Monday, February 16, 2015

Discover Solitude in Ancient Surroundings at the Colorado National Monument

If your travels take you anywhere near Grand Junction or Fruita, Colorado, then make sure you take the time to visit the Colorado National Monument.  Compared with the larger canyon type national parks, the Colorado National Monument is small, but this makes the experience less impersonal.  It also means that it’s less likely to be overflowing with other tourists – making it a great “get away from it all” retreat for anyone needing a little solitude.

What the semi-desert Colorado National monument lacks in overall size, it makes up for in content.  Packed within its boundaries are some of America’s most impressive hoodoos, whose vibrant colors are hard to match anywhere.  Alongside the geological wonders and juniper trees, is a spectrum of wildlife that includes golden eagles and desert bighorns.  The Monument Canyon is the monument’s largest feature as it covers the entire length of the park and holds incredible rock formations.  Return to various observation points throughout the day, particular sunset and sunrise, to see how the light reflects across the canyon’s natural structures.

For any couple with a passion for the great outdoors, or an interest in geology, or even just a desire to organize a wedding with a difference, the Colorado National Monument allows couples to be married at certain locations within its boundaries – remember to allow 14 days for the processing of your special use permit application.  Choose your location well to have wedding photos that will be second to none as regards the spectacular backdrop provided by nature. 

Close the world’s largest flat topped mountain, Grand Mesa, the Colorado National Monument allows activities such as horse riding, biking, and of course hiking.  It’s also possible to camp in the area at the Saddlehorn Campground if you wish to spend longer in the park.  

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Discover the Dinosaur National Monument, Utah

Divided between two states, with Utah ,having the majority holding, Dinosaur National Monument is a “must see” park for anyone interested in Dinosaurs, and especially any family with a budding paleontologist in their midst. 

Before entering Dinosaur National Monument, remember that you are in a desert area and stock up accordingly!  Although you may be able to purchase refreshments within the park, this isn’t a theme park and so there may be quite a drive between the visitor centers.  Also ensure that everyone in your party has a hat and that you leave an itinerary of where you intend to be exploring in the park with someone who will raise an alert if you don’t return by nightfall.  Also observe all safety recommendations that are posted by the park personnel.   This is especially important if you intend to be hiking in the park.

Having observed the safety requirements, visit the visitor center and find out what activities are happening in the park that day, and pick up a map so that you know what there is to see and the best way to get there.  If you are just passing through the area, you could leave your proposed itinerary with the center staff so that they know where you are heading. 

One of the most interesting sections of the park for visitors is the Dinosaur Quarry.  This is actually located in Utah, close to the town of Jenson.  Here, in the Dinosaur Quarry building, you’ll see hundreds of dinosaur fossil bones exposed from the rock.  The quarry itself was proclaimed to be the largest single collection of dinosaur bones found.  Although it’s possible that visitors could be lucky enough to find a previously undiscovered fossil, it’s illegal to remove any such item from the park and if you are fortunate enough to be the first person to discover a fossil, you must have it in to the appropriate authorities in the park.  Other points of interest in the park are the petroglyphs along Park Drive, and cabins that are reported to have belonged to homesteaders.  For those looking for a more physical thrill amongst the ancient history, there are river trips of various lengths and skill levels on the Green and Yampa Rivers.

Dinosaur National Monument is a “in the field” museum which shows ancient history in the shape of the Dinosaur remains that have been uncovered there, the Indian art that was discovered and also the more modern history of settlers.  It’s a unique experience to record for your vacation photo album.

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Epcot – Entertaining and Educational

Orlando, Florida’s Epcot is a tourist attraction that will take a full day to explore, but if you want to sample all of the rides and exhibits, you have a multi-park ticket and find a spare half-day on your hands, then you may find you need to come back to Epcot to “finish off” what you don’t manage to see the first time – this is especially true in summer where queues for some exhibits can be quite long.

Split into two main sections Epcot consists of “Future World” and “World Showcase”.  These two sections are then fragmented into different individual exhibits on all a theme which fits the overall theme of the section.  

Future World is divided up into sections such as Spaceship Earth which is about the history of communication and technologies, Innovations with its interactive technological exhibits, Test Track a high speed ride on an automotive factory testing grounds, Universe of Energy which shows how to generate energy and the Land and Seas Exhibitions where the attractions give fun ways of learning about our natural environment both on land and in the sea.  Space enthusiasts will love with Mission: SPACE ride which simulates space program training!

