New York City with Kids

I'm sorry to be so lame by posting second hand info lately, but hey, it's the holidays and I'm busy making a closet into a bathroom.

This one is from Fodor's Travel Wire, also see Our Kid-Friendly Guide to New York City

New York City with Kids

Even though much of New York is focused on the adult pursuits of making money and then spending it, kids can run riot in this city, too. Below are our Top 10 kids' favorite attractions.

American Museum of Natural History. This museum contains more than 30 million specimens and cultural artifacts. Exhibits range from dinosaurs to gems and minerals, from life in the sea to cultures from around the world to the ends of the cosmos.

The Bronx Zoo. The Bronx Zoo is the country's largest metropolitan wildlife park, home to more than 4,500 animals, including endangered and threatened species. Kids can peek at a subterranean naked mole rat colony or watch big and beautiful endangered cats through the glass at Tiger Mountain, a not-to-be-missed exhibit.

Central Park. Central Park is to New York as the sun is to the solar system. Need to let the kids burn off some steam? Head to 67th Street and 5th Avenue for the tree house playground. A playground at 99th Street (east side) accommodates children with disabilities. Other playgrounds are on the east side at 71st, 77th, 85th, 95th, 108th, and 110th streets and on the west side at 68th, 81st, 85th, 89th, 91st, 93rd, 96th, 100th, and 110th streets.

Central Park Zoo. A perfect destination for little ones, the zoo is walkable and stroller-friendly, and even the youngest tot can see the animals from low-lying or low-sitting carriages. Three climatic regions -- the Rain Forest, Temperate Territory, and Polar Circle -- form the focal points.

Children's Museum of Manhattan. Exhibits in the five floors of exhibition space change frequently. You can follow the dream-adventure of Alice in Wonderland or bring literacy to life with Clifford the Big Red Dog and his friend Emily Elizabeth. The fun continues with a special Dr. Seuss celebration, where your child's imagination can run wild.

Museum of Modern Art. Nicknamed MoMA, this museum maintains the world's foremost collection of 20th-century art: more than 135,000 paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, photographs, architectural models and drawings, and design objects.

New York Aquarium. Alongside the cotton candy and amusements of Coney Island, this aquarium is home to more than 10,000 species of marine life, including beluga whales, giant sea turtles, sand-tiger sharks, and sea otters.

New York Botanical Garden. Nearly 50 gardens and plant collections make up this landmark. Its hands-on activities, imaginative exhibits, and fanciful gardens are exciting and inviting.

Sony Wonder Technology Lab. You're not just going to just see technology here; you will become part of it during an adventure through four floors of hands-on educational fun. Don't despair if you and your kids are not techno-whizzes; helpful guides throughout the lab will answer your questions and offer assistance.

South Street Seaport Museum. Whether it's a concert, a show by street performers, guided tours, or family programs, there's always something happening at the museum. Family Gallery Guides direct you around the world's largest collection of items related to New York's port.

Traveling with Tots: A Survival Guide

Another article that backs up what we've said for a long time now: skip the dvd player, remain flexible, and lower your expectations. For more tips, read out 10 Tips for Road Tripping with Kids

This one is from Kiplinger's :

Traveling With Tots: A Survival Guide
Whether flying or driving with a young one, a little preparation can go a long way toward saving you money -- and keeping your cool.

About 300 miles into an 800-mile road trip to Florida this summer, I decided to tell my 3-year-old daughter -- in a daze from watching hours of Dora the Explorer -- it was time to turn off the DVD and try to sleep. That's when the meltdown began.

It was 11 p.m., we'd been in the car seven hours (thanks to unexpected traffic jams and numerous pit stops) and we still had about 100 miles to go to the town where we had reserved a hotel room.

But the 3-year-old's crying woke up the 1-year-old, and there was no choice but to stop. We drove from hotel to hotel until we finally found one with a vacant room -- a honeymoon suite with a king-size bed. On the bright side, the in-room hot tub and glow-in-the-dark planets on the ceiling were a big hit with my toddler.

Maybe you've been there, too -- not the cheesy hotel, but in a car or plane with small children, clinging to the last threads of your sanity. And you shudder at the thought of going through it again this holiday travel season. Or maybe you're planning to travel with baby for the first time this year and you're lying awake at night in terror at the thought.


Vermont Ski Getaway: Okemo Mt

If you want great skiing, good food, shopping opportunities and general friendly fun, don't bother with the Killington crowds, head to Ludlow instead.

We go to Ludlow each year for early Christmas with one chunk of our rather extended family. Most of the time we spend a day skiing. There are lots of great things about Ludlow, Okemo, and Vermont in general, but it's hard to not start with the skiing.

What a great mountain! You can ski trails that are as challenging or gentle as you like and the crowds are non existent. Pretty much. Many of the runs on the upper part of the mountain we had to ourselves. I literally skied a few runs without seeing anyone else. Tom went to ski school for the second time (probably the last time he'll need it) and then skied with Tinsley and me after school. Tinsley took advantage of an Okemo extra: 'never-evers' ski free. If you've never ever skied before, the lesson, rentals, and lift ticket are free for the day. She was thrilled with the experience.

Avoid the Pot Belly pub unless you just want to watch the game from the bar. The food is mediocre and the wait is looong.

Sam's Steakhouse has great fine dining in a casual atmosphere. Reasonably kid-friendly, and not overpriced.

The Hatchery is where we always end up eating breakfast. It seems to me that we've gone to Trapper's as well, but we keep going back to the Hatchery.

Other fun stuff:
We were there a few years ago in September, around Tom's birthday, and we went for a side trip to Chester to ride the Green Mountain Flyer. What a wonderful train ride and what fun for a four year old!

We're One!!

John Prine says he writes songs to get them out of his head. "If I didn't write them down, they'd keep clanging around inside my head drivin' me crazy."

A year ago, we started getting our roadtrip tips, techniques, and tactical advice out of our heads so that we could get on with the important stuff. Like making shadow puppets. The initial post was Three Tips for Road Tripping with Kids, number one being, 'Start 'em young: travel early and often'. The topics grew into Photo tips (How to Take Lousy Photos of Kids Every Time), City Guides with Wiki-maps, a geographical scavenger hunt (Find this Place!), and Tips for Traveling With Dogs. We've had over 5,000 page visits and were recently featured in the Portland (Maine) Press Herald).

Unfortunately, in the year since we started the blog, our dog, Wookie, has departed for The Rainbow Bridge, so we're flying solo right now.

We've been able to keep up a moderate pace of a little more than a topic per week, blogging while making breakfast for the kids Saturday or Sunday morning seems to be the sweet spot. Tommy even has a backseat blog that he'll be updating more often this year.

We're looking forward to many more road trips this coming year, and expect to keep the content coming. Among our upcoming articles are Backseat Science Experiments, Backroads of Montana, and Backseat shadow puppet theater.

What topics would you like to see this year?

A New Thanksgiving Road Trip Tradition

Wile away the miles with notes of thanks.

Tommy read about a wonderful idea in Highlights Magazine, which we tried at the FamilyRoadTripper household this year: The Thankful Jar. The idea is to put a label a jar that says something like "Our Thankful Jar" at the beginning of November. Place a little pad of paper and a pencil nearby. Whenever you think of something that you're thankful for, write a thankful note and place it in the Thankful Jar. Then, during your road trip to Thanksgiving Dinner, open the Thankful Jar and read the notes. You can take turns reading if you want to.

