Pursuits: Five Vacation Options if You Want to Pass on Disney World

River tubing at the VeeBar Guest Ranch in Wyoming.

I have never understood the hoopla over Disney World.

To me, teaching moments and travel go hand in hand. So our family vacations are designed to incorporate elements of enrichment: exposure to foreign culture, a brush with history, interaction with nature, discovery of new foods, engaging in activities that make us step outside our comfort zones. Sure, Disney is fun. But school breaks are few and handled with extreme care.

Spending precious vacation time in a manufactured kingdom bent on bringing fantasy story lines to life through relentless entertainment feels like a waste of time. And money. So it’s not surprising that I have avoided the Mousetrap for decades, opting instead for getaways that inspire me and ignite curiosity in my two daughters, ages 10 and 14. Have I denied them some sacred rite of passage? Hardly. They have never even asked to go.

So, why do I diss Disney? Foremost, I can’t stand princess culture. The implicit message to young girls that beauty equals a busty blonde in a gown is a stereotype that I refuse to perpetuate. Case in point: the Frozen Makeover, a $164.95 package involving a fairy godmother transforming your daughter (with makeup and a braided hairpiece) into a princess that feels more Honey Boo Boo than royal. Ditto for the myth that a prince will sweep deserving girls off to a life of happiness. The theme park environment with its endless lines, awful food (mammoth turkey leg, anyone?) and stimulation overload inevitably invites tantrums in children and anxiety in parents.

And then you have the financial element. Disney is expensive. Between flights, food, hotel, souvenirs and four-day passes to the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios and water parks, a family of four (with two children under 10) will easily spend $5,000 (base park entry price plus a “park hopper” add-on to visit another park is $436.13 for adults and $414.83 for children 3 to 9 per person; water park entry is a one-time fee).The all-inclusive four-day package I put together came in at $4,271, for the park passes, water park and dining plan including popular character experiences and other perks, in one room at a moderately priced Disney Resort hotel.

With that in mind, here are five vacation alternatives that deliver hefty doses of fun while broadening your child’s cultural playbook through real-world experiences. Even better, all are based on a budget similar to a four-night stay at Disney World.

The Ocean Breeze water at Virginia Beach.

Virginia Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau

Virginia Beach

There are fancy-pants beach vacations. And there are plop-down-in-the-sand holidays where an easy “Leave It to Beaver”-era charm is the main attraction. Virginia Beach is the latter, and its lack of grandeur is precisely why I love it. Oceanfront hotels are affordable. As are the mom-and-pop restaurants where locals flock for shrimp boils, steamed blue crab and tangy Lynnhaven oysters plucked straight from Chesapeake Bay. Entertainment plays out on a three-mile-long boardwalk, with street performers, shaved ice and salt water taffy vendors and a small amusement park.

But beaches are the real selling point. Choose from Resort Beach, a surfer’s paradise; the smaller, dune-speckled Sandbridge (which butts up to Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, a great spot for eco-adventures); or Chesapeake Bay Beach, which woos families with gentle waters and access to First Landing State Park, which commemorates the first Jamestown colonists in 1607. Other activities? Ifly is an indoor sky diving experience where free-fall conditions are simulated with a wind tunnel. Zip-lining through the trees at Virginia Aquarium’s “aerial forest park” is another.

Ocean Breeze Waterpark has slides with the requisite 35-foot drop, and a giant wave pool. At the Military Aviation Museum, you can view Super Hornet fighter jets, Spitfires and other wartime aircraft. For a fee, you can blow the kids’ minds with a ride on an authentic open-cockpit 1941 Boeing Stearman PT-17 Kaydet.

The oceanfront Hilton Garden Inn (rooms from $230) has a pool, a sand play area, cabana service, a playground and discounted tickets to many attractions.

Yerkes Observatory in Lake Geneva, Wis.

Yerkes Observatory Photographs

Lake Geneva, Wis.

