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

Giant Pumpkin Carving Weekend at The New York Botanical Garden, New York City

Today was a glorious, picture-perfect fall day in New York. The ideal day, in fact, to go see artists with saws and knives hack away at the flesh inside 2,000-lb. pumpkins. It’s the Giant Pumpkin Carving Weekend at the New York Botanical Garden, part of The Haunted Pumpkin Garden event going on all month.

NOTE: I’m posting this tonight in case you want to make last-minute plans to check out this event on Sunday. Totally worth re-scheduling your day of leaf-raking.

giant pumpkin

At 1,813 lbs., this carved pumpkin at the entrance was one of the smaller ones we saw!

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The Big Duck, Flanders, NY

Big DuckEvery once in a while, I get a hankering to go see a quirky roadside attraction; and it doesn’t even need to be the world’s largest. Two weeks ago, we took a day trip to visit the Big Duck in Flanders, NY. Technically, the real reason was to visit family on Long Island. My aunt lured us with an offer of homemade lasagna, so it promised to be a banner day.

My aunt’s cooking is worth the 100-mile trip. Heck, I would drive 500 miles for her stuffed artichokes. Copious amounts of breadcrumbs, garlic, olive oil…what were we talking about? Right…the big duck.

In the 1920’s and 30’s, there were about 150 duck farms in Riverhead, NY, on the eastern end of Long Island. The farms were known for their succulent Peking ducks, and even though the number of farms has decreased dramatically as land values have increased, you can still find Long Island duckling on menus in fine restaurants.

In 1931, Riverhead duck farmer Martin Maurer had a vision to create a shop — in the shape of a duck — to sell Peking ducks and duck eggs. He hired Broadway set designers, the Collins Brothers, to create it. The result was the Big Duck, measuring 30 feet from beak to tail, and 20 feet from the base to the top of its head. Its original eyes were a pair of Model T taillights which glowed at night.

The Big Duck was a trend-setter, as one of the first examples of roadside architecture representing and promoting a product or service. This is now commonly known as “duck architecture;” and “ducks” refer to these sculpturally-designed forms.

The Big Duck

The Big Duck sits in a Long Island park near the Hamptons

The Big Duck, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was originally located in Riverhead, but was moved three times in preservation efforts, which reminds me of the admirable actions taken on behalf of Lucy the Elephant in Margate, NJ. The Big Duck – which I really think needs a name, kind of like “Lucy” – now sits on Big Duck Ranch overlooking Reeves Bay in Flanders, NY. It’s a public park operated by Suffolk County, so its future is secure.

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My Take on LEGOLAND Florida

LEGO storeEditor’s Note: The Boy, now 13, hates when I put conditions on some of the fun writing assignments I have. But the quid pro quo for getting to visit LEGOLAND Florida again was that he had to write another post. Here’s his take:

This summer, I was lucky enough to go to LEGOLAND Florida for a second time. The first time was on the Grand Opening day, and Mom and I had to lie to my sister and tell her we were going to Czechoslovakia. This time we had tried not to mention the whole “Czechoslovakia” thing as The Girl was with us.

LEGOLAND has improved in some very large ways, as well as some smaller ways. One of the main ways it has improved is offering the VIP Experience. Being a VIP allows you to have an assistant and some free meals, as well the chance to meet a master builder. This master builder was one of three master builders on staff of LEGOLAND, and he was the builder I met last time I was there.

LEGO master builder

As a VIP, you get the Hero Access pass to go to the front of the lines, so you get to essentially cut the lines. And you get a cabana at the water park (which could be a life saver, as it was with us).  If you are going to go to the water park, this is the way to do it right.

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What’s New at the World’s Largest LEGOLAND, Winter Haven, FL

LEGOLAND Florida

LEGOLAND Florida

We covered a lot of ground on our trip to Florida this summer, and, finally, The Girl got the chance to visit LEGOLAND® Florida, the world’s largest LEGOLAND theme park.

Two years ago, we were invited to visit for the grand opening, but I only brought her older brother, who was the real LEGO fan…at the time. Since then, she’s almost caught up to his level of fervor for the colorful plastic bricks. She especially loves the “Friends” line just for girls.

So, our visit was successful in alleviating my motherly guilt about not bringing her the first time, but also in seeing what’s been introduced since it opened.

Editor’s Note: Check back on Friday, when The Boy will offer his own LEGOLAND review!

