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

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Cruising on the Norwegian Breakaway With Kids

You can even take our “Go BIG or Go Home” mantra to the ocean, as I learned two weeks ago when I was invited on the inaugural two-day cruise of the Norwegian Breakaway, the largest ship to homeport in New York City. Even though I was sans kids (yes, an entire 48 hours to myself!), I went with the perspective of a parent. I explored the entertainment areas, restaurants, and guest rooms with kids in mind, so I could share with you the highlights of taking a Breakaway cruise with children. Which are:

The Aqua Park

The ship’s top decks feature the Aqua Park, which includes five multi-story water slides, including twin Free Fall slides. This is where you (and not me) stand up and have the floor drop from underneath, propelling you into a loop. There’s also a tamer, open-flume body slide which doesn’t cause your stomach to lurch up into your throat.

Water Slides

Daredevils’ Delight — the Water Slides on the Norwegian Breakaway

Another part of the Aqua Park is a three-story sports complex which includes the largest ropes course at sea, a nine-hole miniature golf course, basketball court, rock climbing wall and more. Adjacent to the Aqua Park is a fully-stocked indoor video arcade, as well.

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Michelin Travel Guide Giveaway!

Call me “old school” – you wouldn’t be the first – but I love researching destinations with travel guides. Actual books that you can hold in your hands, thumbing back and forth between the chapters on food, hotels, shopping…and back to food.  I love their portability for those times when I’m waiting for my offspring at the dance studio/orthodontist/guitar lesson.

MichelinDo you use travel guides? Would you like to win one? Might be a nice holiday gift for someone, if you’re willing to give it away!

Michelin Travel and Lifestyle just sent me a collection of guides, and I’m already leafing through USA East, dreaming about our next road trip. They’ve offered to give five GBOGH readers the Michelin Guide of their choice from among these:

USA East

USA West

New York

The Yellowstone Park Foundation’s Official Guide to Yellowstone National Park

Like a Local New Orleans (Peter Greenberg is the Chief Contributing Editor of this series)

Each guide offers detailed maps, suggested driving tours, full-color photos, illustrations and plenty of new content covering shopping, hotels, attractions, landmarks and neighborhoods. And of course, food! Common among them is Michelin’s famed star-rating system. Why I like them: they’re compact, and can be easily carried with you while you travel. Plus, they contain GBOGH-approved sites like Gatorland in Orlando, the Mapparium in Boston, and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh.

Enter by telling us in the comments below which guide you would like to win. And I would be very curious to know why you chose it…just because I’m nosy.

By entering your name below you agree to the Official Rules of this giveaway.

Official Rules:

Our winner for each prize will be notified on or before Thursday, December 13th, and will be asked to provide a mailing address. Guides — which are in English — can be shipped to any U.S. or international address, although international shipping will take at least two weeks.

No purchase necessary. You must be 18 or older to enter. The number of eligible entries received determines the odds of winning. Winners’ names will be randomly selected using Randomized.com. All prizes will be awarded. Void where prohibited by law.


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Five Tips For Attending the San Gennaro Feast in New York City

San Gennaro Feast

Crowds at the San Gennaro Feast in Little Italy

Well, it’s underway again – the Feast of San Gennaro in New York City, one of the world’s largest outdoor religious festivals. The 86th Annual Feast takes place in Little Italy through Sunday, September 23 on the streets of Little Italy in lower Manhattan.

The Figli Di San Gennaro is meant to celebrate the Patron Saint of Naples. A religious procession will take place next Wednesday (September 19th, my birthday!), during which the San Gennaro statue will be carried from its permanent home in the Most Precious Blood Church through the streets.

But let’s not kid ourselves. It’s really about the food.

Are you planning to go? Because we’ve been multiple times, and would like to share five tips for attending the San Gennaro Feast:

1. Don’t Go on a Full Stomach.

Obviously, you’re going there to eat. Last year, our family’s total consumption included:

Six fried ravioli

One rice ball

One slice bruschetta

One sausage and peppers sandwich

One deep-fried Oreo

One corn dog

One order of French fries

One gelato

Three small cannolis

…and six zeppole


Mmmmm…fried dough….

