Friday, May 13, 2016

Chinese Lantern Festival

We're not sure who came up with the idea to celebrate Franklin Square's 10th Birthday in Historic Philadelphia into an authentic Chinese Lantern Festival, but whoever that was, they deserve a pat on the back.  We had the privilege of checking out this event recently, and we have to admit that it totally blew us away!  The Festival is made up of 25 plus displays that were put together in China using traditional techniques and then lit up with LED lights.  The giant lanterns (and some of them are HUGE) reflect mostly spring themes and cultural designs - though we did get a kick out of seeing the beloved Visit Philly "XOXO" lit up among the others.
There was delight at every turn of the festival, and as it got darker and darker, the more magical it became.  You could keep going back to see it all in a new way again and again.  Some of our favorites included the Zebras and Giraffes, the towering Chinese Palace, and the whimsical Panda Paradise.  Of course the breathtaking Dream Corridor and the entrancing Windmill Gallery earned top marks in our books with the 200-ft Chinese Dragon stealing the show from every turn - wow!

The festival is enhanced with an immersion into Chinese cultural experiences including delicious food (cash only), beautiful music, artisan craft demonstrations (get ready to shop for some awesome things!!), and nightly live entertainment such as Tibetan dancing and amazing juggling.  At the feet of the mighty enourmous dragon, the Dragon Beer Garden is also open and a great place to see new views of the displays.

Daily Vacationer Jr says:
The Chinese Lantern Festival is a great place for families!  The shining lanterns turn Franklin Square into a magical world that entrances every age and sparks imagination.  Children will be delighted to discover that the Parx Liberty Carousel and the Philly Mini Golf course are still open throughout the festival.  (The playground is open until 9pm at 7th St entrance). Square Burger also remains open with a delicious menu for twilight and evening food breaks.  Many of the artisan crafts are child-friendly toys, and everyone will want to take home a stuffed panda from the Pagoda Shop!

The Chinese Lantern Festival will be in Franklin Square nightly through June 12th

Sunday - Thursday 6pm to 10pm
Friday and Saturday 6pm to 11pm
$17 adults
$12 ages 3-17 (2 and under are FREE)
$15 seniors and military




Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Daily Vacationer Jr: Kids at Play

Imagine children playing at an indoor playground.  Imagine that there are very little crawlers, toddlers, preschoolers, and school-aged big kids.  There are also children with special needs, physical restrictions, and every level of developmental delay.  And all of these children are there for the same reason - to have fun and learn and grow through play.  What would this place look like?  Would it even be possible to build such a boundless indoor play space?  We know that such a place is not only possible, but we have seen it with our own eyes!

Kids at Play is a new indoor play facility in Philadelphia that specializes in professional speech, physical, and occupational therapy services as well as ABA services while centering their programs around the idea that every child should be able to just play and have fun being a kid.  Research has shown that a person will achieve more in "natural environments" or places where they feel comfortable, and Kids at Play is the only pediatric therapy location in the Greater Philadelphia area that meets the federal guidelines for a "natural environment".  The facilities are designed so children who are in need of therapy will have a place that the whole family can look forward to coming to and playing in.  Rather than the usual set aside sterile locations for therapy services, at Kids at Play all children (whether they are there to work on sensory, social, language, or motor needs or to accompany a sibling) can just be children going to have fun.

Kids at Play has professional therapists for private services as well as classes and open play for every child. They make the most out of every inch of their facility using both cutting edge and common sense play equipment and spaces. Right in the middle of the sensory gym is a large sturdy playground set with lots of places to climb, crawl, and slide (we loved the extra mats at the end of the fast slides!). Underneath are numerous colorful ball pits (which are cleaned weekly by a cool machine).   Kids at Play also boasts indoor swings with various weight requirements and ways to sit or lie down.  We really liked the red ship swing as well as the large net swing that easily holds multiple people including adults.

