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Harry Potter and Disneyland’s World of Color are among new theme parks for Muggles

The biggest news in the theme park world this summer is the June 18 opening of the long-anticipated Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando in Florida.

But plenty of other new attractions await theme-park fans elsewhere, including a unique water-and-lights spectacle called World of Color, opening Friday at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., and the reopening of the King Kong attraction at Universal Hollywood in Los Angeles.

Other highlights this season include Shoot the Rapids, a 2,100-foot-long water ride at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio, with an 85-foot drop that simulates whitewater rapids, which opened May 29; and a couple of roller coasters named Intimidator, inspired by NASCAR great Dale Earnhardt’s nickname. One Intimidator opened in March at the Carowinds park on the North Carolina/South Carolina border, standing 23 stories high and reaching speeds of 75 mph. The other opened in April at Kings Dominion park in Doswell, Va., with speeds of over 90 mph and a height of 305 feet.

Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter was created with input from author J.K. Rowling and set designers from the Harry Potter movies. The level of detail is impressive, with butter beer served at Three Broomsticks Inn restaurant, magic wands for sale at Ollivander’s shop and puffs of steam rising from the Hogwarts Express train.

The marquee ride at Wizarding World, called Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, is located in a castle housing Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Even the line to reach the ride is designed to be entertaining: Visitors walk through the castle dungeon, a gallery filled with magical talking portraits, headmaster Albus Dumbledore’s office, a Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, and the Gryffindor House common room, where a Quidditch match takes place. The ride is a magical flight with Harry and friends.

Two other roller coasters, Flight of the Hippogriff and Dragon Challenge, are located

Don’t (Cake)Walk This Way: The Sordid Details of Golden’s New First Friday

I had a complicated relationship with cakewalks as a kid.

Meaning: I always wanted to win and yet never did.

My family had a glorious staycation in Golden, Colorado last weekend. My trip report and oodles of great giveaways are forthcoming but what cannot wait is my daughter Hurricane Hadley’s introduction to The (Cake)Walk of Doom.

Which is only moderately less death-defying than walking the plank.

I have spent a lot of time in this idyllic town that is nestled between two volcanic mesas and against the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. We stayed at the Golden Hotel overlooking the main drag and gurgling Clear Creek.

On Friday night, we attended the city’s “First Friday,” a newly-minted street fair that occurs on the first Friday of each month. We dined on delicious buffalo burgers from a vendor, watched a magic show, danced in the streets to a live band, indulged in Golden Sweets Ice Cream & Chocolate, rode in a free horse-drawn carriage and topped off our evening at Windy Saddle Cafe where they held a Cupcake Walk for the children.

Twenty-six kids crammed into a circle and each child was given a number to tape to the ground. Like most cakewalks, when the music stops and your number is called out, you’re a winner. But unlike most cakewalks, they had enough cupcakes for everyone; the child just needed to be patient enough to stick around to the end.

Hurricane Hadley lacks patience.

And yes, she gets it

Nederland’s New Carousel of Happiness Makes for a Happy Family Getaway

Nederland, just 17 miles west of Boulder, retains a reputation for being a hippie town, thanks in part to such well-known, offbeat annual events as the jam-friendly music festival NedFest, happening Aug. 28-29, and winter’s wacky Frozen Dead Guy Days.

But today at 10 a.m., Nederland launches into a new era of being not just a hippie town, but a happy town, too. That’s when the Carousel of Happiness starts to turn, the calliope begins to play, and the face of this community breaks into a smile.

In 1985, Scott Harrison, a Nederland resident, began carving and handpainting carousel animals, and a year later, bought and set about restoring the workings of an old merry-go-round that long ago graced the Saltair amusement park near Salt Lake City.

Since then, with determination, inspiration and idealism, Harrison kept carving and painting animals, restoring the mechanism, and building an energy-smart, 12-sided structure to house it. Over the years, Harrison’s dream became Nederland’s dream. A cadre of dedicated local volunteers joined him to help the project along, investing both sweat equity and financial support.

Why a carousel? When Harrison was in Vietnam with the Marine Corps, his sister sent him a small music box that played Chopin. He has since sought to make the world a more peaceful place. In 1975, against all odds, he and his wife, Ellen Moore, founded and co-directed Amnesty International’s Urgent Action Network to respond to genocides and other human crises around the globe. It now has tens of thousands of members worldwide.

