11 Secrets to Surviving Bristol Renaissance Faire

From human-powered rides to playing in the mud to surprisingly good food, the Bristol Renaissance Faire in Kenosha, Wisconsin is the place to go if you want to party like it’s 1599. Here are the 11 things you need to know (including how to save money on tickets) before heading to the Bristol Renaissance Faire, which sets up every summer near Kenosha, Wisconsin.

Jousting at Bristol Renaissance Faire.
It wouldn’t be a renaissance faire without a little jousting! Photo credit: Cindy Richards/ Empty Nest TravelingMom

Bristol Renaissance Faire Fun

The fun at the Bristol Renaissance Faire near Kenosha, Wisconsin, is just smutty enough for teens to label it “inappropriate for parents.” At least my kids said that the first time we took them. That means, of course, that they were uncomfortable sitting next to Mom and Dad while giggling at the performers who dish out silly double entendres. That kind of bawdy humor is the mainstay of much of the entertainment at this annual summer festival where guests are invited to “party like it’s 1599.”

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But if you don’t mind a little sexual humor amid period-costumed workers and faire visitors, then there’s plenty to enjoy at the Bristol Renaissance Faire.

Here are 11 things to know about the Bristol Renaissance Faire (just north of the Illinois state line in Wisconsin).

Food lines at Bristol Renaissance Faire.
Bring cash–the food vendors don’t take credit cards. Photo credit: Cindy Richards/ Empty Nest TravelingMom

1.    Bring Cash.

The Bristol Renaissance Fair does not take credit cards. At least the food vendors we patronized didn’t. And the performers work for tips, so bring plenty of singles and $5 bills.

Bosoms at Bristol Renaissance Faire.
Be on the lookout for bosoms. Photo credit: Cindy Richards/ Empty Nest TravelingMom

2.    Be on the Lookout for Bosoms. 

Lots of bosoms. Enough to make a 12-year-old boy drool. Chances are you will happen upon a young wench with her tip jar strategically nestled among her ample… Well, you likely get the picture. And if you don’t, just ask the nearest 12-year-old boy.

Mud Show at Bristol Renaissance Faire.
The Mud Show should be your first stop. Photo credit: Cindy Richards/ Empty Nest TravelingMom

3.    Don’t Miss the Mud Show.

Officially called The Sturdy Beggars Mud Show, this ongoing show is silly and smutty and fun. When I posted on Facebook that I was headed to the Faire and asked my friends what I shouldn’t miss, this was the most-often-mentioned feature.

Getting kissed at the Mud Show at Bristol Renaissance Faire.
The writer was the (un)lucky one to get kissed at the Mud Show.

With good reason. The “beggars” keep up a steady banter of off-color jokes interspersed with a little time spent wallowing in the mud. There’s plenty of audience participation and the coupe de grace: One lucky man and one lucky woman who are chosen to get a kissed from one very muddy beggar. Take it from me, don’t sit at the end of a row. I learned that the hard way. (See the photo above if you don’t want to just take my word for it.)

Bristol Renaissance Faire schedule.
There’s so much to do at Bristol Renaissance Faire that you’ll need a plan to see it. Photo credit: Cindy Richards/ Empty Nest TravelingMom

4.    Enjoy the Entertainment.

The faire schedule reads like a day planner on a cruise ship–there are 20 different performance venues, ranging from the Kids’ Kingdom Stage to the Joust Arena. We only found about half of those during our six-hour visit. Every show was worth at least a few minutes’ time spent watching.

But the Barely Balanced trio of comedian acrobats is not to be missed. This talented crew tells jokes, juggles, and entertains while climbing atop one another, twisting themselves into impossible shapes and holding some Gold Medal-worthy gymnastics poses.

If you plan to watch the jousting tournament, arrive early if you want a seat in the small stands. We didn’t and ended up sitting the grass, where we ate a lot of dust stirred up by the charging horses.

Chain mail is appropriate period costume wear at Bristol Renaissance Faire.
Chain mail is appropriate period costume wear at Bristol Renaissance Faire.
Photo credit: Cindy Richards/ Empty Nest TravelingMom

5. Feel Free to Dress the Part.

Dressing up is a feature of this faire. It is encouraged by weekend-specific themes and costume contests as well as the free loan of skimpy chain mail costumes to visitors. All you need to do is hand over an ID and talk up the chain mail shop as you wander around the faire grounds. (See note about bosoms, which is only enhanced by well-endowed visitors.)

Read More: Why Does Dressing Up for a Renaissance Faire Make It More Fun?

turkey leg at Bristol Renaissance Faire.
What’s a renaissance faire without a turkey leg for lunch? Photo credit: Cindy Richards/ Empty Nest TravelingMom

6.  Try the Tempura.

My friend (and former TravelingMom Food Editor) Jennifer Olvera suggested it on her blog and she was right. We really liked the tempura shrimp and veggies Jennifer recommended. The food at the faire overall is pretty darn good. The beef stew in bread bowl was tasty, but I couldn’t understand why hubby chose stew on a 90+ degree day. We saw lots of people eating the ren faire traditional food: huge BBQ turkey legs.

Bristol Renaissance Faire welcome sign.
Photo credit: Cindy Richards/ Empty Nest TravelingMom

7.  Take a Spin on the Human-Powered Rides.

The faire might call them thrill rides, but they’re more kitschy fun. The teens enjoyed hopping on a ride and having a couple of able-bodied, period-costumed workers push them around. Note that most of the rides require an additional per-person fee, generally about $3. There are some activities for younger kids that are free.

8. Print a Coupon for $4 Off.

The 2018 per-person admission fee at the door is $25.95 for adults, $24.95 for ceniors (62+) and miltary with an ID, $11.50 for kids ages 5-12. Before you go, download this coupon for $4 off. Or head to a local Chicago area Menard’s home center store to buy discount tickets. As an added benefit, having your tickets in hand means you can skip the long lines of people waiting to buy tickets at the entrance to the faire.

Bristol Renaissance Faire near Kenosha Wisconsin is one of the best in the USA. Read these tips before you go so you don't miss the best shows, rides, games and attractions!

9.    Bring a Water Bottle.

It gets hot and dusty at the faire and bottles of water are pricey. So bring your own bottle and fill it up at the water fountains located outside the “flushies.” Re: the dustiness, it also makes sense to wear comfortable closed-toe shoes such as sneakers to walk around the dirt and stone paths.

!9-year-old Evan thinks he's tough wielding that ax at the Bristol Renaissance Faire.
19-year-old Evan thinks he’s tough wielding that ax.

10. Test the Weapons.

This was the big draw for the males in our group–one teen and two guys 50+. This is another pay-to-play activity, but they thought it was well worth the money for the chance to throw axes, shoot arrows and toss Ninja-style metal throwing stars.

The queen's court at Bristol Renaissance Faire.
The queen’s court at Bristol Renaissance Faire. Photo credit: Cindy Richards/ Empty Nest TravelingMom

11. Don’t Expect a History Lesson.

My 17-year-old daughter, a history buff, was disappointed that the faire was more Disney than historically accurate.

Details: There are renaissance faires around the country, but the Bristol Renaissance Faire in Kenosha, Wisconsin, was voted the best renaissance fair in the country six years running. It’s open weekends only through Labor Day, rain or shine.

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11 Best Things to Do in Mobile Alabama

Mobile, Alabama, is one of those genteel southern cities with a storied past, a fabulous foodie scene and enough outdoor water activities to keep just about any family happy. A weekend visit is enough to sample the cuisine, get a peak at the history (did you know Mobile is where Mardi Gras started in the USA?) and spend plenty of time on the water.

Things to do in Mobile Alabama - visit Bellingrath Gardens
The fountain at Bellingrath Gardens. Photo credit: Cindy Richards / Empty Nest TravelingMom

Things to Do in Mobile Alabama

In the heady years leading up to the Civil War, this port city was known as the Paris of the South. That was in the 1800s, when Mobile was the 10th wealthiest city in the United States, thanks to the port and the cotton trade. Today, it is a city coming back from much less heady times. The downtown area is reviving, the foodie scene is bursting with flavor and there are lots of ways to enjoy the water, from Duck boat rides to kayaks. This is a town that still feels Southern—from the famous Southern hospitality to the racial divide. Even the Mobile Mardi Gras celebrations honor two sets of kings and queens—one black, the other white. Visiting an all-black jazz club in a mixed-race group of one black and three white women drew us some curious looks, but nothing more.

Here are the 11 best things to do in Mobile, Alabama, and three great places to eat.

Best Mobile Attractions

Things to do in Mobile Alabama - take a duck boat tour!
What’s more fun that a Duck boat land and water tour? Photo credit: Cindy Richards / Empty Nest TravelingMom

1. Splash into Mobile Bay

I am ridiculously enamored with Ducks. Not the quacking kind. The driving kind. What’s not to like about a vehicle that can go from road to water with barely a ripple?

Every Duck ride I’ve taken has included some really lame jokes. The Gulf Coast Ducks that ply the streets of Mobile and the waters of Mobile Bay are no different. The jokes are dumb, but the ride is still fun.

