A Day at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. – Tips for Families

The National Zoo's Entrance on Connecticut Ave.

Spending a day at the National Zoo is a perfect outing with children: admission is free, the gates are open from dawn to dusk, and it’s a great alternative to being cooped up inside a museum.

But let’s be honest: the average two year old isn’t particularly interested in taxonomic classifications, and she doesn’t care to observe the gazelle that is sleeping under a bush in the far corner of its enclosure. Here are some tips on how to keep your trip to the National Zoo smooth and happy:

Take the Metro and Walk
The National Zoo is located on Metro’s Red Line, in between the Cleveland Park metro stop and the Woodley Park/National Zoo metro stop. Get off at the Cleveland Park stop when going to the zoo: head south, on Connecticut Avenue, and the walk will be downhill. When you leave, head south again (also downhill!) toward the Woodley Park stop.

Washington Hilton is also located a little over one mile south of the National Zoo on Connecticut Avenue and is about a 20 minute walk from the zoo.

Driving to the National Zoo
Some of the best highlights for smaller children are located at the National Zoo’s entrance off of Rock Creek Parkway. Consider parking in Lot D: you will be a stone’s throw from the Kids’ Farm, the Carousel, the Prairie Dog Playland, and the rest rooms. Another benefit of starting from Lot D: The zoo is built on a very steep hill; if you start uphill at the beginning of your journey, you will be grateful to head downhill at the end of the day!

Plan to arrive early — most of the parking spaces are taken by 10:30 am during the most popular times of the year. Also note that there is a cost to park at the National Zoo, currently $16 for up to three hours and then $22 for more than three hours. If you are a regular zoo goer, one option to consider is a FONZ membership that continuously gives back with discounted or free parking and also offers reciprocal benefits of discounted or free admission at other participating zoos. And there are some great ones on this list!

Should I Bring a Stroller?
If your child will still sit in one, bring it! The paths are often long and uphill. If you forgot your stroller, you can rent one. There is a stroller kiosk across from the entrance to the Kids’ Farm and another near the Panda Plaza. Keep in mind that some buildings do not allow strollers inside — always bring your valuables along with you!

Little Kid Favorites
The Kids’ Farm offers a small petting and grooming stable, and a larger than life pizza that serves as a jungle gym, which reopens later this month. The solar powered Carousel, located across from the Prairie Dog Playground, is a fantastic brand new addition. Another new feature for warmer weather is the splash park across from the seal and sea lion exhibit on the American Trail.

Hidden Treasures
Check out the Bird House’s Outdoor Flight Cage, even though it’s off the beaten path. We rarely see many other people in the cage when we are there, and the free flying birds are active and curious about visitors. I’ve been pickpocketed by a cormorant, and the boys have had some excellent close encounters with peacocks and exotic ducks.

Another favorite is the Invertebrate Exhibit, tucked behind the Reptile Discovery House. Check out the nautilus, the busy spiders and the Pollinarium, where you can walk inside a room of flitting butterflies.

Free Range Exotic BIrds at the National Zoo
The National Zoo’s Outdoor Flight Cage provides an excellent opportunity to interact with free flying exotic birds.

Best Time to Visit
As you might expect, the animals are happier and most active when the weather is cooler so visiting in the fall or spring is ideal. But if your travels only bring you near the National Zoo in the summer, don’t fret. Just arrive early. The grounds open at 6 a.m. and you’ll find plenty to explore before the exhibit buildings open at 10 a.m. And if your children have a favorite animal they hope to learn more about, make sure to look at the daily program guide before you arrive to time your visit so that you’re near that area when you need to be.

Restaurants near the National Zoo
If possible, do not eat at the zoo. The cafeterias are expensive, crowded and serve disappointing fare at best. For something quick, you would be better off at Open City or Chipotle in Woodley Park, or Firehook Bakery or California Tortilla in Cleveland Park. And good news: there is a Starbucks right across from the zoo entrance on Connecticut Avenue!

Get the App!
For $1.99 you can have the “Smithsonian’s National Zoo” app: it’s the same price as a paper map, and offers a daily, updated description of all tours and activities.

Costs
Many people think their visit to the zoo will be “free,” and are surprised when parking, food, even maps cost more then they expected. Remember that the  National Zoo is supported primarily by taxpayer dollars, and it struggles to maintain the well-being of its animals on that budget; extra income made from parking and other services is sorely needed to keep the Zoo open and available to everyone.

Know Before You Go

  • Many of the monuments and memorials surrounding the National Mall are open 24 hours a day!
  • Driving through the city isn’t recommended – walking or taking the Washington Metro are great ways to navigate the city.
  • Be prepared for numerous security checks if you are visiting any government buildings!

Best Restaurants for Kids in Fort Lauderdale

Ilios Restaurant was on the sixth floor Sunrise Terrace of Hilton Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort

On our recent family trip to Fort Lauderdale we had the chance to try a variety of restaurants, and we found the following to be some of the best restaurants for kids in Fort Lauderdale. Our children both have food allergies and my husband follows the Paleo diet, and we found these restaurants to have a wonderful variety of options that allowed all of us to get delicious meals that satisfied our individual needs.

