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Cancun is no stranger to all-inclusive resorts, so when a new brand plans to make its debut there, it better have some wow factor. This June, AVA will launch its first-ever property, AVA Resort Cancun, an impressive all-inclusive resort with more than 1,700 rooms, suites, and villas; a dizzying array of dining options; and a sprawling 2.8-acre sustainable lagoon.

Read More about Rethinking Luxury: Inside Cancun’s Latest All-Inclusive Paradise with a 2.8-Acre Lagoon

WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) – As we roll into February, it’s fair to say this winter has been a little underwhelming. However, since Wisconsin is a four-season state, you won’t have to look too far to find something to do. The Communications Officer for Travel Wisconsin says there is something to do in every corner of the state all year long.Amanda Weibel says wintertime is the perfect chance to visit Wisconsin’s many museums, and one great spot to visit is the new food and farm exploration center in Plover.“They have a ton of fun hands-on exhibits and programming to learn about modern agriculture. So, you can actually sit in a tractor simulator and feel like you’re driving the tractor yourself. You can check out some new farming equipment. There’s fun for the whole family. They also have the world’s largest potato masher statue outside; it stands nearly 39 feet tall. So, you’re going to get some really fun photos,” said Weibel.Some destinations are a little farther away.“Another great activity to check out is exploring underground, Wisconsin has some really fun caves to check out, you can head to Crystal Cave in northwestern Wisconsin, it’s in Spring Valley. The cave is actually seven stories underground, and it’s the longest cave in Wisconsin. There’s also Cave of the Mounds in Blue Mounds. And it’s another fantastic cave tour, and they’re known for their colorful formations,” said Weibel.And if you’re getting ready to make your summer vacation plans, you won’t need to book a flight, she says there’s lots to see here.“I think one unexpected activity to enjoy during the summer is whitewater rafting, you might not think of that in Wisconsin, but Wisconsin has 500 miles of whitewater rivers. And so, you can actually take a guided adventure Wildman Adventure Resort goes out on the Menominee River. They have a fantastic guide where you can get out and do some whitewater rafting.”It doesn’t matter where you are in Wisconsin.“In every corner of the state, we’re seeing people travel for something unique that it has to offer, whether you’re going to the north woods for outdoor recreation, you’re exploring the Great River Road along the Mississippi River, you’re heading to our larger cities or smaller towns for the festivals, events in the culinary scene, really, people have so much to explore in Wisconsin, and we’re seeing them in every corner of the state,” said Weibel.A recent Pew Research Center study found nearly half of workers don’t use paid time off, but 62% say it’s extremely important to have PTO. The study also showed that simply planning a vacation can improve your mental and physical health. Amanda says you don’t need to travel across the country to relax since Wisconsin is a 4-season state, there is always something to do. You can visit a museum, go shopping, check out the state’s underground caves, or unwind at an indoor water park. She says getting in the car and staying overnight makes it feel different from being at home.“Vacation is a state of mind. I think anytime you’re getting out exploring, doing something new making memories, you know, that’s a vacation and, and I think that’s so great about Wisconsin, you don’t have to travel far you can, it’s a big state, there’s a lot to explore. So, get in the car, stay overnight, make it feel a little more different from being at home,” said Weibel.A list of resources are available from Travel Wisconsin on their website to help you plan your next family vacation. Click here for a link.Copyright 2024 WSAW. All rights reserved.

Read More about Discover Wisconsin’s Best: Unique Attractions for Your Upcoming Escape