We got a short narrated tour around Mobile’s small downtown, then splashed into Mobile Bay for a tour of the city waterfront, its cruise dock and the USS Alabama. The tour is supposed to include two dips into the Bay. Unfortunately, a stopped train that blocked access to the bay meant we didn’t get our second dip. But that one dip was still fun.

Things to do in Mobile Alabama - see turtles at the 5 Rivers Delta Center.
Meet this cute little guy at the 5 Rivers Delta Center. Photo credit: Cindy Richards / Empty Nest TravelingMom

2. Learn about the Delta

We did this at the 5 Rivers Delta Center. This $10 million facility is filled with interactive exhibits, live animals and enthusiastic staff and docents. And it’s free!

A visit to the center is well worth the 10-minute drive from the historic downtown. It celebrates the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta, the second largest river delta system in the US, behind the Mississippi River delta. The Mobile Tensaw River Delta is where the Mobile, Spanish, Tensaw, Appalachee and Blakely rivers flow into Mobile Bay. (Five rivers. Count ‘em. Five. Hence the name of the center.)

I got a chance to lure an owl to land on my padded glove. (I cheated—it was really lured by the tiny piece of bloody meat and the two tiny kidneys the staff tucked between the thumb and forefinger of the glove.) There are swamp snakes (thankfully, those are kept in cages), a real live osprey nest (minus the osprey) and plenty of educational displays.

Things to do in Mobile Alabama - kayak among the alligators.
Kayaking among the gators. Photo credit: Cindy Richards / Empty Nest TravelingMom

3. Kayak Among the Alligators

The five rivers that feed the delta are ripe for boating. We spent a blissful two hours kayaking the Bartram Canoe Trail, bird watching and alligator watching. That’s right. Alligators. Luckily, the two we saw were babies. The most they could have eaten would have been a couple of fingers. At least that’s what I told myself as I paddled past them.

Perhaps the coolest thing about the 5 Rivers Delta Center is its kayak launch. It’s the first fully accessible launch I have seen anywhere. My kayak partner, a kayaking rookie, struggled getting into our double kayak. Thanks to the accessible launch, we didn’t end up in the river. Without it, we definitely would have taken a dip.

Once we were safely launched, we joined our knowledgeable guide for a paddle around the delta. It was early spring, so the plants were just coming alive. But the birds were everywhere—she pointed out several varieties, none of which I remember because I couldn’t write anything down while I was paddling.

4. Take an Airboat Ride

I’ve taken airboat rides through the Florida Everglades and really enjoyed them, alligator sightings included. Unfortunately, high winds during my weekend in Mobile meant the airboat ride was canceled. So I can’t say how it went. But the Delta is lovely. Skimming across the top could only be exhilarating.

Things to do in Mobile Alabama - take a sunset cruise.
Sunset in Mobile Alabama. Photo credit: Cindy Richards / Empty Nest TravelingMom

5. Watch the Sun Set on a Delta Cruise

Sunset cruises can be cliché. Or corny. Sometimes they can even be romantic. I was traveling solo, so the romance thing wasn’t happening. But our sunset cruise onboard the “Osprey” with Captain Mike Dorie of Wild Native Tours was great fun. Mike is clearly an experienced captain. He knew just where to position the boat to get the best views of the bright red sunset. And he knew his nature—naming all of the flora and fauna we passed. He also was a font of a funniness, telling jokes that were more than a cut above the ones we heard on the Ducks.

Things to do in Mobile Alabama - visit the Carnival Museum
These “trains” are individually designed and can cost as much at $45,000 to make. Photo credit: Cindy Richards / Empy Nest TravelingMom

6. Marvel at the Opulence of Carnival

Did you know that the City of Mobile is the birthplace of Mardi Gras? Neither did I. Like you, I always thought of New Orleans, Louisiana, when anyone mentioned Mardi Gras. And we met several people in Mobile who talked about the “rivalry” with New Orleans over Mardi Gras. I have been to NOLA a few times and never heard anyone there talk about a rivalry with Mobile.

Regardless, Mobile is secure in its claim as the place where Mardi Gras started. And it has a museum to prove it. The Mobile Carnival Museum is really a train museum. Not the kind of trains that run on tracks, but the kind that get attached to the shoulders of lovely young ladies and handsome gents–the Mardi Gras royalty feted as part of the annual celebration in Mobile. Some of the trains can cost as much as $45,000 to make and are so laden with embellishments that they weigh more than the thin and lovely queen who will pull it across the floor. Those come with tiny wheels to help them glide.

Mardis Gras started in Mobile Alabama and the queens of carnival wear these beautiful gowns, which can cost as much as $45,000 to make!
Mobile Alabama is the original home of Mardis Gras, which is still celebrated with queens wearing these elaborate (and expensive) trains. They can cost $45,000 to make! Photo credit: Cindy Richards / Empty Nest TravelingMom

As the home of America’s original Mardi Gras, Mobile is rich with Mardi Gras traditions. Take a tour of the jeweled crowns, intricately designed gowns and lavish robes of Mobile’s Mardi Gras Kings and Queens in this historic Government Street mansion. Guides shed light on the mysteries of Mardi Gras, such as: What is a Mystic Society? Who is King Felix? And Why do Mobile maskers throw doubloons and Moon Pies? You will even have a chance to climb up on a rocking Mardi Gras float and throw Moon Pies into a crowd yelling “Throw me something, mister!”

Get insider tips for celebrating Mardi Gras in Mobile.

7. Get a Feel for Southern Gentility

Bellingrath Gardens and Home is the creation of Walter and Bessie Bellingrath. He made his money doing something people back in the early 1900s thought was pure folly—bottling Coca-Cola and selling it to people to take home and drink. Moving Coke from a soda fountain experience to an at-home experience made the Bellingraths rich. Bessie thought he was working too hard and encouraged him to buy a fishing camp where he could relax. And, just to make sure he didn’t relax too much, Bessie, a teetotaler, went there to keep an eye on Walter, who was anything but.

She used their money to build a lovely English Renaissance-styled home and cultivate 65 acres of gorgeous gardens. I was lucky enough to visit in the spring when the more than 250,000 azalea bushes were just beginning to bloom.

Sadly, I was on a tight schedule and had only about two hours to spend there touring both the house and gardens (and, of course, drinking a Coke). This is the sort of place where one should bring a book and plan to while away the day, alternatively wandering the garden and settling on one of the swings or genteel benches along the way to read and contemplate while the kids run across the expansive lawns or play hide and seek among the azaleas.

Mobile Alabama weather can be very hot and humid—100 percent humidity on summer days when it doesn’t even rain. So, unless you like that sort of weather, plan to visit in the fall through spring. Bellingrath Gardens is open all year. Check the website to see what’s in bloom when you plan to visit.

8. Play Among the Shipping Containers

Really. All it requires is a visit to the GulfCoast Museum. It’s an incredibly entertaining and interactive maritime museum that celebrates Mobile’s history as a shipping port. It’s one of rare museums that is so well-done even those of us who aren’t all that into shipping containers can find plenty to entertain us at this museum. Every exhibit I saw had something interactive. In several spots, the moms and dads were having at least as much, if not more, fun than their kids.

Things to do in Mobile Alabama - watch them fire the cannon at Fort Gaines on Dauphin Island.
Don’t miss the cannon firing at Fort Gaines on Dauphin Island. Photo credit: Cindy Richards / Empty Nest TravelingMom

9. Travel Back in Time at Dauphin Island

I’m a sucker for historical sites with interpreters who show visitors how things were done back then. At Fort Gaines in Dauphin Island, we watched a talented modern-day blacksmith use 1800s tools to ply his trade, explaining along the way what he was doing, how it worked and what tools he used. We were fascinated.

Things to do in Mobile Alabama - play at Fort Gaines in Dauphin Island.
These cousins had a great time playing war at Fort Gaines in Dauphin Island, Alabama. Photo credit: Cindy Richards / Empty Nest TravelingMom

The younger kids, however, just wanted to run. We saw 3 cousins celebrating a birthday with the toys guns their moms bought them at the Fort Gaines gift shop. I have never seen kids having so much fun playing war and pretend shooting one another.

But the coupe de grace at Fort Gaines is the cannon. That’s right. A Civil War era cannon that was used in the Battle of Mobile Bay. And the period-costumed docent who gets to shoot it off every day clearly was having the most fun of anyone that day. Be sure to cover your ears and watch where you stand. I was off to the side where I could video the action and felt the shock waves.

Things to do in Mobile Alabama - learn about the Delta ecosystem at the Estuarium.
Learn about the Delta ecosystems at the Estuarium on Dauphin Island. Photo credit: Cindy Richards / Empty Nest TravelingMom

10. Learn about the Sea Life of Mobile Bay

The Estuarium at Dauphin Island is Alabama’s only marine science education and research laboratory. Exhibits highlight the four local ecosystems of coastal Alabama: the Delta, Mobile Bay, the Barrier Islands and the Gulf of Mexico. But the big draw here is the sting ray touch pool. We were lucky enough to be on site during feeding time—it gave me a whole new understanding of the phrase “feeding frenzy.”

