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"Sharknado" Who? Baltimore's National Aquarium Wows with $12.5 Million Shark Exhibit

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Baltimore has a new fish in town. Twenty blacktip reef sharks will be setting up residence at the National Aquarium by early August.

The 260,000-gallon enclosure (which opened last week) contains the newly-designed Blacktip Reef exhibit, which sustains a delicate coral reef ecosystem reflective of the real deal in the Indo-Pacific environment. Visitors can observe the marine life through a 27-foot window that curves out into the exhibit—providing a 160-degree panoramic underwater view that would even impress Jacque Cousteau. “It’s a heck-of-a room with a view,” says Jack Cover, general curator at the National Aquarium. “The custom-made acrylic panel is clearer than glass. It’s the closest thing to snorkeling off the Fiji islands.”

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This Summer's Hot UK Souvenir: Royal Baby Swag

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Last summer, some of the most omnipresent souvenirs found around London featured the faces of Wenlock and Mandeville, the much-maligned, one-eyed mascots from the 2012 Olympics.

This summer, experts are predicting that the image of a more agreeable tyke will draw tourist dollars: the baby expected in July by Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, and her royal baby daddy, Prince William.

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Family Friday: Brooklyn's NU Hotel Partners With Stork Kids Boutique

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I'm headed to Italy next week with my kids, and it's a packing nightmare: stroller, diaper bag, highchairs, a book about trucks, and a couple trucks to hold while reading the book about trucks. So when a hotel understands your plight, you are grateful--very, very grateful. Take the NU Hotel, in Brooklyn. The property has just partnered with cute kids boutique Stork so guests can borrow cribs, tubs, outlet covers, highchairs, step stools, scooters, bikes, helmets. The list goes on. If only our hotel in Italy would do the same. 

Clara O. Sedlak is a mother of two and special projects editor at Travel + Leisure.

Photo courtesy of Stork

 

Family Friday: Road Trip Rentals

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My dream vacation this summer? A road trip across the US Griswold-style, but in place of an overstuffed station wagon, I'd be behind the wheel of a tricked-out RV with Miles and Sebastian napping in the back as my husband attends to our dinner. So I was pretty excited to discover Airstream to Go, a new travel rental company with a small fleet of super stylish trailers (think aluminum-clad interiors; leather couches; plush beds). The best part: experienced trip planners are at the ready to help design your ideal itinerary, whether it's a journey along the Pacific Coast or a Southwestern adventure. And there's no fear of being stranded in the middle of the desert—Airstream to Go promises roadside assistance in case of flat tires or cranky kids. 

Clara O. Sedlak is a mother of two and special projects editor at Travel + Leisure.

Photo courtesy of Airstream

Hey, Kids—Lets Go to Moe’s Tavern This Summer!

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Coming soon to Universal Orlando: long lines of middle-aged guys waiting to get their pictures taken with Krusty the Clown and Sideshow Bob.

The Orlando theme park recently announced that it will expand the area around the simulator-style Simpsons Ride to embody all that is magical about the Springfield hometown of Bart, Homer, Marge, Lisa and Maggie. According to its release, the new Springfield area of the park will open this summer and include one new ride—the hopefully-not-too-aptly-named Twirl ’n’ Hurl—as well as a line-up of Simpsons-inspired food and beverages that would make any would-be Homer swoon, such as "Krusty-certified meat" at Krusty Burger, a "Taco Fresho" with Bumblebee Man, and an array of donuts (“is there anything they can not do?”) at Lard Lad.

As proof that theme parks have become as much for grown-up kids as actual kids, Springfield will also feature a Moe’s Tavern and Duff Beer, “brewed exclusively for Universal Orlando,” according to the release. And hey, for any parent who has waited hours so their child could get an autograph from a giant mouse or princess, a cold beer with a donut may sound like a family vacation dream come true.

Photo credit: 2013 Universal Orlando Resort. All rights reserved.

Family Friday: Summer Hotel Perks for Kids

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Summer is finally here and hotels are rolling out special programs to get your family on the road, which is music to our ears as we head into Memorial Day Weekend.

