Newbie’s Guide To The Florida Keys


photo© Ed Schipul

We all love vacations — who doesn’t like enjoying a break from work to bask in the sunshine while gorging ourselves on delicious food? The hardest part of planning that week or weekend getaway can be choosing where to go. Alright people: It’s time I told you something important and amazing. I thought about keeping it a secret, but I can’t. It’s too good! The answer is this: The Florida Keys are the best place to spend your vacation. They are unique, dotted with sandy beaches, restaurants, stores, parks, and scenery that is just breathtaking. It would take pages to even touch on their beauty, and since you probably aren’t interested in reading how I drool over islands, I will share how you can enjoy the unforgettable experience the Florida Keys offer.

Getting There

Did someone say road trip? That’s right! Whether it is in your car, a rental car, or even a bus, it’s time to pack up those suitcases and drive on over to the islands. Yes, I said drive, and yes, I said islands. Now, I have driven to an island or taken a ferry many times before, but exploring an entire chain of islands is something special. Getting there is one of the best parts, as you go across on the Florida Keys Overseas Highway; it begins near Florida City and stretches 127 miles to mile marker 0 on Key West. Don’t worry about being bored, either; along the highway, you can stop and explore the islands while you cross over 40 bridges and breathe in the ocean air. But if driving is not your cup of tea, you can fly directly into Key West or take a ferry. It all comes down to what you prefer. I love to explore and take my time.

Exploring Along the Way

If you decide to take the road-trip vacation from Key Largo to Key West, there are more places to stop and explore than you can fit in one trip. This is, of course, what I strive for: a few excuses to return multiple times. Starting at Key Largo, I would visit John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park for a chance to swim in the first U.S. undersea park. After having some fun in the water, stop at Islamorada for some tasty food at the Hungry Tarpon while you soak in the view of the beach. Robbies Marina is located next door and is a fun place to explore. The best part is feeding the tarpons for only a few dollars. It is something kids love to do, and of course, us big kids get excited about it, too. At this point, I would call it a day, check in at my accommodations, and spend the rest of the night taking pictures of a stunning sunset while sipping a glass of wine in a comfortable chair. Excuse me while I take a moment to remember it … yep, it’s time to go back. Now, when you are relaxed, you can either linger longer or hit the road to Marathon. You will have to visit the Dolphin Research Center to pet, swim with, and even paint with the dolphins. Big Pine is the next place you can stop to kayak, paddle-board, or even just relax on the beach and enjoy a few of the restaurants.

Key West

You made it! Now that you have traveled across islands and bridges, you have finally reached Key West. Take a moment to snap a picture of mile marker 0, then get settled in for a few days. The Old Town Trolley will guide you through the town to the most popular spots, including the adorable Key West Lighthouse. The harbor is my favorite place to stroll and catch a bite to eat, including the fresh catch of the day. Don’t miss out on the ocean at your fingertips: Rent a bike and ride along the beach paths, go sailing, swim, scuba-dive, and live in the moment of experiencing this tropical paradise.


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The Absolute Best Eats In Cape Coral


photo©Justin Smith

Before we begin, I would advise you to go grab something to eat. It can be anything – crackers, chicken nuggets, peanut butter, butter. It doesn’t matter as long as your stomach is full. You are about to get very hungry, and if your stomach isn’t prepared, who knows what you will eat? Seriously, hunger does strange things to people, and if you aren’t careful you might be chewing on the edge of your computer within minutes after reading this. I am about to share with you the best places to eat in Cape Coral, FL with mouth-watering, flavor-exploding food. It might feel like food is a reoccurring subject on here, but we all have to eat on vacation and preferably somewhere tasty. Cape Coral knows a little thing or two about people; we all are different with diverse tastes and appetites. It doesn’t matter if you enjoy anything fried, vegetarian, or food with a Mexican kick, Cape Coral has it all. It is perfect for food lovers to get out and try a vast array of food, especially the popular Italian and ethnic restaurants. Here are the best places to eat with different cuisines and atmospheres.

A Romantic Feel for the Italian Lover: Ariani Ristorante Italiano

Come inside this cozy place and try authentic Italian food that is bursting with delicious homemade ingredients. The mozzarella is out of this world and made right in the kitchen along with marinara and other sauces. From the friendly service, inspired chef, moist meat, and light sides, critics and locals can’t say enough about this place.

