Inside the New Forbidden Forest at The Making of Harry Potter


If your family is Harry Potter-obsessed, there’s a new destination to check out: the Forbidden Forest, a permanent expansion to The Making of Harry Potter at Warner Bros. Studio London. The cool new expansion just opened its doors to aspiring wizards this spring. Here’s why you should plan your vacation around this magical experience.

Attractions

• Enter the Forbidden Forest and follow in the footsteps of your favorite characters: Harry, Ron and Hermione. Gaze up at the 19 trees each measuring over 12 feet in diameter. The Forest is full of stunning craftsmanship all Harry Potter fans will appreciate.

• Cinema; Watch how it all started!

• Ride a broomstick through the streets of London and all the way to Hogwarts! You’ll get to experience green screen technology just like a real actor

• Watch the creatures of the Forbidden Forest come to life with animatronics. Good to know: this may be scary for small children but staff do provide a shortcut around it.

• Take a seat on the Hogwarts express and feel like you really are on your way to Hogwarts.

Insider Tip: Free children’s Activity Passports can be collected from the lobby. Try to find all the stamping posts around the tour for extra fun throughout the day.

photo: Mark Drew

Photos because of course, you’ll want lots of photos!
There are many great photo spots throughout the tour, from the Great Hall to the Ron’s flying car and Hagrid’ motorbike.

You can even get to try out your own magical power calling “UP!” to get your broom to fly into your hand!

You can also get a picture of you running through the wall to get to platform 93/4 of Kings Cross station with you luggage trolly right next to the Hogwarts Express.

  • There is free wifi throughout the tour.
  • Near the whomping willow you will find a seat where Dobby may have a sweet surprise for you.
  • Become a giant with the magic of forced perspective sitting at Hagrid’s table!

photo: markusunger via flickr

In the lobby you’ll be able to find:

  • A free cloakroom for all your coats and bags to pick up at the end of your day.
  • An ATM which offers free of charge cash withdrawals.
  • Digital guides with 9 Languages from £4.95 / $6 to enhance your experience.
  • Starbucks coffee for some refreshments.
  • Gift shop for all your wizarding needs.
  • Toilets

Food and drink:

  • Starbuck coffee
  • Studio café
  • The Backlot where you can try the wizarding worlds famous Butterbeer! It’s a non-alcoholic beverage reminiscent of shortbread and butterscotch.
  • You can bring your own food and sit in the outdoor picnic area or the Backlot area.

Baby facilities: Baby changing facilities are available in each toilet block. In addition, a private area for parents to feed complete with nursing chair and changing tables are located next to Backlot Cafe. Hot water for heating up bottles can be provided within the Studio Cafe or Backlot Cafe.

Transportation: Plenty of free parking with disabled parking available. £2.50/$3 return shuttle bus from Watford Junction train station leaving every 20 minutes.

Cost: £39 / $48 for adults 15+; £31 / $38 for kids 4-15; £0 / $0 kids four and under

Warner Bros. Studio Tour London
Studio Tour Drive
Leavesden
WD25 7LR
United Kingdom
Online: wbstudiotour.co.uk/forbidden-forest

What’s your favorite Harry Potter book? Will you visit the new Forbidden Forest? Leave us a comment below! 

— Mark Drew



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All Aboard! Thomas Land Reopens April 8


You love him on your living room floor and you can’t get enough of him on the screen: Thomas the Tank Engine and all of his Friends are the center of your train-obsessed tots world. Indulge that obsession on a whole new level with a trip to Thomas Land, the permanent Thomas & Friends theme park in Carver, Ma. Set to open for the third season on April 8, you can book your tickets now.

What It Is
Head to the Island of Sodor, aka 11.5 acres of Thomas-themed fun! There’s more 11 different Thomas & Friend rides, a 20-minute train ride on Thomas the Tank Engine plus a Ferris wheel, roller coaster, drop tower and more. All the rides feature Thomas & Friends including Percy, Toby, Diesel, Cranky the Crane, Harold the Helicopter, and more. You can even check out the Tidmouth Sheds (where there is a live stage show) and Knapford Station (which houses the gift shop!)

Get Your Tickets
Click here to check out our family guide to visiting Thomas Land this year with your kids.

Ages: All ages
Cost: $27/person ages 3 and up (save a few dollars by picking specific dates for your visit in advance)

Edaville USA
5 Pine St.
Carver, Ma 02330
Online: edaville.com/Thomasland

Photo courtesy Thomas Land



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Are You In the Club? Explore Amazon’s Brand-New STEM Subscription


When it comes to buying science, tech, engineering and math toys for your curious kiddo, it’s a jungle out there. But, here’s the good news: Amazon.com has joined in on the action with it’s all-new STEM Club service. Read on for all the details. 

What It Is
Once you sign up, a hand-picked, high-quality toy will be dropped on your front door once a month courtesy of the Amazon STEM toy experts. The box is curated for different age groups: Three-to four-year-olds will get something that introduces them to the world of STEM, five-to seven-year-olds will receive a hands-on kit or lab that invites them to explore earth science, electricity and simple math, and a delivery for your eight-to thirteen-year-old will include more complex projects and experiments based principles of physics, chemistry and engineering (some projects will require adult assistance). Recent shipments include cool stuff like The Magic School Bus Chemistry Lab and Kids First Aircraft Engineer Kit.

The Fine Print
Most of what you’ll see arrive on a monthly basis are items that are exclusive to or recently available on Amazon.com, and your delivery is free of charge.

Start experimenting by ordering your subscription box here. Your first box will ship within a week and every month thereafter. The cost is $19.99 per month.

Which part of STEM is your kid’s favorite? Share with us in a Comment below!

