Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Local Destination: Tyler Arboretum

Each visit to the Tyler Arboretum is a chance to discover something new.  It has a wild, natural feel that gives it a more casual layout than other arboretums.  That more approachable feel goes hand in hand with the fun structures and historic buildings that dot the grounds.  Whimsical and wild, the Tyler Arboretum has always been a favorite with Daily Vacationer.

The story of the Arboretum began in March of 1681 when Quaker Thomas Minshall purchase 625 acres of land from William Penn right after he had been given his colony from King Charles II.  The land was passed down generation to generation until 150 years later, Minshall and Jacob Painter began planting trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants on their land systematically.  In 1944, Laura Tyler bequeathed the property to the public.  Now known as the Tyler Arboretum, the first director, Dr. John C. Wister, spent the 1940s through the 1960s developing new horticultural exhibits on what had grown to 650 acres.

550 acres of the Tyler Arboretum can be explored through its extensive 17 mile trail system.  A trail for all different walking and running levels, they vary in distance from the 1.4 mile Middle Farm Trail to the 7.4 mile Minshall Trail.  Discover an abundance of natural points of interest from streams, meadows, and forest, as well as historic ruins from farms and homes of past years.  A trail map can be picked up at the Visitor Center.

The remaining 100 acres of the Arboretum is protected by deer fencing and is home to various gardens and horticultural exhibits, as well as more modern day additions such as the Totally Terrific Treehouses and the Butterfly House.  A separate map for just this section of the Tyler Arboretum can also be picked up at the Visitor Center.  There's a lot to see, so Daily Vacationer recommends plotting out your visit ahead of time, otherwise you'll get so excited to explore the treehouses that you'll miss finding out who lives along the Magical Path and under the old wooden door up in the North Woods or discovering the smells, sights, and sounds of the Fragrant Garden and Bird Garden next to the Barn.  And don't skip the treehouses assuming that they are only for kids!  We had a great time scrambling through Hobbit Hollow, braving the swaying heights of Outlook, and imagining a cozy winter living in the brand new Tulip Tree House.

Other favorite points of interest of ours were the Giant Sequoia along the Scenic Loop, Thoreau's Cabin overlooking the Pond, the Vegetable Garden, and the Stopford Family Meadow Maze.  We were also big fans of the generous hammocks we stumbled across behind the Butterfly House - don't be afraid to wander off the path!

Even with as much time as we spent at the Tyler Arboretum, we still didn't get to explore everything - and that was just in the smaller, fenced in section!  This is the kind of place where you're really going to want to keep coming back again and again.  We highly recommend purchasing a membership, so you can enjoy and discover all year long.  Memberships start at only $60 and also enroll you in the reciprocal benefits of the American Horticultural Society.  We also love how members with grandchildren can bring them along for free!  The Tyler Arboretum also offers a variety of volunteer opportunities for ages 14 to 80+.
On top of the changing seasons and permanent exhibits, the Arboretum also hosts numerous special exhibits, events, tours, and programs throughout the year.  From lectures and children's programs to fitness classes and hikes, there is something for everyone.  Their schedule is also packed with fun festivals and seasonal celebrations such as the incredibly popular Pumpkin Days (Oct 18th and 19th!), the Pancake Breakfast and Maple Sugaring Celebration, and the Fairy Festival.  The Arboretum is also a participant in National Public Gardens Day with free admission with special coupon every year in May.  This beautiful location is also available to rent for weddings, corporate events, and private parties.

Daily Vacationer absolutely loves the Tyler Arboretum, and we're excited to have to opportunity to GIVEAWAY a 4 Pack of Tickets to one of our readers (cannot be used for certain special event days).  Enter below, and good luck - it's an awesome place!

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Monday, October 6, 2014

Howl-o-ween Hound Day at Glen Foerd Giveaway

This past summer, Daily Vacationer visited the last remaining historical estate on the Delaware River in Philadelphia, and we loved what we found.  Glen Foerd is an absolutely beautiful location with a fantastic old mansion and a breathtaking view of the river.  It also has incredible grounds that are opened to the public from dawn to dusk for free! (Check out the amazing time we had exploring Glen Foerd.)

