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

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:

  • Depending on the amount of slope, you may not have that great a ride. After an initial rush, a lot of this course was flat. We had to continually stand up, get a running start, and plop down on our inner tube to rush forward. Or push The Girl, who couldn’t be bothered to do it herself.
Slide the City

The grown-ups ended up doing this most of the way.

  • Inner tubes are required to ride. You can purchase one with your ticket for $5.00.
  • It’s a slippery surface, and we saw a lot of people falling. We wore swim shoes, and they worked well. You will lose flips flops!
  • It’s worth signing up for the email alerting you when tickets go on sale, so you can take advantage of early bird rates. Don’t wait to purchase tickets for the day of the event, because they can sell out. We saw people turned away because they had reached their limit.
  • Go early in the day, and/or expect long lines. We were assigned a voluntary start time of 2:00pm, which we ignored. That turned out to be a smart move, because the lines were crazy by noon. There was a lot of disorganization at this event, with people cutting in the line in front of us. They thought there were separate, shorter lines for single riders versus the longer line for groups/families, and they were making their way to those lines.It turned out that one line eventually broke off into those separate lines, but not until the very end. There was line rage, and the local police had to intervene at several points. The D.J. wasn’t providing clear instructions.
  • There is a minimum age (five years) and height (42 inches) requirement, although we did see smaller people making their way down the slide.

Hey YOU! Go BIG!

Visit Slide the City for a list of upcoming 2015 events, still to take place in Montreal, Chicago, Colorado Springs, Salt Lake City, Hartford, Winston-Salem, and others.

*P.S. We’re also looking forward to a new event being produced by the same company, Lantern Fest. Hoping it comes to an area near us!

Slide the City

Here she comes! (Taken from my tube)


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

Parking at Brimfield and Other Logistics
Expect to pay to park, anywhere from $4.00 to $10.00. There are several lots, all independently operated. Most are grassy and unpaved. There are no real bathrooms, just “porta-potties”. There is a selection of food vendors spread around, with one concentrated food court area. Some food trucks offer really tasty, non-junk options.

What to Bring to Brimfield
Pack your car with the same stuff you would for a day hitting local tag sales. Water, sunscreen, snacks, a tape measure, a wheeled cart, and lots of cash in small denominations. Check the weather forecast before you go. We brought umbrellas and were glad we did during a passing storm.

How to Shop Brimfield
Tackle one section at a time. We parked at one end, walked along one side of Route 20 until we hit the intersection of Mill Lane Road, then crossed the street and worked our way down the opposite side of the street until we reached our parking lot. The next day, we reversed our strategy on the other side of Mill Lane Road.

Be ready to haggle and negotiate. It’s expected. Get comfortable saying, “What’s the best you can do on this?”

Brimfield Antique Show

Hey YOU! Go BIG!
Brimfield Antique Show

Use this address for your GPS to find it:

Brimfield Town Hall
23 Main Street, Brimfield, MA 01010

Remaining 2015 Brimfield dates:
September 8-13, 2015

2016 Brimfield dates:
May 10-15, 2016
July 12-17, 2016
September 6-11, 2016

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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

World’s Tallest Rooster

Let me introduce you to “Mr. Peck.” He’s the world’s tallest rooster, standing 43 feet tall in front of the Great American Steak and Chicken House. He’s actually a pretty impressive piece of art; his wooden head was carved by chainsaw.

You’ll want to step between his scrawny chicken legs to have lunch or dinner while you’re there. It will be some of the best fried chicken you’ll ever have, and you’ll be thankful that they just leave a whole roll of paper towels on each table. Get a table by the windows for beautiful mountain views.

World's tallest rooster

Giant Banjo and Fiddle

At either end of Grand Country—a hotel with a shopping, dining, and entertainment mall—you’ll find two giant instruments that play an important role in country music. This giant banjo and fiddle both have neon lights for strings, and both jut out beyond the windows, making it a challenge to get the entire instrument in one photo. The replica Gibson banjo has a 47-foot long neck, and some say it’s the world’s largest.

Big banjo in Branson

Your kids will love this place; there are three mini-golf courses, mini bowling, bumper cars, laser tag, and an arcade, along with a gift shop and a pizza buffet.

Big fiddle in Branson

There’s more BIG stuff to report on from Branson…stay tuned for a look at the world’s largest toy museum and the world’s largest Titanic attraction!


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

As a voyeur from behind the glass, you’ll make a circle around the floor, and follow the chronology of a circus coming to an American town. At that time, the circus would perform in 150 towns each season, covering 15,000 miles by train.

miniature circus

Walking around the glass walls.

The first scenes are at the train station, where cars are emptied of the equipment, building materials, animals, and performers. The circus traveled with 1,300 workers and performers, and 800 animals – elephants, lions, zebras, giraffes, even polar bears. After that, it’s a behind-the-scenes look at the circus family members setting up their own tents in the “backyard.”

Circus performers

The “Backyard”

As you peer closer into the glass, you’ll get a glimpse of performers sitting in front of mirrors in the dressing tent. You can watch the performers eating their meals under a common tent. You’ll see trolleys pull up to the entrance, where the balloon seller holds a rainbow of colors.  You may even spot a runaway elephant!

