Some family entertainments are seasonal, while others are available year-round. During summer in England, it is traditional to take families to the seaside. A prime destination is the Isle of Wight on the Solent between the South coast of England and the English Channel. Besides several lovely sandy beaches and chalk cliffs, there is the Brading Roman Villa with mosaic floors and a collection of Roman coins in its museum; Ventnor Botanic Gardens; Sandown’s Dinosaur Isle Museum; the annual Isle of Wight Music Festival at Newport that features world-class performers; and the famous sailing regatta during Cowes Week that attracts international celebrities.
Cowes Week Sailing Regatta
While in the Great Britain, children will love a visit to Cumbria with its Roman artifacts and many castles as well as the Lake District in the North of England. Lake Windermere in particular was a favorite haunt of English Romantic poet William Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter, creator of the Peter Rabbit series of books. Potter was also a trained mycologist whose botanical illustrations adorn some current scientific texts about fungi. Several miles to the North are the Scottish Highlands with their notorious Loch Ness Monster, actually a cryptid affectionately known as Nessie. Of interest to those with scientific insights, Operation Deepscan sonar sweeps began in 1986 and proceeded inconclusively through 1987. Nonetheless, the intrigue and reported sightings continue unabated since Project Urquhart began doing a hydrographic survey in 1992-1993 and the BBC sponsored a full but uneventful search with sonar beams and satellite tracking in 2003. There are many other things for families to enjoy in the Highlands such as visiting the myriad of castles; windsurfing; hiking the picturesque glens; seeing magnificent wildlife; exploring ancient monuments; watching the Northern Lights; and seeing famous battlefields such as the site of Battle of Culloden of 1746 marked with the 1881 memorial cairn near Inverness. Festivities culminate with the Highland Games’ tossing the Caber et al., Burning the Clavie Fire Festival, the two-month long Highland Homecoming celebrations with highland dancing, and the Mountain Bike World Cup. But heading back south to England, don’t miss the perennially popular summertime entertainment for children artfully presented by a professional puppeteer at many favorite seaside resorts: the traditional Punch and Judy puppet show. My hometown Portsmouth also offered donkey rides when I was a child.
Punch and Judy Show, Weymouth, England
However, a trip to Great Britain would not be complete without a visit to England’s capital city, London. A major winter—or any season–entertainment for families with children is Madame Tussauds for the “ultimate celebrity experience” at the world’s most comprehensive and famous wax museum. Tussauds has several categories of collections including the Chamber of Horrors plus interactive, rousing shows that engage children of all ages. One such has been a replica of below-decks booming and smoking canon fire on Admiral Lord Nelson’s flagship The HMS Victory as it might have sounded through the acrid haze during its triumph at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Nelson’s overwhelming victory is permanently commemorated by his stone columned statue at Trafalgar Square in London. To see the actual HMS Victory, however, visit Portsmouth on the south coast of England where the intact flagship resides in dry dock. At any rate, what is another traditional family outing during winter in England? The theatrical Pantomime at Christmastime, of course! The Panto, as the British affectionately call it, depicts costumed characters from fairy tales who reenact episodes from the stories such as Jack and the Beanstalk; portrayals are enhanced with songs, dances, jokes and audience interaction—particularly popular with the children who boo the villains and cheer or applaud the heroes and heroines.
National Trust: Children Visit Beatrix Potter’s Hill Top House
Across the Atlantic, North America offers an extraordinary array of entertainments. For families that enjoy winter sports, Mouth Hood in Oregon provides ample opportunities for first-rate skiing and snowboarding at several sites. In addition, visitors may stay at its historic Timberline Lodge that was built of rugged stone and decorated with impressive carvings, tapestries, and paintings by local craftsmen in the 1930s. It has been featured in several films including The Shining, and customarily is hosted by a pair of friendly Saint Bernard dogs
Mount Hood Meadows, Oregon
Also of special interest to families with children in the U.S. is the Meramec Caverns in Missouri, where the Jesse James gang reputedly hid and possibly escaped by swimming beneath a subterranean pool. However, a tradition for many families with children in the U.S. is a visit to Disney World or Walt Disney Theme Parks in California, Florida, Texas, or Hawaii. Another popular attraction is Epcot Center in Orlando, Florida that refers to itself as a “Permanent World’s Fair,” which “celebrates technological innovation and international culture” with theme parks featuring international pavilions, technological displays, live shows, international cuisine, and fireworks displays. Another popular U.S. attraction is SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida; San Antonio, Texas; and San Diego, California. Combination packages are available to visit both Walt Disney World and SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida. Nonetheless, the most impressive sea world theme park is Chimelong Ocean Kingdom at Hengquin Island of Zhuhai City in south
China’s Guangdong Province. Just opened in 2014, it breaks the world records according to the Guinness Book of Records in five categories. ***Please allow me as author and animal welfare activist to express a disclaimer, as I do not endorse sea world theme park aquariums in any location in the world.