In the World Showcase you can travel around the world in as little time as you have available.  Each of the countries in the showcase has a interactive exhibit, a gift store selling produce and goods from the country, and food/drink traditional to that part of the world.  Some of the exhibits are more fact (such as the 360 Circle Vision movies for Canada and China) than fun (such as Norway’s Maelstrom boat ride, and America’s audio-animatronics American Adventure), but there’s something for everyone – and none of the rides in the exhibits are wild, making them good for all age groups. 

Refreshments in Epcot are expensive, but apart from that, Epcot is a tourist attraction that’s primarily entertaining, but which also educates in a fun way at the same time, making it a great place to bring the kids to learn about the world in which they live.

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Sunday, February 15, 2015

Experience Nature in the Everglades National Park, Florida

As the 3rd largest national park in America, the 1.6 million square miles of the Everglades National Park is teeming with natural beauty.  Its swamplands are as familiar a sight as the alligators and airboats used to promote the area.  The ecosystem of the park is what draws many of the visitors here.  Although there’s plenty of waterways, swimming isn’t an option because of the unfriendly wildlife who live there, but canoeing is one way of enjoying the water from the relative safety of a vessel. 

There are guided tours around the park by staff who will talk about the wildlife of the park, and the various sites to see within it.  These tours can be on foot, or by a regular tram, or even by boat – obviously one of the best ways to see the Everglades which are noted for their grasses which grow up through the shallow waters in much of the park. 

As with most nature reserve/national parks personal safety must be your priority in the Everglades.  This isn’t a superficial theme park.  The wildlife here is real, the teeth are real, and they do bite!  If you take children, especially younger children, make sure that they are aware of the dangers and that they must listen to what people tell them.  This is even more important if you take them out on a boat tour where they must sit still and not trail their hands in the water. 

The Everglades is one of the most astounding national parks in the US, one which is unrivalled as far as it’s particular brand of natural wildlife and scenery is concerned, but it’s also a place where safety is vital – so read the warnings carefully, keep to the rules of the park as told to you by the park staff, and you’ll have an unforgettable time for all the right reasons – oh and don’t forget the mosquito spray!

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Experience the Great Outdoors on your Vacation to Alaska

There are few places in the United States that can boast as much natural beauty and Alaska, and when it comes to untamed natural beauty, this state wins hands down.  From magnificent snow capped mountains to serene lakes full of salmon, Alaska offers an outdoor vacation that’s hard to beat.

If you’re flying into Alaska, your main choices are Anchorage in the south of the state or Fairbanks in the north.  One way of getting the best from your time in Alaska is to fly into one of the airports and out of the other.  Then you have a choice of you’ll get from one to other, and part of your vacation will be traveling in the direction of your return airport – this can be by car or train.  For added adventure, you can take the train from Anchorage to Fairbanks (or vice versa) – this journey of just under 350 miles will give you not only breathtaking views of Mt. McKinley, crosses the 700ft Mears Memorial bridge and clings to the side of Nenana River Canyon, but it also takes you across Hurricane Gulch – 918ft wide!  This is a train journey you won’t ever forget!

Sports and leisure opportunities abound in Alaska, whether you prefer to go backpacking in Denali National Park, or dog mushing near Fairbanks, you’ll find something new to experience – note however that if you intend to spend the night camping in Denali National Park you will need to make a reservation to do so as the park has strict monitoring processes in place.  Fishing, canoeing on the lakes, photographing the natural wildlife, and panning for gold offer more sedate past-times.  You’ll even find you can have a round of golf or two if you’re missing your usual tee-time!  On the other side of the scale, extreme sports – such as rock climbing, heli-skiing, rafting etc are also available for those who enjoy the thrill and adventure involved.

Alaska has a lot more to offer than snow and ice. A vacation here will leave you wishing you had longer to spend in the state, and planning your return visit.

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Gettysburg, Pennsylvania – for American Civil War Enthusiasts

Anyone familiar with the American Civil War will be aware of the part that Gettysburg, (Pennsylvania) played, and the amount of lives that were lost during the historic 3 day battle that took place there in July 1863.  The area was the later that year to be the scene of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.   Although the final outcome of the battle at Gettysburg was a Union victory, the amount of fallen soldiers who lie in the Union burial site at Gettysburg National Cemetary (actually located on Cemetery Hill) is evidence that victory came at a high human cost to both sides.  

