Planning a family trip is a little different than a last minute weekend getaway. Anyone who has kids know how much more is involved, the extra considerations you need to think about when lining up hotels and restaurants, and how many bags you bring along. For some reason, regardless of how small they are, you always end up with four times the number of bags you probably need, just in case….
I know you’ve been there.
We were planning to do a side trip to Providence Rhode Island from New York City around the Easter Break and let’s be honest, April in New England is rarely warm and rarely has clear blue skies. It’s not something you can plan or predict and so, when in doubt, pack layers, a few umbrellas and a warm cozy hat just in case. We did of course and glad that we came prepared since it rained for 95% of our week long trip.
The good news is that the weather allowed us to have plenty of pool time at the Providence Marriott where we hung our hat that week (see my write-up — bottom line, we thought it was a great stay for family travel) and we were able to take in the best of what Providence has to offer inside.
We started of course with an excursion we were eager to take on the one afternoon the sky remained dry — the Roger Williams Park Zoo. After all, who doesn’t love to hang out with animals regardless of weather?
ROGER WILLIAMS PARK ZOO
We had a unique opportunity to feed giraffes, and despite living in Africa 3 times and taking several trips over the years which often included safari-like adventures, I’ve never yet had an opportunity to feed a giraffe. Meet Sukari from the Roger Williams Park Zoo. Isn’t she a beauty? Graceful, playful and charming all wrapped into one.
The feeding process began. What a fabulous experience that Jake, at only 8, had an opportunity to feed a giraffe despite zero trips to Africa (yet). Below, bonding with Sukari.
What you’ll notice here is just how they take in their food. The giraffe tongue is so incredibly long that it can reach out and grab things quite seamlessly — even swirl the lettuce in this case around their tongue so it can be pulled in with ease. The first two shots show the length of her tongue, whereas the third shot shows just how capable she is at using it to her advantage when it comes to feeding time.
A few fun factoids I learned from the Giraffe Conservation include not just how they eat, but what they eat and why. Giraffe are browsers and select mainly leaves and buds on trees, Acacia leaves, shoots and shrubs as well as herbs, climbers, vines, flowers and fruit depending on the season. In other words, they eat relatively healthy and in fact the proportion of grass in their diet is very low.
Their tongues are incredibly dexterous as you can see — in addition to their long tongue action when taking in their food, they use the ridged roof of their mouth to help feed on a variety of leaves and shoots! Males are capable of feeding on vegetation at higher levels than females do, although both can stretch their head and neck near vertical to access preferred forage.
When I lived in Africa, I was always fascinated by giraffes and whenever I came across one in a conservation area, on a safari or in the wild, I could marvel at them for hours.
Of course, giraffes weren’t the only fascinating creatures for kids to learn about at the Roger Williams Park Zoo. We came across zebra (very common in Africa), the African Painted Dog, red river hogs, red crowned cranes, snow leopards, moon bears, the Chinese alligator, the oh so cute wallaby, kangaroos, harbor seals, owls, the bushy adorable alpaca and much more.
The goats were particularly pesky when we were there, keen to put on a show for the children who entered the pen. We were allowed to walk freely among them and even have a chance to feed them from outside the pen after we left.
We could also brush the goats as well, which was a very soothing and calming experience.
Camels also fascinate me and I love watching their behavior – slow but persistent. I’ve ridden on them on a number occasions over the years, including in Egypt, Israel and Qatar.
Flamingos show off their very pink feet.
The American Bald Eagle.
Parrots show off their exotic, vibrant colors.
And then there are the elephants, another animal I have always adored – I’ve also had a chance to ride them on a number of occasions over the years, including in northern Nepal, India, South Africa and Kenya.
Two thumbs up for the Roger Williams Park Zoo in Providence — a great family activity any time of year, although more activities abound during warmer months. In late March and early April, kids can visit with the Easter Bunny and go on an egg hunt safari, and from late April through early September, kids can ride camels.
Open during the summer months is a rock wall where you can climb a four-sided rock wall, choosing varying degrees of difficulty depending on your comfort level. In August, they have something called Brew at the Zoo, where you can sample 100 craft beers from over 50 of the regions’ finest breweries. In the fall during the month of October, they have a Jack O’Lantern Spectacular, a great idea for the season and fun for kids and adults alike.
Thousands of illuminated jack-o-lanterns feature over 125 of the gourds carved into veritable works of art. Be sure to read my write-up on Jack O’Lantern Blaze, which is an event held annually in Westchester County New York — I include a sample of some of the 5,000 pumpkins which come alive every October.
Other things worth noting is their Butterly Exhibit, which opens in late May, the Wetlands Trail, a farmyard area which represents the layouts of typical Rhode Island commercial, urban and community farms, Marco Polo’s Adventure Treks and much much more. The Boston Globe had called the Roger Williams Park Zoo the finest in New England. Located on 1000 Elmwood Avenue in Providence, it’s definitely worth a trip.
BIG NAZO PUPPET LAB
The “play” didn’t stop at the zoo. Next up was trying on a myriad of costumes at the BIG NAZO Puppet Lab, a puppet laboratory featuring weird creatures and costumes. In a relatively small room, you’re faced with hundreds of costumes that represent various creatures, some scary, some funny, all of them large and colorful.
And so, we started to play, trying on masks, and full blown costumes.
A fun group shot. Believe it or not, there’s an 8 year old underneath the crazy three-eyed creature with the carrot hanging out of its mouth.
We learned a bit about their work. BIG NAZO isn’t just a shop with hundreds of costumes, but an international performance group of visual artists, puppet performers, and masked musicians who unite to create bizarre and hilarious larger-than-life sized characters, environments, and spectacles.