If the Midwest had a version of the Hamptons, it would be the coastal resort town of Lake Geneva. Celebrity sightings are nil. But sun-drenched afternoons lazing on the water are guaranteed. Another attraction is estate ogling. For over a century, the rich and famous (Wrigley, Schwinn, Maytag, Rockefeller and Sears) have been vacationing in Lake Geneva.

Tourists can get ridiculously close to these mansions by simply hiking and biking around the lake. Thanks to an Indian treaty signed in 1833, the 26.2-mile Shore Path (originally used by the indigenous Potawatomi tribe) provides public access in perpetuity. Translation? You can meander through the grounds of historic estates without the risk of a stalking violation.

You should stay at Grand Geneva Resort and Spa (deluxe rooms start at $159). The property has its own 50,000-square-foot water park, stables (riding lessons, carriage rides) and a new adventure center equipped with mountain bikes, six slack lines (tightrope walking a few feet off the ground between trees) and archery. Canopy zip-lining is also available nearby. But whizzing across the lake is what families really want out of this type of vacation. The concierge can arrange all water sport rentals and book an organized cruise. There are two standout nonwater-related outings. Yerkes Observatory (now a branch of the University of Chicago’s Department of Astronomy) is deemed the birthplace of modern astrophysics. It houses what’s billed as the world’s largest refracting telescope and 170,000 photographic plates. A tour of the lavish 13-bedroom Victorian Black Point Estate, with the original plumbing and furniture, is a thrill.

The London Eye Ferris wheel in London, with a view of the Houses of Parliament across the Thames.

Tom Jamieson for The New York Times


There is an art to not depleting your child’s college fund while visiting London. Step one is finding a budget-friendly hotel situated near major attractions and a Tube station. The Marriott Kensington fits the bill. (The Family Time package, which includes breakfast, is £245, about $360, for a room that comfortably fits four.)

To get oriented, take a Hop-On, Hop-Off bus tour, a perfect first-day outing when battling jet lag. It stops at most landmark attractions (Trafalgar Square, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace). Definitely make a stop for a ride on the London Eye. To some children, parading past endless paintings is like eating a platter of fish roe: pure torture. However, according to my 10-year-old, certain museums are “actually fun.” The Natural History Museum and the British Museum (all national museums are free) fall into the cool category. Both are gigantic. Some advice: Identify what you want to see before arriving. Trying to tackle it all is a recipe for meltdowns.

The Wallace Collection is equally cool owing to its “Game of Thrones” appeal. Art is displayed in a stunning Victorian mansion. Downstairs, there is a war chest of arms and armor plus a reproduction chain-mail ensemble that the children can try on.

For a whiff of elegant Britain, wander through the neighborhood of St. James’s. Sample artisanal cheeses at “cheesemonger to the crown” Paxton & Whitfield and pop into Prestat, said to be the queen’s favorite chocolatier. Then have afternoon tea at Fortnum & Mason, the department store that has served as Royal Grocer for 150 years. If the children are well behaved, reward them with a souvenir from Hamleys, among the oldest and largest toy stores in the world.

Royal parks are essential sightseeing. Organize a picnic in Hyde Park followed by pedal boating around Serpentine Lake. You can also book a guided horseback ride with Hyde Park Stables (no experience necessary). Not to be missed are the rose gardens in Regent’s Park. The manicured display of 12,000 roses (85 varieties) is a paean to England’s gardening heritage. On the northeast corner of this park is the London Zoo.

If your children are die-hard Harry Potter fans, do the Warner Brothers Studio Tour. Unlike a theme park, this provides interaction with the actual props, sets (think of Diagon Alley and Dumbledore’s office) and costumes from the Harry Potter films. You will even partake in a quidditch match, if only on a green screen. It’s a time commitment. The studio is close to Watford, about one hour from London by train.

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The sacredness of the human body I was lazing about this afternoon at home eating a tub of yoghurt and reading the Bible and naturally, I had to take a selfie (just to be true to my own nature) and I didn’t think anything about it until I posted the pic in my tumblr photoblog when it suddenly occurred to […]


YNA visit to Penn Sylvan Resort

Last weekend I was lucky enough to head down with Young Naturists America for a day visit to Penn Sylvan Resort ( in Pennsylvania.