Today the Gettysburg National Military Park is a silent witness to the military strategies, human heroism, and the loss of life sustained during its history.  You should start your visit with a walk around the visitors center, even if you are familiar with the events of the battle, as it will help you to orientate yourself “on the ground”.  You can take advantage of joining a guided tour around the park, or pick up a map for a self-guided auto tour.  A film in the Cycloarma Center will also help with your orientation to the area before you set off exploring.  The Cyclorarma Center also shows other educational films as well as displaying civil war exhibits so you may like to spend time back here once you’ve taken your drive around the park, if not before. 

If you are visiting Gettysburg to give your children a living history lesson about the Civil War, check out the programs of special interest to younger visitors – in particular, the summer months usually sees a program where 7-12 year olds enlist in the army for an hour, to learn what life as a solider was like during the period.  Another favorite is the Civil War storytelling which shows the roles children played during the time.

Whether your family was involved in the American Civil War or not, Gettysburg is an interesting place to visit.  Many of the names such as Cemetery Hill, and Devil’s Den are familiar from Hollywood’s adaptation of history, but here at Gettysburg you can separate the fiction from the fact, and see how life really was for the men who fought and died here. 

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Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee – The Legend Lives On

Home of the late King, and his final resting place, his beautiful home of Graceland gives an insight into how the man lived when not on stage.  From the beautiful entrance to the famous Jungle Room, Graceland is everything you imagine it to be. 

Tours of Graceland start across the road from the grounds themselves.  Here you will find everything Elvis from the tacky to the collectible.  From record stores to museums housing Elvis memorabilia such as his collection of cars, and the Lisa Marie, his private jet, there’s bound to be something that will tempt you into parting with your dollars.  One of the simplest mementos is to send a postcard home from the Graceland post office, this will have a Graceland postmark on it and so becomes an instant souvenir.   Your ticket into Graceland doesn’t usually include admittance to the other Elvis museums so if you want to see “everything” be prepared to pay for it.

One Graceland attraction that’s free to tourists is the sight of those famous musically decorated gates.  Which Elvis fan can forget the fans that lined up hoping to get a glimpse of what was happening on the days immediately following his death?  As the bus that takes you across to the house approaches, the gates open and you are admitted into this once very private estate.

Apart from the main house, there’s also an exhibition of Elvis’s stage clothes and other personal items, including his wall of “Records”, and the grounds behind the house where Elvis is laid to rest.  Even today, many years after his death, there are fresh floral tributes regularly sent to the estate by various Elvis fan clubs and associations and which are put on display.

Graceland is a home where a King once ruled, but even though his body may have long since past, his presence amidst the contrasting beauty and garishness is still felt today.  If you’re an Elvis fan, this is one place you must see if you’re in the Memphis area!

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Grand Canyon, Arizona – A Sight Not to be Missed!

The Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona) was one of America’s first National Parks, and it’s one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations with visitors from across the world being inspired by its breathtaking beauty every day.  The Canyon, which the Colorado River has cut through the gorge, is approximately 275 miles long and between a quarter of a mile to 15 miles wide (average is approximately 10 miles), depending on where you are standing.  It’s also about a mile deep which means that it’s a challenge that many people enjoy to hike (or ride) down into the gorge. 

There are two different sides of the Grand Canyon, the more tourist orientated South Rim which is open year around, and the more secluded North Rim which is closed during the winter season.  On the South Rim, there are many opportunities for learning about the Canyon, and ways of experiencing it first hand – whether a bus tour around the rim stopping at observation points to for photo opportunities, hiking down the trails, rafting along the river, or even taking a flight through the gorge.  On the North Rim however, you will find the Grand Canyon more fiercely guarded against the trapping of commercialism, with most of the thrills coming from the light patterns on the Canyon walls as day turns into night. 

The South Rim has wheelchairs available for visitors, and many of the areas/facilities – although not the shuttle buses (anyone requiring a shuttle bus with wheelchair access should call the day before they visit the Grand Canyon to ensure one will be running the next day as these are operated on an “on demand” basis) - are wheelchair/mobility impaired accessible although assistance may be required. 

Accommodation is limited in the Grand Canyon, especially on the North Rim so if you intend to stay overnight in the park to experience both a sunset and a sunrise be sure to make a reservation far in advance of your vacation period. 

