Go BIG or Go Home
What Happens When A Small-Town Family Visits The "World's Largest"... Whatever!

Holiday in the Park® at Six Flags, the World’s Largest Theme Park

Holiday in the park at Six FlagsWe haven’t been to Six Flags Great Adventure, the world’s largest theme park, in more than two years. The introduction of the Holiday in the Park event brought us back to Jackson, New Jersey last week, because I love a good holiday light display (remember this one?). I wrote about our experience for the Family Vacation Critic blog, so if you’re looking for more details, head on over there.

Here, I’m sharing some photos and impressions from our visit. It’s running at five different Six Flags parks across the U.S. through January 3, but this is the first time it’s in New Jersey. I highly recommend it!

In addition to the great entertainment, including live shows, visits with Santa, and story times with Mrs. Claus, you’ll see 1,000,000+ lights, and it pays to time your visit so at least part of the time you’re there after dark.


The Carousel at Dusk

There are 30 rides and seven roller coasters running, including some of the BIG coasters (although Kingda Ka, the world’s tallest coaster, is closed – much to Matt’s relief). It’s such a fun novelty to ride the Déjà vu, bumper cars, tea cups, or the Buccaneer in December.

Six Flags Great Adventure

30 Rides are open at Six Flags during Holiday in the Park.

Across the park, there are 224 trees, including 54 special oversized holiday trees. Go to the end of Main Street to see the 52-foot tree. There are 10 daily shows of “Holiday Magic – A Celebration of the Season.” The tree acts as a screen for a sound and light show that completely mesmerized The Girl. Snuggling with her while watching it was a special moment.

Christmas Tree Six Flags

Main Street Tree at Six Flags Great Adventure

There are ten giant props and inflatables, including “Stewie the Snowman,” a three-story, walk through inflatable.

Stewie the Snowman

Stewie the Snowman

You’ll also meet Looney Tunes™ characters, elves, gingerbread characters, holiday princesses, and two stilt-walking toy soldiers.

Toy Soliders

Of course, there are the holiday photo ops – 15 of them, to be exact.

Holiday in the Park

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Hey YOU! Go BIG!
Six Flags Holiday in the Park

Disclaimer: Six Flags Great Adventure provided my family with media passes to visit for the day.

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World’s Largest Toy Museum: Branson, Missouri

World's Largest Toy Museum

World’s Largest Toy Museum

You would think a place called the World’s Largest Toy Museum would be a magical place for kids. Well, if you’re a 45-year-old kid, then yes…I loved this Branson attraction. But I’m pretty sure my own kids wouldn’t be so thrilled. Because while there are more than one million toys in this museum, most of them are on display behind glass. No hands-on, interactive stuff here.

Bottom line: perfect place to stroll down Memory Lane, but leave the strollers at home.

The “world’s largest” title recognizes the density of toys per square foot, since the Smithsonian actually has a larger number of toys. There are 10,000 dolls just in the area called “Doll Land.” And let me tell you, some are super creepy. I never liked those eyelids that open and shut willy-nilly, especially after dark.


Clowns don’t bother me. These chill me to the bone.

The museum opened in 2001, and features an amazingly vast collection that owners Tom and Wendy Beck continue to acquire. What you see in the museum is only part of their collection; there’s even more in a warehouse, waiting to be rotated and displayed. There are no guided tours, although you will be greeted and given a brief introduction to the collections after you purchase tickets.

Part of the wonder of this place is in seeing antique toys from the 1800’s. There’s a set of dolls that was made before the U.S. Constitution was even signed. If you’re into certain categories of vintage toys, such as Barbies, Disney, or space toys, this page on the museum’s website provides an overview of just some of the themed collections you’ll find there. Of course, there are even more: board games, dolls, instruments, robots, fire engines, tractors, even Cracker Jack prizes and McDonald’s Happy Meals trinkets.

board games

Can you find BOTH Clue games?

There are entire walls of curated collections: Star Wars figurines, scout memorabilia, Cabbage Patch kids, PEZ dispensers, sock monkeys, ventriloquist dummies (also creepy), G.I. Joe figurines, and Raggedy Ann dolls.


Cool, right?!

