Take A Drive With Janis Joplin's Ghost

I saw this in the Hartford Courant April 29, 2007 from the wires. Maybe when I travel down to the gulf coast I'll add this in and report back.

Head down to Port Arthur, Texas - in a Mercedes-Benz, if possible - for a new self-guided Janis Joplin driving tour. The 15 stops include her childhood home, churches, schools and the Museum of the Gulf Coast, which has an exhibit devoted to the rock and blues singer. For more information about the tour, call 800-235-7822.

Tommy's Magic Kingdom Blog

I thought Disney World was pretty good. Really, really, really, pretty good. We had ice cream and hot dogs, and I had a sloppy Joe for lunch, which I didn't think tasted that good. I saw Captain Hook there and I scared him with my pirate gear. I can't believe I was actually able to scare Captain Hook. He is the scariest, the coolest pirate in the world.

Here are the rides I went on along with scary scale and the fun scale ratings (1 is not very scary or fun, 10 is very scary or fun).

1. Space Mountain was absolutely terrifying! Here are some tips: scream, close your eyes, or don't go on.
10 on the Scary Scale
5 on the Fun Scale

2. Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin was very cool. I got 2,080 points! Dad got 3, 600 points and Aunt Leigh got 12,860 points! Mom beat Dad with 3,800 points.
0 on the Scary Scale
10 on the Fun Scale

3. Splash Mountain was wet... no, very wet. We sat in the front seat of the front log. Don't worry they have little hills first. The big drop is last, it's scary, but fun because you're used to it by then. I closed my eyes.
2 on the Scary Scale
10 on the Fun Scale

4. Tom Sawyer’s Island had caves and a tree house and I went on both. The caves were scary, but there was gold in one of them and the tree house was made mostly of barrels. There was also a wobbly floating barrel bridge; water leaked into one of them.
4 on the Scary Scale
9 on the Fun Scale

Jungle Safari boat trip had fake animals. We went under a waterfall and our boat driver was hilarious! Tip: if he offers to take a picture, don't give him your camera!
Rating: 1 on the Scary Scale, 9 on the Fun Scale

6. Haunted Mansion was terrifying also. DON'T GO IN!!!
10 on the scary scale
2 on the Fun Scale.

7. Indy Speedway was fun but we didn't win either time. There's the girl that we almost beat in the picture.
0 on the Scary Scale
10 on the Fun Scale

8. Pirates of the Caribbean was my favorite. One pirate called us beach rats! Here's some advice: you'll want to go again and again. The picture is of Captain Stinky Foot!
1 on the Scary Scale
10 on the Fun Scale

9. The Astro-Orbiter had a forever lasting line.
The orbiter leaned sideways -- the opposite way we were turning.
8 on the Scary Scale
8 on the Fun Scale

10. Walking through the Castle was pretty fun. It was fancy.
0 on the Scary Scale
6 on the Fun Scale

11. Fireworks were really cool; there were stars that shot up each side of the castle. Tinkerbell flew down from the castle and the rest of the fireworks were amazing.
0 on the Scary Scale
15 on the Fun Scale!

More Family Road Trip Tips: 7 Dont's

Another pertinant item form Fodor's Travel Wire (4/26/07).

7 Mistakes Not to Make on Your Next Family Road Trip
You've no doubt thought of everything. The enormous suitcase that brained you when it slid from the closet is now nestled in the trunk, well-packed with your family's wardrobe for the week. Your kids have enough snacks to forestall whining for days if necessary. You spent the morning neatly stapling computer-generated directions for each leg of your trip. And if you drive at high speeds -- with the flow of traffic, of course -- you'll make the eight-hour drive in excellent time. So what are you missing? Well, for starters, you've already made several mistakes that could turn your family car trip into a disaster.

Mistake #1: Packing the wrong bag
When you're driving, there's no advantage to consolidating your family's clothes in that indestructible bag you use for flying. Think nylon or canvas duffel bags -- 24 to 30 inches long -- one for each person's things. You'll be carting more bags around, but you'll be able to put your hands on everything more quickly. Plus, repacking the trunk will be easier, especially if you're fitting small bags around a stroller and all those jugs of laundry detergent you bought.

Mistake #2: Altering meal times
A common road-trip blunder is disrupting your family's normal meal schedule. If you don't hit the road until late morning, there's a temptation to drive through lunch and snack your way to dinner. You know your kids will have no restraint when it comes to snacks, and neither will you. Plus, if after hours of gorging you make a spontaneous lunch stop, you'll be wolfing down food while your kids complain about not being hungry. And if lunch is thrown off, you'll all be out of synch by dinner. By evening, your kids will be starving after both refusing to eat lunch and losing interest in the car snacks, and if it's later than you usually eat, dinner will be a miserable whinefest. Solution: Keep it simple and eat all your meals at the usual times.

