by Kimberly LaPaglia | Apr 9, 2018 | Bucket List, Celebrations, Cruises, Disney, Disney Destinations, Europe, Food, Holidays, Holidays, National Parks, Road Trips, Travel, Travel Bucket List, U.S. Travel
Ten Ways to Make Your Vacations Extraordinary
How can you make your vacations extraordinary? Do you feel like your vacations are monotonous? Do you tell your friends where you are going or what you did and they say “me too”? Well, it’s time to customize your vacations. Yes, customization can add extra costs to your vacation. However, with strategic planning, you can add-on one benefit and cutback on another budgeted item. With or without VIP spending power, you can plus your travel routine! Your next vacation can absolutely stand out. With creative planning, you can even add special moments to your trip at no additional expense. By trying a new destination or just adding in a new activity, you’ll have a vacation that is personalized. Let’s check out ten ways to make your vacations extraordinary. Don’t be afraid to do something different.
1. Change Your Mode of Transportation
Do you always fly to your destination? Or maybe you like the adventure of a road trip? Think about how exciting it would be to change your mode of transportation.
Tour a foreign city using the underground metro system.
If the kids are used to piling into your vehicle for a road trip, try flying to this year’s vacation destination. This might mean cutting back on other costs — and that’s okay! So, instead of renting a large beach house, fly to Washington D.C. and tour the free museums.
Fly to your next destination.
You can also change your transportation at your location. Do you always rent a sensible car for a couples only trip? Try renting a convertible or a jeep and see how much fun you add to your vacations.
Rent a convertible for memorable fun.
Do you usually take Disney’s Magical Express from the Orlando International Airport (MCO) to your resort? Surprise the family with a car service; extra points if it’s a limo! If you use a car service on an airport trip, you’ll get that extra dose of “special” as soon as you land.
Reserve a limo!
From your port of call in Italy, is your first inclination to walk around the town or take a guided bus tour? Instead take the train to a place you’ve always dreamed about and travel with the locals.
Take a train to see a bucket list place — like Pompeii!
When you’re traveling to multiple locations, think how you can make the journey a little bit different. From Los Angeles to San Francisco, take the train. London to Paris? EuroStar!
2. Try a New Recreational Activity
Sure, you could go skydiving to really standout. But, you don’t have to go to that extreme. At the beach, take a surf lesson, go fishing, or go back-to-basics and fly a kite.
Wright Brothers Visit National Memorial at Kitty Hawk in North Carolina, then…
Go fly a kite!
Flying Kite on Sand Dunes at Jockey’s Ridge State Park, North Carolina.
On your next cruise trip, dance, rock climb, zipline, or ice skate. Learn a new dance routine to really shake things up!
Dance the night away! Dazzles, Royal Caribbean.
Many of us gear our Walt Disney World trips around the theme parks. On your next trip, spend a day outside the parks to enjoy playing miniature golf, boating, fishing, horseback riding, or learning archery.
Rent a Sea Raycer. Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort.
3. A New Destination or Time of Year
This one may seem obvious but many of us tend to go to the same destinations at the same time year. Of course, familiar vacations are memorable. Traditions are also important to families. Still, you can change your routine just a little bit to make your next journey extra special. If you usually travel over Spring Break, book this year’s trip for Thanksgiving. Try visiting your favorite location during the festive holiday season and see the locale in a whole new light.
Merry Christmas Slipper Dessert at Grand Floridian Cafe on Christmas Eve.
A new destination can sometimes be daunting. Will you enjoy it? Usually, the answer is yes. Ditch the beach and go to the mountains. Stuck on land-based vacations? Take a cruise.
Take a cruise!
Or just change beaches: Hilton Head Island instead of Myrtle Beach; Destin, Florida instead of Gulf Shores, Alabama; Rehoboth Beach, Delaware instead of Ocean City, Maryland; a West Coast beach instead of East Coast getaway, and so forth. Even if you return to your once familiar vacation for the following year, you’ll find yourselves reminiscing…
Huntington Beach over Thanksgiving!
