Super Post on Destinations in New jersey

New Jersey is known for it’s shore and for being the gateway to New York City, for good reason. But it is also home to breathtaking mountains, beautiful rolling farmlands, and one-of-a-kind curiosities. Read on for a few of our favorite destinations in each region.

Southern Shore

It’s no secret that the Jersey Shore is a popular and happening destination, but we have found everything from quiet, picturesque beaches to coastal education centers, peaceful little towns to bustling boardwalks and everything in between along the southern coast of New Jersey. We return there year after year and always find new, fun things to do, beyond the always-glorious experience of spending a day on the shore.

Cape May – The town of Cape May can get crowded during peek season, so if that bothers you, a better time to explore and till enjoy good weather is late May/early June, or even better (with warmer water) the month of September. It is filled with neat rows of Victorian homes that look like lacy, colorful gingerbread houses. The surf can get rough so stay near a lifeguard and keep an eye on the kids at all times. We have enjoyed staying at The Grand Hotel, right on the beach. It has an indoor and outdoor pool, with a nice little baby pool right next to the regular outdoor pool, so you can easily keep all the kids in view at the same time. It’s lovely to visit the lighthouse and ocean in the off-season.

If you need a break from the beach, you can visit the Aviation Museum at the Cape May Airport if you have a plane-lover. Or, take a day to visit the the Cape May County Zoo. Just note that we have seen giant tortoises mating (or as we like to tell the kids, “wrestling”) here every. single. summer.

Avalon/Stone Harbor – Our favorite beaches to visit are these, because they are almost never crowded. You won’t find a lot of hotels or fast food restaurants in the area, but if you rent a house you will enjoy a tranquil vacation. There are also nearby campgrounds. A large part of Avalon is a bird sanctuary, so you need to follow a path for a half a mile or so between shrub and cactus covered sand dunes to reach the ocean, and at times parts of the shore are roped off for bird nesting. If you like nature, this is really fun to see, but beware of flies! They are occasionally intolerable.

Stone Harbor has a tiny “boardwalk” with an ice cream shop and a small arcade, and they show movies on certain weekend evenings right on the beach. Another fun place to visit in the area is the Wetland Institute, which is a nature center with boardwalks through the salt marsh. You can see ospreys nesting on camera, the kids can climb into a life sized (enormous) osprey nest, you can climb overlooks to see over the sea of rippling green rushes and jewel blue salt water, and sometimes you will find the marsh absolutely teeming with crabs. (Again, the bugs can be an issue – bring your bug spray).

Ocean City – If you’re looking for a bit more excitement, the Ocean City boardwalk is definitely worth a visit, for the fries, the custard, the cotton candy, the games, the rides, and the beach as well.

Greater Atlantic City Region

The grownups in our family have enjoyed playing and seeing concerts at the Casinos in Atlantic City. The kids have enjoyed the Atlantic City Aquarium, which is small and perfect for the younger set, and includes touch tanks, the opportunity to feed baby rays from your hand, and talks and demonstrations with the animals by the staff.

At the north end of the boardwalk, a little past the Steel Pier, you’ll find a playground and next to it, the Absecon Lighthouse, which offers tours for a small fee. Though dwarfed by the giant hotels of Atlantic City, this is actually one of the tallest lighthouses in the USA, and it’s quite picturesque and includes interesting historic information about how lighthouses were kept in the past.

There are also some pretty natural areas near to Atlantic City, including Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge and Birch Grove Park, if you’d like to get away and enjoy some peace just outside of Atlantic City.

Finally, for a quainter stop along the way in or out of Atlantic City, Historic Smithville is an interesting retail area (not actually a historical town, though many of the buildings are restored historic buildings, and all of them are quite unique!) that hosts various events throughout the year.

They have Christmas lights and train rides in December, a visit from the Easter Bunny and Carousel rides in spring, car shows, antique shows and a pleasant lake and walkway. The shops and bed and breakfasts are very appealing and cute, and offer something quite different from what you find in Atlantic City. We think it’s worth a visit, and one of the reasons Atlantic City works as a fun, family getaway (even off season)!

