The Best Kid-Friendly + All-Inclusive Resorts 2020: These Places Are Open & Welcoming Guests

Right now, putting down the sanitizing wipes and booking the fam at a kid-friendly all-inclusive resort probably sounds like a total fantasy. After so many months of quarantining, your cabin fever’s raging and you’re ready to get the heck out of Dodge. But what about travel restrictions? Safety measures? Costs? Well, Mama, we’ve got news for you. It turns out there are plenty of resorts open and welcoming guests, they’ve implemented stricter sanitary and safety measures, and they’re chock-full of kid activities. There are even all-inclusive resorts for cheap (well, cheaper) family vacations that are big on fun but not on price. Maybe you’re even bold enough to cross country borders for resorts in Mexico and Jamaica (Hello, Cancun and Montego Bay!). But if not, you can still have fun in the US; and in particular, you can swim, sightsee, and see attractions while staying in resorts in sunny Florida and Texas.

Since COVID-19 makes trip planning more complicated, we enlisted travel experts to share their top kid-friendly and all-inclusive resorts that you can book right now. Check out their picks below, plus links detailing COVID-19 safety initiatives. While travel may be different for the foreseeable future — for instance, you may have to stash the kids’ face masks in your carry-on — it doesn’t mean your family can’t have a memorable vacation. So grab your travel gear, and get ready for a much-needed getaway!

Note: While we worked to provide you the most updated information at the time of writing, we highly recommend visiting the resort’s website and/or contacting them about available amenities before booking.

Florida: Best Kid-Friendly Resorts

 

Westgate Town Center Resort | Kissimmee, Florida

Westgate Town Center Resort

The Westgate Town Center Resort in Kissimmee puts you in close proximity to Disney at a super affordable price. That said, there are tons of action-packed activities right on the property. Spend the whole day (or two, or three) at the Shipwreck Island Water Park, which is filled with slides, bridges, fountains, and things to climb. There’s also the Jurassic Park Mini-Golf Course for a pre-historic adventure, the Disney Movie Theater for kid-friendly entertainment, sports fields, bike rentals, playgrounds, and more. And when the crew gets hungry, there are eight on-site drink and dining options to choose from, including an Italian chophouse, sports bar, and ice cream shop. 

Most of the Westgate Town Center Resort amenities are open except for a few of the pools, and you can view an up-to-date list here. View COVID-19 initiatives HERE and travel advisory HERE.

Sirata Beach Resort | St. Pete Beach, Florida

Sirata Beach Resort

If you’re looking for a relaxing seaside escape or you have an infant that’s too little for most kiddie attractions, consider the Sirata Beach Resort in St. Pete Beach your idyllic getaway. Is your family content staying seaside? The 13-acre property’s stretch of private beach, plus three onsite restaurants, two pools, and two beach bars, ensure you won’t even need to rent a car if you don’t want to.

Feel like venturing out? Downtown St. Pete is just a short (Uber or cab) ride away, and you’ll find museums, craft breweries, restaurants, and more. Suncoast Water Sports, which offers activities like parasailing, paddleboarding, kayaking, snorkeling, and sunset cruises, is also nearby, and Sirata guests get 10 percent off. View COVID-19 initiatives HERE

The Grove Resort & Water Park | Orlando, Florida

The Grove Resort & Water Park

For some fun in the sun right here in the US, The Grove Resort & Water Park is guaranteed to bring thrills to action-loving families. Namely, there’s the Surfari water park, which guests are welcome to use without an admission charge. There, you can experience the FlowRider surf simulator, float along the lazy river, zoom down twisting water slides, splash in the kids’ activity pool, or hang in your own private cabana. If you need some reprieve from the sunny rays, there’s also plenty to do indoors at the Kid’s Activity Center (with scheduled activities Friday-Sunday) and Flip Flop’s Family Fun Center for some friendly competition and arcade games.

If you’ve got Disney magic on the brain, this resort is conveniently close to the parks. But when it’s time to take a break from the hustle and bustle, you’ll love coming back to The Grove to unwind at the spa or lounge by the pool. View COVID-19 initiatives HERE.

Mexico: Best Kid-Friendly + All-Inclusive Resorts

 

Planet Hollywood Beach Resort (All-Inclusive) | Cancun, Mexico

Planet Hollywood Cancun

First, keep in mind that the Planet Hollywood Beach Resort doesn’t open until December 15, 2020. But if you’re looking for a getaway that’s posh for you but full of play for the kiddos, the soon-to-be brand-new resort promises the best of both worlds. Here, you and the fam will get the star treatment with fun and relaxing options for everyone: There’s a fitness center, swimming pools, and lazy river; and you can’t miss the Labyrinth mini golf course, Jurassic Splash Park, or the Planet Play Adventure Park.  There’s even a Stars Kids Club™ or PH Teens Club where the kids can hang when Mom and Dad need some alone time (perhaps a trip to the PH Spa & Beauty Bar is in order). Bonus: When you book certain suites, you’ll get a $500 resort credit.

“The resort rolls out the red carpet of fun with monthly special events and daily activities for guests of all ages,” says Jurgen Stutz, SVP of Sales, Marketing and Distribution for Blue Diamond Resorts. “From screenings of your favorite comedy flicks and classic films in the theater to beach parties and movies under the stars, there’s something for everyone to enjoy!” View COVID-19 initiatives HERE.