Even though the weather was a bit cool and overcast, it was an amazing day and my first visit to a US resort – Penn Sylvan is a little community where people can live all year and surrounds a great public indoor pool, spa and suana. Was awesome meeting some of the club members and the YNA members and playing pool volleyball, frisbee on the grass and chilling in the spa and suana. Def would recommend a visit for anyone who is in the area.


Naturist wants his wife to join him – Newsday

Naturist wants his wife to join him
DEAR READERS: I’ve stepped away from my column for a week while I put the finishing touches on my new book, which will be published in the fall. Please enjoy these ”Best Of” columns in my absence. I’ll be back with your fresh questions and answers next …


My middle-aged voyage into nudism –

My middle-aged voyage into nudism
If nudism was good enough for the Royal Marines and the Spartans, it’s surely good enough for me – even if my once toned stomach now looks like 3kg bag of Nadine potatoes. Such self-consciousness forced me to dabble in nudism in a land not of my own.



Originally posted on The Naked Truth continues…:
The world is full of dirt and air, That’s the reason I like to bare. One with sky, one with earth, As fresh today as day of my birth Run through the woods so free The world goes away, lets me be. Sunlight on my body, grass in…


I Got Arrested for Fighting Gender Inequality

It was Wednesday, March 23. I was sitting on my bed lazily scrolling through Instagram, when my friend’s post came up for a Free the Nipple flash mob set for 5:00 p.m. that day at. The flash mob would be taking place a rally at the Wiltern theater in Los Angeles, California for presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

Tiernan Hebron Free the Nipple protest

It was 4:05 p.m., which gave me just enough time to put some black tape X’s over my nipples, sloppily finger paint "Feel the Bern" on my chest with some blue paint, and race over to the Wiltern. Little did I know that in about an hour and a half, I was going to be arrested in front of hundreds of people.

The Free the Nipple Campaign is an equality movement that aims to stop censorship and sexualization of the female body. Since I started my involvement with the campaign a little over a year ago, I have invested countless hours in raising awareness of the cause. This past September, I organized a rally on Hollywood Boulevard that drew an impressive crowd of supporters. With the success of September’s rally, I immediately started organizing another rally that will take place in May 2016. In between rallies I have been keeping a low profile — right up until I saw that Instagram post.

My friend Anni and I got arrested at a Bernie Sanders rally: that means lots of people, and even more cops. There was a line of people waiting to get inside that wrapped around the building; Anni and I would walk around the building, chanting, answering questions, and posing for photos, without a single problem. It wasn’t until we decided to take the tape off our nipples and walk around completely topless that a group of cops stopped us almost immediately and told us we needed to cover up. We politely nodded, but then turned to walk back towards the front of the Wiltern. The next time the cops stopped us, they gave no warning, but immediately grabbed our arms, put us in handcuffs and ushered us into one of their cop cars.

Tiernan Hebron at a Bernie Sanders Rally

It happened so fast, I did not even realize I was getting arrested until the cop who was putting me into handcuffs twisted my arm back. For a moment, I actually thought he was going to break my arm. That was my "oh shit, I’m getting arrested" moment.

Tiernan Hebron Free the Nipple arrest

They did not immediately take us to jail; we were taken to a holding cell first. I was so naïve to think I was going to be released in a few hours and wouldn’t have to tell my parents or anyone else.

If only I knew the night I was in for.

Before they transferred us to the city jail — and later to our cell — we were in a holding cell for several hours. Anni and I were discussing our options when we heard another individual being brought in for holding. The first thing I noticed about the man was that he was not wearing a shirt: male nipples fully exposed.

