Archive for the Category »Amusement Parks «

  Travel Tip Tuesday: Never Pay Full Price For Amusement Park Tickets


My first born just turned 13 and wanted to go to Six Flags Magic Mountain, CA for his birthday.

Yesterday, we went. And while I grieved the end of his early childhood, I also hoped to make it a bonding day at the testosterone fueled amusement park.

magic mountain 2Translation: Mom had to ride some crazy coasters!


On this beautiful fall day, my son had a blast, and the park was not crowded at all.

What you should know before you visit any amusement park is – #1 the rides are not the same as your more mild, childhood coasters  and #2 – Never pay full price at attractions like amusement parks or museums – look for discounts first.

For example – Check the website of the place you are visiting in advance. Special deals are sometimes posted, and available to purchase right from the website. By printing the ticket at home, it saves you not only money, but time standing in line for tickets.

For our trip to Magic Mountain, we saved $20 a ticket by purely buying from the website and printing at home. If you buy three days before you visit Six Flags, you save even more.

Also – it may sound obvious, but remember to ask at every attraction you visit if they give Automobile Club discounts. The list of places where you can save money with your AAA card is massive! College sporting events, museums, most amusement parks – shoot at Disneyland you can get free parking with your AAA card. Six Flags and Sea World: 30% discount on admission. For a complete list, click here:

Wholesale clubs: If you are a member of Costco or Sam’s Club, these giants sell discounted tickets to amusement parks. Check on the website or call your local store.

Lastly, if you are booking a hotel, ask if they have any package deals with the theme park you want to visit – especially if the hotel is part of the theme park or is nearby.

Have a great day!



  Some of California’s Top Attractions Are #Free or Frightening in October!

photoGet your wild side ready- the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park  are offering kids ages 3-11 free admission for the month of October.

It’s a great time to go – weather is still oh-so-San-Diego-nice, and the crowds are oh-so-less-than-summer.

photoI was just there and visited the new attraction “Australian Outback,” where the cute koalas hang out. But be warned, the koalas sleep – a lot – but when they are awake, it is worth the wait.

photoI’ve visited a few zoos in my day, and see why San Diego is highly ranked. Lots of trees along walkways for shade, and seriously good animal sightings. By the way – parents, if you show your Triple A card, you get a discount too.

Perhaps this is brilliant counter marketing by the SD Zoo, because every other theme park in California seems to be catering to the teens and older kids with the various Halloween themed fright nights taking place. Warning – Some of these really are too spooky for younger kids.


Knott's Scary Farm from

Knott’s Scary Farm from

Knott’s Scary Farm, Buena Park – Through Nov. 2 on select nights so check ahead. New mazes have been added this year, which sound pretty creepy….

If you don’t like the thrill of a zombie lurking behind the next corner to raise your blood pressure, then during the day Knott’s offers Camp Snoopy, with trick or treating for young kids. Camp Snoopy – what could be scary with a name like that?

Disneyland Resort’s Halloween Time – Through Oct 31.

Aquarium of the Pacific’s Scarium of the Pacific, Long Beach – Oct 26-27  – Costume contests, magic shows, etc.

Universal Studios Hollywood’s Halloween Horror Nights – Through Nov. 2 on select nights. You can only imagine the terrifying special effects.

Have a frighteningly good day.


  Travel Tip Tuesday: Summer Survival at Amusement Parks

Knott’s Berry Farm, CA

Nothing can make a child happier – the prospect of visiting one of our country’s theme parks…. But the reality of visiting in summer can put a slight damper in the excitement once children and parents alike see the long lines, crowds, closed rides, etc.

So here are some tips to help your family better navigate the sea of summer park visitors. And – a bonus – some insight to Disney World’s newer attractions that opened this year.

—To minimize waiting in lines, arrive right when the park opens, and go straight to your favorite ride that attracts the most crowds. Also – go straight to the opposite end of the park from the entrance and work your way back. Most people start at the rides right near the entrance.