Mistake #3: Pacing the day badly
Nothing will sour a car trip faster than hitting the road at the wrong time. It's all-too-tempting to leave work at 4 or 5 p.m. on a Friday to get on the road for a weekend getaway. The good thing about this is that, regardless of their ages, your kids will immediately slide into comatose naps. The bad thing is that when you pull into your destination at 8 p.m. they'll be up, all night. A different tactic, hitting the road after 9 p.m. so that your kids will fall asleep and stay asleep works wonderfully -- until you stop a few hours later. If they don't come to immediately, chances are they'll be wide awake by the time you've carried them inside. Best bet: Sacrifice the evening escape and leave the following morning (or early enough the next afternoon so that a nap won't be disruptive) and ensure you're off the road for the day by dinnertime.

Mistake #4: Denying you could get lost
Computer-generated directions are nifty, but accurate to a fault; one wrong turn and they're next to useless. Bring a real road map. Also, invest in a portable GPS device or request one for your rental ($10 or less daily fee) -- Hertz and Avis fleets are well-equipped with them. The first time a GPS generates an accurate course correction is the first time it pays for itself. Still, GPS isn't perfect. Like computer algorithms and your well-meaning friend's husband, they can overcomplicate directions and, at times, fail to identify streets. So pack the map no matter what.

Mistake #5: Driving like an idiot
We do stupid things on vacation that we don't do at home: skydiving, paying retail, eating organ meat we can't identify, and, curiously, driving more cavalierly than we normally do. This is a mistake no matter who's in the car, but the fact that the stakes are higher when you're driving with your family can't be overstated. One of the more perplexing things we do on the road is break traffic laws, making illegal turns or speeding down the highway because we're keeping up with the flow of traffic. Sure, you can get away with it, and if you're a good driver you might rationalize the risk to your family. But don't underestimate the risk of being pulled over. Any leniency you might have been hoping for from that approaching highway patrolman will evaporate when he sees you have kids in the back.

Mistake #6: Not setting a budget for the little things
It's puzzling that many of us tirelessly research airfares, hotels, car rentals, and online coupon codes with the hope of saving a few dollars, yet when it comes to buying incidentals on the road, we're essentially careless. You wouldn't dream of giving your second grader a $50 weekly allowance at home. But for a week on the road, if you dare consider the sum of a pack of sour candies here, a souvenir pen there, a keychain for her BFF over in that store, and the other little things for which you're constantly breaking $5 bills, giving each kid a $50 allowance with a "once you spend it it's gone" proviso can end up being a good deal. A debit scenario works equally well for grown-ups, too.

Mistake #7: Forgetting that the journey is the destination
If your goal is to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible, you probably shouldn't be traveling by car. One of the benefits of road trips is that you can pull over at the farm rather than give the kids a blurry glimpse of a cow; eat the best steak and eggs of your life at that nondescript roadside diner; and take that throwaway snapshot over by the guardrail that ends up being the quintessential photo of you and your daughter. Hundreds of potentially undiscovered moments are around the next corner, which is why treating a drive as a means to an end rather than as part of your journey is the biggest mistake of all.

--Paul Eisenberg, a Fodor's editorial director and father of three, has packed the wrong bag, hit the road at all the wrong times, overspent on needless souvenirs and, certainly, driven like an idiot.

Family Travel: Leading Resort Chains Reach Out to Families

This came in my email box from Fodor's travel wire:

Family Travel: Leading Resort Chains Reach Out to Families

In recent years, hoteliers have been working overtime building new resorts and refurbishing old ones to lure the lucrative family market. Here's the 411 on two leading chains that are rolling out the welcome mat.

Club Med
Club Med is the master of re-invention. After a dry spell that saw guest numbers dwindle and properties close, a building spree is making the venerable chain buzz-worthy again. In fact, Club Med hasn't garnered this much attention since the 1970s, when it was synonymous with bar beads and body paint. Today, it's aiming to create a more up-market, all-inclusive experience -- and that's good news for families.

Admittedly, Club Med began capitalizing on the family travel trend years ago: it popularized the concept of kids clubs and has a record of introducing cool activities (like circus schools and hip-hop classes) to keep kids happy. Yet it seems to have recognized that a higher "wow" factor is now expected, and upping the number of pool noodles just won't cut it. That's why its Punta Cana site opened The Ramp (a multi-level lounge for hard-to-please teens) in 2004 and why La Caravelle (already a family favorite in Guadeloupe) got a $29 million facelift in 2006.

