Showing posts with label Mid-Atlantic. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mid-Atlantic. Show all posts

Biking the GAP Trail with Kids

Cycling the Great Allegheny Passage - Finishing in Cumberland, MD

Cycling has become a big part of our family's lives during this pandemic.  Both of our boys (ages 5 and 8) learned how to ride a bike at the start of COVID and before long we were hitting up trails and racking up the miles.  They even convinced their old mom to get back on a bike for the first time since I was a kid!  We spent weekends cycling the York Heritage Rail Trail in PA, the C&O Canal in Maryland, and some local neighborhood trails.  My 8 year old became especially enamored with the sport and started challenging himself with longer and longer rides.  By July, he was ready to tackle a big challenge - riding all 150 miles of the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP Trail) with his dad over 5 days.  Since our vacation plans were cancelled this summer, we pivoted and decided to make it a family road trip.

If you're not familiar with the Great Allegheny Passage, it's a 150 mile trail from Pittsburgh, PA to Cumberland, MD where it then connects to the C&O Canal.  Planning a trip like this, my husband and I mapped out segments they would ride each day - ranging from 18 to 44 miles depending on the day.  There are long stretches of this trail that do involve up hill grade so you'll want to check out the maps on the GAP Trail website for more details about where to expect those.  Despite the climb, the trail is incredibly well maintained so you won't be spending time or energy fighting poor conditions.

We opted to stay in two different hotels over the 5 nights we were away.  We spent the first two nights in the Hilton Garden Inn in Uniontown, PA for the northern part of the trail and then moved to the Hampton Inn in Somerset, PA for the remaining three nights.  These locations kept travel reasonable to trail access points.  They also gave us the opportunity to visit some other cool areas in Western PA including Ohiopyle, Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater, Laurel Hills State Park, Flight 93 National Memorial and Fort Necessity Battlefield.  The day that Brody and Dan rode in Pittsburgh, my youngest and I visited the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium.  Needless to say, there were plenty of outdoor activities to do keep us busy when the boys wrapped up their biking each day!  When you end in Cumberland, there is a ton to do including a great little restaurant in The Crabby Pig, a cycling shop, winery, and ice cream. . .all directly at the trail's end.

Staying in a hotel during COVID? Read more about our first COVID travel experience here!


To hear more about biking and the Great Allegheny Passage, check out what my son had to say about the experience!


Want to donate to the C&O Canal as part of Brody's 50 mile ride fundraiser? 



Cycling is a great way to get outside, burn some energy, and stay active - especially during this time of social distancing!  We look forward to highlighting more cycling destinations as we travel and sharing our adventures with you.  Happy riding!

Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium - Great Family Fun!


On a recent trip to Western Pennsylvania, my youngest and I found ourselves with a morning to ourselves and decided to make an impromptu visit to the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium.  Unlike most places we visit, I didn't take any time to plan ahead - we simply showed up and figured it out as we went.  The morning was exactly what we were looking for: plenty of time together, lots of animals, and a safe environment during this summer of COVID.

Pittsburgh Zoo - The Basics


The Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium are located on the outskirts of downtown Pittsburg in the Highland Park area.  Getting here was super easy which was good news for me as I absolutely hate city driving.  It was really simple to find off the highway and features plenty of free parking for zoo patrons.  We visited in July 2020 which means that COVID procedures were in full swing - and there were a few differences from my visit to the Maryland Zoo just a few weeks earlier.  Guests were required to wear masks the entire time they are in the Pittsburgh Zoo except when eating or drinking.  In addition, there was no timed entry required as they found that they had been running well below capacity so we purchased our tickets at the main gate.  After entering there is a steep incline to get up to the main zoo property which guests can navigate either via one of the steepest escalators I've ever seen, an elevator, or a walking path.  Once up the escalator, one way traffic kicked in to minimize guests passing back and forth by each other.  I didn't really see staff out enforcing the one way traffic, but I also didn't see any guests out of compliance with following it. I was also happy that many of the food service options in the park were open and there were frequent reminders in the front half of the park that you can mobile order for the main dining option - Jambo Grill - which is located halfway through your park visit.  

Pittsburgh Zoo - The Animals



I don't know if it was the low crowds and the animals were just excited to see us or if this is the norm, but we saw lots of animals up close and having a blast playing!  It was an incredibly hot morning, so I had mentally prepared that it was going to be a tough go to spot animals, but was pleasantly surprised.  The flamingos were among some of our favorites.  They were super friendly came right up to the fence.  There was also great viewing of the tigers, elephants, and several different types of monkeys.  My son loved watching the orangutan play with his green blankie which reminded him of his green blankie!  On the walk through the zoo, you can also take a visit inside the PPG Aquarium.  I thought this was a great little addition.  While it wasn't as big as visiting a standalone aquarium, it was a nice break from the heat, showcased animals you don't always see at a zoo, and was very well done.  

Want more Mid-Atlantic zoo fun?  Check out my reviews of the Smithsonian Zoological Park (Washington, D.C.), Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, and the Philadelphia Zoo.  



Like most zoos, there is also a kid's area / petting zoo component, but you weren't able to pet the animals currently because of COVID restrictions.  In total, it took us about 3 hours to complete our visit to the zoo - including the snack breaks we took along the way!

Final Thoughts


I'd definitely recommend a visit to the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium if you are visiting the area.  The price was right, park was clean, and animals were great!  You are able to bring in your own drinks which is another recommendation I would make - especially if visiting in the heat of summer.  You shouldn't need more than a 1/2 day to visit the zoo unless you are planning on scheduling one of their animal encounters / behind-the-scenes tours.  Just be sure to check their website for the most up-to-date schedules as many of these programs are currently canceled.  


Go Wild! - Planning Your Visit to The Maryland Zoo

Visiting The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore

"The zoo is an amazing place to be." 

My son looked up with a big smile on his face and said those words during our visit to The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore.  There is always something special about visiting a zoo.  I don't care if it's your first visit or your hundredth - new animals, a new angle, a special feeding - each visit can feel unique.  My family and I headed to The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore in the beginning of July.  It wasn't our first visit, but it was a great experience all around.  Let's take a look inside the zoo and see how some things may be different during your visit in 2020 thanks to coronavirus precautions.

