Posts

7 Hidden Gems in Branson

Fortune seekers, rejoice! There are a TON of hidden gems in Branson, MO. We know that Branson is a hotbed of top-notch entertainment. It’s also home to some intriguing attractions you may not know exist. Let’s explore some hidden gems in Branson…

Top of the Rock

Top of the Rock is situated at the highest elevation in Taney County and tucked into some of the most breathtaking scenery in Missouri. It boasts world-class golf courses, including the Jack Nicklaus signature course and an Arnold Palmer-designed practice range. However, hidden throughout this stunning recreational facility are secrets of its own- including a concealed room, The Lost Canyon Cave, a spectacular mountain top wedding chapel and a natural history museum. Incredible!

Bonniebrook Gallery, Museum and Homestead

Bonniebrook was home to Rose O’Neill, world-renowned artist and creator of the Kewpie. You can visit this 1870s home (the first in Taney County with indoor plumbing, electricity and telephone!) and learn about the Kewpie craze that swept the world in the early 20th century.

Butterfly Palace

You can have a rainforest adventure right in the heart of the Ozarks! The Butterfly Palace is home to thousands of tropical butterflies in its butterfly aviary. You can feed them or participate in a daily butterfly release. You can also explore a living rainforest with genuine inhabitants. It’s an unexpected surprise in the middle of Branson!

World’s Largest Toy Museum

Take a trip down memory lane at the World’s Largest Toy Museum. The complex is home to countless collections and six museums, including the Stearnsy Bear Museum and the National BB Gun Museum. The World’s Largest Toy Museum will make you nostalgic for your childhood in the best possible way.

World’s Largest Ball of Twine

You serious, Clark? Yep! The World’s Largest Ball of Twine can be found right in Branson at Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Branson is also home to the World’s Largest Rooster, a giant fiddle and banjo, and (of course) the World’s Largest Toy Museum.

Marvel Cave at Silver Dollar City

This hidden gem truly is a marvel. Originally a tourist attraction on its own, the Silver Dollar City theme park developed around the entrance to Marvel Cave. Included with your park ticket, you’ll travel 300 ft. below ground to the largest cave entrance room in the U.S. A trained guide will share stories during the hour-long tour. You then make your way 1070 ft. back to the top in a uniquely designed cable train.

Runaway Mountain Coaster at Branson Mountain Adventure Park

This family-friendly thrill ride will leave you breathless! Mountain coasters are gaining popularity world-wide, and Branson boasts one of the finest. The Runaway Mountain Coaster follows the natural topography of the land for nearly a mile. It’s a uniquely exhilarating experience that you just can’t miss. Be sure to check out this hidden gem at Branson Mountain Adventure Park.

Branson is packed with amazing and unique attractions for student groups, homeschool families, faith-based groups or any other group looking for adventure.  The hidden gems in Branson are just waiting for you to find them!

NEXT IN THE SERIES: SMOKY MOUNTAINS

Helpful Homeschool Travel Apps

Homeschool families and co-ops have a unique opportunity to travel as part of their curricula. Since the best learning happens in the real world, it’s time to get out there and experience it! However, the thought of endless hours in a mini-van can sometimes be a powerful deterrent. Below are some helpful homeschool travel apps to make road schooling easier and the journey more fun.

LeVar Burton Kids Skybrary

This app (formerly the Reading Rainbow app) is a virtual, on-the-go library for kids. It’s an unlimited reading service customized to your child’s interest. Best of all, it’s FREE – love that LeVar Burton!

News-O-Matic

News-O-Matic is a daily news app designed to inspire children ages 6-14 to read non-fiction. News articles covering high interest, relevant topics are added monthly. News-O-Matic is a great resource for encouraging critical thinking and discussion while on the go.

Star Walk

If your travels take you outdoors, you’ll want the Star Walk app. This interactive guide tracks your movements in real time while you to explore the night sky. It creates a sky map of stars, constellations and other celestial objects. It also provides information about what you’re seeing. Star Walk has a ton of features guaranteed to thrill sky watchers of any age!

Homeschool Helper

You may already have this one in your bag of tricks. Homeschool Helper is a management tool designed specifically for homeschoolers to keep track of lessons, grades, tasks, trips and more. It’s handy for use at home or on the road.