Nederland artist George Blevins, whose angels decorate the carousel house, says of his friend’s upbeat project: “The carousel is one more insane dream in a crazy world. Now let’s finish this and do world peace.”

The Carousel of Happiness provides a new reason to visit this laid-back mountain community with a compact, walk-around downtown. Every one of the roughly 1,500 residents seems to know every other local in this friendly place that time forgot. Visitors can park their vehicles and wander around exploring shops and galleries, and having a remarkable choice of places to eat and relax.

1. Ben’s High Country Emporium

This new-for-Ned store on the east approach to downtown stocks all sorts of items for being

Glenwood Springs’ Adventure Park On Top of a Mountain (and Win a Family Four-pack of Tickets!)

CONTEST CLOSED. CONGRATULATIONS TO WINNER MARY-FRANCES MAIN AND THANK YOU TO ALL WHO ENTERED!

Take the world’s largest outdoor mineral hot springs pool, add an adventure park built on top of a mountain, sprinkle in the Roaring Fork Valley’s crimson rocks and emerald forests and what do you have?

Glenwood Springs’ matchless Shangri-La.

Conveniently located off I-70 between Vail and Aspen, my family has driven through Glenwood Springs multiple times and often marveled at the tram that appeared to go nowhere. Turns out, the Iron Mountain Tramway soars 4,300 feet up Iron Mountain to a big ol’ somewhere: Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park.

The 135-acre park features guided tours of Glenwood Caverns and Historic Fairy Caves, an alpine coaster, 4-dimensional theater, a laser tag arena, a climbing wall, gemstone sluice box mining, bungee trampolines, a simulated Conestoga wagon ride and more. New this year: The Giant Canyon Swing that launches riders over Glenwood Canyon, 1,300 feet above the Colorado River.

A few of my family’s favorite activities included:

Laser Tag

It was raining when we arrived at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park so we introduced our delighted cowboys to an indoor pursuit: laser tag. This new-fangled shoot-out in an old West setting uses the latest in wireless laser tag technology. With every death announcement, “Nice shot,” our vests would vibrate and my children came one step closer to unleashing their pent-up parental aggressions. For my husband and me, it was all about payback for our many sleepless nights.

Family laser tag is a win-win situation for everyone.

4-dimensional ride theater

I can’t say I’ve seen many movies in 3-D so I was unsure of what to expect at Colorado’s only 4-dimensional ride theater. We were

How the blind led the blonde on the Braille Trail (and a guide to Denver’s Mountain Parks)

Snow in May?!!

Let’s face it: very few people welcomed our winter blast last week with the exception of a few hearty souls like me. I am admittedly dysfunctional in that when it snows, all I want to do is ski, hike or run in it.

Either that or I’m just Canadian.

After I bundled up my kids and sent them to school, I headed to the hills on Wednesday. Destination: The Braille Trail. Located in Genesse, this hike is a small cut of paradise in Denver’s largest mountain park. My kids and I have hiked most of the trails along Denver’s front range with the exception of this one. I figured the 1-mile loop through a wooded grove would be perfect for a snowy day.

The Braille Trail’s access is off the Chief Hosa Exit 153 on I-70. My directions then told me to turn right on Stapleton Drive and follow it 1 mile until I found the trailhead for the Braille Trail and Beaver Brook.

I exited, I followed and I found nothing. The road dead-ended at a gate so I looped back around on the slick road and retraced my route several times. Still nothing. After several minutes, I concluded the trailhead just wasn’t there because I’m pretty darn good at reading signs.

Map interpretation? An entirely different matter.

Not to be dissuaded

Explore Colorado With Fun Outdoor Events From Planet Explore

With Spring’s glorious temperatures, Colorado is a joy to explore. The North Face has made outdoor participation a priority with Planet Explore a portal to the outdoors for people of all ages to find outdoor events in their area.

In Denver, Planet Explore has teamed up with the Audubon Society of Greater Denver, the Blufflake Nature Center, Trips for Kids Denver/Boulder, Big City Mountaineers and Environmental Learning for Kids to help promote these fantastic events.

