Archive for the ‘Take the Kids’ Category

4 Fun Facts (and 1 warning) about Iron Pigs Baseball and Coca-Cola Park

August 7, 2019

I took my kids to see the AAA-affiliated Iron Pigs play at Coca-Cola Park for the first time this summer. We all had a blast, thanks to the festive easiness of the whole experience. Here are some subjective highlights to keep in mind before you go:


There is no bad seat. We debated over seats like some MLB coaches mull over first-round draft picks. It was unnecessary. Ticket prices range from $8 for lawn seating to $11 for just about every other seat. We ended up in the second row next to the dugout of the opposing team. My son, who brought his glove, didn’t get a coveted foul ball, but right fielder Austin Listi tossed him one between innings, which thrilled him. Next time, we might try the Bacon Strip, two levels of seats along the right field wall, modeled after the famous “Green Monster” seats of Fenway Park.

Try the food at least once. Not surprisingly, the food kiosks take full advantage of the team’s pork-themed name. Menu highlights include deep-fried bacon skewers, pork-roll burgers, BBQ pulled pork with mac ‘n’ cheese and mashed potatoes, bacon-wrapped hot dogs, and maple bacon funnel cake. It’s all as pricey as you might expect, but it was a fun experience. Next time, though, we might eat at Friendly’s (2.2 miles away) before going to the game, and we’ll definitely skip the refrigerated chocolate-covered bacon.

The name Iron Pigs is a nod to the steel industry that once dominated the Lehigh Valley. When the team first arrived in Allentown from Canada in 2008, the local newspaper sponsored a contest to give them a new name (the Ottawa Lynx just didn’t seem right). It received 3,500 suggestions and narrowed it down to eight; IronPigs won handily in the final round of voting. It’s a deliberate twist on pig iron, the raw iron that gets melted down to make steel. (The pig reference comes from a long-ago observation that the rows of conveyor-belt ingots resemble a litter of piglets.)


Don’t bring water. That’s the warning. Security will make you leave it at the door. They’re pretty strict about it, though they might let you get away with a Dasani bottle, the brand they sell inside. So hydrate before the game, or resign yourself to shelling out a few bucks or searching out the water fountains.

It’s pretty much impossible not to have fun. From the Oink On! screen shots and T-shirt cannonballs between innings, to the overall buoyancy of the crowd, it’s hard not to get swept up in it all. Just about every home game has a theme or giveaway, like Bring your Dog and Christmas in July. This summer, “Jurassic Pork” night featured fireworks and a cap giveaway, while “The Office” night attendees got Stanley Hudson IronPigs bobbleheads (along with an appearance by the actor who plays him).

Can’t wait to see what next season brings.


Philly’s most underrated tourist attraction is open for the season

March 26, 2019


The road to Fort Mifflin leads past industrial fuel facilities, long-term airport parking lots and unidentified buildings surrounded by barbed-wire fencing. You’ll edge so close to the runways of Philadelphia International Airport that you might wonder if you took a wrong turn somewhere along the way.

But keep going: the roar of airplanes means you’re almost there. Soon you’ll pull into a small parking lot and walk across pristine grounds to a fortress with a thousand stories to tell.

One of the greatest bombardments of the Revolutionary War took place here in 1777. About 400 American troops garrisoned at Fort Mifflin frustrated British naval attempts to re-supply their occupying forces in Philadelphia. Hundreds of men died and the fort was decimated, but the standoff allowed Gen. George Washington and his troops time to arrive safely at Valley Forge and settle in for the winter. Also known as Mud Island, this multipurpose fort served as a federal prison during the Civil War and an ammunition depot during World War I and II.

Owned by the city of Philadelphia, Fort Mifflin tends to get squeezed out by more well-known historical landmarks like Valley Forge and Washington Crossing. But it’s an important stop on any Pennsylvania history tour, and in recent years, it has hosted renaissance faires, 5K runs and after-hours galas, and played up its reputation as a haunted destination with candlelight ghost tours and paranormal workshops.

