprays that reach the turrets of Sleeping Beauty Castle. There’s also Disney Magic on Parade! (a float-filled extravaganza), a Celebration Train staffed by Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy in party clothes, and extended hours for taking it all in.
Photography courtesy Disneyland Paris
4/8 Atlanta Since March, families have headed to Atlanta’s new Legoland Discovery Center—one of only four in the U.S.—for hands-on fun. Kids can build a custom race car and test its torque on a track, learn skills from a Lego master builder, watch a mini version of Atlanta crafted from 1.5 million bricks twinkle as night falls, experience a snowfall in the Lego 4D Cinema, and zap trolls with laser guns on a Kingdom Quest adventure.
Photography courtesy Legoland Discovery Center Atlanta
5/8 Vancouver Since the 1900s, the world’s population of African penguins has decreased by 90 percent. The good news, as of May 2012, is that a colony of the penguins—bred through the Species Survival Plan programme of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums—has found a hospitable home in Vancouver. At Stanley Park’s Vancouver Aquarium, the black-footed birds reside at Penguin Point, a habitat modelled after Boulders Beach in Cape Town, South Africa. While the penguins, named after regional locales such as Tofino, Nelson, Steveston and Sechelt, preen and swim, visitors learn how penguins adapted to sea life after losing the ability to fly. Penguin-themed games, crafts and songs are also on tap.
Photography courtesy Vancouver Aquarium
6/8 San Francisco When you step aboard the Alma for a two-hour sail in San Francisco Bay, you’re in for a hands-on adventure. Guided by interpreters from the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park, kids can haul line and raise sails on the 1890-era wooden-hulled scow schooner—the last of her kind and a National Historic Landmark—that once hauled hay, salt, lumber and oyster shells along the California coast. The crew peppers the outing with classic San Francisco tales about earthquakes, fires and the Gold Rush.
Photography courtesy San Francisco Maritime National Park Association
7/8 Lisbon Couples seeking a romantic meal in Lisbon often head to A Travessa, tucked in Convento das Bernardos. With kids in tow, there’s another reason to journey along Lapa’s back streets to the 250-year-old convent; it’s also home to Museu da Marioneta, a fascinating puppet museum. Wandering through, you’ll encounter puppets with a full range of expression—from sinister to satisfied—handcrafted in Vietnam, Indonesia, Africa and, of course, Portugal. Preserving a tradition established in the 13th century, the museum features hundreds of hand, string and opera puppets; puppet-making workshops; performances; and exhibitions—for example, through October 2012, puppets from Java.
Photography courtesy Museu da Marioneta and José Frade
8/8 The six western lowland gorillas are some of the most-watched residents at the Toronto Zoo, Canada’s top animal education centre. The new Gorilla Climb Ropes Course makes it easier—and more challenging—to observe the troop. After donning a safety harness attached to a sling line, guests who are at least 48 inches (1.2 metres) tall can climb on a three-storey tower featuring 26 challenges, from negotiating tightropes to hopping on leap pads. Not only is scaling the structure an adrenaline rush; it also affords a bird’s-eye view of the Gorilla Rainforest Exhibit, the Rouge Valley and, on a clear day, downtown Toronto.
Photography courtesy Toronto Zoo
During the summer, my two kids and I are rolling stones, constantly on the move, racking up
adventures. Once the school year starts in a couple of weeks, my 10-year-old and 13-year-old will be on different vacation schedules, making our summer excursions that much sweeter. So until the school bell rings, we’ll be on the road soaking up fun in our favourite cities, including my hometown, Boston, where we love nesting at Four Seasons Hotel Boston overlooking the 175-year-old Public Garden. If you’re game for a quick trip now (like us) or on a long fall weekend coming up, here are our recommendations for eight kid-friendly excursions.