Archive for the ‘Kids Stuff’ Category

Extraordinary Event: RoboGames Gives You The Chance To Say “Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto”

April 23, 2010

RoboGames Domo Arigato Mr RobotoFor those of us who grew up on sci-fi movies and television shows like Forbidden Planet and Lost In Space, the idea of a world full of robots seems like some far-off fantasy.  Which is precisely why this weekend’s RoboGames—a three-day event certified by the Guinness Book of World Records as the planet’s largest open robotics competition—seems like such an extraordinary experience.

This six-year-old San Francisco-area geek-fest features the highly imaginative creations of individuals and teams from more than 20 countries, competing in dozens of events ranging from soccer to sumo.  The stars of the show, of course, are the battling bots that come in sizes from 5.3 ounces to 340 pounds.  But there’s a more civilized side to the event as well, including robots who make music and mix a mean cocktail.  There’s even a chance to meet techie celebrities, including MythBusters wiz-kid Grant Imahara.RoboGames robotics competition

For an entertaining look at what to expect, check out CNet’s great RoboGames audio slideshow.  And if you go, remember to say thanks—or should we say domo arigato—to all the automatons you meet.


Shuttle Launch Sideshow: The Next Best Thing To Blast-Off

Spain’s La Tomatina Festival


Cool Camps (Part 1): 7 Summer Camps So Fun They’ll Make You Wish You Were A Kid Again

March 31, 2010

There are more than 12,000 summer camp programs in the U.S.  Most of which are designed to fill their campers’ days with activities that haven’t changed much in decades.

Summer camp culinary skillsThe seven summer camp programs featured below are another story altogether.  While their themes run the gamut from filmmaking to fine cuisine, the one thing they all have in common—other than the fact that a lot of adults will wish they could sign up—is the fact that they offer kids a chance to actually live out the kind of extraordinary experiences they thought were only possible in movies, TV, and video games:

Feel The Force

This three-day Jedi Experience, held in conjunction with a traveling Star Wars exhibit, gives younglings a chance to learn the ways of the Jedi, build their own lightsaber, and more.

The Big Boom

Older teens can have a blast at this Summer Explosives Camp designed to introduce them to university degree programs that will allow them to blow stuff up for a living.

Rock The House

These week-long Power Chord Academy camps give young rockers a chance to write songs, perform on stage, lay down studio tracks, and even star in their own music video.summer camp rock band

Lights, Camera, Action!

Aspiring filmmakers attending Pali Adventures’ Film Institute will get the chance to write, direct, shoot, edit, and premiere their own short-feature.

Fashion Designer Dreams

Teen fashionistas will flip over these five-day FashionCampNYC programs that let them experience all aspects of the fashion business, from working for style magazines to designing for the runway.

Now You’re Cookin’!

When the budding gourmets attending the Kids Culinary Summer Camp of Vermont aren’t learning serious kitchen skills, they’re off enjoying tasty field trips to local bakeries, cheesemakers, and restaurants.

Burn Rubber Baby

summer camp motorsportsThose video arcade driving games will look like child’s play once kids have the chance to spend time behind the steering wheels of Camp Motorsports’ scaled-down race cars and dune buggies.

For a seemingly endless list of other interesting summer camps for kids, check out MySummerCamps.comAnd tune in next time for a rundown of grown-up camps that prove kids don’t always have all the fun!


Civil War Adventure Camp

Rock-n-Roll Fantasy Camp

Magic Man: 2 Places Where The Spirit of Houdini Lives!

March 24, 2010

Trolling around the internet last week, I noticed that today is Harry Houdini’s birthday.  Which got me thinking about the state of “magic” in our culture and science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke’s famous quote:

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

In an era of computer-generated trickery ranging from software-doctored photos in magazines to entire computer-generated worlds in movies like Avatar, the idea of someone performing old-school prestidigitation seems almost quaint.  Just the same, anyone who’s ever been wowed by updated versions of these traditional magic acts as performed by the likes of David Blaine or Penn & Teller understands that there’s some part of the human psyche that truly enjoys the experience of being mystified by illusions so finely crafted and deftly executed that the word magic definitely seems to apply.

