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Summer Deals in Scottsdale, AZ

Jul 23, 2017
Scottsdale, Arizona is a great place to visit, especially if you’re on a budget. There are plenty of hotel deals to look out for.

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51 Great Ideas for Your Best Family Summer Vacation Ever


Summer vacation is the time to reconnect and relax with family, to recreate favorite childhood memories and make news ones together. Do you see the family lying on a beach or around a resort pool, hiking mountain trails, learning history from a national park ranger, exploring a new city, being thrilled by an exotic adventure or a daring new theme park ride? We have ideas for every fantasy.

With Kyle McCarthy of Family Travel Forum we are sharing 51 summer vacation ideas to help you plan own vacation. [For even more ideas, inspiration and last minute specials, please click here and dig in.] We know there is a memorable getaway for everyone, and kids can help pay for the vacation by sharing their travel tales in our 11th annual Teen Travel Writing Scholarship. Make sure to let the kids help plan the itinerary—they can with my Kid’s Guide series to major American cities designed just for them. Of course, we also welcome you to post your own vacation fantasies in the comments field below.

Playing in the Mud on the Colorado River through Canyonlands National Park on an OARS adventure

Playing in the Mud on the Colorado River through Canyonlands National Park on an OARS adventure

ADVENTURE Dreaming of the Galapagos Islands or Machu Picchu? Or, something closer to home such as a National Park or rafting on a wild and scenic river? You can have all the memorable adventures you want without any stress when you let experts lead the way on trips that are designed for families. Consider O.A.R.S, which has been offering VIP access to environmentally protected parts of Grand Canyon, Grand Teton and six other National Parks since 1969. Join the over 10,000 families who have trusted O.A.R.S to provide “the best family vacation ever.” Hosting families with kids ages 4 up to adult, they offer all-inclusive multi-day rafting trips, sea kayaking excursions or multi-sport adventures in the U.S., Asia, South and Central America and Africa with top-notch guides, delicious meals and comfortable accommodations. Be one of the first to book your 2017 family adventure. Request your free copy of the 2017 O.A.R.S. Family Adventures Catalog today.

ALASKA Sail the Inside Passage on many large cruise lines including Disney, which has 5, 7, or 9-night cruises aboard the Disney Wonder departing from Vancouver B.C. This is a great option for multi-generational families and those with young kids. But you can also tour Alaska on a different kind of cruise, like the 12-passenger Sea Wolf that enables you to kayak every day in Glacier Bay or hike onshore. See what Eileen Ogintz wrote about her Sea Wolf adventure.

ATLANTIC BEACHES From Maine to Florida, East coast and regional families have dozens of beautiful beaches to choose from. The farther south you go, however, the better the weather and warmer the water. Without jumping straight to Florida (see below), your family will find rentals at quiet Bethany Beach in Delaware, and farther south in Virginia Beach, Virginia with its long and famous boardwalk packed with shops and restaurants. With older kids and active families, we like Myrtle Beach for its golf, amusement parks, shopping malls, Grand Strand boardwalk and variety of beachfront family resorts at all price points. Hilton Head, South Carolina is a small island with beautiful Atlantic beaches, golf, tennis and more. The Sea Pines Forest Preserve offers boardwalks to explore the wetlands, observation decks, and a nice hike. The Coastal Discovery Museum has guided tours of the beaches. Explore via bike or kayak — you’ll probably have several dolphin sightings as you paddle. Here’s what Allison Tibaldi had to say about her recent adventures on Hilton Head Island. The newly renovated Sonesta Resort Hilton Head Island has a heated lagoon-style swimming pool, lap pool, tennis and golf. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, ages 3-5 (half days) and 6-12 (full days) are welcomed in the supervised kids camp. The Family Fun Package offers a $50 Food and Beverage credit and a $50 Leisure Activity credit for a two-night minimum stay.

BOSTON AND CAPE COD There’s no better city to learn a little American history (think Freedom Trail and Boston National Historical Park) and experience baseball than Boston. After a few days in the city, head east to Cape Cod. The Chatham Bars Inn opened in 1914 for wealthy Bostonians and today welcomes families with more than 200 rooms and suites, varied recreational options on one of the prettiest beaches, an exclusive spa and a daily kids program where kids 4-12 can bake, visit the resort’s own farm, and perfect their kitchen crafts at the Chopping Block Institute. (Have the kids check out The Kid’s Guide to Boston!)

