Daytrip: Washington, D.C.

One of the main attractions at the National Zoo... panda bears!

One of the main attractions at the National Zoo… panda bears!

By Karen Hendricks

What does the word “daytrip” mean to you? I’d love to hear about your ideas, travels and adventures. Summer vacations are wonderful, especially when they provide a week’s worth of relaxation and travels, but to me, daytrips are expeditions to special places that are fairly close to home. I think of them as little “escapes” because there’s not much travel involved but they transport you “away” for the day. They’re the places you LONG to visit, just out of reach from your normal everyday travels, that require a little bit of planning, saving a date, or sometimes saving up the price of admission.

Washington, D.C. has been and still is an excellent daytrip destination for my family. Our nation’s capital has a seemingly unending variety of events and attractions. Two of the best reasons to visit DC? Many of the attractions are free AND top quality. Located about 80-90 miles from my home, it’s just far enough away that we can’t visit frequently, but it’s close enough that we can go for a day and take advantage of lots of spectacular events, world-class museums and much more.

We almost always travel to DC by way of their excellent Metro system. Radiating like spokes from the DC area, the Metro lines are easy to access from every direction. We park at one of the northernmost Metro stops, Shady Grove, Maryland, and take the red line into the city. Then there are no worries about driving and parking for the day. There are numerous Metro stops and we’ve never had a problem finding one within an easy walking distance of our destinations. When my children were very young, riding the Metro was sometimes the biggest highlight of their day!

Here are some of our favorite DC destinations:

  • The Smithsonian and its numerous museums including: The National Zoo, The Air and Space Museum, The Museum of Natural History and the American Indian Museum: The zoo is great fun for children of all ages, and the museums live up to the Smithsonian’s tagline: “Seriously amazing.” Start your visit at the Smithsonian’s Visitor Center, The Castle, for orientation and a taste of each museum.
  • The many memorials, including The Lincoln Memorial, World War II Memorial, etc. If you have the chance to take one of the NPS tours, the rangers do an excellent job of presenting not only history lessons behind the memorials, but stories of the sculptors/creators and fascinating facts. Walking between the memorials is also great exercise! 
  • National Holocaust Memorial Museum – Bound to leave you with a moving, profoundly deeper understanding of the Holocaust, visits to this museum are recommended for children ages 11 and older. There is a special exhibit designed for children ages 7 and older as well. 
  • The Washington Monument – Currently being repaired due to damage from an earthquake in August of 2011, tours inside the building are not possible at this time. When we went several years ago, we made sure to book a date and reserved tickets at least a month or two in advance (tickets are free).
  • Cherry Blossom Festival – Time your visit to DC to coincide with this beautiful springtime event if possible! 

There are so many more awesome DC destinations – and you can easily spend a day exploring each one. Somehow, each museum, each monument, each park, explain a facet of American life and is bound to give you and your family a greater understanding of our country—our heritage, our history, our people and our culture. I think it would be fabulous to visit for the patriotic 4th of July festivities, but that’s still on our DC bucket list. Another reason to plan a daytrip…

Hey, there’s still time to plan for the next patriotic holiday, Labor Day! I found some inspiration on the official DC tourism website—10 Ways to Spend Labor Day Weekend in Washington, DC. Hmmmmm…

Click on any of the photos below to open a slide show–enjoy a few snapshots from DC:

For additional information:

Kid Friendly DC is a great resource for families! 

Click here for the Washington, D.C. tourism website.

Have you visited DC for a daytrip? Discovered other daytrip destinations? Tell us about your family faves!

Vacation: Same Time, Same Place – Next Year!

Enjoying the ocean in Rehoboth Beach, DE!

Enjoying the ocean in Rehoboth Beach, DE!

By:  Ruth Topper

A few weeks ago my fellow blogger, Karen, shared some of her favorite family friendly vacation destinations over the years.  It’s always exciting to ask Karen what her family is doing for vacation  because they plan different, exciting trips each year. Our family, on the other hand, might be what you call “traditional” or “boring” because our vacation plans have been the same for over 10 years! We spend a week each June in Rehoboth Beach, DE with my husband’s family.   This group of 16 includes his sister’s family of 5, his brother’s family of 4, another sister, his mom and our family of 5.

Cousins - 2006!

Cousins – 2006!