Vegetarian and Vegan Approved Ethnic Food: Loving Hut

Now I am not a vegan, but this place is so healthy and fresh, that even we meat lovers find it hard not to fall in love. The food is filled with natural flavors, and the entrees are yummy and even taste like there is meat in them. To truly enjoy a vacation, eating healthy for most meals is a must. Vegan travelers know how hard it is to find good places to eat, and this adorable and affordable hut makes it possible.

Mexican with just Enough Kick: Iguana Mia

Not all Mexican food is created equal, and I demand extra flavor on my plate. Iguana Mia takes the basics and turns them into something amazing. The food says it all, but the margaritas are a stealer deal. If you happen to be traveling for your birthday, you better drop-in for a free meal. Who doesn’t love to eat for free?

Seafood and Steak and a Waterfront View: Rumrunners

A waterfront experience is unlike any other. If you have done it before, you know what I am talking about. The food is delicious, with fresh seafood and blasting with eloquent flavor. The view is breathtaking, and is the perfect topping to the excellent service and pristine food.

A Hidden Thai Gem that Screams Delicious: Siam Hut

Whenever I travel somewhere new, I make it a point to find a restaurant that disguises a yummy menu with a rough exterior or sneaky location. The Siam Hut is located in a plaza that is often missed. Step inside and get your Thai food as spicy as you want. A delicious place to fit any budget and hit the spot for foodies.

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Unleash Your Inner Explorer At Inner Space Cavern

Would you like to be Indiana Jones for a day? You know… exploring underground crevasses and formations with a flashlight, perhaps in search of some hidden treasure?

At Inner Space Cavern in Georgetown, Texas, you can do at least some of that! You might not find a big room filled with golden artifacts, but you can explore a magical underground world filled with beautiful and interesting formations.


The Interesting Discovery of Inner Space Cavern


As Rick, one of the guides at Inner Space Cavern explained, the difference between a cave and a cavern is that a cave has a natural entrance, but a cavern is more like an underground bubble without an entrance. So how did they discover this cavern?

In 1963, when the Texas Highway Department was building what is known as highway I-35 today, they were drilling some test holes into the ground to make sure that there weren’t any sinkholes under the highway. Then, suddenly, the drill bit dropped several feet into what could only be open space. Voila, Inner Space Cavern was born!

Inner Space Cavern begins on one side of I-35 and stretches under the highway to the other side.


Exploring Inner Space Cavern


Adventure Tour

There are several tours that you can take at Inner Space. The Adventure tour is the most popular. Everyone in the family can go on this tour because you walk along an even-surfaced path for a total distance of about one mile.

The tour guide stops quite regularly along the way to point out interesting formations and explain what they are and how they were formed. Most of the “living” structures in the cavern are stalactites and stalagmites that grow towards each over thousands of years. Stalactites grow from the roof of the cavern, and stalagmites grow from the floor. When they touch, they form a pillar. For an unexplained reason, some of the structures grow sideways!

Our guide turned off the lights for a few seconds as well. Have you ever experienced complete darkness? Here you will!

This tour takes about one hour and fifteen minutes.


Wild Cave Tour

If you’re more adventurous, in reasonably good shape, and you don’t mind getting dirty, you may want to go on a Wild Cave tour to get that real “explorer” feeling!

They give you a helmet with a flashlight, gloves, elbow pads and knee pads. You go off the normal trails and crawl through narrow spaces to explore undeveloped parts of the cavern that most people don’t get to see.

This tour takes about four hours. As you can imagine, it is physically challenging and will be quite tiring. For this reason, they limit this tour to people who are 13 years or older.


Hidden Passages Tour

If you’re thinking, “isn’t there a tour that is more adventurous than the Adventure Tour, but not quite as adventurous as the Wild Cave Tour,” then the Hidden Passages Tour is perfect for you. You get a flashlight and a guide takes you along an undeveloped trail through the cavern.

The physical requirements aren’t that high on this tour, but you need to be able to move along an undeveloped trail and you shouldn’t be claustrophobic.


Other Tours

If going underground is not your thing, you can take the Sister Caves tour, which is an above-ground walking tour that lasts about one hour.


