Weekend in Philly

My family went to Philadelphia over our fall break (i.e. NJ Teachers Convention break) last November. It was a whirlwind of sightseeing and an awesome trip (I wrote a ton of posts on what to see in Philadelphia with kids here). But when a friend was organizing a girls’ weekend in May, I jumped at the chance. Though we had one overlap in activity (the Barnes Foundation), the entire weekend was a different experience than traveling there with kids, and even my visit to the Barnes was completely different.

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My girls’ weekend group, after the evening tour at the Barnes Foundation followed by free cocktails

Coming from the Northern NJ area, people here don’t think about spending the weekend in Philadelphia, given that the much larger New York City is so close. But Philly is close too – and there is so much to do and see there that you can’t cover it all in a weekend – or in a weekend plus the November break. Here’s how we spent our almost-48 hours. Continue reading “Weekend in Philly”

Avoid the Nightmare Rental – Tips to Choosing a Vacation by Owner Property

Recently I spent a girls’ weekend in Philadelphia with other travel writers. With six in our group, we wanted a place we could hang out, and a good location. It didn’t have to be luxurious, but it should be nice. Instead of going the hotel route, we went the rental by owner route. We hated our rental.

How can you avoid the mistakes we made when renting from an owner? Here’s how, using an in-depth review of the Perle Mesta Inn B&B in Philadelphia as our example.

One of the house perks: an alligator skin from Thailand
One of the house perks: hanging out with the alligator skin from Thailand

How the services work

Several established companies offer room/home rentals by owner. These companies act as a listing service and do some vetting (but do not manage the properties, nor do they physically see them).

When I looked at how it works on FlipKey (disclosure: they paid for our rental), owners can create a free listing. They upload all the details and photos, and can take payment through the site. They pay FlipKey a 3% charge for each booking. Guests booking pay a 5-10% booking fee.

We’ve been very happy with our VRBO.com rentals both domestically and internationally. Paige from Alloverthemap.com used airbnb.com extensively during her 11 month family trip around the world, and was happy with their services.

The key is to ask lots of questions. Don’t assume that the rentals are heavily vetted or inspected personally.

How are the rentals vetted? Continue reading “Avoid the Nightmare Rental – Tips to Choosing a Vacation by Owner Property”

Sleeping with the Fish: Overnight at Adventure Aquarium in Camden

We joined the scouts for an overnight at the Adventure Aquarium in Camden. This was our fourth overnight, so we’ve had lots of experience seeing how they’re run in different facilities. This one was very well organized, and we slept better than at others. Even if you have no intention of sleeping over at the Adventure Aquarium, read on because there’s lots of great information about the animals in this post, and some awesome pictures too, if I say so myself.

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View of Philly from the Adventure Aquarium.

Continue reading “Sleeping with the Fish: Overnight at Adventure Aquarium in Camden”

Philadelphia: Max Brenner and City Tavern

–This is part of our series on Philadelphia with kids. See all the posts in the series at the bottom.–

This post might easily be called a Tale of Two Restauants. Totally different vibes. Totally different menus. First let me say that it’s really hard to pick restaurants in Philly. There are a lot of good choices, and a lot depends on what part of the city you want to explore. Our first choice was something kid-friendly, and the second was something more historic.

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Getting ready to douse the mac and cheese with marinara sauce via a large syringe at Max Brenners.

 Max Brenner is a chain. I went for an afternoon snack with a friend last summer in Boston. I had a frozen chocolate coffee drink in a really cute cup (see the Drink Me cup below) and my friend had a salad. Both were good. Since Max Brenner focuses on chocolate desserts and funky presentations, we thought the kids would enjoy it. And they did. Continue reading “Philadelphia: Max Brenner and City Tavern”

Philadelphia: 5 Ways to See the Barnes Foundation with Kids

–This is part of our series on Philadelphia with kids. See all the posts in the series at the bottom.–

I thought the Barnes Foundation wouldn’t be kid-friendly. Surprisingly, it was.

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The museum is organized in a different kind of way, with each gallery containing ensembles – groups of pictures and utilitarian metal tools that looked decorative, designed to make you think about the art in unique ways, to see how they relate to each other. You won’t find only Renoirs in one room, or paintings from a certain time period displayed together. Plus there are no signs on the walls with the names and artists, nor any explanations at all on the walls. Many of the frames do have the artist’s name on them, though, if you look carefully. Find a gallery guide at the benches in each room.

