When we travel, I try to find unique experiences that you can’t find in other locations. Alligator Alley, in Summerdale, Alabama, certainly fits the bill. You can’t go feed and hold alligators just anywhere. Summerdale, Alabama isn’t exactly a major metropolis, but it is within easy driving distance of Gulf Shores (about 30 minutes), Mobile (45 minutes), or Pensacola (< 1 hour) if you are vacationing in any of those places.
We visited Alligator Alley during the winter, which is not an ideal time. Alligators are less active when the temperature is cold. And it was rather cold that day. Nevertheless, it isn’t every day you can see alligators, so we visited anyway. Alligator Alley rescues alligators and has dozens of them, both big and small. The big ones sat there so still that you probably could have convinced me they were statues.
The major attraction at Alligator Alley is the feeding of these giant beasts, which happens three times a day.
Unfortunately for us, they don’t feed the alligators when the temperature is too cold, so we didn’t get to see it. My mother-in-law has seen the feeding and said it is really something to watch. However, there is a swamp area where you can feed other alligators. The food costs $4 a cup.
My only gripe with Alligator Alley is that I think $10 admission plus $4 for food is a steep price to pay when they aren’t doing the feeding demonstrations. The $10 admission would have been OK with me if they threw in a complimentary cup of food on days that are too cold for the feeding demonstrations. So, unless they change that policy, I would recommend waiting for a warm day if your schedule permits.
Wondering what you feed alligators? This sign tells you all the ingredients.
Once you’ve got your food, follow the path to the swamp.
Here are my kids at the entrance to the swamp with food in hand.
The swamp has a boardwalk with fences, making it a very safe way to view the alligators.
It took us a little while to find some hungry alligators, but once we did, we had great fun tossing food to them and watching them chomp it up.
Another alligator came up, giving the first alligator some competition for the food.
I just have to say it again. We really, really enjoyed this part! Even my 14-year-old son who wasn’t particularly crazy about this outing loved it. Here’s a close-up of one of the alligators.
The largest alligator at Alligator Alley is named Captain Crunch. He holds the world record for bite strength (2982 pounds), is 13 feet 2 inches long, and weighs over 800 pounds. He didn’t want to come say hello to us, so we were only able to read about him.
After that, we went to see the smaller, younger alligators. They were huddling together to keep warm.
The other really cool thing you can do at Alligator Alley is hold an alligator. The alligators they let you hold are about 3 years old. We were told that getting bit by one would feel like slamming your hand in a car door. But the strength of their bite is all in the chomping down, not in the opening back up of their jaw. So the staff members wrap the alligators mouths with electrical tape and that’s enough to keep their mouths shut while you hold them.
Usually I’m behind the camera, but I managed to get in front of it for a shot with a little alligator.
Here you can see a closer view of the mouth.
Do you think he’s cute and cuddly? My daughter seems to think so.
The gift shop sells lots and lots of different stuffed animal alligators. They also sell mounted alligator heads. I’m assuming these came from alligator farms that sell alligator meat. I’ve eaten Gator Bites before, but after looking at this cute little guy, I’m feeling a little guilty.
Have you ever pet or held an alligator? Tell us about it in the comments.
Ready to visit?
19500 Hwy 71
Open daily from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Children (4-12) -$8
Seniors (65+) -$8
Alligator food is $4 per cup
You might also be interested in Gulf Shores, Alabama, Mardi Gras Parades, or the National Naval Aviation Museum.
Looking for a gorgeous gorge? Head to McConnells Mill State Park in western Pennsylvania, about 40 miles north of Pittsburgh. This park showcases the Slippery Rock Creek Gorge, a National Natural Landmark. I grew up less than an hour from McConnells Mill and hadn’t been there since I was a kid and looked forward to bringing my kids there, knowing that they would love playing on the giant boulders in the valley floor. And I brought my parents along because, in his younger days, my dad was the skydiving, mountain climbing, spelunking, white water rafting type and I knew he’d love to show off the rugged beauty of this park to his grandchildren.
An obvious place to start your visit is the mill itself. Here you can see my daughters with my mom.
The first mill was built here in 1852, but was destroyed by fire. It was rebuilt in 1868 and purchased by Thomas McConnell in 1875. McConnell wanted the latest and greatest technology and replaced the waterwheel with water turbines and the grinding stones with one of the first rolling mills in the country. It became a state park in 1957.
