27 Places To Visit In Florida That Really Shine For A Special Needs Family

packing for family trip

Florida is one of the best places to visit if your family is looking for a little sunshine and a lot of fun. As parents, we want our vacation to be an enjoyable experience for the whole family. So when it comes to planning a vacation as a special needs family, we go the extra mile to make sure there’s a little something for everyone, especially our little people with special needs.

Here are 27 amazing places to visit in Florida that are perfect for special needs families.

Orlando

1. Walt Disney World

We love Disney for many reasons, but especially because they offer a Disability Access Service card that can be picked up at guest services. This card helps visitors with disabilities by offering shorter wait times and shaded lineup areas. Disney also offers break areas, companion restrooms, and awesome accommodations for guests with food allergies.

2. Aquatica

Aquatica is a special needs-friendly water park. In fact, it’s the first water park in the world to be designated a Certified Autism Center. Aquatica even offers a Park Sensory Guide to assist special needs families with planning the perfect trip.

Winter Park

3. LEGOLAND Florida

Kids love LEGO, and LEGOLAND loves kids. Using the LEGOLAND Hero Pass, guests with disabilities can board their first ride immediately, with the opportunity to reserve ride times at other attractions later in the day

Destin

4. Bright Horizons Diving

Bright Horizons specializes in adaptive scuba diving lessons for people on the autism spectrum or with other disabilities. They offer one-on-one swimming lessons in a calm, supportive environment, and encourage families to get involved too.

5. Alaqua Animal Refuge

Alaqua Animal Refuge is a non-profit animal sanctuary located on a 10-acre farm. They offer guided tours of the farm, which include horses, donkeys, goats, cows, and other animals.

6. Emerald Coast Science Center

The hands-on interactive and educational exhibits make Emerald Coast Science Center a must-visit destination. They offer everything from animal exhibits to robots with the latest technology.

Fort Lauderdale

7. Young at Art

Young at Art is a children’s museum that offers Sensory Sunday every second Sunday of the month. These special hours are just for families with autism or other sensory sensitivities and allow them to explore exhibits in a calm environment. Art activities even offer adaptive art tools.

8. Flamingo Gardens

Flamingo Gardens is so much more than just flamingos (although we think flamingos are seriously cool!). This botanical garden and wildlife sanctuary offers butterfly and hummingbird gardens, a black bear habitat, and other exciting wildlife encounters.

9. We Rock the Spectrum

This gym is for kids of all abilities, promoting social interaction and communication in a safe, nurturing, and inclusive environment. They offer open gym times, arts and crafts as well as Mommy and Me creative dance and movement classes.

Jacksonville

10. H2Om Float

If you’re looking for a different kind of calming experience for your loved one on the spectrum, try float therapy. The float pools are warmed to body temperature and the added salt allows visitors to float effortlessly. (The pools have only 10 inches of water in them.) The addition of lights and music makes it a relaxing, tranquil experience.

11. Bravoz

At first glance, Bravoz may seem like your typical trampoline park, with a Ninja warrior course, mini-bowling, laser tag, climbing walls, and an arcade, but it’s the sensory-friendly sessions that set Bravoz apart. With music turned off and distractions dialed down, the facility transforms into an amazingly sensory-friendly environment.

12. Sensory Towne

If you’re looking for open play times, swings, and slides for kids and caregivers alike, check out Sensory Towne in Jacksonville. They also offer art classes, dance classes, and kids’ yoga.

Miami

13. Shake-A-Leg

Therapeutic sailing, swimming, and kayaking are just some of the amazing activities offered by Shake-A-Leg. This not-for-profit works with children and adults with physical and developmental challenges.

14. Island Dolphin Care

Island Dolphin Care offers dolphin therapy programs for children with special needs and their families. Whether you’re looking for a session in the water or from land, they have a session to meet your family’s needs.

15. Autism on the Seas

Autism on the Seas offers staff-assisted cruises for special needs families. They accommodate numerous special needs including autism, Asperger syndrome, Tourette syndrome, cerebral palsy, and many other developmental disabilities.

Pensacola

16. National Naval Aviation Museum

National Naval Aviation Museum offers more than 250 restored aircraft from World War I to present day. You can take pictures in the cockpits and check out all the historic memorabilia or enjoy the Kitty Hawk playground and onsite cafe.

17. Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park

This amazing marine adventure park has plenty of marine life, offers lots of shade for those with special needs, and encourages guests with special diets or food allergies to bring their own food.

18. Sam’s Surf City

Sometimes you just need a lazy day at the pool, or perhaps on the lazy river. Sam’s Surf City boasts a 750-foot endless river, seven pools, and 12 large water slides, for those days you’re looking to make a splash.

Peter W. Cross

Tampa

19. Dinosaur World

Experience hundreds of life-sized dinosaurs at this laid-back family park. Food allergies and special diets aren’t an issue at Dinosaur World because you can bring your own cooler. Massive oak trees offer plenty of shade between exhibits. There’s also a dinosaur-themed playground.

20. Great Explorations Children’s Museum

Staff members at Great Explorations receive special training to increase awareness of the needs of visitors on the autism spectrum. They offer a program once a month for children with special needs and their families.

21. ZooTampa

This zoo goes above and beyond to make sure visitors on the spectrum have an enjoyable experience. They offer visual aids at the front gate that can be borrowed during your visit, and an autism-friendly version of their zoo map, which includes sensory-friendly tips for planning your visit.

St. Petersburg

22. Tradewinds Island Resort

If you’re looking for a special-needs resort, Tradewinds Island Resort is the place for your family. All the fun of the beach but with resort staff who are specially trained to meet the needs of your family. From in-room safety kits to gluten-free menu options, they’re sensitive to the needs of each guest.

23. Fort De Soto Park

Fort De Soto Park offers beautiful beaches, amazing cuisine, and a rich history. Enjoy a day on the nature trails or rent a couple of canoes and take in all the islands have to offer.

24. LOCALE Market

If your family enjoys food, LOCALE Market is a great option. With an amazing array of dining choices and even better conversation, you won’t be disappointed.

Daytona Beach

25. Lighthouse Point Park

Lighthouse Point Park , on 52 acres in Central Florida, features fishing, nature trails, an observation deck and tower, swimming, and pavilions. There’s plenty of wildlife to be seen along the trails, including tortoises, armadillos, and in the water nearby, even dolphins!