Ilios
Ilios is the signature restaurant at Hilton Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort where we stayed. The restaurant is located on the sixth floor Sunrise Terrace of the hotel but is open to anyone for meals. There are tables inside and outside with a view of the pool and ocean across the street. The food is “Mediterranean cuisine with a Floridian touch” and includes dishes ranging from citrus-crusted salmon with vegetable hash to the the Ilios burger with truffle fries.

The restaurant has great atmosphere and we were pleased to find they were very accommodating to children and we saw many families dining there in the evening. We thought this was a wonderful choice for our family because of the quality of food on the Mediterranean-influenced adult menu, the variety of food on the kids menu (my son had children’s filet mignon), and the convenience of being able to stay in the hotel after a busy day. We also ate here for the breakfast buffet and enjoyed the selection of delicious hot and cold dishes.

Ilios Restaurant was on the sixth floor Sunrise Terrace of Hilton Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort
Ilios Restaurant is on the sixth floor Sunrise Terrace at Hilton Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort.

Big City Tavern
Las Olas Boulevard is an upscale dining and shopping street with numerous restaurants, but some are a little trendy for younger kids.  Fortunately, we found Big City Tavern which is right in the heart of Las Olas Blvd and offers a variety of upscale American food.  For some reason, several restaurants in Fort Lauderdale such as Big City Tavern did not have printed children’s menus, but when you asked the wait staff they quickly offered children’s items like pasta, chicken fingers and grilled cheese.  We sat in a large family-friendly booth but they also had tables available outside overlooking Las Olas Blvd.

Big City Tavern--a family friendly restaurant on Las Olas Blvd in Ft. Lauderdale
Big City Tavern was a great family choice on Las Olas Boulevard.

Coconuts
Coconuts is located on the Intracoastal Waterway less than a mile from the Hilton where we stayed. It has a variety of seafood dishes with an amazing view of the marina, yachts and sunsets. They don’t accept reservations so I would suggest arriving by 5:30 so you don’t have to wait too long with kids. If you do have a short wait, it’s a great place for kids, though, as you can walk along the deck and look at boats until a table is ready. They welcome kids and pets, too!

Coconuts Restaurant was a great family choice on the Intracoastal waterway in Fort Lauderdale
Coconuts Restaurant on the Intracoastal Waterway has great seafood and views.

Casablanca Cafe
Casablanca Cafe is only a few blocks from the Hilton and was recommended by our concierge as one of the best in the area. We went for lunch and enjoyed salads and fish tacos while sitting on the second floor balcony with a view of the ocean. The menu and environment are a little more sophisticated so this would be an excellent choice for families with older kids, or to try for lunch when the atmosphere is more casual.

Besides these local restaurants, there are other kid-friendly choices nearby including Cheesecake Factory on Las Olas Blvd.  But if you want to try something different, we thought these were some of the best restaurants for kids in the Fort Lauderdale area!

Know Before You Go

  • Fort Lauderdale is known as “The Venice of America” as well as “The Yachting Capital of the World.”
  • Fort Lauderdale boasts more than 4,000 restaurants making it a haven for foodies.
  • Visit between June and August to enjoy the warm summer weather.

Visiting the Fort Worth Stockyards With Kids

Have you ever seen a real cattle drive?  Of Longhorns?  Through the streets of the fourth largest metroplex in the United States?  Let me tell you, it’s worth seeing in Fort Worth with kids.  Every day (weather permitting) there are two cattle drives in downtown Fort Worth, Texas.  These 15  longhorns each represent a decade in Fort Worth’s history.

The Fort Worth Stockyards is a destination worthy of a trip of its own.  An important historical cornerstone, Fort Worth — often called Cowtown — is known for cowboys and the animals they transported to market.  The Stockyards today still contain the rodeo arena where one of the premier stock shows and rodeos in the state is held each spring, but there is another world to be discovered as well!

In addition to streets of specialty shops with world class shopping opportunities, there are restaurants that specialize in the famous local barbeque (you have to try the ribs) as well as steakhouses (don’t leave without getting a T-bone).  There is a cattle pen maze that’s fun for tweens, a petting zoo that’s great for the younger ones, and the famous Billy Bob’s which is a parent paradise.  You’ll also find the Stockyards Museum, the Cowboy Hall of Fame, and the Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame — and that’s just getting started!

There is a Visitor’s Center right in the middle of the Stockyards.  The representatives are friendly, helpful, and very knowledgeable.  They can help you customize your visit to find attractions and restaurants that fit your family’s needs.  The last time we visited, everyone (adults included) received sheriff stars to wear.  There are clean restrooms available, which is always a plus when traveling with children. The building is also heated and cooled — a beautiful haven in frigid January or sweltering July.

One of the favorite activities on our last trip was the opportunity to climb atop a huge longhorn for pictures.  Both of the girls insisted and it was a lot of fun.  There was a nominal fee and we were allowed to take as many pictures as we wanted.

Riding a Longhorn at Fort Worth Stockyards.
Riding a Longhorn at Fort Worth Stockyards.

You will absolutely wear yourself out with all of the fun at the Stockyards and you won’t have time to see it all.  Relax a few miles away at Hilton Fort Worth.  Steeped in history, it is elegant but family friendly.  The rooms are spacious, the dining excellent, and the hotel is convenient to many key locations throughout the metroplex.

Ride off into the sunset in Fort Worth, Texas as you create fun memories in the Old West!