The park offers tours of the mill, but unfortunately we were there on the wrong day of the week. The mill is open on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., with guided tours at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. You can get a glimpse of the dam in the picture above, but here’s a better view.
From the observation deck you can see that just upstream of the dam, the water was calm and like glass.
Downstream it becomes more rugged again.
Whitewater boating is permitted in the park, but boats are not available for rent within the park. The rapids range from Class II (Novice) to Class IV (Advanced), depending on the water level, so make sure you know what you’re doing if you want to go boating here.
Another interesting feature in the park is the covered bridge. It was built in 1874 and rehabilitated in 1998.
Near the covered bridge is the start of the Kildoo Trail, a 2-mile loop trail that goes down one side of Slippery Rock Creek and back on the other side. The first 400 yards on the east side of the creek is paved and is an easy hike.
Beyond that, this is a more difficult hike. My mom had just had her knee replaced and wasn’t up for the difficult part, so I hung out with her while my dad took the kids on the rest of the trail.
The scenery in the Slippery Rock Creek gorge is beautiful. There are lots of rocks to climb over and under.
If you are interested in learning more about the geology of this area, check out this guide booklet from the park bureau. Please be careful when hiking. Accidents have occurred in the park. The park also offers climbing and rappelling areas for serious climbers. Also, do not attempt to swim in the creek. If your kids want to swim, visit nearby Moraine State Park which has a lake with a swimming area.
The park has a total of 9 miles of trails. We didn’t visit the other areas of the park on this visit. I would really like to go back and hike the Hell’s Hollow trail to see the waterfall. Next time, we’ll be sure to go on a weekend, so that we can tour the mill too. Before we left, we enjoyed a picnic lunch in the Kildoo Picnic Area. It also has a playground for kids who do not get worn out enough on the trail.
Ready to Visit?
McConnells Mill State Park
2697 McConnells Mill Road
Portersville, PA 16051
Park is open sunrise to sunset, year round
Mill is open on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., with guided tours at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.
This attraction appears in my e-book, How to Visit All 50 States in 12 Trips.
If you like this, you might also be interested in Lost River Gorge and Boulder Caves in New Hampshire.
When you think about beautiful family friendly beach towns, cities in Wisconsin are probably not among the first places to pop into your mind. But keep reading, because perhaps Racine, Wisconsin deserves some consideration. Our most recent visit to North Beach was on a glorious summer day last July. Our approach to the beach was picture perfect. The blue water was beckoning me, but I made my husband pull over so I could get a picture.
Up a little closer, you can see that it is a popular summer hangout spot. But it wasn’t always this way. My husband grew up in Racine and said the beach was not very clean or nice when he was growing up. They’ve really done a lot of work to clean up the beach since then.
Since 2004 Racine’s North Beach has been certified by the Clean Beaches Council as a Blue Wave Beach, an environmental certification for beaches. Look closely at this next picture. If you had to guess what state it was in, I bet you wouldn’t guess Wisconsin. Am I right?
The beach is great for little kids because the water has a very long shallow section before it gets deep. Parents should note, though, that flotation devices are prohibited.
And the broad, sandy beach is a great place to build a sand castle. If you’ve read much of my blog, you’ve probably read that my kids love to build sand castles. Here’s one they built with their cousins:
From North Beach, you can see the Wind Point Lighthouse.
The beach has a very family friendly feel and there are lifeguards on duty. Pets and alcoholic beverages are prohibited on the beach.
But further back from the water, you’ll find a slightly different scene. The Beachside Oasis is also a happening place.
The Beachside Oasis often has live music.
There’s a snack bar with hot and cold treats.
And some adult beverages to wash down your food.
This building also houses restrooms, showers, and changing facilities. The oasis is also surrounded by palm trees.
There are also a couple of sand volleyball courts.
If you’ve got young kids, you’ll definitely want to check out the playground.
Kids Cove Playground is a community-built playground with a section for 5 to 12-year-olds and a Tot Lot for 2 to 5-year-olds.
There are also several swings, including handicap-accessible swings.
The City of Racine’s website says that North Beach Park also has a nature center and historical exhibit. We didn’t see them and I don’t know where they are located relative to the bathhouse, but we will have to look for them on our next visit.
Ready to Visit?