Some of the notes we opened this year:
I'm thankful for apple pie
I'm thankful for my husband
I'm thankful that we have such a wonderful home
I'm thankful for whoever is reading this
I'm thankful for Spiderman 3
I'm thankful that my family forgives me when I make mistakes
I'm thankful that my family believes in me
I am thankful for Thanksgiving
I'm thankful for our health!
I'm thankful for strawberry and banana pancakes!
I am thankful for my children
I am thankful for the planet we live on

What are you thankful for?

Thanksgiving Memories

The Familyroadtrippers blog was featured a couple of days ago in a Portland Press Herald article about Thanksgiving road trip memories. Tom Bell, the author of the article, stumbled across this post about my most memorable Thanksgiving, a road trip to Maine through a snow storm to have a wonderful diner at my Grandparent's house.

Carved into memories

The excitement of travel and traditions of families can create vivid experiences that last a lifetime.

It was a Thanksgiving travel nightmare for his mother, but Daniel Morrison still remembers it as a "magical" journey.

He was 5 years old, riding in the back seat of a rusted-out Volkswagen Beetle as his mom drove from Massachusetts to Belfast. They ran into a surprise snowstorm and ended up staying overnight in a hotel somewhere north of Portland. The next day, he arrived at his grandparents' farmhouse just in time for the Thanksgiving feast.

"I always think of that particular Thanksgiving," said Morrison, now 43. "When you are driving through the night in a blizzard and the wind is whipping through the floorboards, it carves its way into memory."


Thanks for the plug Tom!

Upper Penobscott Bay, part 2: Bucksport, Maine

Bucksport has great attractions: A haunted, spooky grave, a huge granite and grass fort, and an observatory that's 42 stories high

North of Belfast and Searsport is a little town called Bucksport on the Penobscott River which is guarded by Fort Knox. The fort was built in the middle if the 19th century to deter British invasion (the Redcoats closed off the river twice -- during the Revolution and the War of 1812).
The bridge over the Penobscott River has recently been replaced and the new one features the fastest elevator in Maine shooting up to an observatory that offers views spanning from Camden in the south to Mount Katahdin in the northwest. But there's more than a fort and a bridge to Bucksport.
There's a legend.

Begin with the curse of Johnathan Buck
The town of Bucksport is named after Col. Jonathan Buck, a Revolutionary war hero and one of the first settlers of the area in 1762. After the British seized the "plantation" to choke off the lumber communities up river (Bangor among them) from supporting the colonists in the revolt, the town lay dormant. It was resettled after we whooped the king.

But there's more to the story. A whole spooky-lot more. Look at the stocking foot on Col Buck's grave stone. Where did this come from? How could it appear even after replacing the original stone? The curse of Johnathan Buck first appeared in the Haverhill (Massachusetts, Buck's home town) Gazette on Marsh 22, 1899:

"Jonathan Buck was a Puritan to whom witchcraft was anathema. When a woman was accused of witchcraft, he sentenced her to be executed. Then according to the paper, "the hangmen was about to perform his gruesome duty when the woman turned to Col. Buck and raising one hand to heaven, as if to direct her last words on earth, pronounced this astounding prophecy: ‘Jonathan Buck, listen to these words, the last my tongue will utter. It is the spirit of the only true and living God which bids me speak them to you. You will soon die. Over your grave they will erect a stone that all may know where your bones are crumbling into dust. But listen, upon that stone the imprint of my feet will appear, and for all time, long after you and you accursed race have perished from the earth, will the people from far and wide know that you murdered a woman. Remember well, Jonathan Buck, remember well."
Many other variations of this tale are here.

Burn off some steam at America's First Fort Knox!
The other Fort Knox is near Louisville, Kentucky and is full of gold, so you can't run around and play. Fortunately, this Fort Knox is mostly empty, save for some cannons, so running through the battlements and over the grass is perfectly acceptable.

After the drive to Bucksport and viewing the spooky grave, it'll be about time for lunch, the fort is a great place for a picnic. To make it easy, pick up a couple of sandwiches, or (lobster rolls) across the river in Bucksport and bring them over to the fort. Explore for a half hour until you find a picnic spot and then let the kids loose.

If you're a photography freak, bring a tripod for interior shots (it's dark in there and flash doesn't always do justice to what you're looking at). Which reminds me, bring a flashlight. Or two or one for each of you. If the kids each have a flashlight, they'll be busy running around the dark spots and it'll be easier to scare the pants off them in the dark, dark prisoner cells...

Top off the day way up over the bay (well, river to be exact)
One of three bridge observatories in the world, the Penobscott Narrows Observatory has one of the the best views in the state (world?). The other two are in Thailand and Bankok. This 420 foot tall observation tower is part of the new bridge that runs next to the old bridge offering a structural contrast of 20th and 21st century bridge building. Open and accessible to all from May through October, you buy a ticket at Fort Knox, across the river.

Tip: Good place for Leaf-peeping!

Upper Penobscott Bay: Belfast and Bayside, Maine

Belfast and Bayside have everything except crowds.

Camden, Rockport, and Rockland area are nice, but let's face it -- they're crowded. Sometimes they're very crowded (usually). Among the best sailing, but also great places to explore, eat, shop, and drive around. There is even a lighthouse to visit.

As a kid, I spent summers in the cottage we bought from my great Aunt Alice in Northport. In a community called Temple Heights Spiritualist Camp (there are Spiritualist meetings each night during the summer). We weren't Spiritualists, and there weren't many kids in Temple Heights, just a bunch of old people going to Spiritualist meetings.

Up the dirt road three miles was a community called Bayside, which is another settlement of Victorian cottages, but with many more kids. And a playground. And we spent a lot of time there each summer. A dock with both a swimming float and a boating float, a playground, basketball court, beach, and big grassy hill provided almost more entertainment options that a bunch of kids could exhaust. Nowadays, the dirt road is asphalt and not nearly as desolate. But it's still a pretty drive (or bike ride).

Further up the road maybe 10 miles is Belfast, the city of this section of Maine Coast. Belfast has had a bit of a renaissance in the past couple of decades. But the Gothic Revival buildings downtown and Greek Revival sea captain's houses have always been classic. The working waterfront (lead photo) has a couple of tugboats, a breakwater, a long grassy park for goofing around in, and a seafood restaurant.

There are also plenty of opportunities for shopping with art galleries, gift stores, clothing and the oldest shoe store in America, Colburn's Shoe Store, where I used to buy my shoes as a kid. Come to think of it, I suppose I ought to stop in and buy a pair of Hush Puppies next time I'm in town.

Keep rambling up the road to Searsport, an old fishing town with some of the most beautiful houses you'll see along the Maine coast. Before you make it to Searsport though, stop in to Perry's Nut House across the river in Belfast. The kids will love it. If you like looking at architecture, spend a little time tooling around Searsport. You can also stop in to Treasures and Trash, an antique/junk store in a big red barn.

Shadow Puppets: Dog

Tom shows us how to make a dog shadow puppet.

The video is a little dark, but I think you'll get the process if you watch it a couple of times...

Barf Bag from Family Road Trippers

Name the place in the Find this Place posts and you can win a custom made barf bag from FamilyRoadTrippers. They're sure to become collector's items.

If you'd like to win a custom Ralf Pack, just identify the location of one of the Find This Place photos. Stephen, from, asked for a sample barf bag even though he didn't know where the monster rock is, nor did he even vote in any of my polls at left. I'm sending the bag in the photo at right to Steve for his collection, but I'm a little disappointed that he couldn't find the answer. After all, it's somewhere on this blog.