New LEGOLAND highlights include:

LEGO World of Chima

There’s an entirely new area of the park called the LEGO World of Chima, which complements the animated show on Cartoon Network. There are several rides and activities, the highlight being “The Quest for CHI” wet ride. You board watercraft in small groups, and battle other boats with water cannons. There’s a definite masculine vibe here, especially at the Speedorz Arena where you race rip cord LEGO vehicles.

World of Chima

World of Chima

The VIP Experience

Another new offering at LEGOLAND Florida is the VIP Experience, which we were able to experience as part of our hosted media tour. With this package, you’re escorted by a private guide, you get “Hero Access” to skip the ride lines, and you get a snack and lunch.

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NASA’s Kennedy Space Center: Still Open, and Worth The Trip

space suits

NASA’s Kennedy Space Center

This U.S. government shutdown is going to do a number on the tourism industry, since all national parks, monuments, and historic sites are closed. And while NASA, the space agency, is also closed, it’s important to note that Kennedy Space Center near Titusville, FL is still open. The Visitor Center Complex is managed and operated by a private concern, Delaware North Companies Parks & Resorts, and not funded through public monies. There are a few services within the attraction, such as the KSC Bus Tours and the KSC Up-Close Tours, which won’t run until the furlough is over, but there is still a full day’s worth of activities you can enjoy.

This summer, we visited NASA’s Kennedy Space Center because it’s home to three world’s largests: the world’s largest twin IMAX® theater; the world’s largest collection of personal astronaut mementos; and the world’s largest store for space-related memorabilia.

Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex

It’s a smart strategy to consult the visitor complex map to make a plan for your day. We scheduled our day around the astronaut meet-and-greet. One of the biggest highlights for us as a family was the chance to meet astronaut Rick Searfross following his presentation at the Astronaut Encounter Theater, during which he described his experiences piloting three space shuttle missions. Translating that from Geek to English, we met Santa Claus, the Dalai Lama, and Bruce Springsteen, all rolled into one.

Rick Searfross

Meeting former astronaut Rick Searfross, and trying to keep it cool.

We actually didn’t get the chance to see a movie in the world’s largest twin IMAX® theater, because we had two other priorities: Space Shuttle Atlantis and the Angry Birds Space Encounter.

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Break a World Record with Your Kids!

We’ve been a part of three world record attempts so far, and will participate in two more this month. My kids get such a kick out of it. Well, technically, the six-year old enjoys it. The 13-year old feigns enthusiasm because he really has no other choice but to join us.

Next week, National Geographic is sponsoring the Great Nature Project, and anyone, from anywhere, can be a part of the attempt to set a world record for the largest online photo album of animals. This one is easy and fun, and it encourages kids to get out into nature. All they have to do is take a photo of an animal in nature and, with an adult’s help, upload it to the album site.

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Dinosaur World, Plant City, FL: World’s Largest Dinosaur Attraction

Dinosaur World

Dinosaur World, Plant City, Florida

In the summer “Pro” column: school’s out, so we can take fun trips to BIG places. In the “Con” column: school’s out, and having two kids at home leaves little time to blog about it!

We’re just back from almost three weeks in central Florida, and we made tracks across that state, let me tell you. We’ll be sharing the details in future posts, but our trip included visits to: the world’s largest manmade penguin colony; the world’s largest LEGOLAND; the world’s largest Hard Rock Café; the world’s largest collection of personal astronaut mementos and historic spacecraft; and the world’s largest accredited sanctuary for big cats!

But our first stop was to Dinosaur World, the world’s largest dinosaur attraction. I’ve seen the giant T-Rex menacingly stalking the I-4 highway many times on the drive between Tampa and Orlando, and have always wanted to stop in.

I could not have picked a hotter day to visit. It was 173 degrees in the shade. This is what I looked — and felt — like:

Dilophosaurus

The friendly Dilophosaurus, best known for appearing in the movie “Jurassic Park.”

Actually, this is just one of more than 150 life-sized dinosaurs you’ll see as you take the paved – and gloriously shaded – “Dinosaur Walk” through a forest setting. Fact-filled signs near each creature provide paleontology lessons along the way. The dinosaur models, up to eighty feet long, are made of fiberglass, steel, and concrete.

Brachiosaurus

These Brachiosaurus can also be seen from the I-4 highway. Which could be startling at night if you’re not expecting them!

