When it gets very cold outside, birds and many leisure travelers instinctively fly south.
The thing is, if you’re a family with kids in school you’ve got minimal vacation time, and escaping to a warmer climate often isn’t an option. And if that’s the case, you have a decision to make: resentfully grit your teeth against the cold until spring arrives, or figure out ways to embrace the chilly weather during your weekends.
I suggest the latter. After all, you have to endure winter either way, so you may as well set a good example for your kids and try to enjoy it. With that in mind, here are seven things to see and do in the cold with your family.
“Secret” Ice Skating Spots, New York City
A weekend with the family in New York City can be expensive and stressful – take it from someone who spends almost every weekend with his family here – but you have two things going for you this winter. First, Manhattan hotel occupancy is down from its peak months of October through December, which means you may score a hotel deal if you’re visiting the Big Apple over the next several weeks.
Secondly, if your brood is partial to ice skating, you have options beyond the often over-touristed Rockefeller Center and Trump Wollman Rinks. Perhaps the best-kept ice skating secret in the city right now is the rink at The Standard High Line hotel’s plaza. Open to the public, the rink charges $12 per person admission with $3 skate rental for adults and children. The rink’s open from noon to midnight Monday through Thursdays, with expanded hours on weekends. Either start your day or follow-up your skating session with a walk on the High Line, one of the most inspired public parks in the city.
Another lesser-known ice skating spot in New York City is Lasker Rink, whose relative serenity makes it worth the scenic trip to the northern reaches of Central Park. The rink is open seven days; admission $7.50 adults, $4 kids, skate rentals $6.50.
The Best Kids Museum Ever, Rochester, New York
After nearly 15 years of parenting I had pretty much had my fill of children’s museums, which do their best to help families beat the winter doldrums but, let’s face it, tend to be hot, crowded and tedious.
And then a couple winters ago my family and I hopped an Amtrak train to Rochester and spent two days exploring the astonishing Strong National Museum of Play. From interactive displays to engaging historical exhibits about toys and games, there’s plenty to keep kids and grown-ups happy. Plus, the museum is huge and airy, which means overcrowding and overheating are a non-issue. Another local highpoint: a family dinner at Rochester’s Dinosaur Bar-B-Que outpost. And free shuttle service and several included meals also makes the Staybridge Suites at Rochester University a good value. Bonus: If there’s snow on the ground, the Rochester University campus is a handy, free oasis for family playtime.
Free skiing for 3rd and 4th Graders, New York State
While I’m almost ashamed to admit that I’ve never been skiing, I do know a good deal when I find one, and if you’re a family that skis together, I SKI NY invites you to apply online to the Free for Kids Passport program open to 3rd and 4th graders accompanied by a paying adult. Skiing and snowboarding packages for beginners are also available.
$10 skiing pass for 5th graders, Vermont
If you have a fifth grader in tow, Ski Vermont wants to show you some love this winter. Ten bucks will snag you a Fifth Grade Passport that can be used for cross-country and alpine lift tickets throughout Vermont. And knowing there are other first-timers like me out there, Ski Vermont has indicated that January is Learn to Ski & Snowboard Month, with packages from $29.
Freedom Trail Run, Boston, Mass.
While I recently rediscovered running and, apropos as of this writing, winter running, I haven’t had a lot of success in getting my family to join me during my runs. And I can’t say that I blame them.
However, if you have at least one running aficionado in your brood and would like to combine exercise and education, consider planning a short trip around the 5K Freedom Trail Run in Boston, which happens every weekend. Included in your $40 per person registration is a “guided two- hour running tour, return boat ride, choice of drink and a great shirt.” Guided private runs are also available.
Heavy Duty Winter Tour, Chicago, Illinois
Why pay $35 per person to freeze your extremities off in the Windy Cindy for two hours when you can do it for nothing? Because on the Chicago Elevated Heavy Duty Winter Tour, you get use of a battery-operated heated coat and really, what can be cooler than that?
Millennium Park, the Cultural Center, Lake Michigan and the relatively new Maggie Daley Park are all included in the tour, which begins and ends at the Fairmont Chicago Millennium Park, where an included hot drink awaits your return.
While the tour company says up front that this tour is not for children, I was recently reminded that my children won’t stay young forever. So if you happen to have kids that are, you know, grown, this could be just the leisurely pursuit that permits you some memorable bonding. Plus, battery-operated heated coats!
Mall of America, Bloomington, Minnesota
Dragging the kids to the mall for a few hours is hardly a novel idea for killing time during the winter, nor is it an activity that necessarily justifies traipsing to Minnesota in the dead of winter. And while Mall of America is very much a shopping mall, with 520 stores and 50 restaurants, it packs appeal for its big extras, particularly its 7-acre Nickelodeon Universe indoor theme park and SEA LIFE Minnesota Aquarium. There are also attractions within the mall dedicated to LEGO, Barbie and – sure to please many dads and no doubt some moms, too – an exhibit featuring sets, props, and costume from the Star Trek franchise.
If the Star Trek news doesn’t inspire your inner nerd to start planning a trip, this factoid very well might: the mall’s internal temperature is a constant 70 degrees “maintained year-round with passive solar energy from 1.2 miles of skylights and heat generated from store fixtures and lighting and the body heat from more than 40 million visitors.”
May these cold-weather ideas inspire you and if you have favorite wintry family escape ideas, please share in the comments. Have you been to any of these places? What other cold weather getaways have you enjoyed with your family?
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