Or think farther away and go to Europe. Sail the Mediterranean instead of the Caribbean. Head to Hawaii instead of Mexico. The possibilities are endless.
Sailing into the Grand Harbor, Malta.
Touring Colosseum in Rome, Italy.
Try a new-to-you vacation spot!
If you’re a Disney World fan that always attends the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival, try visiting during the spring instead and tour the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival. Or plan to attend the Halloween festivities in the Magic Kingdom.
4. Splurge on Amenities
Amenities are the little things that make us feel special. From chocolate-covered strawberries delivered to your cruise stateroom to balloons delivered to your Walt Disney World resort, added amenities are always memorable. And instagram-worthy!! 😉
Order special treats to enjoy during your vacation!
5. Tweak Your Traveling Party
If you always travel with kids in tow, take a couples only trip. Invite the grandparents and/or aunts and uncles. Take a parent-child only trip for special bonding time — this works for parents of grown children too. Try a guys trip to the Caribbean to scuba dive or a ladies trip to New York City to see a show. Imagine the possibilities!
Travel with family!
6. Make Your Trip a Celebration
From a destination wedding to a birthday getaway, your trip is the perfect time to celebrate. Don’t let those annual milestones go unnoticed. This year, take a weekend trip for your anniversary, go on a cruise for your birthday, or take your child to Disneyland Paris for graduation.
Our son’s January birthday celebration aboard the Disney Wonder.
For our 10th anniversary, we renewed our vows in Walt Disney World!
A splurge for our 10th anniversary vow renewal — riding in Cinderella’s Coach!
Whenever someone asks me what I want to do for my birthday? The answer involves travel. I’ve spent my birthday on a cruise ship, in Barcelona, in Paris, on a road trip heading home from Yellowstone, at beaches, and so on. Of course, I’ve been in Walt Disney World a number of times! Skip the gifts and make some priceless memories instead.
7. Take a Tour
You could take a guided tour for your entire vacation or add on tours during your trip. Some of my favorite tours: Stonehenge from London; Normandy from Paris; a cruise ship tour of the captain’s bridge; a plantation in St. Croix; a Magic Kingdom tour; Roswell, New Mexico; and Carthage and Sidi Bou Said in Tunisia.
A tour to Stonehenge.
Tours can often be pricey, however they add convenience and/or in-depth education that is usually not regretted.
8. Cross Off a Bucket List Item
On every single trip, you have the opportunity to cross off a bucket list item. Bucket list achievements come in all sizes.
Devils Tower Wyoming
Try one of these personal goals:
- Teach your child to ride a bike.
- See the Milky Way.
- Picnic in a beautiful setting.
- Watch a turtle crawl to the sea.
- See the Chincoteague ponies.
- Dine somewhere special; extra points if it’s for New Year’s Eve or another celebration.
- Get a tattoo.
- Learn to…. paddleboard, ski, golf, mix a delicious cocktail, make authentic pizza, etc.
- Swim with a dolphin.
Bike riding on vacation!
Proud bike rider!
Go exploring via bicycle!
See the Chincoteague Ponies in Virginia.
Horseback Riding at Bill Cody Ranch in Wyoming.
9. Take More Pictures
Hiring a photographer to take pictures of the whole family is an extra special way to commemorate your trip. Whether it’s a once in a lifetime adventure or an annual vacation, photographs will always keep the memories alive.
Take lots of photos!
And here are two important tips: * Give each child an age-appropriate camera. Some of the most touching or extremely hilarious photos that we have viewed were from our young child’s eyes. * Include the family’s photographer in photos. I’m usually the photographer in the family and well, there just aren’t a ton of photos of me. Do better than we did — you won’t regret it. Every now and then, have a photo watching night at home. Which vacations were your favorites? Take a vote on where to travel next.
