Family Outings: Make Travel Fun for Kids

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Break away from a routine vacation and try something new this summer!

(Feature Photo by Tina Pratt)

Maybe you dream of having a family adventure that involves a new destination and learning experiences for your kids, but this can also be quite overwhelming. With some planning and preparation, taking this kind of trip with children can not only be doable, but fun for everyone!

Here are some tips and strategies to help make travel for any age fun and enjoyable:

Infants 

Infants are easy to travel with in many ways! 

Stay on Schedule: Following their eating and napping schedules on the trip as much as possible, and packing throughley can lead to a successful vacation. 

Be Prepared: If you’re flying, plan on bringing enough diapers, wipes and formula for two days in case there are any delays during your travels. Disposable bibs and burp cloths can be used as diaper changing liners and are helpful to have at this age both on a road trip or in airports, who knew? If staying in a hotel, pack a travel-sized bottle of dish soap – this can be helpful for washing bottles, dishware and cloth bibs in the sink. Lodging with washer and dryer facilities is also beneficial. 

Know What To Bring: Can’t wait to tour a new city or town with Baby in tow? Bringing a baby carrier and a stroller is recommended to get the most out exploring a new place. Strollers and car seats can typically be checked on the plane at the airline’s check-in counter without the cost, so no need to haul these items to the gate unless you need them in the airport. Car rental companies offer car seats to rent for those not wanting to add extra luggage by bringing one from home. Many hotels have portable cribs and highchairs available at no cost, even if they are not advertised on their website. Call ahead to inquire about availability. 

Toddlers

Help your tot feel safe and secure along the way! 

Bring Comfort Items: Toddlers love having a few small toys from home and a small doll or stuffed animal to take on trips. A blanket from home can be used for warmth on a plane ride or a car trip and can also be a comfort item to reduce feelings of homesickness. Bringing a pillowcase from your kid’s bed does not take up much space in a suitcase – plus, it can be a source of familiarity that can be especially useful when you’re hotel hopping. 

Shine Some Light: Nightlights can help reduce fears of sleeping in a different place. 

Prepare for Potty Breaks: If a toddler is newly potty trained, a foldable travel potty seat can help make them more comfortable in public restrooms. 

Safety First: A child-proofing kit of several outlet covers and cabinet locks can help your tot explore things safely in a new environment. 

Help Them Enjoy New Foods: Pack their favorite cup or dishware for familiarity and possibly help introduce them to new foods! Your toddler may adjust to the idea of possibly trying new and different foods.

Do Your Research! Exploring a new town or city with your toddler? Research nearby playgrounds – a daily playground visit gives kids a chance to release some energy. Let the kids play while you parents mingle with local parents. This is a great way to gain information about restaurant recommendations and other family-friendly activities.

School-Age Children
Involve this age group in the trip planning process! 

Make it Fun – The more involvement that they have, the more that kids will gain from the trip. If the trip destination is a surprise, host a scavenger hunt around the house with clues and fun facts about the secret place can make it fun, then reveal the surprise at the end. Giving children a choice of several different activities when trip planning allows them to feel more empowered and engaged in the process. Spend time before the trip reading about the history of a new place, the geography, geology and learning more about the culture if traveling internationally. Having these educational opportunities beforehand makes the trip so much more impactful when kids experience it.

Get a Tour Guide – If a guided tour is on the agenda, have a great, child-friendly tour guide for added entertainment and education. Having a guide tell interesting stories and having your kids interact with someone for an extended time period adds to the memories made.

Create Memories – Collecting souvenirs from nature (like rocks, dirt and sand) from each destination can serve as fun travel mementoes. Keep a travel journal during the trip. The journal can be written or be electronic with videos clips taken of children talking about what they thought of each destination while there. Let your kids document the trip with by taking photos or videos on a phone or tablet – that way they can have their own perceptions of trips to recollect on. Other collection ideas include postcards and brochures to paste in a book. A journal can include stains from foods you tried together during the trip, or smears of dirt from a hiking trip, which kids will find fun to compile. 

(By: Lisa Littner, MSW, LISW-S)

Whether you’re flying or driving, we have a fun destination the whole family will love! 