Hey everyone, Doug Baker here, Wendy’s youngest son. Mom used to take us to Europe during our winter school breaks (such as Paris, above) when I was growing up. Now, I’m a college sophomore, and when my friends talk about where we should go for March break, I tell them Europe—and not just to avoid the summer rush.
Europe feels more authentic to me in winter. It’s easier to be part of the local scene. The weather might be colder and the days shorter, but there are so many fun activities, opportunities, and foods that are totally different from what you will find in summer.
Ice skating rink in front of Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Photo: Doug Baker
In winter, I’ve ice-skated on rinks from little town squares in Brussels and Bratislava to the Grand Palais in Paris and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam (above). It’s a great way to meet local people! In winter, I’ve tried hot chocolate as thick and rich as a melted chocolate bar everywhere from Demel in Vienna to the ski slopes of Spain, and street food such as piping-hot kürtőskalács in Budapest, schupfnudeln in Germany, and this in Salzburg:
Doug at a pretzel and sweets shop in Salzburg, Austria. Photo: Tim Baker
In winter, you must spend more time indoors, but museums and castles are more fun when you have them to yourself. I was able to do a scavenger hunt with my brother inside the Centre Pompidou in Paris that took us through every floor of the museum, and in Bratislava there was nobody in the ancient church, so I was able to play one of the world’s oldest pipe organs.
Most of all, people are much nicer to you in winter because the tourist crowds aren’t there to annoy them. It is much easier to have conversations and build connections with the local people. One more thing I tell my college friends when they suggest the stereotypical spring-break spots (and maybe I shouldn’t share this with their parents): The drinking age is 18 in Europe!
You’ll find more—and more serious—reasons to experience Europe in winter in the traveler reviews below. First up: A 19- and 16-year-old get educated in Eastern Europe about the Holocaust and Ukraine.
START A WINTER TRIP
Eastern Europe: “Making pierogi with Marta in her home…she told us how she housed eight Ukrainians for two months at the onset of the war…”
The Nury family learn how to make pierogi. Photo: Traveler Doug Nury
“The current state of our world is disheartening. Our March 2023 travels (arranged by a Wendy Perrin WOW List agent) took us to Israel as tourists, never imagining that seven months later, Israel would be at war with Gaza. Since October 7, our family regularly discusses the conversations we had with our two tour guides, Daphne (Israel) and Isla (West Bank) about the conflict and how both of them want a peaceful but fair solution. Through our vast international travel experiences, our family has learned to seek as many perspectives as possible, particularly from non-US citizens on domestic and international issues. As a result, we jumped at the opportunity for Gwen to plan an Eastern European trip over Christmas, not only to enjoy the Christmas traditions and markets, but also to hear the views of Europeans very close to the Ukrainian/Russian conflict.
Gwen’s tour guides were the best part of our trip. During our first four days in Budapest, Julia explained to us the devastating history of the Jewish population and how close to 500,000 citizens were murdered during WWII. She also arranged an enjoyable boat tour (the boat had heat!) on the chilly Danube, pointing out architectural landmarks on the Buda and Pest side, while cruising on the river.
Kate and Will Nury peek out of a secret stairwell in Prague’s Strahov Monastery. Photo: Traveler Beth Nury
In Prague, our guide Christina spent the rainy morning with us inside the Strahov Monastery, an active monastery that houses the largest collection of Bibles in the world, and gave us a VIP tour of its two main halls, the Philosophical and Theological halls. In Poland, we toured Auschwitz privately with Wojtek Smolen, a tour guide with over 30 years of experience who had two family members imprisoned at the concentration camp. His narration and walking tour of Auschwitz and Birkenau was fact-based, with no political slant. The things I saw that day—the massive size and scope of the concentration camp, the vast piles of victims’ strands of hair, abandoned shoes and suitcases on display—will forever be tattooed on my brain.
Following Auschwitz, we drove back to Krakow and met Julie at the Krakow History Museum, which is located at Oscar Schindler’s factory, for a tour of Krakow before, during and after the Nazi occupation. The museum is well done and definitely worth visiting. Our final day in Krakow was spent making pierogi with Marta in her home. While rolling out dough, adding the fillings and pinching the pierogi before dropping it into the boiling water, she told us how she housed eight Ukrainians for two months at the onset of the war and is concerned about the conflict due to the proximity of Poland to Ukraine.
My husband and I hope that this trip punctuated the importance of visiting historical relics and learning from experts at the site about past events instead of watching a YouTube video for our teenagers (ages 19 and 16). It’s also essential to engage with people worldwide to gain insight on their perspective of US leadership and diplomacy.” —Beth Nury
Read more reviews of Eastern Europe trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.
START A TRIP TO EASTERN EUROPE
NORWAY & COPENHAGEN: “We got to see the Christmas lights in Tivoli Gardens and took a ride on a wild roller coaster, wandered with some hot drinks…”
Kate Ogg and son Will see the northern lights from the driveway of their lodge in Alta, Norway. Photo: Traveler Ryan Ogg
“My husband, Ryan Ogg and I (Kate Ogg), and our three children, Will (17), Charlotte (15), and Wyatt (12), went to Copenhagen, Denmark, and Oslo and Alta, Norway, from December 28 through January 6. Will is graduating from high school this spring, and so we let him choose the destination for a family vacation this year. He wanted to go someplace cold, snowy and dark, where we could do some fun outdoor adventures, and hopefully see the Northern Lights (which we had tried and failed to do in Iceland a couple of years ago).
It was a fantastic trip. Copenhagen was still pretty magical the week between Christmas and New Year’s, and we found some good restaurants despite a few of the ones we had hoped for being closed. We got to see the Christmas lights in Tivoli Gardens and took a ride on a wild roller coaster, wandered with some hot drinks, shopped and just enjoyed the festive vibe. The next day we started the day with a boat ride through the harbor and some of the bigger canals, which gave us a sense of the city’s geography as well as a lot of the architecture.
Oslo was all closed while we were there because it was both Sunday and New Year’s Eve, but a walk through the sculpture garden, to the Fram museum to see a polar expedition ship, and a chance to see the Nobel buildings and then along the harbor was a nice way to spend the day before a fancy dinner at our hotel (The Thief) and a midnight toast on the roof. On New Year’s morning in a snowstorm, we made it to Oslo airport and up to dark Alta. The Sorrisniva Hotel was fully booked by the time we planned our trip (August), so we stayed in a little fishing lodge in the woods, down the driveway from Tristin and Trine Restaurant and past some sled dogs.
It was absolutely charming, and best of all, the very first night as we walked out of our lodge to dinner, the sky lit up with northern lights that continued to brighten and dance until we gave up and went to bed. I credit our very dark spot in the woods for the fantastic viewing. Our adventures in snowmobiling, reindeer sledding, snowshoeing, and king crab fishing all showed us different parts of the landscape and culture in northern Norway, and it was just…magical. We truly loved it.” —Kate Ogg
Read more reviews of Scandinavia trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.
START A TRIP TO SCANDINAVIA
Paris: “A trip fit for royalty…”
The Louvre Museum at night, Paris. Photo: EdiNugraha/Pixabay
“We had three weeks to plan a Paris trip with our adult children after our Israel trip was canceled. Jennifer, a WOW planner through Wendy Perrin, created a trip fit for royalty. We stayed in a gorgeous, boutique hotel in the Marais district and had private car and tour guides for the Louvre, Versailles, Chateau, Jewish and History Tours. We saw the Eiffel Tower with a private tour, the Dior Exhibit at the Foundation Giacometti, we had an amazing time.
Our WOW Moment started with a car picking us up at noon, taking us to an unknown destination which was a fabulous restaurant, Shabour. The owner told us that since we couldn’t go to Israel, this was a Jerusalem-Paris dining experience. We sat at the bar to watch the chefs prepare a delicious, fun, memorable lunch. It was awesome.
We had a concierge service at the airport on both ends, making it easy to maneuver. I can’t say enough about Jennifer and her staff who gave us a perfect trip in such a short period of time. We have traveled the world with Wendy Perrin’s WOW List. It is the best way and the only way we travel.” —Adrienne Goldberg
Read more reviews of Paris trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.
START A TRIP TO PARIS
Austria & Czech Republic: “The cathedral tour was incredible! We were on the roof walking along the outside perimeter and inside the ceiling about the nave…”
Roof of St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna captured from above. Photo: Julius Silver
“Gwen planned a wonderful Christmas week in Vienna, Bratislava and Prague. Both hotels—the Sans Souci in Vienna and the Andaz in Prague—were great choices. Both were near the center but in a quieter area. The rooms, staff and breakfasts were lovely.
Our private guided walking tour of Vienna was enjoyable. The cathedral tour was incredible! We were on the roof walking along the outside perimeter and inside the ceiling about the nave. A truly interesting and unique experience. The food tour was fun and enjoyable: We went to five different locations and got to sample different Viennese specialties. We enjoyed the outstanding museums and lovely shopping streets. We loved the tour of the magnificent Schönbrunn Palace. Another day we took a train to Bratislava and were met on the platform by the guide who showed us this interesting city.
The train to Prague was easy. We walked everywhere in Prague—Old Town, Jewish Quarter, Charles Bridge, Wenceslas Square. The Strahov Monastery library and Prague Castle complex were impressive. We were so lucky that the line to the remarkable St. Vitus Cathedral was quick and we got to see it. The Lobkowicz Palace is a treasure—we could have spent hours there.
Gwen suggested terrific restaurants, including two outstanding meals at Michelin-starred restaurants Field and La Degustation in Prague. It was a wonderful vacation—the days spent in each location were just right.” —Susan Sullivan
Read more reviews of Austria and Czechia trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.
START A TRIP TO AUSTRIA AND CZECHIA
Portugal: “Sitting on the patio watching the sunset over the ocean was the perfect end to the trip…”
A winter day with clear blue skies at Praia de Ribeira, Ericeira. Photo: Shutterstock
“Goncalo and Sofia created an itinerary that was perfect for our family. And, they gave us a trip that we will always remember! Some highlights…
The hotels were AMAZING!! We typically stay at the same hotel chain when we travel and were so grateful for their suggestion of boutique hotels. Not only did they provide our family plenty of space, but they each felt warm and welcoming every time we walked into the room. My daughters LOVED the set-up and decor of The Lumiares hotel in Lisbon, stating they never wanted to leave. The Rebello’s views of Porto were breathtaking (unless the fog rolled in) and the access to an incredible running path along the water made it the perfect place for us to stay. Our final hotel stay at the Immerso was exactly what we needed after a very busy trip. Sitting on the patio watching the sunset over the ocean was the perfect end to the trip; we only wish we had a few days to explore the area. : )
The guides they found for us were exceptional!! The tours provided us with interesting historical and present-day content. They were all engaging and ready to shape the tours to match our family. Tiago, in particular, was amazing!! The tour of Sintra could have been a disaster due to the weather, and he made it one of the most fun with his depth of knowledge and witty humor! For a family who loves to travel, Goncalo could not have put together a more perfect trip for us.” —Shannon Jones
Read more reviews of Portugal. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.
START A TRIP TO PORTUGAL
Spain: “Traveling in January was surprisingly ideal! There were no crowds and the weather was comfortable…”
Placa Reial on a winter evening in Barcelona, Spain. Photo: Shutterstock
“We just returned from an amazing winter vacation in Barcelona and Lisbon. We traveled with our 2 college-aged kids and wanted to make sure they were as excited about the itinerary as we were. Luis and Silvia did a terrific job balancing all of our needs and interests.
Traveling in January was surprisingly ideal! There were no crowds and the weather was comfortable. We were able to see all of the popular sites without lines or overcrowding. Our favorite parts, however, were more off-the-beaten-path excursions. Silvia arranged for Alex, our tour guide through the Catalan neighborhoods, to cook paella and drink vermouth with him and his mother Lourdes in a flat with a rooftop deck. This was a highlight of the trip.
In addition to sightseeing and immersing ourselves in the culture, we were interested in recommendations for restaurants, nightlife, and vintage stores. Silvia provided detailed recommendations for each and arranged nightly restaurant reservations. Our favorite meal, a 17-course tasting at the Michelin-star Loco in Lisbon, was a very special night!” —Lisa Powers
This trip was arranged by a WOW List candidate. Here’s what that means.
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Read More about Experience the Charm of Europe: Unique Winter Getaways for School Breaks