Judging from the number of happy dogs we saw being walked around the estate and listening to the music during the Summer Riverside Concerts, humans aren't the only ones who love visiting this location.  This month Glen Foerd is hosting Howl-o-ween Hound Day, a festive event for dogs and the people who love them to benefit the Philadelphia Police's K-9 Unit.  On October 25th beginning at 10am, your four-legged friends will have the opportunity to enjoy a nail clipping spa, souvenir photo booth, artisan doggy treats, and behavior therapy sessions (training tips).  There's plenty of fun for the humans at this event too, including old-fashioned lawn games.  And everyone will enjoy watching the Philadelphia Police showcase just what their K-9 Unit can do!
Prizes will be given out in various categories for costumes and dog trickery, so come dressed up and ready to participate in the fun.  (Dogs are not a requirement, so those who just want to enjoy the festivities or love an excuse to visit this beautiful place are also invited to attend.)  Tickets are $10 for humans, $1 for dogs, and children 3 and under are free (any additional donation to the K-9 Unit is greatly appreciated as well).

Daily Vacationer is thrilled to be giving away FOUR full-priced tickets to Howl-o-ween Hound Day. Enter below and make plans to enjoy a wonderful, fun October day at Glen Foerd along the Delaware River!


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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Local Destination: JuJu Organics

JuJu Organics is tucked away in Queen Village down in the South Street Headhouse District of Old City, on what is known as Fabric Row. Among the fabric and antique shops, JuJu offers patrons a unique salon experience.  And what a sweet neighborhood JuJu has to call home! We can see why it is so popular with the local families as well as the folks who travel from all around to get serviced here.
JuJu Organics only uses Zoya nail polish, and swears by their long lasting finish as well as their commitment to being all natural. Colleen, the sole nail tech at the salon was taking care of the manicures and did a wonderful job, even with the long line looming from the sidewalk!
The salon itself is adorable. The entrance is warm and inviting. The waiting area has a very comfy couch, and loads of goodies (all organic and natural) for purchase. Many of the brands they carry are locally produced and at great prices.  JuJu offers a variety of services fit for the most eco-conscious client.  This is a spot you certainly won't want to miss!
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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Local Destination: Hill Creek Farms

On our journeys throughout the Greater Philadelphia region, we often stumble upon some place new to explore while we're out looking for another location.  (Yes, that's usually us slamming on our brakes at the sight of historical plaques, hidden parks, and small town attractions).  Last year we took a wrong turn out in Mullica Hill, NJ and found ourselves passing one of the prettiest and most inviting orchards we'd ever seen.  We couldn't help circling back and turning in.  We hopped out, looked around, and asked some questions.  It was too late in the season to do the place justice, so we promised ourselves and the location that we'd be back the following year to let everyone know about this fantastic Local Destination!

