16 Things You Didn’t Know about Hurricane Harbor

We went to Hurricane Harbor last year for the first time (our Hurricane Harbor review and primer here). We went back again yesterday and had a great time, noticing and doing different things than we did before. Here are 16 things I bet you didn’t know about Hurricane Harbor.

1. Going on a weekday (especially one when rain is expected and it’s cloudy and in the 70s) makes a HUGE difference in line compared to the weekends. Fortunately it didn’t rain on us and we only got cold once (took a break then went back out) and had a relaxing day without many lines. We waited at most 20 minutes (for the Tornado – video below) and most lines were less than 10 minutes.

2. You will get a lot of exercise.  Continue reading “16 Things You Didn’t Know about Hurricane Harbor”

Branch Brook Park Cherry Blossoms

We haven’t been to Branch Brook Park since 2011, to see the cherry blossoms. Each year we plan to go and then something gets in the way. We missed the festival (though to be fair, it’s super crowded) but went last weekend – a week after the festival – to catch the just-past peak trees. They were still gorgeous. This park has the largest collection of cherry trees in the country.


Continue reading “Branch Brook Park Cherry Blossoms”

Behind the Scenes Guide to Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Giant Balloons

It’s hard not to be awed by the enormous balloons making their way down the streets in Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. This year I had the opportunity to go behind the scenes to how they were designed and what one of them looked like up close, inflated.

Of course you can watch them get inflated yourself, the night before Thanksgiving (details at the bottom). If you plan to attend the parade, don’t miss my Guide to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. And you can read our behind the scenes guide to the floats here.

Macy's Studio in Moonachie, New Jersey is where all the balloons and floats are conceived (and floats are built and refurbished here)
Macy’s Studio in Moonachie, New Jersey is where all the balloons and floats are conceived (and floats are built and refurbished here)

What’s new?

This year they’re debuting six new balloons this year, which is a record number. That’s a bit of a misnomer for attendees, since two of the characters (Pikachu and the Pillsbury Doughboy) are regulars at the parade. But Pikachu just went through a third redesign, so it is a new balloon and Macy’s counts that as a new one. The Pillsbury Doughboy is also technically a new balloon, though the design is the same as the last one, since it flew so well and the client wanted  the same thing.

Paddington's hat
Paddington’s hat – he’s new this year

Thomas the Train (new this year) is 47 feet tall Continue reading “Behind the Scenes Guide to Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Giant Balloons”

Guide to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade 2014

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is celebrating its 88th year. If you haven’t already gmacysposter2one, maybe now’s the time. You’ll join 3.5 million people watching from the streets and windows, and an estimated 50 million sitting in front of the TV. As for participants? A whopping 8,000 are marching, wielding balloon strings or on floats. Look for some fun stats toward the bottom.

The parade is on Thanksgiving morning, this year it’s November 27 at 9 a.m. It takes about 90 minutes for the parade to make it from the start to the finish. Navigating the parade with kids isn’t that hard if you’re prepared. And that’s what we’re here for – your family guide to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade!

Balloon Inflation

Even if you can’t go for the parade, the giant balloon inflation is open to the public the Wednesday before the parade, on November 26th. Head over to the Museum of Natural History, entering the inflation area at 79th Street and Columbus Avenue. The inflation goes from 3-10 p.m. Here’s a behind the scenes guide to the making of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons. Continue reading “Guide to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade 2014”

Visiting the 9/11 Memorial

Last time I was near the World Trade Center, the fences were still up and you needed tickets to get into the memorial area. That is no longer the case, as of May. This September 11 is the first anniversary of the memorial. You can just walk into the plaza now and visit. I’ll give more information on the bottom – you can see pictures from my visit as you scroll down.

pool polish
There was something very sacred about the woman’s work cleaning and polishing the metal holding the names.


pool south

You can see a short video of what the World Trade Center 9/11 Memorial pool looks like here. Continue reading “Visiting the 9/11 Memorial”

The Great Falls in Paterson

Have you been to the Great Falls in Paterson? If not, it’s worth going. We took a trip over there this summer and it was gorgeous!

Paterson Falls

This place has a lot of history, going back to Alexander Hamilton’s time, when he envisioned Paterson as the country’s first planned industrial city. He wanted to use hydropower from the Passaic River’s Great Falls. Hamilton and the Society for Establishing Useful Manufacturers (a real mouthful), started this in Paterson in 1792. Since then, Paterson’s industry became known for fabrics (silk spinning, cotton, textile machinery, jute, weaving, dyeing, etc.). When I posted a picture of the Falls on my personal Facebook page some time back, one of my friends said her first job was working in textiles in Paterson, and she’s not even old! You can read more of the history of the Great Falls here. Continue reading “The Great Falls in Paterson”

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.

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”

Review: Six Flags Hurricane Harbor in New Jersey

We chose the perfect day to go to Hurricane Harbor (albeit, a weekday might have been even better). It was warm, in the mid-80s, but not too hot. We hit no traffic on the way there (going home was a different story). We didn’t get sunburned! I didn’t leave with a headache from motion sickness. All in all, a great day at Hurricane Harbor, our first time at this water park.

The entry bridge to Hurricane Harbor. Photo courtesy of Six Flags Hurricane Harbor.
The entry bridge to Hurricane Harbor. Photo courtesy of Six Flags Hurricane Harbor.

If it weren’t for my husband’s contact lens emergency, we might have shaved 15 minutes off our wait in the first line. Lesson learned: if you wear contact lenses to the park, bring a spare set AND a bottle of saline solution, neither of which my husband did. Continue reading “Review: Six Flags Hurricane Harbor in New Jersey”

Philadelphia: Magic Gardens

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


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.

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

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

Review: Storm King Art Center

Having visited the Grounds for Sculpture recently, I was keen to get outside and see some more when my parents visited me. My mother is involved in the art world, and when I told her Storm King wasn’t too far away, she was eager to go. And we’re so glad we did. Storm King is one of the premier sculpture gardens in the world. Set on 500+ acres, the 100 or so large scale sculptures have plenty of space for themselves.

sculpture by Alexander Liberman
Iliad by Alexander Liberman (1974-76). This piece is similar to another Liberman we had on my college campus. We affectionately called it “Dueling Tampons.’

Wear good walking shoes, because you’re going to do a lot of walking. And it’s hilly. Storm King recommends spending 4-6 hours on a visit, if you have the time, and that you won’t see everything. Our goal was to see everything. We thought we did, but later saw pictures on the guides of  sculptures we somehow missed during the day. We were there about four hours, and our legs were tired by the end! (see the end notes for other ways to see Storm King, like  on the tram or on bikes).

Maya Lin
Maya Lin, who designed the famous Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C., designed this Storm King Wavefield (2009), which is on 11 acres. Apparently, you can no longer walk on it.

If you’ve ever studied art history or art in general, you’ll recognize some of the artist names here: Alexander Calder, Maya Lin, David Smith, Nam June Paik, Mark Di Suervo, Richard Serra, Roy Lichtenstein, Sol Lewitt, Barbara Hepworth, Louise Nevelson, Henry Moore, Claes Oldenburg and more. They have works from all the heavyweight sculptors, focusing on monumental sculptures from the 1960s on. Continue reading “Review: Storm King Art Center”