And I must say, I'm a little disappointed in Steve and the other viewers of this blog for not voting in the polls. About 10 - 20 people visit each day and only 5 have voted in two of the polls and eight voted in another. I even added the first poll as an ice-breaker...

Please vote early and often!

A Little Chunk of the Natchez Trace Trail

This 445 mile scenic drive through the heart of the south is quick and beautiful with lot's of side loops to explore. Many places to jump on and jump off means easy access too.

I went to New Orleans last week for the Traditional Building Show and Convention. While I was there, I took a few extra days to explore the wreckage of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. In heading to Mississippi’s Gulf coast, I took a little detour: north out of New Orleans to Natchez, Miss, so that I could drive a little piece of the Natchez Trace Trail. This historic scenic road was a way home for farmers who had floated their wooden boat down the Mississippi from Ohio, Kentucky, and other farming states to sell their crops. They’d typically sell the boat too, buy a horse and ride it home. The trail goes from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee.

I’ve wanted to drive this road ever since Tinsley and I lived in Nashville. Our friend, Michael Evans, told us what a wonderful drive it is, but we never were able to take the trip. One of these days when we’re visiting her folks in Nashville, we’ll take a side trip down the Natchez Trace Trail for a family vacation to Planet New Orleans. For now, I’ll write about the chunk I covered last week.

The southern portion of this road is fantastic -- smoothly paved; curvy enough to be a fun drive, but not so curvy that the passengers will puke; and laid out to allow a reasonable pace -- 50 or 55 mph. This is better than the Blue Ridge Parkway, where you’re limited to around 40 mph (faster than 40 and the passengers will, you know, puke). And it wasn’t crowded at all (unlike the Blue Ridge). The 25 measly miles that I covered were a wonderful introduction. In fact, I seriously considered changing my plans from visiting the Mississippi coast and then flying out of New Orleans, to skipping the gulf coast, driving straight up to Nashville and flying home from there.

My trip-let started in Natchez, and I drove up to the Windsor Ruins, stopping at the Mount Locust Inn and Plantation on the way. The Inn and plantation consists of is dog trot style cabin, some slave’s quarters, a four room, two story annex out back known as Sleepy Hollow (not related to the headless Horseman), and a couple of cemeteries. Because I was racing the light to the ruins (in order to get photos, see the top photo), I wasn’t able to really explore the Inn but I did snap a few photos of the main house (the light was great). The Mount Locust Inn was one of two or three that provided a place for travelers to sleep under a roof, get a hot meal, and stock up on a few supplies for the long trip. There were about 20 "stands" along the way that offered no sleeping quarters, just the bare minimum of supplies and food.

More Natchez Trace installments as we cover them…

Have you ever been on the Trace?

A Lighthouse That's Worth the Climb

Owl's Head Light offers an amazing view of Penobscot Bay.

Located just south of Rockland, ME atop a long stretch of stairs, perched on a rock outcrop sits Owl's Head Light. This side trip makes a great after-dinner activity. The stairs tire out the kids and offer a wonderful reward for very little effort. Get up there an hour before sunset and you might capture some magical light.

This could be a fantastic place to peep leaves, if you're a foliage aficionado.

To get there, take Route 73 south from Rockland to N. Shore Drive. Turn left just after the Owl’s Head Post Office (about 2.5 miles) onto Main Street and then Lighthouse Road. Follow the signs to the lighthouse.

Vacationing with Your Kids

I stumbled on to this article at It's by an educational psychologist, mom, and entrepreneur who believes that as parents we need all the support we can get.
Amen to that Dr. Schwager.

The advice is similar to our Tips for Traveling with Kids series. Although I must draw the line at making up a new word unless it's both useful and fun to say. Kidcation isn't really either, in my opinion.

Vacationing with Your Kids
By Istar Schwager, Ph.D.
Vacations with kids are so different from vacations without kids that they may deserve their own name. Kidcations? Anticipating my first vacation after becoming a mother, I imagined sleeping late, taking long quiet walks, spending afternoons reading, and enjoying candlelit dinners with my husband. The reality was that I awoke before 6 A.M., prepared baby food in an ill-equipped cabin, trekked tons of baby paraphernalia to the beach, and sacked out by 8 P.M. We had fun, but in an entirely different way than I'd pictured. Later I laughed at myself for being fooled by the "vacation" word.

Here are some thoughts on making "kidcations" enjoyable for the whole family.

Have Realistic Expectations
Take into consideration your kids' ages, interests, and need for activity as you plan your itinerary. Be realistic. You can still do many of the things that fit your agenda, but don't expect your kids to morph into different beings while on vacation. While a change of location may bring out the camper, historian, or marine biologist in a child, most kids are not turned on by "beautiful scenery" and aren't going to have much tolerance for looking at every last picture in a museum. Make sure that at least some of the activities you plan are oriented to your kids' interests.

Get Kids Involved in Planning
The more kids are involved in planning, the more they will feel like true family-vacation participants. Before taking off, help them look up destinations on maps. Encourage them to plan what to take, discussing what will be needed, what you can do without, and the amount of baggage space allocated. If you have a chance, read with them about where you'll be going and help them become familiar with the names of places and anticipated activities. Share a sense of discovery as you research your plans.

Reassure Kids During Transitions
Kids, especially younger children who have a less-developed understanding of time and distance, may find travel confusing and disruptive. Bringing a favorite stuffed animal or other transitional object can be very comforting. It's also important to help kids anticipate what will happen. Phrases such as "next week," "soon," and "we're almost there" can be translated into more concrete descriptions, such as "by the time we sing three more songs" or "we'll be sleeping at Grandma's seven days." You could even give your kids a calendar that shows where you'll be and what you plan to do each day.

Keep Up Old Routines or Create Some New Ones
Find a balance between old and new. See if it works to read a bedtime story and stick to regular bedtimes while on vacation. You may also want to create special vacation routines--for instance, taking a family walk every morning or playing a board game after dinner each night.

Engage Kids While Traveling
To keep kids engaged and excited about the vacation, help them read maps, watch for road signs, look at changes in topography, and play the kinds of car and travel games that encourage observation and discussion. Kids can also be encouraged to be in charge of their own small travel bag, to have a pre-set amount to spend at a roadside store, and to try new foods and activities.

Be Aware of Pacing
Whether you're traveling by car, plane, or train--kids need time to move around. The "are we there yet?" question isn't just about bathroom stops and boredom. Try to plan your route so that your children have opportunities to stretch their legs. Parks, zoos, and playgrounds along the way provide a chance for kids to let off steam. Providing opportunities for movement will cut down on the whining and acting out that can result from normal, predictable restlessness.

Encourage Kids to Record Their Experiences
To help make the vacation their own, kids can take photos, draw pictures, send postcards to friends back home, and even keep a travel journal. These are great ways for kids to express their reactions to what they are doing and seeing and to keep their skills active during the school break.

Although they take some extra planning and effort, family vacations allow you to share experiences, talk together, tell family stories, sing, play games, and bond in ways that may be hard during the regular year. Whether you're vacationing in Paris, France, or Paris, Texas, camping near a stream or visiting your great-aunt Irma--I hope that you and your kids have a relaxed and memorable vacation this summer.

Istar Schwager, Ph.D., is an educational psychologist, mom, and founder of Creative Parents, Inc., with the website She believes that as parents we need all the support we can get.