Royalton Riviera Cancun (All-Inclusive) | Cancun, Mexico

Royalton Riviera Cancun

This all-inclusive resort offers a host of activities for kids of all ages. At the Clubhouse Kids Club, vacationers ages 4-12 can enjoy supervised activities, and for teens ages 13-17, the Hangout Teen Club will be their gaming paradise. Adds Stutz, “The resort’s Vibe Team ensures families are entertained from morning to night with games, obstacle courses and nightly themed shows on the main stage, such as Lion King renditions, Michael Jackson tributes, and full-blown dance parties.”

Included in your stay will be dining at nine specialty restaurants, a cafe, and a dozen bars, access to 11 pools, a children’s splash park, non-motorized sports, activities and entertainment, and more. And if you’re willing to spend a little extra dough, you can book a motorized water sports excursion, visit the casino, or even hire an on-site babysitter so you can spend some one-on-one time with your honey. View COVID-19 initiatives HERE

Marival Emotions Resort & Suites (All-Inclusive)| Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico

Marival Emotions Resort & Suites

Located in the resort area Nuevo Vallarta, Marival Emotions Resort and Suites is proudly all-inclusive so you can spend more time with your family and less time paying the bill. Included in your stay are food and drinks from the property’s six restaurants and seven bars plus fitness classes, mini golf, loaned bicycles (and a guided tour of the area), Marival Theater shows, and one round of golf per adult per stay. Kids and teens can also head off to designated resort clubs, which is perfect if you want to splurge at the spa (babysitters are also available for a fee). If that’s not enough, there’s always the option to add on excursions like diving, zip-lining, and tours in the nearby Puerto Vallarta and Riviera Nayarit.

Concludes Mel Dohman, Senior Communications Manager at Travelocity, “This kid-friendly resort offers plenty of amenities for the whole family, from beach and pool toys, bath and splash accessories, to entertainment items like outdoor games and game consoles, to a planned picnic for the whole family.” View COVID-19 initiatives HERE

Jamaica: Best Kid-Friendly + All-Inclusive Resorts

 

Royalton Blue Waters (All-Inclusive) | Montego Bay, Jamaica

Royalton Bl
Royalton Blue Waters

The Royalton Blue Waters resort is your ticket to paradise. Another Blue Diamond Resort property, this place has all-inclusive perks that include reservation-free dining, your choice of cuisine at several restaurants (including buffet and à la carte-style), bars with handcrafted cocktails, non-motorized sports adventures, daily entertainment, and evening shows.

The entire family will have a blast, whether you’re dipping your toes into the turquoise sea, drifting on the on-site lazy river, or zooming down the waterslides at the pirate-themed splash park. And when it’s time for the grownups to enjoy some time at the spa, the kiddos can head to the Clubhouse Kids Club or Hangout Teen Club to chill. View COVID-19 initiatives HERE

Hilton Rose Hall Resort and Spa (All-Inclusive) | Montego Bay, Jamaica

Hilton Rose Hall

This Hilton property is a water lover’s paradise. Namely, it’s home to the Sugar Mill Falls Water Park, an expansive hub for outdoor fun with three pools, a lazy river, waterfalls, the jungle garden play area, and — to parents’ delight — a swim-up bar for frosty cocktails. If that’s not enough,  the property’s 2,500-long strip of white sand beach will provide the backdrop for the perfect beach day.

But there’s plenty more to do during your all-inclusive stay besides swim and lounge by the water. The cost of your stay also includes the use of the tennis court and tennis lessons, evening entertainment, access to the Kidz Club and Teen Zone, and plenty of food and beverage options. You can also choose from optional add-ons like spa services, golf games, and other excursions. As a bonus, kiddos under 5 get to stay for free! View COVID-19 initiatives HERE

Moon Palace (All-Inclusive) | Ocho Rios, Jamaica

Moon Palace

In addition to its all-inclusive package, Moon Palace Jamaica is offering an incredible deal. “For a limited time, kids and teens under 17 stay free until December 2021,” explains Dohman. Even better, your family can extend your stay because “rooms come with free enhanced WIFI for remote schooling and work.”

Some of the resort’s inclusive perks include top-shelf drinks, non-motorized water sports, plenty of gourmet and casual dining options, 24-hour room service, nightly entertainment, access to four pools and a wave simulator, the Wired Lounge arcade, state-of-the-art activity rooms, and more. Of course, you can also indulge at the spa for an additional cost. View COVID-19 initiatives HERE.

Texas: Best Kid-Friendly Resorts

 

Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort and Spa | Lost Pines, Texas

Hyatt Regency Lost Pines

For an escape to nature (without escaping too far), the Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort and Spa offers an outdoorsy experience combined with upscale creature comforts. This lakeside retreat is 23 miles outside of Austin and is set against a backdrop of Texas countryside. Although your family will enjoy some quiet relaxation, there’s still plenty for the kiddos to do: Kayak down the Colorado River, hike through nearby McKinney Roughs Nature Park, or go on a horseback riding adventure. You can also spend a laidback afternoon hangin’ by the pool or floating down the resort’s lazy river.