Nowhere, however, is the new kid-friendly emphasis more apparent that Club Med Cancún Yucatán. For almost 30 years the resort was a magnet for hormonally challenged adults. But when it debuted its "family format" last November, party animals were replaced by stuffed ones and beach babies of both the bikinied and diapered variety began checking in.

To accommodate them, the old campus-style rooms have been scrapped in favor of redesigned lodgings that offer larger rooms and upgraded services. (One new option is a luxury villa with a private bar and beach!) Similarly, the raucous all-night conga lines have given way to family-oriented cultural activities, including 17 different excursions to archaeological sites and eco-destinations led by members of the local Mayan community.

Overall, Club Med has invested some $160 million in resorts in the Caribbean and the Americas since 2002. Moreover, as a global brand established in 40 countries, it has also been busy refreshing resorts in other parts of the world. In the past few years, for instance, family villages in exotic sun destinations like Agadir (Morocco), Bali (Indonesia), and Phuket (Thailand) have all been overhauled.

Great Wolf Lodges
Of course, the prospect of flying off to a hot spot is cold comfort for travellers who don't have time for a foreign holiday. Fortunately another chain, Great Wolf Lodges, comes to the rescue by offering "weather proof" resorts on native soil.

Great Wolf first made a name for itself a decade ago in Wisconsin Dells, when it built rooms around an over-the-top pool complex where the mercury held steady at a balmy 84 degrees every day of the year. But oh-so-cold Midwesterners clearly weren't the only ones who like soaking up heat in the depths of winter. So the chain has since expanded, opening seven more resorts in five states and -- most recently -- one Canadian province.

Unlike Club Med (which showcases gorgeous natural settings), Great Wolf specializes in artificial environments, adding a level of theming that could make a Disney Imagineer blush. Take the year-old, 401-room, $92 million Poconos resort in Pennsylvania. Fashioned like a giant log lodge, it features a "living room" lobby complete with massive fireplace, antler chandeliers and rough-hewn pine furnishings; a Camp Critter restaurant boasting private dining tents; plus suites that can include cabin-like sleeping areas for kids.

The backwoods theme carries into a 78,000-square foot water park called Bear Track Landing. There'll you'll find Great Wolf's signature attraction, Fort Mackenzie (a 12-level faux treehouse); as well as six pools and 11 waterslides ranging from four-storey indoor-outdoor slides to suitably-tame kiddy versions. This location, like its sister resorts, has other perks too, such as a Cub Club for kids.

Perhaps the best bonus, though, with all the Great Wolf Lodges is their accessibility. After all, they're designed as drive-to destinations. Existing resorts lie within 150 miles of NYC, Philadelphia, Chicago, Washington, and Toronto; and three more are currently in the works near Cincinnati, Dallas and Seattle -- which means it's easy to pile the kids into the car for a mini-break that won't break the bank.

The Fine Print: A seven night, all-inclusive stay at Club Med Cancún Yucatán this winter started at $1,350 per adult, $675 per child for ages 4-15, and $405 for ages ages 2-3. Because it is a "club," an annual membership fee ($60 for adults, $30 for kids) applies. At Great Wolf, rates range from $169 to $699 depending on your location, dates and room category. In the Poconos, January prices started at $194 per room.

---Susan MacCallum-Whitcomb

Family Vacation to Disney World's Magic Kingdom

This time, it's about air travel.

The itinerary was pretty laid back: Fly to Orlando Monday evening (with Lilly in her jammies), arrive around 10:30pm. Spend Tuesday at Magic Kingdom, and the rest of the week at Grammy's playing in the pool. Fly home the following Tuesday, skip work Wednesday and roll back into the office Thursday for a two-day week. Here's how it shook out:

Day 1: Left Rainy Connecticut only 1/2 hour late at the tail end of the worst nor'easter in April in the history of nor’easters in April in the northeast. Whatever that means. Tommy killed time in the airport staring at a Magic Kingdom Map and plotting his strategy (see tip # 2 below). Lilly spent her time running ("I win!") and climbing over the endless rows of seats. We landed in Orlando a little after 11:00 and caught a cab to the hotel ($47 + tip). Too late to get a cold bottle of beer at the lounge (further support for tip #5 for traveling with kids).

Day 2: Arrive Magic Kingdom around 11:00. Most advice we had read said to arrive before the gates open. This just doesn't sound realistic for younsters. The next thing they tell you is to take a nap in the afternoon. That's maybe a good idea if your hotel is inside the park, but ours wasn't. And a fourteen-hour day anywhere sort of sounds too long. Twelve hours seemed realistic. Our whole objective in this excursion was to give Tommy a fantastic day, so we took the same approach as we would for a kid-friendly city visit: Don't try to do too much, do be flexible, and don't forget the snacks.