There’s also a vast range of sizes. There’s space for larger items such as bicycles, arcade games, and old Coca Cola dispenser machines. There’s an actual 1959 Rolls Royce sitting in the front of the museum, which was explained to us as a “toy,” but for “big boys.”

Even though the collections were very well curated into themes, the signage was sorely lacking. Only a minority of the items have any kind of provenance or name cards describing what the item is and the year it was made. If you’re of a certain age – say, in your mid-40’s – you’ll be able to estimate the age of the toys, since you probably played with them.

So many happy flashes of memory rushed back to me here. I felt a compulsion to reach out and touch the Fisher Price school that I spent hours with as a toddler. And again when I saw the same Snoopy piggy bank that held my loose change. And yet again walking past the lunch boxes and spying the Holly Hobby thermos I used to open to find Campbell’s chicken noodle soup.

And yes, I had these Donny and Marie dolls. In real life, they wore these exact costumes on their variety show in 1976 {pauses to unsuccessfully search for a YouTube clip}.

Donny and Marie

She’s a little bit country…

Other times, you’re left guessing. I had to do an online search for this brand of juke box to find out it was made in the mid-1960’s:

Juke box

Wish it worked!

So, next time you’re in Branson, take some time to relive your youth. Just don’t take your kids.

Hey YOU! Go BIG!
World’s Largest Toy Museum
3609 W 76 Country Blvd, Branson, MO 65616


What to Pack for a Carnival Cruise

Carnival Splendor

The Carnival Splendor

This summer, we spent a delightful five days at sea on the Carnival Splendor. It was a great opportunity to get up to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, Canada, in a way that did not involve packing up the car and spending 10+ hours reminding the kids to stay on their own side of the back seat. Of course, it was a BIG experience – the Splendor is currently the largest ship in the fleet (this will change next year when Carnival Vista takes its maiden voyage), and Carnival is the world’s largest cruise line.

Packing for a cruise is easier than packing for air travel – you don’t have to worry about paying extra for the suitcases, even if they exceed 50 lbs. And no pesky 3-ounce rule for liquids! But it’s also more difficult than packing for a road trip. After all, you can bring a lot more stuff in your car.

So, I utilized the typical packing strategies, including planning our wardrobes to use ubiquitous pieces more than once (hello, little black dress). I also found some not-so-typical packing advice, after scouring online cruise forums for tips from frequent cruisers (hello, Cruise Critic).

There are the usual things you’d pack for a cruise, like bathing suits and motion sickness medication. You may not even need to bring your kid’s stroller; you can rent them from Camp Carnival, either on a daily basis or for the entire cruise.

Above and beyond these, here are a few items to pack for your cruise that may not be on your radar:

WHAT: Snack Food
WHY: Land Excursions

Food is available 24 hours a day on board the ship. When the restaurants are closed, there is still 24-hour room service and the pizza bar serving up several yummy types of pie. However, you should still bring a box of granola bars or other non-perishable, sustaining snack if you’re taking excursions. Meals aren’t necessarily included on these, and any local food that may be available may not tickle your kids’ fancy.

Bay of Fundy

At a beach on the Bay of Fundy. The Girl does not eat steak, lobster – or any type of seafood, for that matter. Granola bar to the rescue!

WHAT: Refillable Water Bottles
WHY: Bottled Water = $$$

A new Carnival policy means you can no longer pack bottled water in order to avoid paying for it on board. However, the water available at the drink fountains is just fine. We carried our bottles to every meal and refilled them whenever we could. If you still want to stick to bottled, you can pre-order a case for your room to save time.

WHAT: Clothesline / Rope
WHY: Drying Clothes

Our bathroom only had a shower stall, so the short clothes line that could be drawn across the top wasn’t long enough to hang more than two wet bathing suits. Thanks to an online tip, I packed a cheap clothesline rope ($3.00 at Walmart) and hung it across our balcony. This isn’t really protocol; our steward asked us to take down any clothes when we left the room.

WHAT: Shoe Pocket Rack
WHY: Storage

Another suggestion I read online was to hand a shoe pocket organizer from the back of the bathroom door so everyone has easily accessible storage space for their toiletries. We brought one, but found that our bathroom had plenty of shelf space for everyone’s kit. (I wish more of the hotels we stay at would follow suit!) But if you like to spread out and see all your stuff, it’s a good space-saving solution.