Vincent van Gogh, Dutch, 1853–1890. The Postman (Joseph-Étienne Roulin), 1889. Photograph © 2012 The Barnes Foundation.
Vincent van Gogh, Dutch, 1853–1890. The Postman (Joseph-Étienne Roulin), 1889. Photograph © 2012 The Barnes Foundation.

Barnes continually changed his ensembles around, and the displays you see are the same ones (in the   same order) as when he died. He never wrote up explanations as to why they were put in those orders, nor is anyone sure what he hoped viewers would see in them. Continue reading “Philadelphia: 5 Ways to See the Barnes Foundation with Kids”

Philadelphia: Mutter Museum with Kids

–This is part of our series on Philadelphia with kids. See all the posts in the series at the bottom.–

Let’s start out by saying this is not the Mutter Museum, pronounced like it looks. The “u” should have an umlaut over it – two dots next to each other. Say it like “Mooter Museum.” This museum was on my list to visit for a long time, and I figured the kids would find it strangely fascinating. They did, but they also found it unsettling enough that they sat out out a good portion of it because they couldn’t stomach looking through it all.

Of note, you can’t take pictures inside. These photos are all courtesy of the museum. Dr. Mutter collected these strange specimens to use in teaching. The museum is part of  the College of Physicians of Philadelphia.

The Main Gallery of Philadelphia's Mütter Museum George Widman, 2009, for the Mütter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia
The Main Gallery of Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum
George Widman, 2009, for the Mütter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia

When we first walked in Continue reading “Philadelphia: Mutter Museum with Kids”

Philadelphia: Liberty Bell and Independence Hall with Kids

–This is part of our series on Philadelphia with kids. See all the posts in the series at the bottom.–

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You can take this picture of the Liberty Bell from outside the building.

You can’t go to Philadelphia as a newbie and not see the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. So of course this was on our list to do. Here’s something else you should know. Tickets are free, but if you don’t reserve Independence Hall tour tickets in advance (or go wait in line, going early), you may not get in. So if you’re on a tight schedule, I recommend you call ahead or reserve online for a $1.50/person fee. Especially in high season. By afternoon, tickets may be gone. Tickets are required March through December. Continue reading “Philadelphia: Liberty Bell and Independence Hall with Kids”

Philadelphia: National Museum of American Jewish History with Kids

–This is part of our series on Philadelphia with kids. See all the posts in the series at the bottom.–

Jewish Museum

We’ve been wanting to check out the National Museum of American Jewish History (which I still can’t say without having to look it up for accuracy) since it opened in its current form in 2010. Previously it shared space with Congregation Mikveh Israel (see the bottom for more on that), since its founding in 1976. This museum is on Independence Mall, just down the street from Mikveh Israel, and across from the Independence Mall Visitor’s Center. Continue reading “Philadelphia: National Museum of American Jewish History with Kids”

Philadelphia: Magic Gardens

–This is part of our series on Philadelphia with kids. For more in the series, see the bottom of the post.–

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My daughter and I were very excited to see Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, a nonprofit space that artist Isaiah Zagar created in an empty row house spot. It now extends inside the adjacent row house.

Unfortunately the day we showed up, we didn’t realize they were closing early for a wedding, so we had to make do with peeking through the gate, and walking around the neighborhood. The good news is  that you can still see a lot even when it’s closed. And just by wandering around South Street, within a few blocks of the gardens, we could still see a lot of large scale murals. There’s a list in the brochure you can get on site and probably in other tourist locations as well.

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This mosaic mural was around the corner from the Magic Gardens.

I think the biggest question for us was Continue reading “Philadelphia: Magic Gardens”

Philadelphia: Eastern State Penitentiary with Kids

**This is part of a series on Philadelphia with kids. Please see all the posts in the Philadelphia series here, or check the bottom for individual links.**

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The Eastern State Penitentiary was one of the places at the top of the list for my husband on our trip to Philadelphia with the kids. I went to college in Philadelphia and hadn’t heard of it when in school there. Turns out, there’s a good reason. It only opened to the public in the years since then.

In fact, the penitentiary started making its renewal with fundraising efforts you’ve probably heard of: the Terror Behind the Walls, one of the most haunted, spooky type Halloween experiences in the country. Continue reading “Philadelphia: Eastern State Penitentiary with Kids”