While most offers are gimmicky and wont get you much, Embassy Suites' new "300 Percent More" pledge looks legit—and appealing. The hotel brand has teamed up with mom and Travel Channel host Samantha Brown to offer activity recommendations in vacation hotspots and tips for easier family travel. You can personalize itineraries using Brown's city guides before your trip, so that you know the best restaurants, museums, parks etc. to visit with your kids. What's more, you get daily cooked-to-order breakfasts, two suites, so that you can actually get some rest, and free drinks and snacks in the late afternoon. It's definitely worth checking out if you're traveling within the US and are stuck on where to stay.

Clara O. Sedlak is a mother of two and special projects editor at Travel + Leisure.

Photo Credit: iStockphoto

Family Friday: A Travel Social Network for Kids

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Attention mini-jetsetters: a new travel social networking site for kids, ShrinkJet, is set to launch next month. Once your child signs up, he or she can share experiences about restaurants, museums, playgrounds etc. in his or her hometown and other cities around the world with other like-minded travelers. 

I was skeptical at first (how many of these sites do we need?) but after doing some research, I'll admit I'm impressed. Think of it as a well-curated version of Trip Advisor for little ones, with interactive maps, photo sharing, and a fun, user-friendly design.

Clara O. Sedlak is a mother of two and special projects editor at Travel + Leisure.

Photo courtesy of ShrinkJet

 

Legoland's Disco Elevator Takes You Higher

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Unless you’re allergic to primary colors—or LEGOS, of course—the biggest problem with the new Legoland Hotel in Carlsbad, California, may be that it’s not taller.

For a lot of grown-up guests, the coolest part about the otherwise kid-centric, three-story hotel may be the “disco elevator.” Inside, the walls are decorated with nightclub-ready LEGO characters, a strobe light hangs from the ceilings, and when the doors close, the lava floor panels light up and the music kicks in: ABBA, the BeeGees, the Village People. It makes you think: How many elevators out there have wasted an opportunity to be fun? (The hotel has figured out how to make everything enjoyable: there’s also a jump-able whoopee cushion corner in the elevator lobby.)

Nigel Woods, the project designer who created the elevator, told us that he felt he had to up the ante set by the elevator at another theme park hotel, the Alton Towers Splash Landing Hotel, in the UK. “It plays some ‘Hawaii Five O’ music,” he told us by email, “which my children (Emily, 9 and Lucy 6) and I loved to dance to as we went up to our room.” Then, he recounts, he saw a YouTube video of a disco elevator, “and fell over laughing. From there, the Legoland disco elevator was born.”

While at least one reviewer has pooh-poohed the elevator as a little intense for toddlers (or parents who haven't had their morning coffee)—most guests at the hotel's opening in April seemed to love it. Some of us may have wished the ride lasted longer than just two floors up from the lobby. Then again, some guests booked on the ground floor were guilty of mere joyriding.

See: World's Greatest Elevator Views.

Photo credit: LEGOLAND California Resort

Cruise News: Disney Magic Gets a Makeover

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Announced today in Celebration, Florida: Disney’s first cruise ship, The Disney Magic, is about to go through a bow to stern overhaul. The most magical elements? A new Marvel Comics Avengers Academy, where young cruisers can train as superhero "recruits" in academy missions; Pixie Hollow, a twinkling forest where tea is served on stools shaped like mushrooms and acorns; and Disney’s Oceaneer Lab, a pirate-themed art room.

Adults will love the 11,500-square foot ocean-view spa and restaurant Palo, modeled after the canal-side cafes of Venice. Look for the new and improved Disney Magic in Fall 2013.

Kathryn O'Shea-EvansKathryn O'Shea-Evans is an associate editor at Travel + Leisure. Follow her on Twitter @ThePluckyOne.


Photo courtesy of Disney Cruise Line

Family Friday: Dude Ranches for Little Dudes

 

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Just thinking about my little dudes riding through the wild west on horses makes me smile. No cell phones, iPads, or TV. Just the Great Outdoors before them and me by their side. Where can I live out my country-western fantasies? Check out these great family dude ranches for the quintessential experience of the American frontier.


The secluded Encampement, in Wyoming, is one of the largest dude ranches in the country with more than 100,000 acres of hills and woods to explore. You're not required to ride with a wrangler (but you should know the ropes before venturing out on your own). For those who prefer to stay out of the saddle, there's golf, tennis, hiking, and great food from a Cordon Bleu-trained chef.

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