We knew that we wanted to end the day with fireworks, (starting at 10:00 pm) so we worked back from then. Why drag the family out of bed early, rush through breakfast, and get worked up into the rush, rush, rush mentality if the point is to be flexible and have fun? And here's another point: if the kids are tired after twelve hours of stimulation and you arrived early, isn't it going to be difficult to convince then around 8 or 8:30 pm that it's time to go? Isn't that one of those critical times in a family excursion where meltdowns occur? Why create haste in the morning when you can end the day with fireworks and Tinkerbelle? It's a pretty magical ending, and when the fireworks are over, everyone starts walking out of the park. "Sorry buddy, the park's closed. Sure was fun though huh"?

Rather than rush, we ate a big, leisurely breakfast in the hotel lobby, goofed around in the playground in the hotel courtyard. Around 10:30 we left Lilly with Grammy and caught the shuttle to the monorail at Epcot Center and then caught the boat over to the Magic Kingdom.

Disney World Tips and Observations:
Observation #1: People with young kids (under 6) weren't having much fun. And the youngsters weren't having fun either. It was a good idea to leave Lilly with Grammy, and to let Tommy explore, because if Lilly ain't happy, ain't nobody happy. Besides, all they can go on are the kiddy rides, and you can ride the kiddy rides for a lot less the $70 at most amusement parks. Save the $70 for making magic with. Six years old is a great starting age because the Haunted mansion scares the hell out of them, as does Space Mountain.

Tip #1: Bring bottled water. Refill the bottles at the drinking fountains and flavor them with flavor crystals (Gatorade, lemonade, whatever). This is a good idea because the drinking water at the fountains doesn't taste so good. Single serve crystal pouches are really, really convenient. Good fountains: the lower one by Jungle Safari River Ride in Adventure Land and the one near the steamboat ride in Liberty Village. I wish I took better notes on which ones dribble, but I was a little busy having a blast. But I do remember that the fountain near Pirates of the Carribbean was a dribbler.

Observation #2: The boat ride seemed quicker than the monorail. You get to and from the Magic kingdom either by boat or monorail. Getting in isn't such a mob scene (at least at some times of the year), but escaping after the fireworks can get crowded. Most of the herd seemed to flock to the monorail; we went to the boat. It was less crowded and quick.

Tip #2: Print a map. Have the kids study the park beforehand, and list the rides they want to go on. It'll keep them busy planning their strategy in the days leading up. If you print the map real small, it'll take them twice as long to figure it out.

Tip#3: Don't go during the summer. It's too hot! New England has school breaks in Feb and April, where the rest of the country seems to have spring break in March (that may explain why there were so many Red Sox hats roaming around). Mid to late April is an excellent time to visit because the weather is fantastic and the crowds are manageable.

Days 3-7: Goof around by the pool. Tommy and Lilly were wanting to be in the pool at Grammy's house by 10 each morning, and they didn't get out until suppertime. We visited Homosassa Wildlife Park one day (tip: stay away from the hippo's butt), but other than that it was swimming with the kids or reading the paper. And it was quite nice. We flew home without a hitch: the car wasn't stolen, and the house hadn't burned down. Best of all though there had been a springtime transformation when we got home. Daffodills, crab apple, and dogwoods were flowering, and the grass was actually green and growing.

What are your tips and observations about visiting Disney World?

Kid-Friendly Guide to New York City

New York City is a great place to goof around with kids. Let them choose the pace and you'll all have a ton of fun. There are many kid-friendly attractions in and around Central Park; use this as a home base and you'll always have a bench close by to relax on while kids to burn off excess energy. Just don't forget to pack the snacks!

We feel strongly that family travel should be fun but educational, so we look for one or two aspects of an area to learn about and then choose our itinerary based on that.
Read also the first installment of city guides for kids for overall strategy advice; and please, add to this wiki-map by clicking "Contribute to This Map" below.

The points on this map came personal experience and some discussions at Fodor's Forum about taking kids to NYC. the below info is aditional advice from the Fodorites.

"Here's a long list of Central Park stuff.
After goofing around in Central Park and its adjacent attractions (and a decompression session back at the hotel) plan an early dinner along with an evening boat ride past the Statue of Liberty lit up for the evening. This is a nice way to wind down an event-filled day (also a good photo-op for little photographers). "

"Before you leave check for free kids events:
NY Magazine and gocitykids.com"

"In May & June NYC streets are filled with fairs and festivals. Check to see if the Big Apple Circus is in town, or something else of that nature..."

"Blue Man Group is still a favorite of 5 year olds."

"Kids love just looking around NYC -- allow time for the kids to experience New York - a hot dog or pretzel from a street vendor, lots of subway rides, Times Square, Central Park, the excitement of all the big buildings in the Times Square area and Downtown (Wall Street area)."