—Try to best prevent tears – Do some planning. Go online and read the park guide before you go so you can equip yourself with important information. For instance –  look up any height requirements, note which rides your children can’t go on, and don’t even bother mentioning that ride. Nothing is worse than standing in line for an hour to be told your child is too short… or arriving at the ride, and having your child see how fun the ride looks, but doesn’t measure up at the height check in.
Also – the website should tell you if any rides are closed, so you can soften the blow before hand if necessary.
—Pack snacks and waters on your own. Check on the park before you visit but some do allow you to bring in food and drinks. It will save you  - try $5 for a bottle of water at the park that would cost you $1 at home.
–Always set up a safety plan if you get separated. Write down your contact information and put it in the child’s pocket. Dress your kids in the same color clothes that you are wearing so when security asks to describe them, you remember what color they are wearing!
And lastly…..

—If you have children younger than school age, for goodness sake, avoid the summer at any of these parks! Go mid-week, during the school year if you can.
High on most traveler’s theme park list is Disney World in Florida…. 2013 brought an addition of 10 new acres to Fantasyland, and there will be more additions through 2014, to double the original size of Fantasyland.
My reliable travel agent friend Angela San Filippo-Szemko  from LBAC Travel provided me with her first hand experience – The new Fantasyland is divided into two areas – Storybook Circus and Enchanted Forest.
Angela loved the attention to detail in the line for “Under the Sea Journey with Ariel”… as well as The Little Mermaid animatronics.
In the intereactive experience ” “Enchanted Tales with Belle,” visitors get to play a part acting out Beauty and the Beast.
The “Be Our Guest” restaurant has been a hit – but can be very tough to get reservations. They can be made 180 days ahead of time. If you can’t get in for dinner, you can get in for lunch a lot easier, when reservations are not necessary.
Don’t be afriad when I talk about the new Dumbo ride – my husband has a serious aversion to that ride because of the lines… but at Disneyworld, there is an indoor play area for kids to keep them busy while they wait in line. Nice addition.
Remember – theme parks can be exhausting yet memorable so it pays to plan ahead to make your day go smoother. Happy Travels!
  Hotel of the Week: A New One to Watch in 2013 That the Kids Will Love

Legoland, California

Ever travel with your family to an amusement park and just want to crash in a hotel within walking distance after a long day at the park? Well Legoland in Carlsbad California is making that easier – scheduled to open this April, is the Legoland hotel, right near the entrance of the theme park.


Legoland Hotel, Windsor UK

The hotel follows the Lego theme – with mind-blowingly colorful displays made of course of Legos, like at the Legoland Hotel in Windsor, UK above.

There are 250 themed and spirited rooms – from Pirate, to Kingdom, to Adventure. The nice thing I like about this family hotel like this is they offer rooms with a separate sleeping area for kids.

Although you will most likely be spending a lot of time at the theme park, there are heated swimming pools, and in-room Lego gifts for the kids.

There are also some unique aspects to the hotel too that kids will find entertaining:   secret whoopee cushions and tight-rope walking marching guards … quirky themed elevators, and exploding toy boxes. For example, kids can dance on up to the bedrooms in the character themed ‘disco’ elevator, complete with a mirror ball and flashing lights.

In the atrium there’s a knight’s castle, protected by a giant burping ogre, towers into the clouds. Children can play in a 32-foot high pirate shipwreck that’s bursting through the castle walls and into the river of LEGO.

The nicest thing is that you are right near the park – so if you want to spend the night the evening before your park adventure, you will also have early access to certain rides before the park officially opens.

Legoland CA Waterpark

By the way – you should know that Legoland really is a theme park for younger kids – There is a water park attached that some of the tweens might find fun, but it is very crowded in the summer, with long waits for the slides.

Go to the website to see about special package deals before the hotel opens.


  Travel Tip Tuesday: This Is The Best Time To Visit An Amusement Park!

Legoland, CA

Parents – If you’ve been wanting to take your kids to Disneyworld, Legoland, Universal Studios, or any of the other theme parks in our country, listen up: Now’s a fantastic time!

The end of November until Christmas, and then again in January are two of the best times to go.The crowds are much thinner than in the summer, which means shorter lines, and it’s not too hot.  Many of the theme parks opened new rides this summer, so even though you weren’t one of the first to experience them, you can ride them dozens of times now without the hour-long wait!

Added bonus: If you are one of those people who really get into the holiday spirit, many of the parks have special holiday activities.
All of the Florida parks – Universal Studios. Busch Gardens, Disneyworld, Sea World, etc have holiday festivities, as well as the major California parks.

For some more tips, check out my video guide: (It may take 10 seconds to load)

Thrills and Chills – from Tracy Gallagher on Vimeo.