Travelmath

Travelmath is super for honing math skills while on the move. It’s not necessarily designed for students, but is great for calculating mileage, fuel charges, flight times and more. You can sneak in a math lesson on your trek.

Homeschooling is the perfect conduit for connecting curriculum to reality. Life lessons are meant to be learned beyond four walls. These helpful apps will make the journey as exciting as the destination!

Homeschool Travel Tips, Tricks and Discounts

Travel has always been an important part of our family life. My husband’s job often requires him to be on the road. When the kids were little, we’d tag along. It was a great opportunity to introduce them to a world bigger than the one they lived in- even if that just meant a two-hour trip somewhere. Those trips always sparked interesting conversation, thoughtful debates and learning. As the children got older and more involved in school, sports and other activities, our spur-of-the-moment jaunts dwindled a bit- although we still make lots of time for scheduled adventures!

Many homeschool families have a unique opportunity to enjoy last-minute trips or well-planned family travel experiences throughout the year, making the world their classrooms. The flexibility to engage in this kind of experiential learning is priceless, although some of the deep discounts associated with homeschool travel are appreciated (wink wink.) I gathered up a few of my favorite tips and tricks for homeschool travel to share with anyone interested in taking education on the road.

Family-Friendly

There are so many great family-friendly destinations that really LOVE homeschoolers! Of course, there are standard favorites like Washington, D.C. and Williamsburg, but consider the hidden gems like Branson, MO or Pigeon Forge, TN for your trip. You’ll find stunning vistas and outdoor fun, engaging attractions, and warm, welcoming people who will appreciate your visit.

Know When to Go

Homeschooling allows for flexibility when planning travel. As everyone else is headed back to the brick and mortar classroom in September, homeschool families can hit the road. Off-peak times like September or May mean discounted hotel rooms and smaller crowds- a win for your wallet and your sanity!

Deals and Discounts

Speaking of discounts, there are a bevvy of bargains to be had when homeschool traveling. Check out the local Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) to see if they offer a city pass for discounted attraction rates. Search for “homeschool days” prior to your trip. Often admission to attractions is free or significantly reduced for homeschoolers on these designated days. Find out if your local museum is a member of a reciprocal organization like the Association of Children’s Museums or North American Reciprocal Museum Program. Your membership locally may allow you free entry to countless museums as you travel.

Helping Hands

If you need a helping hand getting started with your travel, there are resources available online to assist. Search for a homeschool travel club in your area or a site like Group Experience, specializing in homeschool travel opportunities in exceptional destinations. If you’ve never planned a trip exclusively for homeschool, you’ll love the convenience of GE’s Homeschool Odysseys.

Homeschooling is the perfect conduit for learning through travel. These moments with your kiddos are fleeting and filled with possibility. Take advantage of precious time and the educational opportunities each adventure presents!

Chicago Shakes Up The Usual Student Trip Itinerary

Years ago, as a freshly minted professional working for a non-profit, I was asked to attend a conference in Chicago. My colleagues were jetting off to fabulous locations like Cancun, L.A. or Scottsdale for their conventions, so I was a bit disappointed that my destination was Chicago. In the middle of January. Ugh.

Fast forward a couple of decades and Chicago remains one of my very favorite cities ever! Ive been back many times (and in every season), as Chicago is a chameleon of adventure. If youre ready to shake up the usual student trip itinerary, consider Chicago- recently named one of the Student Youth Travel Associations Top Ten Student Destinations in the U.S.

From the moment you hop off the El, Chicagos vibrant energy draws you in to explore all her nooks and crannies. Start on the shoreline of Lake Michigan at Navy Pier, a 50-acre playground packed with fun. Get a birds eye view of the lake and the city as you soar 200 feet in the air on the Centennial Wheel. Then splash down with an incredible tour of the lake or the Chicago River on a cruise departing from the pier.

Once the group is back on land, continue exploring at Millennium Park, boasting a state-of-the-art collection of architecture, landscape design and art (all free!) and a fresh spin on the town square. So much fun! Stroll down Chicagos renowned Magnificent Mile for some upscale retail therapy or a slice of that famous deep-dish pizza.
Thrill-seekers will rejoice with a visit to the Skydeck Chicago in Willis Tower. Theyll step outside the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere at a height of 1,353 feet and onto the Ledges glass boxes, which extend 4.3 feet out from the Skydeck. Oh my. As more of a low-altitude girl, I prefer to enjoy this attraction from street-level!

