family travel

July 4th events at airports

IAD STILTS

courtesy J. David Buerk Photography

Many airports are bracing for a record number of passengers over the July 4th holiday weekend and have lined up entertainment and activities to welcome some travelers and send others on their way.

Thousands of travelers will be heading to Washington, D.C. to see the fireworks on the National Mall this weekend and both Dulles International and Reagan National Airports will be offering red, white & blue retail specials, Uncle Sam stilt walkers and interactive photo booths.

Look (up) for the Uncle Sam stilt walkers at both Reagan National and Dulles International today, July 1, from 12 – 5 p.m. and Monday, July 4 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The Fourth of July interactive photo booths will be onsite at both airports today from 10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. and on Monday, July 4 from 8 a.m. – 3 p.m.

The photos booths will have a “#4th of July frame” and a selection of patriotic and Washington, D.C.-themed digital props. Once you take your picture, you’ll be able to view it on a touch screen, print it out or share via social media.

4th-of-july-uncle-sam-patriotic-flag-balloon

In Chicago, both O’Hare and Midway Airports have holiday events planned for the holiday weekend as part of the ongoing Air Carnival activities, which feature face painting, balloon sculpting, and stilt walkers in the terminals.

Carnival events take place at O’Hare today, July 1, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. And special guests Anna, Elsa and Olaf from Disney’s “Frozen” will make an appearance at ICE Dishes & Drinks near Gate L1 in Terminal 3 today from 3 to 4 p.m.

Live entertainment will be featured at Midway today (July 1) from 2 to 5 p.m. in the baggage claim area and airport ambassadors will be handing out complimentary lemonade to passengers today from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Travel Tidbits from BWI & ANC Airports

Here’s news about some nice new amenities at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgoood Marshall Airport (BWI) and Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.

BWI playground

BWI has this nice new playground equipment at the Thomas A. Dixon Jr. Aircraft Observation Area and park, which is part of the BWI Trail network, a 12.5 mile scenic trail that encircles the airport.

BWI VIctoria's Secret

BWI also recently added three new specialty shops: Sock it to You, a locally owned shop in Concourse C selling, you guessed it, novelty socks; Victoria’s Secret Beauty, selling makeup, fragrances and select lingerie; and Marhsall Rousso’s, offering women’s fashions and accessories.

ANC Pork & Pickle

Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport (ANC) had a ribbon cutting event for the grand opening of Pork & Pickle (fun to say, right?), a modern gastropub and bbq concept from HMSHost.

The restaurant smokes it meats on-site and the menu includes smoked pork spare ribs, smoked beef brisket, smoked paprika BBQ turkey breast, ‘dirty chips’ (made with BBQ trimmings), and the restaurant’s signature ‘pork & pickle’ pulled pork sandwich with bread & butter pickles.

This is Alaska, so there’s also Alaskan hot smoked salmon salad and Alaskan cod & chips on the menu and a nice variety of local and regional beers.

Not going to Alaska anytime soon? There’s also a Pork & Pickle in Kansas City International Airport, in Terminal B.

Stay at Sting’s, Cook where Julia cooked?

Thinking of where to fly to this summer? This round-up I did for NBC News of famous homes you can hang in may give you some ideas.

Fire Dragon

La Pitchoune, the 3-bedroom cottage in Provence where culinary icon Julia Child and her husband, Paul, spent their summers, is currently available on Airbnb for a minimum 5-night stay for $628 a night.
Known informally as La Peetch, in spring 2017 the cottage will begin hosting week-long cooking classes for six students at a time. In addition to “courageous cooking classes” in Julia Child’s barely-changed kitchen, the all-inclusive sessions include meals, wine, daily yoga classes and local excursions. Price: $3,250 per person.

At Il Palagio, the 16th-century Tuscan villa owned by the rock star Sting and his wife, Trudie Styler, “guests can spend days touring the fields and the wine cellar, and nights drinking [the estate-made] “Message in a Bottle” Sangiovese over a meal prepared by the villa’s chef,” says Bruce Wallin of the Robb Report, “And, of course, this being Sting’s place, after dinner you can open up the onsite recording studio and cut a track.”

While there is no weekly-stay requirement, the 9-bedroom, 10 bathroom villa must be booked in its entirety and, as it is “one of the most exclusive and luxurious villas in all of Italy,” according to booking site TuscanDream.com, “is priced accordingly.” How much? You’ll have to call.