Whether you prefer the South Rim with its array of opportunities and challenges for experiencing the Canyon, or the more solitary and intimate “back to nature” atmosphere of the North Rim, the magnitude of the Grand Canyon is an forgettable experience.

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Hollywood Boulevard – The Street of Stars

Anyone visiting California who is even remotely interested in movies and celebrities can’t fail include a visit to Hollywood Boulevard on their itinerary of holiday activities.  But the reality of what Hollywood Boulevard falls quite a long way short of most people’s expectations.  The main problem is that when people think about this famous location, they immediately associate it with the glamour of the celebrities whose stars adorn the footpath.  They don’t associate the area with the movie industry work place where make up, costumes and scenery take shape.  That’s not to say that you won’t bump into a celebrity on the Boulevard, it’s just that if they are in their “street” clothes as opposed to their celebrity uniform that adorns magazine covers, you might not recognize them!

Over the years Hollywood Boulevard has been allowed to fall into a state of disrepair, but more recently the area has started to be transformed once again so that there are now a number of things for tourists to do.  One of the more fun things is a look around Fredericks of Hollywood’s Lingerie Museum.   Here you’ll find an exhibition of undergarments that have been worn throughout the ages, as well as some more modern examples that have been worn by some of Hollywood’s familiar faces.  For those who are interested in television sets, a tour around the Hollywood Entertainment Museum will reveal familiar sets from shows such as the X-files, and Cheers.   If you go to Hollywood Boulevard for the purpose of having your photo taken next to your favorite actor’s “star”, then you will probably find it saves you quite a bit of time if you buy a map which tells you where each celebrity “star” is located.

There is still a touch of old style glamour on Hollywood Boulevard however.  No trip to this area would be complete without a visit to the Kodak Theatre, home of the Academy Awards.  You’ll need to get there early to make sure you get a ticket to go inside, but once you’re in, it won’t matter what you thought of the Boulevard itself – the charm of the theatre is everything a movie lover could hope to find, and more!

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Las Vegas, Where Luck Shines on the Fortunate Few

At one time Las Vegas was little more than a tiny town in the desert, then came the boom time of the big casinos and the reputation of being a fun place to visit began to grow.  Today, many of those original big casinos that once boasted performers such as Elvis, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr, have been torn down and in their place stand entertainment complexes that are part hotel, and part theme park. 

Today the Las Vegas strip is a strange place by day; an imposing array of awkward looking high storey hotels on either side of the road.  But as the ugly ducking transformed into a swan, these buildings transform into a magical land of colored lights and fancy special effects once darkness falls.  Each of the main hotels has it’s own signature and often these are programmed to run at set times every night, so check with your hotel concierge if they have a list of the times – or visit the websites for each hotel prior to starting your vacation.

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As the best time to see the strip is after dark, keep the daylight for taking part in the various other activities such as shopping, museums (such as Liberace’s), and even taking a peek in one of the famous wedding chapels, but make sure you save most of your energy for once the sun goes down and Vegas really comes to life.

Gambling at Vegas is almost mandatory – not by the establishments, but by human nature!  To make sure you get home in one piece, set a limit to how much you can afford to lose in any one night, and don’t go over that amount.  Pace your budget by taking in a dinner show at one of the hotels – check the local listings to see who’s appearing where during your vacation, then ask your hotel reception if they can get you tickets.

Las Vegas is more than just casinos, but if you enjoy bright lights, cabaret and the sound of poker chips being restacked, then there’s no better place to spend your vacation.

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Mount Rushmore National Memorial – Where Past Presidents Rule the Landscape

Located near Keystone, South Dakota, is the Mount Rushmore National Memorial.  Originally commissioned as a way of encouraging more visitors to an area where the local economy needs tourists, the 18m sculpture was started in 1927 and completed in 1947.  The memorial depicts facial likenesses of past Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln, and is responsible for bringing around 2 million visitors to the Dakota area each year. 