What to Pack for Your Visit to The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore



If you're like me, I always pack a backpack for my kiddos whenever we ever travel regardless of how short or how long the day might be.  At the Maryland Zoo you are welcome to bring in your own food and drinks so we take advantage of that convenience to pack water and a snack.  I don't like to pack a big lunch and have to carry a cooler around so if we're visiting over a meal, I typically plan to grab food there though.  Don't forget to pack LOTS of water in the summer.  It gets hot out there as you're walking around all day.  We also bring sunscreen to reapply during our visit.  Lastly, you may want to consider bringing a stroller, even if your child doesn't alway use one anymore.  My youngest is 5 and can handle hikes and such without it, but The Maryland Zoo features a good bit of walking and some decent sized hills.  On a hot day, and particularly on this visit where he had a broken collarbone, the stroller was a lifesaver.


Our Favorite Animal Exhibits at The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore



There's a lot to see and love at The Maryland Zoo, but below are our top 5 animal exhibits that you won't want to miss.  We spent roughly 3 hours at the zoo and had a chance to pretty much see everything that was open right now.  
  • Giraffes - The viewing for them is almost 360 as you walk the path on the African Journey so don't worry if they're not in a great spot for you when you first approach their area.  I bet you'll get a good look as you walk around!

  • Penguins - These were our FAVORITES!  They are so cute waddling around and there always seems to be zoo staff hanging around to answer questions so we got to know a lot about them.  They also do feedings twice a day where you can hear a more formal presentation from zoo staff.  Don't forget to go inside their exhibit where you can get some pretty cool underwater viewing!
  • Polar Bear - I think we were so happy to watch him playing because it was such a hot day and we were jealous of his swim time in his polar bear pool!  He looked so chill and like he was having such a great time.

  • Chimpanzee Forest - I've always enjoyed monkey exhibits at zoos, but this particular visit was even more special as their were two babies in the exhibit.  Watching them play was totally adorable.  And I really felt like I related to the parents who looked exhausted and like they were just trying to take a rest but the little ones kept pulling on their hands, arms, and feet.  Mom life, am I right???
  • Elephants - There is nothing quite as majestic as an elephant!  These guys are huge and they have a huge area to roam at the zoo meaning you have a number of places to view them.  One of our favorite things is to grab an ICEE at the Oasis and watch the elephants below!

Health and Safety at The Maryland Zoo during Coronavirus


Our summer fun plans look very different this summer due to coronavirus and many travel destinations are working hard to adjust their protocols to safely reopen.  As we are making choices about where to go and what to do, outside venues are really important to us which makes the zoo a perfect place to visit.  Here's a quick summary of some of the safety protocols in place at The Maryland Zoo.  For the most up-to-date information, please visit their website at http://www.marylandzoo.org



Staying in a hotel this summer? Check out what it's like to stay in a hotel during coronavirus.


  • Timed Entry - All guests, whether members or not, need to reserve a timed entry to the zoo.  Plan to arrive at your assigned time.  If you're early, they have a place outside of the main gates where you can wait while social distancing.  This system worked well.  Our entry time was 1:00 and we arrived at 12:59 so we were able to go right in.  It did what it was designed to do as there was no wait at the ticket booth to enter and crowds were light for a summer day.  All tickets also need to be either printed at home or displayed on your smartphone for easy, no contact scanning.
  • Masks - Masks are not required everywhere in the zoo.  When you are exploring outdoors and social distancing can be maintained, you don't have to wear a mask.  "Mask Zones" are clearly marked and include tight spaces, indoor areas, bathrooms, and places that a line form.  In those zones, all guests 9 and over are required to wear masks.  We opted to wear ours even at some of the outdoor exhibits that didn't require them if their were other families nearby and, even though it wasn't required, we opted to bring them for both of our children as did most families we saw.  To help with social distancing, the zoo has instituted a one-way traffic flow.  There were employees helping to point guests in the right direction and answer questions along the way.
  • Increased Cleaning / Sanitation - You'll be happy to know that zoo staff is EVERYWHERE cleaning.  I was really impressed by the friendliness and hard work of the whole staff during our visit.  High touch surfaces in particular were wiped down frequently.  There is also hand sanitizer throughout the entire zoo with easy-to-locate signs.  

  • Temporary Closures - There are some activities at the zoo that are not currently available including the carousel, train, climbing features, playground, certain programming, and some food locations.  While my kids asked about a few of these that they remembered from our previous visits, these closures didn't dampen our fun.  Not everything is cancelled though!  We were really excited to catch the penguin feeding which happens twice a day.  One of the biggest closures to note is that the shuttle is not running from the entrance to Zoo Central.  Getting to the zoo won't be a problem, but you will have a big hill to climb to the exit.  
Overall, throughout our visit we had a great time and felt safe exploring The Maryland Zoo.  I would definitely recommend heading outside, seeing some animals, and having fun with some furry friends!  

Thank you to The Maryland Zoo for hosting my visit so I could share these updates!


What It's Like To Stay In A Hotel During Coronavirus

This past weekend we did something we hadn't done in months. . .stayed in a hotel.  As you know, my family loves to travel and we are always on the go having new adventures.  But coronavirus has sidelined us, as well as everyone else, from our "normal." So for Father's Day we decided that we were going to load up the bikes and head on a quick road trip up to Jim Thorpe, PA in the Pocono Mountains for some trail riding.  Along with that road trip, would be our first hotel stay in the era of coronavirus.  Long story short, travel fans can rejoice that while hotel stays are different thanks to COVID, they are still doable in my opinion.

Where did we stay?


Readers of my website will know that we are a Hilton family thanks to their great loyalty program and the amount of Hilton points we accumulate.  We used our points to stay at the Hampton Inn-Lehighton for two nights.  This hotel is just a few miles outside of downtown Jim Thorpe and provides a convenient location for cyclists and families that may want to check out the Lehigh Gorge Trail, part of the much larger D&L Trail.  The hotel staff could not have more friendly!  They were accommodating even before we arrived, talking us through some questions we had about the area and bike storage in the days leading up to our visit.  The room was a nice size to accommodate our family of four and there was easy access to the highway.