Whether you’re an aspiring professional magician or just a curious amateur looking to pick up a few simple tricks to amaze and amuse friends and relatives, I think you’ll find these two annual events to be true extraordinary experiences:

Society of American Magicians Annual Convention

June 30 – July 3, 2010; Atlanta

Founded in 1902, Harry Houdini was the longest-serving president of this organization whose members include everyone from Siegfried & Roy to David Copperfield.  Their annual get together includes special programs for young magicians, a circus sideshow-style midway, contests, and nightly gala performances.

International Brotherhood of Magicians Annual Convention

July 6-10, 2010; San Diego

With 12,000 members in 73, countries, the I.B.M. is the world’s largest organization for professional magicians and amateur enthusiasts. Their four-day convention includes lectures and workshops taught by internationally known magicians, a dealers area where you can try and buy some of the latest tricks, and several large-scale nightly magic shows.


There’s A Spell For That: How To Magically Transport Yourself To The Land of Harry Potter

A Visit To Hollywood’s Magic Castle

Fashion Designer Dreams: 4 Fab Ways To Make Your Fashionista Fantasies Come True

March 3, 2010

Not sure how to put this delicately, so I’ll just come right out and say it: I don’t do fashion.  Unless, of course, you consider cargo shorts, t-shirts, and flip-flops to be valid fashion statements.

That said, I have a niece who reads every issue of Vogue cover-to-cover and has even started sketching out and stitching up some of her own creations.  Add the success of long-running television series like Project Runway and What Not To Wear and I’ve come to realize that there are an awful lot of people out there who share her passion for fashion.Fashion Design Programs

Which got me to wondering if there was a way all these style-savvy folks could do more than just watch someone else bringing their distinctive designs to life on TV.  Programs that, unlike the many career-oriented schools out there, require commitments measured in days or weeks instead of years.

And to my surprise, I’ve found several extraordinary experiences that seem all but guaranteed to make anyone’s long-repressed fashionista fantasies come true:

Teen Fashion Camp NYC

This five-day “summer camp” in midtown Manhattan gives teens a chance to explore all aspects of the fashion industry while dreaming up and presenting their own unique “brand.” An advanced follow-up session offers an in-depth look at working for fashion magazines and designing for the runway.

Istituto di Moda Burgo

The haute couture capital of Milan, Italy provides a once-in-a-lifetime backdrop for these summer fashion design programs that feature individualized instruction from pros currently working in some of Europe’s trendiest design studios.  The best part is that classes are available for all levels of experience, from complete novices to working professionals.

Austin School of Fashion Design

No time for a drawn-out program of study?  Try this school’s series of adult-friendly four-day “crash courses” in everything from fashion illustration to basic sewing.  Also check out their one-day workshop on how to design, manufacture, and market your own collection.

M. Avery Designs

Located across the Hudson from New York City, these Bag Lab workshops make it easy for anyone to design and stitch up their own one-of-a-kind handbag. Can’t make the trip?  Send them sketches and notes on fabrics, detailing and the like and they’ll be happy to make your vision a reality.


The Nose Knows: Experience Olfactory Overload On This NYC Custom Perfume-Making Adventure

Horsing Around: How You Can Ride Into History With Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show

February 27, 2010

Buffalo Bill's Wild WestWhen I read that today was William “Buffalo Bill” Cody’s birthday, it made me wonder whether anyone out there was still putting on the kind of Old West extravaganzas this larger-than-life showman made famous in the waning days of the American frontier.  What I discovered will surprise city slickers and delight all those folks for whom cowboy skills are much more than just quaint historical relics.

You see, it turns out that Buffalo Bill’s Wild West is currently gearing up for its 39th season full of trick riders, fancy ropers, stagecoach robberies, Native American dancers and much more.  Modern-day impresario Montie Montana Jr. says he likes to think of this blend of history and theater as the kind of show old Buffalo Bill himself would be putting on if he were still with us.

While that’s all well and good, what makes this such an extraordinary experience is the fact that Montana holds open tryouts the morning of every performance.  Virtually everyone who turns up can earn a spot in the over-the-top grand finale of that night’s show, while a lucky few may be offered a permanent spot in the show’s internationally touring cast.