Photo by Tina Pratt

Naples, Florida

Does your family enjoy sunshine, beaches, wildlife and the outdoors? If so, then check out Naples, Florida! You and your family can get under a two and a half hour direct flight from Cincinnati to Fort Meyers, Florida. Then take a quick 35-minute drive to Naples where there is plenty to see and do. 

Naples Pier and Beach
Pack your swimsuits, beach blankets, umbrella and sand toys, and head over to the Naples Pier and Beach. Bask in the Florida sunshine while your kids build sand castles, hunt for “rare” and “mysterious” looking sea shells, and swim in the Gulf of Mexico. Also, make sure you take a stroll down the beach to the historic Naples Pier. The pier includes restrooms, beach supplies, and a concession stand for snacks and treats. It also includes a fantastic view of the Gulf. The end of the pier is a perfect spot to view fish and dolphins! naplesgov.com

Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens
Fosas, Florida panthers, and honey badgers, oh my! The easy to navigate zoo has plenty to see and experience including alligator bay. It also has a fantastic Primate Expedition Cruise. The cruise is approximately a 15-minute ride that includes a trip through multiple primate exhibits and then back to the dock where you can feed the fish and turtles. The Naples Zoo often houses traveling exhibits as well. The most recent was the Washed Ashore exhibit that teaches about how much plastic washes ashore each day and about the global marine debris crisis.  napleszoo.org

Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary
Located 30 minutes east of Naples, the Corkscrew is home to various birds, reptiles and mammals. Grab some binoculars and take a stroll along the 2.5-mile boardwalk. The boardwalk takes you through a wet prairie, around a marsh and through the largest old growth of Bald Cypress trees in North America. The walk includes many signs to read that teach about the swamp sanctuary and the various things that you may see. Increase the fun for kids and play a game of “I Spy” to see if they can spot the wildlife before you do. Hint: Start with a great white egret! corkscrew.audubon.org

Everglades
Hop in the car and head to the Everglades. There are many options for places to visit in the Everglades, including Wooten’s Everglades Airboat Tours. Wooten’s offers airboat rides on the brackish water around the mangroves. Be prepared to laugh and scream with excitement! The airboat goes a bit faster than you would expect but is safe and fun for all ages! If you are not interested in speed, then check out a swamp buggy tour. It is slower, and you are still likely to see a gator or two. Wooten’s also has an alligator show for guest to watch and an animal sanctuary to explore and learn more about the wildlife of the everglades. It is recommended to make reservations/buy tickets in advance, as the airboat tours sell out fast.  wootenseverglades.com

Conservancy of Southwest Florida
Another outdoor exploration includes the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. They offer daily programs that include informational sessions that include, “Scales and Tails” and “Ocean Discoveries.” On-site they also have a wildlife hospital that is open for guests to visit and learn about how the Conservancy helps the wildlife in the area. The Conservancy also offers electric boat tours, kayak tours and kayak rentals. conservancy.org

There are plenty of things to do and see in Naples, Florida! Pack your bags, sunscreen and flip flops and get ready for a memorable family adventure!

(By: Tina Pratt)

St Louis, Missouri – A Road Trip to the Arch

Photo by Amanda Hayward

Everyone told me how great of a city it is. I heard all about the Gateway Arch and how I just “have to see it”. I drove by it once – the museum was under construction, and the new entrance to the what is now a National Park was underway. Finally, it was complete in 2018. I had to get a closer look.

Driving by America’s largest man-made Arch, standing at 630 feet, is one thing, but standing in front of it – and even going inside this national monument – makes you see it differently. It’s truly breathtaking and you wonder, how did they do it? That in itself is a story. I’ll just tell you why St. Louis, Missouri, is well worth a quick 5-hour family road trip from Cincinnati. 