Hotel Cleanliness During Coronavirus



Top on everyone's list of concerns right now is keeping this clean and sanitized wherever you go, so traveling to a hotel can feel like a big decision.  You'll be happy to know that we were really pleased with the efforts of Hilton as a brand and this Hampton Inn location in particular.  When we arrived, the check-in area was blocked with sheeting so that germs could not pass back and forth.  Even with the barrier in place, employees wore masks and guests were required to wear masks in the lobby area.  The employee who checked us in was warm and welcoming.  She explained that with concerns about transmitting germs, they have currently opted guests out of daily housekeeping - that way once you enter your cleaned and sanitized room, no one but your family will be in there until you check out.  I really liked that option.  Now, if you're someone who isn't worried about having someone enter your room and you really like a "freshen up" each day - you could opt in to housekeeping, but you need to request it and alert the front desk.  If you have an extended stay and would just like fresh towels on different days, you can also call and request them from the front desk and they will be delivered outside your door in a sealed package.



Despite all the measures that were in place, we still brought our own Clorox wipes and wiped down high touch surfaces like the vanity area, dresser, nightstand, desk, etc. before be began unpacking and settling in.  I will also say that every time we were in the lobby, we saw employees wiping surfaces and cleaning.  It's easy to see that Hilton is taking the precautions seriously and we felt good about how clean everything was being kept.

Hotel Amenities During Coronavirus


Something worth noting as you decide whether or not to travel is that some of your typical hotel amenities may not be operating or may be different than what you're used to seeing.  In our case towards the end of June, the indoor pool, fitness center, and business center were all closed.  The commons area also featured socially distanced seating which means less seats available.  We went down to the lobby to eat delivery our first night and were the only ones there and both mornings we ate breakfast in our rooms so we never felt crowded or like seating was an issue during our stay.


One of the biggest changes worth noting is modified breakfast service.  Hotels that typically offer breakfast to guests may have some modifications in place.  Usually, Hampton Inn offers continental options and a daily hot option to guests on a buffet.  This trip, we found the experience to be different - which we expected and is completely understandable.  They had three types of cereal in individually wrapped bowls, a few types of pre-packaged muffins, one hot option individually wrapped in a warmer, and then fruit, yogurt, juices, and milk in a small refrigerator.  Coffee and hot tea were also available with coffee cups individually wrapped in plastic and stirrer / sweeteners also offered in one prepackaged set.  We anticipated that options may be limited so we took advantage of the fact that we were driving and brought some items with us - the kids' favorite cereals, protein bars, and protein shakes.  We grabbed drinks from the lobby each morning, but otherwise ate breakfast in our room.

While these experiences were in one hotel, I have a feeling that you could expect similar realities wherever you travel.  My best advice, call your specific hotel and ask questions ahead of your arrival so you know what to expect!  Happy Travels!


Hersheypark Announces July 3 Opening!

Image Courtesy of Hersheypark

Fans around the Mid-Atlantic can start rejoicing as one of our favorites, Hersheypark, announced today their plans to reopen July 3rd!  Season Pass holders will have special days ahead of this opening on July 1st and 2nd.  We have been long time fans of Hershey, PA and there is even more SWEET fun to be excited about this year.  

Hersheypark Chocolatetown and Candymonium Opening


Hersheypark Candymonium
Image Courtesy of Hersheypark

With the opening of the park announced just in time for the 4th of July holiday, Hersheypark is excited to debut it's 15th roller coaster, Candymonium.  This ride is going to be epic at 210 feet tall, speeds of 76 MPH, and a length of 4,636 feet.  I can't wait!  Candymonium joins an already stellar cast of coasters of Hersheypark including my favorites - Storm Runner, Skyrush, and Farenheit!  

Along with Candymonium, Hersheypark will also be opening Chocolatetown which will feature a new restaruant, ice cream parlor, and shopping!  For more about these exciting additions, check out this video!


Looking for tips for visiting with your kids? Check this out!


Enhanced Safety Measures and Reopening Protocols for Hersheypark


Hersheypark Reopening
Image Courtesy of Hersheypark

Like other theme parks around the country, Hersheypark has established a new way of doing things this summer.  Here are a few of the highlights:
  • Increased cleaning and sanitation around the park 
  • Guest Reservation System - Find out more about making a reservation here!
  • Social distancing signage and reminders throughout the park
  • All guests over 2 must wear a face mask while enjoying the park 
  • Visitors can expect temperature screenings
  • Ride protocols will be determined on a ride-by-ride basis in relation to social distancing and sanitation
  • Additional training for Hershey employees on new protocols

Can't wait for Hersheypark to reopen?  Check out these ways to have some SWEET fun at home!


Around Hersheypark


Image Courtesy of Hersheypark

While Hersheypark is the premiere attraction for many visitors to Hershey, PA, there is plenty more to see and do which is also reopening at this time.  Hershey Gardens announced a reopening date of 6/20 and ZooAmerica will follow closely behind with an opening date of 6/22.  Hershey's Chocolate World already has opened it's doors as of June 5th and Hershey resorts including The Hotel Hershey, Hershey Lodge, and Hersheypark Camping Resort are open too!  Please websites for each of these locations before visiting for the latest in reservations and safety protocols.  You may even find SWEET deals to make you vacation even more affordable - like these

Want to plan ahead? Don't forget about Hersheypark's Christmas Candylane!


I know I can't wait to get back to Hershey!  Who is with me??


Have a SWEET Quarantine - Hershey Fun to Have at Home!


I don't know about you, but I've been missing a lot of my favorite places during this time while we're at home with the safety measures in place from the coronavirus pandemic.  Like many of you, I've had travel plans upended - including a birthday weekend visit to one of my favorite local destinations, Hershey, Pennsylvania.  We like to visit Hershey several times a year for trips to Hershey's Chocolate World, Hersheypark, and more.  So while we can't go experience the fun of Hershey in person, we brought the fun of Hershey to our house with these fun activities!