And you won’t have to go far to find some tasty nosh. From the Southern-inspired Firewheel Cafe to McDade’s Emporium and Ice Cream Saloon (a kid’s paradise), there are several onsite eateries to choose from. Come nightfall, you can grab a seat by one of the two roaring firepits for s’mores, cocktails, and screen-free good times. (Note that there are currently some limitations in amenities and dining options.) View COVID-19 initiatives and closures HERE

The Ritz-Carlton, Dallas | Dallas, Texas 

Bringing the kids along on vacation doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice luxury. The Ritz-Carlton in Dallas both offers a posh urban experience while welcoming young visitors to enjoy their stay. “The Ritz-Carlton, Dallas’ distinct family allure is derived from our commitment to fostering a warm and inviting environment,” explains Andrew Davidson, general manager of The Ritz-Carlton, Dallas. “Children of all ages can feel comfortable amidst luxury with interactive learning opportunities that encourage them to explore the property and city surroundings using their imagination.”
So, what’s in it for them? The Ritz Kids program features activities like scavenger hunts and creative projects that teach environmental responsibility and cultural awareness. Also included is the VIK (Very Important Kid) check-in experience and milk and cookie turndown service so they know that they’re valued guests, too. The Ritz is also conveniently close to family-friendly attractions like the Dallas World Aquarium, the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, the Nasher Sculpture Center, and the Dallas Museum of Art. Now, try finding all that at your average 5-star hotel! View COVID-19 initiatives HERE

JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa | San Antonio, Texas

JW Marriott San Antonio

Situated on 600 acres of leafy green landscape, the JW Marriott in San Antonio offers the best of both worlds with the solace of nature plus proximity to the city’s amenities. That is, if you leave the resort at all. The property’s River Bluff Experience offers an expansive lazy river, multiple pools, and adrenaline-spiking slides. Afraid it’ll be too cool to swim? The water’s heated for year-round enjoyment.

But if the fam is feeling waterlogged, there’s plenty of other things to do. Onsite, you’ll find multiple eateries as well as a golf course and spa. Or, you can head off-premises and into town; you’ll find the San Antonio Zoo and Aquarium, Seaworld, Shops at La Cantera, Natural Bridge Caverns, and Six Flags Fiesta Texas nearby. View COVID-19 initiatives HERE.

Love these vacation ideas? See more of our mom-approved Spotted picks, designed to make your life easier.

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Fiji Islands Guide – First Timer Travel Tips

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Tips for New Year’s Eve at Magic Kingdom

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Easy Sausage Potato Soup – Visiting Iowa

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Tamron 24-70mm Camera Lens Review (Sonoma Trip)

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Round Top, Texas – What You Need To Know

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Disney After Hours at Animal Kingdom (REVIEW)

Is the Disney After Hours event worth the money? Read about my experience at the Disney After Hours Event in Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park to get the inside scoop. This special event ticket is available to the public and allows you to stay in the park for three extra hours with access to popular attractions with little to no wait times, character greetings and snacks.

Is the Disney After Hours event worth the money? Review for Disney After Hours event in Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Inside scoop and Disney travel tips.

Review ~ Disney After Hours at Animal Kingdom

While attending my daughter’s cheer competition at Disney’s ESPN Sports Complex, I decided to splurge and purchase Disney After Hours special event tickets for Animal Kingdom. At $125 per ticket, I wasn’t sure it would be worth the money, plus I already had a four day hopper pass to the Disney parks. Adding extra tickets to what I had already spent seemed like a bit much. Since I write about family travel and love anything Disney, I thought I would go ahead and pay the extra money for the tickets to see what it was like to share with you.

Now that we have experienced the after hours event, I can let you know what it’s like and help you decide if it’s right for you. FYI – I was NOT paid by Disney to write this article. I don’t think I’m on Disney’s radar at all, even though I sure wish I was invited to their social media influencer events! After making these adorable Mickey and Minnie Mouse cookies that went viral… they should contact me right??? ha!

 

What does the Disney After Hours Event Include?

First of all, the Disney After Hours events are only available on certain dates and only one park at a time. The events last from 9pm-12am. When you check in, you get a special wrist band, able to ride select rides, watch select shows, get snacks and meet characters. There are a limited amount of tickets and as of now, I don’t think you need any other kind of park ticket to be allowed to purchase an after hours event ticket. Guests with Disney After Hours tickets can enter the park at 7:00 pm every event night. If you didn’t have a park ticket during the day, you can enjoy the park for a few hours before the special event starts.

Disney After Hours at Animal Kingdom REVIEW

 

What we thought of Disney After Hours at Animal Kingdom

It seems like the Disney park people are still working out the details of these After Hours Events. I found out about it by the ad on their website while I was picking out my fast passes. I wish I had known about this before buying my hopper tickets – I could have saved money and bought a 3 day pass instead of a 4 day one. I saw some of my blogger friends at one of these events, but assumed it was a special event for just for influencers and not open to the public. When I saw that there was an after hours event while I was at Disney, I jumped on the chance to get a ticket before they were sold out. Animal Kingdom is our favorite!!

Disney After Hours at Animal Kingdom REVIEW

 

What We Liked About Animal Kingdom’s After Hours Event

Here are six things we enjoyed about the After Hours event at Animal Kingdom.

Disney After Hours at Animal Kingdom REVIEW

 

1. Little to no wait times

Obviously this is the main attraction for going to a Disney After Hours event. The most popular ride, Avatar Flight of Passage, which normally has a wait time of 2 hours, only had a wait of about 15 minutes when the event started. Towards the end of the night, we walked directly on the ride with no line. We rode our other favorite ride, Expedition Everest, over and over with no line and hardly any people around us!