Although there doesn’t outwardly appear to be much to keep visitors at the area for a day,  be prepared to spend a while there as Mount Rushmore is more than just a historical carving in the face of a mountain.  During the day, take advantage of the beautiful area to do some hiking or biking.  There’s plenty of wildlife in the Black Hills area to provide photograph opportunities and excite younger members of the family.  If it’s a hot day, cool off a little in the Lincoln Borglum Museum which shows a 13 minute movie about Mount Rushmore.  Afterwards take a stroll along the Presidential Trail which begins at the Grandview Terrace (above the theatre), which is one of the best viewing areas of the memorial, and ends at the Sculptor’s Studio.  Here you can learn more about the process involved with creating a memorial on such a huge scale.  If you have children in your party, there’s also a children’s program led by a ranger which lasts about a half an hour, but they must be accompanied by parents.

Once dusk falls the rangers lead a evening lighting ceremony.  This is held in the amphitheatre and is more information about how the sculpture was created.  Immediately following the presentation, Mount Rushmore is illuminated and remains lit for two hours. 

If you only have a few hours to spend, then try to organize your visit so that you not only enjoy the memorial in sunlight, but also can experience the magic of seeing the huge sculpture illuminated against the dark evening sky.

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The National Air and Space Museum, Washington DC

In a city where there’s so much to see, you need to plan your visit carefully to make the most of the time you have available.  If you have any interest in flight and/or space travel, then one of the must do items on your Washington DC itinerary is a visit to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum.  Even those with little more than a passing interest will find themselves caught up in the magic of space travel when they come face to face with aircraft that have actually been into space or are able to touch a rock that once belonged on the moon. 

Many of the exhibits at this museum, which has no obligatory entry fee, are either the real artefacts that went into the air or space, or are the back-up ones which would have went on the missions had the first equipment failed.  There are two main areas to the museum, the National Mall Building, and the newer  Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. 

In the National Mall Building you can find exhibits as historically diverse as “The Spirit of St Louis” in which Charles Lindbergh made the first transatlantic solo flight, and the Apollo 11 Command module.  The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center is home to items such as the Enola Gay, and the space shuttle “Enterprise” (you can find the original filming model of the starship USS Enterprise in the lower level of the museum gift store!). 

With hands on teaching exhibits on such subjects as planetary science, as well as the artefacts, the National Air and Museum is not only interesting to adults who have lived through many of the flight achievement firsts noted at the museum, but it’s also educational and fun for kids, making it a perfect family destination.

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Must See Places for your Visit to Denver, Colorado

Denver, Colorado, is one of America’s most beautiful cities.  It’s also a city where within minutes you aren’t just out in the suburbs, you are out in the mountains in the middle of nowhere!  This city of strong contrasts is a great place to spend a vacation as it has something to offer everyone from the very young to the not so young. 

The fact that gold is the foundation on which Denver was built is very much in evidence around the city with various landmarks being the product of the gold boom era – from the house in which Molly Brown lived (now a museum that recounts her rags to riches story through narration and artifacts), to the cathedral that she helped finance with the money made from the gold her husband discovered in his mine.

The capitol building is a beautiful piece of architecture but if you have enough energy to walk up to the top of it’s dome, you’ll be rewarded by being able to stand on the spot where Denver’s “mile high” city nickname originates – you’ll be standing one mile above sea level.  The view from the top is well worth the climb!

Most cities have malls; Denver takes it that one step further.  The 16th Street Mall is a mile long, and even has its own shuttle bus to transport you up and down as you shop.  The mall isn’t closed in as most malls are, and with cafes and fountains it’s a great place to sit outside and people watch in the afternoon.

Home to the Denver mint (no samples given), Denver museum has a dinosaur skeleton as one of it’s major exhibits and if the weather isn’t playing nice, the Children’s Museum of Denver is a fun place to take the kids until the sun comes out again.   When the weather changes, the Denver zoo and Six Flags Amusement Park will help keep boredom at bay!

Whether you’re interested in architecture, history, thrills or the natural environment, you’ll be sure to find it in Denver.

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Myrtle Beach – the Vacation Capital of South Carolina

Nestled, on the eastern edge of South Carolina, lie the beautiful sand of Myrtle Beach.  Here you’ll be sure to have a vacation that will suit the entire family.  Whether you prefer to camp or stay in a resort type hotel, there’s accommodation to suit everyone and activities that will ensure that everyone has something to do that they love.

For the kids, the beach is the place to be.  Here they’ll enjoy clean beaches that reach down into the Atlantic Ocean, some of the beaches have entertainment so it’s just a matter of finding the one that fits your kids the best, then you can settle down to relax whilst they play.   Once they’ve had enough sand and sea for the day, you can take them into the shopping areas.  Myrtle Beach is home to a number of retail outlet malls offering bargains to take home as your vacation souvenirs.