In the height of the winter season, lovers come together to celebrate the most cherished in their lives. For some, Valentine’s Day is a romantic opportunity to declare their love, but for others – it’s just another frigid day in the middle of winter. No matter your relationship status, Valentine’s Day is about coming together to celebrate the most cherished people in our lives. Instead of jewelry or chocolates, commemorate your love and make lasting memories together on a romantic getaway.
Here are 5 of our favorite romantic escapes to consider this Valentine’s Day…
Hamilton, Bermuda

Pack your bags, we’re going on an adventure
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“Take my hand, we’re going on an adventure.”
Trade in a wintery mix for turquoise Bermuda water. There’s nothing like flying to the island and seeing the bright aquamarine ocean below. Bermuda is a small archipelago set in the middle of the Atlantic. Despite it being a tropical paradise, Bermuda is actually 900 miles away from the Caribbean, but only 600 miles from the Southern shores of North Carolina, making it quite easy to reach if flying from the East Coast.

Michael and Matt at the Hamilton Princess in Bermuda.
The islands are known for their pink-sand beaches. Horseshoe Bay is arguably the most popular and frequented beach by visitors to Bermuda, but much of the southern coast is lined with hidden gems.
Just up from Horseshoe Bay are the less crowded Hidden Beach, Angle Beach, Jobson’s Cove. Warwick Long Bay provides plenty of space to spread out on the sand, and Elbow Beach is well known for snorkeling to view the sunken ship just beyond the shore.
There are many resorts and luxurious hotels to stay across the main island, however, the Hamilton Princess and Beach Club holds a romantic flair. Much like the beaches, the Hamilton Princess’s pink color provides a beautifully unique backdrop perfect for Valentine’s Day selfies.
The Fairmont Managed Hotel is only steps away from downtown Hamilton and Bermuda’s Bacardi Headquarters. The resort is conveniently located around the corner from boutique shopping, restaurants, and all the nightlife that Hamilton has to offer. Plus, the private Beach Club at Sinky Bay is quite the perk!

Pacific Coast (Oregon Coast)

Michael and Matt on the Oregon Coast
I may be biased coming from Oregon, however I do believe that the Oregon Coast provides quite the romantic escape during the colder months. Cozy up at a beachside hotel, light the fireplace, and enjoy watching the waves crash along the shore.

Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach at sunset.
The Oregon coast is home to dramatic cliffs, thick pine forests, and tons of great seafood. Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach is an iconic figure that towers over the tidepools. Understandably, you have to stop there for the classic Haystack Rock photo, but afterwards, keep exploring Cannon Beach’s historic downtown and then make a stop at Pelican Brewing for fish tacos, fresh salmon, and a pint of Pelican’s Updrift IPA.

Lunch on the Oregon Coast.
Likewise, cruise down the 101 to Newport and try Rogue Ales and Spirits halibut fish and chips. Extra crunchy, with hints of curry, it’s a dish that warms the soul. For some of the best clam chowder along the Oregon Coast, make a stop at The Chowder Bowl in Newport.
Many times when visiting the Oregon Coast, I find a rental property with beach access, however if I’m looking to pamper myself, I recommend staying at Headlands Coastal Lodge and Spa. Set at the base of Cape Kiwanda in Pacific City, Headlands combines cozy and luxury. Besides treating yourself at their Tidepool’s Spa, they’ll even set up a beach bonfire for you, with blankets and supplies for s’mores. It’s a dream come true.

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Palm Springs, California

We’re big fans of Palm Springs.
For sunny skies and gay vibes, look no further than Palm Springs. This is one of my favorite places to escape to during the winter months, and for obvious reasons, it’s like flying into summer!

Palm Springs Pride. Photo by GayCities.
If you’re looking for a fun night out, head to Arenas Road for Palm Springs’ most popular gay bars. Hop from QUADZ, to Chill Bar, Hunter’s, Dick’s, and Tryst Bar and Lounge. Located all within the same block, the area really provides for a great time.
For an all-male gay resort, check-in to Twin Palms Resort. Another iconic accommodation is Trixie Motel, owned by Trixie Mattel herself. For something more sleek and modern, the Ace Hotel on the southern end of town is a great place to relax and unwind.