Gateway National Park
In February 2019, the Gateway Arch Park was deemed a National Park – the 60th National Park in the U.S. to be exact. Now it takes the new title, Gateway National Park. July 3, 2018, was its long-awaited grand-opening. Also renovated is the Gateway Arch Store with a brand-new café, plus, the exhilarating Tram Ride to the top of the Arch. Here is where the kids can get their official National Park’s Passport stamped, or buy their first one! If you have one, be sure to bring it with you. The park, over 90-acres, and gorgeous riverfront now have 5 miles of biking and walking paths for the family! I stayed at the Drury Plaza Hotel St. Louis at the Arch (2 South 4th St., St. Louis) right next to the Arch – highly recommended! This historical hotel is nestled next to the river, and it’s walking distance to the Arch, riverfront, restaurants, museums, Busch Stadium and more. To kill some time before dinner, I had to put the newly paved trails to the test with a refreshing jog as I zig-zagged in, out and around the picturesque monument. 

The New Museum at the Gateway Arch
Another feature St. Louis is raving about that also opened last summer, is the new Museum at the Gateway Arch. It’s now handicap accessible, and has a new, immersive look into nation’s expansion westward. Walking through the six new interactive exhibit galleries, I flew through time – the Colonial St. Louis, to Jefferson’s Vision, then it was Manifest Destiny, the Riverfront Era, New Frontiers and the Building of the Gateway Arch. The older kids will also love the Junior Ranger Activity Book – complete three to five activities on your journey through the Gateway Arch, turn it into the Ranger at the front desk and get a badge! This is a big deal for little ones! Afterward, head to the most anticipated moment – the Tram Ride up to the top.

The Tram Ride
I couldn’t even imagine how this Tram Ride would go – how am I going to go up inside the Arch? What’s it like in there? You’re entertained from start to finish as the guide takes you through the new 60’s era history animation exhibits and talks you through the Arch’s history and trivia. 

I sat inside one of the 16 tram cars, or “pods,” and I journeyed up the interior of the Arch. Each pod holds five people, and it only take 4-minutes to reach the top. I anxiously observed 43,000 tons of concrete from the small window. 

I couldn’t get over the view of the Mississippi and city. On a clear day, you’ll get a panoramic view of the city. Be sure to grab your tickets in advance for the ultimate experience.
gatewayarch.com

Helicopter Tours and Riverboat Cruises
If you want to see the city from a totally different view, St. Louis offers riverboat cruises on the Mississippi River and helicopter tours. Always check before you go because if the river is too high, the tours and cruises won’t operate. 

St. Louis Aquarium
Opening the winter of 2019, is the all-new St. Louis Aquarium at Union Station (201 S 18th St., St. Louis)! Tickets aren’t available just yet, but they are coming soon. It will have six unique exhibits that take you through the journey through the Missouri and Mississippi waterways, STEM-based educational programs special activities from breakfast to sleepovers and more. You can sign up for their newsletter to stay on top of what is to come next or to sign your kids up for one of their exciting education programs to get the most out of your trip at stlouisaquarium.com

Catch a Ballgame
If your family stays at the Drury Hotel, Busch Stadium (700 Clark Street, St. Louis) – home of the St. Louis Cardinals – is a walk in the park. I strolled over to the new Ballpark Village which just completed its second phase in 2017. There’s something for everyone with unique restaurants, entertainment and more. Being a military spouse, I scored a free ticket close to left field. Be sure to purchase your ticket at the military members window to receive your discount.. soSitting in the 6,000 seat retro-style downtown ballpark really gave me a feel of how much the locals love and support their city! If you really want an inside look, schedule a tour of the stadium!
mlb.com/cardinals/ballpark

I completed my trip with a bite to eat and an adult beverage at the brand new Hotel Saint Louis’ rooftop bar, Form Skybar (705 Olive Street, St Louis, Missouri). I had to get one more view of the city, and it was well worth it. The food was amazing, too!  marriott.com/hotels/travel/stlak-hotel-saint-louis-autograph-collection.

Plan Your Trip!
If you’re thinking about heading to St. Louis with your family, go for it! The kids will never forget a ride to the top of the Gateway Arch, a visit to the St. Louis Aquarium and a boat ride along the Mississippi. There are over 100 museums, too, and most of them are kid-friendly! For more information and to plan your trip, go to explorestlouis.com.

(By: Amanda Hayward)

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