  Hotel of the Week: A New Animated Adventure in Florida

I gotta say right off the bat, you know you can expect exceptional family-friendly service from the Disney brand. There is a lot of comfort in that as a parent. Let's face it - you are choosing your kids' happiness when you explore a Disney vacation.

The newest Disney resort to officially open this weekend is right on brand. The "Art of Animation Resort" in Orlando Florida immerses guests in all of the Disney animated movies - and I mean IMMERSES.

Every room has an animated Disney movie theme. Like Nemo? The Nemo family suites have wall murals of sea life, Nemo bedspreads, shower curtains, and  a Nemo image that hangs like a headboard.

You get the idea - same with the Cars, Little Mermaid, and Lion King family suites. Yes - FAMILY SUITES  - that is the greatest part about this resort. This is a perfect example of Disney catering to families - When I travel with  my family I always wish more resorts would have family friendly rooms that aren't a fortune. Here,  you can get 2 separate bathrooms,
a master bedroom - a total of 3 separate sleeping areas within the living space, which includes a generously sized dining or work table that easily transforms into a comfortable bed. They sleep 6 - big families everywhere rejoice! The suites start at $249 a night.

Other amenities include 3 different swimming pools (needed - the resort is huge - more than 1,000 rooms)...

and 4 different courtyards with various Disney animation themes. There is in-room babysitting, pizza delivery,and you get extended park hours when you stay. Guests also get complimentary transportation to the theme parks and water parks. This particular resort is right near Disney's Hollywood Studios.

There are so many different Disney resorts from which to choose when you visit Orlando... each one has it's own personality, but do some research to find the one that best suits your taste. There are Disney packages you can buy and find them on the resort websites, and there are also travel agents who specialize in all things Disney.

Hey - almost forgot - today marks the start of summer - Gotta love it! Enjoy the holiday weekend and wherever you may travel.

  Hotel of the Week: Disney Comes to Hawaii

I know what you’re thinking. Or at least what I’m thinking. Hawaii personifies everything that Disney is not.

Don’t get me wrong – I think Disney is one of the best companies for customer service. Their theme parks and hotels are unparalleled in terms of cleanliness and catering to families. I just would have wanted to keep the “magic of Disney” away from the pristine shores of Hawaii.

Yes, I know some big hotels with water slides have sort of already tarnished the natural beauty… but Mickey with a lei on a white beach just seems wrong.

Nonetheless, it is my job to tell you that the Aulani is now open on Oahu – a grand Disney resort with 359 hotel rooms, and 460 vacation club villas. It is located on the leeward side of the island, about 17 miles west of Honolulu airport. You would need a taxi or car if you want to go into Waikiki.

The resort is actually located in a beautiful setting near lush green mountains and right on the beach… but in a sort of fabricated Disney way. I’ve never been, just for full disclosure,  and am just saying this according to the research I’ve done.

To Disney’s credit, they have put Hawaiin art all througout the resort, and tried incorporating authentic touches. Even better, it means jobs for the locals, and Disney has contributed back to the community by donating money to local schools.

The activities are of course, family friendly. There are some awesome pool play areas. But many hotels in Hawaii have similar great programs. Kids club, waterslides, more than one pool, beach activities, but at a price. Renting a beach umbrella and chairs for the day costs $20, and to rent a Stand Up Paddleboard – $30.

One thing that stood out as different to me is that they have a “teen spa.” Catering to girly-girls, it offers  a mixology bar to make perfume, and body polishes. It also has a yogurt and elixir bar, teen activities, and computer stations – which I would have left off. Can’t they go off the grid in a place like Hawaii? But teens will be teens.

It will be interesting how the hotel does – I was just on Oahu, and hotel bookings were down due to the decrease in Japanese visitors affected by the March tsunami. If you want to check it out, just go to

Aloha and have a great weekend.

  Where to Take Your Kids Before They Move Out.

School is back in session.. life is getting back to routine. My oldest started middle school… so last spring’s 5th grade graduation was a milestone for me: He was leaving the nurturing nest of our sweet elementary school.

Actually, it was compounded by the fact that my youngest graduated kindergarten just the day before… the stark contrast between the 5 year olds and 10 year olds made me realize they grow so fast. So me, being sentimental, started to think that – OMG – the empty nest doesn’t seem too far away. A bit dramatic? Maybe.