Shore Region

There are lots of lovely beaches along the norther shore region, but there are also nice parks and museums throughout the area. We have greatly enjoyed exploring Monmouth County in this region.

If you’re looking for quiet and clean, Sea Girt is lovely. The surrounding area is really cute and nice. You won’t find a lot of chains or any high rises – everything looks really pristine and well cared-for. This is probably because they have so many rules! So, if you don’t like a lot of rules at the beach (like no tents, pets, or loud music, etc), this might not be your place. We liked it. Beach tags are $12 for adults between 9 and 5, and there is free parking, concessions, outside showers and restrooms.

If you like a little more action, the beach at Point Pleasant around Jenkinson’s Boardwalk is nice and wide and there is tons to do. It does get very crowded! The boardwalk is really cute and has rides and food and shops, but also an aquarium with seals and penguins! It can get crowded in season.

Seven Presidents can get crowded as well, but it has a really fun playground which we used one evening when the surf was super rough and we were tired of playing in the sand and catching sand crabs. Complete with little climbing walls, a pirate ship, and separate areas for younger and older kids, it entertained our kids for quite a while.

Road trip tip: If you drive from Sea Girt up to Seven Presidents you will pass through Belmar, and let me tell you: If you like ogling homes of the rich and famous, you will really enjoy this drive.

Another beautiful destination is Sandy Hook Gateway National Recreation Area. You can look through the quarters at the former Fort Hancock, built in defense of New York Harbor. You can also tour the Sandy Hook Lighthouse, built in 1764. It is the oldest operating lighthouse in America and a National Historic Landmark. It’s also a fun place to visit in the off-season, and if you go between November and April, you can sometimes spot seals on the rocks just off the beach.

If you’re near the shore in northern NJ and looking to spend a little time indoors (maybe a half hour to an hour), visit the National Guard Militia Museum of New Jersey. Our son is into weapons and military history at the moment so he enjoyed it, and there was actually a submarine called the Intelligent Whale that you could take a look inside – so that was really interesting. It is free, and right on the base, but you don’t actually have to enter the base to go in.

If you want a day off from the beach, there are also some lovely parks in the region. Allaire State Park is a pleasant place to walk a trail or learn some history. Our favorite part was the historic village, which features a museum set up in the row homes with information and displays about the workers who mined iron ore out of the bog – a pretty interesting process (if you’re a super-nerd like me). My kids like to know where stuff comes from so they enjoyed it.

But the best part was the train ride, which is on an original steam train from the 1840’s. Tickets were quite cheap, and it lasted less than a half hour, just doing a couple loops around the park. It leaves every half hour on weekends between 11 and 3:30.

For a shady walk, Manasquan Reservoir is a really beautiful place with a 5 mile trail (around the reservoir), ample free parking, a playground and a really nice environmental center, all for free. The environmental center is really big compared to most nature centers you find in state or county parks and included a “muskrat nest” your kids can tunnel through, and some great bird watching opportunities. (There were also plenty of chipmunks we could watch from our pleasantly air conditioned view). You can also rent a canoe or kayak for a fee. This was a beautiful place and we would definitely go back to see it in other seasons.

Gateway Region

This region includes Newark, Edison, Jersey City, and other cities with easy access to New York City. We have visited a couple of nice concert venues in Newark, and it is easy to take a trip into NYC from there. It is also easy to access Ellis Island from here and you can actually get a closer view of Lady Liberty from Liberty State Park than anywhere else, though it is not a view of the front of the statue.

The world’s largest lightbulb is located in the Gateway Region near the intersection of I-95 and Rt 287, on top of a tower and next to a tiny but interesting museum at Menlo Park. The Center is open only Thursday to Saturday, but there is a nature trail at the park, and of course, it’s always fun to pose in front of a tower with a 13 foot lightbulb on top, even if you can’t go in.

If you’re in the region in the spring, there is an annual Cherry Blossom Festival in Long Branch Park in Essex County, NJ. The park is in the midst of the city of Newark, and often crowded, but it is very spacious with playgrounds and numerous attractions, in addition to tons of cherry trees.