This vacation tradition began in the year 2000 – verified in the family scrapbook.   In the first year it was just two families – our family of 4 along with Gary’s sister & her family of 5.   As the years progressed the tradition of renting a house for a week continued and the numbers grew!  Our third child, Josh, was a new addition in 2001.  Gary’s brother & his wife started coming with us that year.  They welcomed their daughter, Kelly, to their family in 2003.  In 2005, Donnie & Diane didn’t make it to the beach (but Kelly did) – since they had just added their 2nd child, James, into the family in mid-June.  Since 2006 our numbers have stayed steady at 16.  So each year it is important that we find a house to rent that will accommodate our “magic” number!  We have rented different properties in Rehoboth over the years. The houses have all been within a few blocks of each other and the change in location has either been due to our family changing our “week” in June or the owner’s decision to stay at their home during our “designated” week.

Cousins - 2013!  See how they have grown!

Cousins – 2013! See how they have grown!

So you may wonder why did we choose Rehoboth Beach, DE as our vacation destination.  When we started going to Rehoboth Beach with Gary’s family – this was not a random “beach” for us to go to.  My sister & her husband had been vacationing in Rehoboth since the mid-1980’s.  Gary & I frequently went to spend part of a week with them and our two nieces.  We knew that Rehoboth was a very family friendly place to vacation.  They have a wonderful 1 mile boardwalk, great beaches, a variety of restaurants, shopping (lots of outlets) and last but not least – Funland!  In the beginning we decided that June would be a good time to vacation.  It is typically cooler than July or August, it is not as crowded at the beach and the home rental rates are less expensive because it is not “peak” season.  This has all worked well for our families.

The "Free Fall" - one of the favorite rides at Funland!

The “Free Fall” – one of the favorite rides at Funland!

As with any vacation there always is some coordination needed.  My husband, Gary, has acted as the “coordinator” for us.  He scopes out available houses and we take responsibility for signing all the “official” house rental paperwork.   If we like the house we stayed in one year we normally will fill out a pre-registration form when we are on vacation to hold it for the next year.  Sometimes this works in our favor – other years due to our schedule or the owner’s we have had to relocate to a different house.  This can be exciting too – to experience being in a new house.

We also do a lot of coordination on food/supplies that come with us to the beach in order to avoid duplicates.  Gary started a spreadsheet years ago that we update occasionally.  Included in our lists are specific items for each family to bring.  For example, we always bring Bisquick, an electric griddle (and chocolate chips) for pancake making, ketchup, trash bags and baggies (sandwich, 1 qt. & 1 gallon), dish detergent (both for the hand washing & dishwasher), specific sets of sheets, etc.  Gary’s sister brings the “S’mores fixings”, tea bags, tea butler, charcoal/lighter fluid, clothes pins, peanut butter, etc.  Everyone brings their own towels, snacks, drinks, along with a box of tissues and a 4 pack of toilet paper to share!   Our dinner menu was set years ago and typically includes picking up bbq chicken on our way to the beach on Saturday, hamburgers/hotdogs, chicken on the grill,  pasta with meatsauce, one dinner out at Cracker Barrel, leftovers and pizza – if needed!   Several “grocery runs” happen throughout the week with essentials like milk, eggs, orange juice, any forgotten items, etc.  So you can see – we have just about gotten the logistics of our family vacation down to a science!

It's amazing how much they still enjoy digging holes in the sand!  Too bad I can't get mine to do any labor like this at home!

It’s amazing how much they still enjoy digging holes in the sand! Too bad I can’t get mine to do any labor like this at home!

So what keeps our families returning each year?  First, it is the week of spending time together as an extended family.  We get together frequently for birthdays and holiday celebrations that last a few hours.  However, this is the opportunity – especially for the kids to spend quality “cousin time.”  Fortunately our kids truly love being with each other.  Because we have been coming back to the same vacation spot for years most of our activities are “traditions” and the kids won’t even think about changing things up.  For example, our families travel from different areas & we always meet at the McDonald’s in Denton for lunch on our travel day.  There is a Pizza Hut and Burger King right next door – but we have to stop at McDonald’s!    On Sunday morning (not Monday or Tuesday!) a few of the kids & adults head off to get donuts for breakfast.  Our other favorite/traditional activities of the week include:  going to the beach, mini golf at Ryan’s on the roof, feeding the turtles at the “turtle park”, getting Grotto pizza, Dolly’s caramel popcorn, Thrashers fries, ice cream on the boardwalk, our daily trip to Funland for rides or games (Skee ball is the best value at $.25 per game.  My favorite is the “horse” game!), the boys playing lots of video games, late night card games, etc.