Disney After Hours at Animal Kingdom REVIEW

Disney After Hours at Animal Kingdom REVIEW - Flight of Passage Wait Time

 

2. The parks at night are cooler and way less bugs

While we were in Orlando, there were “love bugs” EVERYWHERE. These bugs don’t bite or harm you in anyway, but they are annoying and you could have 5-100 bugs on and around you at a time. Apparently there is only an infestation of these bugs in Florida for two weeks, twice a year. And sure enough, while we were visiting! We began avoiding the parks during the day because of this and another reason the late night after hours event looked appealing. No love bugs out at night!

 

3. Endless treats

We loved the grab and go snack and drink stations around the park. I think the smartest thing Disney did was to have had Mickey ice cream, popcorn, juice bar popsicles and bottled water sitting out on a table near the Pandora entrance where you could just grab your snacks and keep walking. If you preferred a soda, you could wait in a line for one. There are other various snack carts open around the parks with snacks included in your ticket and also something for purchase. Cocktails and beer are not included in your ticket, but available for purchase the whole evening.

 

4. No Crowds

At times, we felt like the only people in the park! If you prefer a loud, party atmosphere, you might not like the after hours events, but we thought it was the coolest thing ever!

I think we only saw 3 strollers the whole time we were there, compared to daytime when there are numerous strollers parked at every ride entrance.

Disney After Hours at Animal Kingdom REVIEW

Comparing the After Hours crowd to a normal night at a park:

A few evenings before, we stayed until closing time (11pm) at Magic Kingdom and saw less strollers and people than during the day. Attractions had much longer wait times on a normal park night though. Some popular rides were still over an hour wait. I have to note the night we stayed late… it had just stormed with hail, plus it rained on and off, so that could have been a big factor for less people, less toddlers in strollers.

 

5. After Hours Shopping

Our favorite shop was open when we arrived and we were able buy the last few of the much sought after lollipop Mickey ears. It’s really fun to shop with little to no people in the stores!

Disney After Hours at Animal Kingdom REVIEW - Amy Locurto Travel Influencer Blogger

 

6. Fun Entertainment

We didn’t know about the entertainment as we were focused on what rides were open and where to find food. Here is what we did:

DJ Dance Party: In DinoLand U.S.A, we accidentally walked into the dance party with bubbles, fun music and a photo booth. We were the only ones dancing, but that is what we liked about it! ha!

Disney After Hours at Animal Kingdom REVIEW - DJ Dance Party

 

Entertainment We Missed:

Apparently there were character greetings and shows, but we missed them all together on our race to ride the attractions and eat all the food!  I’m sad we missed these things and wish I had known ahead of time to plan better:

Character greeting and photos: Meet Mickey and Minnie in Discovery Island

Rivers of Light : Show starts at 10 pm in Asia

Pandora Drummers: 10:30 pm and 11:30 pm in Pandora

 

What we did at the Animal Kingdom After Hours Event:

  • Shopped for about 15 minutes before the event officially started.
  • Walked to Pandora to be there at 9pm.
  • Rode Avatar Flight of Passage 2 times in a row (about a 10-15 minute wait both times)
  • Rode the Na’vi River Journey (walked right on)
  • Got fruit bars and water in Pandora
  • Walked towards Tree of Life and grabbed ice cream and popcorn to take on the way
  • Watched the Tree of Life for a bit
  • Stopped for lemonade and more popcorn on the walk to Asia
  • Rode Expedition Everest 3 times in a row (walked right on)
  • Stopped for more snacks and drinks in Asia
  • Walked to Dinoland, rode TriceraTop Spin
  • Danced and took photos at the DJ dance party
  • Rode DINOSAUR (walked right on)
  • Walked back to Pandora to ride Flight of Passage (walked right on)

Once we left Pandora the first time, we only saw 2-20 people at a time around the park the rest of the night.

Disney After Hours at Animal Kingdom REVIEW - DJ Dance Party Amy Locurto Travel Influencer Blog

 

What we did NOT like:

Don’t get me wrong, we had a blast and enjoyed the park after hours, but here are a few things I didn’t like.

Not enough time:  We wish the event was at least 30-60 minutes longer so we could have done more. If they can’t make the event longer, then it would have been great to have gotten the option to skip the Avatar Flight of Passage pre-show to save time.

Not knowing what was going to happen until we got there: I wish we could have been emailed the event plans, what shops were open and the show times for the evening. I feel we missed out on activities, not being able to plan ahead.

Not many characters: I would have liked more characters around the park. Having another photo spot with a character out in the open where we could have seen them would have been great. I also wish they had a character at the dance party, especially since there was a photo booth there.

The park seemed closed: It seemed more like the park was closed and we were just there walking around as they were closing up. I would have enjoyed a more catered feeling to those of us who bought the pricey after hours tickets. I’ve been to special events at parks where we were treated like VIPS – I think Disney needs to add more of a special treatment touch. I would have liked having more cast members welcoming us and answering our questions. We would have enjoyed some fun music throughout the park so it didn’t seem closed.  Special gifts such as glow stick necklaces or glowing drinks would have been nice.

Was it worth the money?

Let me break it down by what we ate and drank. Note I’m on a diet and with a 12 year old girl who doesn’t eat much. If my son was with us, he would have eaten a LOT more.

  • Mickey’s Premium Ice Cream Bar $5.75 x 2
  • Mickey’s Ice Cream Sandwich $5.75 x 1
  • Fruits of Mo’ara Fruit Bar 4.50 x 3
  • Popcorn 4.50 x 2
  • Bottled Soft Drinks  4.50 x 1
  • Water: $3.50 x 5

2 tickets + tax was $266.26. Take out our total food: $61.75 and the price was actually $102.25 per ticket for no crowds and to ride our favorite rides over and over.