Edinburgh, Scotland

Michael and Matt in Edinburgh, Scotland.
I know what you’re thinking, Scotland, in the winter? Really!? And the short answer is a resounding YES! Especially for Londoners who want a last minute Valentine’s Day escape. Cobblestone streets lined with a dusting of snow, bustling coffee shops, and warm bookstores, Edinburgh is a wintery wonderland that tempts architecture lovers and foodies alike.

Walking along charming Scottish streets.

Wine and dine through the city, as it’s home to some of the most opulent and luxurious dining experiences in the UK. Our favorite, The Lookout by Gardener’s Cottage. Perched at the top of Calton Hill, The Lookout offers a full view of the city along with a brilliant seasonal tasting menu. Take a stroll down high street and get lost in the many alleyways branching off of the historic thoroughfare.

The Scotch Whiskey Experience
Make a stop at The Scotch Whiskey Experience and cuddle up over a taste of Scotland’s finest. This stop is sure to warm up your Valentine’s Day, even if there’s snow on the ground.
Edinburgh is full of surprises, but my favorite neighborhood to explore is Dean Village. This neighborhood village alongside Water of Leith is reminiscent of a fairytale. Whether covered in snow or glistening with rain, it’s the perfect place for photos or just simply admiring the view.
To treat someone special, get a room at The Balmoral. This luxurious 5-star property is located in the heart of Edinburgh. Situated on Princes Street, the hotel offers breathtaking views of the city’s iconic castle and the surrounding landscape. Alternatively, enjoying high-tea at Palm Court within The Balmoral is an experience worth the visit in and of itself.

Key West, Florida

Michael and Matt in Key West, Florida.
Last but certainly not least, if you’re looking for a tropical Valentine’s Day getaway that’s still stateside, Key West, Florida is the place for you. This is truly where the Caribbean meets the United States. Gorgeous palm-lined beaches, a bustling nightlife, and a mecca for LGBTQ+ culture.

Caribbean vibes, no passport required.
Starting with coffee and Cuban sandwiches, the Cuban Coffee Queen off of Duval Street is to die for. Whether for a midday snack or a quick lunch, trying a Cuban sandwich or their cold brew is a must.
Continuing down Duval Street, Key West’s main drag, Mangoes is a cute restaurant with plenty of outdoor seating that’s a great place for drag brunch. For a night out, head to 801 Bourbon Bar, the Bourbon Street Pub, and Aqua NightClub.
One of the most romantic things you could do while visiting Key West that is sure to make a lasting impression is to make a reservation at Latitudes at Sunset Key Cottages. Aptly named, it’s also the best place to watch the sunset.
Taking a boat from Sunset Key’s sister property, Opal Key Resort and Marina, enjoy the short ride as you take in the amazing view of the keys over crystalline waters.

“Gorgeous. And the view is nice, too.”

Whether you’re embracing the cold or chasing the sun, I hope these 5 romantic winter escapes inspire you to travel somewhere new this Valentine’s Day. And if you aren’t already taking your special someone with you, perhaps you’ll meet someone flying solo too!

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All photos are courtesy of Michael and Matt.Don’t forget to share:

Read More about Top 5 Romantic Getaway Ideas for Valentine’s Day

There’s travelling, and then there’s travelling with kids.Let the parents who’ve done the work and survived to tell the tale help you plan your next family getaway. From waffles in Europe to selfies in New York, there’s a family trip in your future that your children will remember and you might actually enjoy, too.Open this photo in gallery:Writer Heather Greenwood Davis and her son Cam in New York.Heather Greenwood Davis/The Globe and MailWhen Heather Greenwood Davis noticed her son ditched her company more and more often, she invited him to plan a mother-son visit to Manhattan. On the trip, she experienced a miracle. Her teenaged son, Cameron, asked a stranger to take a photograph of them – together. Parents of teenagers will recognize this unicorn of a moment, she writes.Read more about Greenwood Davis’ trip with her teenage son here. Plus, her tips for travelling with a toddler here.Open this photo in gallery:Julia Hayhurst has fond memories of taking her children to MauiMichelle Drevlow/HandoutOne of the best vacations Gayle MacDonald ever had was not somewhere exotic. It did not involve air travel, fancy hotels or five-star meals. Instead, it was a road trip she took with her parents and two younger brothers to St. Petersburg, Fla., in a monstrous green beast of a car, a 1967 Chevrolet Impala. That got her thinking … what is it about certain holidays that makes them so memorable? Even more important, how do we recreate them so that our own children have vacation memories that will last a lifetime too? Travel experts say the most memorable summer escapes are planned with T.L.C., instead of a big budget.Read more advice from experts for a memorable family vacation here.Open this photo in gallery:In Ghent, Belgium, we had one of those magical travel moments you couldn’t possibly plan. We spent a solid half-hour with the kids shrieking and bouncing around the bubbles while we fed euros into the hat of the man making them.Shannon Proudfoot/The Globe and MailThe secret to travelling with children is just like regular life: keep things simple, Shannon Proudfoot writes. She had no interest in spending a hefty budget on a “kid-friendly” trip that would maroon her family at some screechy, sun-baked amusement park, and was determined to recapture a pre-child sense of discovery, with lots of necessary adjustments for nine-, six- and three-year-old travel companionsRead more about the planning stage, how to make it work in the moment and her one big regret here. Open this photo in gallery:Carly Weeks and son take a turn on the iconic Mad Tea Party ride at Magic Kingdom.HandoutCarly Weeks quickly realized planning a trip to Disney World has a steep learning curve. Navigating the Disney app, figuring out what parks to go to and in what order, making reservations, narrowing down attractions and rides to a few must-do items and organizing a bunch of just-in-case-everything-is-booked backups was just the beginning. But once her family passed through those iconic gates, they slowly started to get why Disney has such a loyal following. For the kids, the attraction was immediate. For the adults, the magic is that it’s a place where you can relive parts of your childhood.Read more about the trip, including some pro tips for snagging last-minute cancellations, here. Open this photo in gallery:Todd Babiak and his family choose to explore Vietnam on their last family vacation before his oldest daughter leaves for school.Todd Babiak/HandoutTodd Babiak writes that one way to reduce a parent’s panic about children growing up and leaving home is to book a holiday, drawing the family away from phones, teenage dramas and middle-aged corporate life. In Vietnam, the family surfed together, hiked together and connected on their last family vacation before their oldest left for university.Read more about the journey from pre-trip research to long-lasting memories here. Open this photo in gallery:Ian Merringer and son in Buckskin Gulch slot canyon, Utah.Ian Merringer/The Globe and MailTeenagers are hard to impress – perhaps now more than ever. In the war for their attention, take them somewhere no amount of pixels on a smudged screen will ever live up to, writes Ian Merringer. The startling landscapes of Southern Utah and Northern Arizona are enough to straighten any neck. Autumn is the ideal time to visit. By sacrificing four days of school at Thanksgiving, you can carve out time for a 10-day, 1,300-kilometre circuit that gets the best of the southwest.Check out Merringer’s itinerary of hiking and biking that will make TikTok look lame, here.Open this photo in gallery:Get ready to get wet on the Smoky Mountain River Rampage ride at Dollywood in Tennessee. The park opens for the 2024 season in March.DollywoodMarsha Lederman headed to Dollywood expecting a high level of cheesiness. Instead, her group of five travellers (three adults, two teens) had one of the best theme park experiences of their lives.Read more about how to make the most out of the theme park as moderate fans here.Open this photo in gallery:Evan at the wheel while Mark, Val and Frank keep an eye out for the next lock.Diane Selkirk/HandoutFor a pretty independent and intrepid group of seven friends and family, canal boating seemed like the perfect way to reconnect with each other and with travelling. We liked the idea of doing everything on our own schedule (from breakfast to exploring to UNO matches) but still wanted the support, guidance and cleaning services of a charter company, writes Diane Selkirk.Follow the route of their adventure here. Open this photo in gallery:Villa la Capella, Tuscany.Villa la Capella/HandoutVilla La Cappella is a perfect Tuscan villa for whiling away the daysJust outside Montespertoli, amongst the castles, olive groves and wineries, a Canadian-Italian couple turned a 13th-century home into a welcoming bed and breakfast that is kid-friendly. It served as the perfect respite after chasing a toddler through the crowded cobblestoned streets of nearby San Gimignano on an afternoon excursion.Read more about the soothing power of their destination here. Open this photo in gallery:Natalie Preddie admires the statue of BB King at BB King Centre in Indianola, Miss.HandoutFrom the Mississippi Delta in the northwest to the capital, Jackson, farther south, there are people and organizations all over the Mississippi celebrating the Black strength, resilience and joy that come with a painful past. Natalie Preddie’s road trip helped her discover the strength of Black camaraderie, tasty smoky barbecued ribs and intoxicating music.Read more about the educational road trip here. Open this photo in gallery:The five-star kid-friendly Maritim Paradise Blue with its grand marble lobby, indoor pool and spa.HandoutBulgaria is the surprising kid-friendly beach destination you need to discoverVisitors to Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast can choose from dozens of beaches and hundreds of resort hotels: head to Albena for younger families and older couples or Golden Sands for students and active families. The beaches of Albena, are 6 km long and 150 m deep at the northern end of the Bulgarian shore.Read more about what Bulgaria’s beaches have to offer travelling families here.