To find out where you can see Buffalo Bill’s Wild West—and possibly audition for what’s sure to be an unforgettable moment in this living-history spectacle—check the show’s online calendar.

More Cool Stuff:

3 Family-Friendly Living History Adventures

Cool photos of the original Buffalo Bill

There’s A Spell For That: How To Magically Transport Yourself To The Land of Harry Potter

February 25, 2010

Harry Potter Theme ParkIs it possible to wear out a DVD?  The question came to mind this past weekend as my son watched Harry Potter and The Order Of The Phoenix for what seems like the millionth time since he opened the package on Christmas morning.  Add his new-found habit of walking around the house practicing his “spells” with a home-made magic wand and I think it’s safe to say we have a die-hard Harry Potter fan in the family.

Which is why I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised at the ensuing excitement when I casually mentioned the fact that the Universal Orlando theme park was opening a huge new attraction called “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.”  If you know someone equally smitten with the mysterious goings-on at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, well, we’ll most likely see you there when the place opens this spring.

While this three-dimensional version of our hero’s cinematic world will undoubtedly be great fun, it also raises one unavoidable question.  Where does the serious Harry Potter enthusiast go from here?

Fortunately, with a little digging, I’ve turned up three extraordinary experiences where hardcore wizard-wannabes can take their Potter-mania to the next level:

HP Fan Trips

This is the ultimate Harry Potter experience.  While there are no trips scheduled for 2010, sign up for their mailing list to make sure you get the details of the 10-day tour they have planned for July 2011.  High points will include storytellers, a ride aboard the Hogwarts Express steam train, and a grand Hogwarts-style farewell banquet in the great hall of Edinburgh Castle.

London Taxi Tours

Combine a ride in one of London’s classic black taxis with visits to a long list of memorable Harry Potter filming locations, including the chance to have your picture taken at King Cross Station’s Platform 9-3/4.Harry Potter - Platform 9-3/4

The Jacobite Steam Train

Roll through the stunning scenery of the Scottish Highlands on the train that played the role of the Hogwarts Express.  Memorable moments include a trip over the dramatic stone viaduct featured in Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets and a chance to ride in the same carriages where Harry and Ron first met Hermione.


More Cool Family Adventures from

Want Your Share Of The New California Gold Rush?

January 23, 2010

Extraordinary Experience: Gold Panning Adventure

Panning for gold in Woods Creek

There are certain moments in history I would love to have been present at.  Not the least of which is the frosty morning of January 24, 1848 when carpenter James Marshall found those first few gold nuggets just downstream from the sawmill he was building on American River.

That’s because it was this chance discovery that started the California Gold Rush.  An event that quite literally made the Golden State what it is today.

But you probably knew that already, didn’t you? Well here’s something you might not know:  There’s still plenty of gold in the cold, clear creeks of those Sierra Nevada foothills, just sitting there waiting for someone to take it home.  And with gold prices at record highs, there’s no better time to go out and get your share.

Whether you decide to make your search for the shiny flakes a leisurely family outing or a serious full-time pursuit, the folks at Gold Prospecting Adventures in the tiny village of Jamestown, California can set you up with all the tools and instruction you need.  But one word of caution based on personal experience: Once you see those first flakes show up in the bottom of your pan, you’re liable to get a little excited.  And it’s this sense of exhilaration that I’ve found gives new meaning to the term gold rush!

More Extraordinary Experiences:

Gem Hunting In San Diego

Why Just Read About History When You Can Live It?

January 21, 2010

Family wagon train adventuresWhile you don’t necessarily want to see your kids jumping out of airplanes (at least I don’t), there are still an awful lot of extraordinary experiences that are decidedly family-friendly.

I was reminded of this while helping my son with his history project this week.  Despite the fact that he goes to a great school with some really innovative teachers, I was struck by how even the most creative approaches can still make the subject seem way too abstract to really grab and hold kids attention.