WHAT: Fun, Colorful Magnets
WHY: Cabin Door Bling

Did you know that all doors on cruise ships are metal as a fire safety measure? It’s a lot of fun for our kids to decorate our cabin door with magnets, from which we could hang notes for each other; e.g. “Meet me at the pool.” Even better, we could easily identify which cabin was ours from the long row of identical doors!

WHAT: Lanyards With Badge Holders
WHY: Keeping Your Card Close

On each cruise we’ve taken, we’ve been given a plastic card that acts as a room key, identification, and a charge/credit card. On Carnival, it’s called your “Sail & Sign” card. It’s easy to misplace when you don’t have pockets…or when you’re eight years old and like shiny objects. Bring a lanyard, stick your card in the badge holder, and wear it around your neck.

WHAT: “Thing 1” and “Thing 2” T-shirts
WHY: Seuss at Sea Program

This program, available on nearly all Carnival ships, includes Seuss story times, parades, character photo ops, and a character breakfast where you can order Green Eggs and Ham. The photo ops are much more fun if your kids bring and wear those Thing 1 and 2 shirts you have from Halloween last year! Another tip: If you plan to attend the character breakfast, make your reservation the day you embark to ensure a table.

Seuss at Sea

Yes, they’re getting too old for these cut-out thingies. No, I don’t care.

Carnival Cruise Lines


A Review of Slide the City: What to Know


Slide the City

By now, you’ve probably seen it on the news. The looooong green and blue water slide, a BIG version of the “Slip n’ Slide” you might have had in your front lawn as a kid. Slide the City is making the rounds through the U.S. and Canada, setting up its slide through sloping city streets everywhere. It even broke the world record for “Longest distance traveled on a slip and slide in one hour” this summer in Fort Worth, Texas.

Enthralled with the idea, we bought “early bird” tickets for the July event in Stamford, CT. It’s a pricey investment, even when you get the early purchase discount. You can choose your price based on one ride, three rides, or unlimited rides.

What we didn’t know at the time was that the slide’s length depends on the location, and what the localities will allow. The slide can range in length from approximately 600 to 1,000 feet. This was one of the shorter versions.

Bottom line: this was a fun ride! Our kids laughed the entire way down. It was worth trying once.


Slide the City

Happy kids!

However, here’s what you should know about Slide the City:

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World’s Largest Outdoor Antiques Show: Brimfield Antique Show, Brimfield, MA

Brimfield BarnI spend more time than I should watching HGTV, and my current favorite show is Flea Market Flip. I’m captivated by the “before and after” transformations of the old pieces they find at antiques shows and flea markets. One of the markets regularly featured is the Brimfield Antique Show in Brimfield, Massachusetts. It’s supposedly the world’s largest outdoor antiques fair, so that was all the reason I needed to plan an outing.

Brimfield is a small town, with Route 20 (Main Street) running through it. The antiques show, which has run since 1959, is situated on both sides of this road along a one mile stretch. Technically, the show is multiple smaller markets, each with their own days and hours of operation. There are 21 show fields in all, and more than 3,000 dealers at full capacity. There are a handful of buildings, but most dealers are under tents.

Brimfield Grand Trunk Antiques

The best decision I made was to not bring the kids. Instead, I brought a friend who loves to shop as much as I do. There is a LOT of ground to cover, and my kids would have hated it. We tracked our walking, and logged close to four miles over two days. And this was the July show, which is the smallest in terms of number of exhibitors. There are three shows each year – May, July, and September.

It was an amazing smorgasbord of antique and vintage finds, as well as the random stuff you would find at anyone’s garage sale. At the end of the weekend, my loot consisted of vintage tourism postcards for my collection, earrings made from old keys, a scarf, and a decorative wall hanging made from old tin ceiling tiles.

Vintage postcards

There are “regulars” who know the layout well and know which dealers they like. But it seemed to me that most of us were newbies, taking it all in, and shopping with no real plan of attack. If you are new to it all, here are some of my suggestions:

Tips for Shopping the Brimfield Antiques & Collectibles Show

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We’re BIG on Branson!