CALIFORNIA Take your pick of Disneyland (look for deals from Southwest Vacations), Universal Studios Hollywood (Harry Potter land!) or Legoland. You can head to surfing towns like Huntington Beach, explore museums and restaurants in San Francisco, or ogle the movie stars or a huge dinosaur in Los Angeles. Santa Monica is the ideal SOCAL beach destination because its pier boasts rides and a carousel at Pacific Ocean Park, places to fish, and easy access for daytrips to Disneyland and Los Angeles. To the south, commune with animals at the famous San Diego Zoo or Sea World or stay busy at the 15 major museums and entertainment venues at Balboa Park. Even if you’re not traveling with your pet, don’t miss the Coronado Dog Beach near Mission Bay where each summer you can catch the Loews Coronado Bay Surf Dog Competition. (Take along The Kid’s Guide to LA or San Francisco or San Diego—great to read on the plane!)

CARIBBEAN Low season in the Caribbean and Central America starts in mid-April, and prices drop throughout summer for a dreamy tropical vacation. Note that if the zika virus is of concern, be sure to check with your health provider before making your plans. Then, consider St. Croix’s pastel pink Buccaneer, Antigua’s posh Curtain Bluff, or Virgin Gorda’s classic Bitter End Yacht Club which are family-welcoming options. A cruise through the many islands offers the chance to kick back and relax as you explore the variety of island options. For outstanding entertainment by a talented staff, classy service, great food and an exceptional kid’s program, a new all-inclusive in Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic welcomes families to have an unforgettable vacation.

CITY LIGHTS According to Sojern’s 2017 Hotels report, the top U.S. cities by accommodation searches are New York, Gatlinburg, Washington DC, Colorado Springs, and Detroit – reflecting an increased interest in seeing more of the US. This summer, do your exploring and reconnect more affordably by planning a weekend getaway, because no matter where you want to go, there’s a Hilton. The All Suites brands by Hilton – ideal for families — include Embassy Suites, Homewood Suites and Home2Suites, and all are offering up spacious suites from $119 per night weekends. Join fellow #Weekenders and book your break today at EmbassySuites.com, HomewoodSuites.com or Home2Suites.com, then check with local tourist offices and sites like CityPASS, Groupon, and RetailMeNot for restaurant and activity coupons. Let each child plan a day of the itinerary. You will be amazed where they lead you! (There are brand new editions of The Kid’s Guide to NYC and to Washington, DC)

COLLEGE TOURING Leave the other kids in the family behind and opt for some one-on-one time with your high school junior or senior. Stay in a B&B near the campus to pick up some intel from locals. Don’t try to cram too many schools into one trip. Check out GoSeeCampus.com, a free website offering an online college trip planner for high school students and parents. Don’t forget to ask your student to make notes after each visit, and to keep your own.

COOKING CLASSES Whether you’re a toddler decorating sugar cookies or an adult trying to perfect your coq au vin, chances are there’s a local cooking class at your destination. Sites like Cozymeal.com pair local chefs with visitors who want to take a class or hit the markets; pizza making is a popular choice for families. For authentically Italian pizza, check out the family-oriented cooking tours in Italy by Cooking-Vacations.com. Adults traveling with with Tour-de-Friends.com learn how to pair wines while cooking the seasonal cuisine of four regions of France. Love tapas? Spend a day in Barcelona learning how to make your own with daily classes from Barcelona Cooking, a welcoming group of local chefs who welcome kids ages 4+ to attend classes, a fun way to make new friends while traveling.

CRUISE from a port near your home; you have more than 20 to choose from hosting the major cruise lines. Cruises are good bets for families whether the kids are preschoolers (organized activities), teens (all they can eat, a safe place to roam) or grandparents. Read about Eileen Ogintz non-stop activities on her cruise aboard Carnival’s newest and largest ship, Vista. Eileen also reports on the important topic of cruise safety, the subject of lifeguards aboard ships, water safety measures and the importance of adult supervision.