Apart from the sand, Myrtle Beach has something else in abundance – golf courses!  It’s difficult to go anywhere in the Myrtle Beach area without driving past a golfing green.  There are golf courses to suit every kind of player from beginner to tournament standard, so whatever your handicap, you’re sure to find a game somewhere. 

Once the sun goes down, tourists in Myrtle Beach can turn their attention to the nightlife of the area.  As with many tourist dominated locations, there are a number of dinner shows that are sure to leave a lasting memory with the whole family – whether it’s a musical extravaganze at the Carolina Opry, or the Alabama Theatre, or a four course feast and floor show at the Dixie Stampede, you’re bound to return to your accommodation with some familiar tunes in your head. 

Myrtle Beach is a great old fashioned holiday for the entire family, so if you haven’t decided where to go on your next family vacation, this could be the perfect choice.

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Monday, February 9, 2015

Visit Charming Historical Springfield, Illinois

When you first arrive in this city, you could be forgiven for not realizing that this is actually the state capital of Illinois – it lacks the hustle and bustle usually associated with most state capitals, and certainly lacks the energy of Illinois’s most famous city, Chicago.  However, the gentle sereneness of Springfield are in keeping with its history, for this is Lincoln’s town.  He was part of the group of people responsible for making Springfield the state capital, and this is his final resting place.

Apart from the limestone built capitol building from where Abraham Lincoln gave his “House Divided” speech, there’s also a Lincoln Home Visitors Center which shows a short movie on the Springfield that Lincoln loved, and where you can obtain free tickets to take a walk around the restored Lincoln home on 8th and Jackson Street.  As a visual lesson in how people lived “back then” the home is an interesting place to visit. 

For those who don’t think that it’s morbid, a visit to Lincoln’s tomb isn’t to be missed.  Situated in Oak Ridge Cemetery, Lincoln’s tomb contains not only his remains, but also those of Mary Todd, his wife, and their three sons.

If the Lincoln memorial gets a bit too much, have a change of pace by visiting the preserved home of another famous Springfield resident, Frank Lloyd Wright.  Named the Dana-Thomas House, this is only a few blocks from the Capitol building, and still contains some original fixtures from his time there.

As a destination, unless you’re a history buff, or enjoy wandering around some of America’s more charming towns, Springfield’s probably not the best place to choose, but as an overnight stop, or a day trip, there’s plenty to look at and it’s definitely worth the visit.

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Swim with Dolphins at Discovery Cove, Orlando, Florida

Family vacations are times for bonding and memory building.  They’re also a time when dreams of exotic locations, or one in a lifetime opportunities/challenges are realized.   All of these are possible at Discovery Cove, Orlando, Florida.  Situated beside the more typical theme park of SeaWorld, in Orlando, this isn’t a cheap excursion, nor is it a park full of rides, shows and tours.  Instead, here you will experience something that you won’t find in many other places.  You’ll get to swim with dolphins.

Another contrast to the larger parks is that at Discovery Coves visitors are put into small groups, each with its own staff member to lead it around the park.  There’s an age limit to the dolphin swim so if you’ve got under 6’s you’ll need to consider that before deciding on a visit to this park.  Another “housekeeping” tip is that trips to Discovery Cove must be pre-booked, and lunch is included – as is all of the equipment hire such as wet suit, snorkel and even a towel if required.

Apart from being taught how to communicate with the dolphins and being allowed to swim with them in your small group, you will be able to spend the rest of the day enjoying the birds that fly over beautiful beaches on the property, together with snorkeling off the various reefs packed with marine life, and exploring hidden grottos.  It’s an unforgettable experience!

For anyone who is interested in working in this kind of environment, Discovery Cove offers a Trainer for a Day program where the limited number of visitors who are on the program are allowed a closer connection with the animals and get to work alongside the regular staff members for that day. 

Discovery Cove may be missing the wilder exhibits that its neighboring theme parks are noted for, but it more than makes up for this in terms of sheer magic, beauty and wildlife. 

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The Empire State Building – One of New York’s Most Famous Buildings

Situated at 350 Fifth Avenue is one of the most famous of New York’s impressive buildings.  Instantly recognizable from such movies as King Kong, An Affair to Remember and Sleepless in Seattle, the Empire State Building stands as one of the most well known skyscrapers in the world.