Skee Ball at Funland!  The best "gaming" value there at $.25 per game!

Skee Ball at Funland! The best “gaming” value there at $.25 per game!

Although it is exciting to go somewhere different each year on vacation our family enjoys our traditional vacation just as much!  Share with us about your family vacation.   Are you a little “boring” or “traditional” and spend your vacation in the same place each year or are more adventurous and go somewhere new & different each year? 

Insider’s Guide to Family-Friendly Events in Gettysburg

By Karen Hendricks

Gettysburg Battlefield Vista: The white monument in the center of the photo is the Pennsylvania Memorial

Gettysburg Battlefield Vista: The white monument in the center of the photo is the Pennsylvania Memorial

Several of our Off the Merry-Go-Round writers live in Gettysburg, PA—myself included. Summertime, to us, means tourist season… although having worked with numerous Gettysburg events and festivals in the past, those in the tourism industry prefer we call our guests “visitors” and not “tourists.” Sounds nicer, I agree. We are thankful indeed for the many visitors who flock to our south-central Pennsylvania town—approximately three million annually. This year, our charming Civil War-era town is humming with excitement as we approach the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, July 1-3, and tourism officials predict our annual visitors may number closer to four million.

Sesquicentennial events are spread out through the entire year, but certainly the bulk of the commemorations are planned for the end of June into July. As a freelance writer in Gettysburg, I’ve written a number of articles about the 150th anniversary—so many in fact, that during the height of my research, I was dreaming about the Civil War on a regular basis!

Too often, I think we overlook events happening “in our own backyard,” so I am making a point to put several 150th events on my family’s calendar. If you live in the central PA or MD area also, or if you’re headed to Gettysburg on summer vacation, I hope the following “Insider’s Guide to Family-Friendly Events in Gettysburg” is helpful. Welcome and enjoy!

Family-Friendly Events in Gettysburg, Summer 2013:

Battlefield IMG_1862rOk, it’s summer and the kids think that since school is out, learning stops. Here is a way to sneak a history lesson into summertime… because after all, studies have shown that summertime is the greatest period of growth, both physically and mentally, for children.

So Gettysburg’s history in a nutshell goes like this: One hundred and fifty years ago, on July 1-3, 1863, the Battle of Gettysburg claimed 51,000 casualties. The bloodiest battle of the entire Civil War, the name “Gettysburg” became forever etched in history as the turning point in the war, as well as a pivotal point in America’s history. The South (Confederates) never fully recovered from their losses at Gettysburg, and the North’s (Union’s) victory in the Civil War preserved the United States as our country. (Feel free to explain this to your children in laymen’s terms, depending on their ages! 🙂

At the heart of Gettysburg’s commemoration, is a period of ten days, June 28-July 7, 2013. Within this timeframe, Gettysburg will host two major battle reenactments, official Gettysburg National Military Park commemorative events across the 6,000-acre battlefield, and a full slate of events staged by businesses in Gettysburg’s tourism industry.

Rather than giving you a rundown of the highlight events, which will undoubtedly be crowded and/or difficult to access, I’m going to list a few family-friendly events likely to be less crowded. Since they are all programs organized by the National Park Service, they are all free:

July 1-4 NPS Family Activity Tent:

The front lawn of the Gettysburg National Military Park’s Museum and Visitor Center* will host a special family and children’s tent full of activities, programs and hands-on opportunities, 9 am-5 pm daily. Stations will include:

  • A living history stage where a new Gettysburg “personality” will be revealed every hour
  • Infantry, cavalry and artillery drilling stations
  • Soldier pastimes circle
  • Dress-up photo booth
  • “Ask a Ranger” desk

July 1-4 Battle Overview:

For a summary of the Battle of Gettysburg, attend this brief (30 minute) overview program led by park rangers in the Ford Education Center, Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center.* Programs run every hour on the hour, from 9 am-5pm. This program serves as a wonderful orientation to begin your visit to Gettysburg.