Meramec Caverns in Missouri
The 49th Parallel of North America is the demarcation of the boundary between the United States and the Provinces of Canada to the North. Canada as a founding member of the Commonwealth schedules several spectacular annual events including the prestigious Toronto International Film Festival and the Montreal International Jazz Festival. While in Toronto, families can enjoy culturally diverse areas known locally as Greek Town, Little India, and Korea Town. For the military-minded, the annual Quebec City Military Tattoo presents a musical pageant with vivid scarlet uniformed military personnel, bagpipes and drums, military brass bands, choreographic performances of dance, military drill teams, demonstrations, and spectacular media effects. Ontario attracts sightseers to Niagara Falls and its Casino Resort, while the Calgary Stampede in Ontario offers a taste of the Old Wild West with tournament style rodeos, parades, and agricultural shows culminating with world class musical performances, acrobatic shows, and fireworks displays. But a visit to Canada while in Ontario is not complete without a visit also to the national capital Ottawa with its historic Parliament building and the wintertime potential for public ice skating on the world’s largest skating rink when the Rideau Canal freezes. Before leaving Ottawa, the Canadian Museum of Civilization deserves a visit.
Calgary Stampede, Ontario, Canada
Quebec, Canada has a predominantly French-speaking population and is home of the appropriately French-named sun circus–Cirque du Soleil, which offers a variety of performances at 300 cities in more than 40 countries on six continents as well as a permanent show at Las Vegas in the U.S. It sets up in an ornately decorated tent called the Grand Chapiteau, which heralds the festive atmosphere to be provided by an international cast of exceptional performers in uniquely fanciful costumes. The spell-binding, specialized group performances conform to a story theme such as Mystère and Dralion. Acts include aerial displays, juggling, balancing, human pyramids, graceful contortions, and gymnastic clowns who encourage audience interaction all exquisitely choreographed to live music. For families interested in more scientific pursuits, Quebec is a leader in technology and contributed astronaut Marc Garneau to three NASA space shuttle missions. Garneau also served as president of the prestigious Canadian Space Agency in 2001-2006. On the sporting side of entertainments, ice hockey is an essential part of the culture and continues to be the national sport of Quebec that is well worth watching.
Dralion, Cirque du Soleil
Alternatively, other varied cultural pursuits can be enjoyed while visiting the Mediterranean area. On the West coast of the Mediterranean, Barcelona in Catalonia in northern Spain has also hosted the Cirque du Soleil. Traditionally, Spain is the home of the fiesta so it is no surprise that there are several such seasonal celebrations. It is customary for fiestas to include a flamenco performance provided by local women and girls with male guitar and voice accompaniment, stylized hand clapping, heel clicking, and shoe stomping. While in north eastern Spain, it is well worth also visiting the Casa Milà in Barcelona. One of the world’s most famous buildings, its unique architecture was designed by Antoni Gaudi and its fairytale-like intricacies will intrigue the children. Barcelona has a 2,000-year-old heritage with Gothic buildings but combines this with modern technology. It is home to the Fabra Observatory as well as the modern structure locally known as the Castle of Three Demons. The superb modernist Torre Agbar skyscraper tower marks the gateway to the new technological district of Barcelona. Spain is also noted for its wonderful sandy beaches bordering the sunny Mediterranean. Southward down the Mediterranean coast, there is a succession of sandy beaches ideal for swimming, sunbathing, and general relaxation at the Costa del Sol, Costa Brava, and Costa Blanca. For sightseeing, shopping, and cultural lore, clusters of vibrant villages have evocative names and mythologies such Benidorm (“good or safe sleep”). Local legend tells that its series of differently hued finca walls allow returning fishermen easily to distinguish their own homes, while dutifully displayed washing on the clotheslines strung from upper windows across streets indicates that their wives have been industrious. Most other fincas as well as the larger villas have whitewashed stucco walls with red clay tile roofs. All are decorated with brightly multicolored, patterned ceramic tiles and wrought iron balconies above cobblestone streets lined with purple bougainvillea and potted scarlet geraniums. The regular outdoor market stalls in the villages display an array of fresh produce, eggs, colorful garments, jewelry and trinkets for tourists. The Alicante region is also famous for its impressive Crema Marfil from the largest marble quarry in the world that is exciting to watch during excavations. Likewise, Spain’s Crema Valencia and Negro Emperador marbles are famous and an attraction for families considering their own home décor. Local roadside shops also sell marble and stone statues for homeowners’ landscaping choices. By contrast amid Spanish fincas with red terra cotta roofs, Islamic mosques with cobalt domes and cupolas rise above golden towers reflecting the Moorish influence at such places as Altea on the Costa Blanca stretch of coastline. Several miles south of that lies Gibraltar, the gateway to Casablanca and the rest of Morocco.
Altea at Night, Costa Blanca, Spain
For gastronomic treats, fresh fish is delivered daily from the Mediterranean and the traditional seafood, sausage, and saffron rice dish of paella is available throughout the countryside along with typically Spanish tappas and sweet pastries. Its capital city Madrid has some of the world’s most splendid national museums. The Museo Reina Sofia and the Museo del Prado house iconic masterpieces of oil painting by prestigious European and Spanish masters including Goya, Velasquez, and Picasso, while the Islamic Alhambra palace at Granada is adorned with intricate stone arabesques, ornately patterned ceramic tiles, and sparkling fountains. But don’t stop there, as south of Madrid is Castile-la Mancha where families can explore archeological sites and relics, watch craftspeople such as skilled ladies making lace by hand, enjoy reenactments of cultural and historical events, and see a variety of pageants.