CULTURAL EXCHANGE IN CUBA. A recent Allianz Global Assistance survey shows that only 40% of Americans are interested in travel to Cuba, yet CLIA reports it’s the summer’s #1 cruise destination. The fabled island’s trade winds guarantee a temperate climate and the rush of airlines and kid-friendly cruise ships makes it more enticing than ever. Contact tour operators or travel agents for information on Norwegian Sky, sailing 4-day itineraries with an overnight in Havana; or Royal Caribbean’s smaller Empress of the Seas, featuring salsa lessons and a café con leche bar on 4, 5 and 6-night trips from the port of Tampa. Your visa requires a cultural element, and Havana, Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba provide many opportunities to engage with locals, and experience the island’s colonial architecture, traditional music and dance, coastal fortresses and cathedrals. School kids will be interested to see Cojimar, Ernest Hemingway’s favorite fishing village and the setting for “Old Man and the Sea.” (See what kids had to say about Cuba on the first American ship to sail into Havana in nearly 60 years)

DISNEY VACATION If the kids (or your partner) are begging to go on a Disney vacation – and we mean a theme park, cruise, resort or guided tour, save yourself time, money and grief with a specialty travel agent. Contact Susan Finch, with the Enchanted Traveler for a free consultation and consider her VIP customized Walt Disney Planning and Concierge Service. Don’t be overwhelmed, and get the vacation you want at the best value.

EUROPE’S LESSER-KNOWN GEMS If you want to introduce the kids to the Continent but don’t want to buck the crowds in London or Paris, start out with a more off-the-beaten path destination where history, culture, natural beauty and fun activities are available at a more relaxed pace. In Portugal, the Martinhal Family Hotels & Resorts, whose very stylish but low-key properties were designed with all of a family’s needs in mind, has a property in Lisbon and in its seaside suburb of Cascais along the southwest Atlantic coast, as well as two resorts in the Algarve region in beautiful southern Portugal. Stunning Wales has more to offer than you might imagine. Check it out in 10 Things You Didn’t Know You Could Do In Wales.   Berlin Is is cheaper than Paris and Rome and perhaps the hippest city in Europe. There is plenty of history, fashion, good eats and everyone speaks some English. Edinburgh, Scotland is where J/K. Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book and there are plenty of places to see where she got her inspiration as well as Edinburgh Castle and lots of other sites.  Spend some time outside of Edinburgh at the famous Gleneagles Resort that now is as famous for its family activities as for golf. Ireland is a great bet to stay in a castle  while even the Guinness Storehouse welcomes kids  in Dublin—it’s Irelands top tourist attraction.

FARM STAYS Well recognized in Europe, farm vacations are gaining popularity as more farms offer overnight lodging, meals and a peek into the agricultural lifestyle. Here’s your chance for the kids to see where their food comes from. Eggs are collected fresh from the hen house; carrots are pulled from the ground, berries from a bush. Go to Farm Stay U.S. for a directory with nearly 1,000 working farms and ranches across the U.S. (in all 50 states and U.S. Territories).

FLORIDA. When you think Florida you probably conjure up beaches, watersports and themeparks, and, why not? However, many people are not as aware of Florida’s extensive park system which features its natural wonders. These parks, located in central and northern Florida are family crowd pleasers. During summer 2017, Florida is home to a variety of events and festivals, including the Battle in the Bay Dragon Boat Festival on May 20; the Miami Performance International Festival, June 22-25;  SharkCon 2017 in Tampa in July; and the Florida Festival of Chariots in Jacksonville on August 19. Find out more about Florida events at Visitflorida.com.

GULF COAST FAVORITES The southern coast along the calm, clean Gulf of Mexico is one of the country’s top summer beach destinations, despite its typically steamy hot and humid weather. Save with midweek vacation rental deals or book hotels after mid-August, when locals go back to school and deals reappear. Choose from Destin and the towns along the Florida Panhandle, Gulf Shores, Alabama or western Louisiana. On the Mississippi Gulf Coast, which also has gambling, there’s 30 miles of white sand beaches, watersports, nature parks and Ship Island, where families will find historic Fort Massachusetts. If it’s too much beach for you, plan on voting up or down the Presley impersonators at the annual Elvis Tupelo Festival the first week in June.