1) Bluff Lake Nature Center has planned several events that will help you celebrate Earth Day.

Wednesday, April 21: STARGAZING. The Bluff Lake Nature Center will kick off Earth Day events on April 21 with a members-only event at dusk. An amateur Astronomer will bring his telescopes to Bluff Lake and share the wonders of the universe.

Thursday, April 22: EARTH DAY. On Earth Day, BLNC will partner once again with Stapleton-area business on our Locavore Earth Day event. A number of local businesses will donate a portion of their day’s proceeds to Bluff Lake Nature Center.

Saturday, April 24: RECYCLING. Bring your electronics, baby gear, and more to Bluff Lake for FREE (or low cost) recycling. BLNC will also be showing recycled art from local artists and their educators will work with children to assemble small worm bins. The recycling opportunities that will be available include B-Logistics (books, CDs, DVDs, video games), WeeCycle and Techno+Rescue (electronics). Check planetexplore.com for specifics.

Sunday, April 25: WESTERLY CREEK CLEAN-UP. Help BLNC and your Stapleton neighbors as they spend time cleaning-up Westerly Creek. This is an annual neighborhood tradition, and they collect a wide variety of trash – from the common (plastic water bottles) to the extraordinarily large (mattresses).

Saturday, MAY 1: SPRING TREE PLANTING. This is a great opportunity to teach children about nature as they learn to plant trees and shrubs. Register at PlanetExplore.com.

2) Big City Mountaineers is partnering with Leave No Trace and AEE (Association for Experiential Education) at the National Get Outdoors Day event June 12. They also have the

Snowmass: Inspiring Olympic Aspirations in Families + Win 4 Ski Passes!

Aspen has a couple of things working against it: exorbitant prices and a reputation for misbehaving celebrities such as Charlie Sheen and those on VH1’s controversial Secrets of Aspen.

Fortunately, it has even more going for it.

My family visited Snowmass for the first time last weekend. I was eager to try the largest of Aspen Ski Company’s highly acclaimed four resorts but I was also worried I wouldn’t fit in. I don’t own fur and my nails haven’t seen a manicure since those fake nails I wore to my high school graduation.

Turns out, it didn’t matter. I was, after all, at a world-class ski resort.

I just wore gloves the entire time.

The Mountain

If you have kids, there is nothing greater than Snowmass’ 25,000-square-foot Tree House Kid’s Adventure Center. The $17 million facility stands as the first of its kind in the snowsports industry with a host of themed rooms for ages eight weeks and older as well as a climbing gym, teen activities and kids’ retail.

Snowmass is renowned for its ski school and employs hundreds of instructors. We enrolled 3-year-old Bode in the Bears class and 5-year-old Hadley was a Grizzly ($130 for a full day). With only 6 percent of its 3,132 acres classified as “easiest,” Snowmass is an intermediate/advanced mountain. The beginner areas became a war zone as newbies practically battled it out for their place to face-plant. The upper mountain was gloriously devoid of lines and crowds.

My children still had the time of their lives.

Snowmass has prodigious amounts of

Small Resort, Big Fun! Win a 4-pack of tickets to ski Powderhorn!

Guest blogger Sara’s writing can be found at Lunacy.  Here she is sledding with her son outside the condo at Powderhorn.  Check out her review and don’t forget to enter for a chance to win a 4-pack of tickets!  (**See details below.)

I was so excited for our weekend trip to Powderhorn, but I honestly didn’t know what to expect.  We live in Evergreen, so we’re used to skiing Summit County resorts – miles of back bowls at Vail, crammed in the free shuttle bus at Breckenridge so that we don’t have pay to park, you get the idea. Big! Big mountains, big resorts, big crowds – big everything!

Let me preface all of this by saying that my husband loves to ski.  He’s made it his goal to ski in every month of the calendar year.  He tacks two extra hours onto a business trip so that he can take one run at Alyeska just so he can check Alaska off of his skiing bucket list.

When I told him that we were going to Powderhorn, I wasn’t sure how he would react.  In all of his hours spent dreaming about skiing, I didn’t think that this little resort atop a mesa just outside of Grand Junction had ever floated through his mind. But as the weekend got closer, we both knew how exciting it would be to share another set of ski experiences with our burgeoning skiers, Alex (4 1/2) and Ben (2 1/2).