After experiencing high crowds, Florida heat, 2 hour wait times and the infestation of bugs, I definitely think it was worth the price of admission and would do it again next time if it was offered.

Overall, I we had a BLAST at the Disney After Hours event. It will be a memory that my daughter and I will talk about for years to come!

Tips for Riding Avatar Flight of Passage After Hours

1. Take account for time spent walking the path and the pre-show:

For those of you wanting to plan to ride Flight of Passage numerous times, take note of your time. From the ride’s gate entrance where you show your wrist band, it will take at least 5 minutes to walk the path  to the ride entrance point. Then another 7 minutes to watch the two pre-show videos, 6 minutes to ride the ride and another 3-5 minutes to walk the path out of the ride and back to the main entrance. Total time for riding Avatar Flight of Passage is around 22 minutes with no wait time.

2. Enjoy a different experience each time:

When possible, we made sure to switch up where we were in line at the pre-show. If you are with a big group, switch spots with someone else you know. We sat somewhere different each time we rode the ride and it was a totally different experience each time! When I sat on the far outside, I felt like I was flipping upside down, a feeling I didn’t get when in the middle. So be sure to try to change it up while you’re at the after hours event if you can!

3. Just for fun, shout SIVAKO!

Watch for the part during the ride where your Na’vi guide yells “SIVAKO” (see-vah-ko) meaning, rise to the challenge. Be sure to chant it back! We had fun doing that each time. LOL!

Official Disney World After Hours Event Information:

At the time of my review, you can purchase After Hours event tickets at Magic Kingdom park, Disney’s Hollywood Studios or Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park! Click here to learn more.

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Why You Should Head To Birmingham For Your Next Family Vacation

Looking for the perfect family weekend getaway? Try Birmingham, Alabama. This multifaceted Southern city has a hip yet family-friendly restaurant scene, a children’s museum and zoo, lush parks and lots of green spaces, and an incredible civil rights museum your kids will never forget. We spent a few days in Birmingham recently to see all it had to offer. Here are our top picks for an incredible Birmingham family vacation.

PLAY

The Vulcan Observation Tower and Museum

Lindsay Ferrier

There’s no escaping the sight of Vulcan when you’re in Birmingham. The Roman god of fire and forge has watched over the city from his Red Mountain tower since the 1930s and remains the largest cast iron statue in the world. Admission to the observation tower and museum is $6 for adults, $4 for kids and it’s worth it! Climb the stairs (or take the glass elevator) to the top and you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking views of Birmingham. And if you climb all 159 steps, you’ll receive a sticker when you come back down, announcing your achievement — this was a big hit with my 11-year-old!

Birmingham Skyline

Lindsay Ferrier

For a memorable family vacation shot, my favorite skyline view of Birmingham is located directly beneath the Vulcan Observation Tower. Park in the lot for the Vulcan Trail and take the sidewalk that runs alongside the road on the other side of the guardrail. Toward the end of the guardrail, you’ll come across this Instagram-worthy view of the city.

Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

Lindsay Ferrier

I consider Birmingham’s Civil Rights Institute to be the cornerstone experience of any family trip to the city. Walking through this interactive museum with your children (I recommend it for ages 10 and up) will help them understand the Civil Rights Movement in a way no classroom lesson ever could. My kids were deeply affected by our visit and talked about it for weeks afterward. I don’t think any of us will ever forget this museum.

Sixteenth Street Baptist Church

Lindsay Ferrier

Across the street from the Civil Rights Institute is the church where a bomb killed four young girls in 1963. Today, the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church is still in operation and visitors are welcome to come inside, see the sanctuary, and talk to members who are on hand to answer questions. Private tours can also be scheduled by calling the church ahead of your visit. They last at least an hour, so you might want to save the official tour for your tweens and teens.

McWane Science Center

Lindsay Ferrier

This interactive children’s museum has four floors chock full of interactive exhibits that both educate and entertain. We all loved taking the ginormous slide from the fourth floor down to the third and the indoor zip line was a blast. The museum’s train ride is super popular with younger kids, and your smallest children will enjoy Itty Bitty Magic City, an indoor village created especially for the 5-and-under crowd. While you’re there, make time for an IMAX movie on the theater’s 5-story tilted, domed screen. The IMAX projection room is viewable from the lobby and it’s pretty incredible as well.

Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve

Lindsay Ferrier

Although it’s just a few minutes from downtown Birmingham, the privately-owned Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve will make you feel like you’re miles away from civilization. Choose from 14 miles of trails ranging from easy to difficult and get a feel for Birmingham’s natural beauty. We took the Quarry Ridge Trail to an abandoned quarry, which made for a scenic 3-mile loop hike.

While you’re at the preserve, stop by the nature center, home to several live animal exhibits as well as an animal care center where anywhere from 25 to 30 wild animals are being rehabilitated at any given time. Admission is free, but a $3 per person admission fee is suggested.

Birmingham Zoo

Lindsay Ferrier

At the Birmingham Zoo, you’ll find more than 950 animals including sea lions, alligators, monkeys, lions, and more, as well as splash pads, a carousel, and a train ride around the park. If you have little ones and the day’s not too hot, this zoo could be the perfect way to spend a morning or afternoon in Birmingham. I do recommend you buy your zoo tickets online before you go. We went during the off-season just two hours before the zoo was scheduled to close and STILL waited in line for more than half an hour to buy tickets.