Though it would be hard to pick out our favorites with so many fun things to choose from, our play testers were big fans of the zip line chair, the race car ramp (we really wish we were small enough for that one!), and the interactive floor projector. Even with all of these fascinating things to play with and around, Kids at Play maintains a quieter and calm environment.  It even has a separate soft play area for the very smallest children to enjoy, complete with riding toys, balls and cars, an interactive felt wall, and lots of books.

Upstairs the fun continues with an arts and crafts room stocked with toys that encourage fine motor skills.  With large tables for activities like coloring and Play-Doh and a chalkboard wall, the room doubles as the party room for birthday parties.  Next door is an area put together specifically to give children with sensory issues a place to relax and recharge. It's quieter and darker than the other spaces with less traditional seating options including a hanging seat, pillows, and a tented chair.  Down the hall, older children will enjoy trying their hand at the indoor archery (yes, seriously).  The SAFE Archery equipment is specifically geared toward teaching young ones the art of archery, which is actually teaching them patience, awareness, and a bit of real life math when factoring in weights, distance, and angles.  We tried it ourselves and can guarantee that it takes practice and will keep a kid entertained for a long time trying to perfect their skill.

One of the things that we enjoyed most at Kids at Play was that the design caters not only to the needs of the visiting children, but also their parents and caretakers.  We don't think we've ever been to a children's play place that did such a good job making it convenient for an adult to be there too.  The parent lounge near the front door had very comfortable seating with a view of almost the entire main room.  We also noted the clean and thoughtful family bathrooms (a garbage NEXT to the changing station - how rare!), as well as the free Wi-Fi.  There was also plenty of seating in the food area (with high chairs available), and we were delighted to discover a vending machine stocked with all healthier snack options.  Kids at Play makes it easy and convenient for families to come and just concentrate on everyone having a good time.

The Kids at Play facilities can be rented out for parties, and they have a few different birthday packages to choose from.  (TIP: Book your party well in advance as their schedule fills up very fast!)  They also offer a wide variety of awesome classes such as Fun with Food, Astronaut Training, Mommy and Me, Early Language and Play, and so many more!  Each class is geared toward teaching a certain set of skills whether it's physical development, social interaction, or an awareness of good health choices.

The location is open every week for any kid during Open Play hours Sunday through Friday. Memberships can be purchased on a monthly basis for each child or for a whole family for an entire year.  Memberships include discounts on therapy, classes, and birthday packages, as well as special hours for Open Play.  Contact Kids at Play to book a consultation for physical, speech, or occupational therapy.  It's definitely THE best location in Greater Philadelphia for kids to grow and learn just like a kid.




Monday, May 9, 2016

Looking Back at The Broad Street Run: Tips for Future Participants

Participating in the Broad Street Run has always been on our "Philly bucket list", and this year we actually registered for it.  To our great surprise, our name was picked in the lottery (such a popular race that they have to limit it to 40,000 runners), and then we were faced with the realization that we actually had to run a 10 mile race in only a few short months. *gulp*  Not being a runner by nature or inclination, we managed to squeeze in time to train and can proudly boast to running the ENTIRE 10 miles (with only one quick pause for a photo-op with City Hall).  Of course we will not be sharing how long it took to actually finish the race, but we can tell you that our time definitely reflects more of the Tortoise's "slow and steady" running philosophy.  All in all we had a great time, and once we could walk normally again, we began to think optimistically (stupidly?) of doing it all again.  In case you are thinking about attempting to "beat Broad Street", we have some thoughts, tips, and reflections from our own personal experience to share.

Get There Early:

We decided to be the race dork and show up embarrassingly early to the Broad Street Run as it was our first time, but we're so glad that we did.  Not only did it mean that we got to sit down on the north bound subway ride and go to the bathroom TWICE before the race, but as it was POURING COLD RAIN, we also got to stake out one of the few dryer spots around the start of the race to chill until we got into our corral.  Similarly to how mothers look forward to child birth just because they are tired of waiting, we also had time to get bored enough to actually look forward to running 10 miles.