Things to do in Mobile Alabama - touch the stingrays at the Estuarium.
Touching stringrays at the Estuarium on Dauphin Island. Photo credit: Cindy Richards / Empty Nest TravelingMom

Sadly, a weekend in the City of Mobile is not enough time to experience everything it has to offer. We did not make it to two art museums I would have liked to see–the Mobile Museum of Art and the Alabama Contemporary Art Center. Nor did I have time for the History Museum of Mobile or the Dora Franklin Finley African-American Heritage Trail tour. During the hot summer Mobile weather, I suspect any of those indoor, air-conditioned museums and bus tours would be a welcome relief.

Find out 6 other great weekend getaways in the South.

11. Eat

Mobile is a foodie town. Every meal we ate was better than the one before. The highlights of our Mobile restaurant experience:

Things to do in Mobile Alabama - eat breakfast or lunch at Spot of Tea
Charming Spot of Tea for breakfast or lunch. Photo credit: Cindy Richards / Empty Nest TravelingMom

Spot of Tea. This sweet restaurant was started by Miss Ruby and her son, Tony, in 1994 when they opened a tiny tea shop in a 200-year-old building across from Cathedral Park, a move that would start the central business district rebirth. Today, it is a charming breakfast and lunch spot that often has lines around the corner. Try the house specialty, Eggs Cathedral. It’s a concert of flavors in your mouth. And the portions are huge. Plan to share so you can save room for the signature dessert featuring Moon Pies and pudding. Here, the motto is: If you leave hungry, it’s your own fault.

TravelingMom Tip: Spot of Tea doesn’t take reservations, but you can call 24 hours ahead for “preferred seating.” It’s not a reservation, but it does guarantee that you don’t need to stand it the long line. You’ll get the next open table after you arrive.

Things to do in Mobile Alabama - order dessert at Wintzell's Oyster House.
Save room for dessert at Wintzell’s Oyster House — and order the bread pudding! Photo credit: Cindy Richards / Empty Nest TravelingMom

Wintzell’s Oyster House. Eat at the original, at 605 Dauphin St. It’s charming and you can watch the cooks flame up the grill. I’m not a big oyster fan, but the oyster lovers in our group were in heaven at this restaurant that promises oysters “fried, stewed or nude.” And I found plenty of non-oyster options. Be sure to save room for the bread pudding.

Dauphin’s. This is a fine dining restaurant where the dining is fine, but the view is even better. It’s located at the top of the RSA Trustmark Building and the expansive windows offer an incredible view of downtown Mobile. The dishes were a tasty mix of seafood and steak with a Creole and soul vibe.

Things to do in Mobile Alabama - stay at the Renaissance Riverview Hotel
I spent a lot of time on that fainting couch looking out at the riverfront! Photo credit: Cindy Richards / Empty Nest TravelingMom

Mobile Alabama Hotels

We stayed at the 4-Diamond Renaissance Mobile Riverview Plaza, across the street from the waterfront convention center with, as its name suggests, a stunning view of the river. The location makes it easy to walk anywhere downtown, including to the GulfCoast Museum, the Carnival Museum and the incredible restaurants that line Dauphin Street.

But the real draw here is inside. My riverview room was spacious with a nice desk area, huge windows overlooking the convention center and river and an oversized bathroom. The TV was smart enough to have Hulu and Netflix. All I had to do was log-in with my account info. The TV assured me that I would be logged out when I checked out of the hotel, but I made sure to log myself out before I left the room, just to be sure.

The ornate lobby of the Battle House Hotel in Mobile Alabama.
The ornate lobby of the Battle House Hotel in Mobile Alabama. Photo credit: Cindy Richards / Empty Nest TravelingMom

Nearby is the historic Battle House Renaissance Mobile Hotel and Spa. We didn’t stay there, but did get a tour with George Moore, the concierge who doubles as hotel tour guide and was a font of historical knowledge. (For example, I learned that the Mobile area was not part of the Louisiana Purchase. It was considered West Florida then.)

The Battle House was built in the 1850s when Mobile was booming and the wealthy people who passed through the port needed a fine hotel. It burned down in the early 1900s and was rebuilt to host celebrities from Woodrow Wilson to Elvis.

Disclosure: I was hosted on this trip for the purposes of this reveiw. All opinions are my own.

From Mardi Gras to museums to nature, there are plenty of things to do in Mobile AL with kids.

10 Reasons to Take the Family to an Auto Show, Even if You Aren’t in the Market to Buy a New Car

The first auto show happened in 1901 in Chicago and Chicago’s is still the largest auto show in North America. But the 110th Chicago Auto Show in early February 2018 bore little resemblance to that early effort. Today, auto shows are all about pomp, presentation and pizzazz. The displays are spiced up with mega multimedia, bright lights, pounding music and plenty of hip virtual reality. Here are 10 things to do at an auto show with kids, and why you should take the family, even if you aren’t planning to buy a new car this year—and a little about the right (and wrong) car to drive there.

Auto show with kids - picture yourself in a Rolls
Picture your family in this Rolls. Photo credit: Cindy Richards / Empty Nest TravelingMom

Auto Show with Kids

Auto shows are about selling vehicles, but in a no-pressure, highly stylized way. That means the automakers aim to get consumers excited about cars rather than getting them to sign on the bottom line. If the companies are successful at the show, they hope it will mean they also will be successful later at the dealership.

Why should you want to go to an auto show? Even more important, should you go to an auto show with kids? Here are 10 reasons why you should consider it.

1. Cars Remain a Big Part of Travel

Unless you are headed to a major city that is well served with public transit—from subways to Ubers—chances are you need a car to get around. An auto show gives you an overview of what’s new in cars and trucks—whether you need to know what new features will make a road trip more fun or you want to know which car to rent at the airport, getting a look at models from a wide variety of manufacturers will help hone your choices. There are production and pre-production models, with a few cool concept cars or classic cars sprinkled about to keep the excitement up.

Auto show with kids - not your dad's Buick Casada
This is not your dad’s Buick. Photo credit: Cindy Richards / Empty Nest TravelingMom

2. These are Not Your Parents’ Cars.

If you are an average American, you drive a car that is more than 11 years old. (Mine is a 2003—so even older than that!) That means you don’t have hot tech like 360-degree birds-eye-view cameras. Or park assist. You probably don’t even have basic tech like backup cameras, which will be standard on all vehicles built on or after May 1, 2018. Walking around an auto show today is part new car showroom and part CES wow. There are fewer “concept” cars with futuristic design, but far more displays showing off the tech that helps drivers take the first baby steps to the future of self-driving cars. And it’s all displayed in an eye-candy way that is anything but boring, even to kids.

Auto show with kids - Mini Cooper from BMW
This Mini Cooper from BMW was my fave. Photo credit: Cindy Richards / Empty Nest TravelingMom

3. Learn That There’s Really No Such Thing as an American Car

These days, Japanese cars are built in Kentucky and Alabama and German cars are built in South Carolina and Tennessee. And the manufacturers work hard to make sure consumers know that in our #MAGA (Make American Great Again) political climate. It makes for a nice social studies or political science lesson for teens.

Auto show with kids - take a virtual reality ride.
Let kids take a virtual reality tour at an auto show. Photo credit: Cindy Richards / Empty Nest TravelingMom

4. Go Virtual

Let the kids put on those attractive headsets and take a tour of a virtual future world with driverless cars. Or let them virtually drive an off road course. Or get a video of your family’s Carpool Karaoke experience. All of those experiences were available at the auto show in Detroit.

Auto show with kids - carpool karaoke
Belt out your favorite song in this Carpool Karaoke exhibit from Cadillac, the sponsor of the James Corden YouTube series. Photo credit: Cindy Richards / Empty Nest TravelingMom

5. Picture Yourself Inside Car of Your Dreams

Literally. Crawl inside a Bugati. Or Rolls. Then have someone snap a photo for your Instagram account. Or stay more in tune with reality and let the whole family pile into a Honda Odyssey minivan to see how well everyone fits. Go ahead. Let the kids crawl around and touch–even the sports cars. It’s OK.  There will be a whole crew of people armed with Windex and wipes trailing behind you.

Auto show with kids - build a LEGO
Building LEGOs isn’t just for kids at an auto show. Photo credit: Cindy Richards / Empty Nest TravelingMom

6. Take Home a Memento

Sadly, it likely won’t be a Bugati. But at the Ford exhibit at the 2018 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, kids could make and keep their own LEGO figure. OK, not just kids. Adults were making them too.

Auto show with kids - the original Bullitt Mustang
The Steve McQueen Bullitt Mustang. Photo credit: Cindy Richards / Empty Nest TravelingMom

7. See That What’s Old is New Again

Also at the Ford exhibit was a bit of motor history: the hot Mustang Steve McQueen used in filming “Bullitt,” the 1968 movie that includes one of the best car chase scenes ever recorded. Ford is bringing back the Shelby GT 500. New was parked next to old at the Detroit Auto Show. Ford promises the new Bullitt Mustang will be “the most powerful street legal car.” If the kids aren’t impressed with that dull and dented original, show them the film chase sequence when you get home.

