Wish You Were Here
Magazine Online    The Authority On African-American Conventions, Incentives, & Leisure Travel
Issue: July/August 2013
Family Friendly Destinations
By: Michael Bennett

Family-friendly destinations make up a huge segment of the travel market, especially for African-Americans who often take the kids along to their meetings and conventions and turn those outings into family vacations.  But family-friendly is not a one size fits all proposition. Families come in all different sizes and age differences. What’s family-friendly to one might not be so friendly to another.
The destinations below encapsulate all that we’ve come to expect of what is typically defined as family-friendly. We looked at hotel amenities, restaurants, amusement parks, interactive learning experiences, outdoors adventures, transportation and so much more.

One universal concern shared by families large and small is cost. You’ll see from our list that some locales are in high-cost urban areas. But don’t let that deter you, some tourist attractions in Washington DC are free. To offset the high cost of DC hotels try the Maryland or Virginia suburbs and use public transportation.  Rather than stay in a high-priced Manhattan property, Newark hotels are priced for the budget conscious and your just 15 minutes away from lower Manhattan, not to mention there’s lots to do in Newark, as you’ll see below.

If you can’t afford South Beach, no problem, move inland or try Ft Lauderdale and still soak up the Miami scene. Philadelphia is surprisingly affordable and family-friendly. The appeal of Birmingham, AL; Norfolk, VA; and Greensboro, NC is not only their affordability; but each has a plethora of amenities and attractions for the entire family.

BIRMINGHAM, AL
The 50th anniversary of key moments in the Civil Rights Movement is just one reason NBC’s Today show listed Birmingham as one of 2013’s hottest places to travel. The city has events scheduled throughout the year that brings the lessons of Civil Rights to a new generation and reminds older generations what they’ve accomplished and what still needs to be done.

For a look into the city’s Civil Rights history go to biriminghamal.org. There you will find links 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. You’ll find a complete list of 2013 Civil Rights events in the menu bar to the right under “Upcoming Events.”

If you prefer to get your information through social media, there is both a Facebook and Twitter page---on Facebook its “Facebook/50YearsForward” and on Twitter its “@50YearsForward.” But there’s more to Birmingham than Civil Rights. This most charming of Southern cities has great family-friendly attractions sure to fill up your days. Here’s a couple of places to start: The Birmingham Zoo, Alabama Adventure, McWane Science Center, Railroad Park, Red Mountain Park, Splash Adventure Waterpark, the Barber MotorSports Park and the world famous Talladega Motor Speedway.

For a little trendy shopping head to Riverchase Galleria, The Summit, The Shops of Grand River or the Five Points South shopping district. Birmingham, the self-dubbed home to “the Oscars of dining” has multiple James Beard Foundation Award winners and nominees. Visitors can experience everything from traditional “soul food” and Southern cuisine to eclectic dining options from around the world.

Birmingham is one of America’s top family reunion destinations. To plan a family reunion, go to www.birminghamal.org/reunions.

The Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex Center can accommodate virtually any kind of event across four separate buildings: Arena, Concert Hall, Theatre and Exhibition Hall. The Exhibition Hall has over 220,000 sq. ft. The facility has 60 meeting rooms – the largest can accommodate 1,950 people.

Offsite meeting venues include: the Birmingham International Center, the Birmingham Zoo and the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum. Birmingham has over 15,000 hotel rooms; the largest a 757-room Sheraton Birmingham Hotel.

Birminghamal.org
has more info on everything Birmingham.



MIAMI, FL
This tropical paradise is often thought of as an adult playground, and while that is true, it’s also a family-friendly destination second to none. The year-round warm weather and sandy beaches serve as a great playground for the entire family. There are beach games, boating, cycling and museum hopping opportunities.

Take the kids to Zoo Miami (formerly known as Miami Metrozoo), Jungle Island, Miami Children’s Museum or the beaches at Crandon Park on Key Biscayne or Matheson Hammock on the mainland. The kids would also enjoy time at Family Amusement Center and Gardens; Oleta River State Park, Everglades Safari Park, The Marjory Stoneman Douglass Biscayne Nature Center, Miami Seaquarium and Duck Tours South Beach.