Renegade circus family contortionists, a rowdy rodeo horse, a giant three-eyed robot percussionist, break-dancing police officers, Mountain Trolls, blob-like GO-GO Dancers, a charismatic lab rat and his giant man-eating chia pet are just a few of the characters, environments, and spectacles that create an irreverent musical Commedia full of irresolvable conflict, ridiculous dancing and an epic battle with the forces of chaos. Oh My!!
Their innovative mask & puppetry techniques combine stand-up comedy, Sci-Fi, Go-Go dancing, daredevil stunts, soap opera hysterics and professional wrestling with live rock & funk musicand audience-interactive improvisation.
Located at 25 Fulton Street across from Providence City Hall, it serves as an exhibition space, a creature-building workshop and community interface. Two thumbs up and a must stop when you’re next in Providence.
PROVIDENCE CHILDREN’S MUSEUM
Another fun family activity is the Providence Children’s Museum. While at first, it may appear to appeal to smaller aged children, I found that there was something compelling for all ages as you began to explore the museum in more depth.
Located on 100 South Street in Providence, the museum is incredibly interactive, allowing tons of hands on experience for kids and adults alike. The Museum is Rhode Island’s first (and still its only) children’s museum, and has become an integral part of Rhode Island life, a place where children are nurtured and celebrated. It is in a separate space than where it stood when it originally opened and now occupies 17,000 square feet in Providence’s historic Jewelry District, where it has been housed since 1997.
You can learn about history by walking through the decades, investigate the awesome power of air, explore a wet and wild playscape or climb and crawl through two outdoor play spaces. Go on a visual journey with me through the Museum itself.
Here are examples of visitor’s creations – they place them here on a shelf after working at the hands-on table, where you’ll find parents creating their own alongside their children.
My creation….it stretched my brain a bit I might add.
Two thumbs up and well worth a stop if you have children in tow.
Rhody Ramble is a useful resource that alerts you to family adventures and activities in Rhode Island, including Providence.
From afternoon tea and the Brick Market museum of Newport History, to the Museum of Natural History & Planetarium and the Breakers Family Tour, a family audio tour which allows youngsters and parents to imagine themselves personally witnessing the history made in this great Gilded Age chateau. Learn more at www.RhodyRamble.org.
SWIM @ THE PROVIDENCE MARRIOTT
Most kids love to swim and if they don’t, it’s time to get them in the water. We grew up swimming in lakes, ponds and rivers in upstate New York but kids who raised in urban areas have less opportunities to swim on a regular basis, even during summer months. We loved the fact that the Marriott Providence had both an indoor and outdoor pool (not open when we were there in April).
You can see from the shot below that the outdoor pool joins the indoor pool through a glass door that opens and closes, remaining open obviously during warmer months. Inside, there’s also a hot tub, so we were able to relax a bit while watching the kids play for hours on end.
The Marriott with its buffet breakfast, full salon and spa, on-site restaurant, adjoining rooms and pool, makes for a great “family stay” when in Providence.
BOWLING WITH THE FAMILY
While we didn’t have time to go bowling, it’s a great family activity to do in the area, particularly when the weather is still a little chilly as it was in April. Lang’s Bowlarama on Niantic Avenue in Cranston Rhode Island.
Around since 1960, they boast a long established family business that continues to serve the local community. Not only do they have a number of bowling alley lanes, but they do birthday party hosting, and there’s a full bar with a craft beer sports bar and massive television for watching games.
A FAMILY & FINE DINING CITY
What’s nice about Providence is that there are plenty of family dining options as well as fine dining options depending on your mood. If you love Italian, then the very authentic Angelo’s Restaurant in historic Federal Hill, focuses on old fashioned food from southern Italy. From soups and pastas to calzones, lasagne and pizza, there’s plenty to choose from. More info at www.angelosri.com.
Cook and Brown on the East Side of Providence focuses on organic seasonal food, all of which they get from local farmers, fishermen, ranchers and food artisans in the area. There’s not as many kid friendly dishes on the menu here, but the food is oh so delicious and the chef was able to create a couple of dishes that worked for the kids. They were flexible, friendly and because of their focus on organic and local, the dishes are incredibly fresh. More at www.cookandbrown.com.
Then there’s fine dining at its best at Local 121, a restaurant in the restored Dreyfus Hotel that also focuses on local and sustainable cooking. Executive Chef Tyler Demora works with local fishermen and farms to create a constantly-evolving menu of American seasonal cuisine. While the dishes tend to be a tad more formal (even the yummy desserts, which we devoured in minutes), they had potato chips and dip as an appetizer which the kids went to town with the moment it was placed on the table.
Because the chef also has small children, he understood what he could serve and not serve. Alas, out came a plate of linguini with butter, obviously not on the traditional menu, and yet despite its simplicity and bland flavors more suited for a younger kid’s palette, it was so delicious that Anthony and I kept sneaking tastes of Jake’s pasta dish. Two thumbs up! Be sure to read my write-up on The Foodie Guide to Providence: Our Top Restaurant Picks, which includes recommendations by locals.
SHOPPING & TOURS
- The Providence Place Mall is the largest indoor mall in Providence, featuring 8 plus restaurants, an IMAX theater, Dave and Buster’s and more. www.providenceplace.com.
- The Arcade Providence is the oldest indoor shopping center in North America, which has been recently reopened and emphasizes local artists and designers. More info at www.arcadeprovidence.com.
- Discover Providence Tours allows you to get a classic two hour journey of the city. More info at www.riexperience.com/discover-providence/.
- Providence Tourism – more information on activities in the city in general can be found at www.goprovidence.com.