Portland is a wonderful city at Christmas, even if we don’t get much snow. Our city has a little something for everyone, like walking the SE neighborhood street Peacock Lane to see the beautifully lit houses, bundling up for the train ride at Zoo Lights, or driving the Portland International Raceway track to see the lights of Winter Wonderland.
This year we are excited to add something new to the mix – the Radio City Christmas Spectacular featuring the world-famous Rockettes. This new touring production is constructed for large-scale venues like the Rose Garden, replicating the Christmas Spectacular production playing New York’s Radio City Music Hall.
The 90 minute show is enchanting and beautiful, both from the set design and digital scenery on an 80 ft. LED screen, and the singing and dancing. One thing we immediately appreciated was the show’s sense of timeless tradition and elegance. There are no ridiculously overblown light shows or frenetically paced dance numbers. Each vignette of dancing or storytelling is introduced by Santa, beginning with his entrance on stage in his sleigh pulled by Rockette reindeer. Our favorite performances include New York at Christmas, the glittering costumes in the closing number, and something special with a company of Santas that you have to see for yourself.
For On Portland’s inaugural interview we decided to talk to Portland Family Adventurer Vince Schreck about his experiences running his site and dragging his family to the ends of the area in search of the next great adventure.
When, How and Why did you first start Portland Family Adventures?
In November of 2007, after getting a very expensive quote from a web development company, I decided to create Portland Family Adventures myself. In about 2 weeks, I had the website setup and ready – I did about 90% of the work myself WordPress. I always thought the difficult part would be getting the site built; however, I quickly learned that the real challenges are:
continually updating it with quality content
search engine optimization.
Why did I build it? At the time, I was having a mid-life-crisis about my career that has me in front of a computer all day long. A friend asked me, “What would you be doing if money didn’t matter?” I didn’t need to think about that at all – I quickly replied, “I would spend as much time with my son (and family) having adventures all over Portland.” I love activities that kids enjoy. I thought this would become my new career – that is my ultimate goal. Also, and even more importantly, I think there was a need for this type of site. There are plenty of family websites in Portland, but they don’t provide the detailed information, pictures and videos that parents want.
Is there something unique to Portland that makes a site like yours possible?
Absolutely yes! I don’t think the correlation between “Portland” and “Family Fun” is a big secret. I’ve seen Portland mentioned in many different articles as being one of the best places to raise a family. Running my site – experiencing adventures then writing about them – has given me a laboratory- for measuring that correlation. I’ve literally been to almost every park, playground, pool, indoor playpark, bike path, etc., in Portland.
I can say with confidence that parents here care deeply about the quality-of-life their kids experience. They care more about the food they eat and where it comes from, they care about pesticides in parks, they care about keeping parks clean, they want to ride bikes and walk to minimize car usage, and there is a strong connection to political and social awareness. It appears to me that parents want to play and be active with their kids, and want as much information possible about how to make these things tangible possibilities. My site provides that type of access, and I think that’s why my site has been a success.
How has the site impacted your life?
It has been an incredible journey. One of the best benefits of having the site is that I’ve created a permanent archive for my kids. Photo albums often get put on a shelf and collect dust. My kids will always be able to reference our adventures through my narrative, pictures and video! It’s almost like we’re creating a family legacy and sharing that beyond the scope of our immediate family. This has been such a positive – it’s a constant reminder that engaging with our children has the potential to make us better parents, and it’s good for kids too. The site is a sort of validation process that my hard work is paying off!
On the negative side, because I put so much into each article they take at least 2-3 hours of computer time to publish. Although I wanted to leave the computer behind, it has followed me into this new venture. I’m constantly checking the site statistics, emailing with sponsors, cruising the Internet for possible trips, editing or posting material. Maintaining the site is an incredible amount of work!
How has the site changed over the past year?
For the most part, I had a good plan right from the start; thus, the mission and guiding principles haven’t changed at all. There are definitely quantifiable changes that have occurred – over a 3 month period, my site visits went up 2500%, which was a direct result of changing the emphasis from “parenting” to “relocation/adventure travel.” I had no idea that so many people would start referencing the site from outside the Portland area. I get a lot of traffic from parents who want to move to Portland, or who will be visiting the area soon.