—Gabby Cullen



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Introducing Your New Favorite Vacation Spot: Fairmont Mayakoba


For real though, does it get any better than a family vacation to Mexico? The travel time from anywhere in the U.S. is pretty darn reasonable, the beaches are pristine, the water is the bluest blue you’ve ever seen and the weather, ahhh, that weather. It’s a dream. A dream you never have to wake from when you treat the family to a holiday at Fairmont Mayakoba.

photo: aerial view of Fairmont Mayakoba

The basics
This favorite family destination is hidden in 240 acres of tropical forest marked by crystal clear waterways and surrounded by the gorgeous Caribbean shoreline. It’s just 40 miles south of Cancun, near the town of Playa del Carmen.

Fairmont Mayakoba is part of the Mayakoba Riviera Maya collection, which includes 4 hotels in total that can be accessed via nature trails, roadways or the Mayakoba Connection water taxi via the lagoon. Guests at each property have pool, activity and dining privileges at all 4 hotels: Fairmont, Banyan Tree, Rosewood and the newly opened Andaz. Note: Guests actually staying at each hotel receive scheduling priority.

fairmont-mayakoba-kids-room

Let’s start with the free stuff
Anyone that’s vacationed knows that one of the most expensive aspects of traveling is the extreme amount of eating we tend to do when we’re far away from home and relaxed. Our stomach capacity somehow doubles. This can get very pricey, very fast. Hands down our favorite facts about Fairmont Mayakoba is (1) how excellent the food is at each of their 4 restaurants and (2) drum roll, please . . . kids 5 and under eat free from the kids menu when eating with their parents.

With their tummies full, give them a nice warm bath before tucking them in for the night. Complimentary kits for littles include an Ollie the Otter stuffed animal, no-tears hair wash, cleansing soap, toothbrush & paste, bubble bath and gentle lotion. Score! That takes several things off your packing list!

While we’re on our favorite subject of free stuff, guests get 3 hours worth of complimentary daily access to the resort’s kids club. You can pick between the 9 a.m.-noon and 5 p.m.-8 p.m. time slots.

mayakoba-fairmont-kids-games

Tell us about this kids club you speak of
All 4 hotels within the Mayakoba property have excellent programs for kids ages 4-12 and, like we said, you receive 3 hours free . . . so why not take full advantage? Use the free time to treat yourself to spa services, take a cooking class, hit the gym, read a book or simply remember the joy of silence with your favorite travel mate. While you’re doing all this important adulting, your mini-me will be learning cool Mayan words, crafting and engaging in a plethora of supervised activities.

There’s something for the older tots, too! Kids ages 12-17 can enroll in the Yucatan Ranger program, which is a daylong experience offering group activities, such as hiking, kayaking, golf and archery. Their journey is led by trained camp rangers and biologists that educate the group on the various birds and wildlife on the property.

If teens would rather skip the ranger-ing, they also have access to the Teens Room, open daily 9:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m. for ages 10-17. The room features game stations with wireless controllers and a 42″ HD TV and allows kids to participate in a variety of multi-sensorial experiences, including kart races, dance contests, sports and classic arcade action.

mayakoba-kayaking

Camping isn’t just for the kids
Big kids (a.k.a., you!) will love Camp Mayakoba, a collection of outdoor amenities and programming for guests of all ages. Activities include kayaking, archery, hiking, tennis and more!

mayakoba-fairmont-pool-slidephoto: Fairmont Mayakoba pool

Get the scoop on where to take a dip
Besides the obvious option of, you know, the ocean, there are 5 swimming pools throughout the hotel, including a free-form pool and waterslide, a children’s play pool and an adults-only infinity edge pool overlooking the lagoon.

mayakoba-boat-taxi

Don’t forget, you also have privileges at the 3 other properties. Hitch a ride on the Mayakoba Connection ferry service that connects all the hotel lobbies, hop on a complimentary bike you’ll find stationed throughout the grounds and ride the trails, or ask for a ride from the main lobby to take the plunge at another hotel.

maykoba-cooking-schoolphoto: El Pueblito Cooking School via Maria Chambers

Get schooled on the ways of culinary geniuses
It might be tempting to keep your toes buried in the sand, but taking a break to beef up on your kitchen skills makes for a fun few hours out of the sun. Mayakoba’s El Pueblito Cooking School offers classes with a wide range of themes, from asian noodles to artisan jams and a selection of short series offering tips on basic pastry, healthy cooking and more. (Note: just don’t be like us and leave your patio door open, giving the animal residents of the resort access to your edible creations.) If you’d prefer a vacation from cooking altogether, they also host book signings, pop-ups and special events throughout the year.

mayakoba-el-pueblito-2photo: El Pueblito

Come for the school, stay for . . . everything else
Besides housing the cooking school, the picturesque El Pueblito area of Mayakoba mimics the feel of an authentic Mexican village square with a mix of sidewalk restaurants, boutiques and an art gallery. It’s the perfect spot to relax over a cup of coffee, a healthy smoothie or to grab a quick bite in one of the restaurants that capture the essence of each of the four hotels that make up the property.

mayakoba-churchphoto: El Pueblito Chapel

Not only that, but you’ll find the La Santa Cruz chapel that’s open daily for visitors and offers a mass every Sunday at noon.

No vacation is complete without spa time!
While the littles are busy being kids at camp, book yourself spa time at the Willow Stream Spa. Services range from a simple manicure to a romantic couples massage. Once you’ve indulged in a little pampering, we recommend staying a few extra minutes to float around in the rooftop sea-mineral soaking pool.

mayakoba-kayak

When should we visit?
Winter, Spring, Summer or Fall . . . take your pick! There’s really no bad time to dust off your passport and head south, now is there? However, you might be surprised to hear that one of the most popular times to visit Riviera Maya is over Christmas break. Families seeking solace from snow and coolers temps have been flocking to this area for years. In response to this influx of guests, Fairmont Mayakoba goes big for the holidays. Visitors won’t miss their white Christmas when they see the festive decorations, non-stop themed activities throughout the day and endless dining options that keep you out of the kitchen and focused on family time.