More Inspiration:

Favorite Things to Do in New Orleans With Kids

Jackson Square in New Orleans

When people think of New Orleans, they may think of Mardi Gras madness before a family vacation comes to mind. On our recent, way-too-quick visit to this city, though, we found that there we were too short on time to even scrape the surface of all this city has to offer families with small children through teenagers. We selected a few of our favorite things to do in New Orleans with kids and decided to plan a return trip soon to check out more.

Audubon Aquarium of the Americas

Kids Play Area at Audubon Aquarium of the Americas
The kids play area is a great place for little explorers to become sea creatures as they climb on a giant clam or turtle.

Within a leisurely five-minute stroll from Hilton New Orleans Riverside, the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas offers three floors of underwater greatness. From touching sting rays to feeding parakeets to seeing penguins have breakfast, the exhibits are first-rate. With a nod to their Gulf of Mexico home, the Gulf exhibit transports you into the depths near an underwater oil rig to see the fantastic fish that inhabit the area. The Audubon Nature Institute also has a Zoo, Insectarium, and IMAX theatre which area all on our “next-trip” list.

Feeding the Birds at Audubon Aquarium of the Americas
What a surprise! One of our favorite activities at the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas was feeding birds.

Café du Monde
No trip to New Orleans is complete without a trip to Café du Monde for an order of their scrumptious beignets. These French “donuts” are coated in powdered sugar. Coffee drinkers are required to have theirs with a cup of Chicory or Café Au Lait, but those of us who don’t care for coffee can ask for a Coke for a complete sugar high. Enjoy the open air seating while looking out on the French Quarter. Keep your eyes open for celebrities, too. Shane from The Walking Dead was enjoying his New Orleans morning two tables away from us and graciously greeting fans.

Beignets at Cafe du Monde
There’s nothing like your first bite of beignets at Café du Monde in New Orleans…except for the second and third bites!

French Quarter
Shops, restaurants, and entertainment are the hallmarks of the French Quarter, but just walking down the street and being in this iconic part of New Orleans is an activity. Admittedly, I recommend visiting earlier in the day to avoid some of the nightlife that this area is famous for, but it should definitely be on the to-do list. Local artists display their wares, foliage hangs from the balconies, street performers show their skills, and smells of fresh-made candy and Cajun creations waft out from open doors. Consider a horse and buggy tour of the French Quarter for a unique way to learn and see a little more. When the kids need a grassy area to run off steam, venture into Jackson Square. While the kids play, the adults can people watch which is entertainment by itself.

New Orleans offers many more great things to do with kids which we are hoping to explore on our next trip including a riverboat tour, the Audubon Zoo, IMAX theatre, Insectarium, Louisiana Children’s Museum, plantation homes, and Blain Kern’s Mardi Gras World. The culture, history, and entertainment in the Big Easy make it a great destination for families.

My family was thrilled with our choice of Hilton New Orleans Riverside for our accommodations in the Big Easy due to its great location, hospitable staff, and welcoming, relaxed Executive Lounge.

More Inspiration:

Know Before You Go

  • New Orleans is known as “The Big Easy.”
  • The National WWII Museum is one of the top-rated museums in the country. Don’t miss checking it out!
  • The famous Café Du Monde is open 24 hours a day to get your beignet fix.
  • If you plan to go during Mardi Gras, pack comfortable shoes that you don’t mind getting dirty.

Our Favorite Family Hotel in New Orleans: Hilton New Orleans Riverside

Hilton New Orleans Riverside Atrium

My family had a way-too-brief visit to New Orleans over spring break and decided two things. (1) We needed to head back to the Big Easy soon for a longer visit, and (2) we would definitely return to Hilton New Orleans Riverside, our favorite family hotel in New Orleans. The two stand out features of this hotel were its great location and true southern hospitality.

Hilton New Orleans Riverside Lobby Statue
Hilton New Orleans Riverside lobby statue is quintessential New Orleans.

Location
Every family knows the importance of staying in a hotel near the sites you want to explore. Hilton New Orleans Riverside was within walking distance to everything on our to-do list. We were able to walk to the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas in less than five minutes. We could have strolled to the French Quarter, Jackson Square, and Cafe du Monde, but the allure of riding a New Orleans streetcar was too strong. The streetcar station is directly in front of the hotel and offers an all-day pass for $3. Since the hotel is in the heart of so many New Orleans attractions, we found that getting from one place to the next was a walk through the culture of this great city.

Helpful Hilton New Orleans Riverside Employee
Getting on the escalator can be scary, but a gracious Hilton Team Member saves the day!

Hospitality
The staff at Hilton New Orleans Riverside was amazingly friendly and helpful. The valet, check-in, and bell services staff all greeted us with warm, welcoming smiles and helped us get to our rooms quickly, which was so appreciated since we arrived late with little ones. The friendly staff even helped when my younger son decided he was too scared to follow me on the escalator after I had already stepped on. A man from bell services took my son’s hand and helped him down. I was so appreciative as was my little boy!

The staff also provided information on city attractions that would be appropriate for a family with small children and even secured some tickets for us. My older son enjoyed everything so much that he wrote them a “Thanks for the stay” note!

Hilton New Orleans Riverside - Thank You for the Stay
My older son wrote this note that he insisted on delivering to the staff before we left.