8. Get Electrified

No. Tesla was not at the auto show in Detroit or the one in Chicago. But there were plenty of electric vehicles to explore. Show the kids how to “gas up” an electric car.

Auto show with kids - picture yourself in a truck
Let the kids pretend to be a cowboy in this hot pickup truck. Photo credit: Cindy Richards / Empty Nest TravelingMom

9. Get Trucking

Cars are hardly the only feature of an auto show these days. There are SUVs, off road vehicles, and trucks. Really big trucks. Like the 2018 Ram 1500. It’s a truck made for families—with all the creature comforts you want. Step inside and imagine yourself driving a really cool looking truck around town. Let the little ones climb inside and indulge their inner cowboy.

Auto show with kids - the new product specialists
This gorgeous woman is a product specialist. Photo credit: Cindy Richards / Empty Nest TravelingMom

10. Talk with the Beautiful Women

I remember going to the Chicago Auto Show as a tween. My parents would be car shopping, I would be looking at those impossibly beautiful women in their impossibly high heels and gorgeous gowns. Their job: To stand next to a shiny car. They weren’t there to talk. The impossibly beautiful women are still everywhere at an auto and they are still wearing impossibly high heels. But these days they wear more sensible dresses—think Jackie O sheath dresses—and they carry iPads. Why? Because they are now “product specialists.” That means they have been trained to talk about the vehicles. They consult the iPads for the finer details.

Where to Find an Auto Show Near You

There are a surprising number of auto shows around the country, some big, some huge (Chicago is the largest) and some small. But all offer the opportunity to see the latest the industry has to offer. And all give you a chance to browse, pressure-free. Here’s a list of the places, from New York to Los Angeles, and the auto show dates coming to a convention center near you. Before you buy tickets, however, check online. Chances are you’ll find ticket offers or even free tickets. Remember: The automobile dealers association that puts on the auto shows wants you to come to an auto show to get excited about the new models so you will head to your local dealership for a test drive.

Toyota C-HR rear view
Toyota C-HR. Photo credit: Cindy Richards / Empty Nest TravelingMom

What I Drove There

I drove from Chicago to Detroit for the 2018 North American International Auto Show in the heart of a winter storm. So I was glad I was driving the 2018 Toyota C-HR XLE Premium SUV crossover Toyota had loaned me for the week. It gripped the snow-slicked roads and road high enough to give me a decent view of the traffic ahead. I also liked the slick design of this car. And the heated seats.

But in that wintery muck, the thing I liked the most was the Toyota Safety Sense package. It includes pre-collision warning, automatic high beam headlights and lane departure warnings.

What You Need to Know about the Toyota C-HR XLE Premium

  • 5-star overall safety rating. The car handled well and made me fell safe and comfortable even driving in less-than-terrific road conditions.
  • The Toyota Safety Sense package is standard on Toyotas. It includes the pre-collision warning system that helps prevent front-end collisions, an alert if you veer out of your lane, a system that automatically toggles between low and high beams so you don’t have to remember to do it yourself, and my favorite—automatically adjustable cruise control that slows the car to maintain a certain distance between you and the car in front of you.
  • Blind spot monitors, rear cross traffic alert and back-up camera.
  • 10—count ‘em, 10—airbags. They’re all over— driver and front passenger airbags, driver and front passenger and rear seat-mounted side airbags, driver knee airbag, front passenger seat-cushion airbag, and front and rear side curtain airbags.
  • Comfortable seats and ride for a smaller crossover. The cockpit design meant everything was within easy reach on my solo road trip between Chicago and Detroit. It seats five, but three adults in the back would be a tight fit.
  • It’s rated for 31 mpg on the highway. But the challenging weather meant I got slightly less than that.
  • I didn’t need the extra storage space, but the rear seat can be folded down in a 60/40 split fold-flat second-row rear seat for carrying bigger cargo.
  • This car starts at $22,500. The XLE model starts at $24,350. The premium model I drove sells for $26,133, including $960 in delivery charges.
Huge Toyota Prius Prime display.
Huge Toyota Prius Prime display. Photo credit: Cindy Richards / Empty Nest TravelingMom

Another Toyota Story

The week after I returned from Detroit, Toyota loaned me another car to check out: the 2018 Prius Prime. I had long wanted to drive a 2018 Toyota Prius Prime. I’ve heard such great things about this car. Sadly, the winter weather did not let up. And The Prius did not handle the slick roads nearly as well as the C-HR. I did not feel comfortable driving this shiny new car. So, despite my desire, I can’t offer a full review of the Prius Prime.

Here are a few details:

  • It’s roomy and comfortable inside–much, much more interior space than the big SUV I normally drive.
  • 5-star safety rating, the Toyota Safety Sense package and plenty of airbags.
  • Huge 11.5 inch display screen, head-up display on the windshield, and 60-40 split rear seats.
  • This hybrid is rated for 54 mpg. I kept well within the 25 mile range for its electric motor, so I got closer to the 133 mpg rating for electric-only use.
  • The Prius Prime starts at $27,100. The model I drove sells for $33,985, including $885 in delivery charges.

Have you been to an auto show lately? What did you think?

Should you take kids to an auto show? Sure! From virtual reality to classic car displays and LEGOs to build, there's plenty to keep kids entertained while parents browse among the BMWs and see how good they look sitting in a Mercedes Benz or another model.

Take Our Spring Break Survey!

Spring break is a family vacation ritual. For some families, it’s a time for that ultimate family bonding experience: a road trip across America. For others, spring break means flying to a warm Caribbean island. For still others, it means organizing a big, multigenerational trip. We want to know about your spring break plans.

A boy in the snow on a spring break family vacation.
Photo: Pixabay

Take Our Spring Break Family Vacation Survey

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We keep hearing that family travel, including spring break family vacations, are changing. So we partnered with TravelingDad and Vacatia to hear from you, the folks Vacatia calls the “Chief Vacation Officers” of your family.

Where are you headed for spring break this year? Who will you take with you? Just you and the kids? Just your adult friends? Everyone you can cram into one room at the resort? Where will you stay? In a hotel? Airbnb? Condo? Resort rental?

Tell us about your plans and who makes them. The survey will close at 11:59pmET on Feb. 11, 2018.

Just by looking at the Sirata Beach Resort Photos, you will want to plan a vacation at once!

What You Said in Our 2017 Spring Break Family Vacation Survey

Our survey respondents said they were making last minute spring break plans, Mom was doing most of the family vacation planning and families were interested in heading to a new place.

Among other findings:

  • 13 percent said they planned to spend less in 2017 than they had in 2016, while 5 percent planned to spend more.
  • Nearly 7 percent said they planned to drive instead of fly, while 3 percent were going to fly instead of drive.
  • 7 percent planned a multigen trip
  • 5 percent planned a friends’ trip
  • 6 percent planned to stay longer in 2017 than they had in 2016.
  • 6 percent planned to stay in something other than a hotel—Airbnb, Vacatia resort rentals and other non-hotel options.

Read all of the survey results here.

Hyatt Ziva Puerto Vallarta Review – Luxury All-Inclusive on a Gorgeous Beach

The Hyatt Ziva Puerto Vallarta offers just the right mix of all inclusive luxury, family friendly service and gorgeous beachfront sunsets. The resort caters to English speakers, accepts US and Canadian dollars and is just a short cab ride from the charming Old Town of Puerto Vallarta.

Hyatt Ziva Puerto Vallarta Review

When I started traveling regularly, I turned up my nose at the idea of an all-inclusive resort. Not for me, I figured. I wanted an authentic experience, not some vacation in a resort bubble bearing no resemblance to the real world outside its walls.

Then I stayed at an all-inclusive.

For relaxation without worry that you will overspend the vacation budget, all inclusive cannot be beat. But most of them still suffer from being in that resort bubble.

That was one of the best surprises about Hyatt Ziva Puerto Vallarta. The resort is just a $5 Uber ride from the Old Town. So, yes, you can stay on property for your entire stay, but I certainly wouldn’t recommend it. Instead, venture into town to explore the public art along the waterfront, wander in and out of the charming shops (yes, there is a Señor Frog’s bar, but no one says you have to stop there), and smile at the locals strolling alongside you. I felt safe, even walking around the neighborhood after dark.

This Puerto Vallarta welcome sign is just one piece of public art along the waterfront. Where to stay when eploring Puerto Vallarta? Read this Hyatt Ziva Puerto Vallarta reveiw
This Puerto Vallarta welcome sign is just one piece of public art along the waterfront. Photo credit: Cindy Richards / Empty Nest TravelingMom

Things to Do at Hyatt Ziva Puerto Vallarta

A friend once called an all-inclusive a “cruise ship on land.” He was referring to the many things to do on the resort property. That’s certainly true at Hyatt Ziva. Each day, activities range from stretching classes on the beach to aquarobics in the pool to nightly entertainment.

We booked a kayak tour. It was scheduled to be an hour, but we were having such a great time paddling, then resting and chatting while we looked at the scenery that we were on the water for 2 ½. We returned to the beach, famished and ready for dinner.