Hershey At Home Activities


Hersheypark Coloring Pages - Thanks to the wonderful folks at Hersheypark, here are some free printable coloring pages.  We love planning our visits to see our favorite characters and ride the exciting roller coasters.  These coloring pages keep the excitement alive until we can visit again!

Planning a visit to Hersheypark?  Check out my guide for visiting with kids!


Ride the Roller Coasters - I know what you're thinking. . .ride the roller coasters?  But the park is closed?!?  No worries, Hersheypark has released POV videos on their YouTube channel of their roller coasters so you can feel like you're a part of the SWEET excitement.  Check it out!!!

Make Some Hershey Sweets - We all know one of the best things about visiting Hershey, PA is the chocolate!  I mean, what other theme park is entirely inspired by and centered around chocolate? So when you can't visit Hersheypark and Hershey's Chocolate World right now, you can still make some yummy Hershey chocolate treats.  Some of our favorites:

  • S'mores - You know the drill.  Grab some graham crackers, marshmallows, and a Hershey's chocolate bar!  No fire, no problem! You can preheat the oven to 400 degrees and place the bottom part of the s'more and the marshmallow in the oven for 3-5 minutes until just softened.  Then top with your favorite chocolate and the second half of your graham cracker.  
  • Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Brownies - OK, these may be a new addiction in my house.  I made these from scratch, but you can easily use a base brownie box mix instead.  I found the base brownie mix on Pinterest which linked to this site.  After making the mix, I added crunched up Reese's cups to the batter then poured in the pan.  I cut up two more Reese's cups to top the batter and then baked following the directions on the website.  They turned out delicious!
I can't wait to be back in Hershey soon!  Until then, I'll be making my own SWEET moments at home.  Enjoy!

Port Discovery Children's Museum At Home Activities


Regular readers will know that my family and I have been longtime fans of Port Discovery Children's Museum in Baltimore.  With everything being shut down and families at home trying to make their own fun, I was delighted to see that Port Discovery was posting fun and educational activities for young kids.  And the best part?  Usually the amazingness that is Port Discovery is something only my Mid-Atlantic readers get to experience, but these resources and activities can bring the learning and fun to all of you, regardless of where you live!

Want to check out fun to be found at Port Discovery? Check out some of the newest attractions!


Below is a list of the themes for the next several weeks.  If you want to receive more details about specific activities, sign up for their e-newsletter and give them a follow on Facebook!

  • Week of April 19 - Poetry
  • Week of April 26 - Theater
  • Week of May 3 - Health & Wellness
  • Week of May 10 - Early Education
  • Week of May 17 - STEM
  • Week of May 24 - Health & Wellness
  • Week of May 31 - Theater
They are also sharing activities and projects you can do with your children on their website and I have a few printables they shared with me that you can download here!

Did you know we had a birthday party at Port Discovery a few years ago?  Find out more about the party here!


I can't wait for things to get back to normal and have my kids playing again soon at Port Discovery Children's Museum!  You'll find activities for your little ones to enjoy all year long and special seasonal programs too.  But for now, enjoy these at-home resources and have fun learning with your little ones during this unprecedented time.  



Bandstand Ticket Giveaway at the National Theatre


As I've shared before, the National Theatre hosts some amazing shows and I'm excited to once again partner with them and give away two opening night tickets for the next show heading to Washington, D.C. - Bandstand.  I don't know about you, but I'm a big fan of big band music and World War II era shows.  With several Tony awards under it's belt, this show promises to be a good time!

About the Show




From three-time Tony® winner and Hamilton choreographer, Andy Blankenbuehler, comes a poignant and inspiring new American musical that explodes with infectious music and high-octane, heart-stopping dancing.

Free in DC - Family Fun That Won't Cost You a Penny

Our family is on year two of what I hope will be a new tradition - the Christmas break staycation.  We are blessed to live in the Mid-Atlantic where there is a large number of destinations for families to enjoy.  So rather than spending a small fortune to fly somewhere and travel during the school break we have in December, our family has opted to keep it local but get away from it all and become tourists in our backyard.  Last year we spent one night in a hotel in Baltimore and took the boys on a tour of WBAL television station and then visited the National Aquarium and the Maryland Science Center in the Inner Harbor.  This year, we headed to our big city neighbor just to the south - Washington D.C.  It's the first time our boys visited the nation's capital and we spent three nights thanks to the Hilton points we have acquired downtown at the Embassy Suites.

My goal was to put together a three day itinerary of things to do in D.C. that required no admission charge.  That's right. . .zero, zip, zilch! If you have never traveled to D.C. before, you may be surprised to find that there is SOOOOO much to do for free that you can easily fill several days.  We had so much more that we could have done, but here's a quick summary of what we accomplished!  Keep in mind that my boys are 4 and 7 so that played into what we did and how much time we spent in each location.

U.S. Government Buildings


We began our trip with taking a peek into several locations that would show our kids where the work of our national government takes place.  Tours of the U.S. Capitol, White House, Supreme Court, and Library of Congress are all available free of charge.  The White House is the most coveted tour and does require reservations through your Congressman so you will need to plan several weeks ahead and may need some flexibility on your day and time.  You can also reserve a U.S. Capitol tour through your Congressman (which we did), but we learned this wasn't really necessary as they have an amazing number of tours offered each day which you can secure a ticket for simply by walking into the U.S. Capitol Visitor's Center.  The tour does not take you to see the inside of the Senate and the House so if you want to see that you need to request gallery passes from your Congressman in addition to reserving a tour.  As far as the Supreme Court and Library of Congress, there are free self-guided tours throughout the day and also free guided tours at select times.  You are unable to reserve these ahead of time, but might be able to luck into one when you stop by.  We simply walked around the stunning Library of Congress building without a formal tour, but at the Supreme Court we did join a lecture inside the courtroom so we could see where the Court does their work.  Be sure to visit the children's area of the Library of Congress.  There are several activities just for kids as well as some quiet, cozy reading spaces and, of course, lots of books to snuggle up and share with your little ones.

Know Before You Go - Security at the U.S. Capitol is VERY tight.  No food or liquids (even bottles of water).  I always pack snacks and bottled water when going out for the day. . .and then promptly had to throw them away at our first stop.  Hoping to save you from the same mistake!