And the Executive Lounge has to be mentioned, too!
One of the biggest draws of Hilton New Orleans Riverside for me is the Executive Lounge. It is one of the nicest I’ve visited, with floor-to-ceiling windows offering panoramic views of the city on one side and the river on the other. The cozy sitting areas – from tables to rocking chairs – are inviting and relaxing. The lounge attendant has a vast array of maps and city information to offer guests as well. If you don’t have status to access the lounge, consider booking a room on the Executive Floor to enjoy this gem.

New Orleans may have a reputation for Bourbon Street and Mardi Gras madness, but it’s actually a fantastic place to take your family, too. Be certain to check out my review of a few family friendly New Orleans activities, and then get your room booked at Hilton New Orleans Riverside. I’m working on my family’s return trip this fall, so maybe we’ll see you there!

More Inspiration:

Know Before You Go

  • New Orleans is known as “The Big Easy.”
  • The National WWII Museum is one of the top-rated museums in the country. Don’t miss checking it out!
  • The famous Café Du Monde is open 24 hours a day to get your beignet fix.
  • If you plan to go during Mardi Gras, pack comfortable shoes that you don’t mind getting dirty.

Cool Things to Do Near Atlanta

stone mountain georgia atlanta

We visited Atlanta and the nearby areas during our Spring Break one year. Once you’ve explored the city, you may be looking for more fun things to do near Atlanta. Here are some of our favorite places to visit that are within about an hour of the city center.

Stone Mountain
When we went to Stone Mountain with our kids, I was so impressed by how much it had changed and how many fun activities they had added.  The park is about 30 minutes east of Atlanta and is easily accessible by car.

Of course the must-see attraction at Stone Mountain is the Confederate Memorial Carving , which is the largest high relief sculpture in the world, depicting three Confederate heroes of the Civil War, President Jefferson Davis and Generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson. Our favorite way to view the sculpture is to take the Summit Skyride to the top, explore the mountain, and then walk down (if there is time).

Another favorite activity was the SkyHike, which features three different levels of high ropes courses. It was so exhilarating to complete the first level of course myself and even more exciting to see my 7 year old son achieve success on the first two levels with little fear.

SkyHike high ropes course at Stone Mountain near Atlanta
SkyHike at Stone Mountain is a great way to help kids build confidence in their abilities.

My boys also enjoyed The Great Barn, an indoor play area where kids can run, climb and perfect their aim shooting foam balls at targets (including parents). It’s a great place to head if the weather outside turns too hot, too cold or rainy in Atlanta.

To plan your adventure to Stone Mountain, visit http://www.stonemountainpark.com/.

Six Flags Over Georgia
My kids were younger during our last trip to Six Flags Over Georgia so our visit was mostly about meeting characters, seeing shows and riding kiddie rides, and we had a great time. Now, my older son would enjoy the larger, thrill rides, based on characters like Batman and Superman. We have similar rides at our local Six Flags which are scary-fun!

I definitely recommend a trip to Six Flags Over Georgia. It’s about 20 minutes west of Atlanta and you can often find discounts online or on Coca-Cola cans. Visit their website to figure out how you would most enjoy the park at http://www.sixflags.com/overGeorgia/index.aspx.

Six Flags Over Georgia near Atlanta
Meeting the Warner Bros. characters at Six Flags Over Georgia is fun for kids of all ages.

Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site
The Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site is in Atlanta, about 2 miles from the city center. The famous reverend’s birthplace is the basis for this national historical site. The highlight is a guided tour of his grandparent’s home where Martin Luther King lived and was raised for 12 years. Guided tours are free and are filled on a first-come, first-served basis with no advanced reservations available.

So, the first thing you should do when you get to the historic site is to go to the Freedom Hall Complex to sign up for the next available tour. There is much to do at this famous location so explore the different buildings and exhibits.  Make sure to include some time to pay your respects to Dr. King at his final resting place on the premises.

Get more information at http://www.nps.gov/malu/index.htm.

Where to Stay
When you’re exploring things to do near Atlanta, Hilton Atlanta provides a convenient location from which to explore.  Hilton Atlanta Airport is also conveniently located for trips to Six Flags, Stone Mountain, and of course, the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL).

More Inspiration:

Ellen B works for the Hilton Hotels & Resorts brand marketing team. She has two thrill-seeking sons, ages 8 and 10, who love sports, roller coasters, and all kinds of animals.

Know Before You Go

Fun Things to Do in Atlanta with Kids

The city of Atlanta offers some amazing, fun and educational things to do with your kids. We spent a few days in Atlanta on Spring Break when my boys were ages 5 and 7, and these were our favorite activities.

CNN Studio Tour
Perhaps news making is a little bit more interesting for parents than children, but even my young kids took away some interesting experiences from the hour-long CNN Studio Tour. Start with a ride on the world’s longest escalator to the working studios of CNN. Then, from behind the glass, you’ll look into a live newsroom, complete with anchors, reporters, camera people…the works! At the end of the tour, future television stars will certainly appreciate the ability to sit behind an anchor desk and take their turn at reporting the news. It makes for a fun experience and a great photo opp!

For more information on the CNN Studio Tour and other options, visit http://www.cnn.com/tour/.

Centennial Park
On your way from CNN Center to the Aquarium and World of Coca-Cola, walk through Centennial Park. Developed for the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games, it is simply a beautiful place to enjoy. The centerpiece is the Fountain of Rings, the world’s largest interactive fountain, which features a fun show four times a day in which the fountain dances to music.