Wear Throw Away Clothes:

We read in many tips to bring clothes to wear over your race attire that you won't mind leaving behind at the beginning of the race or sometime during it.  This was especially important this year as it was POURING COLD RAIN on us.  We wore a giant hoodie we had picked up for a couple of bucks from Goodwill the day before, and it kept us warm and dry while standing and waiting for the race to start.  (We also went with the must-have accessory of the day: a thin rain poncho).  We left our hoodie on the side of the corral (clothing left behind is picked up and donated to local homeless shelters), but most people apparently just stripped down right where they were.  We were definitely not expecting the piles of clothing that we had to step over to get to the starting line.  We're not sure if those in the corrals in front of us actually ran the race or were just raptured.

Pace Yourself:

The beginning of the Broad Street Run is super exciting.  You're running downhill in a mass of people as far as your eye can see either direction down the road, there's spectators cheering on all sides of you, and everyone is going quickly from the burst of adrenaline.  We definitely had to fight to keep the pace that we had trained doing and consoled ourselves as we were passed on all sides by the thought of passing these same people later after they had burnt out their energy by giving too much too soon.  With this type of distance it's better to speed up later than have to slow down toward the end (and those last three miles got brutal).

If Possible, Be a Man:

Running the Broad Street Run seems to be a heck of a lot easier for men for the simple fact that they don't need a toilet to pee.  Due to race jitters or badly timed bathroom runs, a large chunk of racers had to make pit stops along the way at the port-o-johns lined up in various places along the route. In actuality you only had to wait in line for a quick potty break if you were female or a more self-conscious male.  We couldn't help but notice that in every empty lot we passed there were always a handful of male runners making their mark on the wall before rejoining the race as fast as they could. Male runners also have the benefit of being able to wear obscenely short shorts that no one seems to bat an eye at (but be warned men, you better have the speed to back up those little pieces of mesh - the shorter the shorts, the faster we expect you to be).

Have a Good Playlist:

Yes, TECHNICALLY you are not allowed to wear headphones during the Broad Street Run, but unless you are thinking you might be disqualified from placing (we were not the least bit worried about it), no one cares if you wear them.  Whatever motivates you to go the distance is what you should be listening to whether that's a specific list you trained with, an audiobook, or nature sounds. It doesn't matter if it's not what someone else would prefer - YOU are the only one who can get yourself to the finish line.  As for ourselves, we had originally put together a general playlist, but wound up downloading this the night before and just listened to it on repeat for pretty much the entire race.  Whatever works, right?

When You Get to the End, Keep Moving:

Once we finally crossed over the blessed finish line after running 10 miles, we were encouraged to continue moving and pick up various items all while trying to be a grown up about the fact that we almost literally could not walk or breathe.  So we staggered forward like a big mob of zombie race participants and somehow found ourselves out in the open Navy Yard with a heat blanket, our medal, a bottle of water, a soggy soft pretzel, and our bag of race goodies and snacks.  It had been POURING COLD RAIN the entire time, but now we could actually feel it.  So rather than stand still and contemplate our exhilarated misery, we just kept moving - to the parking lot, to the shuttle buses, to our cars, to the subways, to our showers, to our beds, to a warm meal, to congratulatory hugs and cheers.  If you just keep moving, you'll get to some place better than just exhaustion and confusion.

Enjoy the Display of Humanity:

It's moments like participating in the Broad Street Run that really make you proud to be a human being.  You're there with 39,999 other people waiting, waiting, waiting and then running, running, running all together like a giant river of arms and legs, smiles and cheers (and since the year we decided to run IT POURED COLD BUCKETS OF RAIN THE ENTIRE TIME, we were literally a river).  For some people running 10 miles is a breeze, but for most of the participants this takes varying degrees of actual effort.  No matter how difficult or painful it got (and where we racing, you better believe the runners were feeling it toward the end there), everyone around us was not just focused on getting themselves to the finish but also on bringing all of their fellow race participants with them.  "Keep going!" "We can make it!" "Don't stop now!" "We'll do this together!" all being shouted and bandied about by complete strangers.