The National Mall


Lining the National Mall, you will find a host of Smithsonian Museums perfect for family visitors.  Lines can be long to go through security and enter so pack your patience for these free attractions.  One of my favorite museums, and the one we happened to visit on this particular trip, is the Air and Space Museum.  Take an in depth look at NASA, space, flight, and exploration in this hands on museum.  You can see some amazing things here - including having the ability to touch a legitimate moon rock and see the spacesuit worn by Neil Armstrong when he walked on the moon.  There is so much for kids to see, do, and touch here including an entire kids play area where they learn the physics of flight and becoming a flight director in Houston during a mission to outer space.  If you're looking to upgrade your experience, there are several add-ons that come with a price tag including IMAX movies and audio tours.  Air and Space is not the only Smithsonian Museum available - there is really something for everyone ranging from art to Native American History to Natural History and everything in between.

As you work your way down the National Mall from the U.S. Capitol and past the Smithsonian Museums, you find the other great free attractions along the National Mall - a series of national monuments.  While there is nothing to really "do" at these, they are truly breathtaking to see in person.  Even my little guys LOVED spending hours walking D.C. and looking around at them.  Three not to miss (actually they're really hard to miss anyway. . .) are the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, and the World War II Memorial.  The size, scale, and grandeur of these will captivate your children.  While there are many other memorials of great importance along the way, for example the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial, it's a bit harder for little kids to understand what they are looking at and the significance of that conflict.

Know Before You Go - D.C. is a very walkable city, but it's much bigger than you may realize if you plan on walking EVERYWHERE with your kids.  We decided to Uber from our hotel to our starting point in the morning, then walked away from museums to memorials throughout the day as we leisurely made our way back to our hotel.

The National Zoo


Another Smithsonian "museum" featured on the outskirts of D.C. is the National Zoo.  If you're staying downtown, you will definitely need to Uber or take the Metro up to the zoo as it's quite a walk from other D.C. area attractions - but well worth it!  Like everything else in the article, this zoo if FREE.  Lions, tigers, and panda bears - oh my!  The zoo is good sized and easily takes 2-3 hours to visit but can take much longer if you have animal lovers or want to extend your stay.  There are many great presentations by animal experts throughout the day that are worthwhile to check out.  Probably one of the highlights of your zoo visit will be seeing the Giant Pandas.  You can also find specific feeding times so you can be sure to see them up close in the Panda House.  My personal favorite though are the gorillas!

Don't forget to check out any special events that you might be able to catch while visiting.  We were there over the holiday break which meant that Zoolights was going on in the evenings.  This is again FREE - where else can you catch a day at the zoo and a holiday light exhibit without paying admission?

Know Before You Go - The zoo is surprisingly hilly!  Be prepared and consider bringing a stroller for older toddlers and preschoolers who may not typically need one anymore.  We were sure glad to have ours!

Has your family visited DC?  What have been the best finds for kids that you've seen along the way?

Jersey Boys at The National Theatre GIVEAWAY

This is not "too good to be true" - it's just a very real and exciting announcement!  Jersey Boys, the hit Broadway show, is heading to The National Theatre in Washington, DC.  While I have yet to see it on stage, this is one of my favorite all time movie musicals - the songs are iconic and the story is captivating.  Having the chance to see it on stage so close to home is a great opportunity you won't want to miss!  And keep reading to find out how you can enter to win tickets to opening night on December 17th!

Unfamiliar with the story of Jersey Boys?  Here's what you need to know:

  They were just four guys from Jersey, until they sang their very first note. They had a sound nobody had ever heard… and the radio just couldn’t get enough of. But while their harmonies were perfect on stage, off stage it was a very different story -- a story that has made them an international sensation all over again.  Go behind the music and inside the story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons in the Tony and Grammy Award®-winning true-life musical phenomenon, JERSEY BOYS. From the streets of New Jersey to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, this is the musical that’s just too good to be true.

FEATURING THE LEGENDARY TOP TEN HITS:
“Sherry” • “Big Girls Don’t Cry” • “Walk Like A Man” • “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” • “December, 1963 (Oh What A Night)”



Ready to see it in person?  You can win a pair of tickets to OPENING NIGHT at The National Theatre in Washington, DC by heading over to my Instagram page.  You'll find a post there about the giveaway.

  • Like the post - one entry
  • Comment - one entry
  • Tag a friend - one entry per tag (separate comments please!)
The giveaway closes Saturday, December 14th at noon and a winner will be announced later that evening on Instagram.  Remember, you must be following my account to win!  

I'm so excited to share this giveaway with you!  Remember, that even if you don't win you can still see this great show in DC from December 17th through January 5th.  For more details, visit www.thenationaldc.com. Good luck everyone!




5 Tips to Maximize Your Visit To Christmas Candylane at Hersheypark

Hersheypark has been a favorite of mine going all the way back to my childhood.  I remember visiting with my parents as a child, hanging out there as a college student at nearby Elizabethtown College, and am now making even more memories visiting regularly with my own children.  Over all of the years though that I've been going to Hersheypark, I have never been to the annual Christmas Candylane.  I was excited this year to partner with Hersheypark to attend this holiday tradition with my family.  We had a great afternoon and evening, while also learning a lot about maximizing your time at Christmas Candylane.  Here are my 5 tips (in no particular order!) to make the most of your visit.

My family and I received complimentary admission to Hersheypark's Christmas Candylane and Hershey's Sweet Lights so we can share our experiences with you!


1. Arrive Early


On weekends, the park is open beginning at noon.  Some of you may be asking why you would visit a holiday lights event that early in the day, but the answer is simple - there's so much more to see and do besides the lights!  There are 47 rides and attractions open during Christmas Candylane.  While many of these are kiddie rides, you'll also find several roller coasters including sooperdooperLooper, Sidewinder, Wildcat, and Laff Trakk.  When you arrive early, I would recommend heading straight for the most popular attractions - and right now that means Reese's Cupfusion which just opened this year.  As the afternoon goes on and night begins to fall, the park becomes more crowded and lines can grow.  Those early hours are perfect for kiddie rides, roller coasters, and some of your fan favorites.  Remember to download the Hersheypark app prior to arriving so you can have a map, park details, and current ride wait times at your fingertips!  Just save some rides for after night falls, which leads me to tip #2. . .
Bring back the Crystal Cup on
Reese's Cupfusion!