26. Marine Science Center

If you’re in the market for a hands-on experience, Marine Science Center is a child-friendly aquatic museum with a stingray touch pool and living reef aquarium. And who doesn’t want to touch a stingray?

27. Daytona International Speedway

If your family has a need for speed, Daytona International Speedway will get you going. The track offers 30-minute tours that are perfect for families.

Now that you have a few options, where are you heading? Maybe you should just give this list to the kids and let them decide. No matter where your family decides to go, everyone is sure to have an amazing time on your next getaway to Florida!

VISIT FLORIDA is Florida’s official tourism corporation, serving as the official source for travel planning to visitors across the globe. Check out the VISIT FLORIDA website to learn more and start planning the vacation your family will be talking about for years to come.

The post 27 Places To Visit In Florida That Really Shine For A Special Needs Family appeared first on Scary Mommy.

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.

19 Reasons Louisville Should Be Your Next Family Vacation

Louisville is probably best known as home of the Kentucky Derby, but this historic Southern city is absolutely loaded with charm, culture, and plenty of family-friendly attractions. After several visits, I’m convinced everyone needs to add a Louisville family vacation to their travel bucket list.  Check out this list of our favorite places to play, eat, and stay and you’ll understand why.

WHERE TO PLAY

Churchill Downs

Lindsay Ferrier

The Kentucky Derby is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but with kids in tow, Churchill Downs’ non-Derby days are far more fun. Horse races are scheduled here throughout the year (check the calendar for dates), as well as Family Adventure Days, which include race day activities just for kids. Come early in the day for the most family-friendly experience — you can place bets on the horses and easily find a front row seat to watch the races up close. While you’re there, be sure and stop in at the Kentucky Derby Museum for a fascinating look at the Derby’s history.

Louisville Zoo

Lindsay Ferrier

With more than 1,200 animals, the Louisville Zoo is a must-visit for vacationing families. In addition to penguins, giraffes, gorillas, bears, elephants, orangutans and more, the Louisville Zoo also has a splash park, zoo trains, a carousel, camel rides, and a ropes course. My kids particularly loved the keeper talks at the zoo’s award-winning Glacier Run exhibit, which includes both polar and grizzly bears. We’ve gotten to visit a lot of zoos during our travels and the Louisville Zoo is definitely one of the best.

Belle of Louisville Riverboat Cruise

Lindsay Ferrier

There’s no better place to see Louisville’s skyline and get amazing family vacation photos than on a Belle of Louisville riverboat cruise. Take a relaxing two-hour ride on this 104-year-old historic paddle wheeler, learn about the history of Louisville and the Ohio River, and enjoy a lunch even your pickiest eaters will devour. (You can’t go wrong with fried chicken, mac and cheese, rolls, and pie!) You’ll have your own table on this cruise, so bring activities to keep the little ones busy while you kick back and enjoy the scenery. Cruises run June through October.

Big Four Bridge

Lindsay Ferrier

This historic railway bridge was built back in 1895 and opened to the public as a pedestrian bridge in 2013. Today, you and your family can cross over it from Louisville’s Waterfront Park to Jeffersonville, Indiana. The entire trip over and back is about 2 miles, so this definitely qualifies as a family hike. Before you go, be sure and print out these activity sheets designed just for the bridge walk by local author Kenny Karem: Exploring the Big Four Bridge and Exploring the Ohio River.

Louisville Mega Cavern

LOUISVILLE TOURISM

This former limestone mine beneath the city was closed for decades before private investors bought it and turned it into a popular Louisville attraction. Because it was man made, it’s actually classified as a building and at 4 million square feet is considered to be the largest building in Kentucky! Choose between the world’s only underground zipline tour, a historical tram tour, a ropes course, or an electric bike tour. And bring a jacket — the cavern’s temperature is a chilly 58 degrees year-round.

Kentucky Kingdom and Hurricane Bay

LOUISVILLE TOURISM

This recently-reopened amusement park has more than 70 rides and waterslides, including five roller coasters. Ticket prices are a bargain compared to other parks ($39.95 — the second day is free if you’re from out of state) and lines most days aren’t very long. In fact, midweek visitors have been reporting that lines are almost non-existent. This alone makes Kentucky Kingdom a winner in my book!

WHERE TO LEARN

Louisville’s Museum Row makes it possible to spend a pleasant afternoon exploring multiple museums, all within walking distance. Buy Main Tickets and you can see everything Museum Row has to offer at a greatly discounted price. Here are our favorite family attractions:

Kentucky Science Center

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Perfect for kids under 12, this interactive science museum is filled with hands-on exhibits that will help your child learn and have fun at the same time. My 11-year-old was obsessed with the museum’s water play area, and he also loved experimenting with the wind tubes and building his own roller coaster with modular track pieces. There’s something here for children of all ages and stages to enjoy.

Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory

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Sports fans won’t want to miss touring the famous Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory, where bats have been made since 1884. Here, you’ll learn about the history of the bats and the players who made them famous, walk through the heart of the production line, and end the tour with a mini-bat to call your very own. Even if you opt out of the experience, be sure and get a family photo in front of the gigantic bat outside — it’s an iconic downtown Louisville snapshot!

Muhammad Ali Center

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Learn the incredible story and core principles guiding the life of Louisville native Muhammad Ali at this interactive museum celebrating the world’s most famous boxer. Visitors rave about this experience, which is both informative and deeply moving.

Frazier History Museum

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We were pleasantly surprised by how much we enjoyed our visit to this museum on our most recent trip to Louisville. We spent over an hour in the Lewis & Clark Experience on the museum’s fourth floor, where we learned the fascinating story of Lewis & Clark’s Corps of Discovery at kid-friendly, interactive stations. Your kids will also likely go crazy over the museum’s historic miniatures collection, where nearly 25,000 toy soldiers and other figures are on display. And don’t miss the museum’s original Steiff Teddy Bear: it’s a great opportunity for kids to learn the history behind it.

WHERE TO EAT

There’s no need to resort to chain restaurants while you’re in Lousiville. Some of the city’s most popular restaurants are perfect for family dining.

