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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.

Carousel

The Carousel at Dusk

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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:

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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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BIG Views of Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls

Binoculars and Camera

It’s one of the world’s largest waterfalls, though technically Niagara Falls is a set of three: Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side, and American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls on the U.S. side. To make the most of your visit, there are several ways to view Niagara Falls – you can ride a boat to their base, peer down at them from a tower 700+ feet overhead, or even take a peek from a tunnel behind them.

We took the kids to Niagara Falls, Ontario, and seeing them from different vantage points was important. The Teen has become a budding photographer, so great views were an overriding priority. So, these were our locations of choice:

At the Bottom of the Falls: The Hornblower Niagara ride

It’s one of the most popular things to do in Niagara Falls for a reason. Riding in a boat ride along the bottom of falls is a thrilling adventure for all ages! You’re close enough to get drenched by the powerful spray, and it feels as if you could reach out and touch the rainbows arching through the mist. If you’re on the American side, you take the Maid of the Mist. If you’re on the Canadian side, you take the Hornblower cruise, operated by Niagara Parks.

Hornblower cruise

Hornblower Cruise, Niagara Falls

Our 700-passenger catamaran traveled from the dock on the Niagara Great Gorge past the American Falls, Bridal Veil Falls and into the midpoint of Horseshoe Falls. We didn’t get completely soaked—much to The Girl’s dismay—because we chose a relatively dry spot in back of the bottom deck, and we made use of the complimentary souvenir ponchos. Read the rest of this entry »

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Bird Kingdom, Niagara Falls, ON: World’s largest indoor free-flight aviary

Sure, you go to Niagara Falls to watch 225,000 cubic feet of water per second plummet nearly 200 feet into the gorge below. After taking in the scene for 15 minutes…then what? With kids in tow, you need a plan. Luckily, there is plenty to do in Niagara Falls, especially on the Canada side. One of our favorite attractions was Bird Kingdom, home to the world’s largest indoor free-flight aviary.

You can easily spend an hour or more here, going through the three floors of exhibit space – themed as the “lost kingdom” home to hundreds of both bird and animal species. You set your own pace in each area, which for us meant less time in the Nocturnal Zone looking at the bats and Brazilian giant cockroaches (eek!), and more time in the Explorer’s Base Camp, where you can pet and talk to several animals, like Bearded Dragons and Toucans.

Bearded Dragon

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Experience the World’s Second Largest Reef, By Submarine

The world’s largest reef, the Great Barrier Reef, borders Australia – a continent that tempts me from the top of my bucket list. The second largest? That would be the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, a 620-mile long, 11,000-acre protected coral reef system. Conveniently, it runs along the eastern coast of Mexico, specifically the island of Cozumel. Our big trip this summer just so happened to be to Cozumel, so we set our sights on seeing the reef.

Cozumel has become one of the world’s most popular scuba diving and snorkeling destinations, thanks to the highly-publicized praise from Jacques Cousteau in the 60’s. We’re not scuba divers, but in Cozumel, that’s not a deal breaker. You can see the reef just as well–without having to breathe through a tube–in the Atlantis Submarine.

The Atlantis Submarine in Cozumel

Our adventure began in the gift shop, where we assembled and were given initial instructions. Then we boarded a tender to take us on a ten-minute ride along Cozumel’s west coast to the site where the 65-foot long Atlantis was docked. We were the second stop, joining a group of people who were taking a day excursion off of the cruise ship in port. On board the boat, we heard from our captain in both English and Spanish, along with the requisite marine-themed jokes and music.

Atlantis Submarine

At the dive site, you climb out of the boat and down into the submarine. Inside, the vessel seats 48 people plus three crew members, and it’s completely climate controlled. There was little room to move around, and I could see that people with claustrophobia issues might not love it.

