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21 Delightfully Weird Family Vacations. Skip the beach and hit the bug petting zoo! The Babble List, on Babble.com.?

20 Unique Family Vacations

Travel spots for the unconventional family by Christina Couch

June 25, 2009

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Tired of ho-hum beaches and less-than-thrilling children’s museums? These family-friendly vacation spots are weird, wonderful and anything but ordinary. – Christina Couch

21. Foamhenge, Natural Bridge, Virginia

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Our kids may not be able to comprehend the true weirdness of an exact replica of mysterious prehistoric stones made out of foam located in rural Virginia, but they’re sure to have a blast at the site’s annual medieval Enchantment Faire. Kicking off September 6th and 7th, this year’s Enchantment Faire will feature costume fairies, a unicorn-themed ring toss, a sheep-throwing competition (thankfully without live animals) and peddlers hawking medieval wares. Get ready to geek out. Admission is $5.

20. A.C. Gilbert’s Discovery Village, Salem, Oregon

20.jpgWorld’s largest Erector set: check. Dig for prehistoric mammoth bones: check, Step inside a giant animal cell: check. All in a day’s work in A.C. Gilbert’s stranger-than-strange backyard. Half children’s museum, half playground, Discovery Village is home to the country’s only child-sized grocery store, a room dedicated exclusively to bubble-making, and a room that lets kids freeze and manipulate their own shadows. Admission is $5.75.

19. Rockome Gardens, Arcola, Illinois

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Why hit the beach this summer when you can play tic-tac-toe with a live chicken? Located approximately three hours south of Chicago in the heart of Amish country, this children’s park and historical re-enactment town features Ben Franklin impersonators, WWII re-enactments (complete with tanks!) and a horse-powered saw mill children can ride. Tickets are $8 for adults, $4 for kids under twelve.

18. Wizard Quest, Wisconsin Dells

18.jpgCynical parents who enter these doors may not be able to keep a straight face. Located in a 13,000-square-foot climbable labyrinth (known in the game as the “Quadrasphere”), Wizard Quest is essentially a 4-D computer game that presents children with questions and riddles (spoken from the lips of dragons of course), the correct answers of which release imprisoned wizards . . . naturally. Packed with secret passages, animatronic sorcerers and a mysterious “Gnome Depot” (no idea what happens there), Wizard Quest will be equally enjoyable for kids and snarky adults. Tickets are $13 for adults, $11 for kids.

17. RoboWorld, Carnegie Science Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

17.jpgPrepare your human offspring for the robot revolution by showing them the largest permanent robot-themed exhibit in the world. Led by Andy, a socially interactive “Robo-Thespian,” RoboWorld features hockeybots, artificial intelligence bots, lunar rovers, computerized foosball tables, service bots and mechanical men that create art. Kids will have the chance to play b-ball against a robot. Parents will learn how close we are to a machine takeover. Tickets are $14.

16. City Museum, St. Louis

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A fantasy come true for adventurous kids, a nightmare for overprotective parents, City Museum is half novelty museum (featuring oddities such as the world’s oldest corn dog and the world’s largest pair of underwear), half dream playground. With hands-on attractions including walls with secret passageways, an indoor skateless skate park where kids swing from ramp to ramp with overhead ropes, an outdoor playground comprised of mesh wire tubes suspended twenty-five feet in the air, and a bar for stressed-out parents, City Museum is both totally awesome and completely terrifying. On weekend nights after ten, City Museum shuts off the lights and hands out flashlights. Kids and adults can climb around suspended cave-like structures in the dark until 1 a.m. Admission is $12, $10 after 5 p.m. on weekends.