HAWAII Aloha to those on the West Coast (check out the new airlift from Alberta via Westjet), who will great deals in Hawaii from Pleasant Holidays, where you can score an air-car-condo deal at Maui’s Ka’anapali Beach, and commute to the Kapalua Wine & Food Festival, June 8-11, to meet world-renowned winemakers, sommeliers, celebrated chefs, and industry insiders for themed tastings and seminars. Kona, on Hawai’i island, hosts the world’s largest long distance outrigger canoe race, with 2,500 paddlers racing five days over Labor Day. The Big Island is the place to knock off some tween, teen and adventurer bucket list dreams because your family can swim with manta rays, see lava flowing into the sea, and stargaze from the world’s tallest mountain. Talk about making a big splash with the kids — book this one ahead. You’ll find plenty of adventure on Kauai to suit all the adrenaline junkies and outdoor lovers in the group.

HISTORY Build a trip around an aspect of American history the kids may be studying. The American Revolution is all the rage this year, with an amazing new museum in Virginia’s Historic Triangle of Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown and Yorktown — the place our system of democracy was born. The new American Revolution Museum at Yorktown just opened with immersive exhibits, experiential theater and more. . In Philadelphia, the new Museum of the American Revolution joins the Betsy Ross House, the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall among many great sites which truly engage kids and teens. Nostalgia is trending, so expect history commemorations, big and small, wherever you travel and take advantage of them to keep “school brains” active.

HOUSEBOATING is a super laid-back vacation with family and friends. Cruise among spectacular sandstone canyons and 2,000 miles of coastline on the border of Arizona and Utah — but do check the water levels before you head out. You can pause to swim, water ski, fish, explore side canyons or camp on the beach. Share a boat and the trip is even more economical. The agency Houseboating.org gives you options around the country with regular pricing specials, and it’s fun; just read our account of a Lake Powell family reunion. There are more opportunities to be the captain of your own ship, while celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Erie Canal. Rent a canal boat and cruise through the locks between Seneca Falls and Tonawanda, NY with options to explore the beautiful Finger Lakes on 3 or 7-day journeys.

KIAWAH ISLAND GOLF RESORT Congratulations to Kiawah Island Golf Resort for being named the Number 1 tennis resort in the world by Tennis Resorts Online for the 10th time in the last 12 years. Yes, it is a golf resort, but under former pro Roy Barth’s direction it has become renowned for tennis as well, and in 2017 it was named #1 for tennis instruction and programming; junior tennis, overall children’s programs and best spa. It also won the #2 position for its staff and the #3 position for its pro shop. Located off the coast of South Carolina it is only a 30-minute drive to historic Charleston. Besides the golf and tennis there are miles of bike trails, kayaks, fishing and Kamp Kiawah, which offers kids an activity-filled day camp environment.

MAKE A MUSEUM YOUR FOCUS There are children’s museums in many cities, but one of our favorites is the award-winning Magic House in St. Louis, Missouri, a crowd pleaser for everyone in the family, including mom, dad and the grands. Think adventure (climb a giant beanstalk), challenge (design a ball ramp at the Balls in Motion exhibit) and fun learning opportunities (sitting behind the President’s desk in a replica Oval Office in the Museum’s Star-Spangled Center) in hundreds of interactive exhibits. Family-friendly St. Louis has much more to offer. Make time for a trip to the Saint Louis Zoo, Grants Farm, Saint Louis Art Museum, Anheuser-Busch Brewery and the Saint Louis Science Center, and take a run or a paddleboat around Forest Park, named Best City Park by USA Today. The iconic Gateway Arch is a must-see and you can ride inside it for a great view of the city at 630 feet. Top it all off with a game at Busch Stadium, home to the 11-time World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals.  Visit explorestlouis.com to start planning your St. Louis family getaway.  LA, meanwhile, has lots to offer families beyond theme parks and beaches in its wonderful museums including The Broad, the city’s newest contemporary art museum that is free but so popular it’s a tough ticket to get.

Dining on the sand La Palapa Restaurant in Puerto Vallarta

Dining on the sand La Palapa Restaurant in Puerto Vallarta

MEXICO. You’ll find great deals at Mexico all-inclusives along the Riviera Maya, the country’s Caribbean coast which attracts history and archeology buffs to ancient Mayan sites at Tulum and Coba. Since summer begins the traditional hurricane season, be sure to purchase travel insurance covering your entire vacation. Mexico’s Pacific Coast offers a different experience, combining beach with jungle and local culture. Puerto Vallarta is popular because visitors can do so much in the region, whether on a one-day cruise port call or a whole week’s vacation. Tour the Estero del Salado Lagoon to look for some of the exotic bird species, iguanas, monkeys and other wildlife, or assist in a seasonal crocodile and turtle release program. Take some basic Spanish classes, ride an ATV (ages 6+), join a guided Jeep tour, or horseback ride with a local ranch guide past rivers, waterfalls and through picturesque mountaintop villages (recommended for ages 10+). Everyone will enjoy getting to know the locals and their cuisine on a taco tour at the many village taquerias.

