Wish You Were Here
Magazine Online    The Authority On African-American Conventions, Incentives, & Leisure Travel
Issue: July/August 2011
Family Friendly Destinations
By: Anthony Clark
What makes a destination family-friendly? Is it the cost or the availability of attractions and activities? How about the culture of a community? By that I mean is it a community that cherishes education, museums and the arts.

Do the hotels and motels have resources on the property or provide easy access to resources off property. Are there all-inclusive packages that combine travel, food, lodging and attractions?
As a publication with a focus on meetings and conventions what about convention services that have activities for children while their parent/s attend a seminar or other event?

Here’s a few more to add to the list. How about reputable babysitting services? Is it a safe destination or one plagued by a high crime rate? Can your kids make new friends? Some kids love strenuous activity. Are there places to swim, horseback ride, or some other high-energy sporting activity?

This list of attributes for what family-friendly truly mean is endless and is often a moving target depending upon the age and number of children, whether they are headed by a single-parent or come from blended households with multiple interests. But there are common threads among all family-friendly destinations that combine many of the elements listed above. Below is a short preview of several family-friendly destinations.



BIRMINGHAM, AL

For visitors the world over, especially African-Americans, the mere mention of Birmingham evokes emotion like no other city in America because of its long history with the Civil Rights Movement. These emotions, both positive and negative are exactly why we recommended Birmingham as one of America’s top family-friendly destinations.

It’s a chance to learn, and share in a cultural and historical experience that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the United States. The transformation in just 50 short years is nothing short of miraculous and one of which the city is immensely proud. This renaissance serves as a reminder of what is possible when people have good intentions. To follow Birmingham’s Civil Rights history, go to biriminghamal.org and click on the “Civil Rights” link. There you will find links and suggested itinerary to all of the prominent Civil Rights locales within the city from Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, Kelly Ingram Park, the Fourth Avenue Business District and the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame.

But there’s more to Birmingham than Civil Rights. The words “southern charm and hospitality” are often tossed around to describe many cities in the South, but those words take on added significance and are a true reflection of what this community is all about.



Birmingham is a city with a little of everything from dining and shopping, to sports and recreation and everything in between. Looking for places to include on your itinerary? Try the Birmingham Zoo, Alabama Adventure, Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, Riverchase Galleria, McWane Science Center, the Barber MotorSports Park and the world famous Talladega Motor Speedway.

Birmingham consistently ranks among America’s most affordable destinations for residents and visitors alike. That affordability is one of the reasons Birmingham has established itself as one of the top family reunion destinations in the country.



The convention and visitors bureau has dedicated a page on their website to assist those planning a family reunion at www.birminghamal.org/planareuntion.html.

The combination of affordability, product offering and accessibility is what draws meeting planners to Birmingham. The Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex Center can accommodate virtually any kind of event across four separate buildings: Arena, Concert Hall, Theatre and Exhibition Hall and also includes a large central piazza for outdoor events. The Exhibition Hall has over 220,000 sq. ft. The facility has 60 meeting rooms — the largest can accommodate 1,950 people.

There are several other places to conduct meetings including the Birmingham International Center, the Birmingham Zoo and the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum at Barber Motorsports Park to name a few. In total there are 14,000 hotel rooms in the greater Birmingham area with the largest the 757-room Sheraton Birmingham Hotel. Many of the larger properties have their own meeting facilities. Birmingham has direct flights to 50 cities including nine of the top 10 markets in the United States.

CLEVELAND, OH
Nestled along the shores of Lake Erie, is Cleveland, OH. Cleveland is a destination that has more to offer than meets the eye. Whether it’s a meeting destination you seek or a place to take the family for vacation or both, Cleveland should be on any short list. Music plays a great part in the cultural experience of the city. Cleveland is home to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. This 150,000-sq. ft. museum features seven floors, five theaters for films, special events, free public programs and ever-changing events. For kids, this is a great place to check out music even your parents didn’t understand. Children under eight are free with adult admission.



At press time there were 619 people inducted into the Hall of Fame ranging from Michael Jackson and Run DMC to Curtis Mayfield and Bobby Womack. Two great places for the entire family is the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo and The RainForest featuring 3,000 animals from six continents. New to the zoo this year is African Elephant Crossing. Slated to open in late 2011 is the Greater Cleveland Aquarium. When complete the aquarium will feature 70,000 sq. ft. of exhibits including a one million gallon water and SeaTube® — an exciting underwater walk-through adventure.

For some indoor activities try the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Great Lakes Science Center or take the one-hour drive south to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, OH. Clevelanders love their sports and have professional teams in all the major sports. With good timing you might catch a game featuring the Browns (NFL), Cavaliers (NBA) or Indians (MLB). And as you might imagine in an area with this much water there are some great fishing opportunities and water sports activities. There are Jet Ski, kayak and boat rental companies and several fishing boat charter companies to help you land the big catch. Also try a lake or river cruise at sunset to take in the views of the city.