The Birmingham Museum of Art

Lindsay Ferrier

This spacious museum was a pleasant surprise during our visit. Even better? It’s free! Your older kids will enjoy wandering through the many exhibits representing Asian, European, American, African, Pre-Columbian, and Native American cultures. Be sure and ask for a scavenger hunt at the front desk to make things even more interesting. The museum’s collection includes more than 27,000 works of art, so trust me when I tell you there’s something here for everyone. Younger kids will want to check out ArtVenture, a state-of-the-art interactive gallery with hands-on activities for kids from 2 to 12 years old. The museum is located in downtown Birmingham and open Tuesday-Sunday.

Red Mountain Park

Red Mountain Park

Locals and visitors alike rave about Red Mountain Park, which includes zip lining adventures and 15 miles of free hiking/mountain biking trails that wind through forest and past historic mining sites. Given the area’s history, the park’s free guided hikes are especially popular here, so check the website before you go and see if one is scheduled during your visit.

EAT

Saw’s BBQ

Lindsay Ferrier

Multiple Birmingham residents made us promise not to visit their city without a stop at Saw’s BBQ. Now that I’ve been, I can understand what all the fuss is about. The brainchild of a former test chef for Cooking Light magazine, Saw’s now has four locations in Birmingham and each one is packed with people on any given day. Saw’s fans love the ribs and pulled pork, but I’ll be back for the sweet tea chicken sandwich. With a breast marinated in sweet tea and pickle brine before being fried, it tastes like I imagine a Chik Fil-A sandwich would taste in heaven. Be sure and spring for a side of onion rings, too — they are sliced thin and expertly seasoned.

Pizzeria GM

Lindsay Ferrier

GianMarcos has long been known as Birmingham’s best upscale Italian restaurant. Now, brothers Giani and Marco Respinto have opened a more casual restaurant that’s perfect for families. Pizzeria GM serves up many of the same high-quality Italian dishes GianMarcos is known for, along with hand-tossed pizzas and savory sandwiches. And while there’s no official kids’ menu, just ask and the chefs will be happy to make a kid-sized burger, chicken fingers, pasta with butter, mac and cheese, or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

We tried lots of dishes during dinner here and our entire family was united in loving the meatball appetizer, the polenta fries, the Italian ham pizza, and the house made chips and dip. YUM.

Eli’s Jerusalem Grill

Lindsay Ferrier

We’re always on the hunt for innovative ethnic cuisine when we travel and were excited to try the highly-regarded Eli’s Jerusalem Grill while in Birmingham. Husband and wife team (and parents!) Eli and Laurel Markshtien serve up time-honored recipes passed down from family in Israel, using organic ingredients and and grass-fed beef. The results are phenomenal. We thought the lamb chop, beef kabob, and Israeli couscous were amazing and the pita bread was remarkably thick and fluffy. Come here for lunch or dinner, and don’t be fooled by its strip mall location. Locals know Eli’s is one of the best meals in town. If you really want to sound like a local, here’s a pro tip: Eli is pronounced “Ell-lee.”

Red Cat

Lindsay Ferrier

With two heavily trafficked locations in Birmingham (one across the street from the popular Railroad Park, the other in Pepper Place), the Red Cat Coffeehouse is a convenient place to stop for a quick breakfast, sweet treat, or a midday jolt of caffeine. With flavors like Russian Blue (dark chocolate and mint) and Persian (white chocolate and almond), Red Cat’s signature lattes are unforgettable, as are its caramel apple bars. We stopped here more than once during our visit, and my 14-year-old in particular loved its bohemian vibe.

Pizitz Food Hall

Lindsay Ferrier

Located right across the street from the McWane Science Center, Pizitz Food Hall makes for a perfect lunch break, and I really think it’s a must-have meal experience when you’re in Birmingham. This airy, light-filled food court is filled with all kinds of culinary delights, from french fries and hot dogs at The Standard to delicious Indian street food at Silver Kati. Our kids went crazy over the Alpine sandwich with Swiss cheese and caramelized onions from Busy Corner Cheese & Provisions, while my husband and I went back for seconds on the Himalayan/Nepalese steamed dumplings at Mo:Mo. You’ll also find food stalls here featuring Ethiopian food, Hawaiian poke, Mexican popsicles, and organic southern biscuits, as well as a mini version of Eli’s Jerusalem Grill. If the day’s nice, be sure and sit outside in the beautiful courtyard next to the historic Pizitz building.

Yellowhammer Print Shop

Lindsay Ferrier

The Pizitz is also home to Yellowhammer Print Shop, a great place to stop for hip, hand-printed souvenir mugs, t-shirts, and hats.

STAY

Homewood Suites by Hilton

Homewood Suites

We absolutely loved our peaceful, spacious suite at this downtown Birmingham hotel. With a full kitchen, seating area, and lots of room to roam without bumping into one another, it’s a great option for families. Breakfast was also included in our stay, which is always welcome when we’re traveling.

Redmont Hotel

Redmont Hotel

When the Redmont Hotel opened in downtown Birmingham back in 1925, it was notable for having a private bathroom in every bedroom, chilled water, and ceiling fans. Today, the newly restored hotel offers guests a historic boutique hotel experience at an affordable price — and possibly a few ghosts thrown in at no extra charge. (The third and ninth floors are said to be “most haunted.”) Walk to McWane Science Center, the National Civil Rights Center, and the Pizitz Food Hall or enjoy lovely views from the hotel’s popular rooftop bar. Country music fans will want to know Hank Williams spent his final night here in 1952 while on a road trip from Montgomery to West Virginia.