Finally, there’s nothing like an upgrade to make your vacation stand out. Upgrade your accommodations (get a balcony stateroom or a Magic Kingdom view), meals, souvenir purchases, excursions, and other vacation components.
Concierge Room at the BoardWalk Inn.
Do you usually sail in an interior cabin? Next cruise, drive to the port instead of flying and upgrade to an oceanview cabin. Or try a cruise line (like Disney or Royal Caribbean) that is new to you. Not sure which one is right for you — read my Disney vs. Royal Caribbean Splashdown.
Magic in the Med!
Headed to Walt Disney World for a week of quick-service meals? Maybe try a few table-service meals instead of purchasing more Mickey Ears and other souvenirs.
Pizza at Epcot’s Via Napoli!
Of course, there’s something to be said for the familiarity and tradition of visiting the same location each year. Just change it up a bit. Make your vacation extraordinary!
How have you made your vacations extra special? Share in the comments below or join the discussion on our Facebook Page.
by Kimberly LaPaglia | May 4, 2017 | College Visit, Collegiate, Travel, U.S. Travel
College Visit Preparations: How to Plan a Campus Tour
After touring a few universities you’ll find that visits are indeed helpful. During your college visit, consider that this is the campus environment and local area where your child will be living for the next 4+ years. And if there are job opportunities in the area, this relocation could be an even longer commitment.
You’ll need to discover if a small, medium, or large campus is most suitable. Is a city or suburban campus the best fit? If the locale is of little importance, then you’ll have even more options open to you. More tours, oh my!
Campus visits can be an all-day event or a quick one hour tour. Consider whether you want to take a formal tour through the Admissions office and/or an Academic Department or a self-guided tour. Both have their pros and cons. In fact, for those colleges that remain top on your student’s list, I would recommend both.
A formal visit will typically involve setting up an appointment via the college’s website and possibly setting up a more detailed visit to the academic department of your child’s intended major.
Formal visits are usually lengthy with a set schedule. Your day could include checking in at the Admissions Office or Welcome Center, a presentation about the school, a general tour given by student ambassadors, lunch in the dining hall or food court, a visit to an empty classroom, a tour through a staged dorm room, a session on financial aid, and more.
Visitor Center at University of Tennessee at Knoxville
A formal visit may involve touring with a large group of students in varied majors or a small group of students hoping to pursue the same course of study.
Consider college tours versus larger preview days. Preview days are usually large events sponsored by the school during which you’ll get to tour the campus, sit in on presentations, visit a club fair, and/or see a sporting event. These are campus wide events rather than smaller Admissions Office gatherings. Both are beneficial, although I find the larger events to be a bit more time-consuming and stress-inducing. These larger events however are often planned on weekends rather than weekdays making them possibly an easier fit in your calendar.
Meeting with an Academic Department
You’ll need to set up an appointment with the academic department of interest in advance.
If your visit includes meeting with an academic department, then this is where you’ll want to really take notes. What are the criteria for admissions? Does the school support internships and co-ops? How soon will the student begin taking classes in their major interest of study? What projects are required to be completed during senior year? Do they offer scholarships? Are there first-year class requirements that must be met before a student is admitted into the major?
Engineering Building at Purdue
Will your child be spending a large amount of time in a computer lab, engineering lab, theater, or music room? If so, ask to see that space. If the engineering labs are in an old part of the campus, deep within a tired engineering building, then perhaps the school isn’t putting funds toward that particular curriculum.
Self-Guided Tours and Summer Camps
On the day of your formal tour, I would suggest leaving at least an hour free to spend some time exploring the campus on your own. Visit the bookstore, sit down in the food court and observe students, ask a student some questions. Ask what popular restaurants are within walking distance of campus and have dinner there. You’ll see the prettiest areas on your guided tour but may notice some less than stellar sights roaming on your own. Then again, you may find even more to love as you explore!
We’ve received extremely helpful information from current students participating in our son’s intended major as well as from students in marching band. Ask about the activities that interest your child.