The Skyland region is an absolutely beautiful collection of mountains and parks that can be enjoyed by anyone who loves the great outdoors. The Appalachian trail runs for 72 miles through the region and there is ample room to hike, fish, or ski.

Along the border with Pennsylvania runs the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, with many popular waterfalls and trails. The Tammany Red Dot trail is one such well loved hike. We only made it to the first overlook, but it was a beautiful hike and we enjoyed exploring the area. Not far from the trail is the Lakota Wolf Reserve, where you can see wolves in their natural habitat. They have a large area to roam, though they are separated from the visitors by a barrier. It is a treat to hear them howl together with the encouragement of their keepers. There is much more to explore in the Kittatinny Mountains in this region.

At the other end of the region, in the West, lies Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, where miles of woodland and boardwalk trails over swamp land can reveal an abundance of birds and other wildlife. There are several wildlife viewing platforms and a visitors center that doubles as a nature center. This showcases a different but equally important ecosystem from much of the Skyland Region.

Delaware River Region

This is where you will find beautiful Princeton University, and cities such as Camden and Burlington, with an abundance and variety of family-friendly activities. One of our favorites in Camden is The Adventure Aquarium, one of the best on the East Coast. It has touch tanks and lots of beautiful sea life, of course, but you will also find more unusual exhibits including penguins, hippos, and a walk-through shark tunnel.

In Mt Holly, visit the Burlington County Prison Museum for a taste of history with a dose of the paranormal. Located quite close to the New Jersey Turnpike, this historic prison (complete with gallows) is a good place to get your ghost hunting on, and also contains some interesting historic information and touching displays. Some of the original graffiti can be seen on the walls behind glass plates. Open Thursday through Sunday, $5 per adult.

There are many lovely lakes in New Jersey, and some of them are near the highway and have restrooms and playgrounds – the perfect combination if you need to stretch your legs and burn some energy while traveling through the state. Crystal Lake Park and Etra Lake Park are two good options near I-95 with nice little walking trails, and we were even able to spot a bald eagle at Etra Lake once.

In Pilesgrove you will find one of the most fun rodeos this far north at Cowtown. The rodeo happens every Saturday evening during the summer months, rain or shine.  Barrel riding, calf-roping, bull riding, the ever-present possibility that someone will get seriously injured – it’s a blast!  There’s also an outdoor flea market open daytime hours on Tuesdays and Saturdays where you can get all kinds of junk for a few dollars, and some tasty food.

Finally, Diggerland is a construction-themed amusement park located in West Berlin with plenty of great activities for littles, especially those who like to ride and practice operating tractors. Once you’re hot and sweaty from the construction side, you can head over to the waterpark side to cool down.

Super Post on Destinations in Delaware

Delaware is a small state with a lot to offer. I-95 runs through the northern tip of Delaware, but Route 1 runs north to south through Delaware’s three counties. Here are our favorite activities in all three counties, heading generally from north to south.

Places to Visit in New Castle County

There are many lovely state parks in New Castle County. Delaware State Parks passes can be purchased here, and are $4 for an in-state vehicle and $8 out-of-state (with the exception of the seashore parks, which are $1 and $2 more). They can also be purchased at the park when you go.

Alapocas Run State Park is about the only place in Delaware where you will find a waterfall (Delaware is hilly, but doesn’t really have any mountains to speak of), but the park also has some really cool blue granite cliffs that rock-climbers have long enjoyed scaling. The Can-Do playground and little story-book trail next to the playground has been enjoyed many times by our children, and there are several nice woodsy trails.

Brandywine Creek State Park is a picturesque park of rolling meadows and forested area, and of course the creek. Chipmunks can be spotted near the blue gneiss stone walls (built in the late 1800s and early 1900s to mark property lines), and there are more than 14 miles of trail throughout the park. There is a nice disk golf course and plenty of fishing.