The Grand Bohemian Hotel

Grand Bohemian Hotel

It’s worth splurging on a room at this artsy luxury hotel in Birmingham’s charming Mountain Brook neighborhood. Guests rave about the whimsical decor, super-comfortable beds, impeccable customer service, and unforgettable rooftop restaurant and bar, which overlooks the Birmingham Botanical Gardens across the street. If you want to go all-out on your Birmingham vacation, this is definitely the place to do it.

 

Although the author received media accommodation for some of her Birmingham activities, she researched and created her itinerary independently and all opinions/ recommendations are her own. Got questions? Contact Lindsay Ferrier at suburban.turmoil@yahoo.com.

The post Why You Should Head To Birmingham For Your Next Family Vacation appeared first on Scary Mommy.

How To Plan A Cincinnati Family Vacation You’ll Never Forget

I was not expecting to fall in love with Cincinnati during our last family vacation, but that’s exactly what happened. The Queen City combines history, culture, and sophistication with a Midwestern lack of pretension that’s completely charming. For families, it is safe, clean, and there is plenty to do, whether you have toddlers or teens.

Here are some of our favorite places in Cincinnati to play, eat, and stay.

PLAY

Newport Aquarium

Lindsay Ferrier

Located in the Newport on the Levee “retail entertainment center” across the river from downtown Cincinnati, this aquarium is home to thousands of animals from around the world and holds more than a million gallons of water. Here, you can pet stingrays, penguins, and sharks, learn about seahorses, and play in the little kid-friendly Frog Bog. But the main attraction is the Shark Bridge — the only suspension bridge in North America built right above an enormous tank holding two dozen sharks. It’s the final attraction in the aquarium, so you might want to make it a surprise for your kids; otherwise, if they’re anything like mine, they’ll rush through the aquarium to get to that bridge as quickly as possible!

Cincinnati Zoo And Botanical Garden

Lindsay Ferrier

Consider this a must-do if you’re visiting Cincinnati with kids. Open since 1875, the Cincinnati Zoo is the second-oldest zoo in the US and it’s magnificent. Here, you’ll find more than 500 animals, 3,000 species of plants, and plenty of beautiful walking paths. Be sure and stop for a visit with Fiona the famous hippo. Born premature in 2017, she now weighs over a thousand pounds and seems to love the attention she gets from visitors!

BB Riverboat Cruise

Lindsay Ferrier

The Ohio River is Cincinnati’s lifeline, so why not see the city (and get some amazing skyline photos) on a riverboat cruise? Sit inside or outside the boat and learn the history of the city while checking out some of Cincinnati’s most striking landmarks, like the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge, a prototype for the Brooklyn Bridge, which Roebling built several years later. While we liked the tour, we loved our tour guide, a Mr. Rogers’ doppelganger who sang songs, told corny jokes, and made us feel like family.

National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

Lindsay Ferrier

This downtown Cincinnati museum spotlights the struggle for freedom in our own nation’s history and around the world. Experience the history of slavery and segregation through interactive exhibits and bring America’s troubled past to life for your children in a way no classroom lesson can replicate. Visitors rave about this museum and call it “powerful,” “informative,” and “inspiring.”

King’s Island

King’s Island

Just north of Cincinnati, you’ll find the largest amusement and waterpark in the midwest. With more than 100 attractions (including 15 roller coasters) and 50 waterpark attractions, it’s safe to say everyone in your family can find something to love here. And if you have kids on the smaller side, you’ll be happy to know King’s Island has won the coveted Golden Ticket award 17 years in a row for Best Kids’ Area.

Carew Tower Observation Deck

Lindsay Ferrier

You’ll feel like you’re on top of the world on the roof of this 1930 Art Deco building in downtown Cincinnati, the highest elevated building in the city. We loved the observation deck’s breathtaking views, but half the adventure for us was the journey to the top of the building, which includes a second tiny elevator that seems as old and creaky as the building itself.

Cincinnati Museum Center

ROBERT WEBBER

Cincinnati’s massive Union Terminal, once an Art Deco train station, now houses the Cincinnati History Museum, the Duke Energy Children’s Museum, the Museum of Natural History & Science and an OMNIMAX® Theater. Best of all, one ticket gives you access to all three museums! A 2 ½-year renovation of the building was just completed, so there’s never been a better time to visit.

ArtWorks Public Murals

Lindsay Ferrier

Murals are popping up on barrier walls and buildings across the country, but Cincinnati deserves a blue ribbon for its very visible efforts. ArtWorks is a local non-profit that trains youth apprentices to create these murals, and all of Cincinnati is reaping the benefits. 147 ArtWorks murals have been painted in Cincinnati neighborhoods to date, transforming urban streets into wonderlands of creativity. Enjoy them as you sightsee or download the ArtWorks brochure and take a self-guided tour.

Cincinnati Art Museum

Lindsay Ferrier

We fell in love with this massive museum, where the collection includes 6,700 works of art that cover a 6,000-year time span. Best of all, admission is free! Located in idyllic Eden Park, you’ll love the drive to get there and the Pinocchio statue out front is one of the most Instagrammable spots in the city.

Washington Park

Lindsay Ferrier

Located in the heart of Cincinnati’s fashionable Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, Washington Park is the perfect place to let the kids run free, and on a nice day it’s also a lovely option for family photos. Even my older kids loved its unique playground filled with musical instruments and imaginative structures. In the summer, a 7,000 square foot interactive water park gives littles a great, free way to cool off. And an underground parking deck makes visiting Washington Park a breeze.