Marching Band Visit at Old Dominion University
Look for summer camps and other ways to spend more time on the campus that most interests your student. For one of Nic’s top school choices, we returned to roam the campus on our own. Consider participating in a summer camp at one of the colleges. A stay in the dorms and more time spent with the students and professors before applying? Yes, please!
You’ll often hear talk of a dream school. Is it the one with the best ranking nationally? The best ranking for a certain course of study? A local school with a great football team? An inspiring campus with beautiful buildings? A campus with a plethora of dining options? The party school? The Ivy school? The school with the fantastic hotel-like dorms and outdoor swimming pool? A dream school has a different meaning to each student. Maybe it’s a family member’s alma mater. Your family may require several visits to this school to determine whether it really lives up to expectations or whether it falls flat in some unexpected ways. Then again, a one time visit may result in that dream school sticking and that’s exciting!
Contact Admissions for your college visit
Ideally, parents and/or your student should review college materials that have already been mailed or picked up at college fairs. We devised a question sheet before our first college fair and it’s been amazingly helpful throughout our chats with Admissions, College Deans, Professors, and students.
Many colleges have virtual tours on their websites. We like to watch these together on our big screen TV, if time permits.
Confirm start times and locations. On our first college visit, we forgot that we were traveling from the Central time zone to the Eastern time zone. While we left with plenty of time to make up for this error, we then ran into traffic. After a detour, we finally arrived on time but the mad dash stressed us all out and wasn’t a good way to start a long day. Learn from our mistake!
Get a map and directions!
College campuses can also be large and sometimes their layouts are confusing. Consult a college map prior to your arrival. Know where the parking lot for visitors is located and how far it is from your tour’s starting point.
Decide before your visit if you would like to set up a chat with a coach, marching band director, or other person who may be important to your overall college experience.
When to Visit
Try to schedule a visit while the college is in session. Some campuses don’t even give regularly scheduled tours during the summer months. You’ll need to visit during a high school break that doesn’t conflict with the college’s schedule. And this is why you should absolutely start touring colleges early!
Common Data Sets
We do recommend creating a spreadsheet to compare schools. Student body size? Campus size? Number applied? Number accepted? Number enrolled? How many students join a fraternity or sorority? How many men vs women are on the campus? What’s the average ACT or GPA score of accepted students? Is an interview part of the admissions process? How many students live on campus or are from out of state? Do they have a jazz band, newspaper, or other club of interest?
All of these questions can be easily answered with a quick Google search for common data sets. For example, “Auburn University common data set”. Insert the name of each school and voila! Instant data!
Day of Visit
Eat a good breakfast. It may be a long time before you can sit down for nourishment. Some colleges put out a spread of breakfast food, others provide a bottle of water and a meal ticket for later in the day. With lots of walking, sometimes in all kinds of weather, you’ll want to be fortified.
Speaking of weather, check the forecast. We’ve been caught in a downpour. We’ve toured in extreme heat. Bring extra water, even though schools usually have bottles available.
Bring a notebook. We like to sit down with Nic during lunch or immediately after a college visit and ask him his immediate impressions. He may note that he liked or didn’t like the dorms. He’ll give us his thoughts on the engineering facilities. Any random observation that he can look back on to help with his decision is jotted down quickly. Some of these details will be difficult to recall after you’ve visited several campuses, so you’ll appreciate being able to refer back to them.
Wear comfortable clothing and shoes. Even if the campus is large enough to supply a bus, van, or trolley transportation for part of the tour, you will still be walking and standing on your feet a lot.
Should You Visit Every School of Interest?
It depends. Does time and budget permit? Do you really want your child to see that high reach school before you know if he/she is accepted?
Stats to Look Up
Make the Most of Your College Visit
As an investment in your child’s future, be sure to go on college visits, ask questions, and help guide your child to find the right fit for them.
Out of State College Tour
Is the school with the best ranking, newest buildings, and/or coziest dorms the top pick for your child? Does the school closest or farthest from home appeal more? Is the university with the most costly tuition (or the one offering academic merit scholarships covering the full price of tuition) the best choice?