Every few minutes, the lights in the exhibit area will dim, and the lamps in the tents illuminate, indicating nightfall. In a few moments, daylight returns, and the circus opens to the fans lined up at the box office. In the Big Top, the three ring circus amazes the bleacher-bound crowd with tightrope walkers and aerialists, daredevil stunts, lion acts, and plenty of clowns.

Three Ring Circus

Three Ring Circus

The Big Top could seat 13,000.

Big Top

Under the Big Top

The movement and sounds completely pulled us in.

There are plenty of other intriguing exhibits at the Circus Museum, which is just one building on the Ringling grounds. You’ll see collections of circus memorabilia, props, costumes, and even parade wagons. While the whole place is kid-friendly, there are several interactive exhibits on the second floor that our kids loved. They tried fitting into a clown car, propelling a human cannonball, and walking a high wire. There were video kiosks showing clips of circus performances, and a magnetic board where they could create their own circus posters.

Hey YOU! Go BIG!

Ringling Circus Museum
5401 Bayshore Road, Sarasota, Florida 34243

high wire

Not-So-High Wire

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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

Jamie, our seasoned captain and narrator, steered us out onto the 2.5-mile long Upper Myakka Lake, pointing out visible wildlife along the way. Since these vessels have shallow hulls and are powered by air, they can venture into the shallow, grassy areas for a closer look at the creatures living along the shore. We saw several species of majestic birds we don’t get to see up north, like egrets and herons, as well as more familiar osprey and bald eagles.

Upper Myakka Lake

Birdwatching on Upper Myakka Lake

Of course, the main attraction is the alligators. My northern-bred, squirrel-satiated children are always up for a good gator encounter — remember this? There are an estimated 1.7 million alligators in Florida – only Louisiana can claim more. Up to 1,000 of them live in Upper Myakka Lake, so it was easy to spot several peeking their heads above the water, or resting on the banks. The Girl was enthralled by all the gator data Jamie shared, such as the facts that alligators have been around for 200 million years, and that their brains are the size of a walnut.



So they may not be the most intelligent creature on Earth, but they do have a downward bite pressure of more than 2,900 lbs per inch; they can run up to 35 miles per hour on land; and they can jump the length of their body. Your best bet—should you encounter one in the wild—is to just back away slowly! They’re not normally aggressive during the day.

If you want to experience this ride (and I think you do), plan to get to Myakka State Park early to purchase tour tickets, which go on sale at 9:00am every day. All tickets must be purchased for the same day; they are not sold in advance.

While you’re at the park, leave time to enjoy a nature walk, canoe or bike ride, or take the narrated seasonal “Tram Safari” tour through shady oak and pine forests. Look for the Canopy Walkway, a pedestrian bridge suspended 25-feet high connecting two wood towers. You may be too chicken to walk across, but it’s worth seeking out!

Myakka River State Park

The Canopy Walkway

Hey YOU! Go BIG!
Myakka Wildlife Tours
13208 State Road 72, Sarasota, Florida 34241

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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.



In the warmer months, water sprays out of the spout. Even though we were there in late March, it’s still cold and icy.

The Utica Zoo, by the way, is a great little zoo with 200 residents, and it’s open year round. It never fails to thrill me and the kids to see lions, zebras, monkeys, camels, and sea lions in the middle of a city.

Hey YOU! Go BIG!

Utica Zoo / World’s Largest Watering Can
1 Utica Zoo Way, Utica, NY 13501


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

Sky Ride
SkyRide is a first for the cruise industry. This is a pedal-powered open-air aerial attraction, allowing adventurous riders (not me) to cycle one of two hanging recumbent-like bikes around the 800-foot suspended track. You’ll enjoy panoramic views. You’ll also be dangling 150 feet over the sea. Read the rest of this entry »


World’s Tallest Holiday Inn

World's tallest Holiday Inn

World’s tallest Holiday Inn, New York City

Last week, I was in New York City for the New York Times Travel Show. It’s an annual ritual; I go to get travel inspiration, network, and learn what I can in the trend seminars. This year, I stayed overnight, in the world’s tallest Holiday Inn hotel! It’s downtown, in the financial district, and really close to the “1” subway line.

This property is really new—it just opened in October 2014—and was built from the ground up where a parking garage used to stand. It’s more than 453 feet tall, with 50 floors – and my room was on the 43th floor!

To say the views were spectacular would be an understatement. I was in a corner room, and the longer side of windows provided me with this view of the Hudson River and New Jersey beyond.


Hudson River Views

Hudson River Views

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The Go BIG “B” List

Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.” Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May.” “The Sweetest Thing” by U2. What do these tunes have in common? They were all “B” side hits. For those of you who remember records (those vinyl discs that music was stored on back when dinosaurs roamed the earth), you’ll recall that the popular songs were on the “A” side, and the secondary tracks were relegated to the “B” side.

We’ve had some “B” sides in our travels, too, so I’m giving them their due in today’s post. In our (okay, my) overzealous quest to seek out BIG attractions, we sometimes visited places solely because of their size. Some have been less than a BIG hit with the kids. Still, I contend that there’s something interesting in all of these large sites, and not just because of their size!

World’s Longest Bridge Tunnel

The Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, also known as the Lucius J, Kellam Bridge Tunnel, connects the eastern tip of Virginia at Fisherman’s Island to Virginia Beach.

Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel

Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel

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