We thought Hill Creek Farms was impressive on the off-season, but seeing it in full swing and bustling with activity was just amazing.  It is literally what you picture when you try to imagine a farm in the autumn (take note photographers!).  Beyond the white fence along the road you see a beautiful red barn across a glittering pond.  Add the orchard in the background and the cheery hayrides and colorful barrel train going by and it becomes a place that you just have to pull into and check out.
Hill Creek Farms is opened for U-Pick Apples and harvest festivities for two and half months, beginning the very end of August.  They are open Wednesday to Sunday (plus Monday, October 14th for Columbus Day) from 9:00am to 6:00pm on the weekdays and 8:00am to 6:00pm on the weekends, and unlike other farms, their activities are open everyday that they are.  They grow three varieties of trees - Jonagold De Coster, Cameo, and Autumn Rose Fuji - chosen for their great taste, texture, and harvesting times..  Many other apple varieties have also been planted for future harvests, so look forward to experiencing new tastes in the coming years.  Hill Creek Farms is more than just a U-Pick apple orchard.  You can also lease trees from this location for only $225 for a set of the three varieties growing side by side (or $400 for six trees).  The fruit from the trees are exclusively yours - yielding huge amounts of apples for an extended harvest season.
This location makes the most of its apple crop (and Asian Pears too!) with a bakery right on the premises in the barn market.  There's even a window into the bakery, so visitors can watch the creation of pies, turnovers, doughnuts, and caramel apples - mmmmmm!  This year the orchard is also producing its own Hill Creek Farms Apple Cider along with Fralinger's Cider (locally grown and made for over 100 years!).  Hot cider and fresh coffee is available as well (since you know you won't be waiting until you get home to indulge in the yummy baked goods).
The barn market is stocked full with goodies like jams, jellies, honey, and locally grown produce, as well as festive fall décor for indoors and outdoors.  Cornstalks, flags, mums, pumpkins, collectables, ornaments, toys, and so much more are all for sale at great prices.  You can also purchase tickets for the barrel train while you're shopping (it's absolutely adorable and only $3 for a ticket!).  However, if you try to buy a ticket for a hayride here as well, they will just send you on your way - hayrides are FREE at Hill Creek Farms, and it's a great ride!
There's even more things to do around the farm with a fun play area (including a sand and tire climbing space, slides, and bean bag tosses), Duck Races, a Charlie Brown-themed pumpkin patch, and the newly added Hill Creek Mining Company.  The play areas and grounds are FREE to enter, explore, and picnic in - beautiful and fun for all ages.  The farm also offers great birthday packages.
Hill Creek Farms has a harvest schedule packed full of special events, contests, and celebrations, so there's always a good excuse to keep coming back to this wonderful location.  Definitely add this place to your list of harvest fun!  We're so glad that we took a wrong turn and found ourselves at this fun and gorgeous place.  We'll definitely be back again next year, and the year after that, and the year after that....
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Friday, September 12, 2014