The Irish Rover

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I’m all about restaurants that are fun for both kids and adults, and The Irish Rover definitely fits the bill. Located in Louisville’s trendy Clifton-Crescent Hill neighborhood, this cozy Irish pub is a longtime local favorite. Try the smoked salmon & potato gratin and you’ll understand why. In addition to Guinness shipped over from Dublin, you’ll find authentic Irish favorites like bubble and squeak, cottage pie, and sticky toffee pudding, as well as a $3.95 kids’ menu that includes Irish and American favorites.

The Mayan Cafe

THE MAYAN CAFE

We always like to have one “Big Night Out” on our family vacations and The Mayan Cafe is definitely my pick when in Louisville. While the staff warmly welcome children, the restaurant is small and there’s no kids’ menu (although the chef will happily make a delicious quesadilla with chips and salsa on request), so I recommend this restaurant for families with kids who like to try new things and can stay in their seats. That said, my whole family fell in love with the Mayan-inspired menu here, most of which was new to us. We were so obsessed with the Sikil-pak, an addictive pumpkin seed dip, that I made my own version as soon as we returned home. The rabbit (with grilled cactus!) was another favorite and my salmon was cooked to perfection and accompanied by delicious tok-sel lima beans and malanga cake. I can’t wait to go back the next time we’re in Louisville and give the equally interesting lunch menu a try.

Louisville Cream

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After dinner at The Mayan Cafe, head to Louisville Cream for dessert! This small batch gourmet ice cream shop is always packed with the after-dinner crowd and their ice cream flavors are unforgettable. From Bourbon Smoked Pecan to Pistachio Honeycomb to plain old vanilla (made two ways) and chocolate, there’s something here for just about every palate.

The Brown Hotel

LOUISVILLE TOURISM

No visit to Louisville is complete without a visit to J. Graham’s Café inside the historic Brown Hotel for an iconic Hot Brown sandwich. Invented at the Brown Hotel in 1926, the Hot Brown is an open-faced turkey sandwich topped with bacon and Mornay sauce, and no one does it like The Brown Hotel. Most say one Hot Brown is big enough for two. The Café is also one of the few places where you can get a slice of authentic Derby-Pie®, made exclusively by Kern’s Kitchen. This pie is the real deal, apparently, and is made using a closely-guarded secret recipe. All other so-called “Derby Pies” are mere copies.

Havana Rumba

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Havana Rumba meets all my criteria for the perfect family restaurant. It’s incredibly popular with locals, easy on the budget, the food is wonderful, and it’s perfect for families with kids of any age. We visited the Middletown location and gorged ourselves on Frita Vaca (crispy grilled shredded beef with peppers, onions, garlic and lime juice) and Lechon Asado (Cuban pork marinated in citrus juices, garlic, and Cuban spices and slow roasted for hours). You’ll find highchairs and a kids’ menu here, as well as a big, loud, friendly environment that pretty much ensures your cranky toddler will go unnoticed by other diners.

Please & Thank You

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Come for the perfectly-roasted coffee, stay for the best chocolate chip cookies I’ve ever eaten (and honey, I’ve eaten some chocolate chip cookies in my time). Please & Thank You is a small-batch Southern bakery and coffee house with three locations in Louisville. Lucky for us, one of those locations was right across the street from our hotel. That’s how I discovered my new favorite coffee shop. We stopped in at least once a day, both for the coffee and for more of those phenomenal cookies. Don’t miss this place, y’all.

WHERE TO STAY

The AC Hotel Louisville

AC HOTELS BY MARRIOTT

We loved this modern European-style hotel in the heart of Louisville’s hip NuLu neighborhood. The rooms are spacious, the staff is friendly, and the whole hotel smells heavenly. I have an issue with funky-smelling hotel rooms (I mean, who doesn’t?) so the fact that the AC is scented is a major plus. Even better, you’re in easy walking distance from eateries The Mayan Cafe, Louisville Cream, Please & Thank You, and Muth’s Candies, as well as three of my favorite quirky Louisville shops: Revelry, Red Tree, and the awesomely bizarre Joe Ley Antiques, which takes up all three stories of a turn-of-the-century school building.

The Galt House Hotel

THE GALT HOUSE HOTEL

Not only does this popular waterfront hotel boast stunning views of the Ohio River, it’s also a short walk from Museum Row, Whiskey Row, and plenty of other downtown Louisville shops and restaurants. Stay here and you’ll literally be at the center of everything.

The Brown Hotel

THE BROWN HOTEL

A Louisville classic since 1923, this downtown hotel gets rave reviews from its guests and is perfect for those who love historic, Grand Hotel-style accommodations. A recent $12 million renovation has ensured guests have all the modern conveniences, including hi-def television and high-speed Internet. Former guests include the Duke of Windsor, Harry Truman, Elizabeth Taylor, Joan Crawford, Muhammad Ali, Jimmy Carter, George H. Bush, and Barack Obama.

You’re all set now for a fabulous Louisville vacation. I wish I could join you. This city really does have so much to offer and I can’t wait to return.

As a member of the media, the author received standard CVB media access to certain attractions. All opinions are her own.

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Stop Shaming Moms For Taking Time Away From Their Families

Enjoying life as she takes time away

A few weeks ago, my husband decided to take time away, motivated by his love for Evanescence and the opportunity to finally meet Amy Lee in person — as opposed to just stalking the band’s Facebook page. He doesn’t take much (non-work related) time away, so I thought I’d be fine with it. 

But when he returned, he had a frantic wife and hyperactive son waiting for him. I was at my wit’s end, and truthfully, I was jealous that he had the freedom and lacked the societal stigma to hop on a plane and see a concert for two days without having to bring the rest of the family with him.

As a mother, I have to think about where my son will be at every moment. As a work-from-home mother, I am often forced to juggle all the regular mom stuff while trying to manage my workload. I spent some time thinking about all those factors, and before I knew it, I was pretty upset. Why am I always the designated caretaker?

I told my husband that I needed to get away from him and our son for at least two days. I said it mostly out of anger, and didn’t expect to do anything. I knew my words came from a place of frustration and exhaustion. The more time that passed, I wondered if I was being ridiculous to have even considered a mommy getaway — while four months pregnant, no less.

But my husband encouraged me. With his help, I found a place that was within my price range and looked safe enough for me to have a few nights alone. And I did it. I left. For three and a half days, it was me, my work, and my baby bump. While the experience brought on a mix of emotions, for the most part, it was pretty freaking amazing.