Submarine

Once the hatch was sealed, we began our descent. It was exciting, as the beginning of any new experience is, and the kids were pointing to everything with glee, even seaweed. Within 20 minutes, the pilot had slowly descended 110 feet, which we tracked on the digital counter.

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How to Experience Colonial Williamsburg With Kids

Colonial Williamsburg Courthouse

Colonial Williamsburg Courthouse

The world’s largest living history museum, Colonial Williamsburg, has lured us to Virginia twice before. We now know two things with certainty. A) There’s not a lot of shade on a hot day. B) Despite that, there is a lot of entertaining and educational fun to be had by all ages.

If you’re planning a trip this summer, there are a few highlights I would strongly recommend to maximize your experience, especially if you’re only there for one day. It’s best to have a plan of attack at a place this big — Colonial Williamsburg includes more than 400 restored or reconstructed original buildings, museums, lodging, and restaurants, retail stores and gardens.

Start your day at the Visitor Center. The map includes a weekly program guide, with kid-friendly programs highlighted. If you haven’t done so before your trip, make reservations for on-site meals, and purchase additional passes for special programs or tours not included in the general pass. You can even rent costumes for everyone in your family to wear so you can blend in with the colonists.

Walking through the streets is partly about watching, and also about participating. You can stop by the blacksmith shop or the bindery to observe these artisans in their trades, march along with the Fife and Drum crew, or stop into the Courthouse to hear a case before the judge. Make sure you hit the Kids Corner at the Gateway, where they taught our kids games like Whirligig.

Colonial Williamsburg kids

A lot tougher than it looks!

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BIG Finds at Ripley’s Believe it or Not: Ocean City, MD

Robert Wadlow

World’s tallest man!

You can find a lot of superlative stuff inside the 32 Ripley’s Believe it or Not museums around the world; each location has more than 300 exhibits and artifacts. We’ve never been inside one of these “odditoriums” before, but we finally took the plunge last week while in Ocean City, Maryland. We discovered that this beachy destination is very seasonal, so there wasn’t a lot to do yet in mid-April. The 2.25-mile Boardwalk was hopping, however, and Ripley’s is in a prime location at the southern end.

Robert Ripley, a cartoonist and adventurer, traveled to 201 countries over the course of his life, and collected a vast, eclectic collection of oddities. Many of these (originals and reproductions) are on display here, alongside newer pieces collected in recent decades.

I think it’s safe to say that this is the only place you’ll ever see an authentic concrete section of the Berlin Wall displayed near a model oil rig constructed of match sticks, and a mural of Rihanna depicted in Lite Bright pegs. A whole lot of weird. We liked it!

As you walk through different rooms, you’ll find the exhibits fit into themes, like animals, space, and human extremes. Of course, we had to take a photo with a statue of Robert Wadlow, the world’s tallest man. Wadlow (1918-1940) reached a height of 8’, 11”, and weighed 440 lbs. His arm span was 9½ feet! Only 17 people have been recorded in medical history to reach the height of eight feet.

In another room, a replica of the world’s largest Great White Shark ever caught with a rod and reel was hanging from the ceiling, near an iron cage you could step into. It’s 16’, 8” long, 3,427 lbs, and was caught off the shores of Montauk, New York in 1986 by Donnie Braddick.

Great White Shark

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World’s Largest Salt Water Lagoon; Cayman Islands

Even though there’s still some snow on the ground, it’s officially spring, and I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to turn off the heat soon. This photo has been my screensaver for the past few months, and it has gotten me through.

stingrays

Swimming with stingrays in the Cayman Islands

What you’re looking at is a warm and happy family posing with a stingray off the coast of Grand Cayman in the Cayman Islands. All that gorgeous blue is the perfect antidote to all the icy white I see from my window.

We were on the north side of the island, in the North Sound, one of the world’s largest and shallowest salt water lagoons. The Sound is also home to Stingray City, an offshore reef where friendly sting rays congregate. They’ve been accustomed to humans stopping by all day long in cruisers like these.

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