2. Rides to Ride After Dark


Hersheypark is truly beautiful with all of the lights at night.  A well laid out and picturesque park in the daytime lends itself well to be gorgeous at night.  There are a few slow moving rides that will offer you breathtaking views of the lights as you travel around the park after dark.  Make sure you save Skyview, Capital BlueCross Monorail, Kissing Tower, Ferris Wheel and Dry Gulch Railroad for nighttime to see dazzling light displays.  The Sunoco Speedway and Classic Cars are also fun as night falls with their own "Sweet Lights" display on the driving tracks for families to enjoy.  Bring your cameras with you on these rides to grab some great photos of the festive Christmas lights!

3. Enjoy the Shows Mid-Day


The Littlest Tree at
Chevrolet Music Box Theater
Each season at Hershey always brings it's own fun when it comes to special entertainment and Christmas Candylane is no different.  Over in Pioneer Frontier, you'll be able to find Santa's Reindeer and an ice skating rink (extra fee for skate rental - $3).  The Chevrolet Music Box Theater is home to a Christmas musical show, The Littlest Tree.  It is full of fun, familiar music the whole family will enjoy, and a cute story about the littlest tree at Santa's Tree Farm.  Speaking of Santa, you can meet the man himself in Kissing Tower Hill right near the arcade games building.  There's also a special Hershey's character meet and greet in Kissing Tower Hill as well.  So my advice is to ride your must-do rides when you first arrive, then hit up some shows and character greetings before dark when you'll want to be out and about enjoying all of the holiday glow!  The NOEL light show begins nightly at 5PM and can be viewed best on the bridge near sooperdooperLooper.  This show features lights set to popular holiday music and the beauty is amplified with reflections on the water that runs through this part of the park.

4.  Bring Your Sweet Tooth


Reese's Extreme
Hot Chocolate
Of course you can't visit Hersheypark without enjoying some chocolate, right??  In fact, Hershey loves chocolate so much, you can even purchase a souvenir mug and drink hot chocloate all day for $12 or all season for just $17.  There were too many sweets around the park that we didn't have a chance to sample it all.  My personal recommendation on something you don't want to miss is the Hot Chocolate Bar located in Founder's Way across from the entrance to Reese's Cupfusion.  While you can get a traditional hot chocolate here, that would be a boring option.  This location takes hot chocolate to the next level featuring punches of Hershey's goodness literally sprinkled on top in a variety of ways.  I opted for the Reese's Extreme because, those of you who know me, know my deep love of all things Reese's.  My son opted for the Caramel choice and my husband went with the Toasted Marshmallow.  These drinks will cost you a few more dollars than your typical hot chocolate (and they aren't included with the souvenir mug deal), but trust me when I tell you it's money well spent!

5. Add on a ticket to Hershey's Sweet Lights


Located across from Hersheypark and tucked in the woods behind The Hotel Hershey, you'll find one more tremendous light display - Hershey's Sweet Lights.  This drive through experience does come with an extra price tag.  If you're visiting Hersheypark, make sure you purchase your event ticket for the discounted price of $18.15 per car (plus tax) before you leave the park or you'll find higher prices at the entrance for this attraction.  It took us about 30 minutes to complete the drive through light show which features over 600 animated light displays.  You even get special viewing glasses that make bright lights look like snowflakes - my boys were fascinated by these!  Our favorite lighted displays were those which showcased some of our favorite rides from Hersheypark, but we enjoyed each different section which included an enchanted forest, the "12 Days of Christmas," a victorian village, and an area devoted to our favorite fairytales.  This was the perfect way to end our evening!

Hershey Sweet Lights
Remember that while Hersheypark's Christmas Candylane can certainly fill a whole day on it's own, there are plenty of other attractions to enjoy around Hershey while visiting.  You can access ZooAmerica for free with your admission to Hersheypark from within the park back by Kissing Tower Hill.  Hershey's Chocolate World is a must-do for us on every visit to Hershey, PA.  This is so much more than the ultimate chocolate gift shop!  It includes a FREE ride that teaches you how Hersey's chocolate is made as well as paid experiences like Make-Your-Own Candy Bars, a 4-D movie, and a chocolate tasting experience.

A visit to Hershey, PA will definitely make your holiday even sweeter!  Hope you have a wonderful holiday season at the Sweetest Place on Earth!


Family Guide to Winter Wonderland at Dutch Wonderland

Our family had the pleasure of being invited by Dutch Wonderland to enjoy opening day of Winter Wonderland during the holiday season.  Even though Dutch Wonderland is not a new destination for our family (check out my coverage of past visits here!), this was our first time enjoying the park during the holidays.  Staying true to it's slogan as a "Kingdom for Kids," there is plenty for families to enjoy together.  We were delighted with so much during our visit and I can't wait to share some of my tips to make the most of your day at Winter Wonderland as well.

We arrived just a few minutes before park opening and were among the first to enter.  I wasn't sure what to expect crowd wise for the day - it was opening day of the season but there was also a chance of rain throughout the evening - so we tried to think of a plan that would maximize our time in the park.  Upon entering, we headed straight to Merlin's Restaurant where we had the chance to meet the big guy himself - SANTA!  In fact, we had the distinction of being the very first guests of the season to meet Santa.  It was a fabulous visit.  Not rushed at all and several photos taken throughout the time with him.  When it comes to purchasing photos, you have a few options to consider.  If you purchase a day long photo pass for the price of $25, your Santa photos are not included, but digital downloads can be added at just $5 each.  If you don't want to purchase all of your photos from around the park for the day, you can purchase your Santa photo for a $15 digital download price.  I thought this was a great bargain compared to the pricing in malls around us!  Before we leave the topic of visiting Santa, I will say that we were in Merlin's Restaurant later on in the evening too and, again, never saw a line of more than a 2-3 families waiting to meet him.  Maybe we just had a light crowd day, but I was impressed with how easy it was to say hi.  In fact, my boys went back a second time in the evening to talk to Santa and they bought him a hot chocolate because they said "he's been working hard all night!"
First ones of the season to meet Santa!