Recently, I was shocked to read an article on Good Morning America that called the question about whether or not mothers should have a break a “momtroversy.”

How can anyone who has ever seen a mom in action ask that question with a straight face?

Various studies have come out saying that for the average mom, motherhood holds the weight of several jobs. Similarly, Salary.com estimates the average stay-at-home mom would be getting paid more than $143,102 considering all that they do. But of course, like many fields that women are represented in, the value of motherhood is undervalued.

For moms, like the one listed in the GM article who believe there are too many precious moments to miss out on any of them, that’s fine. As a mother, I know it isn’t my place to tell someone else how much they should enjoy or not enjoy being a parent. But the way we uphold an image of the “ideal mother” as someone who is so sacrificial she puts nothing above her children has to stop.

In the last few years, we’ve seen conditions like perinatal and postpartum depression on the rise. Thankfully, we are increasing the mental health dialogue, especially for specific vulnerable groups like mothers. But what we seldom discuss is the way that depression during pregnancy and motherhood are often tied to women’s fears that they will lose all of themselves after having a child. Along the same lines, we often have fears that parenthood marks the death of our professional careers. Sadly, for many mothers, that’s the reality.

It’s sexist and ridiculously irresponsible for our society to continue to put the sole responsibility, or a disproportionate amount, of the tasks associated with parenthood on mothers. The idea that mothers have to be the responsible parent is archaic and often false. These ideals tie into the same schools of thought that are working to fight women’s workplace equality movements (because they should be home), justify wage inequality (because we will just take maternity leave anyway), and reduce women access to reproductive services (because women exist to produce and rear children).

Who cares if a mom takes time away? Why is motherhood always up for debate? And why don’t we attach the same stipulations to fatherhood as we do motherhood?

It’s not up to society to debate whether or not a mother has a child-free vacation. Just like it’s not up to society to decide what mothers wear, if they breast or bottle feed, or how many children they have.

As a society, we need to acknowledge and trust that women are capable of making their own decisions without regulation or oversight. If a mother feels that a few trips a year is the best way for her to parent at full capacity, promote positive mental health, and accomplish self-care, who are we to have an opinion?

I’m more than a mother. I’m a human with personal, career, and other life goals. If fatherhood doesn’t mark the end of enjoying life, why the hell should motherhood represent the end for me?

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I Need Some Time Away From EVERYONE (Including My Family)

As I sit here in my basement home office, it’s hard to ignore the screams. Despite the way it sounds, no, we’re not running a bone-grinding factory, and no one is meeting their death. It’s just my two-year-old screaming because Mom is not in sight. Days like these make it painfully clear why I need time away from everyone — including my family. Or maybe especially my family.

Don’t get me wrong, I live a pretty good life. My relationship is stable, I have a career I love, and my son is happy and healthy. But the pending arrival of baby number two makes me terrified of what’s to come, and I need some time away from it all. And here’s why:

1. Being parent of the month is hard.

I could empathize with the horror soundtrack ringing through the halls if my son were up there alone. But he’s not. At worst, his dad is ten feet away; at best, he’s in the same room watching tv with him. I learned a long time ago that my son’s expectations of me are four times higher than any other human. And some days, it’s enough to make me want a solo bunker to hide in.

By the time my son wakes up each morning, my husband is already gone to work. One of the first things my son does each day is run through the halls and say, “Dad?! Where’s Dad?” I find this part of our morning routine particularly amusing because we both know my son won’t run to his dad other than for the occasional trip to the potty. In reality, I’m the one on call from morning to night. And it’s exhausting.

2. It’s impossible to get anything done.

I think my son realizes I’m on call shortly after asking “where’s dad?” because that’s when he starts his morning requests. (He’s gonna make a great boss someday.) Usually around this time, I (try to) begin work in my lair (aka, home office). My son runs down the stairs every five to ten minutes, and I respond the same way each time: “Mommy’s working.”

“Working,” he always responds.

Yes, baby. Mom is working. “Okay, Mama, milk?” The respect for my craft is gone almost instantly. That conversation is the first of many in our daily routine of repeated instructions.

3. The other “employee” around here sucks.

Even when my co-worker (aka, husband) is here to divide the load, I still carry the majority of the burden. Moments like now, when both my husband and I are home and yet I’m still the one who’s on parenting duty, make it hard not to send a death glare through the walls — especially when he says something like, “I’m getting in the shower, listen for Chub.”

First, I’m always listening to Chub. And Chub is always hearing me (not to be confused with listening, of course) because he’s ALWAYS. RIGHT. HERE.

Second, I’m jealous. I hardly know what it’s like to take a shower without the door opening and letting in an arctic blast — let alone how it feels to exist without an accompanying frantic “mama?” on repeat. My showers, baths, and bowel movements have all become community events. Why doesn’t our son ever need anything when my husband is on the toilet?

In the words of Calgon, “take me away…”

My daydreams are filled with uninterrupted showers and midday naps. Sometimes I fantasize of a world where I don’t have to eat my French fries or my Sonic Blast in secrecy. During these daydreams, food is the temperature it’s supposed to be and I have time to rinse the conditioner from my hair. Ironically, these daydreams are often interrupted by squeaky “Hey Mamas” or baritone “Hey babes.”

Having a bed all to myself is a world I haven’t lived in for a very long time.

I want to lay in bed with my pregnancy pillow and a warm blanket not shared with a bed buddy. I’m ashamed to admit how much I love sleeping alone during work trips.

I want to get away from the dogs barking every morning demanding to be let outside at the crack of dawn. They must not realize some of us like to occasionally sleep past 6:30.

It would be nice to run away from the neighbors and their myriad opinions about proper lawn care.

And truthfully, there are days I also want to get away from myself. To spend the night away from my own personal anxieties, life stressors, and obsession with these pregnancy pounds would be a breath of fresh air.

Just one night when I don’t have to deal with or think about these things sounds fantastic. But there are two things I know for sure:

First, I have been away from my family (and all the other crap) before. I spend most of that time missing them, thinking about how much they mean to me, and how they make my life beautiful. Their chaos is engraved into my day.

Second, it’ll all start over the moment I walk back in the front door.