The Museum of Science and Industry is another extraordinary attraction unique to Chicago. Open since 1933, MSI is one of the largest science museums in the world and dedicated to bringing science to life for children of all ages.

When the kids are ready to get their fun on, a Blue Man Group show is a must. Wide eyes, blue bodies, paint and percussion are at the core of this unique performance. The silent humor is infectious, the drumming loud and the toilet paper abundant; a perfect recipe for entertaining teenagers.

The Great Escape Room Chicago is another awesome way to spend an hour as your group works together to solve puzzles and scavenge for items necessary to escape the room. You can choose the level of difficulty and the experience, ensuring that all have an amazing time. Once successfully liberated, its just a few steps to a Chicago staple, Stans Donuts and Coffee. Yum!

Whether its January, December, or any month in between, Chicago is a phenomenal destination for students. My nave twenty-something self just didnt recognize the distinct style and flair of Chicago prior to that first visit. The slightly older and much wiser version knows a good thing when she visits – and so will your student group!

Kaleidoscope Adventures: Educating Students Through Travel

Kaleidoscope Adventures, a leader in student travel, is ready to help plan your Chicago trip. More than 25 years of experience and a former teacher at the helm means KA is equipped to handle your every need with ease. Trust the experts at Kaleidoscope Adventures to make your class trip one your students will remember for years to come! Contact KA at (800) 774-7337 or email info@kaleidoscopeadventures.com.

WonderWorks Will Turn Your Group Plans Upside Down!

Planning a student trip. Planning a homeschool trip. Planning a scout trip. Planning a family or faith-based trip. If you can check any of these boxes, be sure to check this one:

? Include a visit to WonderWorks in your plans!


WonderWorks is an experience (or experiment!) in fun like no other. As soon as the building is visible, its clear that things are not as they seem! The upside-down faade is explained to guests as a once top-secret laboratory located in the Bermuda Triangle in which an experiment gone wrong landed it in its current destination- upended!

Inside, the atmosphere at WonderWorks is charged with fun, excitement and more than 100 interactive displays and exhibits at your disposal. Science is at the heart of the experience, and all the activities are geared for maximum play. Lie on a bed of nails, conquer the indoor ropes course, or move at the speed of light. Challenge your mind, body and imagination in the Wonder Zones or dazzle your senses with the mystery of magic. Take in a 4D-XD (or 6D in Myrtle Beach!) movie or light it up in a black-lit laser tag arena. Theres so much to do in this world of edu-tainment!

WonderWorks loves groups of 15+ and promises an incredibly wacky adventure for all! WonderWorks has locations in six great group destinations. Each is uniquely engaging and offers guests a completely unexpected and upside-down approach to fun. When planning your group travel, be sure to check this one off your to-do list!

 

Steeped in History and Mystery, Gettysburg is a Great Student Destination

Growing up in PA, I spent many wonderful summers exploring Gettysburg. It didnt occur to me that a national treasure was practically in my backyard. I took for granted that a day trip tromping through battlefields was practically a rite of passage for Civil War enthusiasts. Steeped in history and mystery, Gettysburg is a great student destination as well.

THINGS TO DO

Gettysburg National Military Park
If you are traveling to Gettysburg with students, a stop at the Gettysburg National Military Park is probably at the top of the trip checklist. The Battle of Gettysburg was the turning point of the Civil War and the inspiration for Abraham Lincolns Gettysburg Address. Programs are available for all ages, as well as free, ranger-led tours of key battlefield moments. Theres really nothing quite like the experience of walking on these hallowed grounds to truly make history come alive for students!

Gettysburg Diorama
A fully-narrated light and sound show, the Gettysburg Diorama has the entire 6,000-acre battlefield in one place. Students will be amazed by the incredible detail of the display during the 30-minute presentation of the three-day battle.