We drove from Evergreen to Palisade on Friday afternoon. The drive was easy – a total of four hours with potty stops for the kiddos. We’ve always loved the wineries in Palisade, and knew we’d be cutting it close to get in a couple of tastings, but we arrived ahead of schedule. St. Kathryn Cellars is just off the highway as you drive into town.  I’m not usually one for fruit wines – I’ll take my wine made with grapes only please – but I have to admit that I’m kicking myself for not buying a bottle of their Confre Cellars Pomegranate Wine.  It sure would make a great Pome-tini if it was mixed right. They also had a great selection of good ‘ole grape wines, too.  And plenty of pretzels to keep the car-weary kiddos happy while we sipped.

Looking for Snow? Visit the Wolf Creek Ski Area + Enter to Win 4 Passes!

CONTEST CLOSED. CONGRATULATIONS TO WINNER LESLIE CRAFT!

Guest blogger Jillian’s writings can be found at Aspen Real Life.

I skipped into the kitchen singing, “We’re going on a ski trip, thanks to Colorado Ski Country USA.”

When my three boys and my husband, Wade, asked where we were going, I told them that we were going to the Wolf Creek Ski Area, a high alpine ski resort that rises up from its 10,300 foot base. A place that proudly boasts 465 natural inches of snowfall a year, the highest snowfall in Colorado.

My excitement began to wane and my concern began to grow when Wade began to map out the arduous route to southwestern Colorado and said, “You’ll probably be sleeping the entire time anyway. Don’t get me wrong, I have always wanted to ski Wolf Creek and am up for the powder skiing if you are, I am just gearing myself up for what is ahead, my little Mommy Blogging Travel Writer.”

When I told Wade that they had 98 inches of snow as their base at mid mountain, approximately 38 inches more than we had in our mountains here, our excitement began to grow.

As Wade predicted, the boys and I fell fast asleep as he climbed over the passes. He pointed out that I was better asleep for when I was awake I only made him more nervous as he swerved his way around the deer, fox and elk that were just begging to become road kill along the icy highway. To make matters worse, we took a pit stop and I accidentally smashed my door into his head as he was bending over to help Tucker.

We arrived at the Wyndham Pagosa at 1:00am and Wade and I were elated to find that not only did we have a full kitchen and fireplace but we also had our own bedroom, a luxury that we have not enjoyed for a long time. We fell into bed and woke up bright and early the next morning to a spectacular view out of our window of the San Juan mountains shrouded in snow clouds, and we hustled the boys out of the door.IMG_2868

Our hosts, Davey Pitcher and his wife Rosanne Haidorfer-Pitcher, had arranged for the boys to be put into their Hot Shots and Wolf Pup ski schools and we did not want to be late for our first ski date of the year.

We pulled up to the parking lot and I was transported back to my youth where I spent

The Five Coolest Things About Our Ski Trip to Copper Mountain (and Win Tickets!)

CONTEST CLOSED. CONGRATULATIONS TO WINNER SUSIE NELSON!

Join guest blogger Gabrielle Blair of Design Mom as her family hits the slopes!

The ski trip was fantastic. We’ve done quite a few day-ski-trips in the last few years, but this was the first time we actually stayed at the ski resort and made a vacation of it. Here are the highlights:

1) Woodward
While my crew was hitting the slopes, I spent an afternoon checking out Woodward. It basically blew my mind with it’s awesomeness. The Barn at Woodward is a one-of-a-kind facility with indoor ski jumps, trampolines and tumbling, a skate/bmx area, a lounge. Basically, it’s both a place for teens and tweens to hang out when the ski lifts shut down at 4:00, and a place to take lessons and really hone your skills. I took about a million pictures here.





The ski/snowboard ramps are lined with this stuff. It’s really stiff and allows your skis and board to “cut in” like they do in real snow. The staff mists it with water (and occasionally with silicone) to keep the ride smooth.



Students start by enrolling in a One Hit Wonder class. The class gets them familiar with all the equipment in the barn. They begin with some tumbling, then move to the trampolines to perfect