If your travels take you to Cleveland during the winter try tobogganing, sledding, cross-country and downhill snow skiing at one of the many venues through the area. There are several day trips you might want to add to your itinerary such as an excursion to the Amish Country or a pleasure trip to experience wine tasting and golf. On the meetings and conventions front there’s good news for Cleveland as earlier this year ground was broken on the Cleveland Medical Mart and Convention Center. Scheduled to be completed in 2013, the Center will include a 100,000-sq. ft. mart and an adjoining 230,000-sq. ft. exhibit hall. The facility will also include 92,000 sq. ft. dedicated to a Grand Ballroom with picturesque views of Lake Erie. This is the world’s only facility specifically targeted to the medical and healthcare industries.

Other large venues include the Quickens Loan Arena, home of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers. This facility is available for luncheons, cocktail receptions, meetings or other special events. The Cleveland Convention Center is a multi-purpose performing arts/entertainment and exhibition center downtown. This facility has 15 meeting rooms that can hold up to 700 people. The greater Cleveland area has over 22,000 hotel rooms with 4,000 of those in the downtown area near the convention center and 3,100 near the airport. Many of the larger properties such as the 491-room Renaissance Cleveland Hotel have decent size meeting space on site.



For more information go to www.positivelycleveland.com.

GREENSBORO, NC
Greensboro is located in North Carolina’s Piedmont region situated between the Blue Ridge and Smokey Mountains to the west and that Atlantic Ocean to the east. It is one of the most picturesque cities in the country. Overlooking Greensboro, as a family-friendly vacation destination or meetings and convention locale would be a huge mistake.



The Greensboro Coliseum Complex is one of the best facilities in the country designed for maximum flexibility. This complex holds over 800 events each year. That equals out to two a day. The 167,000-sq. ft. Special Events Center can be partitioned into four halls leaving 60,000 sq. ft. for exhibits and 4,500 seats for general setup for group sessions or entertainment.

Meeting planners could also choose the 23,500-seat Coliseum Arena and the adjacent 2,300-seat War Memorial Auditorium. This complex can also be configured for small intimate gatherings. These large venues have some of the best state-of-the-art technology in the country. Greensboro is also home to Sheraton Greensboro Hotel at Four Seasons/Joseph S. Koury Convention Center. The hotel features 990-rooms and the attached convention center has approximately 250,000 sq. ft. of meeting and convention space. Nearby are another 88 properties with thousands of additional rooms.



The tourism products are a wonderful blend of history, culture, recreation and sports. Students of history might remember the F.W. Woolworth Company, where four college students from nearby North Carolina A&T University staged a sit-in and were refused service. The Greensboro sit-in on February 1, 1960 served as a catalyst for many to join the Civil Rights Movement.

The Charlotte Hawkins Brown Museum at Historic Palmer Memorial Institute is the only state-supported sight to honor a woman and one of the first to honor an African-American. This site is the former Palmer Memorial Institute, an African-American preparatory school established in 1902. There are museums galore in Greensboro including the International Civil Rights Center and Museum and the Natural Science Center of Greensboro and Animal Discovery Zoological Park. Also stop by the Greensboro Children’s Museum. The museum is a hands-on interactive museum for kids up to the age of 10.



North Carolina has long been known as the cradle of college basketball. But there’s more to the region than basketball. On March 2, 2011, Greensboro celebrated the opening of the ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference) Hall of Champions and its 58-year history. It’s a proud moment for the region and Greensboro has the honor of beings its home. There are campgrounds, performing arts and theatre and more festivals than we can count all designed with the family in mind. Greensboro is also among the more popular destinations for family reunions and weddings using man of the regions parks, historic homes, inns, art galleries and museums.

For information log on to www.visitgreensboronc.com.

KALAHARI RESORTS
Nothing says family-friendly and meeting-friendly better than Kalahari Resorts. There are actually two resorts, one in Sandusky, OH about 65 miles west of Cleveland on Lake Erie. The other resort is in Wisconsin Dells, WI, about 120 miles northwest of Milwaukee or 60 miles north of the state capital of Madison.



Each property has convention facilities of over 100,000 sq. ft. ranging from elite executive boardrooms to 17,000 plus-sq. ft. ballrooms. The facilities are used for annual conventions, product launches, family reunions, retreats and weddings. And there is some good news on the horizon for meeting planners, as the Kalahari Convention Center in Ohio will soon double in size to 215,000 sq. ft. This expansion is expected to be complete in December 2011.

After those meetings try a spa treatment, golf, the fitness center, or hands-on-painting to remove the stress of the day. If you need a babysitter while you attend a meeting or a place for older children to have some fun no problem, Kalahari will handle all the arrangements. For family entertainment the Wisconsin property has three theme parks to choose from. The Kalahari Indoor Theme Park features over 100,000 sq. ft. of fun that includes a Ferris wheel, go-carts and bowling.