Bellevue State Park, a former DuPont estate, lies a few miles away. (You will find many attractions and landmarks in the area that were property of the DuPont family in this area). William DuPont’s home, Bellevue Hall, stands in the middle of the park, as well as a number of other structures and several playgrounds. There are always lovely horses to be seen, as the park includes horse stables, indoor horse training facilities, and a 1 ⅛ mile long horse track. There is a fishing pond, disk golf course, and a paved part of the Northern Delaware Greenway runs through the park.

Just a few miles away is Auburn Valley State Park, which runs along the Red Clay Creek. It houses the world’s largest operating collection of Stanley Steamer cars (which offer rides on “Steamin’ Days”) as well as a historic paper mill which lies undisturbed in the middle of the park. The hike up the hill (I believe this is called the Oversee Farm Trail) will get your heart rate up, but it is also paved which is nice for strollers and scooters.

There are several parks in the city of Wilmington, including Brandywine Park near the downtown area, and it is beautiful in late March/early April when the cherry trees bloom. In late May and June, the Jasper Crane Rose Garden is brilliantly in bloom. Formal gardens stand near the creek, and the Brandywine Zoo is just across the street. The zoo is small, just a loop really, but the space offers a good home for the animals and is perfect for young children who may not yet have the stamina to enjoy all there is to see at a larger (and pricier) zoo like the Philadelphia zoo.

Not to be confused with Brandywine Springs Park (Yes, Delaware loves the name Brandywine), which is a small county park that is on the site of an old natural springs spa resort (in the 1800’s) and later an amusement park (through the early 1900’s). It is interesting because there are photographs along the trails showing what used to be built there.

Just down the road from Brandywine Springs you will find the Wilmington Western Railroad, which offers a fun local train ride and where you can sometimes meet the Easter Bunny in the spring, and Santa in December. We enjoy the Christmas lights train ride, and the station and train itself is lit up too. If you’re in town during the Christmas season, “River Bright” sets up a nice lights display for over a mile along the Riverfront.

Rockford Park can be found after a pleasant drive through some of the most wealthy, historical, and beautiful neighborhoods near Wilmington. The park is known for it’s huge tower, which can only be climbed during certain limited hours (check this website before you go, if you want to climb the tower.) The view is lovely, but so are the pathways winding through the hilly meadows and woodland surrounding the tower. There is no playground, but there are some boulders and stone structures that little ones will like to climb.

Fox Point State Park includes a flat walking trail, pavilions, playground, restrooms and a view of the Delaware River, where you can watch ships from around the world on the river side, and trains speed down the tracks on the opposite side.

The historic town of Old New Castle, Delaware, established in 1651 and the landing place of William Penn, is just a few miles away from Wilmington. There are tons of Colonial and Dutch historical buildings, most of which are lived in or house businesses for people going about their daily lives. Jessop’s Tavern is one such building that is fun to visit. People dress up and celebrate Dutch, Swedish and English colonial history on Old New Castle Day, held on the third Saturday in May. The First State National Historical Park in the heart of Old New Castle includes the New Castle Courthouse Museum, the Old Sheriff’s House and the Green (which runs along the river and has picnic spots and playgrounds.) It is free, though parking may be metered.

There is a 5.5 mile trail that connects Old New Castle to the Wilmington Riverfront, which is mostly paved, and lovely. The waterfront includes numerous restaurants and hotels, as well as a paved nature walk out to a little patch of wetland with a high overlook and little boardwalk for bird viewing. This is also where the Delaware Children’s Museum is located. It is one of the best in the region, and you can easily spend several hours inside.

Ashland Nature Center is a fun place to visit in late July/early August, if you’re into hummingbirds. There is a hummingbird garden where you are sure to see fledgling hummingbirds feeding and honestly, I can’t get enough of them. They’re small enough to be insects and just so cute. There are also some small trails, a replica of a native American dwelling, and educational programs for kids that includes netting little creatures from the wetland area to examine.

Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library in the Brandywine Valley offers various tours, exhibitions, and interactive programs for children and adults. It includes another former DuPont Home. Our favorite annual events are the fairy days that are held in May, and the Halloween days in October. Our girls like to dress up and enjoy the children’s garden and enchanted woods. There are thousands of acres of hilly meadows and woods, as well as gardens. This area is home to the Bidens, and is a beautiful area to drive through, both in terms of the rolling forested hills (especially in the fall), and the beautiful homes throughout the area. Close by the area are Longwood Gardens (in PA), the Delaware Art Museum, and the Delaware Museum of Nature and Science (look up for the giant squid there!)

White Clay Creek State Park encompasses a very large area that runs into Pennsylvania, providing ample opportunity to get lost if you’re not careful! (Yes, we know from experience.) It has a small nature center, and hikes that reach the Mason Dixon line, as well as one where you can find the point where Delaware, Pennsylvania and Maryland come together.

Nearby Lums Pond State Park has Delaware’s largest freshwater pond, 17 miles of trails around the pond, a boathouse offering a variety of boats with which to explore, camping (reservations here), pavilions, a dog park, and a nature center with a few live animal exhibits. Our personal favorite activity is the Go-Ape Treetop Ropes course where you can get a workout and some awesome zipline rides across the pond.

Some other beautiful, free county parks include Glasgow Park (with numerous, modern playgrounds) and Carousel Park (with lovely playgrounds, horses, and even a little “Western town” area where the stables are located). The Newark Reservoir has a nice accessible playground, and a walking path up a steep hill that leads to the reservoir and around it. It’s a great place to catch a sunset.

Pea Patch Island/Fort Delaware is a fun ferry ride to this historic landmark, which served as a Union prison during the civil war. Apparently we had a cannon pointed at Jersey in case they got out of hand. No hard feelings, Jersey friends. Now they have historic tours, people dressed in 19th century garb blacksmithing, laundering things by hand, etc. And to top it all off, they show you how to set off a cannon (though they don’t actually set it off, of course.) It is also a good place to see birds including ospreys, herons in season, and bald eagles.

Things to Do in Kent County

Delaware’s central county sits between the more populous county of New Castle in the north, and Sussex county to the south, known for it’s lovely beaches. Whether you want to visit Kent County or you’re passing through on a trip down route 1, there are plenty of fun excursions in this part of the state. Here are a few of our favorites:

Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge and other Wildlife Viewing

Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge is a gorgeous reserve in the northern part of the county, near the city of Smyrna. It is a beautiful wetland renowned for it’s birds. There is a 12 mile wildlife drive that loops around the refuge, and five walking trails (two are paved), with three observation towers, which offer a great place to take photos and get a good view of the birds on the water, especially in spring and fall when they migrate, and during sunrise and sunset. There are thousands of snow geese, ducks and other waterfowl in the winter as well. The cost is $4 per vehicle, and there is a visitor center open during the week and weekends in the spring and fall.

In May to early June, you can see the annual spawning of the horseshoe crabs at Pickering Beach or Kitts Hummock, where tons of these helmet like creatures come up on shore to mate. But, come too late and there will be stinky dead crabs everywhere! These are nice quiet places to view the crabs but not good beaches for swimming. You have to go further south for those!

The Capital City of Dover, DE

The Dover Air Mobility Command Museum is one of the best in the country, and it is free. If you have an airplane lover in the family, they will enjoy viewing the many historic aircraft in the main exhibit gallery and outside as well. C-5A cargo compartment tours are available, living history reenactors are on site most Saturdays, and you can sometimes visit one of the air control towers and watch the planes traveling in and out of the base. The Museum is open to the public Wed through Sun, 9 to 4PM.

It’s also fun to visit the more historic area of Dover, where Victorian buildings surround the area known as the Green, where Legislative Hall and other historic buildings are located. You can tour Legislative Hall and several of the other buildings for free. Parking is generally available at the lot in front of the Delaware Public Archives. Tours take place the first Saturday of the month in the morning timeframe.

Silver Lake Park is just a few minutes from the Green, and is a pleasant place to picnic or walk a small trail around the lake. There is a small dam, playground equipment, and geese, ducks and other birds in season. Eat lunch or dinner at McGlynn’s Pub for a beautiful view of the lake.