Which is why I thought I’d take a minute to turn you on to three remarkable adventures that are pretty much guaranteed to make those history lessons come alive for both you and your kids:

Civil War Adventure Camp

Civil War Adventure Camp

This 18-hour overnight experience at Virginia’s impressive Pamplin Historical Park starts with you and your young’uns choosing up sides in the War Between The States and ends with a Bang! as everyone gets to fire a period-correct muzzleloader.

Wagon Train Ho!

While moving hasn’t gotten much easier in the last 150 years, these multi-day wagon train adventures in the shadow of Wyoming’s Grand Tetons will give you and your kids a real feel for what an epic journey it must have been for all those folks who packed up their lives and crossed the continent in covered wagons.

Eat Like A Pilgrim

While walking through Plimoth Plantation will give your kids a fascinating look at how those first European settlers they’re learning about in school actually lived, these 17th-century theme dining events where everyone gets to eat with their fingers are likely to be the one part of the trip they’ll remember for years to come.

Still Play With Trains?

November 11, 2009

N NV Steam TrainI know lots of adults who’ve never outgrown their childhood fascination with trains. And while I don’t have the patience to sit beside railroad tracks for hours with my camera in hand like some of the hardcore rail buffs I’ve met, I’ll admit that I have been known to go out of my way to watch a passing train roll by.

If you’re equally smitten with railroading (or know someone who is), you’ll want to take note of these three new additions to my growing list of extraordinary experiences:

Northern Nevada Railway

There’s no shortage of scenic excursion trains in the world, but this Ely, Nevada museum is the only place I know of where you can actually take the controls of a vintage steam-powered locomotive (diesel-electric engines are also available) as you roll down the main-line tracks under the supervision of an experienced engineer. Some cool video here.

Station Inn Bed-and-Breakfast

While most folks would avoid a hotel where trains rumble by day and night, that’s precisely the attraction at this five-room trackside B&B.  Accommodations are simple (twin beds with no phones or televisions), but that doesn’t seem to deter rail fans who gather on the front porch to watch the 70-plus passenger and freight trains that roll by on any given day.  A host of other nearby railroading attractions make this Pennsylvania inn about as close to train-geek nirvana as you’re ever likely to find.


This 52,000 square-foot warehouse about an hour west of New York City is an example of what happens when one man’s toy train obsession gets a little out of hand.  But, as obsessions go, this is a pretty cool one, with more than 100 trains rolling along 50,000 feet (that’s roughly 9 miles) of track in a display that’s earned the distinction of being one of the world’s largest model railroads.

A Real Wild Time—Part 2

October 29, 2009

In the previous installment, I pointed out that you don’t have to travel to remote corners of the globe to have an extraordinary experience.  Well, here’s another example of a genuine once-in-a-lifetime adventure hiding in plain sight at one of San Diego’s most-visited tourist attractions:

me and rhino

Ewwww! Rhino slobber!

Let’s try a little word association.  When I say “San Diego,” you say what?

Anyone who’s ever visited America’s Finest City knows there’s no shortage of ways to fill in that blank.  But I’m thinking of one word in particular: Zoo.  After all, there are good reasons they call it the “World Famous San Diego Zoo,” not the least of which are some of the classic episodes where the zoo’s animal ambassador Joan Embry and her furry friends visited Johnny Carson on NBC’s Tonight Show.

While meeting some of the zoo’s exotic animals didn’t always work out quite the way Johnny envisioned, it was always amusing.  And I can tell you from personal experience that the zoo’s new Backstage Pass program is every bit as much fun.  Maybe more, in fact, since you get to be a participant instead of just a spectator.

The two-hour family-friendly adventure starts with a tasty boxed lunch and private stage show starring a wide array of critters ranging from Sonic the hedgehog (gee, I wonder where they dream up these crazy names) to Amara the cheetah.  After lunch, my family and I got to do a meet-and-greet with more animals including a male emu named Daphne (apparently it’s not that easy to tell the boy emus from the girls).

While all that was fun, the best part of the experience as far as I’m concerned was getting to feed, pet, and scratch the heavily-armored backs of two endangered Indian rhinos.  To be this close to such rare (only 3,000 remain in the wild) and amazing creatures was a real treat.  And, let me tell you, you haven’t lived until you’ve been slobbered on by a hungry rhino!