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20 Unique Family Vacations

Travel spots for the unconventional family by Christina Couch

June 25, 2009

6

15. Insectropolis, Toms River, New Jersey

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Many zoos and museums offer insect exhibits, but only one combines the beauty of bugs with the terror of prison. At Insectropolis’ Rock State Prison (one of 12 permanent exhibits), children learn first-hand just how many bugs out there can kill them. Divided into categories like “Six-Armed Bandits” and “Mass Murderers,” the exhibit presents kids with dossiers of villain bugs, as well as the good-guy bugs that “police our world and keep the villains in check.” The upside to surviving Rock State Prison is that it makes Insectropolis’ bug petting zoo (featuring Rosie the Touchable Tarantula) a little less scary. Tickets are $7.

14. Museum of Questionable Medical Devices, St. Paul, Minnesota

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Located within the Science Museum of Minnesota, this collection pays homage to medical forms of fraud, quackery, deception and deceit. Featuring devices ranging from the Foot-Powered Breast Enlarger to the McGregor Rejuvenator, a contraption that used magnetism, UV and infrared rays to supposedly reverse the aging process, this hands-on collection allows kids to try on fake medical equipment and take pot shots at past generations. Tickets are $11 for adults, $8.50 for kids.

13. Metropolis, Illinois

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Sure, there hasn’t been a good Superman movie since the ’80s, but that hasn’t stopped the citizens of Metropolis – the only town in the world dedicated to the Man of Steel – from placing a fifteen-foot statue of the superhero in the middle of town, as well as a Super Museum. Metropolis’ Superman Celebration 2009 (June 11th through 14th, 2009), the largest Superman-themed event in the country, will feature an array of comic book authors, celebrity guests, a Superman Fan baseball game (Metropolis Marvels vs. Smallville Meteors), video and musical tributes and not one, but several Superman-themed game shows.

12. Aircraft Boneyard, Tucson, Arizona

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Located literally around the Pima Air and Space Museum on the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, the 309 Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group – better known as the Aircraft Bone Yard – features seventy-five acres of aircrafts and aerospace vehicles currently being reserviced, regenerated or stripped for parts by the U.S. Air Force. The three to four-hour “Boneyard Tour” takes families through 4,400 piloted machines from the Air Force, Navy-Marine Corps, Army, Coast Guard and NASA. Tickets for the Pima Museum are $15 for adults, $9 for kids ages seven to twelve. Boneyard tour tickets are $7 per person.

11. International UFO Museum and Research Center,

Roswell, New Mexico

11.jpgDedicated to all things alien, this tiny museum explores what happened in the 1947 Roswell UFO incident, as well as the history of “human contact with aliens,” including crop circles and testimony from UFO abductees. The on-site research library lets future alien hunters dig deeper into the paranormal. Tickets are $5 for adults, $2 for kids.

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20 Unique Family Vacations

Travel spots for the unconventional family by Christina Couch

June 25, 2009

6

10. Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum, Farmington Hills, Michigan

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Admission is free, but bring some change. With 5,500 square-feet of coin-operated heaven, Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum is the alpha and omega of arcades. Machines date back to the early 1900s. The highlight is a fifty-five-piece mechanical orchestra that still plays over 300 songs, but other winners are the old-timey gypsy fortune tellers and an electric chair supposedly from Sing-Sing prison.

9. International Spy Museum, Washington D.C.

9.jpgThe first and only public museum in the United States solely dedicated to espionage, the International Spy Museum is paradise for James Bond wannabes. While the museum exhibits are undeniably cool – think everything from ninjas to Cold War-era satellites – the real highlight is the scavenger hunts, kid-friendly spy missions, speakers and workshops designed to give first-hand accounts of how it feels to live the spy life. Adult tickets are $18, kids are $15.

8. Dinosaur Ridge, Morrison, Colorado

8.jpgIf sifting soil in search of the decayed remains of dead creatures doesn’t turn your stomach, have we got a spot for you. Home to some of the best-known dinos, including Apatosaurus, Diplodocus, Stegosaurus, and Allosaurus, Dinosaur Ridge lets kids “examine Cretaceous crime scenes” in the on-site Dig Pit. Admission is free, tours are $3 per person.