Hyatt Ziva Puerto Vallarta activities desk  signs up a guest for the jungle walking tour.
The activities desk signs up a guest for the jungle walking tour. Photo credit: Cindy Richards / Empty Nest TravelingMom

Don’t Miss Seeing Puerto Vallarta

This town was put on the tourism map by Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. He came to Puerto Vallarta to film “Night of Iguana” with Ava Gardner. She came to keep an eye on him. They both fell in love with the area and built a house up on the hill, drawing their famous friends to visit and turning the eyes of their fans south to this tropical paradise.

“In the 1960s, there was a little Beverly Hills in Puerto Vallarta,” said Beto, our Los Veranos tour guide.

I was surprised to find that Puerto Vallarta is in the Central time zone, the same as my hometown, Chicago. But it’s as far south as Hawaii. That means you get the virtual guarantee of gorgeous weather without the 9+ hour flight. My direct flight from O’Hare International Airport was just over 4 hours long. (If you have never applied for a passport before, read our tips for first timers.)

We booked the City and Tequila Tour through the onsite activities center. It certainly wouldn’t work for families with kids—half the day was spent in the mountains at a tequila distillery. For me, it was interesting to learn about the process. And to learn that the only liquor that can rightly call itself tequila is made in this Jalisco region of Mexico from the blue agave plant.

We also learned that there is a proper way to drink tequila. Here, my friend Ramon demonstrates:

Make Your Own City Tour

Another easy option is to hop in a cab or take an Uber into the Old Town. Take a stroll, do a little shopping, or just people watch.

TravelingMom Tip: The streets are actual cobblestone and the curbs can be high. It’s not an easy walk for people with mobility challenges. If you have a child in a stroller, bring either a lightweight umbrella stroller that is easy to carry or a heavy duty stroller that can take the bumps.

Hyatt Ziva Puerto Vallarta review, all inclusive luxury, clockwise from top left: The view from the balcony, the luxurious bathroom, the plush robet, desk area, and the comfy bed.
The Hyatt Ziva Puerto Vallarta, clockwise from top left: The view from the balcony, the luxurious bathroom, the plush robes, desk area, and the comfy bed. Photos: Cindy Richards/ Empty Nest TravelingMom

The Rooms at Hyatt Ziva

This property was built 45 years ago, but it has been completely renovated since Hyatt took over 3 years ago, making it an “all new hotel with a lot of history,” hotel officials said. Every room has an ocean view, some have their own hot tubs on the balcony and 8 are “swim-up” rooms, with an infinity pool bordering the balcony.

My room in the club tower was bigger than your average hotel room, featuring a plush king bed, a giant TV, a comfortable sitting area, a desk that I never used and a luxurious bath with a double shower. One wall was glass, with patio doors that slid open to an oversized balcony furnished with two chairs and a table (which I used as my desk) and a double chase just right for chillin’ while watching the waves crash ashore.

The room also had a mini fridge, stocked with beer, wine, soda, and water. I prefer sparkling water; all it took was a mention to the bellman who walked me to my room and the fridge was magically stocked each day.

There also was a smattering of snacks—a small bag of chips, a cookie and a couple of other things—but it seemed unnecessary. After all, this is an all-inclusive. That means you can eat for 24 hours a day if you like. You can walk down to one of the 5 restaurants, pop into the 24-hour coffee and snack bar, or just pick up the phone and order room service. (I recommend the steak tacos. Deeee-lish.)

From appetizers to desserts, it's all included at Hyatt Ziva Puerto Vallarta. Read our review of this luxury all inclusive .
From appetizers to desserts, it’s all included at Hyatt Ziva. Photo credit: Cindy Richards / Empty Nest TravelingMom

5 Restaurants, No Waiting

At some all-inclusives, the buffet is the main event. There is a buffet at the Hyatt Ziva and, while it has really good food, the Vivaz Buffett is definitely not the best place to eat at Hyatt Ziva Puerto Vallarta. In addition to the buffet restaurant, there are 4 gourmet restaurants with top-notch table service. Each one is better than the last.

I love Thai food, so Pureza, which serves an incredibly interesting Asian fusion cuisine, was my favorite. The steak at Blaze also gets an enthusiastic thumbs up from me.

The other restaurants are Melanzane (which serves passable Italian cuisine) and Casa Grande (delectable Mexican fare).

TravelingMom Tip: One restaurant is closed each day, so plan accordingly to be sure you get a chance to try them all. Also, no restaurants take reservations. When I visited, the resort was 93 percent full, but I never saw people queued up waiting for a table.

In addition to the specialty restaurants and the buffet, there is a 24-hour coffee shop, which has donuts and pastries in the morning and sandwiches later in the day. Or, you can settle in on your balcony and listen to the waves crash ashore while enjoying a room service dinner. Did I mention the yummy steak tacos? Yeah. That’s the thing to order.

 

The Vitamar Spa

One of the best things about traveling without the kids is having the time and space to indulge yourself. And the Vitamar Spa is the place to do it.

I had one of the best massages of my life, then headed to the spa’s private hot tubs and pool overlooking the beach and ocean. Nirvana.

TravelingMom Tip: Book your spa appointment on the morning of a full day at the resort. The price of the service includes access to the full spa for the entire day. Unfortunately, I did not plan appropriately and booked my massage on the morning of my last day so I wasn’t able to take advantage. If you don’t want to spring for a spa service, you can buy a day pass for $25.

The Hyatt Ziva Puerto Vallarta Kidz Club overlooks the turtle nesting area.
The Hyatt Ziva Puerto Vallarta Kidz Club overlooks the turtle nesting area. Photo credit: Cindy Richards / Empy Nest TravelingMom

Hyatt Ziva Kidz Club

So often, resort kids’ clubs are stuck in the basement of a hotel. The room might be draped with primary colors, but you still know it was built to be a corporate conference room. The Hyatt Ziva Kidz Club, which is included in the price, is housed in a happy space, secluded at one end of the beach. The space overlooks the turtle rescue area, has its own self-contained splash pool, a craft corner and a separate area for older kids with the tools they covet: a TV and video games.

Got beach?  read our Hyatt Ziva Puerto Vallarta, an all-inclusive luxury hotel in Mexico.
Hyatt Ziva Puerto Vallarta beach. Photo credit: Cindy Richards / Empty Nest TravelingMom

The Hyatt Ziva Puerto Vallarta Beach

This, of course, is the raison d’etre. Sadly, my busy 3-day visit was too short to spend the time on the beach that it deserves. The staff calls it an “exclusive” beach. While all beaches in Mexico are officially public beaches, this one becomes exclusive because it’s bounded on each end by gorgeous natural cliffs. That means people can’t just wander by. Access is controlled by the hotel and getting through the gates requires checking in with a guard, who checks a list for names and room numbers.

That also means this resort doesn’t require those annoying wristbands that tell the staff you paid to be there. If you’re on the beach, the staff assumes you are a paying guest. All you have to do is give your drink orders to the wait staff, lounge on a chaise under a thatched umbrella, wrap up in a cushy, oversized beach towel or wade into the warm surf.

The waves seemed to grow stronger as the day wore on. So if you’ve got little ones, hit the beach earlier in the day and keep a good hold on them.

Before you go, check out our family beach vacation packing list.

Yasmin, a Hyatt Ziva Puerto Vallarta employee, shows off two baby turtles, about to be released into the sea
Yasmin, a Hyatt Ziva employee, shows off two baby turtles, about to be released into the sea. Photo credit: Cindy Richards/ Empty Nest TravelingMom

Wildlife on the Beach

We were lucky enough to be visiting during turtle nesting season, which lasts from August to January. Each time a turtle lays eggs on the hotel beach, the staff marks the spot with a yellow flag to warn off visitors during the day. When it happened in the middle of a beach volleyball game, the staff declared “game over” because nothing trumps the turtles.

At night, the staff digs up the eggs and moves them to the protected turtle nesting area near the Kidz Club. When they hatch, the day-old turtles are released back into the sea while we humans cheer them on. During the height of nesting season, it can be a nightly occurrence at Hyatt Ziva.

We learned that turtles born under the watchful eye of humans have a 30 percent chance of survival. Those born in the wild have only a 10 percent chance of surviving. There are 2 primary reasons the Hyatt turtles have a better shot at survival:

  1. They release the turtles at night, making the tiny tots harder for predators to see.
  2. The crowd of humans cheering on the turtle babies help keep the predators away.

Beginning in December, there’s another big wildlife attraction at Hyatt Ziva: the whales who winter in the Bay of Banderas and can be seen from the resort.

The Hyatt Ziva Puerto Vallarta luxury all inclusive is a family friendly hotel on the beach in Mexico. Great food, gorgeous beach, friendly service and baby turtles in the fall and whales in the winter!

A Final Note about Tipping at Hyatt Ziva Puerto Vallarta

Tipping is not expected but always appreciated. And, truly, the staff was fabulous, so it always felt like the right thing to do. I got top-notch service from everyone, including from the maintenance staff. When I had a problem with the door to my balcony, I called the front desk. She promised to send someone within 15 minutes. Fixing it was critical: I needed to sleep with the door open so I could hear the waves crashing ashore as I drifted off to sleep.