July 1-4 Civil War Soldier Program:

What was life like, for Union and Confederate soldiers at Gettysburg? Attend this hour-long program to find out. You may even have the chance to try on a soldier’s uniform for size! This program is to be held at 10 am, 12 noon, 2 and 4 pm, at Ranger Site #1, behind the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center.*

Key Moments:

The NPS is presenting “Key Moment” programs, explaining events that happened during the Battle of Gettysburg, exactly 150 years ago. To travel to the sites, you can park at the National Cemetery North and South lots* and use special NPS shuttle buses, which stop at Devil’s Den, Little Round Top and other sites, every 15-20 minutes:

  • July 2 Key Moments at Little Round Top:

Rangers will explain what happened at Little Round Top, the scene of heavy fighting on the afternoon of July 2, 1863. Programs will be presented every hour, on the hour, from 9 am-12 pm and 2-5pm.

  • July 2 Key Moments at Devil’s Den:

A desperate struggle ensued between the Confederates of Longstreet’s Corps and the Union 3rd Corps on July 2, 1863. Rangers will explain the series of events during presentations every hour, on the hour, from 10am-12pm and 2-5pm. Devil’s Den, with its rock formations, is a fascinating stop for children of all ages, but to fully explore and climb on the rocks, sneakers should be worn.

My nephew especially enjoyed visiting Devil's Den with my family last summer!

My nephew especially enjoyed visiting Devil’s Den with my family last summer!

Every Thursday through August 15: Hike with Ike:

Gettysburg’s history isn’t limited to the Civil War—the town was also home to President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Every Thursday at 7:15 pm, take a free, guided walking tour through downtown Gettysburg that explores President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s life in Gettysburg. Meet the National Park Ranger at the Gettysburg College gates, at the corner of North Washington and Water Streets.

*The Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center –and- the National Cemetery North and South lots are both located off Baltimore Street (PA Route 97) just south of Gettysburg. If you follow the brown NPS signs approaching Gettysburg from any direction, they will direct you to Baltimore Street.

For additional events and more information, check out the Gettysburg National Military Park website.


Tips for Finding the Best Lodging Resort for Your Pet

By Jen Ashenfelter

Pets can enjoy a summer vacation too!

Pets can enjoy a summer vacation too!

Hopefully our recent post Dreaming of Summer: Vacation Tips inspired you to choose an exciting destination for your summer vacation or maybe you’re anxiously awaiting your annual week at the beach—and unfortunately Fido or Fluffy can’t join you this time. What are your pet care options?

I’m not saying a relative or neighbor shouldn’t be your pet sitter—you know what’s best for your dog or cat and how solid your relationship is with the person caring for your pet. Just be careful of well-intentioned offers that may not work out the way you expected—I know from experience.

Fortunately, I’ve been working for Holiday House Pet Resort & Doylestown Veterinary Hospital in Bucks County, PA for several months, so I’ve learned a lot about pet lodging. A full-service pet lodging facility is a reliable and convenient option offering the most benefits and security, but how do you know which place is best for your dog and cat?

Finding the right boarding facility for your pets is just like considering schools for your children. From preschool to college, what do you feel are important considerations? At the top of your list might be: amenities, safety, staffing, or location.

Here are tips for finding the appropriate lodging facility for your pets.

  • Tour the facility. This is a must-do when looking at different resorts to board your pet. You should be able to tour the entire facility with a representative at any time, no restrictions. Ask to see the space where your dog will be lodging. Knowing that you are seeing a true picture of how the facility operates and not a staged presentation will give you confidence in the care your pet is receiving.
  • See the pet’s accommodations. The best situation for your dog is having a private, spacious suite that offers access to an outdoor run. Just like children, having the opportunity to go outside for a little recess is healthy for your dog. You might think a covered run to shelter your dog from the weather is best, but sunshine not only keeps your dog happy, but the warm and powerful rays naturally kill germs and bacteria in the outdoor run. Reading about the size and details of an enclosure is one thing but seeing the actual enclosure where your pet will spend the majority of time is important.

    Cats can enjoy time outside of the kitty condo in the rocking chair or playing with a toy.

  • The facility should be warm and inviting but not necessarily look like home. Carpeting and wallboard is great for home but at a lodging facility those porous materials can harbor bacteria, bugs and germs that are not good for your pet. Hard surfaces like tile and concrete aren’t like home but they are durable and easy to clean regularly. If you think about schools, the walls are probably cinder block and the floors are tiled for reasons of safety and cleanliness. Don’t be fooled by cosmetic appearance—you want a clean facility where your pet’s wellness, health and safety are priorities!
  • Ask about bedding. Even though the hard surfaces are the best for cleanliness, the facility should offer bedding options to keep your pet comfortable when resting.
  • Understand how the facility is kept clean. Ask about the cleaning routine and disinfecting processes for the animal suites and community areas. The cleaning products should be effective and safe for the animals. Does the facility use environmentally “green” cleaning products?