There is a small and very specialized museum called the Johnson Victrola Museum not far from Silver Lake. Here you can find a well curated collection of Victrola’s, as well as other historical early sound recording equipment and Nipper the dog artifacts. The docents are wonderful, and the museum is free (though donations are appreciated).

Just outside of Dover is a small natural area called St. Jones Reserve, which is actually an Estuarine Research Reserve, but is open to the public. It is a quiet place with lots of wildlife, including bald eagles. There is no cost to enjoy the grounds.

Killens Pond State Park

Aside from the Dover Green and its’ surrounding buildings, Killens Pond in Felton, DE is the only state park in Kent County, but it is a beautiful one. The pond itself is lovely reflecting the trees, especially in autumn, and is surrounded by about a two and a half mile trail that is quite flat. You can fish, rent a boat, or visit the fun and affordable waterpark in the summer. There’s also a really nice nature center that is open May to September from 10 to 4 on weekdays, and 10 to 6 on weekends. The cost to enter is $4 for in-state vehicles and $8 for out-of-state.

Things to Do in Sussex County

The southernmost county of Delaware, Sussex County, includes rural farmland and the beautiful and popular beaches that tourists enjoy every summer.

The town of Milford straddles Kent and Sussex County and is a fun stop along route one to take a walk along the Milford River walk, enjoy a bite to eat or take in some art. There’s also a Can-Do Playground located in Milford that is very nice where the kids can expend some energy.

Further South you will find the town of Millsboro, where you can find retail and restaurant options surrounded by farmland, and within a quick drive of the beaches. Massey’s Landing is a popular boat launch and fishing spot in millsboro.

Trap Pond State Park is about the farthest north you can find a bald cypress swamp. It has a nice network of walking and biking trails, bike rentals, a nature center, restrooms and playgrounds. Not to mention, the pond itself is a popular spot for kayaking and boating.

Cape Henlopen State Park is both beach and park, and includes about 6 miles of coastline at the mouth of the Delaware Bay. The park includes “The Point,” where the Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean, barrier dunes, coastal beaches, and maritime forests, which are all highlighted in the Seaside Nature Center that also offers interactive educational programs. Fort Miles was built in the park during World War II, and the towers can be viewed along the drive. Or you can just enjoy a day at the beach at this lovely section of Delaware’s coast.

Other Delaware Beaches include Lewes Beach and Rehoboth. Lewes is a charming little town filled with boutiques and waterfront cafes and restaurants. It has a classy but friendly feel, and the Bay is great for little ones who want to swim without a lot of surf. It is known for its tulip festival in spring, and for the Lewes-Cape May Ferry, if you’re looking for the most pleasant way to get to New Jersey.

Rehoboth is not as quiet, but has a fun, mile long boardwalk and lots to do. Many come for the tax-free shopping at the outlets, but the beach itself at Rehoboth is clean, lovely, and worth the crowds. Or, you can go in the off-season when there are hardly any crowds! May and September are lovely there. You can also park a little ways out from the main boardwalk area. There is a nice playground near Lake Gerard with street parking, and it is only a block or two to the sea.

How We Made Our Wish Come True: Disney World on a Budget

This year, with a lot of planning and a bit of flexibility, we were able to take a wonderful trip to Orlando and visit both Disney World and Universal Studios. The best part was that we stayed within a careful budget, and paid many thousands of dollars less than you might expect. Here are our tips for making this trip affordable:

1. Use Credit Card Bonuses to Cover the Costs of Flying

A lot of people are nervous about using credit cards and trying to earn rewards points, but if you have decent credit and are even a little organized, using points can save you large sums of money and allow you to have wonderful experiences that you may not necessarily be able to afford otherwise, especially if you have a large family. If you’re a beginner, check out our guide for how to travel with rewards points.

We planned our 2022 credit card strategy for our 2023 vacations. We used Southwest Rapid Rewards cards to cover the entire cost of flying for 8 people, from Baltimore to Orlando (with many points to spare). But there are many other options to choose from. See a few of our favorites here.