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CN Tower, Toronto, Canada: Tallest Structure in the Western Hemisphere

CN Tower

The CN Tower / La Tour CN, Toronto, Canada

When you’re a chicken, it helps to have brave friends. During my recent trip to Toronto for the TBEX conference, I wanted to visit the CN Tower, the tallest structure in the Western Hemisphere. I knew that a highlight of visiting the attraction is the ability to walk over a glass floor, with a view straight down 1,122 feet. I also knew that chances were good I would not be able to maneuver my jelly knees over the glass.

I enlisted my friend Karon, who blogs at All Things Lifestyle, to come with me. She’s jumped out of an airplane, so I was pretty confident she could handle standing on a 2 ½ ” thick tempered glass plate.

When you visit the CN Tower, you have options. You can take the 58-second elevator ride to the glass floor level, which is connected to the Outdoor SkyTerrace. You can also take a photo one story up on the LookOut Level. For an additional fee, you can take the special SkyPod elevator up an additional 33 stories, to 1,465 feet.

Within the building there’s also a 3D movie theater, the “Himalamazon” motion theater ride, the 360Restaurant, and a gift shop. For the exceptional daredevil, there is one more can’t-miss experience: Edge Walk, the world’s highest full circle, hands-free walk, on a 5-foot wide ledge encircling the top of the Tower’s main pod, 1,168 feet — or 116 stories — above the ground. I’m not prone to text-speak, but O.M.G.!

EdgeWalk

An EdgeWalk group at CN Tower, minus me. Photo credit: EdgeWalk

Regardless of which level you end up on, you’ll get a fantastic view of Toronto, Lake Ontario, and the surrounding region, up to 100 miles away. Apparently, you can even see Niagara Falls under ideal conditions.

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World’s Largest Peach, Gaffney, South Carolina

It’s summer, which in my book means road trips! And when I think about road trips, I naturally think about quirky roadside attractions (and now I’m starting to sound like “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie”).

Water towers are especially fun – and very noticeable from the road — when they’re painted to look like something else. We saw the world’s tallest water tower in New Jersey, but it didn’t have half the charm of the “Peachoid” in South Carolina, the world’s largest peach.

In this month’s guest post, Kelly Rae Smith, Editor of Explore Travel Guide, tells us all about it:

Where is it and how did you find it?

The Peachoid has been a part of my landscape my whole life. You see, I grew up less than an hour from this peach-shaped water tower. Four-stories tall, it sits on the side of the road on Interstate 85 in Gaffney, South Carolina (Cherokee County) where it captures the attention of every passerby. I’m from Anderson, SC, and so any time I’ve traveled to Spartanburg or Charlotte, or indeed to Gaffney, I have the pleasure of beholding this incoherent piece of fruit.

Peachoid

World’s Largest Peach, Gaffney, SC

Why did you go there, exactly?

I finally decided to pull over and get this particular picture in 2010 because my friend edits a newspaper in Scotland, and this was taken for her “Where in the World” section. Scottish readers had to guess where this pic was taken. Surprisingly, many answered the call with exact highway instructions!

Okay, what was so cool about it?

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World’s Biggest Bookstore and World’s Longest Street, Toronto, Ontario

Two debatable world records didn’t keep me from checking out a “world’s largest” and a “world’s longest” while I was in Toronto last month for the TBEX (Travel Bloggers Exchange) conference!

Yonge Street

Yonge Street, Toronto, ON

Yonge Street

Until 1999, the Guinness Book of World Records recognized Yonge (pronounced “Young”) Street as the world’s longest street, because at the time, Yonge Street proper was considered part of Highway 11. The entire length of that configuration is nearly 1,200 miles end-to-end, beginning at Queen’s Quay in downtown Toronto to Rainy River, near the Minnesota and Ontario border. The world record for longest motorable road is now held by the Pan-American Highway.

I still took a stroll up Yonge Street, about a mile from the intersections of Wellington Street and Edward Street. It was such a lively thoroughfare in this section of the city, with great shopping and dining. Along the way, I resisted the pull of the tractor beams drawing me toward the Eaton Centre, Toronto’s largest mall. I had a bookstore to see.

Yonge Street

On a mission to find the “WBB.”

World’s Biggest Bookstore

It’s becoming a habit for us to visit world’s largests which are in peril of losing their title, or being lost forever. Last year, we visited the World’s Largest McDonald’s in Orlando, knowing that it would soon be oversized by a new London restaurant. In this case, the lease on the building housing the World’s Biggest Bookstore is set to expire at the end of 2013. Indigo Books and Music, the Canadian national chain which owns the “WBB,” has said it doesn’t plan to renew the lease.

World's Biggest Bookstore

Found it!

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