A recent travel writing trip brought me to Branson, Missouri, a beautiful Ozark Mountain town just north of Arkansas. There are many sides to Branson; there’s the historic downtown, the lakes and outdoor recreation, and the lively entertainment strip along Highway 76. Branson is best known for this stretch of theaters, attractions, and restaurants. It’s bright, fun, busy…and dotted with lots of BIG roadside attractions! My rental car made a lot of stops…here are my favorite Branson roadside attractions:

The BIG Chair

It finally happened! One of my “Go BIG” dreams—other than seeing the world’s largest ball of twine—was to sit in a BIG chair. Got it done in Branson! This hand-crafted, 15-foot chair sits in the parking lot of Miss Julie’s Old Time Photos on Highway 76. Thanks to Eric who works there for agreeing to leave his post and snap this shot for me!

Big chair in Branson

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World’s Largest Miniature Circus: Sarasota, Florida

miniature circus

The Big Show Entrance

If you played with doll houses, built model airplanes, or created LEGO lands, you understand the fascination with miniatures. As a kid, I took omnipotent pleasure in making these small worlds look and operate exactly the way I wanted them to. As an adult watching my kids do the same, I appreciate the technical artistry and attention to detail reflected in miniature figures and furnishings.

We brought this love of little to the Ringling Circus Museum in Sarasota, Florida, where the world’s largest miniature circus fills 3,800 square feet of exhibit space, and can be viewed from two floors. Through 44,000 individual pieces, this circus tells a story, brilliantly, with moving elements and light and sound effects.

The Howard Bros. Circus Model was mostly built between 1956-1974 by Howard Tibbals, who named the circus after himself because he wasn’t allowed to use the names Barnum or Bailey. But in fact, it is a 3/4-inch-to-one-foot scale replica of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, as it would have looked during the years 1919-1938. It would span 11 acres if it were life-sized.

Ringling Museum

The View From Above

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World’s Largest Airboat: Sarasota, Florida

Myakka Wildlife ToursIf you live in Florida (and I have), alligator sightings are about as rare and exciting as observing a squirrel in its native habitat here in the northeast. But Floridians know that northerners think it’s thrilling to see gators while we visit their sunshine-y state, so a whole subset of the tourism industry has evolved to give us that opportunity. One such business, Myakka Wildlife Tours in Sarasota, sweetens the deal further with a ride on the world’s largest airboat.

During our December visit, the weather was perfect for outdoor exploration; sunshine, breezes, and low humidity. We spent a happy, restorative day in Myakka River State Park, one of Florida’s largest and oldest state parks. Follow the signs to find the tour boat dock and ticket booth.

The world’s largest covered airboats are actually two identical twin boats, the Myakka Maiden and Gator Gal. Both are 53-feet long and 16-feet wide. Each can seat up to 57 people for the 45-minute cruise. There are three cruises offered daily in the slower (hotter) summer season, June 1 through December 15. Four or more cruises, depending on demand, are offered during the high season, December 16-May 31.

The Gator Gal

The Gator Gal

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World’s Largest Watering Can, Utica, New York

Serendipity gets all the credit for our latest BIG find. While at the Utica Zoo in Utica, NY this past weekend, we passed a really large watering can on display. I almost walked on without a second look, because I hadn’t read seen anything about it in my research for this trip. Usually these things pop up on the radar while I’m reading about a destination.

watering can

World’s largest watering can, Utica, NY

Looking at the sign, I was surprised and delighted to discover that this 15.5 foot tall, galvanized steel structure is indeed the world’s largest watering can. It was made for the zoo in 2000, and weights 2,000 lbs.

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The BIG Times: News about the Carnival Vista

Carnival Vista

Carnival Vista

We haven’t published an issue of the BIG times in quite a while, but there is a BIG news highlight we want to share!

Carnival Cruise Line, the world’s largest cruise line, announced the details of what will be its largest ship, the Carnival Vista, arriving later this year. I attended the press conference two weeks ago in New York City, and was treated to a preview of some of the special—and truly unique—features this ship will offer.

Among the BIG thrills you can expect on board:

Carnival’s largest water park will include the line’s first Kaleid-O-Slide water tube attraction. You, alone or with a friend, will hop on an inflatable raft and travel 455 feet through a twisting, turning enclosed tube with stunning kaleidoscopic visual effects.

Carnival Vista Water Works

Carnival Vista Water Works

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