But NO pasta, interestingly enough!

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How to Find a Kid-Friendly Hotel

Occasionally, we diverge from the telling of BIG adventures to present family travel tips, based on our own experiences. We’ve suggested technology to facilitate travel, and great places to eat on the road beyond traditional restaurants. We’ve even warned you about road trip mistakes.

Omni Shoreham hotel This week, we offer our own suggestions on how to find a family friendly hotel, as well as ideas from other family bloggers.

Over spring break, our family stayed at the Omni Shoreham hotel in Washington, DC. This property, in my opinion, sets a gold standard for kid-friendly accommodations, so I’ll use it as an example in many of the following points.

When searching for a kid-friendly hotel, look for:

A welcoming attitude toward children

Hotels can be upscale, grand, and historic, and still be casual enough for kids. The Omni is a stately “grand dame” among hotels, and yet, we never felt self-conscious about bringing the kids through the lovely lobby. It helped that The Girl did not have any public meltdowns. (For a change.) Not only was the staff very friendly, they delivered milk and cookies for the kids during the turn-down service.

Pool(s) and open green space

When on the road, the pool is the first and foremost amenity my kids want in a hotel. Indoor, outdoor, any shape or size will do. Swim time means blowing off steam, or winding them down for bed, or just spending some time NOT in an expensive theme park. We were fortunate that our Omni stay coincided with the seasonal opening of its outdoor heated pool!

A lawn, garden, or ideally, a playground, is also a big plus.

Shoreham hotel

"I'm not getting off this hammock anytime soon, just FYI." At the Omni Shoreham.

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World’s Largest Wegmans, and other great places to eat on the road!

WegmansSupermarket shopping isn’t high on my list of favorite things to do. But if we’re planning a road trip, I’ll always check to see if there’s a Wegmans on the route. It’s difficult to explain my love for Wegmans, which burns more fervently because there isn’t one anywhere near us. The chain is based in upstate New York, with additional stores in NJ, PA, VA, and — soon — in MD and MA.

I’ve dragged the family to the locations in Bridgewater, NJ, Pittsford, NY, Scranton, PA, and Harrisburg, PA. At first, they wondered why I would veer off a trip itinerary to visit a supermarket. Little did they know that the itineraries were based around these stops! The most recent addition to our Wegmans passport was in Fredericksburg, VA. It’s the largest store in terms of square footage, and therefore, the world’s largest Wegmans!

If you’ve been to Wegmans, you know why I love it. There’s a huge selection and a high-quality store brand, pleasing décor, friendly staff, etc. What puts Wegmans over the top is the cold and hot food bars within the store, connected to a dedicated eat-in section. There are always hundreds of selections of prepared dishes, served from themed stations (e.g. Asian, vegetarian, salad) and counters (e.g. pizza, subs). Add these to the more traditional deli counter which also offers pre-packaged entrees and sides, and it’s a smorgasbord.


It’s a good thing I don’t live near a Wegmans. We would be poor and I would never cook again.

Wegmans takes priority on our road trip itineraries because it’s a great place for a family to eat while traveling. It’s inexpensive and casual. Everyone can get what they want, and there are always healthy options. (Meaning, I slip some carrots and grapes from the salad bar into the kids’ boxes when they’re not looking.) The dining section is well-decorated; many steps above a cafeteria. Even better, the stores we have visited have fun tables for kids, and even offer movie nights. In Pittsford, we had dinner on a Friday night. Shrek was playing in the front of the room, and the bar in the back was serving wine to the parents! Everyone was VERY happy.

Some stores like Pittsford also have a separate eatery called The Food Bar. You place an order at the counter for hamburgers, fish fry, etc.  There’s also The Pub in two locations, Malvern and Collegeville, with full table service and menu, and no tipping allowed.