June 2007

6 family travel headaches — solved!

So here's an article from MSNBC about how to survive a trip with your kids. It seems that the author seeks to survive rather than make it fun, interesting, or educational. And while the questions seem quite contrived, there's some info in there.

6 family travel headaches — solved!
Kids change the whole dynamic of a vacation, but they don't have to ruin it

By John Frenaye
Travel columnist

When I got into the travel business back in the '90s, I had no idea where it would take me, but over the years, I've come to specialize in a couple of niche markets: family travel and single-parent travel (in that order, thanks to a divorce in 2000). I have done many television and radio interviews on these topics over the years, and the same six questions keep popping up. So if you are getting a headache trying to figure out how to finagle your family travel, start here. I might just have your aspirin.

1. HELP! My husband wants a romantic second honeymoon, but we're taking along our toddler. Where can we go and what can we do?
The best solution is to find a trusted baby sitter or family member to watch your child while you reignite those embers of matrimony. A private two- or three-night getaway can certainly do wonders to restore romance. But if you must take Junior along, look for a destination that has a children's program. Not just a baby-sitting service, but a carefully designed, specially staffed children's program. The Camp Hyatt program (minimum age: 3) is an outstanding example. Their staff is trained in early childhood development and child care. In addition to getting a special kid-friendly menu, you can also learn to hula dance in Hawaii, search for Native American arrowheads in Texas or watch the dolphins in Florida. Another option is to take a cruise. Most cruise lines accept youngsters as young as 2, and their programs are organized into activity groups by age. In either case, you are just a beeper away from your child, and the program usually provides the beeper. In my experience, once the kids are in the program, it's hard to persuade them to leave.

2. We want a big family vacation, but we're on a budget. What should we do?
There are plenty of ways to save money on a family vacation. One is to travel in the off-season. For example, ski resorts are a lot of fun for families in the summer months, especially if you can get hold of some mountain bikes. Or look into a serviced campground; by "serviced" I mean cabins and electricity — certainly not the "roughing-it" camping of Cub Scout days. My family has had a lot of fun at some of the Yogi Bear Campgrounds, which offer TV and phone service in the cabin. Another tip, wherever you go, is to cook your own meals (usually, it is the restaurant meals that kill the family travel budget). Finally, be sure to use any reward points you've accumulated with your airline or credit card company. They can really add up to savings.

3. I always wind up overpacking — and yet I still forget things. Any advice?
Don't sweat it. It's like the weather: There's not much you can really do about a forgotten item, now is there? But I sympathize. I used to be a victim of my own disorganization, and I was always forgetting something critical (usually sunscreen, which for some reason costs three times as much once you reach your sunny destination). I got tired of all those trips to the gift shop, so I developed a simple and fun packing checklist. Now when we pack (and I make my kids pack themselves), I give the list to my son and put him in charge of keeping his dad and sisters on track. If you want a copy, you can download the list from my agency's Web site.

4. Our flight is nearly six hours long and we have two kids with us! What can we do to make the long trip less stressful?
With the state of air travel today, you will be lucky if the flight takes off at all, much less on time. My advice is to expect the unexpected and come to the airport prepared. Most important: Buy the kids their own seats. (Yes, it's tempting to save money by having that little one ride in your lap, but believe me, it's almost always a bad idea.) Make sure the kids have plenty to drink; good hydration will help them cope with the cabin pressurization. Set the expectations for behavior before you leave for the airport, and for heaven's sake, have plenty for them to do.

Are they old enough to own or borrow an iPod? Do they know how to use one? We downloaded a full-length movie to my son's video iPod for our last trip; a $4 headphone splitter from Radio Shack allowed his sister to listen, too, and they were both entertained for more than two hours. Battery-operated Game Boys and P2Ps are also fantastic time passers. Sudoku, word-find games, crossword puzzles, crayons and coloring books are all outstanding investments for a long trip (also plain old books, if the kids are already reading). If it is an especially long flight, ask your travel professional about the onboard entertainment; there might be a built-in gaming console at the kids' seats. (This was the case on the Cathay Pacific flight I took with my son to China a few years back, and it was a godsend.)

5. Is there a way to make everyone happy on a vacation — two adults, a teenage son, an 8-year-old daughter and our 2-year-old?
Families with a big age range have to work hard in advance of the trip. Make sure everyone is involved in the planning and make no assumptions. (For example, do not assume Gramps is too old for Disney — he may be looking for a good excuse to be a kid again.) Look for a destination that has something for everyone, and be on the lookout for special children's programming so the grownups can have some time to themselves. Most important, don't push the idea that everyone has to spend every waking moment together. "Downtime" and "apart time" are underrated, in my opinion, and I build them into all my family vacations. For example, I took a cruise in August with my kids and their "Grammy." Most of the time, the kids were with me or they hung out with their new friends, but we ate all our dinners with Grammy, and we did a couple of shore excursions together. That way the kids avoided "Grammy overload," and Grammy was able to have a good time without having to be institutionalized when she got off the ship.

6. What are some resources for family deals, trips, advice, etc.?
My best advice is to work with a travel agent who is really interested in family travel. The Internet has many great resources, too, but take the consumer reviews with a grain of salt; after all, no two families are alike in their needs and expectations. For hotels and resorts, I like to check out Trip Advisor. For anything cruise-related, I use Cruise Critic, a wonderful forum-based Web site. Single Parent Travel is indispensable for that constituency, and Tripso has a lot of tell-it-like-it-is information on the travel industry as a whole. If you are headed to the mall, check out Borders or Barnes & Noble for some of the better guidebooks including Frommer's, Rick Steves and Zagat.

My most memorable trips have been family trips, though I'm pretty sure not one of them went off without a hitch. The above tips might help you out a bit, but the best advice, I have saved for last — just roll with the punches and enjoy the ride.

Road trip ipod revisited

A discussion at Fodor's Forum about road trip songs.

The Colors of Autumn

It's coming on here in Northwest CT, should be nice for a while.

Here's more from the Fodor's travel wire on foliage following in New England:

New England park rangers and other outdoors-y types are predicting an outstanding fall foliage season this year, though the foliage peak might be a few days later than usual due to the still-lingering traces of summer. The last weeks of September and early October in the northernmost regions of New England are expected to be prime viewing time. Check the Foliage Network for current updates as the season progresses. Here's where to see the best of Mother Nature's annual art show.


For New York-based leaf-peepers who can't break away for a long weekend, Connecticut -- "New England's front porch" -- is a doable day trip.

When to Visit: Foliage season usually begins here in late September and extends through mid-to-late October. Peak color is estimated to be a little early this year -- between October 5 and October 12. But the tourism board suggests that people not fuss and fret about missing the big-color climax, noting sensibly that "visitors will still be able to enjoy a full array of colors even before the peak."

Best Viewing: Take a drive along Connecticut Route 169, a winding off-the-beaten-path road that travels through the rural northeastern corner of the state and has been dubbed one of the ten most beautiful drives in the country. Start your drive in Canterbury, CT, and along the way stop for a meal at the Inn at Woodstock Hill, or tour the Sharpe Hill Vineyard and Winery in Pomfret. If you're driving to Connecticut from NYC, avoid the interstates and take the Merrit Parkway, one of the oldest highways in the country. You'll be guaranteed one of the most impressive foliage shows anywhere.