Read More about Parents’ Tales of Surviving Kid-Friendly Vacations

Lawmakers are considering making it easier for counties to do away with short-term rentals altogether.

Hawaii lawmakers have tried and failed to pass legislation reining in short-term vacation rentals in the past, but this session feels different, says Sen. Jarrett Keohokalole, chairman of the Senate Commerce and Consumer Protection Committee. 

Keohokalole has authored an ambitious bill that would reshape the way short-term vacation rentals are regulated in Hawaii – and give counties power to phase them out completely over time. 

Critics of short-term vacation rentals now include Lahaina Strong, which has organized protests at Maui’s Kaanapali Beach, calling for “more dignified” housing options for Lahaina residents whose homes burned down in the Aug. 8 wildfire. (Brittany Lyte/Civil Beat/2023)

Keohokalole’s optimism is hardly political salesmanship. Opposition to short-term vacation rentals is more vocal than ever. And it’s coming from far beyond Keohokalole’s windward Oahu district, where residents for years have complained that a tide of Airbnbs has transformed places like Kailua into mini resorts.

Gov. Josh Green described short-term rentals as a problem in his State of the State speech. Maui residents have held high-profile protests for a moratorium on short-term rentals, which Keohokalole’s bill would essentially enable counties to impose. The Hawaii Island County Council is considering its own ban. On Oahu, the Honolulu City Council is regrouping after a court challenge striking down Oahu’s attempts to close a loophole in its land-use ordinance regulating short-term rentals.

“To hear it in the State of the State Speech is different,” Keohokalole said in an interview. “This year is different because it is a byproduct of the crisis on Maui.”

Sen. Jarrett Keohokalole is renewing efforts to rein in short-term vacation rentals. “This year is different,” he says. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022)

Currently, 5.5% or 30,000 of Hawaii’s 557,000 total housing units operate as short-term rentals, according to the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization’s “Hawaii Housing Factbook,” published in June.

On some islands the percentages are much greater. On Oahu, the short-term rentals made up about 2% of the island’s housing supply; by contrast, Maui’s short-term market represented roughly 15% of the supply, UHERO reported. 

UHERO estimated the presence of short-term vacation rentals in Honolulu raises housing costs by roughly 5%. 

Green alluded to this situation in his State of the State speech in January. After discussing the housing crisis the August wildfires created on Maui, Green spoke about the state’s broader shortage of affordable housing.

“Our state is such a desirable destination, and such a profitable investment for many, that people from around the world have purchased property to hold as investments or rent as short-term rentals to visitors — making on average four times what they would if the property was simply rented to a local family,” Green said. “Right now, 52% of all short-term rentals in Hawaii are owned by non-state residents, and 27% of short-term rental owners own 20 or more units.” 

On Friday, Keohokalole will discuss short-term housing issues in a joint committee hearing. His co-chairs are Maui Sen. Lynn Decoite, who chairs the Energy, Economic Development and Tourism Committee, and Sen. Glenn Wakai, chairman of the Public Safety and Intergovernmental and Military Affairs Committee. The only item on the agenda is the short-term rental bill.

The battle lines forming are largely the same as those of past years. On one side are companies like Airbnb, property owners who use the platforms to rent out homes and condos to tourists and an ecosystem of real estate agents and small businesses that support the owners and platforms. 

One the other side are hotel industry executives and lobbyists, housing advocates and individuals and groups that want to limit tourist accommodations to places designated for tourism. Joining the push this year are groups like Lahaina Strong, which has been leading a protest called “Fishing for Housing” at West Maui’s Kaanapali Beach. The Hawaii Association of Counties has submitted testimony supporting Keohokalole’s measure. 

Demonstrators in the past have rallied against the Honolulu City Council’s attempts to limit short-term vacation rentals on Oahu. Bills in the Legislature this year could allow the rentals to be phased out completely. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022)

Honolulu City Council Chairman Tommy Waters said it was critical to give the counties tools needed to manage the rentals. 

“Reining in the preponderance of temporary vacation rentals statewide, investing in infrastructure, and continuing to invest in the development and refurbishment of affordable housing at the state and county levels are all critical components in solving our state’s affordable housing crisis,” he wrote in testimony submitted this week. 