What You Need To Know

Here a few things you need to know if you go to Inner Space Cavern:

Take comfortable shoes, even if you go on the Adventure Tour.

Don’t take any food or water into the cavern.

Although the humidity is high in the cavern, the temperature is a comfortable 72°F. If it is cold outside and you wear a jacket, there is a place to leave your jacket after entering the cavern.

Don’t touch any of the formations in the cavern, unless your guide says you can. This is a live cavern and any touching can damage it.

With several different tours available, there should be a suitable tour for everyone. If you are in the vicinity of Georgetown, Texas, be sure to put Inner Space Cavern on your list of places to visit. It is an experience that you will remember!

JohnElsMy name is John Els. I am the founder and writer of I have been a computer programmer and website developer for many years. In 2006 I decided to create a website about vacationing in Texas, with emphasis on fun things to do in Texas. We enjoy vacationing in Texas, and want others to enjoy it too.

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Spending St. Patrick’s Day In Boston


photo©Adam Pieniazek

St. Patrick’s Day was one of those holidays that I often forgot. Someone usually informed me that I wasn’t “wearing green” with a painful pinch to the arm. It wasn’t that I disliked St. Patrick’s Day; in fact I love all holidays and the traditions that accompany them. I even like the color green. It simply was a day that we never really celebrated in my home, and wearing green was more of a pinch precaution; however, recently my neutral feelings towards St. Patrick’s Day have changed. Moving to Boston really opened my eyes to how much fun it can be to experience St. Patrick’s Day. I never knew how amazing March 17th could be! The celebrations, parade, and activities centered on St. Patrick’s Day made me want to paint my face and dye my hair green. If I had known this was the way people had been celebrating St. Patrick’s Day for years, then you can bet I never would have forgotten it.

St. Patrick’s Day Parade

The main event of the day starts out with a parade in South Boston. This is a tradition that began many years ago in 1724 by an Irish Society. It focused on celebrating culture and diversity in Boston while giving honor and remembering their Irish homeland; however, it was not the first parade that made this day monumental. In 1776, British troops lined the harbor and Boston city. When a storm hit, British troops and ships evacuated; sparing the lives of many from a battle avoided. Coincidentally, the evacuation was on the same day of the feast celebrating Saint Patrick. “Evacuation Day” was declared a holiday in 1901, and the city threw a huge parade in celebration. I am not surprised that the combining of two holidays made for something incredible. It is now the biggest St. Patrick’s Day parade in the entire country, and has over 600,000 people attend. Even celebrities have made the journey to wave a hand and participate in the event. The parade begins in the afternoon and travels three miles across the city. It is filled with noise from performers, bands, beautiful floats, dancers, local teams, groups, and servicemen. The costumes, history, Irish culture, and specific details bring the entire event to life.

Bar Crawls

The parade is plenty for me to enjoy, but there is so much more to do in Boston. You can begin celebrating the luckiest day of the year by going to the Boston St. Patrick’s Day Weekend Kick-Off Day Bar Crawl. It is an event filled with drinking, of course, along with lots of partying and late-night fun. When it comes to celebrating this Irish-filled day, I always try a few new drinks. The local pubs are packed with people, and after the parade many head over to Stats Bar & Grille for an Irish experience and drink. Dressing up and grabbing a drink is the only way to experience St. Patrick’s Day in Boston. If you haven’t already been to this celebration, I strongly suggest you add it to your bucket list.

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Let’s Buy a Vacation Rental!

teaching new renters to trust
I think we all do it. We’re on holiday in a fabulous vacation rental and decide this must be a great way of investing; reaping the benefits of rental and getting to use the place when we want. So, we spend time exploring the Multi Listings Site and browsing in realtor windows.

I was speaking with a Florida realtor recently and she said that her inquiries are always the highest in the winter when the snowbirds are on the ground and they often lead to impulse buys because they see a ‘bargain’ and want it there and then. Buyer’s remorse can set in very shortly afterwards when the consequences of managing the property from a distance become apparent, and the costs begin to pile up.

Flashback to two weeks ago and I was in the Bahamas doing exactly that. There was a piece of property for sale next to the place we were staying and I got to fantasizing about building a house just like the one where we were staying. But….I have been there and done that before which is how we bought our first place in Ontario. It wasn’t such a bad buy but more research would have had us making wiser decisions.