Most days, costumed guides and interpretive signs are available to help navigate the grounds, and there are often cannon and musket firing demonstrations on weekends and holidays.

Splash! Navigating the indoor water parks of the Poconos in winter

March 11, 2019


Indoor water parks have taken on a whole new dimension in the last decade, and the Pocono Mountains are home to some of the country’s largest and best outfits. Big chains like Great Wolf Lodge and Kalahari operate resorts here, along with local stalwarts Camelback and Split Rock Resorts, which have transformed themselves from quaint lodges to year-round family entertainment centers. Here’s a guide to navigating them while the weather’s too cold and inhospitable for outdoor water play. Each one has its own personality.

Camelback Waterpark and Resort

The resort: Upscale, with a family-friendly feel. Scavenger hunts are held in the lobby and there are myriad dining options, from pizza to an all-you-can-eat buffet.

The water park: 125,000 square feet, 13 water slides, 7 pools including a lazy river, and a swim-up bar for grown-ups.

Notable: It’s the only ski resort in the Poconos with a water park, so it’s possible to hit the slopes and slides in a single day. It has the only combination water slide of its kind and one of the longest indoor water coaster slides in the world. The indoor/outdoor hot tub is a big attraction to the young and old.


Great Wolf Lodge

The resort: Its wild animal theme and whimsical suites with bunk beds tend to draw families with young children.


The water park: 79,000 square feet, with tandem tube slides, a wave pool and a four-story treehouse fort.

Notable: The water park is for resort guests only. Don’t expect to see many adults without kids here. Even the spa is geared toward tots with an ice cream theme.

Kalahari Resort

The resort: This African-themed resort caters to both families and couples, offering standard rooms, suites with bunk beds, and honeymoon suites with heart-shaped tubs.


Water park: At 220,000-square foot, it’s the largest in the Poconos (and maybe America), with a huge water coaster and two lazy rivers, one of which is designed especially for the under-48-inches set. The rides have adventurous names like Cheetah Race, Barreling Baboon, and Wild Wildebeest, but are generally kid-friendly.

Notable: The variety of rides and levels appeal to guests all ages, but especially those with young children. Its two indoor/outdoor whirlpools, and Tiko’s Watering Hole, its large toddler area, both garner raves from families.

Split Rock Resorts

The resort: There are two parts to this long-running inn — the original lodge, which sits by Lake Harmony, and the newer resort, which is about a mile away and home to  the water park, a cinema and bowling alley. It’s more convenient to stay in the resort rather than the lodge if you plan to visit the water park.

Water park: This is the smallest water park of the bunch at 53,000 square feet. It has three slides, a wave pool, and a play structure and only operates full-time in the summer.


Noteable: The water park is always open to the public and not included in the resort rate. It gets consistent praise for its easy-to-navigate setting and lack of overcrowding.

Ben Franklin Museum Gets a Makeover

September 12, 2013


The Ben Franklin Museum has a new look. Gone are the dusty marionettes, the Bicentennial-era mirrored hallway, and the old phones that let you “call” historic figures like George Washington and hear them praise Ben. In their place, the National Park Service has created an interactive, tech-savvy place that tries to capture the multifaceted spirit of the influential Philadelphian in a way that appeals to both kids and adults. (For example, you can play a computerized interactive armonica, then see the real one that Franklin invented in the 18th century on display nearby.)


The renovation took two years and cost $23 million. Thankfully, the Ghost House that outlines the spot where Franklin built his Philadelphia house is still there, just outside the museum’s entrance. Also, don’t miss Franklin’s Printing Office and Bindery, and the B. Free Franklin Post Office, a Colonial-themed operating post office which stamps your postcards with the same imprint used in 1775 by Franklin, the nation’s first Postmaster General.