Local Destination: Adventure Aquarium

Whenever we have conversations with people looking for suggestions on things to do in the Philadelphia area, the Adventure Aquarium comes up every single it.  It's doesn't matter if you're looking for things to do with adults or kids, winter or summer, on a weekday or on a weekend - the Adventure Aquarium is always recommended as a place to visit.  And there's a reason for that.  Not only is so interesting and fun that people always remember it (even years and years later!), but it always seems to be the right answer about where to visit no matter what the question is.
Personally, we've been going to the Adventure Aquarium for years now.  Counting back it seems that we average about one trip every month!  Even for Daily Vacationer, it seems to be the perfect answer every time we're deciding where to go.  The Aquarium is not a "huge" aquarium when compared with other ones throughout the nation, but it's also not a "small" one.  It's the kind of size where you can easily "see" the whole thing in a couple of hours, but if you want to stop and read and experience everything, it can take a whole lot longer (like 12 trips per year apparently).  It's also mostly an indoor venue, open year-round, and entirely handicapped and stroller accessible, so on those hot days in summer and cold days in winter, it's still a great place to go (and don't rule out spring and fall either - we like to duck outside on nice days and spend time with those penguins!)
The Adventure Aquarium is broken up into fours zones.  Follow the map and the signs to get through the zones in a way that makes sense (and makes for less clogging up in the smaller areas of Zone A).  If you are arriving in the earlier hours of the day, it makes sense to do Zone A first and Zone D last. Zone A gets the most crowded as the day goes on and some people never even find Zone D (it's across the café by the way - just look at your map!), plus it's much bigger, making it easier to get through at the more crowded times of day.  If you arrive later in the day, work your way backwards (but still follow the walking directions on the map, for those of you who take things literally) starting with Zone D and waiting for Zone A to clear out a little toward the end of the Aquarium's day.
Zone A begins with the Irazu Falls.  Having a irrational fear of big fish in smaller bodies of water - rivers, streams, public pools, our bath tub - these giant monsters floating by in that small space creeps us out every time.  Judging by the comments from others (especially about that really long one!), we are not the only ones who get a closer look just cause it gives us the willies.  Zone A continues with turtles, crocodiles, and a cool hallway with some pretty crazy sea creatures from seahorses and lobsters to eels and barracuda.  You then come around the corner to discover the Ocean Realm.  Set up like a theater, this giant window into one of the Aquarium's largest tanks looks like it just can't be real with giant sea turtles, massive stingrays, fascinating sharks, and countless fish going by.  Pretty much every time we go, we hear a child point out the "giant tv" and then freak out in excitement when they discover that those are real animals going by.  The Aquarium has daily live shows with volunteer divers interacting with and speaking to the audience from inside the tank (and if you're looking for Scuba Santa at Christmas time - this is where he's going to be).
Zone A continues on with a replica of a giant Megalodon jaw and then a closer look at sharks in the Shark Lab.  Stop and climb into the middle window in this space - it bubbles out right into the giant tank!  Exit the Shark Lab for one more look at the Ocean Realm.  The sea turtles seem to love hanging out right here (plus they are the only things moving slow enough for clear pictures), and the divers will also make a stop here after their show.  Touch-A-Shark is also in Zone A, and really needs to visited by everyone.  (Nothing quite says Aquarium experience like touching a real shark).
Zone B consists of the Rotunda (look up!), Stingray Beach Club, the penguins, and the 4D theater (this is also where special exhibits are sometimes set up).  In the Stingray Beach Club, visitors can touch giant stingrays (and even feed them!), while the littler visitors (children under a certain height) have their own section with little stingrays.  You are never too old or too young to interact with the sea creatures at the Adventure Aquarium.  Don't forget to head outside to see Penguin Island.  Check the schedule for daily feeding times and Q and A sessions with biologists.  (Next to the penguins is the discounted admission entrance to the Camden Children' Garden).
Upstairs, Zone C has been remodeled in recent years as a fun and interactive space for kids.  With something for everyone, we've seen kids of every age exploring this area from crawlers up to older school aged children.  But just because it says "Kids Zone" doesn't mean adults should miss seeing Zone C.  This is where they keep the "prettiest" fish - eye catching vibrant colors in just about every tank.  Plus if you're looking for the amphibians (stop and read about the Suriname Toad - whoa!), the dwarf crocodile, want to touch the lobster, horseshoe crab, and starfish, and experience other things only in this area, you really won't want to dismiss it at the "kids area".
Zone D (remember go ACROSS the café) is probably our favorite area (but we love the Ocean Realm too....and the penguins and stingrays....and the crocodiles....and... everything else).  You start off with a bang inside the newly renovated Hippo Haven.  Music, lights, and color add that little something that the hippo area was looking for.  Button and Genny can usually be seen hanging out in the water.  If you want to see some real entertainment, stick around for feeding times and ask the staff when the hippos are the most active.  One of the most memorable things you can experience at the Adventure Aquarium are the hippos gliding gracefully right on the other side of the glass.  Zone D continues into the Jules Verne Gallery (love this spot!) with giant porthole like windows filled with ocean oddities from jellyfish and eels to sea dragons and the octopus.  Look up to see what myths and legends have been inspired by these underwater creatures.
Now the music changes.  You're getting closer to the sharks (or are they getting closer to you?)  You've entered the Shark Realm, and it's truly a mix of fascination and fear.  Silently they glide by with their rows of teeth.  First you see one, then another, then there's another, and some more, and wow - that's a lot of sharks!  Muster your courage, because you're about to enter the most famous area in the entire Adventure Aquarium: the Shark Tunnel.  Going straight through the Shark Realm, the tunnel is one of the coolest things we've ever seen at an Aquarium.  Sharks are going by every where you look, and you get to see it all.  We especially love it with they swim right over us.  If you're looking for the best place to take an aquarium selfie - this is it.  Now that you've braved the Shark Tunnel, give the Cage Match a try.  And if you're real brave, you can also schedule a session to swim IN the Shark Realm.  No tunnel, no cage - just you and the sharks!
Don't forget to stop at the Gift Shop to pick up a memento of your trip (psssssst - someone get us one of those stuffed stingrays!).  And if you get the munchies or need to stay for a meal, the café has great options, as well as a Philly Pretzel stand and ice cream off to the side.  Pick up tickets to experience the 4D theater and stop for some facepainting in the Rotunda.
The Adventure Aquarium always has something fun and exciting going on.  It's never the same experience twice.  With new renovations constantly taking place, special traveling exhibits (likes last year's Frogs: Natures Messenger or the upcoming Dinosaurs of the Deep), new animals arriving, being born, and growing, and seasonal events (like the Rudolph-themed Christmas Celebration), you're going to want to come back again and again.  Do yourself a favor and purchase a membership.  Discounted parking, free admission, and complimentary 4D Experience tickets are just some of the benefits.  The Aquarium is also available for event rentals from birthdays to corporate events.
So as an answer to: What is there to do in the Philly area?  What should we do this weekend?  Where should I bring my grandkids?  Where should I bring my grandparents?  What can we do now that it's so cold/hot out?  What place is worth a membership?  Where should we go today? - the Adventure Aquarium is always the right answer!