With its art deco architecture, the Empire State Building’s observation deck on the 80th Floor is where most visitors head.  There’s a charge to enter the observation deck but it’s not too expensive, especially considering the unique view of New York and the surrounding area you’ll get from the top.  There are 73 elevators in the building – these can take you from ground level to the 80th floor in a matter of seconds - but those who are more active, or like a challenge, the alternative is a 1,575 step climb – of course you could just take the elevator up and walk down if you prefer!

The Empire State Building is open daily from 9.30am until midnight – make sure you arrive in time to be allowed access as the building may shut at midnight, but they like the observation deck cleared prior to then.  Despite its closing time, it’s just as good an experience to see New York from the Observation Deck at night as it as by day.  Although you can’t see as far as you can in daylight, the lights of New York make the night visit special in its own right.

Although the Empire State Building is mainly for those who like to look rather than do, there is a hidden gem on the second floor for those who enjoy a thrill ride.  The New York Skyride is a flight stimulator which will have you hanging to your seat as the images take you on a fast paced virtual reality aerial tour of the “Big Apple”. 

For its celebrity, architectural beauty, spectacular views and not forgetting the incredible Skyride tour, a visit to the Empire State Building should be on every visitor’s itinerary.

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The Napa Valley, California

California is usually synonymous with beautiful beaches, beautiful people and the glitter and glitz surrounding the movie world, but there’s another side to this beautiful state, a gentler more natural side.  The Napa Valley is within easy driving distance of San Francisco and offers a tranquil alternative to the bustle of the city. 

One of the fun things to do in the Napa Valley is to take a ride on the Napa Valley Wine Train.  As one of the top train rides in the world, you’ll enjoy a relaxing journey in lovingly restored carriages all dated pre-1950.  Whether you enjoy a romantic evening meal in the dining car as you travel through the valley’s beautiful countryside, or you take the daily tour that allows a stop at two of the local vineyards, this is a local “attraction” that shouldn’t be missed.

Another idea to make your Napa Valley break memorable is to take a hot air balloon ride.  This breathtaking view of the vineyards in the early morning light will be an experience you won’t forget and will soon make you forget how early you had to get up! 

There are many vineyards that you can visit during your stay in the Napa Valley area.  Some of them will give you a tour, others allow you to taste, and yet others have demonstrations, so check with a local guidebook about what is available at each the vineyards open to the public so you know what to expect when you get there.

If you are taking a trip to California, and are a little concerned that the constant barrage of high energy attractions, and crowded stores will be too much, consider a trip to the Napa Valley, even if you don’t drink wine, you’re sure to enjoy the slower pace and relax in the beauty of the area.

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The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island – Not to be missed on Visit to New York!

One of the most recognizable statues in the world, the Statue of Liberty stands on Liberty Island in New York.  It’s one of the most popular tourist attractions in the US, as well as one of America’s most prized reminders of the ideals it represents.  Many of present day Americans can trace their roots back through the generations and find a relative who first sailed past Lady Liberty’s welcome before disembarking in New York harbor.

As part of stricter security measures, tourists are no longer allowed access to the statue’s crown and torch, but there are two ranger guided tours around the island.  The first of them lasts between 30 and 60 minutes and is a gentler informational tour that doesn’t require much exertion.  The second tour however is a little more strenuous but if you’ve got the energy, the view from the 10 story high pedestal observatory will be a memory you will carry with you for the rest of your life. 

It’s only possible to travel to the Statue of Liberty by ferry.  The return visit allows visitors the opportunity to disembark at Ellis Island before returning to the mainland.  The Ellis Island Immigration Museum is an interesting array of artifacts, and photographs, which have been displayed amidst personal oral history stories, and which together create a great overview of what awaited most of the immigrants who arrived at America’s shore.  For most of them, they would eventually be allowed admittance to the mainland, but not all.  The archives allow those who are interested in researching their family history access to records which may help them discover more about their origins. 

A trip to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island is a must see if you visit New York.  Not only will you get to stand near one of the most treasured American landmarks, but you’ll have a greater understanding of those who came seeking a new life in America.

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Friday, February 6, 2015

When Evening Falls on New York, it’s Time to Visit Times Square and Broadway

Although you can just as easily visit both Times Square and Broadway during the day, you won’t experience the magic of those world famous neon signs until darkness falls and they light up the night sky. 