Have you thought about what you want your life to be when you are an empty-nester? (That is another blog post!) Or…have you thought about what you want to do with your kids while you still have them at home? Where would you like to take family vacations before they are too busy… or have moved away? You only have so many chances to create indelible travel moments together.

I have thought about this. Everyone is different, but there are some general themes that would make for memorable family get aways.

1) I will start with the most obvious, and probably easiest: Hit the beach. Rent a beach house, plant your toes in the sand, BBQ at sunset, play on the beach, and bring board games. With just simple pleasures, there are many opportunities for bonding time. Hawaii will also work here – there is nothing like getting to an island – can’t recreate that vibe as much as I have tried. Hawaii is the easiest for many reasons: With kids you want things simple, and it is an English speaking, American state…. everything is pretty convenient. Cue the sea breeze please.

2) Brave a World-Class Big City or Two. World class museums, taxis zipping by, wonderful parks. I would put New York City, Paris, London, and Rome on that list. San Francisco too – but it is more laid back.

You can also find many free things to do in large cities – take advantage of free days at museums, the many free activities in parks from puppet shows to concerts to playgrounds. When I took my kids to Paris, it was unbelievable how long we could sit in a park and watch our kids play on all the play areas so different than anything we have in America, as well as multi-generational pick-up games of soccer that they joined.

3) Sneak in a History Lesson: Everyone would love their children to have a sense of the world, and historic moments. Seeing is believing over just learning in textbooks. Some locations steeped in history make awesome family vacations. Did I mention Rome? I am again. The birthplace of Western civilization, there are many a history lesson to be found here. There are tours about Julius Caesar… and standing relics of ancient Rome like the Forum and Coliseum. Vatican city is important whether you are a practicing Catholic or not  - what a statement it makes about organized religion, and it’s importance to many people. No to mention, the art history lesson there…the Sistine Chapel and the architecture of Basilica di San Pietro.

Also on my list: Greece, Washington DC – tour the capitol and White House, visit the monuments, and if you have time go to Gettysburg, Boston, or London.

4) Lions and Tigers and Bears and Nature. Expose your kids to the good old outdoors, and all the creatures that call  it home. Kids love animals – even teens find them interesting. In Alaska, I met some teens who said Alaska was their best family vacation – believe me, if you’ve been to Alaska, you know how original it is compared to the rest of America. Bear viewing, kayaking with bald eagles, hiking glaciers are all possible in the Last Frontier.

Easier to get to for most, are our national parks. Yellowstone may be one of the best I’ve visited for animal viewing, along with being an incredible geological lab for all! Your kids will love the spouting geysers, bubbling mudpots, and hissing steam vents… Yellowstone has the greatest concentration of thermal features in the country—nearly 10,000 of them.

There is also the Galapagos Islands – home of the blue-footed booby, the Great Barrier Reef for some amazing viewing of marine life, and Africa for an organized safari, which is better for older kids.

5) Lastly – it is a rite of passage for a child to visit a theme park. You only capture that thrill for a short time, so indulge them, no matter how crowded and how bad the food.:)

Some of these trips can be done on a budget. Forgive me if I have missed some other potential trips.

But now, you have time, and hopefully inspiration to plan for next summer… these are trips that will last a lifetime.

  A Way to Experience Ultimate Summer Before it is Gone: Carefree and California.

I’m a summer girl through and through. So it pains me to realize we only have half of the best season ever left.

Had to maximize the summer fun this weekend and do quintessential So Cal summer stuff… the LA Times wrote a good article about the very same thing in Sunday’s Travel section.,0,1394619.story A nice primer for out of town visitors.

First, my summer fling: my favorite thing to do along the beaches of Los Angeles: ride bikes on the 8 miles of trails along the sand from Temescal Canyon in Santa Monica to Venice Beach. The sun kissing your cheeks… and the sea breeze blowing your hair. Carefree and California.

Great for kids, or go with a friend. Park your car in one of the public lots along Pacific Coast Highway (PCH)  in Santa Monica. Parking will cost you about $8.00.

If you park close to California St incline, there are bike rentals a short walk away on the beach-side bike path. Perry’s in Santa Monica carries everything from tandem bikes to the kiddy carts. I would recommend carts for any child under 7 – they get tired and If you head south, you are riding against the wind on the way back. Perry’s has eight locations along Santa Monica and Venice.