2. Stay Outside of the Park

There are some great perks to staying inside the boundaries of Disney World, but if you’re on a budget, you may be able to save a significant amount by staying outside the park and renting a car (again, using points if you have them!). Even factoring in parking and a rental car, this was the best option for us. Since we were planning on doing both Disney and Universal, we found a resort within easy driving distance of both. We found a very fun resort with waterslides (a huge hit), mini golf and more, for less than even the most affordable Disney resort. We made sure it had a full kitchen, which leads us to our next tip…

3. Pack Soft Coolers and Buy Groceries

We ate many of our meals in our resort, and packed soft coolers to bring food with us into the park, which is allowed. Use frozen water bottles to keep your food cold, and pack plenty of snacks, so you don’t need to stop for a meal three times a day. We still had a few meals in the parks, for the experience, but our small kids are constantly hungry, so being able to access our own food on demand saved lots of time and money.

4. Use Points for your Hotel

As a last note on our resort stay, we were able to cover this completely using our Bank of America’s travel rewards card, which was offering a larger-than-normal bonus at the time. This one was new to us, but it is nice because it is super flexible. The points act as a statement credit for any travel expense. We each got the card and used it enough on our regular, every day expenses to earn our bonus – $500 toward travel expenses for each of us. Keep an eye out for these promotional bonuses as they do occur at different times throughout the year.

5. Go During Non-Peak Time

This one saves not only money, but frustration. Peak time can be so very crowded, and if you are able to go at a time when Disney is less crowded, it will be a more pleasant experience. We went in the spring and the weather was great, but we made sure it was after the rush of spring break, and prior to the rush of kids getting out of school. Yes, we let our kids miss a few days of school and had to do a bit of planning and extra work prior to leaving to make sure everyone stayed caught up with their school work!

6. Save on Tickets with a Disney Rewards Card

Finally, the big expense of Disney tickets. At no less than $109 per person per day, Disney really adds up when you have a large family! So this year, we got the Disney® Premier Visa® Card to offset the price of tickets. This earned us a bonus of $300 each to be used at Disney, which will cover a couple days worth of tickets. The annual fee is less than $50, netting us $250 each for a total of $500 toward our Disney World tickets for our family. The cards also earn “Disney dollars,” which can be used at the park for food, souvenirs, and other expenses, as well as at Disney stores everywhere.

7. Research What to Do, and What to Skip

The last way to save money, and maximize your time, is to do your best to figure out what is most important to you, and what you can do without. I started out with the desire and expectation to see every park, but after some careful reading, scrolling and talking with my family, we paired down to two Disney Parks and two Universal Parks (and frankly, even this was enough to exhaust us!) We still didn’t get to see every single thing we wanted to – there is just so much to see! But we sure did see and experience a lot, and had an amazing (and affordable) vacation.

6 Historic Places in Beautiful Natural Settings in the Mid-Atlantic Region

The Mid Atlantic region is rife with interesting historical places, considering much of the start of Colonialism in the US took place here, as well as a lot of the Civil War. But the region is also full of natural beauty, and when those two things can be combined, it makes for a wonderful destination for most families. Here are a few of our favorite historical places that are also in beautiful natural settings in the Mid Atlantic Region.

Harpers Ferry National Historic Park in West Virginia

This historical town is right at the borders of West Virginia, Maryland and Virginia.  There are lots of historical buildings including famous abolitionist John Brown’s fort, and Jefferson Rock, where Thomas Jefferson was said to have enjoyed the view. It also happens to host a portion of the Appalachian Trail, and affords beautiful sweeping mountain views of the confluence of two mighty rivers – the Potomac and the Shenandoah.

Pea Patch Island/Fort Delaware

Pea Patch Island/Fort Delaware is located in northern Delaware and is accessed via a fun ferry ride through the Delaware River, to the fort on the island which served as a Union prison during the Civil War. Now there are historic tours, often provided by people dressed in 19th century garb, and even demonstrations of how to set off a cannon (though they don’t actually set it off, of course.) It is also a well-known place for birders, and you can often see ospreys, herons, and bald eagles in season.