MONTREAL It’s an exciting year for Montreal – 2017 is the 375th anniversary of the city, as well as the 50th anniversary of Expo 67. While the annual summer Jazz Festival is always a big draw, there are many other events planned this year. As a modern spin on the “Passport” used at Expo 67, a new high tech version, connected via an RFID chip, will be available to visitors.  A paper format will be an option, but you can download the “e” version for Android and IOS on the 375MTL mobile app. To be eligible to win a VIP experience, visitors will collect stamps at the events by showing their passport. The special events will take place at Montreal City Hall, the Biosphere, Centre de design de l’UQAM and at 11 other venues.  Don’t miss the open air art walk past 67 works of art.  “La Balade pour la Paix” will be on view June 5-October 29 on Sherbrooke Street outside the Museum of Fine Arts and McCord Museum. Here’s information about festivals in Montreal all throughout the year.

At Keystone - build and fly a kite

At Keystone – build and fly a kite

MOUNTAIN ADVENTURES If your family is seeking an unforgettable mountain getaway, consider Keystone Resort which sits at 9,280 feet and is located a short, scenic drive from Denver. With the Rocky Mountains surrounding you, plan for activities such as hiking, downhill mountain biking and horseback riding and when you are off the mountain, enjoy golfing, stand up paddle boarding, relaxing at the pool and more. Kids will have a ball at Kidtopia with nature hikes and kite-building workshops and the entire family will dig Wild West nights. Special events such as the Strider Bike Series and Kidtopia Discovery Days provide free outdoor entertainment in the heart of Keystone’s River Run Village. Savings this summer from June 9 through September 17 offer Play for Free components that include free scenic lift tickets for any child 12 and younger, as well as free nine holes of golf, a free guided hike and a free fitness or yoga class for everyone with any two-night stay or longer booked directly through Keystone.

NATIONAL PARKS Calling all 4th graders and their familie. This year, thanks to the government’s Every Kid in the Park program, 4th graders and their families can visit all national parks, lands and waters for free. Order your parks pass, and start planning at their website, which notes that Amtrak is giving a 75% discount to all 4th graders traveling with adults as part of the effort to reach 500,000 children this year. A bit of advice – Avoid Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon and Yosemite and check out the hundreds of less crowded alternatives (with cheaper hotels.) See towering trees in Sequoia & Kings Canyon in California, hike the fantastic Badlands of South Dakota, and watch bats fly out of Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. Check out our Top 10 National Parks for Family Vacations and keep in mind that at all parks and monuments, park rangers provide special activities, including Junior Ranger and recreation programs, free of charge.

NEW MEXICO offers a great mix of history, culture in Santa Fe, Albuquerque and Taos, the chance to learn Native American history and outdoor adventures. Check out Bandelier National Monument, outside the suddenly hip town of Los Alamos, which draws a diverse group of scientists (and their families) to its famous Los Alamos National Laboratories. Stay at the Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort & Spa, which is owned by the Santa Ana Pueblo; there’s a lot of Native American culture, from weekly rodeos and cuisine to adobe brick making classes, as well as blue corn treatments at the spa. When you get hungry for red and green chilis, check out Eileen’s guide to New Mexico Cuisine

NEW YORK CITY is tops on every family’s wish list and it is easy to see why — from Broadway to world-class museums, myriad neighborhoods to explore, Central Park (go for a SummerStage concert), great sports (take your pick of two major league baseball teams — the Yankees and the Mets), as well as great eats and the remarkable 9/11 Memorial Museum (best with ages 10+) where the teen ambassadors offer kids a unique perspective and the One World Observatory a few steps from the museum offers the most amazing views. Don’t miss a stroll along the city’s latest park, the High Line overlooking the Hudson River, and the new Mummies exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History. Eileen Ogintz’ The Kid’s Guide to New York City has lots of ideas to keep the kids busy.