Keohokalole agrees. In an interview, the senator was outspoken about a recent order by U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson striking down a Honolulu ordinance designed to close off loophole in the county’s land-use ordinance. Although Honolulu’s land-use ordinance bans short-term vacation rentals in most areas outside of certain resort zones, including parts of Waikiki and Koolina, the ordinance allows renting short-term to tourists, as long as owners host no more than 12 rentals per year. 

Keohokalole said Watson was wrong to say such 30-day rentals to visitors were residential and not commercial uses. 

“To say a 30-day use is not a commercial use is just ridiculous,” Keohokalole said.

County Zoning Power Comes From State

Zoning law can be complicated, but it rests on a simple idea: state and local governments have the power to regulate land use to promote public interests – specifically to protect public health, safety, welfare and morals. 

In Hawaii, the state grants counties broad zoning powers by statute. The counties can then pass ordinances regulating zoning and land use. 

The statute generally restricts the counties from passing ordinances that would suddenly prohibit a certain land use that was legal at the time the ordinance was passed. But there’s a big exception: the statute also allows the counties to pass ordinances discontinuing particular land uses – as long as the uses are phased out “over a reasonable period of time.” 

However, there’s also an exception to the exception: residential uses can’t be phased out.

Keohokalole’s bill amends the statute to explicitly allow the counties a to phase out resdential uses, and, by extension, short-term rentals.

“If we’re really going to be serious about this, then the counties should have the authority,” he said.

Airbnb Lawyer, Former Hawaii Attorney General, Opposes Bill

Already the concept is getting opposition. A similar House bill passed out of the House Housing Committee on Wednesday, despite pushback from the powerful Hawaii Association of Realtors and the Lahaina-based Rental By Owners Awareness Association.

“This Bill is not to stop illegally operating short-term rentals — this Bill goes after operators who are in full compliance of the law, operating legally within their particular location, either by their nonconforming use certificate or by being legally entitled to operate by zone,” the association’s president, Alicia Humiston, said in her testimony. 

The Business Registration Division of the Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs says it’s not equipped to regulate short term rentals. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022)

Also testifying against the House measure was Airbnb’s long-time Hawaii attorney David Louie, the state’s former attorney general. Louie declined an interview request, saying he didn’t have Airbnb’s permission. But Louie’s written testimony asserted that the measure could lead to “substantial litigation.”

“Although this may appear to be an innocuous delegation of authority, the proposed changes implanted would conflict with existing constitutional rights that have been explicitly recognized by courts in the State of Hawaii,” Louie wrote. “Such changes would potentially cause numerous unintended consequences, which could ultimately lead to a deprivation of vested rights of existing, residential homeowners.”

Others disagree.

David Callies is a retired law professor and author of “Regulating Paradise,” a treatise on Hawaii land-use law. He is also co-author of a law school textbook on national land-use law and recipient of a lifetime achievement award from an organization that assists property owners in disputes with governments. 

According to Callies, governments generally have the right to phase out land uses through zoning changes – called amortization in legal parlance – and that five years is typically a reasonable time frame for doing so. Callies said the counties would need to be careful to avoid potential legal issues when drafting and passing ordinances. 

But he said, “It’s pretty settled doctrine that you can amortize a non-conforming use.”

Callies also said prohibiting short-term rentals wouldn’t be considered a taking of private property, in violation of constitutional rights, because the properties still could be used for housing by the owners or rented out long term.

“You are not going to be able to argue any total taking by regulation,” he said. 

While Callies acknowledged owners might be able to argue the zoning change amounted to a partial taking, he said, “Winning a partial takings case is very difficult.”

Keohokalole’s bill goes beyond allowing the counties to phase out short term rentals. It also establishes a regulatory scheme under the Business Registration Division of the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs. Ty Nohara, who heads the division, testified that even with additional funding, the division wasn’t equipped to handle the task of regulating thousands of rentals.

Instead, Nohara suggested such regulation would better be handled by an agency “that will have as its sole focus the responsibility to regulate and enforce short-term rentals in Hawaii.”

Kekoa McClellan, a spokesman for the American Hotel and Lodging Association, acknowledged a regulatory system would require money. But, he said, “What’s the cost of not doing this?”

“The people who are paying the price are kamaaina families who are leaving the islands in droves,” he said.

Read More about Hawaii Considers Tightening Regulations on Short-term Vacation Rentals in Wake of Wildfires

I’ll admit I had some trepidation when our group of 12, ranging in age from two to eighty, descended upon Turks and Caicos last Thanksgiving. Sure, I was excited about spending time with my sister-in-law who lives across the country in San Diego. And who doesn’t love drinking a cocktail on the beach in November? But my husband and I would be sharing accommodations for a week not only with our two preschoolers and my two college-aged stepchildren, but also with my sister-in-law, her two children, her boyfriend, and my in-laws. Luckily, our advance planning and open dialogue helped craft an itinerary that kept everyone happy—for the most part.