Songs and Stories of A Civil War Hospital
Christ Lutheran Church is the oldest building in Gettysburg in continuous use for worship and served as a hospital from the first day of battle and for 5 weeks. True stories of soldiers (Union and Confederate), doctors and nurses who worked valiantly to save lives are presented through readings of soldiers journals and a citizen-nurses diary, live civil war music, poetry of Walt Whitman (who served as a civil war nurse for 3 years) and passages from the Lincolns 2nd Inaugural Address (the Gettysburg Address). Students are given the name of a soldier who was a patient at the hospital and whose fate is revealed at the end of the program (did he live or die?)

Ghosts of Gettysburg Candlelight Walking Tours
Dont miss a chance to get up close and personal with some of Gettysburgs best haunts and eerie sightings! The Ghosts of Gettysburg Candlelight Walking Tours have been around since 1994 and are based on true stories from Mark Nesbitts Ghosts of Gettysburg book series and have been featured on Unsolved Mysteries.

Shriver House Museum- The Civilian Experience
The Shriver House gives students a different lens through which to view the battle- a civilian perspective. This 1860 home in the heart of the historic district has been meticulously restored and frozen in time, and features members of the Shriver family sharing their experiences of life before, during and after the war.

PLACES TO EAT

General Picketts Buffet
If you need a quick, home-cooked meal to fuel those insatiable teen appetites, General Picketts Buffet is a perfect choice. Reasonable group rates (which include beverages and gratuity), two complimentary meals per bus and great food make General Picketts a group favorite. It also has a gift shop to satisfy students needs to spend ALL their trip money (goodness knows they wont take any home!).

Historic 1776 Dobbin House Tavern
Historic 1776 Dobbin House Tavern provides comfortable group accommodations, gracious hospitality and delectable dishes in a charming and historic setting. Students can tour the oldest and most historic home in Gettysburg, check out the secret underground railroad hideout or visit the Country Curiosity Store.

PLACES TO STAY

Courtyard by Marriott Gettysburg
If you want a clean and comfortable property that knows how to cater to student groups, Courtyard by Marriott Gettysburg is a great choice. Close to popular Gettysburg attractions and featuring an indoor pool, Courtyard by Marriott fully understands the needs of student groups and has the experience to make your group stay a breeze.

Kaleidoscope Adventures, a leader in student travel, is ready to help plan your Gettysburg trip. More than 25 years of experience and a former teacher at the helm means KA is equipped to handle your every need with ease. Trust the experts at Kaleidoscope Adventures to make your class trip one your students will remember for years to come! Contact KA at (800) 774-7337 or email info@kaleidoscopeadventures.com.

Believe It or Not – Ripleys Attractions Are Everywhere

Believe it or not (see what I did there?!) Ripleys attractions are everywhere. More than 100+ locations worldwide means that odds are good youll find a Ripleys to meet the needs of your student group trip.

Ripleys Believe It or Not Attractions are an astonishing collection originating from the private coffers of Robert Ripley (1890-1949). Ripley spent 35 years traveling to 201 countries seeking the odd, the unusual, and the unexplained. Hmmm sounds like he could have just planned a trip with middle school students! These unique acquisitions are the foundation of the Ripleys attractions Odditoriums, Aquariums, Mirror Mazes, WaxWorks, 4D Moving Theaters and many more.

Locations can be found in most U.S. student travel destinations and feature every macabre or ridiculous item conceivable, as well as many that you wont be able to wrap your brain around! Each Ripleys Odditorium is housed in an unusual structure and typically includes between 400 700 exhibits. Displays are a careful conglomerate of the strange, the shocking, and the beautiful- you may find a shrunken head, a micro-miniature sculpture or a 22-foot tall car parts robot. Students will love the interactive nature of the displays and the unexpected surprises around every corner. Its so much fun to wander through the space and imagine what Robert Ripley must have been thinking when he encountered some of these treasures! He once noted I have traveled in 201 countries and the strangest thing I saw was man. I think thats a sentiment to which most of us can relate!

Ripleys Aquariums offer students an opportunity to come face to face with fascinating underwater life. Found in the Smoky Mountains, Myrtle Beach and Toronto, Canada, these state-of-the-art facilities allow visitors to glide on moving platforms into an aquatic world filled with captivating fish and other sea creatures. Each aquarium location is distinct and will keep your student group enthralled.