We’ve bought six more properties since those early days and this is what I’ve learned:

There will always be another bargain
Even if that cute place on the beach looks perfect and the realtor tells you there are others sniffing at it, leave it alone until you have done all your due diligence. This may mean you lose it, but this is not a pair of shoes you can relegate to the back of the closet if they don’t feel comfortable after the first wearing. Once you are burdened with property taxes, insurance, and other fixed and sometimes unrelenting costs, you can’t take it back and change your mind, without the potential of considerable loss.

The time you want to vacation is usually high season for rentals
When people get excited about buying abroad, they are often there in high season. It’s unlikely they have traveled to the Bahamas in hurricane season, or Colorado in the summer; the excitement is coming from being there in prime holiday time which is precisely when the best rates are charged. So, buying a home and planning on being there in the height of the season is not a good economic decision. Plan a trip in the off-season to look at the area. If you still love it, then that is the time to plan to buy a vacation rental and make your property offers.

Keep emotions out of any decision-making
That wonderful holiday feeling as you relax on a sun-drenched dock, take a cocktail on the patio, or look out over the lake or ocean needs to fade before a buying decision gets made. Otherwise practical issues will be overlooked and the heart takes over. Just make sure you engage your brain and give rational thought to all the costs and benefits.

There is more to the cost than the purchase price
It’s important to factor in all the costs and this often gets skipped in the tropical warmth of a Caribbean sunset. “We can afford this” you say as you look at the price of the house that’s for sale down the road. Once the additional costs are introduced that initial figure can grow another 20% or 30% or more. Those costs include:

• Furniture and furnishings – and the cost of importing them if you are on an island or in a South American country. There’s no Ikea in Costa Rica!
• Maintenance – if you are not there to do the changeovers you’ll have to hire a property manager. Then there’s the pool maintenance, someone on hand to fix the plumbing when it goes wrong (it will), do the yard work, change the light bulbs, and on and on. Do not underestimate this cost.
• Insurance – no joking about hurricanes here; in high risk areas the insurance costs can hurt.
• Electricity costs – these can be horrendous in certain countries and the service may be so erratic you need a generator anyway.
• Marketing – There’s no way you can list a vacation rental these days and have crowds beating a path to the door. You have to fight for them every inch of the way, which means time and money spent on listing sites, web sites, blogs and social media.

If you are still eager to buy after all this, it’s time to get going on the research and I wish you luck. It’s exactly what I am doing now that I am back from the Bahamas and still as enthusiastic about buying as I was when I was there. I’ll keep you updated on my progress and would love to hear from anyone that is doing the same.

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A Sweet Valentine’s Day In Hershey PA


A Sweet Valentine’s Day In Hershey, PA

If you are like me, Valentine’s Day is a family affair, as well as a day to remember your sweetheart. In my house, I have two loves- the one I married, and the one I gave birth to. Valentine’s Day is a celebration of love for us – not just the romantic kind. (And there is always after the kids go to bed for a nice amorous evening and eating dessert in peace.)

A great place to get away for a quick weekend (and how perfect that Valentine’s is on a Friday this year?) is Hershey, Pennsylvania. Of course, the famed park itself is not open, but nearly everything else in the area is- and without the crowds. As this is the “chocolate holiday”, what better time, really?


What to Do

Have a little time to yourselves? Or perhaps you would like to give your spouse a sweet gift and some “me” time. Check out the Spa at Hotel Hershey. The choices are truly delicious- but what would you expect of a place known as “the chocolate spa”? With dessert-inspired treatments, like the whipped chocolate fondue wrap, whipped cocoa bath, chocolate bean polish, cocoa facial experience, or the “Gentleman’s” whiskey facial, you will not only be relaxed, but good enough to eat when you leave. Kids 13 and older can get in on the action as well.


You can also pay a visit to Hershey’s Chocolate World. Open from 9-5 weekdays, and 9-6 weekends, they are hosting a month-long celebration of chocolate in February. Each day this month is a new way to enjoy chocolate in all its glory. Leave your diet at the door and enjoy!