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Thursday, September 11, 2014

Local Destination: The Honor, Sacrifice, and Freedom Tour

Daily Vacationer is always looking for new things to do in the Greater Philadelphia area, so whenever we come across a brochure display, we usually go a little nuts.  During one of our frenzies, we picked up a brochure for a FREE self-guided tour put together by the Independence Seaport Museum, highlighting Philadelphia's Delaware Waterfront memorials.
The Honor, Sacrifice, and Freedom Tour takes visitors through centuries of America's heroes, heroines, and pioneers.  You begin at the country's beginnings at Christ Church reflecting on the determination of the founding fathers (and by the way, it's free to go inside, so go take a peek).  Then travel down Market Street to where Chief Tamanend is honored as the leader of the Lenni-Lenape who promoted peace between his clans and William Penn's settlers.
The tour continues, reminding us of the European immigrants who came to America looking for a better life.  Bravely leaving their homes and heading across the sea, the haunting Irish Memorial and hopeful National Scottish Immigrants' Memorial sculptures give visitors an idea of how different each immigrant story is.  And right near the Philadelphia docks where these newcomers would have landed is a plaque for the famous Tun Tavern, the birthplace of the United States Marine Corp.
From that point, the tour jumps into reflecting on more current struggles and conflicts, beginning with the Philadelphia Beirut Memorial which bears the inscription: "If you forget my death then I died in vain", remembering the Marines who lost their lives in 1983 during a peace-keeping mission.  Then, right near each other, the Korean War Memorial and the Philadelphia Vietnam Veterans Memorial honor those from Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley who fought and died during those wars.  The memorials are fantastically interesting from a historical point of view and heartbreakingly moving from a human point of view.  Give yourself some time here.
The tour continues its solemn tone with the Purple Heart Memorial dedicated to the Pennsylvania troops wounded during all of our nation's wars.  Then you find yourself headed directly to the waterfront to the WWII Submariners Memorial - The Becuna, remembering the Navy officers and men who went down with the 52 lost submarines during that war.  The Becuna and the next stop on the tour, the Warship Olympia, are both a part of the Independence Seaport Museum and can be toured for a discounted pass through the Museum.  The Warship Olympia is the world's oldest floating steel warship and the last naval ship from the Spanish-American war.
The Christopher Columbus Monument is a hard-to-miss towering obelisk honoring the famous explorer and all the Italian immigrants who would follow.  To see the next stop on the tour, visitors need to take a look across the Delaware River to the USS Battleship New Jersey, the nation's largest and most decorated battleship of all time.  (We recommend actually going over the river and experiencing the Battleship NJ at some point as well.)  The tour comes to an end at the Jane Johnson State Marker.  Jane Johnson escaped to freedom in 1855 and her case became the focus for precedent-setting legal cases in the 19th century.
The tour comes to an end right outside of the entrance to the Independence Seaport Museum, making it easy to purchase discounted passes to go back and explore the Becuna and the Warship Oympia.  You may also just want to go inside and thank the Museum for putting together such a wonderful and thought-provoking tour.  The monuments and memorials are open to the public year-round, making this self-guided tour FREE and convenient.  All the locations are stroller and wheelchair accessible to view, and the whole tour is an easy walking distance.  Group tours with a guide can also be arranged though the Independence Seaport Museum for $15 per adult and $10 for students, seniors, military, and veterans.
Each Honor, Sacrifice, and Freedom Tour brochure comes with a map, a description of each location, and ideas for other memorials to visit throughout Philadelphia.  You can pick up a brochure at any of the Philadelphia Visitor Centers or from the Independence Seaport Museum.  Reminding us that freedom comes with sacrifice and heroes can  be anyone, the tour encourages visitors to reflect, honor, and never forget.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Local Destination: Battleship New Jersey