Ripleys attractions are everywhere and can be a cornerstone of your student group trip. Even the most jaded middle school students will find something to peak their interests- and we all know thats a rare and surprising find in itself!

Kaleidoscope Adventures, a leader in student travel, is ready to help plan your student group trip. More than 25 years of experience and a former teacher at the helm means KA is equipped to handle your every need with ease. Trust the experts at Kaleidoscope Adventures to make your class trip one your students will remember for years to come! Contact KA at (800) 774-7337 or email info@kaleidoscopeadventures.com.

Philadelphia Is A Top Trending Student Destination

The 2018 Super Bowl was an epic battle between two cities claiming the title of Cradle of Liberty. Since my beloved Steelers werent in the running, I was thrilled that the Philadelphia Eagles brought home the championship. As a history geek, I was even more thrilled to listen to the revolutionary commentary flying back and forth in the weeks prior to the big game. Both Philadelphia and Boston are ideal destinations for students looking to raise their history games, but this Pennsylvania girl is going to focus on the home team! Philadelphia is a top trending student destination for a reason. Historically significant and brilliantly modern, there are endless attractions and activities for students to appreciate.

Take a self-guided stroll through the home of the symbol of American independence (the Liberty Bell), followed by a guided tour of Independence Hall. Visit the National Constitution Center or Congress Hall and stand where the foundation of America was laid. Tour Franklin Court (the site of Benjamin Franklins home) or the Franklin Institute for a glimpse of scientific genius.

The Museum of the American Revolution is a new and exciting treasure in a city packed with historically significant venues. Opened in April of 2017, this museum is dedicated to telling the indelible story of the American Revolution. Of particular note is the centerpiece of the museums extensive collection, George Washingtons original headquarters tent. Truly awe-inspiring!

If a quirkier itinerary peaks your students interests, be sure to visit the Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site for a glimpse of Al Capones cell- a luxurious home away from home. Edgar Allen Poe had a Philly address- and you can visit the Edgar Allen Poe National Historic Site in the Spring Garden Neighborhood. Call ahead for this one; hours are limited. If the slightly macabre is more your students thing, be sure to include a visit to the Mtter Museum on the itinerary. Located in Center City, this museum boasts a collection of medical oddities and implements guaranteed to make you glad you live in the 21st century. Yikes!

Finally, no trip to Philadelphia is complete without a run (cue the music!) up the iconic steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art made famous in the movie Rocky. After celebrating your physical prowess with a cheesy (and unintelligible) shout, make your way to South Philly for a taste of the cheesy rivalry between two Philadelphia staples- Genos or Pats!

Philadelphia is an historical hot spot and a uniquely exciting destination for students. Whether youre planning a quick trip or an extended stay, your students wont be disappointed by the breadth and depth of all there is to do. Score one for the home team!

Kaleidoscope Adventures, a leader in student travel, is ready to help plan your Philadelphia trip. More than 25 years of experience and a former teacher at the helm means KA is equipped to handle your every need with ease. Trust the experts at Kaleidoscope Adventures to make your class trip one your students will remember for years to come! Contact KA at (800) 774-7337 or email info@kaleidoscopeadventures.com.

Plan Your Student STEM Trip to Birmingham for Great STEM Attractions

If you are planning a student group trip, chances are good that your district will require a STEM component. You may even be planning an exclusively STEM trip. If youre not competing in a robotics competition, where do you begin searching for a destination that meets your requirements? Birmingham, Alabama is a great starting point! Rooted firmly in the 19th century steel industry and evolving into a city undergoing a renaissance, Birmingham has an extensive and varied offering of outstanding STEM-related attractions. Below are some highlights to consider as you plan your student STEM trip to Birmingham.

Photo Courtesy of Art Meripol and the Greater Birmingham CVB

Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark
Built in 1881 and operational by April 1882, the Sloss Blast Furnace was a technological marvel of its era. Today students can tour the site of this monument to the industrial revolution and learn how the furnace worked, the historical significance of the plant in Birminghams development, and what it was like to be a worker during production. Theres even an opportunity to make a piece of cast iron art!