Georgia Aquarium
Have you ever seen a white alligator? Did you even know that one existed?  See this and many other cool creatures at the Georgia Aquarium! Pretend you’re an underwater diver as you view whale sharks and manta rays overhead through a large acrylic tunnel.  See penguins, beluga whales, a giant octopus, and other cold water creatures from the Arctic. Watch colorful fish like Nemo and friends swim in their natural habitat around a coral reef. Kids will especially love getting their hands wet and carefully exploring the animals in two different touch pools full of horseshoe crabs, sea stars, stingrays and shrimp.

There are also two shows at the Georgia Aquarium. If you need to rest your feet, check out “Deepo’s Undersea 3D Wondershow,” an educational cartoon which runs continuously throughout the day. And the one you won’t want to miss is “Dolphin Tales.” As part of an entirely new area featuring these beautiful animals, Dolphin Tales includes an underwater viewing area and a live-action show with jumping dolphins, talented actors, and exciting light effects. To ensure you will get to experience the show, make a reservation for Dolphin Tales as soon as you can.

Learn more about the fun things to do at the world’s largest aquarium at http://www.georgiaaquarium.org/.

Georgia Aquarium Atlanta
There are so many species of fish and underwater animals to see at the Georgia Aquarium.

World of Coca-Cola
While most of us try to keep soda out of the hands of our kids, it still seems that the Coca-Cola brand is ubiquitous, and this marketing machine is something that every grownup can respect. There is much to be learned at the World of Coca-Cola from classic advertising to bottling operations. See artifacts and memorabilia from Coca-Cola throughout history. Maybe you’ll have the opportunity to steal the “secret formula” – well, at least you can see the vault where it’s kept. See the sweet soda get packaged up right before your eyes, and you’ll even get to take a bottle home with you. Lastly, one of the favorite things for kids to do in Atlanta is sample the company’s wide variety of sodas. In the Tasting Room, Coca-Cola offers over 60 different flavors from around the world. Get your sugar high on and try every one of them, if you dare!

Find out more and take a tour of the World of Coca-Cola at http://www.worldofcoca-cola.com/.

Where to Stay in Atlanta
If you need a place to stay, Hilton Atlanta is within walking distance of all of these fun things to do in Atlanta, located less than three-quarters of a mile from Centennial Park, which is at the heart of it all.

More Inspiration:

Ellen B works for the Hilton Hotels & Resorts brand marketing team. She has two thrill-seeking sons, ages 8 and 10, who love sports, roller coasters, and all kinds of animals.

Know Before You Go

Best Activities for Kids in Fort Lauderdale

Beach at Hilton Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort

We have found the most memorable family vacations include lots of fun activities for the kids, and we really enjoyed some unique experiences during our recent family trip to Fort Lauderdale. Here are our choices for the best activities for kids in Fort Lauderdale.

The Beach and Beach Parks
If you’re going to Fort Lauderdale, bring the beach buckets and enjoy some time in the sand! The sun is strong so I recommend wearing plenty of sunblock and also bringing a sweatshirt as we found it was often windy. We stayed at Hilton Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort where we had access to a great beach and chairs and umbrellas. About a mile from the Hilton is a children’s playground on the beach where my 6-year old played happily on the slides and swings while my 9-year old jumped into a basketball game on the nearby basketball courts.

Museum of Discovery and Science
The Museum of Discovery and Science is one of the best science museums we have ever visited! There are two large floors of interactive exhibits teaching nutrition, problem solving, mathematics and science in fun and entertaining ways. If you need a break or have younger kids, on the first floor is a hands-on play area for kids under seven years old with water and climbing activities. We also watched our first IMAX movie here on a screen that was five stories high. We stayed for several hours and stopped for lunch at the Subway which is adjacent to the museum. There is no other restaurant in the museum, and you will want to stay for a while so plan to eat there or you can bring a bag lunch and eat outside.

The Museum of Discovery and Science, which is one of the best kids activities in Fort Lauderdale.
The Museum of Discovery and Science offers plenty of interactive fun, making it one of the best kids activities in Fort Lauderdale.

Funky Fish Kids Camp
In my research for our trip, I came upon information on the Funky Fish Kids Camp, which has received recognition from The Today Show and Travel + Leisure magazine. It is located in Bahia Mar which is about a mile from the Hilton where we stayed. You can sign up by the day and the energetic counselors lead the kids in snorkeling, boogie boarding, games and making tie-dye shirts. The camp runs from 10 until 3 and costs $59 per day per child. We thought it provided a great chance for the kids to play with other kids while we enjoyed a long walk and kid-free lunch.

Carrie B Cruise
There are many cruises offered along the canals of Fort Lauderdale and we followed our Hilton concierge’s recommendation and cruised on the Carrie B. We liked this cruise because it was only 1 1/2 hours long versus other trips that took three or four hours. We had seats on top of the boat and had perfect views of Millionaire Row with amazing houses including the house featured in the TV show Miami Vice. We boarded the cruise close to Las Olas Blvd, and it provided a great outing to go out on the boat on an 11:00 departure and then have lunch and walk around Las Olas afterwards.

Riding on the Carrie B in Fort Lauderdale
Riding on the Carrie B in Fort Lauderdale with the “Miami Vice” house in the background.