And runners weren't the only ones keeping each other going.  Lined on either side of Broad Street were people who were up early that morning (standing in the POURING RAIN for hours) for no other reason than to cheer on thousands and thousands and thousands of people that they didn't know and will most likely never see again.  But we definitely saw them - all of them.  From the boys with the banging pots and pans and the ladies with their big foam fingers and morning coffee to proud family members with witty signs and the loads of musicians playing to keep us going.  We appreciated all the high fives, the smiles, the shouts of encouragement, and especially the basic fact that you really didn't have to be there that morning and decided to show up anyway.

The Broad Street Run is a race that we think everyone who can attempt it should attempt it.  It wasn't easy, but it was definitely worth it.  We will never forget the time we had the amazing experience of joining 39,999 other people crazy enough to run 10 miles (in the COLD, POURING RAIN) for no other reason except that they could.



Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Day Out with Thomas at Strasburg Rail Road

This past June, Daily Vacationer Jr got the thrill of a lifetime when we were able to attend one of the most talked about and anticipated childhood memory-making events of the year: A Day Out with Thomas at Strasburg Rail Road.  We absolutely love Strasburg Rail Road out in Lancaster County (tons of happy times were had there in our own childhood)!  A regular day at Strasburg is already loads of fun, with rides on historic steam engines and train cars through Amish farmland and lots of extra fun to do at the station from browsing the extensive gift shops and sampling the good eats to taking a spin on the hand-powered cranky cars and behind the Pint-Sized Pufferbelly miniature steam engine.  But when A Day Out with Thomas comes to Strasburg, it all becomes even more exciting - an absolute must for anyone with Thomas and Friends/train fans in the family.

One of the things that we liked best about A Day Out with Thomas was how well run it all was (no confusion and delay here, Sir Topham Hatt).  The overflow of parking was redirected with easy to follow signs to the Sight and Sound Theatre where buses were transporting visitors back and forth pretty much every five minutes.  There were no lines or huge crowds waiting even at the height of the weekend, and it was no big deal to run back to the car to grab something you forgot.  We also observed a distraught family who had missed their time slot to ride the Thomas train being assured that they would be able to get on the next ride and were quickly printed new tickets with a new time.  Everything was clearly marked and there were staff everywhere to answer questions and keep everyone safe with all the train comings and goings.  A Day Out with Thomas was probably was one of the smoothest run events we've ever been to - and for an event where the main audience is not even school-aged yet, that is saying a lot!  It was very clear that it was the staff's job to worry about all the details, and visitors were just expected to relax and have fun.

The highlight of A Day Out with Thomas is, of course, seeing the blue tank engine himself, and no matter how many times he puffed in and out of the station, there was always euphoria among the crowds as he went by.  Making things even better was the addition of his best friend, Percy, who was also available to ride behind ( and don't worry - we were informed that back on the Island of Sodor, James was taking care of Percy's usual job pulling the mail cars so he was able to come too).  Both engines talked and smiled as they entered and exited the station and then would stop to pose for photos with guests in between train rides.  We rode behind Thomas and Percy and definitely recommend going for the upgraded ticket to experience both (and you can always upgrade once you are there as we saw many families doing).

A Day Out with Thomas also includes many special extras around the train station that aren't usually there.  There's a fun photo op with the famous Sir Topham Hatt, a tent to get temporary tattoos, lots of Thomas and Friends toys, books,  clothing, and more to browse and buy, plus lots of activities.  We headed over to the Imagination Station where numerous train tables and piles of building materials gave everyone a chance to create their own Thomas story.  Nearby, a handful of Thomas power wheels were available for little ones to ride around the tracks.  A favorite spot among parents was the Storytelling and Video Viewing location - a great place to rest and regroup without getting bored.  Photo ops also abounded with big banners of Thomas and Friends characters hung low for smaller visitors to enjoy, as well as many places to stop and see Thomas and Percy puffing in and out of the station.