    Nature walks are one of the activities offered to lodging clients.

    Nature walks for dogs are one of the activities offered.

  • Find out what activities are offered. If your dog is used to going for a walk, playing with other dogs or getting lap time, why should their routine change while you’re away? You don’t want your dog to remain in a suite without proper exercise and activity for the majority of its stay. The same applies to your cat—what activities does the facility offer to cats?  Studies have shown that pets with activities during a lodging stay are much happier so choose an activity package that fits your pet’s level of daily exercise and social interaction.
  • Climate control. Does the facility have a climate control system for the comfort and safety of the clients?
  • Review safety policies and procedures. Would you send your children to a school that did not have a nurse or professional staff trained in first aid and safety? It’s not pleasant to think of your pet feeling under-the-weather, but having a veterinarian available and staff trained to identify and handle medical problems is necessary for the animals and reassuring for you. Discuss the policies and procedures for medical and safety issues.
  • Emergency plans. Hopefully an emergency never happens but if it does, there should be plans for handling any situation. Does the facility have:
    • On-site staff or night checks
    • Security and fire protection systems
    • Backup power
    • Evacuation/emergency plans
  • Ask about staff training and facility accreditations. OPC University is now setting the industry standards of practice for pet lodging facilities. Does the facility follow these standards? A great facility will require all personnel to receive formalized training about:
    • the facility and business practices,
    • industry standards, and receive
    • on-going training in pet first aid and medical issues, animal behavior, and customer service.

You want everyone at the lodging facility to be passionate about their work and to love spending time with the pets, especially your dog or cat. A happy atmosphere = a happy pet!

What has been your experience with pet sitters or a lodging facility? What’s most important to you when considering who will care for your pet while you’re away?

Dreaming of Summer: Vacation Tips

By Karen Hendricks

Every year around February, it hits me. The winter blues. Time to start thinking about summer and reminding myself that it’s right around the corner—hopefully—before any more snowstorms hit. Planning and dreaming about a summer vacation help to get me through the winter blahs! That is traditionally the time our family plans, makes reservations, and marks the calendar for our summer destination(s).

When Memorial Day weekend comes, “the unofficial start to summer,” we know those vacation plans will soon be here, whether we’re headed to the beach, mountains, cities or amusement parks, and whether travel is for a day trip, weekend and/or vacation week. I loved fellow writer Jennifer’s post earlier this week about “Summer Fun in Your Own Backyard.” Lots of great, money-saving tips! I realize not every family has a vacation budget, but there are some wonderful, thrifty ways to “get away” without breaking the bank. My husband and I feel that taking a vacation is a priority so even during times when finances were tight for us, we found a way to make getaways a reality. We even keep one specific scrapbook specifically for vacation highlights through the years—and they are some of our fondest memories.

I recently conducted a family poll and we made a list of some of our favorite, family-friendly destinations through the years. Hopefully some of our tips and ideas will inspire you! (Please note, as is the case with every article on Off the Merry-Go-Round, we do not accept compensation for reviews or endorsements—of products, services, events, other websites, etc. All ideas and suggestions are truly our own.)

Footprints in the sand, in Bethany Beach, Delaware

Footprints in the sand, in Bethany Beach, Delaware

1. Bethany Beach, Delaware

This family-friendly beach has everything we love: clean beaches, a boardwalk, cute shops and plenty of activities nearby such as mini-golf, restaurants, museums, etc. The beach is not a huge sprawling beach, which we like because you don’t feel lost in a sea of people, and it’s easier to keep track of the kids. We like to stay in South Bethany, which is quiet and mostly residential. There’s a good mix of affordable rental houses just a short walk to the beach, and we always come prepared to cook dinner in-house several nights so that we can splurge and go out to dinner several nights as well. Entertainment and dining options are close-by in two larger beach towns–Rehoboth Beach, DE and/or Ocean City, MD. The town of Bethany is simply charming, with a style similar to Cape May, NJ. (Click here to visit the Delaware Tourism website for more info on Bethany).

