Check out the Southtown Salt Cave Saturday mornings at 9:00 am for children’s sessions. Children get to play in the salt cave for only $10. Enjoy the healing experiences while your children enjoy the beautiful environment and restorative powers.
Hidden in the middle of the backcountry, on the Kentucky and Tennessee border, is a little know National River and Recreation Area with a family adventure for all ages. An exciting rail excursion takes you through winding forest passes on a 16-mile (round trip) trek into the valley to the location of the Blue Heron mining community. This area was inhabited by workers in the coal mine and their families from 1937 to 1962. As you traverse the hillside, you are greeted by babbling brooks or roaring rivers, depending on the time of the year. Birds sing delightfully and butterflies flutter in the air as the train chugs through the forest. My son sat mesmerized by the action as this was his first ever train ride. The first time to experience the sounds of the wheels on the track, the engine fighting the pull of gravity, the locomotive’s horn blaring into the expansive treetops.
The train makes a stop at the old mine depot, complete with a tipple (train car filling station) and bridge crossing the Big South Fork River. A short walk up a grassy hill and you can enter an abandoned mine to learn about the miners that used to work this land. Hold the tools from a bygone era and feel the stories of the past. These locations are a great place for families to stop to share a moment together where they can discuss the families that used to live in Blue Heron. The contrast of your children’s lives to the lives of children that attended the small schoolhouse there will help them grow a better appreciation for the sacrifices made by past generations and how lucky they are to live in the time they do now. The train returns the passengers back to the visitor center, providing a new perspective from that of the journey into the forest. The Big South Fork Scenic Railway is a great family adventure, hidden in the middle of the Appalachian Mountains.
Sagamore Hill is the home of one of the most revered leaders in our nation’s history. Nestled on a hill in the quaint town of Oyster Bay, New York, sits the charming home of Theodore and Edith Roosevelt and their children. A great reason NOT to take a house tour with children is the fear of their boredom, disrupting others, or the need to preemptively leave the tour. But my wife and I decided to make the attempt regardless with our 6-month-old son, Aiden. Although too young to truly appreciate the splendor and magnificence of the first-floor rooms and their stories, his eyes explored the room, undoubtedly recognizing images of things he has seen in the books we read to him daily. Buffalo heads, cheetah print blankets, rows and rows of books, ivory tusks, and life-sized portraits. The impressiveness of the first floor of Sagamore Hill is difficult to describe and leads to an awe-inspiring visit.
As we continued our tour to the second floor, the moment we were holding our breath hoping to avoid began, as my son started crying. We realized we were getting those looks from the other visitors on the tour thinking, “Why did you have to bring a child on this tour? How inconsiderate!” A quick look over to my wife and we knew it was time to separate from the pack. She walked off into a side room, rocking my son habitually. In the uncomfortably awkward moments that followed, something remarkable happened that would not otherwise have occurred. I wandered away briefly from the group to check on my son and witnessed a sight that I may never forget. There standing in just another bedroom on another historic home tour was my wife holding our son asleep in her arms. But this room was different. When Theodore Roosevelt was raising his children in this home, the room was used as a nursery. Our 26th president undoubtedly stood in the same room as my wife, rocking his own children to sleep. As my son peacefully slept in her arms, the difference between the life of a US president and my own seemed to shrink immeasurably. These are the moments that making excuses will cause you to miss. A room that would have been honored with a 10 second viewing otherwise, turned into a memorable moment in my new life role as a father.
As the tour moved on to its conclusion on the expansive front porch, I sat down in a rocking chair and held my son. I looked over the scenery with the American flag flapping in the wind, contemplating life, just as Roosevelt must have 100 years earlier. Sagamore Hill allows visitors to transport themselves into the life and mind of an American hero. Touring the house of a man renowned for his family-oriented lifestyle with your own children can only emphasize the connection you will make to history visiting the site.
Opportunity abounds in the city of Baltimore for families of all interests and ages. The national aquarium is a staple of any itinerary, situated in the center of the Inner Harbor. The multiple levels of exhibits and the dolphin show offer children a multitude of varying experiences. I am not sure what was more amazing, watching the jellyfish majestically floating around their tanks, or watching my son’s face filled with awe and amazement as he stared at the tiny creatures. At one of the displays, my son and another boy began talking about the turtles in one exhibit. From that point on, the two of them went from tank to tank, pointing out each animal to each other, excitedly announcing when they had found each one. These are the experiences and moments that you don’t quickly forget and why it is important for families to put excuses aside and create memorable trips. Both of my children had the opportunity to touch horseshoe crabs and jellyfish on another floor of the aquarium, giving them a better appreciation for how delicate living things can be and why it is important for them to be protected. Yet, this enlightening encounter was contrasted by the dark walkway winding down through the shark tank. Children can also understand how small they are in the world compared to the mighty kings of the ocean and appreciate their magnificence and power.