A Day Out with Thomas is already chocked full of special fun and activities, and Strasburg Rail Road manages to make it even better by continuing to run their normal steam train route, as well as all their regular extras around the station.  Different ticket combos allow you to enjoy some or all of the trains available to ride during the event (and  as always, train station extras are FREE with a train ticket).  Daily Vacationer Jr had an amazing time at A Day Out with Thomas at Strasburg Rail Road - and judging from the looks on the faces old and young around us, we were not the only ones.  Definitely take advantage of this awesome event and bring your Thomas and train lovers to meet their beloved tank engines face to face and make memories that the family will remember forever.
June 18 - June 26

August 27 - September 4
November 18 - November 20

You might also like: Easter at Strasburg Rail Road
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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

New and Noteworthy at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

We haven't had a chance to visit the Philadelphia Museum of Art for a while, so we were thrilled to get back to that breathtaking building and enjoy artwork that we already love as well as new pieces and special exhibits that we hadn't seen before.  It was also great to be reminded of all of the events and programs that the museum offers.  Their schedule is always chocked full - with something for everyone and every age (plus lots of added bonuses for members).

One of the first things that caught our attention that we just loved was the addition of comfy seats positioned to encourage conversations.  Placed in strategic locations, these couches and chairs give a coffee shop feel to what was once larger, less intimate spaces.  We noticed visitors were definitely taking advantage of them to examine museum maps and program brochures, decide what to see next, and especially to discuss their thoughts and opinions on the artwork.

And there is a lot at the Philadelphia Museum of Art to talk about.  Currently International Pop is on display in the Dorrance Galleries.  With an eye catching array of works from twenty countries including pieces by Andy Warhol, Gerhard Richter, Marisol, and Ushio Shinohara, International Pop explores how pop culture was embraced across the globe.  Lined up for later in the year in the main special exhibit galleries is a showcase of contemporary art from the collection of Keith L. and Katherine Sachs (Embracing the Contemporary: The Keith L. and Katherine Sachs Collection - June 28 thru September 5) as well as a close look at an extraordinary moment in the history of Mexican art (Paint the Revolution: Mexican Modernism, 1910 - 1950 - October 25 thru January 6).  Also opening this month at the Perelman Building is an exquisite sampling of art and design from the continent of Africa with exhibits spanning centuries, numerous cultures, and various mediums including fashion, architecture, photography, and ancient metalwork (Creative Africa - May 14 thru September 25).

The Museum has a lot of special events lined up in the coming months, one of the most exciting being the return of "Inside Out".  This popular program debuted last year with high-quality replicas of Museum masterpieces popping up in communities all over the Greater Philly area.  We look forward to seeing what pieces and places will be involved this year.  Pay As You Wish Wednesday Night events continue every week with something for everyone from hands on creative outlets and yoga to gallery tours and once a month specials (5:00pm to 8:45pm).  A glance at the Museum schedule promises an array of experiences to choose from including live performances, dining events, talks and tours, and courses and workshops.

This year also introduces a couple of new things at the Museum.  Another level was added to the membership options - this one a $40 One-Year Artist Membership for anyone who works in the mediums represented by the Museum or a FREE Lifetime Membership for any artist whose work is represented in the Museum's permanent collection.  And coming Fall 2016 the new South Asian Galleries will open after a complete transformation! We are very excited to see it!

Daily Vacationer Jr says:
Families will be thrilled to learn that Art Splash will return this summer with hands on play, creative spaces, and age appropriate gallery tours for kids.  Running from June 30 thru Labor Day, each week has a different fun theme and schedule of programs.  Mark your calendars as well for Family Festivals including a Pay As You Wish viewing of the beautiful animation "Song of the Sea" (during Rivers and Waterways - June 5) and a Pay As You Wish performance by the Grammy Award-winning Okee Dokee Brothers (during The Great Outdoors August 2). There's something for kids every week all year round at the Museum too with Family Sundays, Museum Babies programs, and Children's Art Classes.