In London, groups of up to 16 people can book private tours of the Tower of London that are followed by a private viewing of the Crown Jewels with the Chief Exhibitor and dinner in the Queen’s House. Organized by IfOnly, a site that creates unusual and extravagant experiences, the tour and dinner costs $11,565 per person and benefits the Save the Children charity.

Too rich for your budget? Here are less-expensive ways to stay and/or play at the homes of other famous folks.

George Washington's Mount Vernon - All the President's Pups walking tour

At George Washington’s Mount Vernon, just south of Washington, D.C., visitors and their dogs can join the “All the President’s Pups” tour for a walk around areas of the property usually off limits to guests. (Price: $7 in addition to admission, with is $20/$17 when purchased online; pups: free). Foodies might enjoy the Dinner for the Washingtons walking tour, which visits the mansion’s gardens, food storage cellar and greenhouse. (Price: $$7 in addition to admission)

Garden tasting tours (vegetable tasting included) and archeology walking tours are some of the extra options offered at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in Charlottesville, VA (day pass and house tour: $25), while a locally-sourced Summer Farm Dinner series ($85 to $125/person) is offered at Taliesin, fame architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and 800-acre architectural campus in Spring Green, Wisc.
At Taliesin West, Wright’s winter home in Scottsdale, AZ and now the home of the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, there’s a garden walk tour, a private collections tour, a tour for photographers, a family-friendly junior architect tour and an evening tour during which a fire-breathing dragon makes an appearance.

Of course, there’s always Graceland, Elvis Presley’s mansion and sprawling estate in Memphis, which draws over half a million visitors each year.

The basic mansion tour at Graceland ($38.75) satisfies some fans, but the Platinum ($42.50) and Entourage VIP ($75) tours offer a plethora of extras, including admission to Elvis’ automobile museum and an ‘archives experience’ that allows visitors to see some artifacts not seen on the traditional tour. For those who want to get even closer to the King of Rock and Roll, the 450-room Guest House at Graceland is opening this fall with a four day, star-studded celebration that will include live concerts and celebrity appearances from October 27-30.

(My story about staying at and visiting famous people’s homes first appeared on NBC News online.)

Air Carnival at O’Hare & Midway Airports

ORD air carnival

Send in the clowns – well, at least the stilt walkers and the balloon-animal makers…

This summer Chicago’s O’Hare and Midway Airports are bringing back the Air Carnival – a program designed for children but certainly entertaining for all.

Air Carnival will feature face painting, balloon sculpting and stilt walkers at various spots in the terminals each week, as well as music, free food samples (including cheesecake and cotton candy) and appearances by Ronald McDonald, Mr. Potato Head and Anna, Elsa and Olaf from Disney’s popular movie, “Frozen”.

MIDWAY BALLOON SCULPTING

The Air Carnival will take place each Thursday in Midway Airport and each Friday in O’Hare from June 16th through August 12th from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Air Carnival kicks off today (Wednesday, June 15) at Midway with The Chicago Blues All Stars playing in the Midway Boulevard food court starting at 12:30 p.m.

You can see the full schedule for Air Carnival activities scheduled at O’Hare here and at Midway here.

Airport gateways to National Parks

Knoxville_

Courtesy Knoxville McGhee Tyson Airport

The National Park Service turns 100 in August, but festivities marking the milestone are already underway in parks, historic sites and, yes, airports.

Here – and in my recent At the Airport column on USA TODAY – are some airports where you can begin enjoying and learning about some of the nation’s most impressive national parks as soon as you get off the plane.

Fresno airport tree

Forest-themed amenities such a giant sequoia tree in the lobby are the first clue that Fresno Yosemite International Airport is near Yosemite National Park, Sequoia National Park, and Kings Canyon National Park and a good starting point for the Majestic Mountain Loop , which gets you to all three parks in three days.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, on the border between North Carolina and Tennessee, is just 30 minutes away from McGhee Tyson Airport (TYS) in Knoxville.  And airport spokesman Jim Evan notes that eight other National Parks and recreation areas are near Knoxville as well and previewed in the baggage claim installation featured in the video below.

To find the only commercial airport IN a National Park, head for Jackson Hole Airport in Wyoming, which is part of Grand Teton National Park — and one of the gateway airports for Yellowstone National Park.

1_Wyoming's Jackson Hole Airport is the only commercial airport entirely in in a national park.