Some of the Chocolate-Covered February Activities Include:

  • Chocolate Dinner Extraordinaire at The Hotel Hershey
  • Chocolate Tea at the Hotel Hershey
  • Chocolate Animal Treats at Zoo America
  • Chocolate-Covered Children’s Teas at Hershey Lodge
  • Hershey’s Chocolate Tasting Adventure at Hershey’s Chocolate World Attraction
  • Wine & Chocolate Pairings at The Hotel Hershey
  • Countries of Origin Chocolate Tasting at Cafe Zooka

You can download the full list at:

There are also fun tours and activities that you can do as a couple or family, like the Hershey’s Great American Chocolate Tour Ride, where you follow a cocoa bean from its beginnings all the way to your candy bar; the tour is free and includes samples. There are also chocolate tasting adventures, Trolley Works tours, bake shops, and more.


samhavesippyA travel and parenting expert, writer, mother, and teacher, Samantha has dedicated her life to children and education. She feels that travel and culture should play an important part in a child’s development and exposure to their environment.

Samantha is a columnist and freelance writer who has been featured on various websites, magazines, and newspapers, as well as weekly radio show co-host. She has several regular columns on travel, products, and parenting. She also writes a multi-award winning blog, Have Sippy Will Travel, and is a Top Ten Ranked Social Media Expert.

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Why You Should Not Miss Moody Gardens In Galveston


photo©Katie Haugland

Why You Should Not Miss Moody Gardens In Galveston, Texas

So, you’re on vacation in Galveston. You’ve settled into the place where you will stay for your vacation, and now you’re wondering…

What is there to do in Galveston other than going to the beach?”

The good news is that there is plenty to do in Galveston. But, there is one place that you really shouldn’t miss… Moody Gardens!

Why not miss Moody Gardens? There is a lot to do there. In fact, there is enough going on at Moody Gardens to make sure that the whole family will be having fun for at least one full day, if not more.

Here are some of the really cool things that you can do at Moody Gardens…


photo©Katie Haugland

The Pyramids

If you look at Moody Gardens from the outside, you will see three huge glass pyramids. Each of these three pyramids contains a specific habitat that is a lot of fun to go through.

Rainforest Pyramid

Rainforests play a very important role in the ecology of Earth. Unfortunately, very few of us ever get the chance to visit any rainforests. The Rainforest Pyramid at Moody Gardens is probably as close to a real rainforest as most of us will ever get to visit! Here, they have recreated the rainforests of Africa, Asia, and the Americas, including many of the animals and endangered plants that live there.

Some of the interesting birds that you will find there include the long-beaked, orange Scarlett Ibis that you normally find in South America and the Caribbean. Another interesting creature that you will find there is the Cotton-top Tamarin, which is a small monkey, and one of the smallest primates in the world.

What would a rainforest be without frogs and turtles? A cute little frog in the rainforest is the Panamanian Golden Frog, which has an orange-yellow color with black dots on it. Its skin releases poisons to stop predators from eating it.

When you go to the Rainforest Pyramid, see if you can spot a Matamata Turtle, also from South America. The shape and color of these turtles make it very easy for them to blend in with leaves on the ground in the areas where they live.

Aquarium Pyramid

Yes, you guessed it… the Aquarium Pyramid contains a big aquarium that lets you see more of animal and plant life of the South Atlantic Ocean, the North and South Pacific, and the Caribbean.

Want to get up close to penguins to see what they eat and how they live? Then you need to go on a “penguin encounter.” They have other “encounters” available too, but keep in mind that they can be somewhat costly. The Aquarium Pyramid has this cool undersea tunnel that you can walk through to get the same view of the ocean that a scuba diver would. Here you can see sharks, stingrays, and a variety of other fish.

Discovery Pyramid

The Discovery Pyramid is all about exactly that… discovery. It contains several exhibits that you can interact with and learn about science. These are usually traveling exhibits from around the country. This means that the museum is sometimes closed to set up the next exhibit. For example, at the time of writing this, the museum was closed to prepare for the Real Pirates Exhibition.

The Theaters

Moody Gardens also has two theaters that show movies that are suitable for everyone in the family.

3D Theater

We all know 3D movies, right? You get special glasses to wear during the movie, and then it looks like the characters are popping out of the screen, almost as if you are part of the movie. Moody Gardens has a 3D theater that shows several excellent 3D movies.

4D Theater

Have you ever wondered what a 4D theater is all about?