While they are still developing this year’s activities, you can take a peek at last year’s offerings to get an idea of what to expect when you’re expecting a Christmas in paradise.

tulumphoto: Tulum Ruins via Maria Chambers

Go road trippin’ on your vacay
We don’t like to be bossy, but we’re going to be for just a split second. You absolutely cannot be this close to the Mayan ruins without taking a little look-see at what is left behind of this mysterious civilization. There are several ruins to choose from in the area, but the most convenient from the hotel is Tulum, which just so happens to also be the only ruins with an ocean view. Located just under an hour from Fairmont, you can book an excursion with the help of the concierge staff or be a little more adventurous and rent a car from the onsite Budget office. We highly recommend option 2. It’s a straight shot from the property, with absolutely no turns, and it’s a fun and easy way to get out and explore Mexico on your own. Tip: There’s a Starbucks on the way, total bonus! 

tulum-ruinsphoto: Tulum Ruins via Maria Chambers

If you choose to strike out on your own, be sure to take pesos to pay for entry and parking. It’s best to exchange your money at the hotel, as their exchange rate is typically better. Take along comfy shoes, a bathing suit in case you decide to take a dip, mosquito spray, a bottle of water, sunscreen (as there is very little shade) and a camera to capture the adventure.

One way to maximize your vacation time is to arrive at the ruins right when they open at 8 a.m. You’ll beat the crowds, be in and out before the heat makes it unbearable and, with it only taking an hour to conquer this world wonder, you can make it back to enjoy plenty of beach time and margaritas.

Travel Notes and Tips

      • The closest airport is Cancun International Airport, which is a short 40-minute drive
      • Cribs for the babes are available upon request
      • Download the Mayakoba App to make dinner reservations, get the Mayakoba Connection ferry schedule, access the trail map, read about the various activities offered and more!
      • Connecting rooms are available, but be sure to make the request upon booking
      • In-room nanny and babysitting services are available with at least 24 hours notice ($20 per hour for 1-2 children and $24 an hour for 3 children)
      • The Riviera Maya is home to the second largest coral reef, which is easy accessed via nearby Cozumel

And just one quick PSA: do not under any circumstances leave this property without grabbing a lounger by the beach and ordering the ceviche and fresh guacamole. It’s a guarantee you’ll be thanking us for the recommendation.

Starting Room Rates (per night, USD): Fairmont, $300; Andaz, $450; Banyan Tree, $574; Rosewood, $695
Mayakoba Fairmont
Carretera Federal Cancún, Playa del Carmen Km. 298
Riviera Maya
Quintana Roo, Mexico
1-800-540-6088
Online: fairmont.com/mayakoba-riviera-maya

Have you had the pleasure of basking in the sun at one of the Mayakoba properties? We’d love to hear about it in the Comments below!

— Maria Chambers



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Magic Reigns at the New Luxury Bahia Principe Fantasia Resort


Combine white sandy beaches, a few castles, water play for days, and a bit of magic—what do you get? An unforgettable family vacation. Lounge by the pool, play in the waves, let the kids soak up the magical entertainment; there’s no end to the adventures that await you at the all-new Luxury Bahia Principe Fantasia in the Dominican Republic. Read on for an insider’s guide to the newest resort to open its doors on Bávaro Beach, and get ready to experience happiness.

photo: courtesy Grupo Piñero

A Magical Paradise with Modern Perks

Upon arrival at the Bahia Principe Fantasia, if the staggering castle surrounded by sparkling blue pools doesn’t wow you, the jugglers, macaws, a dazzling array of colorfully dressed characters and the resort mascot (Monkey) will do the trick.

Service is a priority here: Once you’ve checked in, an on-call butler will escort you to your suite. The kids will receive robes in their size, as well as a bag full of toiletries and a fun bear-shaped sponge. There’s 24-hour room service available, a nanny service (at an extra cost), and waiter service at both the beach and the pool.

The Luxury Bahia Principe Fantasia is all-inclusive, which means your food, drink, kids club, entertainment, beach service, room service and even a special check-in for the little ones are all included in your cost.

castleview_gabbycullen_luxurybahiaprincipefantasia_redtricycle

Explore the Realm

The list of activities and entertainment are impressive, with daily performances, light shows, water play and even scavenger hunts! Guests can wander through the mercado, explore Adventure Park, play mini-golf or visit another family-friendly hotel on the property.

Enjoy Watersports
When you stay at the Fantasia, you can enjoy one hour of non-motorized water sports everyday for free. Sign up for scuba lessons, pick between snorkling, kayaking, and paddle surfing—or try them all! Be sure to get signed up ahead of time: It’s first come, first serve. 

bahiascoutswaterpark1_gabbycullen_luxurybahiaprincipe_redtricycle

Play at the Water Park
Kids can slip down two-story high slides and look out for dump buckets. Parents can actually kick back and relax because there’s always at least two lifeguards on duty. The waterpark has a beach entry—a great option for any tiny tots—and the nearby Oxides Cafe has a welcoming shade structure for parents keeping an eye on smaller kids.

luxurybahiafantasia_rdo_families_kidsclub_033_medphoto: courtesy Grupo Piñero

Hang Out in the Kids Club
For hotel guests ages 4 – 12, the kid’s club is a happening place. It’s open from 9:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. and offers a retreat from the sun and water fun. Spanish lessons, painting, scavenger hunts, mini-Olympic games, theater shows, ping pong and video games are just a few of the regularly scheduled activities. There’s also a quiet place for babies to nap (parents must stay in the building), if Mom or Dad want to hang with older kiddos. No food is served at Kid’s Club, so be sure get your adults-only time in before picking up the little ones for lunch or dinner.