One of our favorite spots in Bermuda: exploring Horseshoe Bay

One of our favorite spots in Bermuda: exploring Horseshoe Bay

2. Bermuda

We splurged and took the family on a cruise to Bermuda several years ago to celebrate our 20th anniversary. We chose Bermuda on the advice of our travel agent at AAA and it turned out to be excellent advice. Bermuda is not only beautiful, but very family-friendly with numerous gorgeous beaches and things to do. The cruise itself was wonderful—I highly recommend Norwegian Cruise Lines. Leaving out of New York City was an awesome experience! We took the train from PA directly into NY (and avoided parking fees), then cruised out of Manhattan past the Statue of Liberty and other NYC landmarks. It started the vacation with a bang! We stuck to our budget as planned and did not opt for add-in packages such as additional guided excursions; we still had plenty of fun, both on-board the cruise and during our stay in Bermuda. We purchased 3-day bus passes (for pink buses!) to get around Bermuda, which was an ideal, affordable way to travel and see the entire island, visiting different beaches and landmarks every day. My son was thrilled to enjoy at least one (sometimes two) ice cream cones a day on the cruise ship… that was one of the highlights of the vacation for him! (Click here to visit the Bermuda Department of Tourism’s website… the photos are breath-taking.)

I think it’s important to plan a “big” trip every few years, especially to celebrate milestone moments. We celebrated our 15th anniversary with a family trip to Disneyworld which was incredible and still very affordable. That will have to be a separate blog post for another day!

Family pic after climbing to the top of Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

Family pic after climbing to the top of Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

Racing down the sand dunes at Jockey's Ridge State Park, Kitty Hawk

Racing down the sand dunes at Jockey’s Ridge State Park, Kitty Hawk

Learning how to ride the waves along the Outer Banks

Learning how to ride the waves along the Outer Banks

3. The Outer Banks, North Carolina

From Duck to Kill Devil Hills, Cape Hatteras to Ocracoke Island, the Outer Banks are dotted with lots of family-friendly beach towns. Prices for vacation rentals and/or hotels vary widely but there are plenty of affordable options. When our children were younger, I preferred staying near beaches that were patrolled by lifeguards; lots of the smaller beach towns do not have lifeguards on duty. Cape Hatteras is an example of one beach where lifeguards are present. There are plenty of things to do nearby, if you have a rainy day or if you need a break from the beach. One excursion I highly recommend is Jockey’s Ridge State Park in Kitty Hawk, where you can not only learn about the Wright Brothers taking flight, but you can trek across and run down the huge sand dunes. Fun and great exercise! There are plenty of great restaurants and touristy areas, but many of the towns along the Outer Banks also retain their quiet, residential status for a true “getaway.” (Click here for the official Outer Banks tourism website.)

The Blue Ridge Mountains of Shenandoah National Park

The Blue Ridge Mountains of Shenandoah National Park

4. Shenandoah National Park

Renting a cabin for a week at Shenandoah was a great way for my family to experience “camping” without truly roughing it with tents, etc. (We have stayed in cabins/lodges at a number of national and state parks and both are fun, affordable options.) Located in Virginia, the Skyline Drive through the park is literally beautiful at every winding turn. We saw plenty of deer and even several bears during our trip a few years ago. Our family really enjoys adventures such as going on nature hikes and there are plenty of trail options at Shenandoah. One specific hike will remain a topic of conversation for years to come, because mid-way through a 10 or 12 mile hike one day, it began raining. A gentle shower turned into torrential rains and a “shortcut” trail turned out longer than our original route. Once we reached a key road, my hero of a husband ending up running two miles (still in the rain) to the car in order to pick us all up. We were drenched, several times over, but we can laugh about it now. Events like that are never “planned,” but they sure do make memories… and we can laugh about it now. (This link will take you to the National Park Service’s website for Shenandoah.)

The classic carousel at Hershey Park is the one pictured at the top of our website!

The classic carousel at Hershey Park is the one pictured at the top of our website!

5. Hershey Park / Knoebel’s Grove

It’s hard to imagine summertime without a trip to an amusement park! Two options in our “backyard” are Hershey Park located in Hershey, PA and Knoebel’s Grove located in Elysburg, PA. Our family has enjoyed a day trip to Hershey every year for as long as I can remember—it must be 15 summers now. We always spend a full day there, from opening to closing. There are plenty of kids’ rides, family-friendly rides such as the park train, and then thrill-seeking rides (for the teens and brave adults). When the kids were younger, we especially enjoyed taking a break from rides by visiting the zoo that’s located in the park for a change of pace. There are also performers here and there throughout the park—my family really enjoyed a rhythm performance similar to “Stomp” a year or two ago. There is also an entire section of the park devoted to water slides which we’ve enjoyed on super-hot days. Since it’s an expense for those of us with larger families, we usually look for discounted tickets available through area grocery stores, and we usually pack a lunch (picnic facilities are available near the parking areas) but purchase dinner inside the park. (Here’s the link to Hershey Park.)