Then again, I’ve also been a parent long enough to know that missing them is a risk I’m willing to take.  Absence makes the heart grow fonder, after all, so given the chance, I’m outta here!

For a couple days hours anyway.

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Planning A Nashville Family Vacation? Here’s Everything You Need To Know.

With its raucous music scene, lush hillsides, celebrity chefs, and hip boutiques, it’s no wonder Nashville is America’s latest “It City.” It’s popping up on family vacation bucket lists across the country. I’ve lived in Nashville for nearly two decades — and, while there’s lots of family-friendly fun to be had here, you definitely need to know what you’re doing to make the most of Music City. Here are my top tips for an unforgettable Nashville family vacation.

When to Visit

Nashville has a comfortable climate most of the time. Avoid January and February since even a minor snowfall tends to shut down the entire city, and be aware that temperatures and humidity soar here in July and August. Other than that, you’re good!

Where to Stay

Need a hotel room? Not a problem. Nashville has become so popular with tourists lately that hotels are popping up everywhere. The most important consideration is which part of town you choose as your home base.

First off, I would definitely recommend that you either drive to Nashville or rent a car once you arrive. Nashville’s charms aren’t limited to the downtown area — they’re sprinkled all over town. In fact, some of the most memorable family activities in the area are an hour or two away from Music City and definitely worth the drive. More on these options later.

VISIT MUSIC CITY

Downtown Nashville has plenty of hotel options, but be aware if you stay downtown that when the sun goes down on Lower Broadway (the downtown tourist district’s main drag), the area becomes one big party zone. And, while I wouldn’t call it unsafe, your children may see and hear some things they’ve never seen and heard before. Another downside if you have a car is mandatory valet parking at downtown hotels, which costs anywhere from $35-$40 per night.

OMNI NASHVILLE

That said, if you’re determined to stay downtown, some of my favorite hotels are located there, including the Omni Nashville and the Westin Nashville. Both are beautifully decorated and very comfortable. And for a real splurge, I recommend the historic Hermitage Hotel.

A more affordable and realistic option for families (particularly if you have a car) is to choose a hotel in one of the neighborhoods close to downtown. The Vanderbilt area is minutes away from downtown and has plenty of well-known chain hotels. Green Hills is another neighborhood that’s safe and in the center of things, with several chain hotels you’ll recognize. More and more visitors are choosing Nashville’s Airbnb homes and apartments. Just be sure and research the neighborhood before you decide on a rental. Nashville is geographically HUGE so you could end up somewhere that’s technically in Nashville, but not close to anything.

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Finally, Nashville’s most epic family-friendly hotel has got to be Gaylord Opryland Resort. Although a good 15-20 minutes away from most Nashville attractions, chances are your kids won’t want to leave the resort once you arrive. This ginormous hotel includes three beautiful atriums filled with miles of walkways and lush tropical plants, an indoor river and accompanying boat ride, three luxurious pools, lots of restaurants and shops, and plenty of family activities. It’s also in walking distance from shopping mecca Opry Mills and the world-famous Grand Ole Opry, which is a fast-paced musical extravaganza anyone ages 12 and up would enjoy, even if they’re not country music fans. Best of all, an indoor/outdoor water park is currently under construction and scheduled to open in late 2018. This hotel is so much fun that we regularly spend family weekends here — and we live just a few minutes away!

What to Do

The number of downtown tourist attractions can be overwhelming and expensive. Fortunately, some of the best places to go downtown are totally free!

WISHING CHAIR PRODUCTIONS

The Nashville Library downtown is home to one of the best puppet troupes in the country. You can see free puppet shows here on Friday and Saturday mornings. The library’s free Storytime on Tuesdays and Wednesdays is also worth visiting with young children. It includes puppets, singing, juggling, and more. Afterward, your kids will want to spend time playing in the library’s huge three-level “reading fort,” which has lots of nooks and crannies perfect for curling up with a book.

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The Nashville Farmers’ Market is another fun, free downtown option. We like to go first to the Bicentennial Capitol Mall’s Rivers of Tennessee Fountains, where the kids can splash around to their heart’s delight. Fun fact: Each of the 31 fountains represents a Tennessee river. Afterward, we walk to the Farmers’ Market right next door, which is filled with produce and arts and crafts, all from Tennessee. The Farmers’ Market food court is perfect for an inexpensive meal. You’ll find plenty of options here to satisfy everyone’s tastes. Park for free either at the Farmers’ Market or in one of the many free spaces available around the Bicentennial Mall park.

COUNTRY MUSIC HALL OF FAME

One downtown attraction worth the cost of admission is the Country Music Hall of Fame. You don’t have to be a country music fan to enjoy this highly interactive walk through country music history. When you arrive, head first to the the Taylor Swift Education Center on the museum’s third floor for fun children’s activities and scavenger hunt guides to the rest of the museum.

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For an iconic Nashville photo op, don’t miss two of Music City’s most famous murals. The “I Believe in Nashville” mural is located at 2706 12th Avenue South. Go for the mural, stay for the shopping in this trendy neighborhood known as the 12th South district — Reese Witherspoon’s store, Draper James, is right across the street and high-end denim retailer Imogene + Willie is also nearby. Just a few minutes away at 302 11th Avenue South, you’ll find the famous “What Lifts You” angel wings mural. A smaller set of wings is painted beside the larger set so that kids can get in on the action, too.

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At Nashville’s Adventure Science Center, you’ll find tons of cool interactive exhibits that teach kids about dinosaurs, space, gravity, and more, plus an enormous Adventure Tower with a panoramic view of Nashville at the top. While Adventure Science Center is a great option for kids 12 and under, it can be overwhelming for small children. Toddlers and preschoolers will do better at the Discovery Center in nearby Murfreesboro. This interactive children’s museum is jam-packed with fun activities and there’s plenty here for toddlers and preschoolers as well. It has long been a favorite with my kids and is well worth the drive to get there.

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The Nashville Zoo hasn’t been around as long as other big city zoos and is still growing. But it’s still a great way to spend a few hours with the kids when you’re in town, and with 375 species of animals, there’s plenty to see here. The new Andean Bears exhibit is very popular and we also love Kangaroo Kickabout, where visitors can hang out with kangaroos and even pet them. The zoo also includes a historic home and farm with tours that are worth making time for. Our favorite part of the zoo, though, is the Soaring Eagle, a seated zipline ride that lifts you high above the city, then gently drops you back down at a breathtaking pace.