With the stunning Cincinnati Music Hall, built in 1878, as a backdrop, you’ll feel like you’ve dropped into a scene from Harry Potter. We thought it looked just like an American Hogwarts!

EAT

FINDLAY MARKET

Lindsay Ferrier

This vibrant public market has been in operation since 1855 and it’s a perfect spot for a family lunch. Here, you’ll find vendors selling delicious pierogis, pizza, fresh-baked sourdough bread, tamales, ice cream, egg rolls, donuts, and more. We loved sampling a variety of foods here, but we went bonkers over Taste of Belgium’s made-on-the-spot waffles. They were by far the best I’ve ever eaten, and this may well be the first place I go the next time I return to Cincinnati. Apparently, I’m not the only one who loves these waffles — Taste of Belgium got its start at Findlay Market and now has six locations throughout the city! Breakfast, anyone?

Moerlein Lager House

Lindsay Ferrier

Cincinnati is famous for its breweries and some are definitely more kid-friendly than others. Moerlein Ale House opened in Cincinnati in 1853 and it’s been going strong ever since. Centrally located in Smale Riverfront Park downtown, it’s a top-notch brewery with inventive beers, delicious food, and a passionate, knowledgeable staff. Even better, it’s also spacious and includes a kids’ menu, making it a first-rate dining option for your whole family. We had lots of memorable meals in Cincinnati, but this was unexpectedly one of my favorites. (We were here, after all, for the beer.) The short rib grilled cheese, mushroom spaetzle, and Squash Wellington were all phenomenal and highly recommended.   

French Fresh

Lindsay Ferrier

Problem: You want to explore Cincinnati’s local food scene, but your kids make fine dining all but impossible. Solution: Frenchie Fresh. Jean-Robert de Cavel is Cincinnati’s hottest chef and runs chic restaurants all over town. He created Frenchie Fresh so that parents, for one, could enjoy his amazing creations in a casual, kid-friendly environment. While everything we tried was delicious here, we especially loved the popular Banh Mi sandwich (crispy tofu might not typically be your thing, but trust me on this), the decadent macaroni and cheese, and the Parmesan and Truffle-seasoned Frenchie Fries. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it!

Eli’s BBQ

Lindsay Ferrier

You’ve definitely got to be in the know to find this Cincinnati hotspot. Eli’s is a no-frills barbeque joint on Riverside Drive with only a pig on its storefront sign, and it felt to this tourist like it was in the middle of nowhere. Once we went inside, though, the place was packed and the food was amazing. We especially loved the ribs, which had a sinfully sugary dry rub, and Eli’s famous loaded hot dogs. The cracklings and coleslaw on top set them apart from anything I’d eaten before. I will definitely be making a return visit the next time I’m in Cincinnati.

Cincinnati Chili

Lindsay Ferrier

Visiting Cincinnati without eating chili is like visiting Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower — it’s simply not done. Lucky for you, the chili experience will probably be the most budget-friendly meal you have on your vacation. Locals here generally have a preference for either Skyline Chili or Gold Star Chili. Blue Ash Chili is another favorite. You’ll find chili “parlors” everywhere you turn throughout the city, so pick one and give it a try! We opted for lunch at Skyline Chili and while the chili by itself was a little soupy for my taste, we all really liked it atop Skyline’s loaded Coney hotdogs.

Graeter’s Ice Cream

Lindsay Ferrier

Graeter’s is another Cincinnati experience you’ve just got to have while you’re here,  preferably over and over and over again! Louis Graeter began selling ice cream in Cincinnati’s street markets way back in 1868 and Graeter’s Ice Cream has been in operation ever since. What sets Graeter’s apart from the others? It’s the only ice cream in the country made in two-gallon batches in French Pot freezers — the same process Louis Graeter used in the 1800s. The results are undeniably delicious. Graeter’s has 18 locations throughout Cincinnati, so choose one and give it a try!

STAY

AC Hotel Cincinnati At The Banks

AC HOTEL CINCINNATI AT THE BANKS

We stayed at this Marriott property while were were in Cincinnati and loved it. It’s clean, modern, spacious, stylish, centrally located, and the price is right. No complaints! Added bonus: Moerlein Lager House is right next door and the Underground Railroad Freedom Center is a two-minute walk away.

Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza

HILTON CINCINNATI NETHERLAND PLAZA

Located in the same building as the Carew Tower Observation Deck, this historic hotel has hosted guests like Elvis Presley and Winston Churchill. You’ll love the Art Deco details in the fabulous lobby and enjoy being minutes away from many of Cincinnati’s best restaurants and attractions. An indoor pool makes this hotel just as popular with kids as it is with their parents.

Mariemont Inn

MARIEMONT INN

Looking for something a little different? I’m completely charmed by the Mariemont Inn, located about 15 minutes from downtown Cincinnati in the historic Village of Mariemont. This historic Tudor-style inn was built in 1929 as the centerpiece of the village, which is known for its unique architecture, treelined streets and walkable historic district. Consider it an adventure all on its own within your Cincinnati vacation.

Can you understand now why I have such big love for Cincinnati? Give it a try — I’m absolutely sure your family will have just as much fun as we did.

Although the author received media accommodation for some of her Cincinnati activities, she researched and created her itinerary independently and all opinions/ recommendations are her own.

The post How To Plan A Cincinnati Family Vacation You’ll Never Forget appeared first on Scary Mommy.