poolside_gabbycullen_luxurybahiaprincipefantasia_redtricycle

Relax Poolside
The two pools surrounding the castle in the middle of the resort are filled with crystal clear water. There’s an easy entrance at one side for tots, spa-like jet tubs (not heated), comfy cabanas with cushions, and a swim-up bar for refreshments.

laplaya_gabbycullen_luxurybahiaprincipe_redtricycle

Hit the Beach
Sugary sand beaches, warm waters and table service are all part of the package when you stay at Luxury Bahia Principe Fantasia. There’s a special area reserved for guests of the hotel, but it blends in with the beachfronts of the other hotels on the resort (there are seven hotels at Bahia Principe, three for adults only and four that welcome families) so there’s mix of guests sharing the beach, from families to honeymooners and retirees.

chocolatemakingclass_gabbycullen_luxurybahiaprincipe_redtricycle

Learn About Chocolate
Just a quick tram ride away inside the Bahia Principe Bavaro Playa hotel is Chocolate & CIA. You can take a chocolate-making class, which includes the rich history of the cacao plant and plenty of tasting opportunities!

bavarorunners_gabbycullen_bahiaprincipe_redtricycleGet Off the Resort
Families can choose from a wide variety of day trips and excursions. Bavaro Runners does a fantastic tour of the local countryside, where you’ll learn about the agricultural wealth of the Dominican Republic: sugar cane, cacao, coffee, and vanilla (this trip is probably best suited to older kiddos). Other options include snorkeling tours, the chance to swim with dolphins, exploring stingray bay and even horseback riding.

lightshow_bahiafantasia_rdo_pool_castel_006_medphoto: courtesy Grupo Piñero

Magical Nights
Every night at Fantasia includes family entertainment: inspiring music, energetic dancing, and a fantastical tale about a boy and his discovery of the larimar stone—the resort’s answer to a bedtime story. The castle that reigns in the middle of the resort lights up in shimmering colors, and fire dancers move to the beat.

puremagic_gabbycullen_luxurybahiaprincipe_redtricycle

Food for Your Royal Crew

Hungry guests have the choice of two buffet-style spots, three a la carte spots (all three require formal dress and a reservation), and one super kid-friendly snack bar. Psst! Each a la carte restaurant has a signature drink: limoncello, modern cosmos, piña coladas and others.

fruitbuffett_larimiar_gabbycullen_luxurybahiaprincipe_redtricycle

The Larimore
Your breakfast spot while staying at Fantasia! Each morning you’ll choose from a wide variety of options for all ages: eggs cooked your way, bagels, donuts, fruit for miles, traditional Dominican fare and even a kid-sized buffet that serves up goodies like french toast, hash browns, sandwiches and more.beachsidecafe_gabbycullen_luxurybahiaprincipe_redtricycleBeachside Cafe
Grab lunch at the beachside cafe. Options range from hot dogs and fries to regional fare like seafood casserole and plantains.

gardencircus_gabbycullen_luxurybahiaprincipe_redtricycle

Garden Circus
A classic steakhouse with a twist—you’ll be entertained by jugglers, acrobats and other entertainers during your meal. Head to the buffet of appetizers to start (cheeses, salad, small bites), then follow up with an entree. The meal is followed by desserts such as gelato, mini pies and fruit.

legourmet_luxurybahiaprincipefantasia_redtricyclephoto: courtesy Grupo Piñero

Le Gourmet
Beautifully arranged food with cutting-edge style, this could be the place to have date night while on your vacation. Think beef tournedos, sea bass stuffed with king crab and even vegetarian options.

ilparadiso_luxurybahiafantasia_redtricycle_054_medphoto: courtesy Grupo Piñero

Il Paradiso
Traditional Italian food with a twist of modern design. Delicious appetizers and cheese boards are followed by pastas, risottos, desserts and more.

sushibar_kokoro_luxurybahiafantasia_redtricyclephoto: courtesy Grupo Piñero

Kokoro Sushi Bar
You’ll find this hidden gem located in the castle that holds court in the main pool area.

oxidesnackbar_gabbycullen_bahiaprincipefantasia_redtricycle

Oxides Snack Bar
Located right next to the Bahia Scouts water park, little guests can grab a snack or popsicle before hitting up the waterslide.

juniorsuite_luxurybahiaprincipefantasia_redtricyclephoto: courtesy Grupo Piñero

Royal Chambers

There are over 500 rooms at the Luxury Principe Bahia Fantasia. Many of them have a pool view, come with either two full beds or a king bed, a sofa sleeper bed, mini bar, jet bathtub, tile floors. There are no suites with separate bedrooms but there are two adjoining rooms on every floor.

Luxury Bahia Principe Fantasia

Arena Gorda – Macao.
Punta Cana Provincia La Altagracia.
Dominican Republic
T: +1 (809) 552 14 44
Onlinebahia-principe.com/resorts/fantasia

Do you like all-inclusive resort vacations? Tell us about your experiences in a Comment below. 

Note: This trip was paid for by Bahia Principe Hotels & Resorts but all opinions expressed here belong to the writer.

—All words and images by Gabby Cullen unless noted otherwise.