When we asked him why he was brought in, the cop butted in and said it was for gang-related crimes. Upon hearing this, I became furious. This was a man who was being accused of gang-related crimes, and he was brought into the station topless, which was the actual crime that Anni and I were arrested for. The inequality of the whole situation was so potent to me that it made me want to scream. How was this justice?

The state in which the man was brought into jail was the reason we were in jail. I feel as though that anecdote perfectly sums up why I refused to cover up when the cops told me to. This realization helped me get through the long hours that followed.

We were held for over 24 hours. That may not seem like a long time, but when you are stuck in a small, dirty, windowless room with no information of what was happening and little food or water, 24 hours starts to feel like forever. I won’t lie; I went a little nuts when I was in there. I went through an emotional cycle: I would be completely fine having amazing feminist discussions with Anni or laughing about the current situation, and then nothing in particular would happen and suddenly I would be hysterically crying, hyperventilating, and practically screaming to be let out. I do not regret my decision, and I firmly stand by what I did, but that does not mean I’m not human and did not have my moments of doubt and weakness.

As horrible as the experience was, getting arrested and being in jail was very eye opening. I realized that even with everything I went through, I was still very privileged. I am a white woman, and I know that that affected how the police handled me during this experience. Although I did not feel the injustice myself, I must point out that racial discrimination does very much exist in the legal system. I would also like to make it clear that Free the Nipple does not promote white privilege of any kind, but that women of all ethnicities and body types are welcomed and encouraged to join in the organization and campaign. This is for all women.

Tiernan Hebron Free the Nipple protest

After I was released, it was all but impossible to organize my thoughts and emotions. In other words, I was a hot mess. But I realized that my emotions were so conflicted because they came from different parts of myself: As a human being, getting arrested and being held in jail for over 24 hours was one of the most dehumanizing, humbling, and horrific experiences of my life.

As a woman, I have never felt more enraged that the female body is so sexualized in our culture that I was arrested for showing it — something that men do every single day. As an activist, I have never felt more empowered to cause so much conversation on a topic that desperately needs to be discussed. And finally, as a feminist, I have never been more saddened to have so many people in my life not understand what I did and actually suggest that I was merely “showing my tits off”.

Let me clear that up right now: Many people have brought to my attention that they do not understand why I, a feminist, am fighting for this cause when there are so many other important causes that need to be fixed — such as the gender wage gap, or abortion rights, or rape prevention, etc. In response to that, let me just say that the Free the Nipple Campaign and my activist demonstrations are not just fighting for the right to be topless. That is a fraction of what we’re campaigning for, and an gross oversimplification of what we are trying to accomplish. I believe that this cause encompasses numerous gender equality issues, because it is trying to demonstrate that the female body is not just a sexual object.

The human body and sex can be mutually exclusive. We have been able to make that separation when we look at shirtless men, so why not women? We have made women’s breasts and bodies so sexualized that a man can get away with raping a woman by blaming it on how revealing her clothing is — saying that through mere clothing choice the woman is "asking for it." When I am protesting topless, it is because I am making a radical statement that I should not have to feel ashamed of my body or afraid of how people will respond to it.

free the nipple

Ladies, I couldn’t give a rats ass if you want to walk around topless or not, it’s your body and your choice. What I am fighting for is a future in which you feel safe to do whatever you damn well please with your body. So if you ask me, I would say that I am fighting for rape prevention, and for abortion rights, and for a workforce that sees women as equals and not objects that deserve lesser pay. Free the Nipple is not about getting male attention when you walk around shirtless — it’s just the opposite.

My methods are not conventional, and I realize that they are hard to understand sometimes. However, my arrest has led to some national attention on this issue and on the Free the Nipple Campaign. And that is what we want. We want people to familiarize themselves with the name Free the Nipple, because it is currently launching a campaign to get the Equal Rights Amendment passed. The ERA is three states away from passing, and if it does, it would make it a federal offense to discriminate against someone based on their gender.

And I will be advertising the Free the Nipple campaign on my bare chest. Because, when it comes down to it, I don’t care what people think about me. I just care that my message is getting across. And that message is equality.