Times Square has been upgraded in recent years.  The seedy reputation it had in the 1990s has gone, and new legislation has meant the adult industry has had to make way for more family familiar franchises.  That doesn’t mean the adult industry has gone altogether, but it isn’t as prominent as it once was in this area.  Today big name stores and restaurants vie for space beneath the giant billboards and tourists flock here to stand in the famous square and have their photos taken to show everyone back home that they’ve been to New York! 

Broadway isn’t a place where you can take a photo of and have people instantly recognize where you are, but it’s an experience not to be missed nevertheless.  Whether you’re a regular theater goer back home, or someone who’s never seen a live show, catching a show on Broadway is part of the New York experience.  One of the main problems is getting tickets for the theaters.  Tickets are often in short supply for popular shows, and none of the shows are cheap.  However, if you aren’t too fussy about what you want to see, there are discount ticket booths in Time Square (your hotel should be able to help you locate one) where unsold tickets for that days’ performances are sold at discount prices.  If you want to see a live taping of a television show, the best place to try and get tickets is usually through the show’s official website.

If this is your first visit to the “Big Apple”, Times Square and nearby Broadway are two parts of New York’s past and present that are definite “Must Sees” on your New York itinerary.

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Visit Bryce Canyon – One of America’s Secret Natural Highlights

Bryce Canyon, named after Ebenezer Bryce who settled in the area in the 1850s, is situated in the south of Utah.  Receiving National Park status in 1928, the park is around 55 square miles of breathtaking natural rugged beauty.  Although smaller and quieter (most tourists make their way to the Grand Canyon, or nearby Zion National Park), Bryce Canyon is a park that has much to offer in terms of original natural features.  In particular, viewing the hoodoos – which can reach heights of 200 meters – and the vibrant color of the natural landscape are worth the visit and admission price.  If geology interests you, this is a must do on your travel itinerary if you are traveling through this part of Utah.

At the visitor center, you can watch a short film which is a great introduction to the park.  Afterwards check out if there are any ranger programs that you can take part in that day, or just hike/drive around and enjoy the spectacular views from the many observation points throughout the park.  For those who enjoy winter sports, there are opportunities for show shoeing or cross country ski-ing, or during the warmer months, there are horseback riding tours that last between 2-4 hours – check with the park in advance to check if you are able to reserve a place on any specific activities you’d like to do.

For those who enjoy wandering around and learning from exhibits, current displays in the museum include geology, wildlife and star gazing.  For anyone interested in the geology of Bryce Canyon, there are frequent geology talks in the park. 

Bryce Canyon may not be as expansive as Grand Canyon, but it has a rugged charm of its own and is well worth a visit if you’re in the area.

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Visit the Kennedy Space Center, Florida

For anyone who is enthusiastic or curious about space travel, past and present, a trip to the Kennedy Space Center a little west of Orlando will be a day out not to be forgotten.  This isn’t going to be a cheap day out, so make sure you check out in advance the current entrance fees plus any additional budget requirements for additional rides, etc just before you make your trip.  Another thing to check in advance is the space shuttle launching schedule – what greater day could there be to go the space center then on a day you will see a shuttle actually take off?  Of course, all shuttle schedules are subject to change so even if you arrange your trip to coincide with a scheduled take-off, it’s not necessarily going to happen.

There’s more to see at Kennedy Space Center than just the space shuttle launching however.  There are exhibitions of rockets and spacecraft from the years when space travel was in its infancy.  There are rides to simulate space travel for those with the nerve to try.  There’s the launching pad area where Apollo 11 was once launched placing men on the moon for the first time.  There are tours of the site which are narrated and have photo stops.  Two must see parts of the Kennedy Space Center experience however are the Imax theatre presentations (capture the thrill of a close-up launch in the “The Dream is Alive” feature), and then the Astronaut Encounter where an astronaut takes to the stage to talk about traveling in space, and also answer questions from the audience – a great experience for any families who have a budding astronaut in their party!

Kennedy Space Center isn’t a theme park but rather a working site that allows visitors a glimpse into the romance, and work, of space flight, as well as an up close and personal insight into the many things that come together in that moment when a space shuttle launches.  In an area known for thrills and spills of a manufactured kind, Kennedy is a real life thrill that you can experience without your feet leaving the ground!

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