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When you hit middle age, there are some universal truths you begin to notice and accept, and that goes double when you’re traveling with your parents. Your knees and hips appreciate a recalibrated definition of “adventure” that favors excursions like water taxi rides and birdwatching. And, yes, your hunch is right: You really are turning into your mother (or father) … and maybe that’s not such a terrible thing.I recently spent six days visiting my parents in their winter snowbird home just outside of Tampa, Florida. Mom and Dad reveled in the tour guide role here in this middle ground – not our Indiana hometown and not British Columbia, where I’ve been living with my kids for years. It felt strange at first, me being a “kid” again at age 50. It was a rare window when I wasn’t caring for my own kids and my parents, still healthy and mobile, didn’t yet need my care. I could relax. I could play. Without any responsibilities or distractions, I could savor just being a daughter.FUN FOR ALL AGES: 50 family vacation ideas for the best trip everIt feels good to slow down a littleVacating with my parents, I got to experience life at a slower pace. My mom didn’t hesitate to say yes to the hour-long wait when we put in our name at the popular Rusty Bellies oceanfront restaurant in Tarpon Springs. I followed Mom to the Adirondack chairs outside, but soon got restless, feeling like I should be doing something. But she encouraged me to stay put and do nothing, reminding me that I’m always caring for someone in this busy season of life and that it’s OK to rest too. That moment of stillness made room for easy conversation that led to her telling me the story of how my parents first met. Another day, because we ambled long enough in a mangrove sanctuary, we saw the fins of black-tip sharks and cute noses of manatees break the surface of the water. And since we took our time at the Armature Works green space waiting for the water taxi on downtown Tampa’s Riverwalk, we spotted dolphins playing and got good at deciphering the locals (dogs, laptops, long pants) from the tourists.Vacation ideas for older travelers:Being together still comes easilyEven though I’ve lived away from my parents for decades, I realized during our week together how well I still know their idiosyncrasies and they know mine. I know my dad will check the forecast before we head out for the day. He knows I’m going to sneeze when he gives me a piece of peppermint gum, and starts laughing when I do. I’m not surprised when my mom stops to hug me as we walk across a parking lot … just because we’re together. And the three of us still find the same things funny, including the mustache baby pacifier at The Dalí (the Salvador Dali Museum) gift shop. HASSLE-FREE TRIPS: 10 tropical destinations you can visit without a U.S. passportMidwesterners tend to get stuck in routines, and some of that is what I wanted to break free of when I moved to the West Coast years ago. But on this trip, I found a strange comfort in doing many of the same things we used to do together – church on Sunday, a major league baseball game, and dinner with longtime family friends who still call me by my old nickname. Mom, Dad and I even visited some of the same places we first went to during a childhood vacation together in 1979. Our history of good memories together keeps hitting me—throughout the trip, I was reminded of who I am and where I came from. I let it sink in, this sense of knowing and being known, of deep connection. Somehow it satisfied a longing I didn’t even know I had. As an adult kid, I see myself in my parentsIn downtown Tampa, we stepped off the trolley at the Ybor City stop into the city’s “Little Havana” neighborhood. Cuban music filled streets lined with restaurants and cigar bars. We popped into one cigar lounge, dark and smoky, and were mesmerized watching busy hands rolling cigars. Dad pointed out all the leaf scrap cuttings on the floor. Mom noted the unique purses made of cigar boxes. At that moment, I realized this is why I am curious and observant, and I felt strangely sentimental. It’s because of them.RAIL VACATIONS: 12 best Amtrak rides and scenic train rides in North AmericaOver lunch at The Hangar Restaurant and Flight Lounge, a favorite spot overlooking the airstrip at St. Petersburg’s Albert Whitted Airport, we watched small planes and helicopters coming and going. Dad recalled memories of flying with his friend, who had a little Cessna. He laughed and, in his easy way, shared some near-miss flight stories we hadn’t heard before: a downdraft in the Smoky Mountains, losing altitude, and scanning the ground for a flat potential landing space before getting through it. Sitting there listening to him, I saw my own love for travel and adventure. On this trip, I realized just how much I see myself in my parents. I was a little surprised to realize this fact didn’t make me roll my eyes and make an “I’m turning into my mother” joke. Instead, I found myself smiling and embracing turning into my mother and father, because that’s exactly who I’ve always been.My parents have always enjoyed watching ocean sunsets. When I was growing up, it was one of those things that happened in the background on our family beach vacations while we were swimming, playing ball, or searching for sand dollars. This time around, though, the sunset was the main event. I noticed my parents and other locals about their age planning their evenings around it, bringing a chair, and even going to a special spot on Indian Rocks Beach where a retired guy brings his trumpet and plays “Taps” to celebrate the daily setting of the sun. BEST USE OF SPACE: These are my 9 favorite underseat carry-on bagsIt was a surprising moment of joy, and Dad captured it. He has always loved photographing ocean sunsets on vacation, and now he gets to do it for six months every year as a snowbird. I used to be bored looking at sunsets, but now I find myself sending him my own sunset photos from home in Canada. My daughters do the same with me. I guess a sense of awe and wonder is hereditary, too. These moments are pure gold (and fleeting)Traveling with my aging parents, I realized how lucky I am, but also knew this could be our last trip together, just the three of us. I couldn’t help but reflect on how fragile life is and how precious these moments together are. My parents are still together, in good health, and have mobility. I can’t think of anyone my age at 50 who is in the same situation with their parents. At a Clearwater Beach souvenir shop on my last day of the trip, Mom bought us matching blue sweatshirts we both liked. I think it was her way of marking this time together with a tangible reminder. As she handed me mine, I pushed away the thought that this might be the last time we get to vacation like this and replaced it with gratitude. CHIC AND COMFY: 10 most comfortable travel clothes brands for the whole familyOn the drive to the airport, Dad launched into his usual sort of closing paragraph that he does at the end of every visit. He mentioned the highlights of the week and asked about everyone else’s favorite memories from our time together. Then he shifted to what we wanted to do next time. I smiled, realizing I do this closing paragraph, too, when I’m saying goodbye to my girls.I cried at the goodbye like I always do with my parents, then boarded my flight and took my seat next to a young mom with a baby girl on her lap. I cooed and made silly faces the same way other women did when my girls were young and I traveled alone on trips home to see my parents and felt the sweet weight of this full circle moment.How a vacation with my aging parents changed my whole perspective on travel originally appeared onFamilyVacationist.com. More from FamilyVacationist:The views and opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY. FamilyVacationist.com and TourScoop.com are owned and operated by Vacationist Media LLC. Using the FamilyVacationist travel recommendation methodology, we review and select family vacation ideas, family vacation spots, all-inclusive family resorts, and classic family vacations for all ages. TourScoop covers guided group tours and tour operators, tour operator reviews, tour itinerary reviews and travel gear recommendations.