Well, it’s like a 3D theater, but the theater can have wind, and even snow. The seats can tickle your legs, and you can even smell different odors. All of these special effects are in sync with the movie to produce an experience you’ve never had before.

The movie that shows there at the moment is a 14-minute version of The Wizard of Oz.

The Paddlewheel Boat

Would you like to ride on one of those old-style river boats with the large paddlewheel on the back? They have one at Moody Gardens that takes people on cruises of about one hour!

So you can see that there is a lot going on at Moody Gardens. Between the three pyramids, the two theaters, and the paddlewheel boat, Moody Gardens provides at least a full day of fun!

Can you afford to miss all that?

JohnElsMy name is John Els. I am the founder and writer of I have been a computer programmer and website developer for many years. In 2006 I decided to create a website about vacationing in Texas, with emphasis on fun things to do in Texas. We enjoy vacationing in Texas, and want others to enjoy it too.

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Celebrating The Chinese New Year In Philadelphia

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Celebrate the Year of the Horse In Philadelphia

January 31, 2014 will ring in the Chinese New Year. To celebrate and learn more about this holiday, take a stroll through one of America’s oldest cities- Philadelphia! Why Philly? It’s a great city, with one of the largest and most active Chinese communities in the USA, as well as one of the biggest Chinatowns, making it the perfect place to steep yourself in the culture, while staying on American soil.

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Recently, on January 12th, The Philadelphia Museum of Art (also home to the famous “Rocky Steps”) gave local schoolchildren the chance to show their stuff, with a traditional Lion Dance by the Philadelphia Suns to open the day’s activities. 3 “Lions” made their way up and down the steps and into the main hall, interacting with audience members the whole time, as Chinese drums pounded rhythmically. As the drums were beaten, the lions danced, jumped, and even went to sleep- much to the amusement of the children watching- waking up as the music got louder, to scratch themselves awake and exit with a flourish.

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There were also guqin performances (a guqin is stringed instrument that lays in one’s lap and plucked with his or her fingers) and folk dances, all performed by the Cultural Treasures Charter School kids. Families and children were also offered activities, such as making origami red paper envelopes (in honor of the new year) with stamp art, creating clay horses (and then going on a “treasure hunt” in the museum to find the horse that matches your creation, complete with map and directions), visiting a Chinese paper cutter artist and seeing his work, and he would even create a special work of art just for you!

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Children were also given colored pencils, stools, and rice paper to draw items they saw in the Asian wing of the museum.

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When your cultural activities were over and you have toured the museum, why not hop on a bus or trolley and head over to Philly’s famous Chinatown for some lunch or dinner and shopping? The restaurants and bakeries are endless in variety, with everything from noodle houses to 4 star restaurants.

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Try a local specialty, and if you have never had a Boba or Bubble Tea before, make sure to give that a whirl as well. This dessert-like beverage is a favorite in many Asian countries, and is becoming one in the USA. Make sure to stop into some of the stores as well – you never know what treasures you will find to remember your trip by. This time of year is a great time to visit, there are some fun, funny, and unique items you will likely never see again.

For more information about Family Programs, visit

Adult admission is $20, kids 13-18 are $14. Children are always free. All programs are free after admission prices.

chinatown in philly

To head to Chinatown after your visit, there are bus and trolley stops right at the bottom of the museum steps. Choose the line you prefer, and make sure you know when the last pickup for the day is so you don’t get left behind! To make a day tour (or more) out of it, Philadelphia Trolley Works and the Big Bus Tours Company both offer guided tours of the whole city, with many on-again-off-again stops you can take at your leisure and convenience. In my opinion, it is the easiest way to get around the city, and you learn about the area you are visiting, as well. The tour guides are always very knowledgeable and willing to help you find where you are looking to go.

For more information, please see


samhavesippyA travel and parenting expert, writer, mother, and teacher, Samantha has dedicated her life to children and education. She feels that travel and culture should play an important part in a child’s development and exposure to their environment. Samantha is a columnist and freelance writer who has been featured on various websites, magazines, and newspapers, as well as weekly radio show co-host. She has several regular columns on travel, products, and parenting. She also writes a multi-award winning blog, Have Sippy Will Travel, and is a Top Ten Ranked Social Media Expert.


