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Taking the kids to celebrate July 4th

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    Try something new and take the kids on a pirate cruise to watch the fireworks in San Diego or a party with Shrek at the Gaylord National Hotel in National Harbor, Md. (Pirate Ship Adventures)

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    Steamboat Springs, Colo., hosts a week-long July 4th celebration, including Cowboys' Roundup Days, Pioneer Days Block Party, evening rodeos and, of course, fireworks. (Corey Kopischke)

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    Join the pie eating contest at the Independence Day Parade in Park City, Utah. (Mark Maziarz)

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    Philadelphia's WaWa Welcome America is said to be the nation's largest free July 4th festival, lasting from June 25 to July 4, complete with a huge concert, games, three-day Taste of Philadelphia and Go 4th and Learn series offering free educational program. (Michael Branscom)

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    Shamu thrills everyone during Summer Nights at SeaWorld. (SeaWorld San Diego)

Sometimes, the anticipation before a big holiday is the most fun.

It was for us as we'd get ready to celebrate July 4th, in Evanston, Ill. The day before the big parade, we'd go with the kids to stake out our spot, leaving lawn chairs behind. We'd decorate their bikes if they were marching in the parade -- with soccer, little league or scouts -- and bring flags to wave and plenty of water.

It didn't matter that it was hot. There was always ice cream to cool us off.

Maybe this July 4th you'll be home marching or watching a local parade. Maybe you'll be visiting the relatives and cheering on nieces and nephews as they march. Maybe you'll be celebrating some place new, joining in special and unique celebrations.

How about a pirate cruise to watch the fireworks in San Diego or a party with Shrek at the Gaylord National Hotel in National Harbor, Md? Or watch the fireworks from your hotel room in New York City at The Westin New York at Times Square? (Call 866-837-4183 and request a west-side facing room.)

And while there are special fireworks on July 4th at SeaWorld San Diego, you can see fireworks all summer long during Summer Nights at SeaWorld, which also features special nighttime animal shows and extended hours to enjoy it all.

Wherever you are you this year, you have a chance to create a new family tradition while celebrating the nation's birthday -- whether running in a race (how about a midnight race three miles up and three miles down a mountain in Seward, Alaska), indulging in a pancake breakfast, checking out a local arts festival and, of course, watching fireworks. (Yes, there were years when the kids were scared, but we went anyway, sometimes leaving early.)

Have your kids ever entered a watermelon rolling contest? They can as part of the festivities in Southport, N.C., part of the North Carolina Brunswick Islands. Line up at the popular dunking booth in Stowe, Vt, or march along with the fife and drums at Colonial Williamsburg where you might bump into Thomas Jefferson.

Here's your chance to see the fireworks in the Fireworks Capital of America -- New Castle, Pa., where Zambelli Fireworks Internationale and Pyrotecnico got their start in the mid-1800s. This region was once the largest producer of fireworks in the world and today, the festival in downtown New Castle promises a terrific display, along with music, entertainment and more.

Join the pie eating contest in Park City, Utah or watch the lobster races in Bar Harbor, Me., where you can chow down at a seafood festival.

You might meet up with Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders at Sagamore Hill in Oyster Bay Long Island, where the free Fourth of July celebration also includes a visit and speech from Theodore Roosevelt.

Abe Lincoln and Uncle Sam will be on hand in Denver at the Four Mile Historic Park's Old-Fashioned Fourth of July Celebration.

It's not too late for a last-minute, early July getaway either. Find lots of ideas at Taking the Kids.

A lot of July 4th festivities last a lot longer than just one day too. Here are seven that are guaranteed to please:

1. Got any Civil War buffs in the family? The Gettysburg 149th National Civil War Battle Reenactment goes on from Friday, July 6 through Sunday, July 8 with battles, field demonstrations, live mortar fire demonstrations, living history programs and more.

2. You've got an entire week to celebrate at the 31st Annual Boston Harborfest, the celebration of Boston's colonial and maritime heritage. This year, Harborfest honors the Bicentennial of the War of 1812 with the USS Constitution and a Parade of Ships Saturday, June 30. Here's your chance to have a scavenger hunt where the Boston Tea Party began or hear the reading of the Declaration of Independence from the balcony of the Old State House, as it was read on July 18, 1776.

3. Philadelphia's WaWa Welcome America is said to be the nation's largest free July 4th festival, lasting from June 25 to July 4, complete with a huge concert, games, three-day Taste of Philadelphia and Go 4th and Learn series offering free educational program.

4. The 93rd Annual Cody, Wyo., Stampede starts June 30 with some of the world's top bull riders competing. It also offers a street dance, arts and crafts festival and the July 4th Stampede Parade. Cody, of course, is considered a gateway to Yellowstone National Park.

5. Steamboat Springs, Colo., hosts a week-long celebration, including Cowboys' Roundup Days, Pioneer Days Block Party, evening rodeos and, of course, fireworks. On July 7, Steamboat introduces its first-ever muddy adventure race where competitors crawl and climb over obstacles on Mount Werner. The weekend of July 7 features a Hot-Air Balloon Rodeo.

6. Head to the nation's capitol where, in addition to the fireworks and parade, the Smithsonian Folk Life Festival promises to draw more than a million people June 27 to July 1 and July 4 to 8 to the National Mall to watch exhibits and performances highlighting grassroots culture entitled "Campus and Community, Citified, and Creativity and Crisis." Attend a "mini-university" class on astronomy, paleontology, sustainable energy, and many other topics or try a wide variety of 4-H family activities, from gardening with heirloom seeds to robotics competitions. See how African-American residents living east of the Anacostia River maintain their Southern heritage.

7. Shop till you drop during Stowe, Vt.'s annual Seven Miles of Sales July 4 to 8, 2012. You'll find bargains from more than 70 stores all along the Stowe Mountain Road -- everything from art, jewelry, nationally recognized crafts, handcrafted furniture, fine art galleries, award-winning Vermont specialty foods and clothing and sports equipment.

Got those American flags ready?

For more Taking the Kids, visit www.takingthekids.com and also follow "taking the kids" on Twitter, where Eileen Ogintz welcomes your questions and comments.

Eileen Ogintz is a nationally syndicated columnist and creator of TakingtheKids.com. Her new  Kids Guide to Boston is available online and from major booksellers, along with the Kids Guides to NYC, Washington, DC, Orlando,  LA and Chicago. Coming  later this year: San Diego, San Francisco and Denver.