Preparing to write this post made me think about other affordable, non-restaurant alternatives for traveling families. So I put the question out to other family travel bloggers, “Where do you eat on the road instead of restaurants?” The answers mainly fell into three categories: farmer’s markets; specialty supermarkets; and food trucks/street food.


Courtesy of Wandering Educators

Mara at The Mother of All Trips plans ahead to stop at farmer’s markets. “Along the New York State Thruway and the PA Turnpike they even have them at some of the rest stops in the summer. I picked up fresh cherries and blueberry bread at one that we ate for breakfast the next morning.” A great tip — she finds local food sources at LocalHarvest.org.

Heather, the Texas Destination Guroo at Trekaroo.com, likes the Avila Valley Barn in Avila Beach, CA for a tasty baked treat, ice cream, or fruits and veggies, and even a petting zoo. She also recommends the farmer’s market on Thursday nights in San Luis Obispo, CA. “It’s crowded, but there are five blocks of street vendors, farm stands, outside barbecue stands, and other restaurant vendors.”

As for specialty supermarkets, Whole Foods got a mention for its great deli selection. I can attest; I’ve spent my fair share in their prepared foods aisle. Lora at Cascadia Kids likes Trader Joe’s, mainly for picking up healthy treats to-go. “I’m pretty big on the protein-while-traveling, so we focus on the trail mixes, nutrition bars and hard cheeses.”

Keryn at Walkingon Travels loves the food trucks in Seattle, especially the city’s wealth of taco trucks. “El Camion is our favorite. It tends to park near Home Depot locations. My almost 2-year-old son can’t get enough of their carnitas (pork) burritos with black beans. I figure anything he will eat is worth the stop.” Even better, music blasts from the truck, so they can dance a little salsa!


Chicago's Chinatown, courtesy of Wandering Educators

Jessica at Wandering Educators loves ethnic grocery stores, particularly those within Asian communities, where she can pull together a meal of seaweed salad, sushi, dumplings, cold noodle salad, and grilled meat. She never forgets the treats. “We LOVE shrimp crisps, as well as those hello panda biscuits with chocolate inside, and Pocky! Don’t forget the bubble tea, calpis, or any of the amazing flavored beverages in the cooler.”

I appreciate all the input, ladies! So, where do YOU like to eat on the road?

Fredericksburg Things To Do on raveable

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Top Five Family Road Trip Mistakes

Okay, the holidays are over, and it’s time to get back in the blogging saddle. The Go BIG or Go Home Road Trip (2010 Holiday Edition) is over, and we’re back into our routines. Routines which, sadly, include shoveling snow and administering Children’s Sudafed.


I did learn a few things from our 1,900-mile automotive journey from New York to Florida, and back again. Namely, that TSA patdowns must surely have gotten a bad rap, relative to sitting in a car for 24 hours with two kids.

We did not have a terrible experience on the road. We did not have a wonderful experience. We made errors in judgment regarding which routes would be faster, which prevented me from seeing the world’s largest peanut. I must carry the burden of that loss forever. So that you may never experience similar anguish, I must share with you our:

Top Five Family Road Trip Mistakes

1. Assume that it’s cheap to drive.

For the four of us, driving to FL was more affordable than flying during the holidays, when airfares skyrocket in line with demand. But while it was cheaper, it was not cheap. Our expenses for the four travel days, including gas, meals, and accommodations, totaled $903.42!

By the way…taking the train? Almost as expensive as flying!

2. Underestimate how long the drive will take.

Google Maps says it will take 10 hours from Point A to Point B. Your GPS unit says it will only take nine hours , 50 minutes. Don’t be fooled. It will take 12 hours. You will have to stop for gas and potty breaks, at the very least. You will want to stretch your legs, breathe fresh air, and untangle the two angry children wrestling in the back seat because one of them crossed the invisible center borderline.