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Make a Date with Spongebob & Friends in Punta Cana


Who lives in a pineapple under the sea? Why, Spongebob, of course! And, because of a joint venture between Nickelodeon, Viacomm and Karisma Hotels and Resorts, you get to visit his sweet (literally!) pineapple digs next to the gorgeous sea at the all-inclusive Nickelodeon Hotels and Resorts Punta Cana. Read on to hear about the newest resort that should top your family’s travel {sand} bucket list.

photo: Nickelodeon Resort Sliming

Does anything scream family fun more than getting slimed as a family? You certainly won’t forget the experience, that’s for sure. Nickelodeon Hotels and Resorts makes planning a sophisticated family vacation that’s appealing to ALL ages a reality. While you’ll find activities around every corner that will solicit big smiles from the littles, kid-level fun isn’t so in your face that you feel like adults weren’t thought about at all. Every detail is well-thought out to make the vacation enjoyable, no matter the ages or interests. You’ll have all-inclusive access to Spanish lessons, exercise, dance and cooking classes, gourmet dining experiences and non-stop water activities. Not to mention an on-site spa for when you need to breakaway for much-needed alone time. Let the concierge help you step outside the resort for scuba diving trips, fishing and island tours, snorkeling, zip lining and more!

spongbobs-housephoto: Pineapple Villa

A Spongebob Immersion
Your littlest Spongebob fans will have their minds blown with a stay in the Pineapple Villa, aka Spongebob’s swanky Caribbean digs. There’s only one of these beauties at the resort, but there are three other Super Pool Villas that offer the exact amenities, just without the signature pineapple entrance. These 1,500-square-foot, 2 bedroom/3-bath villas include a lush garden, private outdoor shower, butler service and a reserved cabana at the beach.

punta-cana-pool-villaphoto: Super Pool Villa

The roundup of accommodation options
Besides the villas, Nickelodeon Resort has several options that make great spots to rest your square pants for the night. The suites feature 1 king or 2 double beds, a pull-out sofa, dining room, TV, play area and a spacious balcony with sitting area. The swim-up suites have everything we just listed, but the added benefit of having a pool right at your back door, just off your terrace complete with lounge seats. These smaller pools are at the base of the suite buildings and are for guests staying in the swim-up suites only.

Pad Suite Nickelodeon Punta Canaphoto: Nickelodeon Resort Pad Suite

We see you looking at the bath tub visible from the room. No worries, a screen lowers for privacy so you don’t feel like you’re splashing about in a fish bowl.

Swim up Flat Suite Nickeledeon Punta Canaphoto: Swim-Up Flat Suite

Some of the larger suites feature a master bedroom and private wrap-around balcony with a private plunge pool and sitting area.

punta-cana-poolphoto: Pool time via Maria Chambers

Get your fins wet
The resort has two pools open to all resort guests, the Infinity Pool and the Activity Pool. Both are just steps from the golden sands of Uvero Alto Beach’s sparkling ocean waters. The Infinity Pool is a great spot to submerge and enjoy the serenity of vacation or watch the sun set, while the Activity Pool is a prime spot for getting silly with water games and partaking in the daily instructor-led exercise classes.

aqua-nickphoto: Aqua Nick

Relaxing by the pool is great and all, but sometimes you want your water play to come with a side of rowdy fun. Aqua Nick gives kids a chance to let loose with water slides, splash pads, spray grounds and a lazy river. Oh, and no Nickelodeon experience is complete without a sliming. Throw your name in for a chance to get slimed! Aqua Nick is a bit removed from the other two pools and restaurants.  If you find yourself hungry while you’re visiting that section of the resort, Nick Bites is steps from the pool and features light meals and cold drinks. Perfect for throwing down some food quick, and then getting back to aiming that water cannon at a deserving sibling.

sugarcane-punta-cana-feastphoto: Breakfast feasting at Sugarcane via Maria Chambers

Where to grab grub
The dining options are almost endless and the food is prepared with all ages in mind. With 12 restaurants on site and 24-hour room service, there’s not chance you’ll find yourself feeling hungry.

Sugarcane is a swell spot to hit for breakfast. Their breakfast buffet is something that must be experienced, offering fresh juices, omelets, waffles, eggs, cheese and meats — really anything you could imagine putting in your tummy first thing in the morning.

brgsphphoto: BRGRS.PH

BRGRS.PH is a favorite lunch spot, with a cool food truck inside the restaurant where a chef prepares many of the food options on board, while another crew works in the kitchen.

Fresco Gourmet Cornerphoto: Fresco

If you’re starving, but finding it hard to break from water play, give Fresco a shout. As per the name, Fresco delivers fresh, creative and delicious offerings in an “al fresco” setting. Grab a quick meal or drink at the swim-up bar, being sure to give their daily ceviche creation using bounties fresh from the sea a try.

spacewalker-punta-canaphoto: Spacewalker, Interstellar Cuisine

For a cool vibe that will keep the kids distracted while you sneak in a bit of adult conversation, moonwalk over to Spacewalker. We can almost guarantee they’ve never been in a space like this and they’ll busy themselves the whole meal just taking it all in. Be sure to be on the lookout for the spacesuit hanging about, it makes for a great photo opp for the littles who find space travel awe-inspiring.

Doppio Coffeephoto: Doppio Coffee and Tea

Jazz up your personality with a caffeine fix when you find yourself dragging by stopping over at Doppio Coffee and Tea, where you’ll find variety of speciality coffees, teas and a glass case of gourmet sweets you won’t be able to resist. Don’t forget, this is all-inclusive, so make it a double!

punta-cana-swim-up-barphoto: Chillin’ at the Jazmin Swim-Up Bar and Deck

Take a break from your game of Marco Polo to shark up to Jazmin Swim-Up Bar and Deck overlooking the ocean for a mocktail made just for your little guppy. While they’re sucking down a fruity treat, ask the barkeep to whip up the adult version for you.