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Best City for Family Travel?

What’s my favorite city to travel to with my family, you ask? It’s New York or Chicago, right? Or maybe it’s Orlando or San Francisco? Yeah, it’s gotta be Orlando, right?

Nope. Not even close.

My favorite city to travel to with my family is Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Now, those closest to me would guess that I’m partial to Minneapolis because both Prince’s ‘Purple Rain’, and the wildly wacky, yet profoundly educational and barrier breaking film, ‘The Mighty Ducks’ were filmed in the City of Lakes. And while the very mention of ‘Minneapolis’ does, indeed, provoke visions of Emilio Estavez fairies dancing in my head, the real reason I enjoy this Midwestern Metropolis so much is because my children do.

Minneapolis offers enough entertainment and culture to keep a smile on the faces of my little ones, and does so at a cost low enough to keep a big smile on mine.

Here are few of the fantastic family attractions in Minneapolis:

1. The Minnesota Zoo
This place is awesome! It’s located on the south side of the Minnesota River, but super easy to get to from downtown.  The large outdoor section of the zoo is populated with the largest bears our family has ever seen, and seeing them in their natural habitat provides a unique appreciation for just how powerful and thoughtful these enormous creatures are. The Minnesota Zoo has many of the traditional exhibits you would expect to find at any zoo, but the feature that really makes it a must-get-to stop is the fantastic IMAX theater. My kids could spend all day inside the IMAX, and most of the films are educational so I have no problem obliging.

Minnesota Zoo

2. Catch some Theater!
Did you know that Minneapolis is second only to The Big Apple in live theater per capita? Never would have guessed it, right? There is some excellent theater in Minneapolis.  Some of the best venues to take in the talent include The Illusion, the Minnesota Dance Theatre, Mixed Blood and the Children’s Theatre Company.  Children’s Theatre Company, or CTC, is our favorite since they stick to catering to and entertaining families.  We saw Alice in Wonderland here a couple of years ago, and it was far superior to a performance of the same play we caught in Chicago a year earlier.


3. How ‘bout ‘dem Twinkies?
Okay, so the Minnesota Twins haven’t exactly been world-beaters recently. Nevertheless, Target Field is only a couple of years old, and it’s clean and the attending clientele are friendly. What more can you ask for? The stadium is easily accessible from all areas of town, and it’s only the second LEED-certified professional sports stadium in the US – that’s pretty cool, right? My favorite ballpark snack at Target Field is the Buffalo Chicken Mac N Cheese – it doesn’t get any better :)


4. The Mall of America
It doesn’t get any more American than a mall. I’m not really into shopping, and I certainly wouldn’t characterize my family as a bunch of shop-a-holics. However, we cannot get enough of the Mall America.  It’s not the stores that keep us coming back, it’s the Nickelodeon Universe Amusement Park! This place has over 25 different rides and there’s even an underwater aquarium! My kids could spend hours running around this carousel of capitalism.


5. The Chain of Lakes
Minneapolis is a beautiful city, and the people that call the City of Lakes home appreciate and respect that beauty. The Chain of Lakes is a series of parks consisting of Lake Harriet, Lyndale Park, Lyndale Farmstead, Lake Calhoun, Lake of the Isles, Cedar Lake (my favorite) and Brownie Lake. I spend a lot of time on my bicycle, and Cedar Lake provides a great venue for a nice cruise. Lake Harriet is pretty cool, too, because there’s often live music and a super cool bird sanctuary.

So, there ya’ have it! I’m telling ya,’ add Minneapolis to your must-visit list and you won’t be disappointed – Dontcha Know!



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17 Incredible Vegas Shows You Need To See To Believe


photo© Moyan Brenn

If you have never been to Las Vegas, it is time to plan your next trip. This city is unlike any other because it is completely centered on entertainment. The shows here are over-the-top, artistic, magical, and something you have to experience in real life to appreciate. While you might have seen a few magic shows, acrobats, or singers on TV, being there in person takes it to an entirely different level. The first magic show I ever saw was unlike anything I had ever seen; it was so incredible that I literally couldn’t stop thinking about it for days. I wanted to see it again. That is exactly what Las Vegas shows do; they have you wishing for more. The best part is the variety of shows Vegas offers. From comedy to magic, there is something for everyone in the family. Yes, even kids! Here are 17 performances you will not be disappointed in and you truly have to see to believe.

