Wednesday, January 9, 2013

5 Genuine places to take your children - The ones the theme parks mimic

Neuschwanstein Castle (Wikimedia Commons)

The more I read popular travel articles, the more I realize that families are flocking to theme parks, theme cruises and attractions that are designed to thrill, to serve the needs of families but are not at all genuine representations of life. Are our children vacationing at candy-coated experiences that keep them from exploring the real world. What if we took them to the places the theme parks only mimic?

There is so much more out there. There are real holiday lights, nature shows in the real woods, historic castles and more. Consider switching to reality with your family you'll not be sorry!

Here are some real places that have been mimicked by the theme parks:

The Castles of Germany: Every little girl thinks of Disney's Sleeping Beauty Castle when dreaming of being a princess. But there is a real castle that was inspiration for the fake castle. Sleeping Beauty Castle opened on July 17, 1955. The castle's design was based on that of Neuschwanstein, a real Bavarian castle built by King Ludwig II. Seven weeks after the death of King Ludwig II in 1886, the castle was opened to the public.
The castle is a favorite of families. The children will be entranced at the scale of the castle built on steep cliffs and the lavish appointments. The castle website has some fun games for children.

There are castles to visit throughout Germany. Another way of enjoying the castles of Germany is to take a Rhine River cruise which can be done in a day-long sightseeing cruise or a more elaborate vacation cruise. A very entrancing time to see the castles along the Rhine River is during the burning of the Rhine event named "The Rhine in Flames." You'll see fireworks over the castles and lighting displays.

Cruise Among Pods of Orca: The first time you see groups of Orca (Killer Whales) in the open waters, you'll wonder how theme parks can ethically keep these beautiful animals confined. If you talk to the folks at Sea World, for example, you'll hear that the animals they have are not releasable and therefore have the best and safest home possible.

Resident Orca Pod (Bluewater Adventures)
But what about the children? Wouldn't it be nice for them to learn about Orca, see them working together to feed on a school of fish and then travel gleefully for miles as a family group (pod)? Orca are very curious and have been known to approach a boat to have a look at the people who are watching them!

You can have a real Orca experience by taking a day trip in the San Juan Islands or a longer trip with a naturalist on board with a company like Bluewater Adventures. Their Northern Vancouver Island trip features encounters with Orca. "Johnstone Strait is the best place in the world to see orcas / killer whales. Visit Alert Bay and Village Island, see diverse marine mammals and view grizzly bears up Knight Inlet! Departs: Port Hardy, BC / Port McNeill, BC."

Bluewater Adventures offers a school program where children can learn about biology and the teamwork involved and sailing the 68 foot ketches.

Snorkel the Reefs: Aquariums are great places to see fish and coral reef life, but wouldn't it be wonderful to expose your children to the real thing? Snorkeling is done in shallow waters and can be an exciting experience for children.

Take your snorkel and fins to Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve  on Oahu, Hawaii. Or stay at the beach in the Bahamas and pick up starfish and spend an afternoon exploring the reef life.

Farolito Walk (Copyright Elizabeth Rose)
Christmas in New Mexico: You can drive your kids around a commercial lights display or participate in historic traditions in the 400 year old town of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Christmas in Santa Fe is both historic and very real. Traditions like The Posadas and the Christmas Eve Farolito Walk will entrance children.

Imagine the sight of bonfires and thousands of candle-lighted bags lining the streets and shops of Canyon Road. Walkers sing Christmas Carols as they walk through this beautiful village. If you are lucky you will be showered with a little snow as you walk. Stop for hot chocolate and stand around a bonfire with other families and smell the pinon burning. It will be a Christmas to remember.

Young Dancer (Copyright Elizabeth Rose)
Visit and Learn about Real Native Americans: In Gallup, New Mexico, August is time for the Inter-tribal Ceremonial. This is not an "Indian show." It is a real gathering of local Native Americans... the Hopi, Navajo, Apache and Pueblo people.

You'll experience tribal ceremonial dances, see horno bread baked in outdoor ovens, indoor and outdoor arts and crafts markets, all Indian rodeo, a world class juried art show, opportunities to buy authentic Native American art and jewelry, parades, Native American foods, a ceremonial queen contest, and crafts demonstrations.

Your children can have mutton stew and frybread cooked by a Navajo family. Thursday night they can stand shoulder to shoulder with Native American children and watch the local groups (many in traditional dress) parade through downtown Gallup.

Just outside Gallup, is one of the most culturally-intact pueblos in the Southwest.... Zuni Pueblo. You can drive a half hour from Gallup and sign up for a tour of the old village and hear what happened when the Spanish came or see the beautiful traditional Zuni murals in the now de-commissioned Catholic mission church. A visit to Zuni will be an eye-opener for your family.

Give Your Children the Gift of Travel
Yes, travel is expensive but tickets to those theme parks can add up too! A family trip to a National Park, historic site or cultural event, can make memories for your children. While planning will take a bit more work than signing up for a package deal to a "plastic" made-for-children park, they will grow and gain knowledge because of the experience.

More Information
Travel with KIds Vacation Ideas