3. Start out without hotel reservations.

This is one mistake we didn’t make, happily! You may consider leaving your overnight lodging up to chance, depending on how far you get. That’s risky when you’re traveling with kids, and want some assurance of a clean, safe place to stay. Also,  if bad weather forces people off the road, hotels may get overbooked. Find a hotel near where you think you’ll end up, make a reservation, and make note of their cancellation policy.

4. Eschew electronics.

If your family doesn’t own a T.V. , kudos.  On the road, you will need to plug the kids in eventually, or all of you will go crazy. (Yes, I am clairvoyant.) Part of the fun in travel is to have experiences they don’t get at home, so why not  entertainment too? PIXAR movies, in particular, appeal to children of all age groups, and keep the peace.

5. Set out with absolutely no idea where your next meal will be.


Enter to Win This!

This could lead to disaster if you have young children who get cranky when they’re hungry. We have some of those, and the snacks I packed didn’t always cut it. It was important to have some idea of where and when we were stopping for meals. While we were on I-95, this guidebook became an invaluable resource:  Drive I-95, by Stan Posner and Sandra Phillips-Posner.

I actually downloaded the PDF version to my laptop; how “eco”! On the first day of our return trip, it helped me avoid trouble when lunchtime was approaching, and I realized that we wouldn’t make it to the Applebee’s off Exit 6 in Georgia. My first clue was The Girl’s fervent demand, “When are we eating lunch?!” One look at the map, and we found a Wendy’s off Exit 373 in Florida. Close call, but nothing four chicken nuggets couldn’t help.

I find it remarkable that the authors have visited every single exit along I-95 from Maine to Miami! In addition to listing restaurants, they provide exit-by-exit info on lodging, gas stations, attractions close to the highway, campgrounds, mechanics, and much more.

And I’m happy to add that we have a copy to give away!! Because we all love Go BIG or Go Home giveaways, don’t we?

Want to enter? Just sign up to receive our e-mail notifications (see upper right hand corner). Alternatively, you can comment below and tell me which of the road trip mistakes listed above you’ve made, and what happened as a result. The juicier the story, the better!

A winner will be chosen randomly, and a winner will be notified next Tuesday (1/8/10). The winner will be asked to provide a mailing address within the U.S. or Canada.

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“Go BIG” Geek Gear! Tips for Taking “Tech” on the Road

TRACI — Ladies; the following post is a cautionary tale about what happens when you marry the former President of the high school A/V Club.  These days, you can find my husband Matt trolling the aisles of Best Buy on a Saturday night, ogling cell phone accessories.  Apparently, yesterday was “Embrace Your Inner Geek Day.” And so Matt popped open the champagne and polished this blog post about the toys we take on our “Go BIG” trips…


MATT — So whenever we take a trip, I am tapped as the family Chief Technology Officer (CTO) to ensure that we are digitally prepared for our journey. Here’s what we bring and some tips for packing lightly but providing maximum technology…

Technology for travel

If the lights dim in your hotel room, it's probably because we're drawing power from the room next door.

Navigation & Communication:

  • Garmin Nüvi 1250 (aptly named and affectionately known by the family as “nüvi” – for directions & traffic)
      TIP: Make sure you have all the addresses for each of the locations pre-loaded, pre-printed or send an e-mail to yourself with that information and put it on your smartphone. The GPS is only as good as the address or coordinates, so know where you are going

(before you leave)

    . All of this makes for less bickering, trust me.
  • Motorola Droid + charging cable (USB cable + AC Adapter/Charger)
    Backup navigation via the Android phone:

  • Pink Blackberry 8350 Curve (Traci affectionately refers to her as “Pinkberry”) + Car charging cable
  • Red Dell Mini 9 (named “Ruby”, of course) + Laptop AC Adapter + matching Red Dell Bluetooth Travel mouse (for social media & blogging purposes)
  • MyPlace Cozy personal workstation with built-in cushion (for working on the laptop on the road) + lightweight, thin, gel mouse pad
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