The Finest (and Shadiest) Mini Golf Course in PA

July 21, 2013


Miniature golf in 90-degree heat doesn’t sound very appealing. But it’s a whole different story when the course is in the middle of a mature forest, thoughtfully designed around mountain streams, waterfalls, caves, and floral landscaping that rivals Longwood Gardens. I missed Village Greens Miniature Golf in my PA book travels, but I’m endorsing it wholeheartedly now after my parents and niece visited this past week and attested to both its shady coolness (the seniors) and its overall coolness (the 9-year-old). It’s in Strasburg, near all the train attractions, and about a 20-minute drive from downtown Lancaster. One course (Orange) has 18 holes and the other (Gold) 23 holes — either way, you’ll pay less than $8 a person and get a challenging and unique experience out of it. Cap your game with a stop at the air-conditioned Snack Shoppe for soft pretzels and thick milkshakes.

Child’s Play at the Art Museum

May 24, 2013

I normally don’t relish the thought of taking my two rambunctious boys inside the awe-inducing walls of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. But this summer there’s an exhibit that should appeal to the child in us all. Design for the Modern Child is all about kids — through the eyes of some of the world’s top designers. Items on display include a 1965 hobby horse, shadow-puppet wallpaper by British designer Victoria Cramsie, and a giant house of cards designed by Ray and Charles Eames (of chair fame).

Also premiering is a custom-built, sustainable Cardboard Cubby House designed by Australian architects Bennett and Trimble. It will be on display in the atrium of the Perelman Building (a short walk from the main building; see photo below), where kids can explore it and learn to build themselves from plans provided by the architects. The exhibit runs through mid-October, so there’s plenty of time to catch it. Nearly in tandem with the design exhibit, the kid-friendly ArtSplash program debuts June 28 and runs through Labor Day.


Getting the Most Out of Valley Forge National Park

December 2, 2012


When you grow up a few miles from Valley Forge National Park, you don’t tend to think of it as a place of profound historical significance.  You think of it more as a recreational escape on the way to or from the King of Prussia malls — a wide, open space to take your first real bike ride, attend birthday parties, take joy rides as a teenager, and jog along one of the nicest 5-mile loop trails around. You take for granted the perfectly reconstructed log cabins and artillery cannons you happen to pass along the way.

It was only after I returned with my own kids and visited half a dozen other national parks as an adult, that I came to appreciate Valley Forge for what it really is — a monument to sacrifice and survival, the place where George Washington and the Continental Army endured a brutal winter encampment in which 2,000 men died, yet went on to win big in the Revolutionary War.  Now I marvel that all of this was practically in my own backyard when I was growing up.

Here are 5 things that are essential to every visit to Valley Forge, from someone who has logged in many hours here as both a local and a tourist.

1. Exercise! Join the many local residents already in the know about the perfect five-mile trail that loops around the entire park. On nice spring evenings, it is packed with walkers and runners just clocking off work, especially between the Welcome Center and the National Memorial Arch. Weekends are busy, too, but it’s always a little quieter if you start near Washington Memorial Chapel or General Washington’s headquarters and do a counter-clockwise loop.

2. Visit in winter. It will give you an idea of the conditions Washington and his troops experienced. Unlike many national parks, Valley Forge is a beehive of activity in winter, especially this month. One of the park’s biggest events takes place on Dec. 19, the anniversary of the Contintental Army’s ‘March-In’ to settle in the sleepy village of Valley Forge. Uniformed volunteers re-create the march and lead candle-lit tours to the log huts, where living Continental encampments have been set up. (For those reluctant to brave the cold, the park offers holiday trolley tours between Dec. 26 and 30 for $16 a person.)


3. Don’t miss the used bookstore and gift shop behind Washington Memorial Chapel. Run by volunteers, the Cabin Shop is a welcoming source of souvenirs, hot chocolate, homemade breads, and casual seating. (A local newspaper voted it the best place for hot dogs around.) The bookstore (just behind the chapel) is an unexpected discovery, a slightly musty room with cinder-block shelves full of cookbooks, children’s books, travel guides, and hardcovers, most for less than $5.

4. Run down the hills. Whether you have kids or not, barreling down the gently rolling hills that are all over the park is one of the best and cheapest thrills around.