Valley Forge National Historic Park, PA

Set among gently rolling hills, meadows and woods, Valley Forge bosts preserved and restored buildings, cannons, redoubts, an excellent museum and beautiful statues and monuments, including the impressive National Arch, commemorating soldiers lost at Valley Forge. The park is entirely free.

Start at the Visitors Center/museum, which is also the museum to learn about colonial life and the struggles of the continental army in the 1770’s. From here you can follow signs in your car for the encampment tour, which will allow you to enter the soldiers barracks, monuments, headquarters, and cannons along the backdrop of peaceful meadows along the bank of the Schuylkill River.

Hyde Park in the Hudson Valley, New York

Hyde Park is a small area where you can tour several historic buildings while enjoying resplendent views of the Hudson River from the spacious, esthetic grounds of the attractions. Springwood and the Museum and Library of FDR are one such attraction, which also includes gardens, stables, and the final resting place of the Roosevelts. Another is the Vanderbilt Estate, which you can tour for around $10 per person, or just visit the grounds which include an Italian Garden complete with fountains and benches to take in the view. Both can be visited in a day.

Washington Monument State Park, MD

This lovely park in Maryland hosts a peice of the Appalachian trail, along with a tower, originally built in as a monument to George Washington. You can find information around the base of the tower and a breathtaking view from the top. The trail from the parking lot is also very doable for young children, though a bit steep.

George Washington’s Mount Vernon in Virginia

There is a lot to see at George Washington’s Mount Vernon, between the Museum, the home, the farm (where you can find lambs in the springtime), the many outbuildings (the smokehouse, bathroom, stable, storage houses, etc.), and the somber place where our first president is buried. The house itself contains many artifacts of what life was like, as well as the style, and even the character of George Washington. Looking at the view from the back porch, overlooking the Potomac River, one can certainly understand why he chose to live there – a gorgeous view, spacious grounds and that pleasant, mild Virginia weather.

Valley Forge National Historic Park

Valley Forge is another of our favorite historic places in a beautiful natural setting, here in the mid-Atlantic region. Set among small rolling hills, meadows and woods, it boasts preserved and restored buildings, cannons, redoubts, an excellent museum and beautiful statues and monuments, including the impressive National Arch, commemorating soldiers lost at Valley Forge. The park is entirely free.

Start at the Visitors Center, which is also the museum. Here you can pick up literature, see life-like displays of soldiers and colonial life, collections of weapons and medical devices (yikes), and read about the struggles of the continental army in the 1770’s. You can also head up to a building just outside the main one to see a well-done film about Valley Forge, explaining why it can be referred to as the birthplace of the American Army. The diseases and violence described may be mildly scary for young children, but most likely not nightmare-inducing.

From here you can follow signs in your car for the encampment tour, which will allow you to enter the soldiers barracks and see a glimpse of how they lived, and check out the redoubts with their accompanying cannons. The third stop is the National Memorial Arch, which is quite beautiful. Take time to read the moving words engraved on the monument.

As you move along the tour you will see other monuments, statues, and living quarters of various figures who were significant in the war, such as Lafayette and Steuben. It’s worth getting out of your car again at Washington’s Headquarters, and perhaps taking a short trail to the Schuylkill River. The last stop you may want to make is at Washington Memorial Chapel, which is in use today. There is a cabin behind it where you can stop in for some coffee and snacks or hot dogs before you head home. There are clean restrooms and picnic areas throughout the park.

We found our oldest child was fascinated by the military history of the place, how the army was trained by General Stueben in ways that are still used today, and the various weapons and strategies that were used. Our second oldest child was fascinated by the diseases suffered by the soldiers, and the intense programs ordered for sanitation and even innoculation long before this became common practice. As for the two little ones, getting to run around in the sunshine in a new and interesting setting was all they needed to have a good time. So, we highly recommend a visit to Valley Forge, where there is something of interest for everyone.