Tuesday, April 26, 2016

New Expansion at Sahara Sam's Oasis

(Photo: Sahara Sam's Oasis)
We've already discovered that Sahara Sam's Oasis is an awesome local indoor waterpark that you can enjoy all year round (seriously - all year round!), so we were pretty excited to learn that they are in the process of adding even more fun and adventure to their facility.  The park currently consists of numerous water slides, spaces for water themed sports and play, and a large outdoor section open during warmer weather.  There's also plenty of places for birthdays, events, and the special needs evenings and programs that Sahara Sam's runs (not to mention Diggerland USA, the construction-themed adventure park located right next door).  Check out our post from last winter on how cool this year-round water park is.

(Photo: Sahara Sam's Oasis)
This coming Memorial Day Weekend, Sahara Sam's is introducing a 10,000 square foot expansion to their already 70,000 sq ft park.  Included in this expansion are two additional water slides as well as a family leisure pool. The new colorful 300 ft long winding slides will be much like the already popular Snake Eyes, except that instead of riding inner tubes, guests will have the exhilarating experience of racing each other head first on mats - whoosh!

While we are psyched for new water slides to experience, we are also very much looking forward to the opening of a new family leisure pool.  The indoor section of the park has a lot of water experiences to choose from including the Tim-Buk-To Tree Fort, Congo Bongo Adventure River, Crocodile Flats, and Sam's Slamdunker, but it's never really had a space to just kick back and float and swim around in (though there is a fantastic leisure pool and wave pool open outdoors during the summer).  This new leisure pool is the answer to guests and families looking for a place to swim no matter what the temperature and weather is outside.

Daily Vacationer got to take a sneak peek at the current construction of the new expansion, and it looks incredibly promising.  We have no doubt that Sahara Sam's will get it done in time for its Memorial Day Weekend grand opening (we saw how fast they constructed and opened Diggerland USA), and we can't wait to experience all the new additions.  Remember, Sahara Sam's Oasis is open ALL YEAR ROUND - always 84 degrees with lots of fun for everyone!



Friday, April 8, 2016

The Franklin Institute: The Science Behind Pixar


The magic of Pixar has been well known since the debut of Toy Story in 1995, fascinating audiences of all ages with their realistic animation, inspiring plot lines, and memorable characters.  Everyone has a favorite Pixar film from cooking rodents in Ratatouille and the heartwrenching post-love story in Up to the breathtaking seascapes in Finding Nemo and the bond between mother and daughter in Brave. Each Pixar movie is unique and compelling in its own way. Each one immerses you in the world of the characters so well that you soon forget that Cars can't really talk, Monsters, Inc is not really lurking in your closet, and The Incredibles are not actually out there saving the world as a family. But how does the idea of a retrieval robot in a future time period go from just an idea to a wonderful movie experience like WALL-E?

The Science Behind Pixar exhibit at The Franklin Institute has the answer, bringing visitors directly into to the creative and technical process from storyboard to rendering (and beyond!).  The exhibit demonstrates how science, technology, engineering, and math are all used in different parts of the production pipeline.  The process is amazingly complex, and its fascinating to see each part broken down into a comprehensive explanation.  The entire exhibit is interactive, giving visitors a chance to experience each part of production and drive home the idea of what happens at each stop along the creative process.

We really enjoyed the video in the beginning of the exhibit which took you on a tour of the Pixar facility and gave you a look at the faces of the company behind these amazing movies.  It also gave you a chance to hear about each production station, so once you entered the exhibit you immediately recognized them: "There's Modeling!" "Let's check out Lighting!"  Another favorite with everyone was being able to come face to face and pose for a photo with some of the most beloved Pixar characters like Buzz Lightyear, Dory, Mike and Sully, and WALL-E. (We also loved the Buzz Lightyear toy box photo op!)

The Science Behind Pixar is the perfect exhibit for all ages (since the parents of today were kids themselves when Toy Story was released).  It demonstrates the incredible technology used in creating Pixar movies while continuing to highlight the creativity and human involvement in the process.  The exhibit introduces some and reminds others of the fun and practical uses of STEM education.  Using science, Pixar was able to (and continues to) find ways to push the boundaries of what is possible in animated films.  They give audiences like us relatable characters to cheer for, beautiful worlds to get lost in, and stories that will resonate with us from childhood into adulthood.