With 17 million acres of forest, taciturn Maine is downright festive in autumn, when trees put on one of the Northeast's grandest shows. The perkiest hues come from the sugar maple, oak, elm, birch, and ash trees, all native to the state.

When to Visit: Leaves start to turn in the northern part of the state in late September. The southern part of the state is ablaze by mid-to-late October.

Best Viewing: To see the foliage at its best early in the season, take a drive along the Rangeley Lakes National Scenic Byway, which begins on Route 17 in Byron (western Maine) and traverses north to its namesake waterway. Make sure to stop at the Height of Land overlook to wax poetic over the view of five lakes surrounded by colorful mountains. In October, visit Camden, where the blazing-colored hills slope down to a schooner-filled harbor fed by a waterfall in the center of the town. In Camden, drive to the 800-foot summit of Mt. Battie and have a big bowl of chowder and a piece of pie at Cappy's.

060913_NewHampFAllF copy.jpgNew Hampshire

The state's tourism board claims that only two places in the world -- New Hampshire and Japan -- have the unique combination of climate and topography that results in particularly brilliant foliage.

When to Visit: In mid-September, the state's mountaintops and lowlands turn a flaming red. From the end of September through the first week in October, the trees are at their peak color in the far northern part of the state. The first two weeks of October are southern New Hampshire's time to shine.

Best Viewing: To view all this wonderfulness, take a drive along the Kancamagus Scenic Byway, which traverses New Hampshire's White Mountain National Forest. The road begins at the junction of I-93 and Highway 112 in Lincoln (near the Pemigewasset River) and goes east until it ends in the city of Conway at the junction of Highway 112 and Highway 16. If you're traveling with kids, stop off at Clark's Trading Post (weekends only through mid-Oct.), a classic cheesy roadside attraction that includes a fire station, a steam locomotive, and trained bears. Or drive to the eastern end of the Byway, park your car, and take a train ride on the Conway Scenic Railroad -- opt for the picturesque Notch route for the full-on fall foliage experience.


The Green Mountain State doesn't even try to live up to its nickname in autumn, when its mountains morph into a multi-colored mosaic. State foresters here are joyfully expecting a spectacular season.

When to Visit: Mother Nature's fall fiesta typically begins in mid September in the northern part and higher elevations of Vermont and progresses southward to lower elevations through mid to late October. But Vermont's small size makes it easy to roam across the state and experience every color stage in just one day.

Best Viewing: Drive the Smugglers' Notch Scenic Byway (Vermont Route 108), which can be picked up about an hour's drive east of Burlington. The super-curvy road brings you up through the foliage canopy to the summit of Mount Mansfield, at 4,393 feet above sea level -- Vermont's highest point. Stop by the 158 Main Restaurant & Bakery in downtown Jeffersonville for breakfast, lunch, or dinner (802/644-8100) or sample traditional New England food at the Smugglers Inn and Tavern.


The air is crisp and clear, the trees are clad in crimson, gold, and purple, dry leaves crunch underfoot whether you're hiking a woodland trail or walking a city sidewalk. The small picture-perfect New England villages smell of wood smoke and apples and the entire state seems happily haunted with the ghosts of seasons and centuries past. Massachusetts is autumn incarnate.

When to Visit: Jim DiMaio, Chief Forester for the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, anticipates seeing "some of the best foliage we've seen in years." Peak color across the state often coincides with Columbus Day weekend.

Best Viewing: Leaf-peepers are spoiled for road trip options in Massachusetts. You can take Route 133 from north Boston, which winds along back roads and passes through the classic New England towns of Essex, Ipswich, Rowley, and Georgetown (whatever else you do, make sure to stop for fried shrimps or clams at The Clam Box, 246 High St., Ipswich). Or take Route 127 along the coast through Beverly, Manchester by-the-Sea, Gloucester, and up to Rockport.

If you want to avoid the crowds, take Route 128 to Route 117 to Stow, in the heart of apple country, then Route 62 South and West to Princeton. Follow the signs to the Wachusett Mountain Reservation. There, you can drive 2000-plus feet up to the summit for a grand view of the countryside.

---Michelle Delio

Tips for Leaf Peepers

This in from the Fodor's Travel wire:

Helpful hints on seeing the best of autumn's colors....

1: Don't head to New England on a whim, blithely assuming you'll be able to find a place to stay. Everyone visits New England in autumn, so make your lodging reservations well in advance.

2: If all the country inns are full, it's best to book a hotel in a larger city and use that as your base camp. Boston is close to the action and a great departure point for day trips in Massachusetts. Portland gets you close to Maine's foliage-hot spots. Or if your schedule is flexible, try booking a room Sunday through Thursday rather than busy Fridays and Saturdays.

3: For updates on fall foliage conditions, call the National Forest Service's Fall Color Hotline at (800) 354-4595. But don't get freaked if you're too early or too late to see colors. Autumn color is a process not a single moment, and from the end of September to mid-October you can usually be guaranteed great colors somewhere in New England.

4: Be respectful of locals on the road. For you, driving along the road looking at fall foliage is a magical-mystery tour through nature's glory. But to a local, that same road is just a way to get from point A to point B. Show some respect. Pull over and let them pass.

5: Pay attention to critter-crossing signs. Moose- and deer-crossing signs are serious warnings that large animals -- like a 1,000-pound moose -- could dart or amble out onto the road at any minute.

6: For the very best photos, hit the road early. Colors are most vivid in the morning light. And do linger late -- the hour right before sunset is perfect for capturing fall colors against a muted deep sky. Don't just snap the big panoramic views either. Look for single, brilliantly colored trees with interesting elements nearby, like a weathered gray stone wall or a freshly painted white church. These images are often more evocative than big blobs of color or panoramic shots.

7: Pack a sweater or jacket. It might be 70 and sunny during the day, but New England nights are invigorating, to say the least. And if you're heading into the mountains you'll probably need a sweater during the day; it can be 20 or more degrees cooler at higher elevations. You might also want to pack lunch or snacks so you aren't at the mercy of overcrowded restaurants.

8: Don't fixate on the foliage. Mother Nature is wonderfully unpredictable and one windy rainstorm can put a brusque end to any location's foliage season. There are many ways to enjoy autumn in New England, so plan to visit a harvest festival, museum, art galleries, go antiquing, pick apples -- whatever interests you. Looking at the leaves should be just one part of your trip, not its sole focus.

--Michelle Delio

More Leaf-Peeper Drives in New England

New England's fall foliage is the best in the country. And it's just starting to pop. Usually the peak is around early to mid October, but if you miss it in one area, just drive a bit south and look there.

Try this 85 mile loop beginning in Torrington, CT:
Don't miss the covered bridge in Cornwall.

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And a 185 mile loop in northern Maine, beginning and ending in Skowhegan (You'll probably want to stop over at Moosehead lake for a night or two):

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There are many web sites for tracking the progress, here are a few of them:

Fall Foliage Drives in Vermont

From Yankee Magazine. here are a couple of American Backroads that offer nice foliage. Both up in the north west corner.
a southern loop, about 42 miles, which takes you through Smuggler's Notch:

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and a connected northern loop, about 46 miles:

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Yankee Magazines suggests these places to stay:
Edson Hill Manor, Stowe, VT
From $199 including breakfast

The Governor's House, Hyde Park, VT
From $95 including breakfast

The Green Mountain Inn, Stowe, VT
From $169
800- 253-7302

The Smuggler's Notch Inn & Village Tavern, Jeffersonville, VT
From $89

Smuggler's Notch Resort, Jeffersonville, VT
From $154

Sterling Ridge Log Cabin Resort, Jeffersonville, VT
Lodge from $180, cabins from $99

Trapp Family Lodge, Stowe, VT
From $105

A Tale of Two Cities: Big and Small

Unfriendly Police Officers can Ruin a Town's Economy

I don't get a lot of speeding tickets. I drive a lot of miles each year with all of the travel for work and the family road trips, so I get some speeding tickets. But I'm not a chronic offender by any means. Especially if you divide my number of tickets per mile.