HARPETH RIVER GREENWAY

Got bikes? Bring them! Nashville has several excellent greenway trails with miles of gorgeous, flat paths perfect for a family bike ride. We especially love the Harpeth River Greenway from Warner Park to Morton Mill, the scenic Cumberland River Bicentennial Trail in Ashland City, and the historic Stones River Greenway in Murfreesboro. All three trails are a great way to see Middle Tennessee’s beautiful rivers and lush forest.

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Another fun family option is to rent canoes or kayaks and enjoy an easy float down the Harpeth River. This tame river offers lots of opportunities to stop and splash around and it’s a favorite summer activity for locals. Try and go on a weekday if you can, since the river gets crowded on weekends — or opt for a float down the less-crowded Buffalo River. You’ll have to drive farther to get there, but the scenery is rural and pristine.

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Nashville has some fabulous family hiking options. Expect plenty of wildlife sightings at the beautiful Radnor Lake State Park, as well as an aviary that’s home to several birds of prey. Opt for a weekday hike at this popular park — the parking lot fills up fast during the weekend. The Warner Parks have miles of wooded trails for hiking, just nine miles from downtown Nashville. Start first at the park’s Nature Center for advice on the best trail for your family and loaner backpacks filled with supplies that make hiking more fun for kids. Want to beat the crowds and get some great photos? Try the Hidden Lake Trail and Bluff Ridge Trail, both in different sections of the Harpeth River State Park. Both are scenic, adventurous, and never too crowded. And you’ll capture spectacular family photos at Cheekwood Botanical Gardens, which features acres of flower-filled trails, a stately historic mansion, and plenty of outdoor grottos, nooks, and crannies worth exploring. Pick up a scavenger hunt list at the welcome center and make your family walk even more exciting.

Where to Eat

LOVELESS CAFE

So many restaurants… So little time! Nashville’s bustling restaurant scene means you have plenty of options, but some are definitely more kid-friendly than others. For a downhome Southern meal, opt for breakfast, lunch, or dinner at the world-famous Loveless Cafe. The fried chicken, biscuits, and homemade jams are amazing and worth the drive to the outskirts of town. Another authentic Southern option that never disappoints is Arnold’s Country Kitchen downtown, a no frills “meat & 3” with savory home-cooked southern food that’s worth waiting in line for. (Don’t worry, the line moves fast!)

PRINCE’S HOT CHICKEN

Nashville is known for its hot chicken and the best place to get it is the spot where it was invented: Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack. A plate of Prince’s hot chicken with french fries is one of my favorite meals anywhere — and for sensitive palates, you can order the mild or plain versions of Prince’s chicken and still have a fantastic meal. Hattie B’s is another popular hot chicken option if you have picky eaters, since this local chain serves up kid-friendly chicken tenders in addition to the original hot chicken recipe.

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Like pizza? We’re huge fans of Nicky’s Coal Fired Pizza, which serves up sinfully delicious pies with inventive toppings and the best dough I’ve tasted in all of Music City. I especially love Nicky’s “Bianche” pizzas, which eliminate the tomato base, allowing ingredients like roasted mushrooms and braised lamb to really stand out.

FIVE DAUGHTERS BAKERY

Locals are obsessed with the 100-layer donuts at Five Daughters Bakery, which come in flavors like Chocolate Sea Salt and Maple Bacon. These donuts are so delicious, I often get a box for my birthday instead of a birthday cake.

JENI’S

Nashville is also fortunate to have several Jeni’s locations, where you’ll find the best ice cream you’ve ever tasted. Flavors change according to season, but you can always order scoops of the popular Brambleberry Crisp and Brown Butter Almond Brittle flavors — both are absolutely amazing!

HOUSE OF CARDS

If you’re looking for a big night out, try House of Cards in downtown Nashville. You’ll feel like you’ve stepped straight into a Harry Potter novel in this secretive subterranean restaurant, which celebrates the art of magic and features a multimillion dollar collection of art, antiques and magical artifacts. Dinner includes private shows with roving magicians and a 30-minute magic show in the restaurant’s auditorium.

Beyond Nashville

There are so many fun things to do within an hour or two of Nashville. Here are just a few options:

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Like caves? You’re in luck. Mammoth Cave National Park is less than two hours from Nashville. With 400 miles (and counting) of underground trails, Mammoth Cave is the longest cave system in the world and it’s definitely worth a visit. Cumberland Caverns is another less-crowded option, with an equally memorable cave tour. If you have younger children, consider Lost River Cave, which is a little over an hour from Nashville and includes fun tour that’s easy on little ones and a boat ride in an underground lake. It’s definitely an experience your family won’t forget!

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History buffs won’t want to skip the nearby towns of Franklin and Murfreesboro, where two important Civil War battles took place. Historic Franklin is filled with cool shops, restaurants, and antebellum homes and older kids will enjoy touring Carnton Plantation, the Lotz House, and the Carter House. In Murfreesboro, you’ll find the Stones River National Battlefield and ranger-led tours on foot, bicycle, or by car. The Hallowed Ground Lantern Tour of Stones River National Cemetery is an especially moving tour option for older children. Be sure and call ahead for a reservation. Although the tours are free, spots fill up quick.

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And for a truly mind-blowing experience and one of my absolute favorite things to do in the area, drive 1.5 hours to the Amish Welcome Center in Ethridge, Tennessee for a wagon tour of some of the town’s Amish farms. You’ll stop several times to shop for Amish housewares, baked goods, furniture and produce and get a fascinating inside look at how the Amish live and work. It is a truly memorable experience.

You’re ready now for a Nashville vacation of a lifetime! Enjoy your visit and don’t forget to pick up a pair of cowboy boots while you’re here!

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Why Staycations Make The Best Vacations

At the end of the school year, my son came home and shamed me announced we were the only ones staying home during summer vacation. Apparently everyone else in the world was going somewhere and doing something huge.

When I reminded him I’d booked a weekend away in a hotel with a pool, he let me know it didn’t really count and wasn’t a true vacation.

Maybe he’s right that a little weekend away pales in comparison to 2 weeks in Europe, driving cross-country, or flying to visit relatives in faraway lands.