Use the Inner Harbor as a springboard for many family activities around Baltimore. Paddleboard in summer for a differing perspective and family team-building. Take the water taxi to Fort McHenry for a better appreciation of the American flag and our national anthem. Stand with your children as the screen is raised after the historical video to see the flag flapping in the wind in all its glory. Salute the flag with your children to reinforce the patriotism that makes this country great. Visit a couple chain restaurants on the water like Bubba Gump Shrimp, Cheesecake Factory, or Hard Rock Café. Make sure to stop by the local favorite for breakfast, Miss Shirley’s Café. Ripley’s Believe it or Not and the Maryland Science Center are conveniently located at the Inner Harbor as well.
A short distance from the Inner Harbor is the Port Discovery Children’s Museum. You will discover four floors of interactive excitement with the most incredible slide and climbing contraption at its center. Children can enhance so many developmental skills participating in the various activities. Dig in sand for dinosaur bones. Operate a boom, loading and unloading train cars. Splash in water and manage a system of locks. Kick a soccer ball or throw a football. All this while incorporating the vital skills of cooperation, teamwork, and sharing with other children. The children’s museum is a great stop for families with younger children as they expend an abundant amount of energy built up from travelling. Make this your first stop after arriving and dinner that night should be a little bit less hectic.
No stop in Baltimore would be complete without experiencing the culinary delicacies of the area. Leave the Inner Harbor to encounter some of the best seafood around. Crab cakes are a must, but seafood paella, oysters and lobster should be on your list as well. The best way for children to expand their palate and learn the cultural dishes on their travels is to watch their parents experiment with different foods themselves. Set the example that new foods aren’t scary, and children will be more willing to venture away from chicken fingers and French fries. I remember my daughter watching in astonishment as my wife cracked apart crab legs, ripping out the meat before dipping it in a cup of melted butter. If you are lucky enough to be visiting at the right time, wander through a local farmers’ market where the variety of unique choices will broaden your horizons and expose your children to new people and culture. Overall, Baltimore is a city filled with diverse experience for families to grow and build their relationships. Precious family time can be reinforced in Charm City.
Hidden away in central New York is a site dripping in political manipulation and historical enlightenment. Although a marginal figure in American history, William Seward’s mansion in Auburn, New York, transports visitors into the story of a life that epitomizes an historic house tour. Seward is known for his “folly” purchasing Alaska from Russia, but do you know his connection to the Underground Railroad as well as the success of Harriet Tubman? Do you know the gruesome story of an assassination attempt on his life that took place simultaneously to the attack on Abraham Lincoln? The back-story behind our 24th Secretary of State’s life is highlighted by the moving account of his daughter’s death as well as his wall of famous faces, both integral points of the tour. His burial is not far away, in a charming, hilly cemetery where he is not alone in his fame, thanks to the presence of Harriet Tubman’s headstone, where remembrances honoring her heroism are ever present. Immerse yourself in a life less-known, a man that played an integral role in our nation’s history. A man who steered the country through the Civil War, the beginning of reconstruction, and secured valuable land and resources. He definitely deserves a spot on your next itinerary as you travel across New York State. Auburn, New York, a short drive off of interstate 90, is the personification of Small Town USA. But unfortunately this is an example of a place where hidden gems are left unvisited. When you finish your tour, consider visiting the Auburn Prison, Harriet Tubman NHP, or possibly Prison City Pub and Brewery, where you will have the craft brewing experience of your dreams.
My wife and I hear people saying that they can’t travel because they have children. Many excuses are mentioned – spending the money, time, kids’ sleep schedule, food preferences, rowdy behavior, will it be entertaining enough, etc. Every trip can be tailored to minimize, although not eliminate, these excuses by adapting the experiences to the children’s ages, likes, routine. This blog is intended to inspire parents to take their children on adventures and experiences that will shape their concept of the world around them. Our goal is to inspire families to spend time together traveling and leave the excuses behind, creating memorable moments and quality experiences together.