Hartford, Connecticut
I had an interesting trip last month to photograph Montpelier; home of James Madison, our fourth President, Father of our Constitution, and the author of the Bill of Rights. I'm one of those people who are always thinking. At least that's how I see it; Tinsley, on the other hand, may describe it differently. Anyway, "always thinking" sometimes looks to the outside world like "not thinking". Sometimes I miss my turns. Usually this isn't a problem, but on the way to the airport, it can turn into a problem real fast. Especially if there's traffic involved. Which, if you're in Hartford, CT, is a given (I fly out of Bradley Airport serving Hartford and Springfield). So I'm blasting through neighborhoods of Hartford trying to get to the airport when I come over this hill. There's a speed trap at the four way stop sign halfway down the hill. The police officers don't even have to get out of their car, they just sit there shooting people at the crest of the hill. So they wave to me and point to the side of the road.

"I'm sorry, but I was... well I suppose the excuse doesn't matter, forget it" I say to the officer after handing him my license and registration.
"But what?" is his reply;
"I missed my turn a few miles back and I'm trying to find a quick route to the airport because I've got a flight to catch."
"When does your flight leave?"
"I got you going 40 miles per hour coming down that hill and this is a 25 miles per hour zone; keep it under 25. You can get a fast route to the airport by going straight, and then taking your second left. That'll lead you to Interstate 91."
"Thank you very much officer, I appreciate it."

Let's contrast that to my experience after the aforementioned flight.

Orange, Virginia:
I had a wonderful time touring the restoration of Montpelier, eating in 3 local restaurants, and photographing the scenic countryside. I even found the ruins of a mansion designed by Thomas Jefferson for Governor Barbour which burned down after about 70 years. On my way out of town, I got up, packed up the rental car and headed into Orange for gas, road snacks, and breakfast at the local cafe. Coming over a little hill and around a corner I went through a traffic signal (which was green) and simultaneously noticed a "Speed Limit 25" and blue flashing lights in my rear view mirror.

Rather than give an out of state visitor a warning for an honest mistake, the young officer wrote me up a ticket that I can either pay through the mail or appear in court. After I accepted the ticket it occurred to me that if the blue flashing lights were in my mirror at the same time that I saw the "Speed Limit 25" sign, then I wasn't breaking the law at all. I was on the correct side of the sign when he pulled clocked me; the "Speed Limit 45 mph" side of the sign.

Truth is stranger than fiction
When a big city police officer set up in a legitimate speed trap gives a friendly warning (and directions to the airport) and a small town police officer hits an out-of-towner with a big speeding ticket from a bogus speed trap, its in stark contrast to what we expect.

I didn't fill up with gas, I didn't buy any road snacks, and I didn't eat breakfast until I was out of Orange County. It took all of the gas I had, I might add. When I go back to visit Montpelier, I'll stay in a hotel outside of the county and spend my money elsewhere as well.

If I were Stephen Colbert, I'd give Orange, Virginia a "Wag of the Finger!"
Hartford, Connecticut, on the other hand, gets a "Tip of the Hat" for hospitality.

And so does Portland, ME for that matter. I was in Portland photographing a house. I parked on the side of the road not realizing that it was a two-hour only parking spot. When I came out around lunch time, I noticed a parking ticket on my windshield. It was green, rather then red or orange as we expect, and it said something \along the lines of "You have been forgiven". Because I had out of state plates, they figured I didn't realize their parking laws, and they wanted me to come back, so they didn't bust me for an honest mistake.

Hartford, CT: 1
Portland, ME: 1
Orange, VA: 0

By the way, I'm not going to pay the ticket; instead I'm going to court.

Omaha, Nebraska is O! So Great

I went to Omaha a couple of weeks ago for a quick photo shoot (1 full day, 2 half days) of the PATH concept house. I really didn't expect much more than great sunsets, sunrises, and steaks. But as soon as I got out of the airport, I could tell the city is vibrant. Lot's of public sculpture (including the O! Public Art Project), lots of parks, many new buildings and old buildings is great shape. There's a section of town called old town (or something like that) with brick streets and great old buildings with lots of restaurants, brew pubs, wine bars, shops etc. Many of the sidewalks in this section of town are covered with tin roofs featuring flower boxes along their leading edge. This makes for a great look, especially in the evening sun light.

Sadly, I kept leaving the camera in my hotel room when I went for dinner, so I didn't get any great shots of this photogenic city.
But I'll be back.

American Backroads: Bridgeport, CT to Camden ME

Back roads through Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine. During the summer, it's almost always wise to avoid Interstate 95 in New England. The Maine Turnpike, the Mass Pike are two more to skip. These back roads may take longer if there's no traffic on the interstates, but they'll be quicker on the week ends during summer. And there are more hometown places to stop for a bite to eat and sights to see.

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Paris with Kids

An article in Fodor's Newsletter If you're going to Europe,

Paris is often promoted as an adult destination, but there's no shortage of children's activities to keep the young 'uns busy. If you venture here with children in tow, make sure to buy a Pariscope (found at most newsstands) and check the enfants section for current children's events.


Paris has a number of museums that cater to the young, and the young at heart. The Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie (30 av. Corentin-Cariou), at Parc de la Villette, is an enormous science center. The children's area is divided into two main sections: one for children from three to five years of age; another for those from five to 12. Interactive exhibits allow kids to do everything from build a house and learn about communications systems throughout history, from the tom-tom to the satellite.

The Musée de la Poupée (the Doll Museum) is a cozy museum in the heart of the Marais, with a collection of more than 500 dolls dating back to the 1800s, complete with costumes, furniture, and accessories. Labels might be in French, but they're not really the point anyway. The museum features a "Doll Hospital," where "sick" dolls and plush toys come to be repaired; the doctor is in on Thursday, but free estimates are offered throughout the week.

The Palais de la Découverte (the Palace of Discovery) has high definition, 3-D exhibits covering everything from chemistry, biology, physics, and the weather so there's bound to be some interesting dinner conversation when the day is done. Many of the displays are in French, but that doesn't stop most kids from having a blast; hands down, the choice between this and the Louvre is a no-brainer.

Sites & shows

A zoo is usually a good bet to get the kids' attention, although you might want to keep in mind that most European zoos aren't as spacious as American zoos. The Ménagerie at the Jardin des Plantes, is an urban zoo dating from 1794 and home to more than 240 mammals, 400 birds, 270 reptiles, and a number of insects. The huge Parc Zoologique, in the Bois de Vincennes, is the largest zoo in Paris, although parts are closed for renovation; the bonus of taking the metro out here, though, are the park's two lakes, both with rentable rowboats. When it comes to spectacles, what child would pass up the circus? There are several in the city, and the Cirque de Paris (115 bd. Charles-de-Gaulle, Villeneuve-la-Garenne) has a special feature called a "Day at the Circus" -- your kids (and you) can learn some basics like juggling, then you'll lunch with the artistes and see a performance in the afternoon.