After stopping by to see Santa first, we headed towards to the back of the park.  This is one of the my common strategies when visiting theme parks - start from the back and work your way forward.  Honestly, there was never a crowd to speak of all night (I think the threat of rain was holding some people off), but we definitely were one of only a few that headed to Exploration Island and were able to walk right on several rides.  Those that we did have to wait for were never more than a 5 minute wait.    You obviously won't find water rides open, but besides those and the larger roller coasters, Merlin's Mayhem and Kingdom Coaster, most everything else was open to ride.  We covered a lot of ground in a short amount of time and worked up an appetite by the time we hit almost every ride and made our way back to the front of the park.  Want a quick way to see what the whole park has to offer?  Don't miss the Wonderland Special train ride or the Sky Ride - they are especially beautiful with the lights!

The lights were beautiful!
This was the perfect time to stop back into Merlin's Restaurant for a treat.  When we were here earlier visiting Santa, the cookie decorating station caught my eye and we decided to give that a try along with having cups of hot chocolate to warm up on the chilly November night.  Cookie decorating is $3.99 per person.  You get a very large cookie and then can head to the "buffet" of icing and sprinkles to create your own masterpiece.  My boys had a lot of fun making their cookies and even more fun eating them!  Fun bonus - you even get a cute apron to wear during the experience!

Once we were done, we ventured back outside to find the rain had started up.  We took a quick stroll through the park again to get a final look at the Christmas lights in all of their nighttime glory.  The Christmas light show with dancing lights to music was a lot of fun, but my favorite lights were found on the trees.  There is one tree with gorgeous blue lights and lighted icicles on it as well.  Don't forget to venture back to Exploration Island and walk through the dinosaurs at night too!

We spent 3 hours in the park before the rain really started to dampen the evening, but we pretty much got to see and do everything except the two stage shows that are offered.  This is a great way to celebrate the holidays and have a fun-filled family evening.  Remember, Dutch Wonderland is truly a Kingdom for Kids so most of the rides and attractions here have your youngest family members in mind.  At 4 years old, Caleb couldn't have been happier all night long! Ready to check it out? Season pass holders for Dutch Wonderland have access to Winter Wonderland included.  If you need to purchase tickets for this event, check out my blog reader discount here (Promo Code: DWWBlog19) to save $3 off of the gate price - only $12.99 per person!!  Enjoy and happy holidays!



Website - www.dutchwonderland.com

Twitter - http://twitter.com/funatdw

Instagram - www.instagram.com/dutchwonderland

Facebook - www.facebook.com/dutchwonderlandpa

My family received complimentary admission to Dutch Wonderland's Winter Wonderland so we could share our fun adventures with you! As always, thoughts and opinions are my own!

Baltimore Running Festival - Things to Know Before You Go!

I just wrapped up my third Baltimore Running Festival and it was less than a great showing from a performance standpoint.  I went into the weekend undertrained and well aware of that fact so I ran some and walked liberally to my 2nd slowest half-marathon time yet.  But, I finished and still had an amazing time - that's what's important!! So instead of making this the typical race recap post, I'm going to shed a little insight to things you should know about the Baltimore Running Festival in case you decide to run in the future!

Registration - Registration is easy and on the relatively inexpensive side if you do it early enough.  This race is organized by Corrigan Sports Enterprise (CSE), which organizes several other races around Maryland and the Mid-Atlantic.  When you register for the Baltimore Running Festival, you'll also see this race connected with several other.  You can register for the Maryland Double or the King Crab Challenge as well if you're interested in competing in multiple races during the course of the year.  For the Baltimore Running Festival, you can find a race distance regardless of your ability - 5K, Half Marathon, Marathon, Team Relay, and even the BaltiMORON-a-thon (running both the 5K and Half in the same day).  Thinking about registering?  Keep your eyes open during the holiday season as previous years have seen race discounts as deep as 25% for a 24-hour period during the holiday shopping season!!

Premiums & Bling - Each year the Baltimore Running Festival provides top notch premiums from one of our favorite Baltimore companies, Under Armour.  Runners for the 5K and Team Relay each receive short sleeved tech shirts, while half and full marathon participants get long sleeved tech shirts.  And then, there are the medals!  In recent years, the Baltimore Running Festival has celebrated Maryland's unofficial state symbol, the crab, with their designs.  As the final leg in the Maryland Double and the King Crab Challenge, you'll hear lots of runners walking around with "clanging" medals after the race.

Getting Around - In each of my three Baltimore Running Festivals, I've had different transportation experiences on race day.  My first year, I ran the 5K and was on the road into the city in the early morning hours.  Traffic was backed up and it took a while to get into the city, but there was ample parking at M&T Bank Stadium that was free.  Getting in and out of the city isn't super easy on race day with road closures though so plan with ample time on both sides of the race.  The second time I ran, my husband and I got a hotel room at the Hilton the night before.  This was the year I ran the BaltiMORON-a-thon and was a fabulous option.  We could sleep in a bit on Saturday morning, walk right out of our hotel just a few steps to the 5K start and had a warm place to hang out and relax between the 5K and the half.  This year, I was only doing the half and opted to take the Metro into the city.  This was a super easy and effective option.  If you know me at all, you know I despise city driving so I couldn't have been happier to park in Owings Mills and take the subway in from there.  This may not be a good choice for 5K or full marathon runners though depending on how early you need to get into the city and when the Metro begins it's service that morning - be sure to check the schedule!

The Course - Is it just me or does Baltimore get more hills every time I run there???  You will certainly find your fair share of hills throughout the course.  The fist half of the course trends uphill so be sure to train for them.  On the plus side, what goes up must come down, so the the back half of the course trends down hill.  One of the prettiest parts of the course is the run around Lake Montibello.  This is such a serene half-way mark on the course and features the best aid station - energy gels!  Well, maybe that's the second best aid station.  Who can forget about the munchkin mile presented by Dunkin' Donuts?!?  I usually pass on donuts during the race, but decided to stop and smell the sugar this year with any time goals being nonexistent anyway.