5. Visit the bell tower and carillon at Washington Memorial Chapel. These 58 bronzed bells weigh more than 26 tons combined and were completed by the Daughters of the American Revolution as a memorial to American independence in 1953. They are played by hand from a keyboard (the church actually has its own house carillonneur). Call the chapel or check here for upcoming carillon events. The tower also houses the Justice Bell, a full-size replica of the Liberty Bell that was used between 1915 to 1920 to call attention to the women’s suffrage movement. If you can’t make it to Center City to see the real one, it’s the next best thing.


A Magical Trip to South Street

November 14, 2012

It’s a stretch of South Street that you once walked blocks to avoid. Now South west of 9th has a Whole Foods, a farm-to-table restaurant (Supper), and a hair salon that charges $50 a cut. It is also home to Philadelphia’s kookiest and most endearing attraction, known as Magic Gardens. As the story goes, artist Isaiah Zagar began tiling dilapidated South Street buildings in the 1960s with porcelain and glass discarded from the city’s shuttered factories and warehouses — and he never stopped. He tackled the vacant lot where the Magic Garden now sits in 1994 and worked on it for 15 years. The community stepped in to save Zagar’s work from demolition about a decade ago, when the lot’s owner wanted to sell it, and the half-block complex is now run by a non-profit. When I visited last year for the first time, it instantly reminded me of Watts Towers in Los Angeles, Simon Rodia’s stunning spires of found objects like porcelain, green glass, and sea shells. Watts also narrowly missed the wrecking ball in the 1950s when the arts community stepped in to save it.

Anyone can gape at the tiled courtyard from the street, but to fully experience Philly’s Magic Gardens, pay $7 and wander through the labrynthine rooms, closets, and basement. Even the bathroom is embedded with folk-art statues, cut mirrors, and tiles. It will take you at least an hour to soak it all up, longer if it’s a nice day and you have time to wander the courtyard and sculpture garden and view the documentary by Zagar’s son that chronicles the family’s life. On some Sundays, you’ll find the 73-year-old artist himself holding court in his studio and happy to answer questions about his folk-art masterpiece.

Doughnuts and Creamed Beef at Oregon Dairy

October 8, 2012

Besides apples and gorgeous foliage, fall brings to mind big breakfasts. One of the best breakfasts my family and I ever had was at Oregon Dairy in Lititz, right off Rte. 222.

(Footnote: I don’t say that casually — Pennsylvania has lots of excellent breakfast spots.)

We loved that every breakfast platter came with a hockey puck-sized doughnut and glass of fresh milk, and that a huge plate of eggs, home fries, and toast costs less than a gallon of gas in California right now. The dairy-themed playground next door is a perfect way for the kids to burn off all those calories and for adults to rest and enjoy the Amish countryside while nursing their pecan-waffle food comas.

On weekdays, the dining room is often filled with retired Mennonite folks, bibles in hand; tour buses like the Friday and Saturday all-you-can-eat breakfast buffets ($8.25, kids half price). This month, there’s also a corn maze to add to the fun.

Apple picking time at Hopewell Furnace

September 14, 2012

Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site, about 15 miles east of Reading, was one of the country’s first iron producers, casting cannons for the Colonial Army during the Revolutionary War and once responsible for 15 percent of the entire world’s iron supply. Gen. George Washington’s troops came within three miles of the furnace, and its workers rushed to bury several “great guns” on the property to save them from possible capture by the Redcoats.

Today, Hopewell Furnace is a preserved iron plantation run by the National Park Service and a very worthy stop on anyone’s Pennsylvania history tour. Besides the blast furnace, there’s a restored blacksmith’s shop, a company store, the ironmaster’s house, and several workers’ cottages — all nestled in a peaceful forested valley.

This month is my favorite time of year to visit. The property includes a four-acre apple orchard and the Park Service lets visitors pick as much as they want for $1 a pound (buckets and pole pickers provided). Though the original apple trees from the 1780s are gone, there are 35 different varieties, many with historical roots, including Spitzenburg’s, which may have been Thomas Jefferson’s favorite and Smokehouse, a variety traced to 1837 when it was grown next to a smokehouse in Lancaster County. By mid-October the fruit is gone, so get here soon. Hopewell Furnace is within French Creek State Park and links up with several trails within the park.