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The U.S. and Nevada departments of education are probing the use of federal pandemic aid by the Clark County School District to send large groups of staff to beach vacation destinations for teacher recruitment, according to a state education official.
The district for Las Vegas Valley schools sent 17 staff and school principals to Miami Beach over the Fourth of July holiday at a cost of about $37,000, as first reported by the Review-Journal. Federal dollars paid $29,000 of the cost, documents obtained through a public records request show.
Two half-day hiring events in a small conference room at their beachfront hotel during their five-day stay attracted two candidates and resulted in no hires, the district acknowledged.
Using federal funds, the district in September also sent eight staff, administrators and a principal to Honolulu for a five-day stay on Waikiki Beach as a recruitment trip.
Asked whether these trips were being investigated, the Nevada Department of Education responded that it is “currently working with the United States Department of Education (USED) to evaluate the use of these funds.”
Sandy Julian, spokeswoman for the state agency, wrote in an email that it provided its findings on the use of the funds to its federal counterpart on Tuesday. She did not specify what these findings were in the email sent Thursday afternoon.
In an email Friday afternoon, the district stressed that the state education department had approved in advance using the federal funds for these trips “as reasonable, allowable, and allocable expenses.”
Waikiki Beach trip
In September, a group of eight CCSD staffers, administrators and a school principal flew to Hawaii to find, as a district social media post put it, “the best educators and staff for our vibrant city” of Las Vegas.
The group traveled to Honolulu, where members held a half-day recruitment event in a small conference room at their hotel on Waikiki Beach, public records obtained last week show. During the five-day trip, members also were scheduled to speak to students and teachers at two universities and a community college, a trip itinerary shows.
Three job candidates attended the half-day event, said interim Chief Human Resources Officer Cedric Cole.
“At this point in time three candidates are proceeding through our hiring process,” he wrote in response to a Review-Journal question.
A review of expense reports shows that the trip cost more than $22,000 for flights, food, lodging and other travel expenses, excluding salaries.
Six of the eight travelers extended their stay a day at their own expense, records show.
The September trip was the second last year to Honolulu by district recruiters, records show. The first was taken in February of 2023 by two recruiters at a cost of $4,600. During that trip, the recruiters were scheduled to speak at the same two universities visited in September — Hawaii Pacific University and Brigham Young University-Hawaii.
Like the September Miami Beach trip, the Waikiki Beach trip was primarily funded with federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund tax dollars.
“It’s very troubling to see that funding to directly support students is being used to support basically taxpayer-funded junkets to beach locations,” Demian Brady, vice president of research for the National Taxpayers Union Foundation, said this week after the Review-Journal described the trips.
He questioned the district’s failure to “show results of this in terms of bringing in new teachers to help the kids.”
Brady said the funds were intended to help schools with the setbacks brought on by the pandemic. The money was primarily supposed to support programs to bolster student mental health harmed by lockdowns and school shutdowns and to provide students with additional learning opportunities, such as extended-day and summer programs.
The grant program provides flexibility in how its dollars are spent, and among many other uses, the money can be used to “strengthen recruitment and training programs,” according to information from the federal education department.
‘Doesn’t pass the smell test’
Every dollar should have been used to improve the loss of learning experienced during the pandemic, said John Vellardita, executive director of the Clark County Education Association. Instead, the head of the local teachers union said, these two recruitment trips had “zero effect on students.”
This spending “doesn’t pass the smell test,” he said. “It looks like self-serving trips for district employees to bask on beaches during holidays.”
The teachers union has called for the firing of CCSD Superintendent Jesus Jara on numerous grounds. The Clark County School Board is scheduled to consider Jara’s resignation or termination Wednesday.
In emails, the school district said the Nevada Department of Education had approved its plan to use federal money to pay for recruitment trips to “major metropolitan areas … to conduct job fairs to recruit educators to come and teach in Clark County School District.”
The district’s plan states, “The COVID-19 pandemic had a critical negative impact on education staffing, leaving Clark County with an even higher vacancy rate than it was already experiencing prior to the pandemic.”
Julian wrote in an email, “In an effort to refine and improve the ESSER allocation process, the Nevada Department of Education is currently evaluating the criteria and allowability requirements for ESSER funding requests of this nature.”
Citing district policy, school board trustees have referred questions about recruitment travel to the district communications office or board President Evelyn Morales Garcia, who has not responded to requests for comment.
‘This is shameless’
A Facebook group for parents with children in CCSD schools reacted with outrage when a member in December posted the Review-Journal’s story about the Miami Beach trip.
“This is shameless,” one member wrote.
“Apparently I’m in the wrong position in the district as I work teaching every day and don’t have enough money for groceries for my kids,” wrote another. “I would love a trip to Miami Beach.”
One member, who said she was the roommate of a CCSD recruiter, defended the trip by saying the district had to use the federal funds or lose them. Other members took issue with this defense.
“Can you really not think of a better way to spend the funds?” group member Alexandra Erbisch-Westcott wrote in a post.
“CCSD is bleeding teachers,” Erbisch-Westcott, a kindergarten teacher with two children in district schools, said in an interview in December. She said she’d like to have seen the money spent instead on mentoring programs for new teachers, but that returning the federal grant would have been preferable to how it was spent.
“If it’s spend $37,000 on a beach vacation or let it expire, let it expire,” she said.
From mid-September 2022 to mid-November 2023, the district spent about $240,000 on travel expenses for 60 recruitment trips. In November, the district said that it could not say how many hires had resulted from recruitment trips, citing inadequate tracking systems for trips.
However, in January, the district said that 173 hires had resulted from recruitment events from early August through early November of last year.
Contact Mary Hynes at [email protected]. Follow @MaryHynes1 on X. Hynes is a member of the Review-Journal’s investigative team, focusing on reporting that holds leaders and agencies accountable and exposes wrongdoing.

Read More about Scrutiny Intensifies Over School District’s Use of Relief Funds for Recruitment in Tourist Hotspots

2. Harry Potter: A Forbidden Forest Experience — Little Elm, TX

Enjoy an evening walk along an illuminated woodland trail through an immersive, theatrical setting. The Forbidden Forest is possibly my family’s favorite Harry Potter experience we’ve done so far, with many interactive elements including a chance to bow to a hippogriff, fight a wizard’s duel, and cast a patronus. It’s currently available in Texas, but sometimes returns to past locations as a seasonal event. Read our reviews of the Harry Potter Forbidden Forest during past stops in Westchester, New York and the Washington, DC area.

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Cameras—and wands—at the ready for Harry Potter: The Exhibition. Photo by Jody Mercier

3. Harry Potter: The Exhibition — New York, NY

This touring exhibition, currently in New York City, celebrates the wizarding world of Harry Potter through interactive experiences including the opportunity to see your name on the marauder’s map, pot a mandrake, and banish a boggart. The exhibition re-creates settings from the stories including Harry’s cupboard under the stairs and Hagrid’s hut, and many props and costumes from the films are on display. Check out our review of Harry Potter: The Exhibition.

4. Harry Potter: Magic at Play — Seattle, WA

Recently in Chicago (where my family and I visited it) and now open in Seattle, Magic at Play provides an immersive exploration of the wizarding world. You can follow Harry’s journey from Platform 9 ¾ to Hogwarts where you’ll visit the Great Hall, sit under the sorting hat, and cast spells. We had fun levitating a feather with the wingardium leviosa charm and playing quidditch. You can also buy Butterbeer, sweets from Honeydukes, and other wizarding merch. Read more in our review of Harry Potter: Magic at Play from Chicago.

5. Harry Potter Exhibit at the Hollywood Museum — Hollywood, CA

Though this exhibit is small, it includes several notable props and costumes from the Harry Potter film series. The highlight of the collection is Harry’s broom from the Sorcerer’s Stone movie. The display also includes a pair of Harry’s glasses, two wands, a feather quill, and wizard’s robes worn by Harry and Professor Dumbledore.

6. Watson Adventures Wizard School Scavenger Hunt — Multiple Locations

Offered at several museums around the country including the National Gallery of Art in DC, the Getty Center in LA, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, young witches and wizards go on a magical journey through the galleries to discover mystical mermaids, fierce dragons, majestic unicorns, powerful sorceresses, and many more characters in the artworks who would be right at home in Harry Potter’s magical world.

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