The Best of Baltimore - This may be my favorite part of this race.  Baltimore doesn't always get the best press, but this event brings out the best in the city!  First of all, the support from the police department and other first responders is top notch.  There were countless cops who not only worked to block intersections throughout the city to keep runners safe, but they also joined in on the cheering and the fun.  Neighborhoods came together to throw some of the absolute best block parties - from music screaming from speakers, to costumed dancers, to children giving high fives, and endless cheers and applause, it was certainly a sight to be seen and helped motivate everyone regardless of how fast you were running.

Despite the tough terrain, Baltimore is one of my favorite running events - for all of these reasons and much more!  I hope to see you in Charm City sometime soon!!

Ticket Giveaway - The New One

I'm excited to share yet another fabulous giveaway, this time for 2 opening night tickets on September 25th at 7:30 to see The New One at the National Theater in Washington, DC!  This show is direct from Broadway and is getting rave reviews as a wonderfully entertaining and comedic night out.  Find out more about the show here:



He’s made you laugh in Sleepwalk With Me (it was a play presented by Nathan Lane, then a movie, THEN a book), My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend and “Thank God for Jokes.” (He was also really funny in that one season of “Orange is the New Black.” And in “Billions.” And “Broad City.”) Now he’s direct from Broadway, telling a new story in a new way with the same heart and humor we’ve come to expect. Lin-Manuel Miranda called THE NEW ONE “as perfect a night as you’re gonna get.” Do not miss THE NEW ONE. Some people say it’s his best one. (It was John Mulaney. Also Vogue.) Run time: Approximately 1 hour, 20 minutes, no intermission. Recommended for ages 13 and up. Children under the age of four are not permitted to attend the show.

Sounds fun, right?  So how do you win tickets??  It's simple!  This giveaway is exclusively through my Facebook Page, www.facebook.com/runonpixiedust.  You get one entry each for:
  • Liking the post about this giveaway
  • Commenting on the post about this giveaway
  • Each friend you tag in a comment on this Facebook post
  • Sharing this post!
In order to be eligible to win, you must "Like" my Facebook page as well.  The entry period will be open Wednesday, 9/18 until 10PM on Thursday, 9/19.  I'll go LIVE Friday evening on Facebook to draw a winner.  Good luck and I look forward to seeing what lucky follower gets to have an amazing night out! 

Thanks to Allied Global Marketing for the opportunity to host this giveaway!

All Aboard for FUN at Strasburg Railroad

"All aboard!" Can't you just hear the train whistle?!?  When you travel to Ronks, Pennsylvania in tranquil Lancaster County, you won't have to use your imagination because trains are all the rage in this small town.  Ronks is home to the Strasburg Railroad, America's oldest railroad still operating under it's original charter - dating all the way back to 1832!  Still an active rail yard, Strasburg is a popular destination for families throughout the Mid-Atlantic to learn a little bit about trains while having a whole lot of fun!

My family and I were provided complimentary tickets for the train ride and fun extras pass to share with you all the fun at Strasburg Railroad! 

The main attraction at the Strasburg Railroad is a 45-minute roundtrip train ride through the farmlands of Lancaster County.  Guests can select from a variety of options including coach, dining, and luxury choices to travel the rails.  Tickets are purchased at the station and passengers board the train from their assigned platforms.

Train Tip: Seats on the train can be flipped so that you can always be riding "forward" if you are someone who doesn't handle riding backwards well.  This is especially helpful on busy days so you don't have to worry about changing seats!

During the ride, guests will learn a bit about the history of the railroad and the Amish farm community that surrounds the area.  If you chose to purchase tickets on the dining car, you can enjoy a meal during your ride.  More into packing your own food?  Not a problem at all! The train actually stops at a picnic destination where guests can hop off and enjoy a picnic lunch and play time on some playground equipment.  When you're ready to return back to the station, your family can just pick up the next train.  My boys loved riding the rails and especially loved the ghost story that was shared when we passed a certain spot on the ride. . .don't worry, it's not too scary!! There are also themed train rides and special events throughout the year including a Day Out with Thomas, holiday train rides, and much, much more!  To learn more, visit Strasburg's Events page of their website here.

History of the Strasburg Railroad
Train Tip: Purchasing your tickets ahead is a great timesaver for a visit any day of the year, but is very important for those busy special event trains!

But the fun at Strasburg Railroad isn't limited to the train ride itself!  Guests can purchase a "fun extras" pass which gives access to three attractions in the yard.  First up is the Pint-Sized Pufferbelly.  This "junior" train ride takes you on a brief journey on a small train.  Next, you'll want to head on over to the Cranky Cars for a chance to power your own little engine around a small track.  This was the favorite of my boys as they worked hard to see just how fast they can go!  Finally, the fun extras pass includes a turn powering your own pump car.  My kids were too short to participate in this activity, but look forward to trying it in the future! These three attractions certainly add to the excitement of the day for little ones!

Don't miss fun events like the Day Out with Thomas!
Train Tip: There's a special play space that's a bit of a "hidden gem" if you have extra time before or after your train.  Check out the playground which features slides, swings, and it's own train to climb and play on!  It's tucked back behind the bathrooms and the pump car - don't miss it!

While you're waiting for your train and enjoying the fun extras, there are also gift shops and a small diner option.  The restaurant is small on the inside, but also includes outdoor seating.  Here, you'll find some classics like hot dogs, chicken tenders, and grilled cheese along with smoothies and ice cream to cool off on a hot day!  Train enthusiasts young and old can also find plenty of toys and model trains to purchase as well in the gift shop.  During your visit, you can also purchase a picture from the train ride with your family or pose for an "old time" photo before or after your ride in a studio.

All in all, we spent about 3 hours at Strasburg Railroad and had plenty of time to see and enjoy everything.  Special events, like the Day Out with Thomas, can bring larger crowds and may impact the amount of time it takes to be able to do it all at the tracks.  We have loved visiting the Strasburg Railroad for several generations now in our family and look forward to continuing to make memories there for years to come!