Sure enough, two men arrived within 15 minutes, took apart the locking mechanism, lubricated it and put it back together, all in less than 20 minutes’ time. I wasn’t even late for dinner.

What do you think about all-inclusive resorts? Share with us in the comment section below.

When Movies Take to the Stage – 2 Christmas Theater Shows Worth the Money

Buddy the human who thinks he’s an elf and Ralphie the boy who dreams of a Daisy Red Ryder BB gun are two cinematic holiday favorites. But when such beloved characters take to the stage, the results are either going to utterly delightful or truly awful. This TravelingMom found two shows — one featuring Buddy and the other telling Ralphie’s story — were both a delight.

Christmas theater shows - Elf the Musical
“Elf The Musical” at Paramount Theater in Aurora Illinois, through Jan. 7, 2018. Photo credit: Liz Lauren

Holiday Movies on Stage

Christmas traditions in our house include reconnecting with two holiday favorites—Buddy the Elf who is really a human and Ralphie the kid who simply must have a Daisy Red Ryder BB gun, even though his mom and every other adult in his life warns he will shoot his eye out.

These characters are near and dear to our hearts. So, when we heard that “Elf” and “A Christmas Story” had been translated to the stage, we approached both with equal parts excitement and dread.

Turns out the worry was for naught. Both transitioned well and are worth a trip if you happen to be traveling to a city that is offering either on stage.

Christmas theater shows - Santa and Buddy the Elf
Roger Mueller is Santa, and Kyle Adams plays Buddy the elf, in Paramount Theatre’s production of Elf The Musical. Photo credit: Liz Lauren

Buddy the Elf

This show, “Elf The Musical,” is currently on stage at the venerable Paramount Theater in Aurora, Illinois, a far western suburb of Chicago. It features Kyle Adams as Buddy, the human who was raised as an elf. This 6+ footer with the long skinny arms and legs is not Will Ferrell, but, like Ferrell, he’s a joy to watch. His goofy look, gangly dancing and innocent, joyous face make it easy to see him as the sweet elf he portrays.

The show takes some liberties with the original story, but none left my daughter or I feeling cheated. For example, when Buddy messes up and makes Dad mad, it’s not by getting drunk in the mail room, but rather by shredding an important children’s book manuscript to make “snow.” A talented Roger Mueller as Santa narrates and moves the story along.

The elves who open the show are a mix of kids and adults. They do some fancy (and impressive) dancing, considering the adults are on their knees wearing costumes that make it look like they are walking around.

Christmas theater shows - Elf the Musical
Elf The Musical, based on the hilarious 2003 Will Ferrell movie. Photo credit: Thomas J. King

Buddy’s Story

It starts when Buddy was a baby. He crawls into Santa’s sack of presents and is whisked away to the North Pole. Shocked to find a human among them, the elves chose to raise Buddy as one of their own—only the human elf continues to grow, and grow, and never quite gets the hang of toy building.

Despite the elves’ best efforts, Buddy discovers that he isn’t an elf. He’s a human. And his dad lives in a far away land called New York City. Buddy sets off to meet his dad whom, he is sure, will love him. But Dad is a Scrooge-like workaholic who doesn’t even spend time with the son he has known all his life. He is not pleased to meet a 30-year-old son he never knew he had.

Buddy’s sweet nature and love for Christmas never waivers and he manages to win over his dad, get the girl, unite his family and conjure up enough Christmas spirit in New York City to get Santa’s sleigh flying again.

Worth the Drive to Aurora

Aurora is the second largest city in Illinois and one of Chicago’s oldest suburbs. It’s a long, 42-mile drive from the center city. With so much great theater available in the city itself, it might not make sense to drive out for Buddy the Elf, especially if you only have a few days in Chicago. But, if you’re staying out in the western suburbs, you’re in town for a longer stay or you just love Buddy, take the drive.

There was only one thing I wish had been different. At the end of the show, I wanted to help the cast “sing out loud for all to hear” to power Santa’s sleigh with Christmas spirit. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Instead, the few actors on the stage sang and we all waved goodbye as Santa’s sleigh sailed over our heads toward the balcony seats. We still left filled with warm Christmas spirit, but it would have been an even warmer feeling if we had been invited to join in a rousing rendition of Jingle Bells or Santa is Coming to Town.

Elf The Musical Details

The show was originally produced by Warner Bros. Theatre Ventures in association with Unique Features. It ran on Broadway in the Christmas seasons of 2010-11 and 2012-13 and toured the U.S. in 2012 and 2014.

Elf the Musical is on stage at the Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora, Illinois, through January 7, 2018. Single tickets are $38 to $74. The award-winning theater offers Broadway-quality shows to packed houses. It is the third largest subscription house in the nation.

Gret Christmas movies like "A Christmas Story" and "Elf" come to life on the stage. Learn why these shows should become part of your family holiday traditions.

Ralphie’s A Christmas Story on Stage

My pal, Ralphie also has been lighting up the stage. I saw it a few years ago in Chicago. I approached “A Christmas Story, the Musical” with even more trepidation than I had for “Elf The Musical.” That’s probably because A Christmas Story has been a part of my family’s life for 30 years. We even have a leg lamp for our front window.

Compared to that, Buddy the Elf is a recent interloper to our family holidays.

But, again, my fears turned out to be unfounded. The stage play follows the story very closely, complete with the teacher turning into a witch as she shouts at Ralphie: “You’ll shoot your eye out, you’ll shoot your eye out!”

Chrismtas theater shows - the leg lamp scene from A Christmas Story
The infomaous leg lamp is featured in a song from A Christmas Story on stage. Photo: A Christmas Story

I Triple Dog Dare You

Unfortunately for me, A Christmas Story is not coming to Chicago this year. Instead, it’s on a tour around the country. But I saw the show a few years ago when it was in Chicago and I would go again, should I find myself in a city where the musical is playing. (If you won’t be near a live production, you can watch it live on Fox on Dec. 17, 2017.)

Here’s a short synopsis of this sweet story set in the 1940s:

Ralphie wants a BB gun for Christmas and strategizes how to get around the classic Mom block, “You’ll shoot your eye out.” His “Old Man” wins a “major award” and immediately puts the leg lamp in the front window, much to Mom’s dismay. Ralphie and friends face down the town bullies, triple dog dare a kid to test whether a tongue really will stick to a frozen flag pole, and head to Higbees Department Store to for an ill-fated meeting with Santa.

Along the way, Ralphie dreams of his life as a rifle-toting savior of his family and imagines himself returning home as an adult who suffered “soap blindness” from spending so much time having his mouth washed out with soap.

A Christmas Story Details

The show ran on Broadway, where it garnered three 2013 Tony Award nominations including Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical and Best Original Score. It also earned six Drama Desk nominations, and two Outer Critics Circle nominations.

Prices and showings vary around the country. Details are here.

Christmas theater shows - Nutcracker
New York City Ballet’s Nutcracker. Photo credit: NYC Ballet.

Other Christmas Theater Shows for Families

If you’re more into traditional Christmas theater, Chicago’s Goodman Theatre offers an annual retelling of Scrooge’s story in “A Christmas Carol.” Be forewarned, however: The Goodman version of this classic story tends toward a dark presentation. I remember taking my daughter when she was about 8 and she was terrified by the dark and scary set.

Another option is the always-lovely ballet, “The Nutcracker.” But even that can be a little daunting for tiny ones once the Rat King comes out to fight the prince.

If you want a no-miss, completely joyful, fun for everyone Christmas theater option, stick with Buddy or Ralphie.

What is your Christmas theater family tradition? Share with us in the comment section below.

How to Survive a Solo Road Trip When You Aren’t a Solitary Person

Spending long hours driving alone over straight highways with few distractions can be nirvana for a solitary traveler. But for someone who prefers company and dislikes interstate driving, it can be a challenge. Our Empty Nest TravelingMom shares these survival tips learned the hard way, on a solo road trip to visit her daughter at a tiny college in the middle of an Iowa cornfield.

Solor road trip tips
A solo road trip can be a challenge for people who prefer company–or someone else to drive! Photo: Pixabay

Solo Road Trip Tips

Being an empty nester means lots of great things. Not worrying about teens who missed their curfews, not buying out the snack aisle at Costco and not being made fun of for going to bed at 10 pm, are just a few of them. But, for me, one of the not-so-great things is not always having company on the road.

I can drive for hours in bumper to bumper rush hour traffic in Chicago (something that makes my husband want to pull his hair out). But put me on a straight and narrow highway between Chicago and the middle of Iowa and I zone out. Without the stimulation and challenge of dodging city traffic, I need beautiful scenery and/or stimulating conversation to keep me awake.

A solo road trip across the flatlands of northern Illinois and the farmlands of eastern Iowa on a gray day at the beginning of winter offers neither. But the powerful draw of a beloved daughter was enough to get me into the car to make the 5-plus hour trek. Having a great car—Toyota loaned me a 2017 Highlander Hybrid for the drive—made a huge difference too.

Here are my 6 survival tips for solo road trips, learned the hard way, on a solo road trip.