Perry’s is also a cafe – music playing and a buzzy environment with a kids’ menu. TIP: It is cash only.

**TIP:f you stay in a hotel, get a map of Santa Monica because there are often bike rental coupons in the tourist map.

Once you are set with wheels and a meal, the adventure begins. The Ferris wheel of the Santa Monica pier is always in your view, (background of above photo) so chances are if you are with kids, they will beg you to stop there. Pacific Park Amusement Park has rides and arcade games. Personally, I find it crowded and trashy – especially in summer, so limit your time. But the kids like it and It is a pretty setting right on the pier.

Farther down the road you will come to Venice Beach – always an entertaining area. There’s never a shortage of people watching – from musicians to muscles to magicians – Venice Beach’s street performers attract many. Nearby Abbot Kinney Blvd is one of the only strolling streets in LA that isn’t inhabited by chain stores and still maintains it’s unique character.

The LA Times article briefly mentions the new Santa Monica Place… it is a three-story outdoor mall of sorts with a view of the ocean. The top floor has many restaurants – check which ones have kids menus.

The Market is an exciting new addition – 45,000 square feet with a French chocolatier, a wine shop, and a cooking school for starters. It is helping turn this local into a foodie destination.

True Food Kitchen, Santa Monica

True Food Kitchen has a nice kids menu, and for the total over the top healthy Cali meal, you can’t beat this. The kids’ pizza has a whole wheat crust, and I had an organic glass of chardonnay from Mendocino.

Movie theaters nearby and lots of fun shops makes this a bustling place to stroll.

Live from So Cal… The weather is beautiful and I wish you were here.

  App Adventures: Good For Planning That Magical Trip.

Just about as overwhelming as planning a trip to Orlando’s multi-theme park destination of Walt Disney World is trying to pick a park app that works best for you.

The good news is – there ARE actually apps for the Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Epcot, and Animal Kingdom. (If you’ve never been, these are Disney’s different parks all on one “Disney campus” so to speak. )

The bad news: You have to weed through at least 40 apps to find the one best for you. (There are many apps available to both At&T and Verizon customers.)

So -are these electronic Disney directions worth it? And what do they do?

We just spent 5 days at Walt Disney World, and I think the most helpful app features for families to keep everyone smiling are:

1) Wait times – Wouldn’t it be nice to know the rides with no wait time? With kids in Orlando heat, you know it is hard to drag them all the way across the park for that “special ride” to find there is a two hour wait. Instead, there are apps that tell you in real time what the wait is.

2) Maps: Perfect for the mom who’s child waits until the last minute to go to the bathroom – a map that tells you with GPS where the nearest restroom is.

3) Restaurants: A restaurant guide with menus…. so you can check out the kids’ meals and prices before hand.

4) Ride details: Good to know what age one should be to ride… and any height requirements. Circumvent any disappointment ahead of time. Nice.

5) GPS of parking : So at the end of a long day, you remember where your car is! (My tip would be to stay at one of the resorts that have monorail service from the park!! Worth every penny. Save on a rental car.)

The one quality I didn’t see on any apps that would be cool is to allow park visitors to check in at a ride and get an electronic fast pass without actually going to the ride. Perhaps putting a limit on how many passes one can get for each ride would be a way to do it.  If anyone has seen this feature, please let  me know.

Another way to improve the apps – there were a lot of ride malfunctions that either closed rides for a short time, or just stopped moving, but kept the lines open. Info on changes in ride operations would be helpful also.

You can get some free apps that focus on one aspect above- say the wait times only,  just maps, or just hotels,  but there are other apps that include everything together for some $$$.

For $3.99 one that looks good is by Undercover Tourist – offering all the details for every park all in one app (i.e. maps, wait times, GPS, menus, ..) You just have to decide if you want to spend the $3.99 to have all the info in one app, but it is like having a travel guidebook in your back pocket.

**Undercover Tourist also has a free app, but it is called “lite” – without as many important details.

As convenient as these apps make your trip, they DON’T replace researching ahead. There is so much info, and so much to do at Walt Disney World, you have to have a grasp on all the parks and what each offers before you start using your app to make your trip more magical.

Happy planning – as I mentioned before, this is one of the least crowded times to visit – right before Thanksgiving!