But I really don’t care. You see, I’ve been a fan of the staycation my whole life and I love nothing more than exploring our home state and spending a few afternoons enjoying the bliss that doing nothing can bring.

When we go on vacation, which we do, contrary to what my kids think, I feel the pressure to make everything perfect for everyone. There are too many thing to see and explore in a new place, and I feel the need to fit it all in. It leaves me exhausted and wanting to take to my bed. And by that I mean my perfectly worn in mattress that resides in my bedroom.

So really, I’ve found vacations make me miss my home and on top of that, I need a vacation from my vacation which is never an option. Because, life.

Instagram Photo

There are so many things to see within driving distance of our own habitat, and so many of us never get the time or chance to do it because we are too busy living our lives, working hard, and preparing to take a vacation far away.

Our free time is sucked up quickly, and I love nothing more than to have an excuse to stay home and wake up each morning without huge plans and see where the day take us without any school or work responsibilities.

My family is usually home while many others are packing bags, boarding planes, and spending long hours in the car. I sleep better at home, my kids sleep better at home, they act better at home, they eat better at home.

While at home, I don’t have to worry about escorting someone to a public restroom every 15 minutes hoping we make it before things start seeping out of their shorts, and I’m forced to mouth-breath my way through the shitshow.

I’ve always been a homebody at heart and after I had kids, my love affair with staying home grew stronger. I mean, sure, going on vacation and exploring new places with my family can be amazing, But so can slowing down, taking a step back from regular responsibilities, shutting down the WiFi and camping in your own back yard.

It’s a rare occasion when we are able to let go of the schedule and the busy and just stay put in a place we love and where we are comfortable.

How many times have you said, “We should go there,” or “We should make that,” or “We really should throw a dinner party and serve sliders and little hot dogs a bunch of other mini-foods”?

I bet it’s more than you can remember. And you know when the perfect time to do all the things you want to do but think you don’t have to do them is? A staycation, that’s when.

My kids can whine to me all they want that we don’t travel enough, but they love the staycations as much as I do.

You know how I know? Because every once in a while I stop in the middle of dinner, or a TV show, and ask them what their favorite memory is–and it’s always a memory from a staycation.

The post Why Staycations Make The Best Vacations appeared first on Scary Mommy.

Why Staycations Without Kids Are My Favorite Kind Of Vacation

I can’t remember the last time I had an uninterrupted conversation with my husband. My kids are 4 and 6 years old, so I’m guessing it was sometime around 2011. My 6-year-old has learned appropriate conversation etiquette and often stands by quietly until the conversation reaches a pause before jumping in. Not my 4-year-old though. Despite constant reminders, that kid will annihilate any conversation, mid-sentence. He gives no shits. “Mom, mom, mom, mommy, mooooommm!”

If you haven’t interrupted your own train of thought by shouting, OHMYGAWD WHAT?! then you probably don’t have small children. It’s hard to have a meaningful conversation with children around. If they aren’t interrupting you every 20 seconds, they are likely mentally recording everything you say, and will later use your words to embarrass you in a public square. Yay, kids. *sarcasm font*

In fact, it’s not just conversations with my husband that I miss, I miss a lot of the things we used to do together before we became parents. We don’t intentionally neglect ourselves and our relationship, but kids have a way of taking over, and before you know it, years have passed. Sometimes we forget to be a couple, because we’re too busy being parents.

Now listen, I’m not saying I don’t love my kids, because I do. They are my moon and stars, and all that other sappy parent-y bullshit. But sometimes I prefer to love them from a distance, and that distance is them at Grandma’s house and the hubs and I living our best life as a couple. What’s more relaxing than hopping on a plane and spending a few days in an exotic location—eating local cuisine and exploring the culture? Well, nothing, but I don’t have that kind of vacation leave saved up, and also, I can’t afford that shit.

But you know what I can afford—a few nights at a hotel in a neighboring town, and a basket of breadsticks from the Olive Garden! Friends, I would like to introduce you to the low-budget getaway of your dreams. (No, I’m not kidding, just stay with me.)

Here’s how it works: First, you need to ditch the kids. Second, pick a nearby area with great entertainment. Maybe it’s an hour away, maybe it’s across town, find something that speaks to your soul, and then book a hotel room. The hotel room is really key here, and let me tell you why. You need to get away from your house. You’re attempting to fake a vacation here, and staying in your actual home makes it feel less like a vacation and more like a day off. It’s important to leave home so you aren’t compelled to started working on laundry or other nonsense. Throw caution to the wind and responsibility out the window! (At least for a few a days or so. You’re gonna have to pick that shit back up when you get home.)

Whether it’s 24 hours or a few days, spend this time with your partner doing all the things you love. Find a good book and lounge poolside, catch a movie that isn’t animated, eat at a swanky restaurant, or have all the sex. Basically, pretend like you don’t have children, and spend a few days just being a couple. Trust me, you will not be sorry.

This works, because everyone loves vacations. You don’t have to cook, you don’t have to clean, and you get to relax. Vacations are a great way to get out of our daily routine and recharge, but kids and travel tend to complicate things, so just take them right out of the equation. I know, it’s genius. Just grab your partner and go. Hell, maybe even leave your partner at home and make this a solo staycay! My fellow introverts know what I’m talking about!

Next time Grandma offers to keep the kids, let her. Book a hotel room, toss some clothes in a bag, and do your thang.

The post Why Staycations Without Kids Are My Favorite Kind Of Vacation appeared first on Scary Mommy.

15 Reasons Gulf Shores, Alabama Is Perfect For Families

If you’re like me, you’re always looking for the perfect beach for your next spring or summer vacation — something family-friendly and affordable, with a gorgeous coastline and lots of fun things to do. Gulf Shores, Alabama totally fits the bill.

Just a few miles from the Florida/Alabama state line, Gulf Shores and neighboring Orange Beach border the calm, clear Gulf of Mexico. Families love these white sand beaches for their laid-back atmosphere and noticeable lack of beer-guzzling college kids. While there are plenty of restaurants and activities in the area, the 6500-acre Gulf State Park between the two beaches helps to give the area a more peaceful and outdoorsy vibe than other beach towns.