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1. Stop Often

This is a key to a successful road trip even when I’m road tripping with hubby. I actually expected to stop less when I was traveling alone–there would be only one bladder demanding attention. Instead, I found it to be even more important to stop every hour or so on my solo road trip. I never passed a rest stop without pulling over. Even if I didn’t venture inside the building, just parking and getting out of the car for a big stretch and a little walk left me refreshed and refocused for the next leg of the trip.

On my return trip late at night, I learned something about rest stops that I had never noticed when driving with hubby: They can be dark and desolate places after hours.

The first rest stop I pulled into was deserted except for two parked semi trucks. Deciding that it wasn’t optimal for a woman traveling alone to be wandering around there in the dead of night, I kept driving.

For the rest of the trip, I stopped at truck stops and exits with McDonald’s or other fast food places. They offered clean bathrooms and the promise of at least a few workers inside.

Solo road trip tips - drive the right car, like this Toyota Highlander Hybrid.
The Toyota Highlander Hybrid was the right car for my solo road trip. Photo credit: Cindy Richards / Empty Nest TravelingMom

2. Drive the Right Car

Hot car tech and the creature comforts of a well-designed cockpit area turned out to be lifesavers on this solo road trip. The temperature plunged as I made my way west, so it was a treat to climb back into the Toyota Highlander Hybrid after each stop. I would hit the button that would send heat into the steering wheel and warm my chilled hands. Then I would turn to “3” the dial that would heat my seat.

Another big plus: the Toyota Highlander Hybrid Platinum model I was driving has a smart key that I never had to take out of my pocket. When I got out of the car at the rest stop, I just touched a spot on the driver’s door handle to lock the car. When I returned, I touched another spot to open the locked door. (If you saw the big, messy purse I carry, you would understand just how much of a joy it is not to have to find the darned key in there.)

Road trip snacks
Photo by Jamie Bartosch/Suburban TravelingMom
Stopping for gas station snacks is a fun part for our family road trips.

3. Bring Snacks

All parents know that snacks are the key to road trip happiness when you are road tripping with kids. Turns out they keep us adults pretty happy as well.

Without a co-pilot to supply me with snacks on demand, it was important to keep the red grapes and pretzels (my go-to road trip snacks) handy. I started by putting them in the passenger seat but found they slid just out of reach when I went around a turn. At the next stop, I moved them to the Highlander’s giant center console storage area to ensure they were always within easy reach.

The only sight worth seeing on a mid-November road trip across Illinois and Iowa was a few trees in blazing color, pictured here through the moonroof of a 2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid.
The only sight worth seeing on a mid-November road trip across Illinois and Iowa was a few trees in blazing color, pictured here through the huge moonroof of a 2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid. Photo credit: Cindy Richards/Empty Nest TravelingMom

4. Enjoy the View

This was a bit of challenge since I was driving through north-central Illinois and eastern Iowa in mid-November. Everything on the ground was dying. But the relatively few trees I saw were ablaze with color. The doubly long moonroof in the Highlander gave me at least a glimpse of color as I drove under the fall leaves. I didn’t have anyone in the middle row bucket seats, but if I had, they, too, would have had full view of the sky, thanks to the moonroof that spans the full length of the 7 passenger SUV.

Solo road trip tips - good car tech is important.
A car that helps you drive with features like this bird’s eye view camera helps on a solo road trip. Photo credit: Cindy Richards / Empty Nest TravelingMom

5. Make the Most of the Tech

The Toyota Highlander Entune infotainment system meant that I had access to satellite radio, but I’m a word girl. So I downloaded a couple of books on tape to entertain me across the great wide spaces. I had trouble getting my iPad to talk to the system via Bluetooth, so I listened the old-fashioned way—with my earbuds. It helped pass the time.

I did use (and like) the Highlander nav, which included a large enough display that I didn’t have to work to figure out where I was headed.

But my favorite feature of the display was, by far, the bird’s eye view camera. It worked alongside the rear-view camera to give me a 360-degree view of the car every time I backed out of a rest stop parking space. I also used the camera to check whether I had managed to park between the lines each time I pulled into a spot.

Solo road trips can be a challenge. These survival tips will help you stay awake and enjoy the drive.

6. Be Safe

The worst part of a solo road trip is staying alert. That made me really appreciate the Toyota Safety Sense safety package on the Highlander. The adaptive cruise control let me set a speed and forget it. On those rare occasions when traffic started to back up, the cruise control slowed down the car.

One time, as I was too focused on the nav and not enough on the road, the lane departure warning told me I was drifting.

As I headed home well after dark on my solo drive back, the automatic high beam headlights made it easy for me to see the dark and lonely road without worrying that I would accidentally blind the rare driver heading the other way.

The Bottom Line

I still don’t love the idea of a solo road trip. But a few coping mechanisms make it feel more reasonable to take to the road and visit my darling daughter.

What are your tips for solo road trips? Share with us in the comment section below.

 

Road Trip Tips: 5 Ways to Give Your Road Trip a Holiday Feel

Traveling with kids over the holidays can feel like just another family obligation. But it doesn’t have to! These road trip tips will turn your annual holiday road trip to Grandma’s house into an opportunity for family memory making that will last for many holidays to come.

5 tips for holiday road trip

Holiday Road Trip Tips

  1. Give Your Trip a Name

  2. See the Same old Journey with New Eyes

  3. Create Your Own Games

  4. Be Your Own DJ

  5. Feature Holiday Road Trip Snacks

 

Celebrating Thanksgiving with multiple generations can mean long road trips to get together! Photo by Mary Heston, World Traveling Mom

Family Bonding on a Holiday Road Trip

Jeff Siegel, author of the 2011 book, RelationTrips: A Simple, Powerful Way to Bond with Your Loved Ones Through Personalized Road Trips, offered this advice for family bonding during holiday road trips in an interview with TravelingMom:

“Begin by thinking about it as much more than just ‘a trip.’  Instead, spend time together focusing on some of the RelationTrip staples, such as coming up with a theme for your trip, creating a custom name for your journey, designing a special logo, and researching sites, landmarks, friends and family that you’d like to weave into your itinerary.

“The important thing is that whatever you do during the planning stages, you do it together.  This helps build anticipation towards the trip and gets everyone involved long before your family leaves the driveway.”

Holiday road trip tips for winter driving.
Photo credit: Pixabay

5 Roads Trip Tips Made for Holidays

Try these five tips for transforming the annual ritual into a family memory:

  • See the journey with new eyes.  Sure, you do the same road trip every holiday, but that doesn’t mean it has to be boring. Challenge kids to look for new landmarks along the way, take the time to stop at that “roadside marker” you’ve passed every year and always wondered about, or stop to eat at the little roadside restaurant you usually drive past but always wanted to try.
  • Name your holiday trip.  Weave in something relating to the holiday for which you are traveling, such as “Turkey in Detroit.”  Or consider including the family name, such as “The Douglas Family’s December to Remember!”
  • Get creative with games.  There’s nothing like a rousing chorus of 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall or the license plate game to help pass the hours in the car.  Give the road trip games a holiday feel by playing “Guess My Favorite Present,” “Name That Christmas Tune,” “The Chanukah Memory Game” or “Quote that Holiday Movie.”
  • Be your own DJ.  Ask each family member to put together a playlist of their top ten holiday tunes. During the road trip, each member of the family gets a turn presenting their own countdown.
  • Have fun with holiday food.  While you are on the road, take a detour to a farm or market to gather ingredients for the meal.  Once you arrive, plan a food-themed activity such as visiting a turkey farm to “Pardon a Bird” or a local orchard for a sleigh ride and hot apple cider.

And, finally, always remember that when something goes wrong, it can be a good thing. What are your favorite family memories? Chances are they aren’t about the times when everything went right!

Do you have a tip for making road trip memories over the holidays? Share with us in the comment section below.

Planning a road trip over Thanksgiving, Christmas or another winter holiday? These 5 tips will make it more fun and help you build family memories.

Celebrate the Resurgence of Downtown Detroit at the Lovely DoubleTree Suites

If you haven’t been to Detroit in the last five years, you haven’t been to Detroit. Downtown Detroit is under construction as developers reclaim and rebuild its most beautiful buildings, like the historic high rise that now houses the DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Detroit Downtown – Fort Shelby. The lovely family friendly hotel was the host for a TravelingMom influencer event, #TLEDetroit, starring YouTube star and TravelingDad Daym Drops.

Daymon Patterson, AKA YouTube star Daym Drops, takes a selfies with TravelingMoms Mary Moore, Cindy Richards, Kim Orlando, and Deb Steenhagen, and TravelingDads TJ Burns and Richard Christensen at #TLEDetroit
Daymon Patterson, AKA YouTube star Daym Drops, takes a selfie with TravelingMoms Mary Moore, Cindy Richards, Kim Orlando, and Deb Steenhagen, and TravelingDads TJ Burns and Richard Christensen at #TLEDetroit

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Downtown Detroit and Daym Drops

Detroit, Michigan, is a city on the rise. After years of disinvestment and decline, downtown Detroit is experiencing a renaissance—so much so that USA Today named it one of 14 places in the US to visit in 2016.