You're never too old for a photo with the Hershey's characters!

You’re never too old for a photo with the Hershey’s characters!

Knoebel’s Grove is the quintessential old-fashioned amusement park with lots of charming rides. A huge, old-fashioned ferris wheel at the park entrance sets the tone. Mixed in with plenty of kiddie rides for younger family members are thrilling rides to keep teens on the edge of their seats. They offer a twist on admission and pricing: Admission to the park is free, with several options available for ride tickets. There are special days when you can “pay one price” to enjoy all/any rides, or you can purchase ride tickets in batch quantities to use them as you go through the park (but don’t put the tickets in a shirt pocket and ride an upside-down roller coaster as your first ride of the day… as one of my family members learned, you WILL lose your tickets… oops). There is a large picnic grove where you can enjoy lunch or dinner if you’d rather pack your own meals. Knoebel’s is especially a good option if you have family members who want to join you for a day at the park, but really don’t enjoy riding rides. Since admission is free, it’s easy for them to still get “in” on the family fun. (Click this link to visit the Knoebel’s Grove website.)


Knoebel’s classic ferris wheel lights up the night

What are some of your family’s favorite vacation destinations? Feel free to share your ideas and tips below and join the conversation. Wishing you a fun-filled summer!

Take a SNOW DAY!

By Mary Ann Filler

Do you have the winter blues?  My advice is to take a snow day with your entire family!

Growing up, winter was one of my favorite seasons.  I remember major winter snowstorms.  At times it snowed so much that it covered the fence in our yard.  Our dog was delighted as he could walk up one side of the snow bank and down the other to get out.  My brother and I would stay outside, as much as humanly possible, playing in the snow, building forts and having snowball fights with the neighbor kids.  Our youth group went sledding at a nearby park where toboggans set the course for a speedy trip down the hill on our sleds.  There was nothing better than waking up to a school closing on a snowy winter day!

As I grew older, my love for winter began to dwindle.  Somewhere along the line, I began to dread winter.  Sure, I enjoyed a brief visit outside with my boys on the occasions that we got snow.   And, I’ll have to admit, the snow pictures I have taken of the boys over the years are the cutest shots ever!!


OH…the snowsuits!


Crinkled Nose and Chapped Lips…PRICELESS!!

…But, January and February (for me) were months to be dreaded.

Then, one year for Christmas, the boys received gift cards to our local ski resort.  The giver’s intent was for us to use the gift towards snow tubing (aka sliding down a snowy slope on an inner tube) since none of us were skiers.  That winter we had a beautiful snowfall on March 16.  The next day, Saint Patrick’s Day, we headed up to the ski resort, and I discovered a way to begin enjoying winter once again.

Snow tubing requires absolutely no experience but delivers big on fun!  This may sound funny to those who are “seasoned” skiers, but I thought that in order to go snow tubing there had to be natural snow on the ground.  Once we got there, we discovered another world!  As long as the temperatures cooperate, the ski resort can actually make snow.  I wish I had pictures of that first snow tubing adventure (camera batteries were dead).  It was certainly a memorable day for all!

After that first outing, it occurred to me that the reason that I stopped enjoying winter was that I was hibernating during the winter months.  I wasn’t outside enjoying nature and breathing in the fresh air.  The next year, I learned to ski and the boys learned to snowboard.   We made time to get outside and enjoy the beauty of the season!


Ski Liberty!

I’ll be honest with you, skiing can be an expensive sport, but it doesn’t have to be.   If you are new to skiing and snowboarding the “learn to” packages can’t be beat!  They allow you to try the sport without spending a lot of money.  Click here for SkiPA, a website that addresses the beginner skier.

Do you have a 4th or 5th grader?  College student?

Also from SkiPA:  “How about skiing or boarding for FREE this winter? Well here’s your chance! Your Pennsylvania 4th & 5th Grade Snowpass booklet offers you the privilege of skiing and boarding 21 Pennsylvania Ski Resorts for FREE this winter – Take mom or dad with you for the thrill of a lifetime – an experience you will never forget.”  Click here for more info on this great offer.

