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

Taking the Kids to Big Cat Rescue, Tampa, Florida

Big Cat Rescue

Big Cat Rescue

The Girl is a BIG fan of animals, thanks to a steady diet of “The Wild Kratts” on PBS. A trip to Tampa allowed us to visit Big Cat Rescue, the largest accredited sanctuary in the country, and possibly the world, dedicated entirely to abused and abandoned big cats.

Big Cat Rescue is home to some 100 lions, tigers, leopards, cougars and other wild cats, who live in enclosed habitats on 67 acres in the Citrus Park area of north Tampa. These majestic creatures were, for the most part, former pets or victims of the “pet trade,” who were mistreated or abandoned. Some had been used for performing acts and were no longer wanted. The mission here is to end the abuse and abandonment of captive exotic animals and promote preservation of the species in the wild.

After learning all this, I explained to the kids that this was not a zoo, and these animals were not there for our entertainment, but because this was the safest place for them to live now that they were no longer accustomed to living in the wild. It was important for them to know that, although I tried to keep the message lighthearted for my six-year old.

You get to learn the cats’ individual stories along the way, both from the tour guide and from the posted signs which provide their name, the date they came to the Rescue, and where they were found. In many cases, this is an eye-opener. Divinity the Bobcat, for example, was rescued from a fur farm.

Bobcat

Divinity the Bobcat

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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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World’s Largest Termite, and other BIG Things in Providence, Rhode Island

This long, cold, snowy winter we’re enjoying barely tolerating here in the Hudson Valley hasn’t been kind to our travel plans, beginning way back in November, when a storm prevented us from driving to Gatlinburg, TN for Thanksgiving. Another storm was forecast for President’s Day weekend earlier this month, when we were scheduled to drive to Providence, RI. The Girl insisted we go anyway, whining, “Weather has ruined all our trips!”

Okay, so we were committed to getting there. And then The Boy sprained his ankle, and was outfitted with a boot. My eye began to twitch.

But hey, flexibility is what family travel is all about, so we rolled with it. We were snowed in at the Hampton Inn for an entire afternoon. We couldn’t do much walking. But the important thing was WE GOT OUT of town, winter be damned.

And discovered some great BIG attractions in Rhode Island’s capital city.

Because we love roadside attractions, our first photo op stop was “Nibbles Woodaway,” also known as the Big Blue Bug. At two tons, he’s the world’s largest termite, and has sat on top of an extermination business building since 1980. He’s nine feet tall and 58 feet long, and is occasionally dressed in smart seasonal accessories.

Termite

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The BIG Stuff at Hershey’s

Chocolate WorldYou didn’t think I’d let the whole month of January go by without posting something BIG? Well, up until a few hours ago, I did. Work (you know, all the other writing I do) has been crazy-in-a-good-way this month.

But I can’t ignore the fact that the winter doldrums have set in, and so I want to offer a suggestion to anyone looking for a fun day trip or weekend getaway: Hershey, PA. True, the Hersheypark amusement park is still closed for the season, but there are other year-round attractions in town. My favorite of which is Chocolate World, home to the world’s largest selection of Herhsey’s products.

First, there are the attractions, like the Great American Chocolate Tour, a free ride with a free sample at the end. I can honestly say that I still have memories of this ride from a trip I took there as a five-year old. Hey, it’s the enduring power of chocolate. Of course, it’s been updated, and stars three singing mechanical dairy cows. That “Hershey’s Milk Chocolate” jingle will stick in your brain for days.

For a fee, you can also catch “Hershey’s Great Chocolate Factory Mystery,” a fun action adventure movie in the 4D theater, or the “Hershey’s Create Your Own Candy Bar” area, where you get to customize your own chocolate bar. (Hope you look better than me in a hair net.)

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A World Record Christmas Light Display

Christmas lightsWe don’t have to travel far to see a BIG Christmas lights display. Right here in the Hudson Valley, the Gay family of Union Vale, NY puts on an incredible show every year in their front lawn. It’s not just any lawn, and it’s not just any light display.

The ERDAJT light display (the name includes the initials of the family’s three kids) began on a much smaller scale in 1995, and has grown to now include 392,887 lights. They are strung up on trees, fences, poles, and suspended in air. Big lights, small lights, blinkers, solids, strobes, colored and white. Any kind of light you could ever imagine. The newest elements include: three “Leaping Light” trees towering 50 feet high, each with 15 channels and 7,000 lights.

Last year, the family earned a Guinness World Record for the most lights on a residential property. Most are LED’s, so the estimated electric cost is only about $350. They use some 2,000 extension cords, or about eight miles worth.

And what’s more, they pulse and blink in different areas to the beat of music, which is piped through a radio channel, so you can listen in your car! The soundtrack they created includes 181 songs, a mix of holiday classics and rock.

Holiday light display

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Elf on the Road

Is anyone else bracing for the onslaught of “Elf on the Shelf” photos in their Facebook feeds? I’m all for holiday cheer, but I only have the energy to manufacture one fictional figment per season, and this one belongs to Santa. Still, this year I wanted to put a family travel spin on the Elf buzz. You know we’re always up for a little quirkiness around here, like our Halloween trick photos last year.

So, over the last few months, we’ve taken our still-unnamed Elf off the shelf, and on the road. He’s been to several states, and seen a lot. He tends toward mischief, though.

Elf on the shelf

For a little guy, he’s got a big appetite. At the giant fork in the road in Red Hook, NY. This is Matt’s elf from his childhood. Vintage!

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World’s Largest Gingerbread Exhibit

So, the plan was to get up early Sunday for a 9:00am wheels-up for the New York Hall of Science in Queens, to see the GingerBread Lane exhibit. Except it was dark and rainy, and we just switched over to flannel sheets. Flannel sheets are quicksand on Sunday mornings. My feet didn’t touch slippers until 8:30, so our plans were slightly postponed.

Still, the drive was worth it. GingerBread Lane, a 1.5 ton, 300-square-foot village made entirely of edible gingerbread, royal icing and candy, is a contender for the Guinness World Record for the largest gingerbread exhibit. The final decree has not been made, but we had to go see it. It’s pretty amazing to look at, and smells deeeeelicious.

Overview

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BIG Finds in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor

World Trade Center Baltimore

In front of the world’s tallest pentagonal building

Over Columbus Day weekend, we attended the Digital Family Summit in Baltimore. This annual kid-friendly conference is geared toward tweens and teens who are digital content creators, meaning they’re writing blogs or producing videos for the web. I thought it would be a great experience for The Boy, who took workshops in video game design and WordPress. I would recommend it if your kids are out there navigating their way through the world wide web.

Our hotel was an easy ten-minute walk to the Inner Harbor district, one of the top tourist destinations in “Charm City,” so we took advantage of our down time to do a little exploring for BIG stuff. We were also able to meet up with one of Matt’s high school friends, Kim, who lives nearby with her five kids.

It was one of those five kids who actually tipped us off to our first find. Upon learning what we blog about, 12-year old Danny said, “You know, the tallest pentagonal building in the world is here in the Inner Harbor.”

What?!? My crackerjack advance research techniques had obviously failed me, because that was news.

World Trade Center, Baltimore

The 405-foot tall building is actually the World Trade Center, and was designed by the firm founded by renowned architect I.M. Pei. You can take the elevators to the “Top of the World” observation level on the 27th floor for 360° views of the city. Now that I’ve actually done my homework, I’ve found out that it’s technically the world’s tallest “regular” pentagonal building, meaning that all sides are the same length. There is a taller irregular pentagonal building in Houston; the JPMorgan Chase building, which is 1,002-feet tall.

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