Photo Courtesy of Ted Tucker and the Greater Birmingham CVB

Vulcan Park and Museum
Follow your visit to the Sloss Furnaces with a trip to the Vulcan Statue and Museum. Created by Giuseppe Morettti, the Vulcan depicts the Roman god of fire and forge and stands 56 feet tall. This cast iron statue reflects Birminghams steel and iron heritage and allows for spectacular views of Birmingham. The museum below is an interactive museum highlighting the history of both the city and the Vulcan.

Photo Courtesy of Ted Tucker and the Greater Birmingham CVB

The McWane Science Center
The McWane Science Center will quickly take your students from the 19th to the 21st century. Exhibits at this state-of-the-art center are designed to challenge, inspire and encourage interest in the sciences. Take in multiple levels of hands-on STEM activities perfect for kids of all ages!

Photo Courtesy of Ted Tucker and the Greater Birmingham CVB

Barber Vintage MotorSports Museum
Opened in 1995 by retired race car driver George Barber, this unrivaled collection of restored-to-racing condition motorcycles constitute the worlds largest motorcycle collection (more than 1400!). The bikes represent 200 manufacturers from approximately 20 countries and were even part of a display at The Guggenheim. Its an unusual and unique look at some pristine machinery!

Photo Courtesy of Art Meripol and the Greater Birmingham CVB

Southern Museum of Flight
The Southern Museum of Flight is a regional gem dedicated to sharing the history of aviation in the south. Exhibits include civilian, military and experimental aircraft and memorabilia. There are more than 100 aircraft on display, as well as a tribute to the Tuskegee Airmen.

Photo Courtesy of Ted Tucker and the Greater Birmingham CVB

Birmingham Botanical Gardens
The word STEM often connotes thoughts of technology or robotics. The Birmingham Botanical Gardens will have you thinking outside the flower box! They offer fabulous educational programs and workshops that dig in to the science of horticulture. Admission is always free, the gardens are open year-round, and they even have the only public horticultural library in the U.S.

As you begin to plan your STEM adventures, keep Birmingham in mind for a one-of-a-kind trip. Theres so much to see and do beyond these few suggestions. The kids will love the engaging attractions, history and southern hospitality. Youll love that youve met your curricular requirements in one amazing city!

Kaleidoscope Adventures, a leader in student travel, is ready to help plan your Birmingham STEM trip. More than 25 years of experience and a former teacher at the helm means KA is equipped to handle your every need with ease. Trust the experts at Kaleidoscope Adventures to make your class trip one your students will remember for years to come! Contact KA at (800) 774-7337 or email info@kaleidoscopeadventures.com.

Oh, What A Knight!

The term medieval conjures up some pretty powerful images. Princesses, castles, plague (lets skip that one) and, of course, blade-wielding, powerful and chivalrous knights. Its enough to make a frequent reader of historical romances like myself swoon! Imagine the pageantry, the clashing of swords, damsels in distress and wondrous feats of horsemanship. Wouldnt it be wonderful to travel through the ages to such a gothic era?

Fortunately, we dont have to time travel- simply visit the nearest Medieval Times for a dining and entertainment experience like no other. Medieval Times is a spectacular evening of food and showmanship that will have you leaping to your feet and cheering on your favorite knight!

The Medieval Times experience begins the instant you enter the castle doors. The atmosphere is charged with excitement, and royal decrees are shouted from balconies as it is determined which gallant knight will be representing you in the tournament. The energy continues as you are seated for an exquisite, four-course meal fit for royalty. Service is exceptional and incredibly efficient. Once the guests appetites are satisfied, the main event begins!

Knights dressed in varying colors and their stalwart mounts enter the ring, preparing for the tournament. Steel clashes with steel and sparks fly as the tournament gets underway. Viewers hold their collective breath as they watch in wonder as noble knights and their equestrian counterparts parry and thrust with unrivaled skill. Its a thrilling display of brawn and grace, while spectators are drawn into the action by the honorable and gallant knights. As the evening rolls out, the knights and their steeds join forces for the ultimate good of the kingdom, bringing the crowd surging to their feet and thundering applause.

Medieval Times is an experience that touches all the senses and inspires the audience with dazzling displays of might and metal. It is an especially outstanding venue for groups of all sizes, including student groups, scout groups, homeschool groups, family reunion groups, and more. An 11th century castle is an outstanding platform for both entertainment and education. Grab your shield and join in the revelry!