Our local ski resort, Ski Liberty, offers College Days on Wednesdays.   For $35 the student with a valid college ID can ski for 4 hours including rental equipment AND lessons if needed.

Look for the snowpack… as in packages:

There are also deals to be had on snow tubing packages–click here for an example from Ski Liberty.

And February 21 is our resort’s local appreciation day!  “All residents of Fairfield, Gettysburg, Orrtanna, Cashtown, Carroll Valley, and Emmitsburg, MD are eligible for this special discount! Must bring valid photo ID to show proof of residence. Liberty is open for skiing & snowboarding from 9am to 10pm, and from 4pm to 10pm for snow tubing on Community Appreciation Day.” For more info, click here.

The bottom line is that you can find less expensive ways to enjoy the slopes.  Search on-line for the slope closest to you, and look on their website to find the best times to visit.  Many slopes even have webcams so that you can see the conditions ahead of time.  Here is our local resort’s link for their webcams. 

Get in gear…

If your winter boots aren’t up to date, many snow tubing venues actually rent boots!  Also, don’t forget to check the consignment and thrift shops to outfit the kids (this is a great tip whether you’re planning on skiing or not;-).  In addition, if you discover that you would like to purchase ski or snowboarding equipment for yourself or the kids, the fall is a great time to buy second-hand equipment at local ski swaps.

Finally, If you’re lucky enough to have natural snow, get some inexpensive sleds or even inner tubes and hit a local hill. Even though the boys have learned to snowboard, they still enjoy sledding with friends!


Sledding with the Toppers…luckily there’s a hill right behind our home;-)

How does your family celebrate winter?  Feel free to share your tips for family skiing, snow tubing, and other ways of enjoying the winter season, below.

Taking a Leap of Faith into 2013

By Karen Hendricks

Famous cliff jumpers: Thelma & Louise

Famous cliff jumpers: Thelma & Louise

“The fiscal cliff” is the hot topic in the news today, and it makes me think about the expression “jumping off a cliff.” Blogging is a bit like jumping off a cliff or taking a leap of faith. You dream up a concept, create a website (blog), post your opinions and topics for the world to see, hope you’re adding some good to the world, and making connections to readers and a community. Many thanks to YOU, our readers, for finding us, subscribing to our posts and sharing your thoughts and ideas with us! We appreciate your support as we launched in 2012.

Jumping off a cliff, taking a leap of faith, or in our case, “jumping off the merry-go-round,” takes some courage. But it’s been an extremely rewarding experience on many levels. Personally, this was the first Christmas season that I spent 100% with my family (ok, honestly, I did a tiny bit of work… but only about 5% of the time!). Past holiday seasons, I spent the majority of my time working, but wishing I could devote more time to my family. I truly feel for parents who don’t have a choice but to work through the holiday season–medical and emergency personnel come to mind. For me, making the decision to leave a full time, 60-70 hour-per-week job in 2012 and concentrate on my own business during a more manageable 30-40 hour-per-week workload… was the best decision for both my family and myself, personally and professionally.

I have immensely enjoyed getting to know other bloggers and parents through Off the Merry-Go-Round. I invite you to comment or email us (OfftheMGR at with your ideas for future topics in 2013. Let us know about parenting issues you struggle with, phases or stages your kids are going through or career issues. Likewise, send us your tips, comments and words of wisdom! Tell us how you solved a parenting problem, share your best penny-pinching tips or share a fabulous craft idea or recipe. We’ll compile and share your ideas in future upcoming posts.

Our bloggers–Jennifer, Jen, Mary Ann, Ruth and myself–have been brainstorming and developing future blog topics for 2013. They are a joy to work with! Here are some of the topics you can look forward to (in the news business, this is called a “tease!”):

  • Training for a 5K
  • How to Journal
  • Life: It’s the Little Things that Matter
  • Small Changes You Can Make to Help Improve and Save Our Environment
  • A Craft Project for an Icy Day
  • Adoption Issues
  • The College Search Process
  • Living with Lyme Disease
  • Tips for Family Fun on Skis
  • Pinterest “Picks”
  • How to Lose the Boob Tube
  • A Fabulous Recipe for Homemade Soft Pretzels
  • And so much more!

Happy New Year! We look forward to sharing 2013 with you. If you’ve enjoyed “Off the Merry-Go-Round” thus far, please share this website with your network of friends and widen our community! Many thanks! 🙂