Add a little character to your day
Spongebob and his quirky sidekick, Patrick, might be two of the most recognizable Nickelodeon characters, but they’re certainly not the only. A visit to Character Central will be rewarded with one-on-one encounters and photo opps with Dora the Explorer, Chase and Marshal from PAW Patrol, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the Fairly Odd Parents and more!

character-breakfast-punta-canaphoto: Character Breakfast at Zest via Maria Chambers

If you’d prefer to break bread and play along with these fun lovers, consider booking the Character Breakfast at Zest, a mediterrean restaurant with food displays for breakfast and lunch and an a la carte menu for dinner. Note: while the resort is all-inclusive, the character breakfast is an extra charge, but the giggles you’ll garner from your little travel mates make it well worth the extra coin.

just-kiddinphoto: Just Kiddin

Sneak in adult time with your love by dropping kids ages 4-12 years old for supervised free play at Just Kiddin, which is part clubhouse, part artist’s studio. Take this time to dine at Kitchen 23, an adults-only experience with culinary creations and cocktails using imaginative ingredients and techniques. Wash down the meal with a sangria at Vino Vino before shuttling the kids back to your room.

nickelodeon-punta-cana-tate-beachphoto: Making a run for the salty fun via Maria Chambers

Best time to drop in on Punta Cana
Because Punta Cana is in the Caribbean, the weather is beautiful all year round. If you’re looking to hit this hotspot during a quieter, less crowded time, consider traveling March-May when the highs average in the low 80s. Hurricane season is June-November, but your chances of getting great weather are still pretty good. The warmest months on the island are June-September. If you’re considering visiting during peak season, December-February, it’s advised to plan 6 months out.

punta-canaphoto: the view from above en route to Punta Cana via Maria Chambers

  • Travel tips
    Be sure to travel with cash! Each traveler entering the Dominican Republic must pay a $10 cash-only fee.
  • Electric outlets are the same as in the US and Canada, so no need to worry about bringing adapters for all those electronics you won’t need because you’ll be outside soaking up the sunshine!
  • The language spoken on the island is Spanish, but most resort employees are fluent in English, so communicating won’t be a problem. But, hey! It’d be a good time to test out those two years of Spanish your mom made you take in high school, si?
  • Shuttles are available from the Punta Cana Airport, which is about 25 miles south of the resort. Be sure to schedule this through the resort prior to your arrival.
  • Set expectations – some kids dream of shell collecting when you tell them a beach vacation is on the horizon. You won’t likely find shells of any significance on Punta Cana.
  • The selection of sunscreens is limited, so if you have a favorite or have kids with sensitive skin, consider bringing your own from home.
  • While the gift shop sells boogie boards and some toss-around toys, there are no buckets and shovels available for purchase. If you’re looking to do some serious castle building, pack your own supplies.

Nickelodeon Hotels & Resorts
Daily rates starting at $375/adult, $281/teen, $100/child (based on double occupancy)
Carr Uvero Alto
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
844-733-NICK
Online: nickresortpuntacana.com

Have you vacationed in Punta Cana with the family? Share your experience in the Comments below!

— Maria Chambers



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Ninjago World Opens at LEGOLAND


If your little ninja likes to karate chop all his LEGO towers, he’ll be in “hi-ya!” heaven at Ninjago World, LEGOLAND California’s newest attraction based on the popular TV show and LEGO toy series. The new land centers around a state-of-the-art 4D dark ride that puts little ones right into the action—letting them test their skills and blast down legions of Lego villains. Time to put little crime fighters to work this summer!

photo: Sandy Huffaker/LEGOLAND

Before You Ride, You Must Train
You didn’t think your little warrior could just walk up and start spitting out fireballs just like that, did you? Aspiring “spinjitzu” masters should test their skills at four designated “training” stations before hopping into the 4D battle ground.

legoland2photo: Melissa Heckscher

  • Cole’s Rock Climb Challenge: Build strength and focus at this kid-sized bouldering wall; no harness needed.
  • Zane’s Temple Build: Put your focus to the test by creating LEGO models inspired by Ninjago. 
  • Kai’s Spinners: Test your dizziness threshold on these playground-style disks. Remember, to practice Spinjitzu, you’ve got to spin!
  • Jay’s Lightning Drill: Are you lightning-fast? Test your reflexes as you race to push lit-up buttons on this whack-a-mole style training exercise.

 

photo: Melissa Heckscher

Now You Can Ride!
All trained and ready to go? Step inside the giant Asian-inspired pagoda, snake through the inevitably long line, and get ready to knock the Lego heads off the bad guys. Thanks to cutting edge 4D gaming technology, you’ll feel the wind, heat and smoke as you use only hand gestures (Yay! No germ-laden triggers to pull!) to throw fireballs, shockwaves, ice and lightning at a series of immersive images.

Your four-person vehicle will take you through a series of training exercises during which you’ll get the hang of your new “powers.” (Hint: Use both hands and you’ll rack up more points). Then, just when your arms begin to get tired, you’ll head into battle—a nonstop fire and ice-spewing shootout that culminates in a massive final battle scene.

Now remember, young ninja, this is no time to be lazy. Your scores will be displayed both in the vehicle and on monitors outside the ride for all to see (right beside an inevitably laughable picture of you and your kiddos hand-gesturing your hearts out).

Psssst:
Smaller ninjas are welcome to ride, but spinmasters under 48” must ride with an adult. And, since there is violence (i.e. a lot of LEGO bad guys get reduced to piles of colored bricks), the ride is probably best suited for kids ages 4 & up.

 

ninja-kitchenphoto: Legoland California

Eat Like a Ninja
Hand-shooting fireballs is hard work. Hungry Spinjitzu masters can test their adventurous eating skills at the Ninja Kitchen, where the menu includes Bánh Mì Vietnamese sandwiches filled with crispy pork belly, lemongrass chicken or baked sweet chili tofu. (Parents of picky eaters, take note.  Your kids may prefer the all-American Burger Stop, located next to the Driving School.)

legoland5photo: Melissa Heckscher

Admission to Ninjago World is included with your LEGOLAND admission.  Check the website for daily hours and rates (and specials!).