Of course, the best sight in Paris is the city itself, and a boat ride on the Seine is a must for everyone. It's the perfect way to see the sights, rest weary feet, and depending on which option you choose, lunch or dinner may be part of the treat. 070828_Paris_Tuileries_istock_brightladyF.jpg

Expending Energy

Most kids are thrilled (at least more than the grownups) at the prospect of climbing
innumerable stairs to be rewarded with cool views: the Eiffel Tower is the quintessential Paris climb but Notre-Dame gets extra points for the gargoyles, and the Arc de Triomphe is a good bet, since it's centrally located at the end of the Champs Elysées.

When it comes to open spaces for running around, Paris has lots of park options, with extra attractions in summer when kids can work off steam on the trampolines or ride ponies at the Jardin des Tuileries. The Jardin du Luxembourg has a playground and a pond where kids can rent miniature boats, and the Bois de Boulogne has a zoo, rowboats, bumper cars, and lots of wide-open spaces.

Iceskating is seasonal but always a thrill, and from mid-December through February, several outdoor Paris sites are turned into spectacular ice-skating rinks with Christmas lights, music, and instructors. The rinks are free to the public; skate rental for adults costs £5. The main rink is at place de l'Hotel de Ville (the square in front of City Hall) but the rink on the Eiffel Tower's first level, though small has prime novelty value.

Underground Paris

There's something about exploring underground that seems to fascinate kids, at least the older ones. Les Egouts, the Paris sewer system, has a certain gross factor but isn't actually that disgusting. Keep in mind, though, that the smell is definitely ranker in the summer months. At the Catacombs, in Montparnasse, dark tunnels filled with bones are spookily titillating -- at least for those not prone to nightmares. 070828_Paris_Metro.jpg

For some cheap underground entertainment without the ick factor, the métro itself can be its own sort of adventure, complete with fascinating station art such as the submarine decor at Arts-et-Metiers, the colorful Parisian timeline murals at Tuileries, or the Egyptian statues of the Louvre-Rivoli station.

And for Treats

All that fun will no doubt bring on an appetite and there's no shortage of special places to stop for a snack in Paris. Angelina (226 rue de Rivoli) near the Jardin des Tuileries is world famous for its hot chocolate -- deliciously thick and yummy, unlike what American children are usually used to. Berthillon (31 rue St-Louis-en-L'ille), renowned for their decadent ice cream, has outposts around town, including on the Ile St-Louis -- though the Amarino gelaterias give them a run for their money. And when in need, a patisserie selling chocolate croissants is never hard to find. French children adore the pastel clouds of meringue (which resemble hardened whipped cream puffs) that decorate almost every bakery's window, and there are all sort of cookies to tempt a smile from a tired tot.

Photo credits: (1) Courtesy Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie; (2) Tuileres Garden, ©Istockphoto/brightlady; (3) ©Istockphoto.

Find This Place! Deep South

The ongoing Family Road Trippers geographical scavenger hunt!

Find this ruin somewhere in the deep south, either Alabama, Mississippi, or Louisiana. A little off the beaten path, but near the alma matter of "Air McNair".

As always, if you can identify this place, we'll send you a free barf bag!

(Please don't play too closely to the columns -- they may fall over)

7 Mistakes Not to Make When Dining Out with Kids

A good article off the Fodor's Travel Wire.

070725_kids_restaurant_Jason_LugoF.JPGIf a restaurant dispenses tiny packets of crayons enrobed in whimsical paper placemats, you've likely discovered a place that considers itself kid friendly. But is it a place you want to go? Deep in your heart you know it isn't. And wherever you travel, you're probably finding that the desirable places to eat aren't necessarily clear about whether they're kid friendly. Ultimately, though, showing your kids a good time isn't the restaurant's job -- it's yours. And believe it or not, you can do more than just survive a night out with your kids if you avoid these common blunders.

Mistake #1: Picking a place devoid of other kids
While you're away, pick restaurants based in part on who else is eating there. Look for at least one other family with kids close in age to your own. If the crowd feels cold when you get there, walk. Unless your child's perfectly still and silent (aka unconscious), she'll likely want to go say hello to the other family. One of the easiest things to forget while on vacation is how much your kids miss their friends back home, and watching your daughter and her new friend chatter about tween stars or annoy the fish in the tank up front will remind you how those instant restaurant friendships can create your child's fondest memories of a trip.

Mistake #2: Relying on the kids' menu
A kids' menu is often unimaginative and overpriced and what's worse, its dishes often have no relationship to the good food on your menu. For a better meal, have the waiter halve one of the adult entrees or, better yet, order your child not one but several appetizers. This eliminates the drama of your child saying she doesn't like the taste or smell of her entrée, increases the chances of her hitting upon something she likes, and opens her eyes to new flavors and combinations. The meal will be more satisfying and, potentially, less pricey.

Mistake #3: Trying a totally new food on vacation
While it's tempting to introduce your kids to that regional dish you've been craving, don't be recklessly experimental. For instance, shellfish -- so simple and ubiquitous in New England, the Caribbean, and countless other family destinations, is a good candidate for an allergic reaction if your child has never tried it. If shellfish or some other ingredient is an unknown or a problem, also be mindful of more subtle manifestations. If your waiter's unclear if the fish chowder is prepared with shellfish or if the kitchen fries the shrimp and clams separately from the french fries, insist he ask the chef. An allergic reaction may be limited to a single bout of vomiting, but do you really want your child's defining memory of the trip to be, "Remember when I threw up?"

Mistake #4: Not anticipating meltdowns
Trying to arrest a child's meltdown as it's happening is a lot like taking sea-sickness pills at the first sign of nausea: nice idea, but you're about an hour too late. By no means beat yourself up for letting the day get away from you at that world-famous zoo or great-for-kids beach. But if you go this route, don't mar a perfect day by expecting dinner to unfold calmly: anticipate that your kids might be starving or exhausted and know their time limits, especially if you insist on making every restaurant meal count -- and it can. Just eat strategically. Since appetizers, theoretically, are supposed to be ready quickly, ordering several for all of you in lieu of entrees might be the best plan. And did you ever wonder why you see so many parents drinking coffee with their meals? It's not just to shake off insanity; they already know they won't be around to enjoy it later.

Mistake #5: Having their meals brought out first
Assuming your kids aren't starving or exhausted, don't have their dishes come out before yours. Many waiters will assume that you want the meals staggered and may not even ask your consent; be clear. If your kids dig in before you they'll either be done or bored by the time your food arrives. Coloring books or handheld gaming devices may fill some of the time, but soon the relentless whining about why they shouldn't have to watch you eat will begin to make sense, you'll start to rush, and it'll be your fault. You've earned the right to try your destination's best food without indigestion, and even if having your family eat together at home is torture, they may surprise you and rise to the challenge while dining out. Especially if they ever hope to see that dessert tray arrive at your table.

Mistake #6: Not tasting their food first
This one may seem alarmist. I know I thought it was, at least until a trip to an elegant San Francisco restaurant, where my then four-year-old daughter bit into her kids' meal and began tearing up and fanning her mouth. It seems the chef had mistakenly given her the same red pepper flake-laced meatballs he was serving to adults via the grown-up menu. This was a mistake on the part of the kitchen (they had meant to serve her from a milder batch). Regardless of how mild or uninteresting their food may look, vet it for weird spices, off-tastes, and extreme temperatures, at least until they're ready to leave for college.