7. Salem Witch Museum, Salem, Massachusetts

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Even looking past all the torture and death, the Salem Witch Museum (located in a creepy, gothic castle-like structure) is still kind of scary. Children eager to learn about that time in history when our country burned women for no discernable reason will be delighted/terrified by the museum’s theatrical presentations and their life-size mannequins. The current “Witches: Evolving Perceptions” exhibit focuses less on people-burning and more on modern-day witchcraft. Adult tickets are $8, children’s are $5.50.

6. Trash-o-saurus, Stratford, Connecticut

6.jpgLocated in the Museum of Garbage (one of two museums in Connecticut dedicated to refuse), this one-ton, twenty-foot dinosaur is made of the same amount of garbage the average consumer creates each year. In addition to extinct creatures made from waste, the museum also offers hands-on exhibits and family workshops that promote green living. Admission is $2 per person, but possibly not for long. The museum is in danger of closing due to lack of funding.

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20 Unique Family Vacations

Travel spots for the unconventional family by Christina Couch

June 25, 2009

6

5. Creation Museum, Petersburg, Kentucky

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What’s surprising about this Bible-centric museum/petting zoo is how many dinosaurs are roaming about. On top of permanent exhibits that focus on natural selection, the construction of Noah’s Ark and the Garden of Eden, the museum also hosts daily family-friendly presentations on topics like “Snakes Alive! (a look at reptiles from God’s perspective)” and “Four Power Questions to Ask an Evolutionist.” Whether you agree or not with the politics behind Creation Museum, it’s still one of the only sites in the country that features a live zebra-donkey hybrid. Long live the zonkey. $22 for adults, $12 for kids.

4. Winchester Mystery House, San Jose, California

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All the charm of a Victorian mansion combined with all the whimsy of Pee Wee’s Playhouse. According to legend (and the web site), the former owner of this 160-room mansion kept carpenters working round the clock for thirty-eight years in an effort to stave off evil spirits. Whether or not the plan worked, Winchester Mystery House is an architectural marvel packed with functionless features including windows buried in floorboards, stairs that lead nowhere and doors that open to blank walls. $26 for adults, $23 for children or $23 for a behind-the-scenes tour (hardhat required).

3. Craters of the Moon, Arco, Idaho

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A national park roughly the size of Rhode Island, Craters of the Moon was a bed of molten lava just 2,000 years ago. Today the site, made predominantly of crusted lava, looks almost post-apocalpytic. It’s peppered with underground caves (called lava tubes), and is a guaranteed geek freakout for young scientists. Admission is $8 per vehicle, $4 for those on bikes, motorcycles or on foot, free for ages 15 and under.

2. Santa Claus, Indiana

2.jpgChristmas only comes once a year everywhere except for Santa Claus, Indiana. Home to the Santa Claus Museum, Santa’s Lodge motel and Santa’s Candy Castle – a sweets shop that not only sells confections, but also personalized phone calls from Santa year-round – Santa Claus also receives over half a million letters each year addressed to St. Nick himself. The biggest attraction in town is Holiday World and Splash Safari, a Christmas-Halloween-Thanksgiving-all-rolled-into-one themed amusement park that vastly overshadows Frosty’s Fun Center, the Christmas-themed mini-golf course just a few minutes away.

1. Professor Cline’s Dinosaur Kingdom, Natural Bridge, Virginia

1.jpgWhat would have happened if Union troops had used dinosaurs as weapons of mass destruction against the South? It’s a question historians have pondered for ages. Thankfully, one outdoor sculpture park in nowheresville, Virginia, is dedicated to solving the mystery. Featuring sculptures of life-sized dinos attacking old-timey soldiers (an excellent sepia-toned photo is available here), Professor Cline’s Dinosaur Kingdom and adjacent Haunted Monster Museum (featuring “no scare” tours for kids) is well worth the $8 ticket ($5 for kids).

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