LEGOLAND California
1 LEGOLAND Dr.
Carlsbad
780-918-5346
Online: legoland.com/california

If you’re planning your first visit to LEGOLAND in a while (or ever!) be sure to check out our inside scoops on staying at the LEGOLAND Hotel and how to get the most out of your visit to the Chima Water Park on those hot summer days.

What’s your favorite part of a visit to LEGOLAND?  We’d love to hear about your ninja skills (what’s your high score?) in the comment section!

—Melissa Heckscher



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A Parent’s Ultimate Guide to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter


Muggles, rejoice! The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is now open at Universal Studios Hollywood, conjuring up a portkey in Hollywood that lands you directly in Hogsmeade. Snack on chocolate frogs, sip Butterbeer, peruse magic wands, and brave an in-the-dark, 3D journey through Hogwarts castle. While you can read about the new world everywhere, only Red Tricycle is giving you all the deets parents really need. Read on for everything you need to know to make a visit to Harry’s world simply, well, magical.

photo: David Sprague/ Universal Studios Hollywood

Hop On Your Broomstick, Or Hold Off?
You might be ready to get the magic started, but before you drop a bundle on tickets, you should probably figure out whether the trip will be a blast or a bust for your little wand waver. If your kiddo likes Harry Potter—or just the idea of swishing a wand around and making things happen—she’ll love almost everything about this place. Aside from the Forbidden Journey (which is best for older kids), there’s not much here that is scary or offensive to the under-7 set. Younger kids will certainly be happy to troll the candy aisles at Honeydukes and check out the wands inside Ollivanders. That said, Wizarding World (like most of the rides at Universal Studios) is probably best suited for kids 7 & up.

Kids who are already well-versed in all-things-Potter will have the best time, since every nook and cranny is inspired by J.K. Rowling’s sprawling imagination. Don’t worry though: If you’re new to Hogwarts, the immersive magic will still thrill. And, if you still don’t know how Harry’s story ends, don’t fret; there aren’t any spoilers.

Family with Butterbeer at WWoHP USH - Photo Credit Nathaniel Chadwickphoto: Universal Studios Hollywood

Spectacular Scale (And We Don’t Mean From A Hungarian Horntail)
The first thing you’ll probably notice (and the first place you should go) as you walk through the gates of Wizarding World is Hogwarts Castle. Designers wanted the towering replica of Harry’s beloved school to look as if it were 1,000 feet tall (in reality it’s just a quarter of that). The castle looms at the far end of the land; to get there, visitors must cross Hogsmeade Village, meandering past dusty-looking shops, a cappella frog choirs, and numerous beverage carts selling yummy, cream-topped, nonalcoholic Butterbeer (hint: get it frozen).

Hogwarts castle, with a view of Flight of the Hippogriff, Universal Studios Hollywood’s first outdoor roller coasterphoto: Universal Studios Hollywood

The Forbidden Journey: Fabulous, But Forbidden to Wee Wizards
Potter fans will love every minute, but younger kids will be seriously disturbed by this well-crafted 3D motion thrill ride, which launches riders smack dab into Harry’s magical and dark world. You’ll whip past monstrously large spiders, get a little too close to sinister-looking dementors, and feel the heat of fire-breathing dragons as you follow Harry and his friends out of harm’s way. It’s intense and extremely dizzying (hint: don’t eat first), but worth the wait if your tummy can take it.  If you’re on the fence, we say try it; since it’s not an acutal roller coaster, kids can always close their eyes to make most of the motion stop.  Recommended age: 8 & up (and kids must be at least 48″ to ride, even if they’re immune to the motion).

Speaking of that wait, there’s plenty to discover while zigzagging your way through the line inside the castle. Check out the wall of talking portraits (listen closely: they might be talking about you, Muggles!); get a peek inside Dumbledore’s office; check out the animatronic sorting hat; and stand inside the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom while Hermione, Harry, and Weasley tell you a little bit about the ride.

Timid Riders tip: The line is almost more fun than the ride, so don’t skip it no matter what! For kids who are too young (or too scared) to ride, ask a line attendant for a tour of the castle. Tours are given freely upon request, so even non-riders can marvel at the interior of Hogwarts. There is also a child switch area so parents can take turns riding the ride while their little one waits.

Park Guests on Flight of the Hippogriff at WWoHP USH Photo Credit David Spraguephoto: David Sprague/ Universal Studios Hollywood

Flight of the Hippogriff: Perfect for Even Coaster Newbies
Kids who aren’t up for the Forbidden Journey will happily hop into this family-friendly ride. Located across from Hogwarts, this beginner coaster takes riders on a series of smooth turns (no big hills), zipping around at speeds up to 40 mph for a mere 40 seconds. While it’s meager thrill for coaster fanatics, newbies to the big kid rides will have a blast, and the Potter-ness of the experience entertains even those that love giant drops. While in line, keep an eye out for props and characters from the movies, including the moss-covered home of Hagrid, his flying motorcycle, and a giant animatronic hippogriff that nods to riders as they zoom out of the station.

photo: Melissa Heckscher

Fun-neus Maximus!
You simply can’t leave Hogmeades without stopping inside of the famous Ollivander’s Wand shop. Be sure to get there by way of the wand-fitting demonstration (there’s an added line for this, but it’s worth the wait). Here is where—inside of a dark and dusty-looking room — a persnickety old wizard will choose one lucky muggle to be “fitted” for a wand. Of course, once they’re fitted for said wand, they’ll be encouraged to conjure up the $20-50 needed to actually buy it. Presto! Your wallet is lighter. That’s magic.