If it’s a touch of African-American history you seek, your first stop should be Virginia Key Beach. This was the “colored only” beach prior to Civil Rights and features a 70-foot tunnel for miniature trains. The beach included a concession stand, bathhouse and an octagon shaped carousel house with three picnic pavilions. Both the miniature train and tunnel have been restored. The beach was added to the National Registry of Historic Places back in 2002. Other places of note for Black history buffs is the home of E.W.F. Stirrup, a Black pioneer who owned much of what is today Coconut Grove; and the Overtown home of D.A. Dorsey, Miami’s first Black millionaire.

The Haitian Heritage Museum and Little Havana are wonderful opportunities to expand your cultural horizons without leaving the city. For a little star gazing, Miami is home to numerous celebrities and hosts the African Black Film Festival each June.  Meeting and convention venues are plentiful. The Miami Beach Convention Center spans four city blocks with over one million sq. ft. of meeting space.

The Miami Convention Center has 34 meeting rooms, a 444-seat auditorium and a 117-seat lecture hall and can accommodate up to 5,000 people depending upon configuration. A third convention facility, the recently renovated Doubletree Hotel & Miami Airport Convention Center (MACC) adjacent to the airport features 172,000 sq. ft. of event or meeting space. A premiere location for social events, the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts offers theater or outdoor plaza venues than can accommodate up to 6,000 people.

From the famed Art Deco properties of South Beach to downtown, Miami has some of the best hotels in the world.

Visit miamiandthebeaches.come for more information.

PHILADELPHIA, PA
The Philadelphia region is a “kid’s kind of place” where history, horticulture, art, animals, gardens, galleries, tours and theme parks come together for a total family experience. Reading Terminal Market is the nation’s oldest continuously operated farmers’ market where you can dine on everything from a traditional Amish-style meal to an authentic Philadelphia cheesesteak.



Then head to the Historic District where you’ll find the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall and Carpenters’ Hall. The Independence Visitor Center is the exclusive pickup center for free tickets to Independence Hall and offers personalized trip planning services. The Historic District features the African American Museum. This museum celebrates and interprets African-American history and culture with a diverse collection of fine and folk art, photographs, memorabilia and costumes from the kingdoms of Africa to the present.

For kids seven and under, the Please Touch Museum is an interactive educational experience. For older kids the Franklin Institute is a premier science museum with a planetarium, IMAX movie theater and several exhibits. Visit the nation’s oldest zoo, the Philadelphia Zoo and checkout the Big Cat Falls exhibit and the Children’s Zoo and Treehouse.

A Philly Cheesestake is a must on any visit. Go to visitphilly.com and look under ‘Favorite Attractions’ for a list of top 10 places to indulge your Cheesestake fantasy. Other favorite attractions include: the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Valley Forge National Historic Park, Longwood Gardens, Adventure Aquarium and Eastern State Penitentiary.

Visitors will love the tax-free shopping opportunities at King of Prussia Mall or the high-end shops on Rittenhouse Row. The premiere meeting venue is the Pennsylvania Convention Center (PCC). Located in the heart of downtown Philadelphia. The PCC is a short, safe, scenic walk to approximately 10,000 hotel rooms and hundreds of restaurants, shops and cultural institutions. The PCC has over one million sq. ft. of saleable space, the largest ballroom on the East Coast and 82 meeting rooms.

Offsite venues in and around Philadelphia include the Chase Center on the River Front. Try XFinity Live! Philadelphia located in the heart of the South Philadelphia Sports Complex about 3.5 miles from the PCC. There are six unique venues within the Sports Complex to choose from. Why go to Atlantic City for gaming, when you can simply stop at one of Philly’s top attractions, the SugarHouse Casino, open 24-hours just 1.5 miles from the PCC. Learn all there is about Philadelphia at visitphilly.com or discoverphl.com.

NORFOLK, VA
It’s a city of boundless natural beauty featuring accessible waterways, lush parks, a beautiful beachfront and a temperate climate that has proven particularly attractive to families, boaters, golfers, outdoor enthusiasts and meeting planners.



Nauticus is an interactive, maritime-themed science center located on the downtown waterfront and features The Battleship Wisconsin and the Hampton Roads Naval Museum. Ocean View Beach Park is considered the crown jewel of Ocean View. This 6.5-acre beach park has lifeguards in the summer, a boardwalk, lots of open green space and a large band shell for presentations and outdoor concerts. During July and August it’s the “Thank Goodness Its Ocean View” Beach Music Concert series on Friday nights.