We found these to be the best activities for kids in Fort Lauderdale but please comment and let me know if you have any other suggestions for future trips!

Know Before You Go

  • Fort Lauderdale is known as “The Venice of America” as well as “The Yachting Capital of the World.”
  • Fort Lauderdale boasts more than 4,000 restaurants making it a haven for foodies.
  • Visit between June and August to enjoy the warm summer weather.

Best Ways to Earn and Redeem Hilton Honors Points

We received a question from a reader, Melissa. She writes,

“We are going on a family Stadium Tour with our goal of hitting all 30 stadiums in the country over the next several years…I have two young boys, 5 & 9 and would like to be able to take advantage of our Hilton points whenever possible, any tips on hotel stays our using points for certificates to eat or anything would be wonderful.  Thanks!”

All of our Hilton Mom Voyage parents are Hilton Honors members, and two of them wanted to offer their suggestions for how to maximize the earning and spending of your points. Tricia likes using her Hilton Honors card from American Express; while Heather is not generally a credit card user.  Both of them earn enough points to take wonderful vacations and both recommend using the “Points & Money” redemption option. See their detailed thoughts below.

Tricia P Says:

Credit Cards Help You Earn Trips!
Traveling can be expensive. I save money by using reward points.  I have been a Hilton Honors member for years and it pays off.  I earn points through hotel stays, but I earn the majority of my points through use of my Hilton Honors American Express card.  I earn Hilton Honors points for everyday purchases.  My groceries help me get to the beach!

When Redeeming Points, Hotel Nights Are the Best Value
Hilton Honors points can be used for many things such as hotel stays, dining, flights, shopping or specialty experiences.  I find that I get the most value for my points by using them for hotel stays.  When I am searching for a Hilton hotel, I enter my destination and compare the point values.   Hilton hotels have different point values, so you can choose what you wish to spend.

More Tips to Help You Get More for Fewer Points
Points & Money Rewards are a great option.  If you do not have enough points for your stay you can often book a room with a combination of points and money.  You can also search by flexible dates.  Just moving your vacation dates by a few days can save you points.  Another tip is to keep checking back.  Point specials are sometimes offered or the reward value may change.

Heather C Says:

Maximize the Points You Earn with “Points and Points”
Hilton Honors points are really very versatile.  You can attain them in a variety of ways.  When you sign up, you can modify your preferences.  You can also change your preferences at any time, depending on the needs of your family.

I have my account set to “Points and Points.”  This option allows us to earn our base points on each room booked plus bonus points added to our account. Bonus points depend on the hotel brand you choose and your rewards tier.  Another option is “Points and Miles” which offers the base points for each room booked plus airline miles on a list of national and international brands. I choose “Points and Points” because we usually take road trips on our weekend getaways and family vacations.

Choose “Bonus Points” as Your Benefit
Six of the Hilton hotel brands allow Gold members and above to choose the rewards and benefits you receive during your stay.  I always choose “bonus points” as my benefit.  Other choices vary by brand and include bottles of water, snacks, fruit, in-room movies, and hot breakfasts.

Ways to Earn Hilton Hilton Honors Points
The most obvious way to earn Hilton Honors points is by staying at a Hilton brand hotel.  This is how most of our points are earned.  There are nine Hilton hotel brands, and we’ve stayed at seven of the nine brands.  Each of them will earn you Hilton Honors points and bonus points (if you choose that benefit).

You can also earn Hilton Honors points by booking conference rooms or meeting spaces.  This is a valuable benefit if you have that opportunity or responsibility for your job.

As with other rewards systems, you can apply for different Hilton Honors credit cards that offer rewards.  While a quick way to add points, it is not necessary to earn valuable rewards.  As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, we don’t use credit cards.  We are able to amass ample points based on our stays and bonus points alone.

Finally, sign up to receive Hilton emails. (You will first be prompted to login to your Hilton Honors account.)  Each quarter you have the opportunity to sign up for a specific reward.  There is no obligation and it is free.  I always sign up, even if I don’t anticipate any travel in the upcoming months.  Rewards range from bonus points (a few thousand points per stay) to a fifth night free at a resort destination. You can also find special offers for Hilton Honors members online.

Best Ways to Redeem Your Hilton Honors Points
While earning the points is fun, spending them is a family highlight!  Obviously, you can earn free nights at any Hilton hotel brand.  The amount of points for a room depends on the hotel location and the date of stay.  While we’ve done that a few times, it is not our preferred redemption plan.

When signed into your Hilton Honors account, you will see pricing options, such as “$189 or 30,000 Hilton Honors points”.  However, many Hilton properties offer a “Points & Money” price, such as “$50 + 12,000 Hilton Honors points.”  These are one of our favorite ways to spend points.  For the price of less than one room, we can book two adjoining rooms, which makes parents and kids VERY happy.

Different hotels also offer local upgrade packages that can be added with Hilton Honors points.  Some properties can upgrade your room to include dinner (especially nice if their restaurant is a local hotspot) or spa packages (for that romantic getaway).  Finally, you can use points to upgrade your room to a specific level or even to a suite.

With so many options to earn and redeem Hilton Honors points, planning your travel can truly be the least stressful part of your vacation!