I didn’t think I would highlight as many businesses. However, many businesses are so family-oriented that it’s been hard to ignore them. For example “The Great Wolf Lodge,” which is a giant, indoor waterpark 90 miles north, had our family up for a visit this past summer. We had such a great time there! We are going to be visiting Timberline Lodge in December, Leavenworth, WA in January, Mt. Bachelor in February, and Sun River Resort during early summer ’09. One marketing person said to me, “We always welcome travel writers.” I never considered myself a travel writer, but in a sense, that’s exactly what I’m doing at times.
What’s the most interesting comment you’ve gotten from a reader?
The Oregon Zoo sent me some information in support of their recent ballot measure and wanted me to post it on my site. Because I supported the measure, I felt like I should post the information for them. When I did that, I entered the realm of “political blogging,” which isn’t in my mission or guiding principles.
A reader sent a pretty aggressive comment aimed at the Oregon Zoo. The message accused them of animal cruelty and much more. In some ways, I felt the reader had some valid arguments; however, the tone of the message was so political that I could not post it. I knew I made a mistake by taking a political position on a site that’s all about family fun. I took down the Zoo’s leaflet, and told the reader I couldn’t post their message on my site and why. I referred them to the Oregon Zoo directly.
What types of adventures are the most popular with your readers?
Surprisingly, by far the most popular article on my site is the North Clackamas Aquatic Center. I don’t know what it is, but Portlander’s love that wave pool! I think so much of the year parents are looking for indoor activities to escape the rain. Even if I take a closer look, inflatable jumping venues and indoor playparks do very well with traffic.
If there is a break in the weather, my site gets more active around hikes, parks and playgrounds. I did a piece on “Portland’s Best Parks,” and to the shock of many, a park in Wilsonville got the nod as “best overall.” Memorial Park is definitely my most popular article when it comes to outdoor destinations. It’s worth the trip to Wilsonville.
Of all the places you’ve discovered through running the site, Which have been your favorite?
My favorites always happen when my expectations are low, but the destination proves to be stellar! Many Portlanders don’t even want to entertain the notion that there is something fun for their family in say…Beaverton, Hillsboro or Wilsonville. These towns may as well be on another planet for most southeasterners. However, many of these towns have a pretty hefty tax-base, and they pour a lot of money into their trail systems and green spaces. Again, if you want to really get blown away by a park, visit Memorial Park in Wilsonville. It’s beautiful! I was also shocked and awed by the Fanno Creek trail for biking with kids. Letterboxing is also a fun activity. It’s like a treasure hunt with rubber stamps. We visited several parks to hunt for these hidden treasures.
I thought the Great Wolf Lodge would be okay…it seemed sort of weird to me…an indoor waterpark. It was so much fun that we didn’t even mind being inside for 3 days straight while the weather was so nice outside! It’s definitely been our favorite trip.
What are some of the challenges of trying to run a site based around your families activities?
I think the biggest challenge for me is, “Are people getting sick of hearing about my family?” Am I bothering them with this stuff? I try to keep the focus on the adventure, but inevitably, my family adds a compelling piece. There are also plenty of pictures and videos of my son, and I don’t always think it’s the best idea to put him out there like that. I definitely have struggled with his inclusion in pictures and videos.
My son is also getting pretty frustrated with the constant “video clips.” In some clips, you can even hear him in the background, “Dad! Put the camera away and stop talking.” It’s pretty funny, but I know where he’s coming from. It’s a bit much for him to have to constantly deal with the pictures and video.
Also, we’re certainly less spontaneous these days. We often go places just because I’ve yet to document the adventure.
What are some of the adventures you have planned for the future?
There are still some very common adventures I’ve yet to document. Since many of my readers are looking at Portland for relocation or travel, I want to make sure to get the “greatest hits.” For example, I don’t even have Powell’s books, which can be a lot of fun for a family who likes to read. So, my priority right now is to make sure I have the “blatantly obvious” adventures done!
In my second year, I want to expand the focus beyond Portland, but still remain within a 5 hour drive. We hope to explore more of the coast and also, I’d like to start to focus more on the “adventure” side. A family trip to Powell’s doesn’t seem to be much of an “adventure.” I want to get more trips like rafting, kite boarding, rock climbing, biking, backpacking, etc. As my kids get older, we’ll be engaging in more of these activities.