Norfolk Botanical Garden is a three-acre garden dedicated to families and children. There are interactive lessons and entertainment for all. Come prepared to get wet.  With 144 miles of coastline, a place surrounded by this much water is bound to offer tons of water activities. Try fishing, boating, jet skiing, water skiing and sailing. American Rover Tall Ship Cruises is just one of several companies offering local cruises. Carnival Cruise Lines has several 5-day sailings to the Bahamas aboard (i)Carnival Glory(ei) and a couple of 2-day cruises “To nowhere.”

For arts and entertainment, the Attucks Theatre should be on your itinerary. It is the oldest remaining legitimate theatre in the nation that was completely financed, designed, constructed and operated by African-Americans. Other arts and entertainment venues of note are the Chrysler Museum of Art and the L. Douglas Wilder Performing Arts Center.

The eclectic collection of eateries features delicacies from around the world – and if you’re a seafood lover, Norfolk is the place. Norfolk Food Tours offers four distinct tours: Granby St., Ghent, Ocean View and Dine Around. Each boasts a little something different to satisfy your palate. Norfolk has over 5,400 hotel rooms and over 263,000 sq. ft. of function space. The largest is the Norfolk Waterside Marriott and Waterside Convention Center with 405 rooms and 60,000 sq. ft. of meeting space.

Norfolk has at least one festival every month. Among the largest is the Norfolk Jazz Festival held each July. Other top festivals include the Bayoo Boogaloo Cajun Food Festival in June, the Virginia Arts Festival in April and the AT&T Spring Town Point Virginia Wine Festival in May. Visit norfolktoday.com to learn more about this jewel of family-friendly tourism.

GREENSBORO, NC
With 135 attractions, 500 restaurants and more than 87 accommodations to choose from, Greensboro is a gem among family-friendly destinations. Located in North Carolina’s Piedmont region between the Blue Ridge and Smokey Mountains, this city is a picture postcard waiting to happen. A recommended ‘Fun & Games for All’ itinerary starts with a stop at Celebration Station, a recreational and amusement facility with miniature golf, water bumper boats and go-carts. If you arrive between Memorial Day and Labor Day head to Wet’n Wild Emerald Pointe Water Park, the largest in the state with 36 water rides and attractions.



For more Fun & Games” try the ArtQuest – an art gallery for children. Or head to the Richard Petty Museum just South of Greensboro. Seagrove is a great place to experience traditional North Carolina pottery. There are museums galore in Greensboro including; the International Civil Rights Center and Museum, the Natural Science Center of Greensboro, Animal Discovery Zoological Park, and the Greensboro Children’s Museum.

An African-American Tour Itinerary starts with a stop at Guilford College campus, best known as a hiding place for runaway slaves in the days of the Underground Railroad. Then it’s off to historic downtown Greensborough and the famous F.W. Woolworth Store where four North Carolina A&T students staged a sit-in back in 1960 that served as a catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement. The site is now the aforementioned International Civil Rights Center and Museum.

Other notable places to include are the Greensboro Historical Museum, the Greensboro Cultural Center, the Charlotte Hawkins Brown Museum and University Galleries at North Carolina A&T State University. Greensboro is home to Sheraton Greensboro Hotel at Four Seasons/Joseph S. Koury Convention Center. The hotel features 1,000 rooms and the attached convention center offers 250,000 sq. ft. of meeting and convention space.

The Greensboro Coliseum Complex holds over 800 events annually. The Complex features 197,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, with a 167,000-sq. ft. Special Events Center that 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 state-of-the-art 23,500-seat Coliseum Arena and the adjacent 2,300-seat War Memorial Auditorium. This complex can be configured for small gatherings.  Greensboro is among the more popular destinations for family reunions and weddings using many of the regions parks, historic homes, inns, art galleries and museums.

To learn more about Greensboro online go to www.visitgreensboronc.com.

WASHINGTON DC

Over 18 million visitors descend on Washington DC annually. The reasons they come are many. As our nation’s capital, DC represents all that is America. If you define family-friendly as African-American heritage and history Washington DC is the place.



On any short list of places to visit: The Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial, the recently dedicated 7-foot tall statue of Frederick Douglass at the Capitol Visitor Center, the Lincoln Memorial, The Howard Theater, The Willard InterContinental Hotel where Dr. King polished his “I Have Dream” speech, and the African American Civil War Memorial. Also U Street is an area known between 1920s and 1950s as “Black Broadway.” In 2015, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture is scheduled to open on the National Mall.