The family can also spend the day at Wisconsin’s largest indoor waterpark with 125,000 sq. ft. of wet and wild fun. Visitors can surf or boogie board the Flow River®, experience the thrill of the Master Blaster uphill water rollercoaster or enjoy a family raft ride, whirlpool or a huge wave pool. If you prefer the great outdoors for your water activities try the Zambezi Outdoor Waterpark featuring the Splashdown Safari interactive play area. This park usually opens Memorial Day and closes on Labor Day.

The Ohio property features the Safari Outdoor Adventure Park with zip line tours, ropes courses and rock climbing. It also features a 173,000-sq. ft. indoor water parks, one of the largest in the world and an outdoor water park with sand, volleyball and more. Kalahari Ohio has 900 African-themed rooms that sleep from two to six per room or Family Suites that can hold up to eight. The Wisconsin property has 750 rooms with all the same amenities as the Ohio location. The Kalahari properties are constantly running special rates for the family. Log on to www.kalahariresorts.com and click on the “Specials and Packages” link for details. Meetings planners should click on the “Conventions” link for details and assistance to plan your next group gathering.



TORONTO

Most of you would be amazed at what you find north of the border in Toronto. It’s one of the trendiest cities in the Western Hemisphere with a cosmopolitan feel that rivals any major city in the United States all while maintaining its family-friendly charm. It is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world, which brings the added benefit of a great cultural experience. Toronto is the cultural, entertainment and financial capital of Canada and welcomes over 16 million tourists a year. This city has everything you would expect to find in any large American city with outstanding restaurants, arts, entertainment and sports — in fact, sports tourism is big business in Toronto.



One of the top attractions is Canada’s Wonderland, the premiere amusement park in the country with over 200 attractions and 65 thrilling rides including North America’s greatest variety of roller coasters and Splash Works, a 20-acre water park. The park usually opens in May and closes in October. If you’re really into amusement parks you might also want to visit Centreville Amusement Park Ontario Place and NASCAR SpeedPark.

For the sports fans among you Toronto has all four major North American sports and its home to the Hockey Hall of Fame. There are more golf courses per capita than any place in the world. Outdoor activities are in abundance in Toronto. Take a trip to Riverdale Farm, the only farm remaining in Toronto. For recreational activities try cycling in High Park, The Beaches or Toronto Island — a 10-minute ferry ride from mainland Toronto. During the winter months Nathan Phillips Square turns into an outdoor ice skating rink.

You can also ice skate for free at Toronto’s City Hall or HarbourFront Centre. Both sites have onsite skate rentals, music and lots of hot chocolate. One of the best zoos in all of North American is the Toronto Zoo. This zoo has over 5,000 animals representing some 500 species. Within the park is Zellers Discovery Zone featuring a Kids Zoo, interactive children’s wildlife experience and Splash Island, a 2-acre water play area. Visitors to the zoo should check before arriving as many of the activities are subject to change.



From museums to events such as the Beaches International Jazz Festival, to wineries and Breweries, outstanding restaurants and spas Toronto lacks for nothing when it comes to entertaining visitors. It’s never been easier to blend family-friendly entertainment with any meeting or convention. Many unfamiliar with Toronto might be tempted to think of it as primarily a cold weather destination. Toronto’s latitude is very close to that of Northern California giving the region a surprisingly moderate climate.

Toronto has become a top meetings destination for international groups, associations and tradeshows, with many of those organizations based right here in the U.S. The city is within 90-minutes of 60 percent of the U.S. population; with 8,000 restaurants and 38,000 hotel rooms.  With 2.5 million sq. ft. of exhibition halls and convention facilities the city can handle a gathering of any size. The largest venues are the Direct Energy Centre with over 1 million sq. ft. of flexible meeting space and depending on configuration can hold up to 15,000 people. Three other large venues are the International Centre with over 500,000 sq. ft., the Toronto Congress Center with over one million sq. ft., and the Metro Toronto Convention Centre with over 600,000 sq. ft.



African-American conventions are no stranger to Toronto. They recently hosted the National Association of Black Engineers and the National Coalition of Black meeting Planners, and are slated to host the National Medical Association in 2013. All visitors are required to have a passport regardless of how you arrive.

If you are interested in learning more about this great city go to seetorontonow.com.

Destinations are more responsive than ever to the needs of family and have tailored much of their products to this growing demand. In today’s tough economic climate workers often can’t afford a vacation that involves significant travel as in previous generations.  There is also the element of time, as the workforce has become more demanding further hindering the ability of families to spend quality time together.

What’s the solution? Take the kids with you on your next meeting or convention and turn that time into a vacation. Who says you have to make a choice between family and work? The beauty of all these destinations is the scope of age appropriate offerings at reasonable prices for the entire family. From theme parks to museums, water sports to festivals there is a little something for everyone.
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