#1 “O” Cirque du Soleil

This is listed number one for a reason; this show is amazing. From trapeze performers high above, to dancers swimming in the water, there is an entire circus laid out before your eyes. With millions spent on this production at the Bellagio Hotel, every detail is complete perfection. It definitely fits the Cirque adrenaline-charged style.

#2 Blue Man Group

This group of three men has been performing for years from New York to Las Vegas. Now settled in at Monte Carlo, they continue to impress their audience. While no words are spoken the entire time, they gesture, play music with pvc pipe, and get the crowd involved. It is a technological show with robotics and an almost futuristic feel. Perfect for those looking for family-friendly shows.

#3 Le Reve

This is an artistic show where a woman’s dreams come to life with music, fire, water, acrobats, and daring stunts. This performance is played at Wynn Las Vegas and its combination of beauty, grace, and adventure make it a favorite for many. There is so much that goes on.

#4 ABSINTHE Las Vegas

This is an adult circus show at Caesars Palace that is completely unique in a fun and slightly dirty way. The performers are brave and do performances that will have you biting your nails and on the edge of your seat.

#5 The Beatles: Cirque du Soleil Love

I have a soft spot for The Beatles, but even if you don’t listen to their music you will enjoy this show played at the Mirage Hotel Theater. While the music plays, characters come on the stage to bring the music to a completely different level.

#6 Terry Fator and His Cast of Thousands

If you have ever watched America’s Got Talent, then you have already gotten a small taste of Terry Fator’s talent and hilarious act. After winning the show as a ventriloquist and singer, he and his many puppets started his show at The Mirage with complete success.

#7 David Copperfield

Watching David Copperfield on TV is certainly entertaining, but seeing his magic in real life at the MGM Grand Hotel is completely inspiring. I love a good magic show, and if you haven’t seen one outside the typical box, then his is the one to see. You will want to go again and again.

#8 Elton John’s The Million Dollar Piano

His piano is certainly the most impressive musical instrument you will ever see, but Elton John is a performer with a voice that will blow you away. He has returned stronger than ever as a performer at Caesars.

#9 Human Nature

This is a fun, light, and entertaining performance at the Venetian by Motown. Singing popular songs like, “Baby I need your loving” you will want to sing along and join in on the music.

#10 Jersey Boys

This is a touching show performed at Paris Las Vegas that brings songs and story to life about the members of the band Four Seasons. Each member of the band shares his hard and difficult life story along with their most popular and very famous songs.

#11 Zarkana by Cirque du Soleil

This is a heart-stopping circus performance shown at the ARIA Las Vegas. These performers come together in unthinkable ways to tell the story of the magician Zark who lost his magical powers after losing his one true love. Cirque Du Soleil goes above and beyond with this stunning show.

#12 KA by Cirque du Soleil

Without the performers you are left with a detailed artistic stage with equipment and props that are unbelievable. Then you add in the acrobats and dancers, and you are given an unforgettable show. Played at the MGM Grand, this is definitely a show that cannot be missed.

#13 Donny and Marie Osmond Las Vegas

They’re back! Donny and Marie Osmond come back to Vegas and that means you can’t miss their classic show. Done at Flamingo Las Vegas, you will be taken through their most popular songs on an elaborate stage.

#14 Celine Dion

Celine Dion has a way with words, and her beautiful heat-warming lyrics are brought to life with her fantastic voice. Performed at the Colosseum, she brings musicians and dancers together to make her show shine.

#15 Penn and Teller

Located in Rio Las Vegas, the Penn and Teller show is all about magic and making you laugh. This is unlike any other magic show out there because these two break the golden rule of magic, and reveal a few of their tricks.

#16 V—The Ultimate Variety Show

The title says exactly what this show is, variety. It might be acrobats, ventriloquists, magicians, dancers, or even a hilarious comedian. It has it all. Played at Planet Hollywood, this show has short performances that will keep younger children entertained. It is the ideal show for families and kids of all ages.

#17 Zumanity

This show is certainly not for children as it is completely, but tastefully, centered on sex. Performed at New York, New York, it has the circus acts, comedy, and short scenes to continually keep you entertained.


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