We don’t have the answers to those questions. What we are concluding is that the best fit for our child will be unique from what the best fit is for yours. There’s not a single path to success. Help your child set their own course with a college visit!
Update: Nic applied to 7 schools. He was accepted to six (Florida Institute of Technology, Purdue, University of TN at Knoxville, University of Alabama at Huntsville, Ohio State, and Auburn University). After careful consideration, Nic has chosen his college path. He’ll be attending Auburn University, Auburn, AL.
Now, it’s your turn to help us on our journey to college. Tell us how many colleges your child visited and what was the criteria that led them to pick their school. Or just give us your most helpful tips and advice!
by Kimberly LaPaglia | Jan 19, 2017 | College Visit, Huntsville, Space Camp, Travel, U.S. Travel
Ten Benefits to Sending Your Child to Space Camp
At the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, kids ages 9-18 can take part in Space Camp. If you are an adult yearning to go to Mars, opportunities for adults (and their families) are also available.
Through these doors…
Our son had a long term interest in going to Space Academy. After a move to Nashville, TN, we were within an easy drive of “Rocket City” and thus, we soon found ourselves making the drive to One Tranquility Base.
U.S. Space and Rocket Center
We sent our child to his first Camp (he is a Space Academy and Advanced Space Academy graduate) so that he could explore his passion for space exploration. There were so many other benefits that we had not anticipated.
Moving in Day at Advanced Space Academy
Take a look at these ten unexpected benefits and find out why you should send your child to Space Camp:
Making Friends with Kids from around the World
During Nic’s visit to Space Camp, he bunked and/or went to activities with kids from across the globe. Some of the kids he interacted with were from Dubai, Puerto Rico, and Hawaii. Since they have unique cultural backgrounds, keeping in touch via text and social media was a fun benefit. In fact, now a college student, Nic still keeps up with some of his space camp friends.
Meet students from around the world
Boasting attendees from all 50 states and more than 60 foreign countries, your child will certainly meet a diverse group of peers with like-minded dreams. This exciting aspect of Space Academy enriched his experience — both during and after camp.
Investment in your Child’s Future
If your child is dreaming about a future as an engineer, medical professional, scientist, etc., then Space Camp will provide an excellent opportunity for classroom instruction and hands-on training in an inspiring and unique setting.
Habitat rooms are small but campers are exhausted by lights out.
Presentations by NASA professionals may help your child find their career path, especially within the STEM fields.
Nic shakes hands with Astronaut Jerry Ross
Space Camp encouraged Nic in his future endeavors: During high school, he volunteered at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center to earn hours for National Honor Society and Science National Honor Society. After graduating from high school with honors, Nic applied to many schools for aerospace engineering. He found the right fit for him at Auburn University. He is now a Senior at Auburn University with three academic scholarships. In addition to his studies at Auburn, Nic participates on the Payload Team of the Auburn University Rocket Association. During the fall season, he plays trumpet with the Auburn University Marching Band.
NASA Rocket Launch Competition
While at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, students see the Space Camp Alumni Wall of Fame that includes NASA and European Space Agency astronauts, engineers, scientists, and technologists. Inspiration is around every corner.
Space Camp Astronaut Alumni
A successful day at Space Camp involves lots of teamwork. In order to complete a mission, trainees must work together and embrace individual strengths.
Successful missions take team work
Working together, students tackle space missions, rocket building, and science experiments.
Previously, Nic had flown alone to see extended family, however this was his first overnight experience where he didn’t know any other adult or peer. The experience of sharing a room with peers, meeting instructors, going to Sick Bay for regular medicine, etc. was a tremendous chance for personal growth.
Space Camp Habitat
As parents of an only child, it also helped us to see Nic as a maturing individual. By putting himself in what was at first an uncomfortable situation, he was able to reach his goal of becoming a Space Academy graduate. In doing so, he had so much fun that I’m sure he would like to become a permanent resident!