The location in the park is reflected in the airport’s extensive public art collection, amenities that include a Grand Teton Park book shop, and the recently expanded terminal building itself, which won an award from the American Institute of Architects in 2014 for being a “regionally-inspired solution” that “embraces the culture of the area in every way.”

Maybe that’s why last year a moose was spotted hanging around just outside the baggage claim door.

4_This moose stopped by Jackson Hole Airport in October 2015. Photo courtesy Philip Bollman

In Kalispell, Mont., Glacier Park International Airport (FCA) is less than a 30-minute car ride from the western gate of Glacier National Park and has rock formations along the entrance roadway and roundabout that pay homage to the Going-to-the-Sun Road, the 50-mile, paved two-lane highway that spans the width of the park and crosses the Continental Divide.

5_Photos of Glacier National Park on permanent display at Glacier Park Interntional Airport_courtesy Flathead Municipal Airport Authority

Inside the terminal, there is a 100-photo collection of park images as well as numerous native animal mounts, including a mountain lion that can be spotted over the restrooms and a mountain goat on a ledge in bag claim, “looking just like you’d see him hanging out on a cliff in the park,” says airport manager Cindi Martin.

7_Taxiderm Mountain Goat hanging around Glacier National Park International Airport_Flathead Municipal Airport Authority

Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport (BZN), in Belgrade, Mont., is about 90 miles from both the north and west entrances of the park.

A store inside the terminal sells park entrance passes, provides park information and offers an interactive map showing recent wildlife sightings, road closures and weather in the park. Exhibits in the terminal highlight park wildlife (including how to spot tracks and safely view animals) and the park’s hydrothermal features, which include geysers, fumaroles, hot springs and mud pots.

9_Exhibits at Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport educate travelers about wildlfie they might see in Yellowstone Park_courtesy of the airport.

10_The orignal sign at Yellowstone Airport still welcomes passengers

With the west entrance to Yellowstone National Park just two miles away (and Old Faithful Geyser 33 miles away), Yellowstone Airport (WYS) claims the title of “Yellowstone National Park’s Local Airport.”

“There’s no more convenient way to get to the park than to come here,” said airport manager Jeff Kadlec.

With a smokejumper base on property and an in-terminal restaurant with bison burgers, Rocky Mountain oysters and a very-popular-with-the-locals lobster bisque on the menu, the airport itself is also somewhat of an attraction.

So are the airport’s original wooden sign, great mountain views and occasional wildlife visitors.

12_'This guy was standing right outside the terminal doors one night when I was trying to leave work,' said Yellowstone Airport's Jeff Kadlec.

In Las Vegas, McCarran International Airport serves as an aviation gateway to many of the national wonders of the southwest, including Zion National Park and Arches National Park in Utah, and, of course, Grand Canyon National Park.

Some of these and other nearby natural wonders are featured in LAS art installations, most notably Peter Lik’s floor-to-ceiling photos in Terminal 3.

13_'Blaze of Beauty' by  Peter Lik at McCarran Intl Airport in Las Vegas

As part of the current national “Find Your Park” campaign, posters throughout Miami International note the airport’s status as a gateway to Big Cypress Preserve and Biscayne and Everglades national parks.

And on July 30, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport is kicking off a six-month exhibition in the Terminal 4 Gallery introducing airport visitors to historic and ancient sites, geology and recreational opportunities in Arizona’s 22 national parks and sites.

17_ At PHX_Sportyak boat use during complete traverse of the Grand Canyon, August 5-31, 1963, with 3 other identical boats. Courtesy Grand Canyon Nat Park

On display will be historic and ancient objects and images from each park’s collection, including Native American pottery and baskets, trade beads, a fossil of petrified wood from a tree over 200 million years old and a Sportyak boat used for a complete traverse of the Grand Canyon in 1963.

And for aviation buffs who would rather skip the airport and go straight to a park, the National Park Service has put together a handy list of parks with connections to aviation “firsts.”

The Wright Brothers National Memorial in North Carolina is on the list of course (first successful sustained flight of a power aircraft and first dedicated airport for airplanes), as is the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park in Ohio (first figure 8, first airborne engine restart, first cargo flight, first airborne engine restart and the first — and only — time the Wright Brothers flew together).

But also on the list is Grand Canyon National Park (first use of an airplane in search and rescue), Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (first airplane to land in a volcano) and many others.

I know I’ve missed some favorites – so feel free to add yours below.