Mistake #7: Being a jerk when things go wrong
In the near future a restaurant is going to disappoint you. It might involve a waiter forgetting to put somebody's order in, passing a steaming hot cup of coffee over the head of your infant son, splashing sauce on your sleeve, or exhibiting some other lapse in service, judgment, or coordination. When it happens, take a deep breath and think about what you're going to say. Good restaurants want to make amends for their mistakes (hot pepper girl got a free sundae), and freaking out will only mortify your kids and make the rest of the meal uncomfortable. If your grandstanding is meant to prove to your kids that you're not a pushover, great, we all get it, but consider a more measured approach that sets a good example and doesn't amount to dinner theater for the rest of us. A quiet but firm attitude may not feel as good as outrage, but it might get you more satisfaction in the end. And your kids just may respect you for it.

---Paul Eisenberg

Paul Eisenberg, a Fodor's editorial director and father of three, has overpaid for kids menu meals, failed to anticipate many a meltdown, and given up on the possibility of sipping coffee after dinner. He previously wrote about mistakes to avoid on family road trips.

Photo credits: © Istockphoto/ Jason Lugo

Avoiding the Masses at 4 Great National Parks

This is fresh off the Fodor's Travel Wire:

north_rim.jpg What could be better than a summer vacation spent communing with nature in one of our national parks? Unfortunately millions of others will be doing the same thing. But that doesn't mean your holiday has to be spent dodging video cameras and screeching kids. Follow our tips below to escape the hordes and make the most of your time in the park.

Grand Canyon National Park
If you're visiting the Grand Canyon in summer, avoid highways AZ 64 and U.S. 180 from Flagstaff like the plague. Take U.S. 89 north from Flagstaff instead, and pick up U.S. 64 to the west, which brings you to the Canyon's South Rim. Arrive well before 9 a.m. or after 4 p.m. to avoid the insane lines. Or head to the North Rim where the views are even prettier. The North Rim only gets about 10% of the number of visitors as the South Rim. Why? Because getting there tacks another 215 miles onto your drive from Flagstaff (take U.S. 89 north past Cameron, left onto U.S. 89A at Bitter Springs to Jacob Lake and then AZ 67.) It's a super scenic drive and well worth the effort to avoid the hordes at the South Rim.

When to Visit: The busiest times to visit Grand Canyon National Park are summer and spring. Visiting during these times will mean negotiating crowds. Be patient. Remember that you cannot visit the North Rim in winter due to weather conditions.

The Ranger's Tip: Navigating GCNP is a big task, one made easier by the free shuttle system, says Chuck Wahler, a 16-year employee of the park. Buses stop at 30-some points of interest, and Wahler advocates hopping aboard whenever possible. "You'll spend more time exploring the park and less time looking for a place to park."


Yellowstone National Park
To avoid crowds at Yellowstone, get into the park at or just before sunrise if possible, before 9 a.m. for sure. See Old Faithful erupt during the earliest hours (the geyser spews about every 70 minutes, visitor centers have lists of the anticipated times) and check out the very popular Mammoth Hot Springs and the Norris Geyser Basin either early in the morning or late in the day. Then head to less populated parts of the park -- such as the Lone Star Geyser, Point Sublime, Fairy Falls, and Yellowstone Lake -- between 10-3 when the crowds start building. Don't miss a swim in the Gardner River, two miles north of Mammoth on the North Entrance road. Here, you can paddle about in a warm river fed by the park's hot springs.

When to Visit: You'll find the big crowds from mid-July to mid-August. There are fewer people here the month or two before and after this peak season, though you'll also find fewer dining and lodging facilities open. Most of the park closes from October to mid-December and again from March to late April or early May.

The Ranger's Tip: Park Ranger Mary Wilson recommends packing for all types of weather no matter what time of year it is, remaining at least 75 feet away from wildlife (300 feet for bears), and staying on geyser basin boardwalks to prevent serious thermal burns.

Yosemite National Park
To beat the crowds to Yosemite you've got to get up before sunrise and into the park before dawn. Yosemite has four entrances, and traffic moves about as quickly (or sometimes just as slowly) through all of them. Once you're in the park, head to wildly popular Yosemite Falls for a spectacular sunrise, then escape to Tuolumne Meadows (on the east side of the park) to explore its many hiking trails and have a picnic lunch. Or head to Hetch Hetchy Valley, 40 miles from Yosemite Valley, to enjoy a quiet afternoon amid spectacular scenery and waterfalls.

When to Visit: Mid-April through Memorial Day and from mid-September through October are good times. During extremely busy periods -- like the 4th of July -- you may experience delays at the entrance gates. If you can only go during the warmest months, try to visit midweek.

The Ranger's Tip: Park Ranger Scott Gediman loves to hike Yosemite's trails. His favorite is the Mist Trail to Vernal Falls. "I've done it literally hundreds of times. If you can only take one hike in Yosemite, do this one, especially in spring and summer."


Zion National Park
Zion is the most heavily visited national park in Utah, and most of its guests arrive through the South Gate. To avoid the bottlenecks, take Utah 9 to the east entrance. You can see all the highlights of the park on the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive shuttle ride, but go as early in the morning as possible. Once the crowds pick up, most of them will be milling around Zion Canyon. If you're in the mood for a little adventure, get off at the shuttle's last stop (Temple of Sinawava) for a riverside walk to The Narrows, one of the prettiest parts of the park. The first mile of the walk, between cliffs and alongside the Virgin River, is easy and wheelchair accessible. If you want to continue on, the going gets rougher -- be prepared to walk through water that is occasionally a few feet deep on some parts of the trail. For a great short easy hike, wander up to Weeping Rock, a cool damp alcove that's often filled with wildflowers. Or take the 10-mile-round trip Kolob Canyons Scenic Drive to check out the colorful sandstone cliffs and deep gorges.

When to Visit: Between April and October, Zion is visited by a staggering 2.5. million people. Winters are mild at lower elevations here, so consider planning your visit for some time other than peak season. You can expect winter driving conditions November through March, and though many park programs are suspended at this time, winter is a wonderful and solitary time to see the canyons.

The Ranger's Tip: "Menu Falls, hidden in a lush and tranquil ravine along the Virgin River, is a little-known waterfall bypassed by thousands of visitors each day," says Ron Terry, Chief of Visitor Services at Zion National Park. "It got its name because a picture of it was on the original Zion Lodge menu. The falls are about a half-mile walk north of the Big Bend shuttle stop."

National Parks Basics
Your first stop in the park should be the visitors center, where you can get up-to-the minute information on park conditions and purchase permits if you'll be hiking in the backcountry or camping.

  • If you lead a sedentary city life, don't let your holiday-induced enthusiasm for the outdoors convince you to tackle activities that might be too challenging. Vacations should not be an endurance contest -- you can have just as much fun on the easy trails. And make sure you have a hat, sunscreen and water when you're heading off for anything but the shortest walks.
  • If you're 62 years of age or older, get a Senior Pass at the admission gate of any park. The pass, which costs $10, is good for the owner's lifetime and allows the pass owner and three adults traveling in the same car free admission to the park, plus deep discounts on other activities. Find out more here. Under the age limit? Buy a year-long pass for $80 or take a senior citizen on your trip.
  • Bring a cooler and pack a picnic lunch foraged from a local grocery store. Fast food is overpriced in the parks, and the better restaurants are always crowded in the summer.
  • See the Fodor's National Parks page for more helpful advice on visiting the national parks of the west.

    --Michelle Delio