North Beach Park
1501 Michigan Blvd., Racine, WI 53402
Open for Memorial Day Weekend, then closed until the first weekend in June when it stays open through Labor Day.
Lifeguards on duty daily, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m
This post is part of Best of the USA at The Traveling Praters.
Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons: flickr.com/photos/rueful/5642129553/
Planning a road trip is a great way to spend time with the family, but keeping the kids occupied during the ride can be a challenge. And while portable DVD players, tablet computers and MP3 players can be helpful distractions, they can also isolate kids from everyone else in the car. Another way to pass the time is to listen and sing along to road trip songs. Everyone can be involved, and it’ll make the trip fly by. Here are a few suggestions for kid friendly songs to listen to on your family road trip.
Disney songs: Chances are your young children have a couple favorite Disney movies. Pick up the soundtracks to a few on CD and keep them in your vehicle for go-to road trip music. The goal of searching for kid friendly road trip songs is to find something that adults can enjoy too, and Disney movie soundtracks can often deliver. The songs are catchy and well-written without being too simple or childish. You may even experience some nostalgia from listening to classic Disney songs from your youth.
Classic children’s songs: You don’t necessarily need a recording to enjoy a road trip song. If you have very young children, sing-along songs like ‘The Wheels on the Bus,’ ‘London Bridge,’ ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ and other nursery rhymes will do when you can’t find a recording that everyone enjoys.
Adult friendly kid songs: A lot of children’s music is difficult for adults to listen to, but there are exceptions. A writer on travelmamas.com suggests Jack Johnson’s soundtrack from the movie Curious George, and the children’s album No! by They Might Be Giants. When one of your favorite adult music groups or artists writes an album of children’s songs, it can be a win-win for your next family road trip.
Movie soundtracks: Family bonding during a road trip is great, but sometimes it’s nice if the kids fall asleep for a few hours. Since movie soundtracks are meant to act as a background to scenes, they are often unobtrusive and soothing to listen to. Soundtracks to movies like Garden State can provide a relaxing mood that you’ll enjoy and will make your kids drift off to sleep. Just be careful not to nod off yourself.
Wherever your family road trip takes you, make sure you and your loved ones are protected. Take care of car maintenance checkups before leaving to reduce the chance of automotive trouble, and confirm that your auto insurance policy is up-to-date. You may want to compare car insurance quotes online for coverage options like roadside assistance or towing just in case you run into trouble during your family road trip.
Note: Sponsored content was created and provided by Nationwide Insurance.
This post is part of Travel Tips Tuesday at Suitcases and Sippy Cups.
I’ll admit it. I didn’t know much about the War of 1812. I’m not sure if my teachers didn’t cover it, or if I wasn’t paying attention, or if I knew it back then and have since forgotten it. So when we had the opportunity to visit River Raisin, the only National Battlefield Park from the War of 1812, I knew that it would be as educational for me as it was for my kids.
As you can see from the picture, the Visitor Center is not very large and looks more like a house. They do make good use of space and our education started before we even entered the building with these maps of the two battles at River Raisin.
Most National Park Visitor Centers offer an introductory film, which is where we usually like to start our visit. River Raisin offered something different. Inside their theater, instead of a film, there was a fiber optic map presentation. It was a very effective way to show the movement of troops. Parents with sensitive children will also appreciate that, although the battle and aftermath comprised a violent massacre, there is no depiction of violence. Just colorful little dots that light up. And at 14 minutes long, it fits within the attention span of most kids.
The museum displays include several life-size models depicting soldiers and volunteers on both sides of the war.
While these were interesting, I think my kids enjoyed the miniature dioramas even more. There’s something about miniatures that kids find fascinating.
Another exhibit compared weapons used by the British with those used by Americans.
I was pleasantly surprised at the relatively large number of programs for kids at this small national park.
River Raisin NBP has an adorable mascot, Major Muskrat, who appears in the activity books and at events. In addition to the typical Junior Ranger Program, River Raisin offers a Scavenger Hunt, and a Plant Discovery program that gets kids outside to identify plants outside the visitor center and in the gardens.
If you’d like to visit River Raisin, there’s an upcoming Open House that would be a great opportunity. Planned activities include games, musket drills for mini militia, storytelling, and more. The Open House is scheduled for Saturday, May 18, 2013, from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Ready to Visit?
River Raisin National Battlefield Park
1403 East Elm Ave.
Monroe, MI 48162
Open 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. daily