From Space Camp graduate to volunteer
In fact, Nic applied and interviewed for crew trainer/camp counselor position at Space Camp for summer 2020. While he was SO excited to receive a job offer, it understandably was rescinded due to the COVID-19 situation. HOWEVER… he interviewed again for summer 2021 and was hired. Nic worked as a Mission Control Complex Crew Trainer and Resident Advisor — living and working at Space Camp was one of Nic’s bucket list items. Space Camp continues to be a life changing experience for him.
We’re Hiring Postcard from Space Camp
Yes, space camp graduates never forget their experience!
Nic returned from his first Space Camp extremely proud of his accomplishments. In one particular outdoor activity, he was chosen as the leader. During this team building exercise, the team needed to work together and communicate effectively in order to “survive”. Basically, if they fell off a board, they were doomed. 😉
Space Camp Team Building and Leadership
I believe this experience laid the foundation for Nic wanting to pursue more leadership opportunities. In Nic’s 11th grade year, he was co-section leader of the trumpets in his high school marching band. For his senior year, he was promoted to Brass Captain.
Adult Role Models Boost Self-Confidence
After two Space Camps, there is no doubt that the trainers picked to inspire the trainees are chosen carefully. Nic talks fondly of his trainers and as any excellent teacher, their inspiration has stayed with him. These adult role models boosted his self-confidence by cheering him on, placing him in a leadership role, chatting about their interests, and possibly, demonstrating that you can be a space nerd and still be “cool”.
Space Camp Graduation
Creative Problem Solving
Problem solving is a task that was greatly encouraged at Space Camp. Around every turn, creative solutions were developed in order to succeed in mission control, rocket building, and other areas.
Problem solving is made fun at Space Camp
Nic has shown great determination in finding ways to solve a problem rather than wasting time on the frustration of its complexity. With the help of two Space Camps and his academic pursuits in high school and college, Nic greatly matured in his time management, study, and problem-solving skills. This was most apparent in his GPA, ACT scores, and difficult engineering classes.
Space Camp brings students together who have similar passions. One of your child’s team members may be obsessed with rocketry; another may want to pilot airplanes. All of the trainees look to the sky with fascination. It’s an incredible setting that can bring together students that otherwise may not hang out with each other in high school. Football players mingling with marching band students? Yes, it can happen at Space Camp. Once there, individuals find value both as followers and as leaders while their previous high school labels are left at home.
Building character through missions
As a parent, you’ll appreciate that Space Camp is a true character building environment that embraces natural ability rather than popularity. Indeed, individuality is encouraged in order to find success at the given missions.
Daily exercise and fitness is promoted during a five-night stay at Space Camp. It’s never a bad thing to get a kid away from technology in order to discover the fun in the outdoors or indoor pool. At Space Camp, fitness is often paired with a team building activity. It’s a win-win lesson for all trainees.
Fitness combined with problem solving and team work
Real World Applications of Math and Science
Knowledge is priceless; sometimes a high school student can’t grasp that concept while sitting through a boring math lesson. However, when a student sees the real world applications that have been utilized by rocket scientists, for example, algebraic equations become a bit more magical. State-of-the-art simulations of space missions inspire students to pursue more challenging math and science classes.
Real World Math, Science, and Technology at Space Camp’s Mission Control
In high school, Nic took two AP Physics classes, Astronomy, and more. And in college, he has now taken classes such as Thermodynamics and Linear Differential Equations.
Auburn University Aerospace Engineering Student
Space Camp Information
Rocket Scientist, Dr. Wernher von Braun, believed there should be a place to encourage students to experience the excitement of space exploration. With that mission in mind, the first Chief Executive Officer of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, Edward O. Buckbee, founded Space Camp!
Celebrating Advance Space Academy graduation
U.S. Space & Rocket Center
One Tranquility Base
Huntsville, AL 35805
Does Space Camp interest your child (or yourself)? Let us know in the comments below!