Once inside the wand shop, you’ll be faced with a dazzling array of wand choices. Do you want Hermione’s wand with the dragon heartstring core? You got it. Seeking Lord Voldemort’s eerie, bone-headed weapon? Test it out!  Test them all; after all, it’s the wand that chooses the wizard.

incendiophoto: Melissa Heckscher

Probably the coolest wand sold at the store is any one of the 27 “interactive” wands. These wands are programmed to interact with specific areas throughout the land and come with a map to help budding wand masters find their way. Stand in the right spot (see above), give your want a swish and a flick; then, wait for it: You might see the lights of a storefront turn on or off.  Or maybe the cupcakes display in the sweet shop stop rotating. We won’t give away all the secrets, but it’s all pretty neat. Even for squibs, muggles and grown-ups.

Got a toddling wizard? Go for the “toy wands.” These aren’t interactive, but they have tips that light up and they’re priced reasonably at $21.95.

honeydukesphoto: Melissa Heckscher

Shop ‘Til Your Galleons Are Gone
Of course, wands aren’t the only Potter-phernalia for sale. All of Hogsmeade is filled with opportunities to take home a piece of the magic. There are eight stores in all, but if you’re pressed for time (or money) we recommend you don’t miss these spots:

Honeydukes: Will it be the fudge flies or the chocolate frogs? The Every Flavour Beans or the Exploding Bon Bons? If your kids have any say in the matter, you’ll leave here with enough candy to feed all of Gryffindor. And by the way, the vomit-flavored beans really do taste like vomit—but your kids will love them.

Dervish and Banges: Here is where you can purchase your very own Monster Book of Monsters. Be careful — it’s alive! The furry fanged book snaps at you when you try to touch it and calms down when you stroke its spine. Another, more vicious and snarling, Monster Book sits in a cage at the front of the store.

The Owl Post: Want to send a letter (old-style!) to your friends back home? Here you can buy and send Hogwarts stationary as well as “Howler” letters which have recordable chips so that you can scream remotely at whomever opens your note. What’s even cooler? Send your mail from here and it will arrive at its destination postmarked from Hogsmeade.

photo: Universal Studios Hollywood

Magical Eats
The 6-acre Wizarding World has one restaurant, one snack cart, and two freestanding Butterbeer carts. If you’re hungry for a hearty meal, step inside the rustic-looking Three Broomsticks Pub. Dine on fish ‘n chips, macaroni and cheese, spare ribs, turkey legs and bangers and mash. While you’re there, be sure to look around for magical touches. You’ll notice, for instance, that the hog head on the wall above the bar actually breathes and moves.

If you’ve got special dietary needs—or constantly-snacking kiddos—you can bring your own food. Check here for specific restrictions. Formula and other baby food is always allowed.

Expect Monster Crowds
If Universal Orlando’s attendance is any indication, visitors can expect uber-long lines for at least a year (when Wizarding World opened at Universal Orlando in 2010, lines reportedly stretched for hours and attendance for the park jumped 30 percent). Our recommendation is to go on a weekday in May or early June before school is out. Or wait until September when school is back in session and the crowds die down. If you gotta go NOW, consider splurging for Front of the Line passes, which begin at $179 and let you literally cut in line one time for every attraction. Think you’re as important as the Minister of Magic? Get the VIP Experience, which starts at $299 and offers unlimited rides, a private tour guide, and access to areas off-limits to most visitors.

IMG_2005photo: Melissa Heckscher

Other Fun Stuff

  • Go ahead and try to stump the dedicated wizards and wand assistants stationed throughout the park. Staff members are meticulously trained to stay in character. Dare to mention Lord Voldemort (“he who must not be named”) and staff members will quickly cover their ears.
  • Little one have to pee? Make sure you warn her of Moaning Myrtle, whose wailing voice can be heard in the loo.
  • Inside the Hogwarts Express train station, the car set aside for photo opps contains the actual luggage racks used in the Potter films.

 

wand-kidsphoto: Melissa Heckscher

Other Boring (But Necessary) Stuff

  • Strollers are welcome everywhere except inside Ollivanders Wand-Fitting Demonstration and Hogwarts Castle (there’s a stroller parking area outside Hogwarts).
  • There’s just one bathroom in all of Wizarding World (someone needs to teach us the spell for “hold it in,” because clearly that exists for wizards) and it has a changing table.
  • Water fountains are easy to find, and there are even several located in the lines to the rides.
  • If you’re a breastfeeding mom looking for a private place to nurse (and don’t want to do it in a restroom stall), you’re going to have to head to the first aid station (located outside of Wizarding World, next to the Animal Actors stage).
  • Lugging around a stroller worth of stuff and don’t want to leave it when you go to ride the rides? There are lockers for rent inside Hogwart’s Castle. They’re free while you ride the rides. If you’ve got other stuff to store and need an all-day option, there are paid lockers available at guest services at the entrance to the park. Prices range from $8-$20 depending on locker size.
  • Tickets are $89 & up.  You can save money by ordering them online in advance.  Tickets include regular admission to all of Universal Studios Themepark, so you can explore the rest of the land, and bring kids too young to appreciate the magic for some mini-Minion breaks throughout the day.

Hogsmeade at WWoHP USH Photo Credit Nathaniel Chadwickphoto: Universal Studios Hollywood

Wizarding World of Harry Potter 
Universal Studios Hollywood
100 Universal City Plaza
Universal City
Online: http://www.universalstudioshollywood.com/harrypotter

Have we covered everything eager parents and kids need to know?  If you have other questions, or tips from your own visit, please let us know in the comment section.

—Melissa Heckscher

HARRY POTTER, characters, names and related indicia are trademarks of and © Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. Harry Potter Publishing Rights © JKR. (s16) ©2016 Universal Studios. All Rights Reserved.



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