Lindsay Ferrier

Where To Stay

One thing I love about Gulf Shores is that it has truly excellent lodging options for every taste and budget, whether you’re a camping enthusiast or luxury traveler. If you’re looking for a beachfront condo rental, The Beach Club is a popular option. Rent a condo for a week here and enjoy all the perks of a resort hotel, including six swimming pools, complimentary bike rentals, two restaurants, a spa, and a market. A 2-bedroom condominium costs about $175 per night in the off-season and $350 per night in the high season.

Lindsay Ferrier

For camping and RV enthusiasts, Gulf State Park has 496 full hook-up campsites and 11 primitive sites. Tents are welcome on all sites. With the park’s pristine beaches and miles of bike trails, I honestly can’t imagine a better place to camp, particularly in spring and fall when the weather’s not too hot. The park also offers cabins and cottages and a beachfront hotel is currently under construction. We are looking very forward to checking it out when it’s complete!

Hampton Inn & Suites Orange Beach

Another popular and affordable option is the Hampton Inn & Suites Orange Beach. Guests love this beachfront hotel, which includes free breakfast and Internet and a fitness center.

You can find a full list of lodging options, including rates and availability, at the official Gulf Shores and Orange Beach website.

What to Do

Lindsay Ferrier

We loved renting bicycles from Beach Bike Rentals in Orange Beach and riding on the miles of trails within Gulf State Park. Beach Bike Rentals has gorgeous new Electra Lux Cruiser bikes that are reasonably priced and a HUGE step up from ordinary bike rentals.  The shop is located right next door to the park entrance.

Lindsay Ferrier

A Beach Bike employee will give you a map of the trails and explain all the points of interest along the path, which include a nature center, butterfly garden, alligator marsh, ice cream and Kona ice stands, and a whole lot more. A restaurant will be opening inside the park in 2018, which would make a nice rest stop during a day of riding.

Lindsay Ferrier

Once you’ve returned your bikes, stop in The Soda Pop Shop next door and knock back a cold one. Our kids had fun choosing from the 77 varieties of bottled sodas.

Lindsay Ferrier

The Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo is small but mighty, with more than 500 exotic animals and ticket prices that won’t break your budget. You’ll see lions and tigers and bears here (Oh my!), but the real magic happens during the animal encounters, which allow visitors to hold and pet lemurs, kangaroos, sloths and more. My kids were totally psyched about their lemur encounter and can’t wait to go back to hold the sloths.

Lindsay Ferrier

Of course, you’ll need family pictures to post on Facebook so that everyone knows you’re #TeamGulfShores. Take a tip from me and head to Alabama Point East at sunset for your family photos. This public beach is located on Perdido Pass in Orange Beach and it is absolutely beautiful, with more photographic points of interest than an ordinary beach. Here, you’ll find large stones, crashing waves, sand dunes, and near 360-degree views of the Gulf.

OWA

Just a few minutes from the beach in nearby Foley, a gleaming new amusement park is drawing in thrill-seekers by the thousands. The Park at OWA has 22 rides (including two roller coasters!) with enough variety to keep everyone happy, from toddlers to teens.

Try and make time for a stroll at the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, established in 1980 as an important stopover point for migratory songbirds and a habitat for endangered species like sea turtles and the adorable Alabama Beach Mouse. Stop first at the refuge center to check out free discovery backpacks, then hike one of four family-friendly trails.

Lindsay Ferrier

You’ll be praying for a rainy day when you hear about your shopping options in Gulf Shores. A massive Tanger Outlet has all your favorite brand-name everything at discounted prices, while The Wharf is basically the area’s Rodeo Drive, with restaurants, upscale shopping, and a gigantic Ferris Wheel offering panoramic views of the Gulf.

Where To Eat

Lindsay Ferrier

If you want to see and be seen in Gulf Shores, Lulu’s, owned by Jimmy Buffet’s sister Lucy,  is the place to have a meal. The wait might be long at this hotspot, but not to worry. The vast property is essentially a beach-themed entertainment complex, filled with bars, shops, live music, an arcade, and plenty of trucked-in sand for kids of all ages to enjoy. Be sure and order a Bushwhacker while you wait — Lulu’s version includes vanilla ice cream and Southern Living claims it’s the best in the South.

The three-story Mountain of Youth will keep your more energetic kids entertained while you wait for a table. For younger ones, there’s Munchkin Mountain — a climbing apparatus just a few feet off the ground.

Lindsay Ferrier

Built on the beach out of old shipping containers, The Gulf gets my vote for coolest restaurant in town.  Go for lunch and enjoy gorgeous views of the gulf while you wait in line to order your food. Yes, the line can be long, but trust me, it’s totally worth the wait.

Lindsay Ferrier

Choose from super-fresh shrimp or mahi-mahi tacos, burgers and grouper sandwiches, chips and guacamole, and more — and be aware that The Gulf’s french fries are heavenly.

Lindsay Ferrier

Don’t be fooled by its shabby interior — locals know The Diner is a guaranteed great meal at a reasonable price. This is a great place to come for breakfast, lunch or dinner when you’re looking to save a little money and you don’t want to wait to be seated.

The Diner

My reuben sandwich was loaded with flavorful corned beef and sauerkraut and my husband’s burger was expertly cooked, with a soft, sweet bun that made the whole thing even better. My son’s $5 kids burger and fries plate was big enough for an adult to enjoy. But the real showstopper was dessert — Deb’s Coconut Cake put a tres leches-like twist on this sweet southern staple, and it was absolutely out of this world.

Brick & Spoon

After a week spent wrangling kids on the beach, treat yourself to an epic Bloody Mary at Brick & Spoon in Orange Beach. Build your Bloody Mary from a menu of options and don’t skip the regular menu here, either. It’s been named one of the top 10 breakfasts in America by Travel + Leisure.

Lindsay Ferrier

And if you’re looking for a big night out with the family or a fancy date night away from the kids, you can’t go wrong at Louisiana Lagniappe. We had one of the best meals of our lives at this New Orleans-style seafood restaurant. Take an insider tip from me and order the Grouper in Parchment — it’s never on the menu, but they serve it every night and it’s absolutely divine. Everything we had here was wonderful, from the twice-baked potato to the cheese grits to the corn and crab bisque. My mouth is watering just thinking about it!

Lindsay Ferrier

There’s lots more to discover in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, but this list should get you started on what could be the best beach vacation you’ve ever had. And if you end up winning your next Beach Battle because of this post, well, my work here is done.