We all know New Jersey has terrific beaches for summer and countless casinos. But were you aware that New Jersey also offers a number of destinations designed for family fun? Indeed, for families looking for an accessible autumn getaway with activities to appeal to everyone, the five-county region of South Jersey offers endless adventures.
If you're looking for some Jewish roots, where better than South Jersey? Woodbine was the home of the Baron de Hirsch Agricultural College, set up in 1894, where the famous Jewish entrepreneur helped instruct other Jews on how to till the land. And when it comes to land, you can't forget Vineland, where many Jews immigrated to after the Russians promulgated the restrictive and pogrom-causing "May Laws" in 1882.
It is here and in nearby Alliance where "farming Jews" could be seen plowing the fields. Indeed, Alliance was the site for the first U.S. cooperative farm region settled by Jews.
Of course, many area attractions are rustic in nature, if not necessarily totally Jewish. Located on the Camden Waterfront is the legendary Battleship New Jersey, a floating museum that is the most decorated battleship in U.S. naval history. It played a role in World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the Persian Gulf, and is now open for family inspection and entertainment.
Hope Corse, director of marketing for the battleship, points out what families can do together: "You can learn what life was like on a battleship, and even climb into one of our 16-inch gun turrets to see how they operated."
Families can also spend a night together at an encampment program open only to them. "There are a lot of old Navy guys who want to do this, but they can't. This program is for families only," says Corse.
The evening begins at approximately 6 p.m., when families stow their gear in a locker - the same lockers that held sailor's personal belongings when they were at sea. "They eat dinner and breakfast in the Crew's Mess, and sleep in bunks just like enlisted sailors did. They can even purchase their own personalized dog tag and experience much, much more."
Because of the popularity of this program, reservations are required. For information, call 856-966-1652.
While you're in the area, why not take the family to visit the new Adventure Aquarium? The aquarium features sharks, hippopotamuses, free-flying birds and sea life from around the world.
For instance, what about watching sharks, stingrays and sawfish swim around in a 55,000-gallon tank, featuring dramatic floor-to-ceiling views, and a 40-foot walk-through tunnel for a stunning and immersive experience.
For an incomparable visit, the adventurous can "Swim With the Sharks" in a controlled setting where they can snorkel the tank's perimeter under the guidance and supervision of experts.
There's also a Jules Verne Gallery so visitors can see what lives beneath the sea with seahorses, sea dragons and jellyfish in this exploration into the wonders of the sea.
"Adventure Aquarium gives visitors an unparalleled opportunity to experience the world that lives beneath the surface," says Greg Charbeneau, its executive director and former vice president of husbandry for the New Jersey State Aquarium.
"We're proud to feature exhibits and experiences that have never before been attempted in the zoo and aquarium world."
For more information and ongoing updates, call 1-866-451-2782 or visit: www.AdventureAquarium.com .
For the fearless folks among us, why not plan an evening in the Pine Barrens - the country's first National Reserve and a designated Biosphere Reserve - hunting for the infamous Jersey Devil.
"We hold a Jersey Devil hunt throughout the year, basically in the spring and fall," says Mike Hunninghake, director of education and communications for the Pine Lands Preservation Alliance. "We start with an old-fashioned campfire - participants are urged to bring their own hot dogs and marshmallows for toasting - some old-time music and then, in the ghostly moonlight, we tell a few stories about the Devil and then take a walk in the woods for a look around."
According to legend, the Jersey Devil - a creature with the head of a horse, large wings and claws, and a roughly 4-foot-long body - has been haunting the area for 260 years, and has reportedly been seen by more than 2,000 witnesses.
"The Devil is our official state demon," Hunninghake volunteers. "At the beginning of this century, you'd find stories on the front page of local newspapers about how the Devil was spotted, small dogs were disappearing, neighbors saw flying creatures in the middle of the night and so on.
Although nothing can be proved, it does make for interesting folklore and a great time for families, although be advised that the evening might be unduly frightening for a child younger than 10."
Call 609-859-8860, Ext. 11 for directions to the campsite.
Also, a regional tourism guide is available for all the above sites and events by request from the South Jersey Tourism Corp., its publisher, at: www.VisitSouthJersey.com