Washington DC has an astounding array of diverse neighborhoods, Georgetown to Adams Morgan, Chinatown to the up and coming Atlas District on H Street, which has a host of quirky clubs for nighttime entertainment. Kids attractions are plentiful. Try the National Air and Space Museum, the National Museum of Natural History and the National Zoo featuring the famous pandas Mei Xiang and Tian Tian.

The Newseum is a great museum for those future journalists. Deliver a newscast in front of a green screen. Older kids and parents love the International Spy Museum and its interactive exhibits. This museum offers something called Spy in the City™ a new GPS-based interactive experience that allows visitors to embark on a series of self-guided outdoor missions using GPS technology. First time visitors to DC might want to take a guided tour by bus or trolley to get a lay of the land. Try the Old Town Trolley or the Open Top Sightseeing bus tours. Visitors can also see the city onboard Capitol River Cruises. There are also guided bike and Segway Tours.

Washington DC is the preeminent meeting destination in the United States and one of the top family reunion locales. The Walter E. Washington Convention Center is a 2.3 million-sq. ft. facility with 77 meeting rooms that is located between the historic Arts District/U Street/Shaw district and the revitalized Downtown/Penn Quarter/Chinatown district.

The city features over 30,000 hotel rooms with several thousand more in the surrounding area easily accessible by public transportation. Large offsite meeting venues include: Capital Hilton, National Press Club, Renaissance Washington DC and lots more. Visit Washington.org to begin your journey.

NEWARK, NJ
Located a mere eight miles from New York City, Newark is that family-friendly destination at an affordable price. The city is home to the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC), Newark Museum, lots of parks and outdoor recreation and the nation’s second busiest airport, Newark Liberty International.



The NJPAC is renown for its world-class events and contributions to the greater Newark and Northern New Jersey area. The NJPAC features music, comedy, film, jazz and dance from the world’s top celebrities. The 2013/2014 schedule includes performances by Smokey Robinson, Diana Ross, Sergio Mendes, Al Jarreau and Jeffery Osborne.

The American Song Series Showcase features Broadway stars Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin. For a little laugher Bill Cosby and Don Rickles are slated to perform throughout the NJPAC season. The NJPAC is available for corporate events and meetings. Send an email to theatersquareevents@njpac.org or call (973) 242-6000.

Newark’s top sports venue is the Prudential Center, known to many as “The Rock.” The facility is home to hockey’s New Jersey Devils and the WNBA’s New York Liberty and hosts over 200 concerts and events each year. Super Bowl 2014 will be held in nearby MetLife Stadium with many Super Bowl related events to be held at “The Rock,” and other Newark venues.

The Lincoln Park Music Festival is one of the city’s largest attended by over 40,000 annually. For shopping Newark’s Ironbound District is one of New Jersey’s top dining, sports and entertainment destinations with over 170 restaurants renowned for European and South American fare. The Outlet Collection – Jersey Garden is the state’s largest outlet mall just five minutes from Newark Airport.

Rather than go into New York City and pay the expense of a Manhattan meeting venue or hotel room, try some of the properties located at Newark Airport. The Newark Liberty Marriott has 591 rooms and 13,000 sq. ft. of banquet and meeting space and 19 meeting rooms.  The Renaissance Newark Airport Hotel is located just one mile from the airport and boasts the most meeting space in the area at 17,000 sq. ft. and 397 rooms.

The Path Subway Trains can take you from Newark to lower Manhattan in just 15 minutes. Path trains run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and is the best option for trips back and forth to New York City. Another transportation option from the airport to downtown Newark is an AirTrain to NJ Transit. These AirTrains stop at all terminals and run 24/7. To learn more about Newark click GoNewark.com.

All the destinations listed above have common threads and themes that ooze family-friendly. Some parents put a premium on including education as part of the total experience and these destinations certainly have plenty of museums and cultural events for your participation. Every city has a kid-friendly hotel property with kitchens to save you a few bucks.

But everything can’t be about the kids. After all, what’s a vacation if you can’t take a few minutes out for some well-needed rest and relaxation of your own? From Miami to Philadelphia and all destinations in between, each has plenty of adult entertainment options from quaint romantic restaurants with world-class cuisine to nightlife, spas and golf.

In keeping with the African-American tradition of combing meetings and conventions with family vacations, check with hotel properties and event organizers for babysitting services; you’d be surprise what you might uncover. Also, many of the CVBs have contacts with licensed babysitting services so you too can have a vacation.
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