In the capacity of Daily Vacationer, we get to see and do a lot of things.  Everything we do is definitely fun and interesting, and we love all of it, but every now and then we come across something that just blows us away.  This summer we had the privilege of going on a tour of the USS Battleship New Jersey anchored along the Camden Waterfront.   The biggest takeaway from our experience?  Everyone MUST do this, because it's just incredible!

If you've ever seen the Battleship NJ, you know that it's big, but until you're right up beside it and exploring it, you really have no idea how BIG this ship is.  Constructed in the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard during World War II, she is the longest battleship ever made at almost 3 football fields long (slightly longer than her sister ships due to the cleverness of the women from Camden who built her) and a towering 11 stories high!  Give yourself a lot of time when you visit - you're going to need it, and you're really going to want it.

There are a few ways to go about seeing the Battleship New Jersey.  The "Firepower" Tour is self-guided with a choice to follow the route with or without an Audio Guide.  This tour takes you 5 levels up and 2 decks down with live guides stationed in the Captain's Quarters and CEC to answer questions.  You can also just stick to the main deck if climbing and stairs aren't really your thing (the view is AMAZING!).

The tour that Daily Vacationer highly recommends is the Turret II Experience.  This fully guided tour takes you from the top of the gun tower all the way down to the bottom of Turret #2.  Once you're down there, get ready to join the crew! Not only do you get to see how loading and firing the guns works, but you're the one actually hoisting the projectile, loading the powder bags, and oh yes, firing those massive guns (we LOVED that!).  From that point you can still take the Audio Tour if you wish and see the other decks and displays.  (And stay tuned as a new exciting interactive tour - this one of engineering - is in the works!)

The Battleship New Jersey is a massive, floating, interactive museum where you not only get to learn about an incredible warship, you get to see firsthand what life was really like on it.  Along with a look into the Berthing Areas, the Crew's Galley and Mess, and countless other spaces, the Battleship also has some fantastic exhibits, covering a huge variety of topics from the history of the ship and the day to day life on it to Bob Hope visiting during a USO tour and the ship surviving a plunge into a giant typhoon.

You can't help but be moved by the stories of the men who served on board.  The Battleship New Jersey fought in World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and was reactivated for operations again during the Lebanese Civil War in the 1980s.  She has the honor of being the most decorated ship EVER in the history of the United States Navy.  The ship is often visited by former crewmembers and some volunteer to help maintain its amazing condition.  Running into a veteran taking their own tour of their old ship makes you understand how real it all is.
The Battleship New Jersey is actually open for tours most of the year, and is constantly hosting special events from historic celebrations and patriotic ceremonies to music concerts and festivals (and it's the best seat in the house for the Freedom Festival Fireworks Show each year).  As always when we visit some place we love, we recommend purchasing a membership - there's just too much to see on one trip.  "The Big J" is also available for private functions (weddings, celebrations, birthdays, corporate events, and more), and believe us, they have the room to accommodate any size group (we love how the helicopter pad has been turned into a dance floor)!  Groups can not only register for tours, but can also arrange to sleep overnight on the Battleship New Jersey, taking the experience from unbelievably cool to one of the most memorable things they've ever done. 
Daily Vacationer absolutely loved the visiting the Battleship New Jersey.  From walking and climbing all over the vast ship to the fascinating information and stories shared along the way to our experience "loading" and "firing" the big guns - it was amazing!  We can guarantee that this is a Local Destination we will return to, and that you really (REALLY!) need to go see for yourself.

(Active military in uniform with ID, former BB-62 crew, and children under 5 are FREE)
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