There are many ways to save money when traveling.  I know it is tempting to skimp on hotel stays to save money.  A hotel is a big part of your vacation experience.  An unpleasant stay can ruin the entire vacation.  Using Hilton Honors points is my way of knowing I will stay in great accommodations and receive benefits without having to exhaust my precious vacation fund.

Have a question for the Hilton Mom Voyage team? Ask us here, and we’ll respond with an email or may even create a new article like this one!

Visiting Baltimore With Kids

My last trip to Baltimore was in the company of 24 10-year-old girls. No, I’m not kidding. In my spare time, I’m the girl scout leader to 24 amazing girls and we chose to go to Baltimore to see the National Aquarium as our reward for our cookie sales. So I really can say this article is about visiting Baltimore with kids!

I always look forward to visiting Baltimore. Baltimore was my home for several years and I like to visit old haunts as well as see the many new places that have been built since I lived there. There has been a tremendous amount of growth in Baltimore over the past 30 years or so, and a family could easily spend a week there seeing all the sites that the city has to offer. My family’s particular favorites are the National Aquarium and the American Visionary Art Museum.

National Aquarium
The National Aquarium is located on the northeast side of the Inner Harbor and is a great place to spend a day with the kids. Tickets can be purchased on line, with various discounts offered, or look for dollar days when for two days in December every year, entrance to the aquarium is only $1!

The features that most impress my kids are the ones that feel immersive, like the Australia exhibit which features native animals in a walk through experience, as well as the tropical rain forest.

The dolphin show is also very impressive with the trainers taking the time to explain all aspects of taking care of dolphins at the aquarium, from the education needed to be a trainer to how to tell the different dolphins apart. It’s a misnomer to even call this a dolphin show; I love how they focus on the scientific aspects of caring for dolphins at the aquarium. Even with 24 children, I could see that all were engaged with the many activities and exhibits at the aquarium.

Dolphin jump at the National Aquarium in Baltimore
Kids will love the dolphin show at the National Aquarium!

American Visionary Art Musuem
The American Visionary Art Museum (AVAM) is located on the south side of the Inner Harbor. If you’ve never taken your kids to an art museum, this is the place to start. The art will catch their eye, make them laugh, and keep them fascinated. Just pulling up to the museum is exciting with the artwork on display outside, including the brilliant Gallery-A-Go-Go Bus by artist Nancy Josephson.

My kids ran excitedly from gallery to gallery inside, frequently backtracking to see a particular piece a second time. And while almost every museum has a gift store and restaurant, which I would usually recommend avoiding, I highly recommend making time to visit both at AVAM. Both are unique to the museum and should not be missed.

Hilton Baltimore is a fantastic place to stay when visiting Baltimore with kids; it’s located right next to Camden Yards, home to the Baltimore Orioles, and an easy walk to the Inner Harbor.

Know Before You Go

A Day In Florence With Kids

Good wine, delicious food, out of this world museums  and stunning architecture can all be used to describe Florence Italy. But what about good for family travel and kids?  Planning a day trip to Florence for my family after having lived there for a year (many moons ago), took a bit of creative thinking. What could we do in Florence that would captivate the adults as well as my almost eight year old daughter? How do you take this artistic and history rich city and see it on one day?

Our answer was to explore the city on foot, with no museums, and with great food.

A No-Museum One Day Itinerary for Florence with Kids
One day in Florence is not a long time, so we created an itinerary that would allow us to wander, enjoy, and take in the city.

San Lorenzo Market
Our day started at the San Lorenzo Market. This market is best seen in the morning, when the vendors still have full displays and assortments of fresh produce from the Tuscan countryside. There are booths filled with more assortments of cheese than you ever knew existed, butchers, and fish sellers. Children will love tasting, and foodie oriented adults will be on cloud nine with the smells that abound.

Florence with Kids- Hilton Mom Voyage
Enjoying the abundance of fruits at the San Lorenzo market.

Giotto’s Bell Tower/Campanile
From San Lorenzo we made our way through the crowded outdoor market that is known for leather goods and towards the Duomo or main basilica in Florence. Especially in the summer months, lines in Florence, like many other European countries, are packed with tourists. On a hot summer day, the last thing you want to do is stand in a long line with kids in tow.

So instead of going inside the Basilica (which is stunning), we opted to see Florence from the sky by climbing the narrow steps of Giotto’s bell tower, also known as a campanile.  Children are actually the best suited family members to make the climb up the 414 steps as it curves going higher and higher.  The steep and narrow climb is worth it once you reach the top as the entire city unfolds before you.

Lunch in Santa Croce
Exploring the city a bit on foot took us toward the Santa Croce neighborhood to eat lunch at Osteria Dei Pazzi.  There are many great restaurants in Florence, but this one, owned by a former teacher of mine from my days as a student, will always rank highest for the ambiance and the quality of every homemade bite that you will eat.

Osteria dei Pazzi (Via dei Lavatoi, 1, 50122 Florence, +39 055 2344880) is centrally located near the Teatro Verdi and the Church of Santa Croce. Paolo Paroli, the face behind the Osteria is known to sing and whistles as you eat, and you will feel like there is an Italian nonna (or grandmother) doing the cooking.  Our favorites during this lunch were a delicious jam, tagliatella ai funghi and the ravioli stuffed with ricotta agrumi that made our mouths water.