TravelingMom headed to Detroit to see for ourselves in late September, 2017. We invited Detroit area influencers to join us for a Detroit Travel + Lifestyle Event showing off the DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Detroit Downtown – Fort Shelby and TravelingDad Daymon Patterson, better known as Daym Drops, the YouTube star who also struts his stuff on the Rachel Ray Show.

DoubleTree Executive Chef Eric Hurd demonstrated how he builds a pork belly appetizer that is just as pretty as it is yummy. And Daym Drops has the review:

Chef Demo at Doubletree Detroit

Executive Chef Eric of the Doubletree Detroit shows us how to prepare seared pork belly with a sweet potato puree. Traveling Dad Daym Drops chimes in with some video and food tasting tips! #TLEDetroit

Posted by Traveling Mom on Friday, September 29, 2017

 

History of the DoubleTree Suites in Downtown Detroit

The building that now houses the DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Detroit Downtown – Fort Shelby sat vacant for 34 years. Surprisingly, though, some of the original marble remains and was used in the renovation and revitalization of this grand dame of a hotel.

Now a member of the Historic Hotels of America, the DoubleTree Detroit – Fort Shelby has roots that date back to 1779. It sits on the site of a colonial era fort, then called Fort Lenoult. During the War of 1812, the fort ultimately was won by American troops led by Kentucky Governor Isaac Shelby. The fort was renamed in his honor.

While the fort is long gone, the hotel retains an homage to its history with the Fort Shelby in its name. The Fort Shelby Hotel was built in 1917 on the site of the former fort. Over the years, the hotel saw ups and downs before it closed completely in 1974. The building sat vacant for 34 years.

DoubleTree Suites downtown Detroit.
DoubleTree Suites downtown Detroit. Photo: Wikipedia

Family Friendly Hotel

Today, the beautiful Beaux-Arts building has been restored to its former glory. It’s a teeming property that boasts a great downtown Detroit location within easy walking distance of many Detroit attractions and just a block from the People Mover and a few blocks from the new QLine Streetcar that runs up and down Woodward Avenue.

Historic #ceiling at the #historic @DoubleTreeDetroit #hotel. #TLEDetroit #DoubleTreeFS #tmom #lovelyplace

A post shared by Cindy Richards (@cindy_richards) on

Even more important than the gorgeous building is the quality of the service. Everyone I ran into was pleasant and helpful. And, I loved this promise from the family friendly hotel, found on cards prominently displayed around the hotel and in my room:

DoubleTree Suites downtown Detroit promise: If something isn't right, they'll fix it.

Family Friendly Suites Make the Difference 

I stayed in a 650-square-foot suite that felt bigger than some apartments I have rented. The separate sitting area with its own flat screen TV sits a long hallway from the bedroom. There’s no pool to entertain the kids, but they can stay up, watching TV and indulging in the free wifi, while us parents get our beauty rest.

And the rest I got! The DoubleTree “Sweet Dreams” bed was one of the comfiest hotel beds I have ever had the pleasure of sinking into at the end of a long day.

The huge bathroom is nicely appointed and has enough space for more than one person to get ready at the same time. It is all one room—no separate space for the toilet and or tub—so that can slow things down a bit for families that like their privacy.

The huge bathroom at the DoubleTree Suites downtown Detroit.
Photo: Cindy Richards / Empty Nest TravelingMom

Dining at the DoubleTree

The lunch we had at #TLEDetroit was a nice representation of the quality of the food Chef Eric supplies.

The famous DoubletTree chocolate chip cookie.
The famous DoubletTree chocolate chip cookie. Photo: Cindy Richards / Empty Nest TraveingMom

The foodie experience at the DoubleTree Suites in Downtown Detroit starts with the cookie. That would be the warm, gooey chocolate chip cookie you get whenever you check into a DoubleTree anywhere. This delectable treat should be savored. Wait until you get upstairs to your room, brew a cup of Wolfgang Puck coffee, settle into the sitting area and enjoy!

The hotel has two onsite restaurants: Motor City Kitchen and the Round Bar.

Motor City Kitchen offers “an urban twist on comfort food” each day for breakfast. The breakfast buffet was fresh, hot and plentiful.

For lunch and dinner, move across the hall to the Round Bar. It serves local beer and innovative cocktails along with comfort food like this bread pudding.

Daymon Patterson, AKA YouTube star Daym Drops, takes a selfies with TravelingMoms Mary Moore, Cindy Richards, Kim Orlando, and Deb Steenhagen, and TravelingDads TJ Burns and Richard Christensen at #TLEDetroit
Bread pudding at the Round Bar at DoubleTreeSuites in Downtown Detroit. #Yum Photo: Cindy Richards / Empty Nest TravelingMom

Have you been to Detroit recently?

Detroit hotels like the DoubleTree Suites by Hilton - Fort Shelby -- are housed in formerly abandoned buildings now restored to their former glory. This historic hotel is a great spot for foodies and families.

Traveling During the Holidays? You Aren’t Alone

Does anyone still go “home for the holidays?” Yes, according to a new survey. But not everyone. More than a quarter of the people who responded to the survey said they plan to stay home or will be traveling during the holidays—but not to go home or see family.

Traveling at the holidays - Christmas in Northern Ireland is magical with a stay at Bally Gally Castle and a visit from Father Christmas.
Christmas in Northern Ireland is magical with a stay at Bally Gally Castle and a visit from Father Christmas. Photo credit: Kathy Penny / Special Needs TravelingMom

Traveling During the Holidays

Ah, the holidays. It’s that special time when the whole family comes together around a festive table to reconnect and renew. Or is it?

A new survey suggests that going home for the holidays is no longer a family travel tradition for many. When we asked our readers and readers of TravelingDad, our partner family travel website written by dads for dads, and the social community of Vacatia, the resort marketplace for vacationing families and friends, if they plan to go home for the holidays, more than 26 percent said they will be staying home or vacationing – not with extended family – this year.

Traveling for the holidays - Polish and now American families have celebrated Christmas Eve together for the last 30 years.
Polish and now American families have celebrated Christmas Eve together for the last 30 years. Photo by Yvonne Jasinski / Credit Card Traveling Mom

Where to Celebrate the Holidays

One third of our readers say tradition still rules. They will be head home for the holidays to see family. Another 24 percent will be hosting family at their house. “Help me now, they’re all coming to my house.” About 17 percent of readers are headed to neutral ground, reporting they will be “meeting up with family at a destination.”

“Many of our guests have a tradition of spending the holidays with extended family at a beach or ski destination” says Caroline Shin, CEO and co-founder of Vacatia. “Often those guests book our bigger resort rentals – two-, three-, or four-bedroom residences or larger to accommodate their family members, insisting on a family room for get-together time, and a kitchen for preparing holiday meals.”

Celebrating Holidays When It’s Convenient 

One-third of survey respondents say that “remarriages, demanding in-laws, and/or large families mean we juggle multiple gatherings and commitments.” Another 23 percent note “work schedules and conflicting commitments mean we celebrate the holiday on a different day.”

“If you look at the holidays as ‘holiday time’ rather than getting together on a specific day, it gives you more options,” says Kim Orlando, founder of TravelingMom. “For example, if you want to travel together to a destination, it’s less crowded and more affordable to travel before or after the holiday itself.”

Traveling for the holidays - visiting Disney with the in-laws.
Checking out holiday decorations at Disney with the in-laws. Photo credit: Mary Lebeau / East Coast TravelingMom

Travel is the Greatest Gift

More than 37 percent say that, given a choice, “we would see the family members we enjoy“ only. Almost 8 percent actually said they would just stay home, stating “we would save the money and hassle of holiday travel.”

“We’re seeing more and more families choosing to give experiences rather than things as gifts,” Orlando says. “Last year for Christmas, I gave my family airline tickets. It gave us something to talk about and look forward to for 6 months until the trip.

“Travel is the greatest gift of all – it makes incredible memories and bonds families like nothing else can,” Orlando adds.

Family travel is a $140 billion year-around business, which still tends to peak when the kids are out of school. Shin noted Vacatia was founded specifically to serve the family travel market by providing convenient access to resort residences.

“As the demographic trends evolve, and family members become more mobile, following school, career, or passions, we are happy to help bring families together for the holidays in whichever of the best North American leisure destinations they choose, whenever they choose to meet,” Shin says.

Traveling for the holidays - visiting Santa.
These girls are now 22 and 25! Photo by Melody Pittman/Southern TravelingMom.

Family Holiday Routines are Changing

More than half (59 percent) say the biggest holiday changes over the years are in family “gift giving” practices. Another 57 percent say the biggest changes are around the “activities and traditions” of the holidays (respondents could select more than one choice).

Almost 42 percent mentioned “sleeping arrangements” have changed most, while 28 percent noted that “eating arrangements” were most different. About 17 percent specifically mentioned “the day when we actually celebrate the holiday” as the routine that has most changed.

Lesson learned from this survey? Flexibility makes for the best holiday experiences. For everyone.

Survey results were compiled between September 12th and 30th, 2017.