Piazza Della Repubblica
After a long lunch, we headed towards the Piazza delle Repubblica (one of the largest squares in Florence) for a special kid-friendly treat.  During the summer months there is a merry go round that children will enjoy riding as a break from walking and exploring.

Florence Italy: Merry Go Round in Pzza della Repubblica - Hilton Mom Voyage
Carefree fun on the merry go round in Plazza della Repubblica.

Ponte Vecchio and Palazzo Pitti
To end the day, we crossed the Arno River going over the Ponte Vecchio, heading towards the Palazzo Pitti.  The Palazzo has an extensive art collection and often houses special exhibits, but is also home to the beautifully manicured Boboli Gardens (Giardini di Boboli). The Pitti Palace was the home of the Medici family during the 16th century, and the gardens were considered lavish for their time. Children will appreciate the ability to run amidst the beauty, and adults will excite in the variety of sculptures, greenery, and vistas of the city.

Of course, stopping for gelato, at any point during the day (or multiple times depending on your appetite) will give every member of the family something to smile about.

If you’re looking for a place to stay, Hilton Florence Metropole offers a complimentary 20 minute shuttle to all of Florence’s famous attractions.

Know Before You Go

Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek – The Perfect Family-Friendly Resort

Floating down the lazy river at Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek.

Put down your suitcases and put on your smile.
If you are looking for a truly phenomenal, fairly-priced, family-friendly resort in Orlando, look no further because this is it! Conveniently located minutes from the Disney theme parks, yet tucked into a beautifully serene 482-acre nature preserve, Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek lets its guests in on a special kind of magic that doesn’t require you to eat, sleep and breathe all things mouse-like.

Strategically placed adjacent to the Waldorf Astoria Orlando, this property not only boasts a fabulous location but also all of the spectacular amenities that come along with two magnificent resorts…Now that’s what I call the BIG cheese!

Out for a family Surry bike ride... Tons of fun!
Out for a family Surry bike ride… Tons of fun!

The Fun
Well, let’s start with the three-acre Florida-style lagoon pool deck that comes complete with a tall, twisty water slide, a zero-entry family pool (in addition to a few others) and an impressive, constantly circulating lazy river where they encourage the use of fun, floaty devices.

I know I could stop right there, travel planners, but wait because there’s more… Just some of the amazing features of this resort include:

  • Complimentary Surrey bikes and regular bikes
  • Counselor-led recreational activities for the kids
  • An arcade
  • Gift shop for Disney gifts, sundries and theme park tickets
  • State-of-the-art fitness room and outdoor yoga classes on weekends
  • Kids club with fun daytime and nighttime programs,in case you’d like some free time or an intimate dinner sans kids
  • Championship golf course
  • Luxurious full-service spa
  • Twelve restaurants/bars and, of course, room service
  • Outdoor fire-pits where you’re invited to relax and even make s’mores

All in a beautiful nature setting complete with little brown bunnies and lovely flying creatures. They even transport you and your clan to and from all of the Walt Disney World theme parks and Downtown Disney should you actually want to leave. Yes, this is a family-resort paradise that just screams (or actually, calmly calls out) V-A-C-A-T-I-O-N.

Even s'more fun at Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek!
Even s’more fun at Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek!

The Food
I know I already mentioned food in “The Fun” part but this food deserves its very own acknowledgment because I know that “theme-park-area eats” can sometimes conjure up images of feeding troughs with over-priced burger-pucks, chocolate covered ice cream bars, uber-salty popcorn and you-dip pretend cheese nachos.

Rest assured, folks, that is NOT the case here.  Let’s start with the amazing coffee bar that serves up everything from delicious, fresh pastries (including the King doughnut, a HUGE hit with the kids) to sandwiches and hand-dipped ice cream. Then there’s also a living-room style bar and lounge, where you can grab a local micro-brewed beer while you rub elbows with the family, and a sushi bar. For the kids, you’ll find an amazing pool-side restaurant/bar with terrific Baja Fish Tacos and yummy frozen drinks, as well as a classic bistro where kids eat free for breakfast and dinner. Finally, save room for the resort-casual, modern yet gourmet, award-winning Italian restaurant called La Luse, where I experienced my favorite appetizer to date, the Olive Fritte.

Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek restaurants are a dining mecca that will form a love affair guaranteed to charm your taste buds long after you’ve checked out. And, I didn’t even mention the restaurants that are located within the adjacent Waldorf Astoria!

Enjoying a delicious family dinner at La Luce by Donna Scala.
Enjoying a delicious family dinner at La Luce by Donna Scala.

The Frills
Well, it’s all frills really. I mean who can resist a place with exceptional staff, spacious rooms and great food where the kids get to slide, swim, float, ride bikes and do fun activities while parents get the choice to join in or just relax at the pool, on the golf course or in the spa?  No parent I know, which is why you should keep this gem on the forefront when considering a trip to O-town.

You may initially come for the Mouse but I bet you’ll come back for Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek!

Enjoying a pre-massage steam bath in the luxurious spa... Delightful!
Enjoying a pre-massage steam bath in the luxurious spa… Delightful!

Know Before You Go

  • If you’re visiting the Walt Disney World® Resort, be sure to pack adequate walking shoes. The resort is close in size to San Francisco!
  • At Universal Orlando™, the general parking is $25.
  • International Drive is known as the tourist center of the city – you’ll be close to trendy restaurants, bars, and sightseeing activities.