OREGON. Southern Oregon is a family vacation paradise just seven hours north of San Francisco and four hours south of Portland by car. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival is one of the main attractions, and the popular Family Days feature a play to be shared between an adult and a child (ages 6-17) and include a Prologue presented by the Education Staff. Tickets are $30. Don’t miss Crater Lake National Park and the famous Rogue River for whitewater rafting. Fly kites over the Pacific in Lincoln City and visit the first rate Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport.

ORLANDO, one of the country’s most favorite destinations is gearing up for the popular summer season. The latest attraction at Disney World is the largest ever expansion of Animal Kingdom with the debut of Pandora – The World of Avatar, featuring bioluminescent rainforests, a Banshee flying attraction and the family-friendly Na’vi River Journey ride, opening May 27. The news at Universal Orlando Resort, is the opening of Volcano Bay on May 25. The waterpark features a Fire and Water Volcano which streams water during the day and lava effects after dark, plus other volcano-based experiences, as well as a relaxing beach, and river and rainforest villages attractions. SeaWorld Orlando presents deep sea mission themed Kraken, Florida’s only virtual reality rollercoaster, and Electric Ocean, an evening spectacle. Big news at Legoland Florida – Ninjano World where kids sharpen their ninja skills, and the whimsical Legoland Beach Retreat with 83 beach-themed bungalows are open awaiting your Legomaniacs. Just an hour from Orlando is the Space Coast and the Kennedy Space Center, whose space camp and astronaut encounters allow everyone’s imagination to take flight.

PANDORA – THE WORLD OF AVATAR is Disney’s newest land (five years in the making), the largest expansion in Animal Kingdom’s 20-year history, and the first time the park will be open late into the evening. It was inspired by James Cameron’s blockbuster movie “Avatar,” the highest-grossing film of all time. (The sequels have just been announced, starting in December 2020) But Joe Rhode, the longtime Disney creative executive who has overseen Pandora from the beginning, insists it is not necessary to have seen the movie to enjoy a visit here generations after the rapacious humans have left and the local Na’vi with help of human scientists are working to reclaim their moon . You can ride on the back of a Banshee (it doesn’t feel like a simulator!) and travel through a bioluminescent rain forest. Here’s a preview of what you will see and experience. Even food is part of the adventure.

PENNSYLVANIA: DUTCH COUNTRY AND HERSHEY. Fashion a trip that combines Amish culture in Lancaster County — the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch Country — with chocolate and theme park fun. Try one of the area’s interpretive attractions like the Amish Village where kids can ask all the questions they want. Anyone who loves chocolate loves Hersheypark and its sweet roller coasters and Hershey’s Chocolate World, where an amusement park ride has overtaken the old-fashioned factory tour. Free samples, golf, camp sites, and a hotel with an indoor water park (Hershey Lodge), where rates start at $424 for a family of four including theme park admission and breakfast for the kids, guarantee fun.

RANCH AND RIDE ADVENTURES Wannabe’ cowboys, cowgirls and anyone who enjoys the outdoors will love a genuine Western dude ranch experience. Saddle up and let the Dude Ranchers Association help you select an unforgettable ride. You’ll learn from wranglers and ranchers how to horseback ride, rope and rustle, and how ranches thrive on team work by all ages. From the camaraderie of campfires, chores well done, and panning for gold, to sharing authentic pasture-to-table meals, the whole family will be transformed by this uniquely American adventure. What many people don’t know is how much more there is to do at ranches these days—everything from fishing and hiking to tubing and rafting, even cooking classes and spa treatments.

ROAD TRIPS are the classic American family vacation. Even though there are challenges (“I have to go to the bathroom.” and “He touched me!”) they seem to engender memories that families re-live over the years as they remember unexpected experiences, singing together, and even finding their way after getting lost. So, we’ve assembled our Top 10 Family Road Trips USA for your consideration. And, if you take the Grand Canyon to Las Vegas trip, check out 14 things to do in LV. They’re all free and family-friendly, so they have nothing to do with the roulette table.

SAIL AWAY Moorings and Sunsail are companies that charter a yacht, with or without a captain or a personal chef, for a high-seas family vacation. The British Virgin Islands is acknowledged as among the best boating destinations in the world, because you are rarely out of sight of land and rates are discounted in summer. Drop anchor any time to go snorkeling or try scuba, fish, read or sunbathe. Sunsail also run sailing schools in the BVI and Grenada. Read Eileen’s account of her family’s sailing trip.

SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS A city that boasts more than 300 days a year of sunshine is hot, dry and busy in summer because of The Alamo, America’s latest UNESCO World Heritage Site. The legend, a mission turned fort complete with Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie, is more interesting than the site, so you’ll want to visit one of the nearby multimedia attractions that illuminates the story. Riverwalk, an entertaining riverfront promenade lined with cafes and biking paths, is where you’ll spend your time when you’re not boating, touring SeaWorld, or visiting one of the nearby Hill Country ranches or resorts.

SAN FRANCISCO’S SUMMER OF LOVE Cable cars, Alcatraz, sea lions off Pier 39 and street performers: the beautiful city of San Francisco has plenty to offer all ages. It’s diverse, it’s hilly, there’s a great California Science Center and the innovative Exploratorium. Head north over the Golden Gate Bridge to see the Giant Redwoods in Muir Woods and bark with the sea lions on Muir Beach. This summer, grandparents and Boomers will lead the family to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the colorful Summer of Love. Many hippies and their descendants still support the city’s counterculture and communal spirit, and a full year’s worth of museums, concerts, historical exhibits  and special hotel packages to keep free spirits alive. (Check out Eileen’s Kid’s Guide to San Francisco and her take on The Summer of Love.)

SEATTLE AND SAN JUAN ISLANDS Seattle is a great bet for entertaining families from the original REI to the very first Starbucks; to a world-class aquarium where you can learn all about Puget Sound sea life; to Pike Place Market, the classic and colorful fish and produce market currently being expanded for the first time since 1907. Seattle is synonymous with Microsoft, and their new Museum of History and Industry may inspire your kids to put on their thinking caps to become innovators for the future. From there, head offshore to the San Juan Islands for the chance to kayak and to see Orcas in their home environment; there are several guided boat tours and charming little BnBs, inns, cabins and camp sites on the islands to spend the night.

SIERRA CLUB OUTINGS The conservation group known for being leaders in environmentally-friendly outdoor advocacy runs moderately priced, guided trips for people of all ages, abilities, and interests. There are opportunities to help others, hut hikes and sea kayaking, backpacking, beach adventures, and international treks, all of which contribute to our understanding of the world around us while fees go toward their work. There are also family service trips, where children learn to be good stewards of the environment.

SPECIAL CHALLENGES AND DISABILITIES There are more vacation options than ever if a child or other family member faces special challenges. Autism on the Seas helps arrange vacations on land and sea for families with those on the spectrum. The National Ability Center in Park City, Utah and the National Sports Center for the Disabled in Winter Park, Colorado schedule several different outdoors programs for children with disabilities that include families. Even theme parks are providing mobility devices, visual and hearing tools, special maps and allergen-free diets for their visitors. We are pleased to learn that Myrtle Beach International Airport is partnering with the Champion Autism Network to become autism-friendly. Specially-trained ambassadors will be available to assist families get where they need to go, and there is a dedicated quiet room for waiting before and after flights that helps cut down on stress for everyone in the family. We hope to see more airports offering these services.

STAR GAZING AND THE GREAT SOLAR ECLIPSE Whether it’s the spate of outer space movies or the total solar eclipse crossing America – and visible from all 50 states — August 21, 2107, interest in star tourism is sky high. Families should take advantage of special programs at planetariums, national parks and private observatories to hone their star-gazing skills so they can be ready to watch the eclipse, wherever that may be. In addition to some of our top stargazing destination ideas, keep in mind that NASA has terrific family-oriented teaching tools you can use in your own backyard. Just pack a tent and make it a staycation sleepover adventure.

STOWE, VERMONT New base lodging, the posh Stoweflake Spa, and small shops, crafts places, markets and pubs along scenic Mountain Road make Stowe a family favorite. Head over to the Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Factory for 20-minute tours and tastings that are well worth the stop, and pay your respects at the Flavor Graveyard where unsuccessful combos have been laid to rest. Mountain bikers use lifts at nearby Sugarbush; hikers of all abilities use the scenic 5.3-mile Stowe Recreation Path where there’s room for biking and in-line skating as well. The region has zip lines, golf and minigolf, tennis, an Alpine slide and more to keep everyone busy.

A summer concert on Snowmass Mountain near Aspen CO

A summer concert on Snowmass Mountain near Aspen CO

SUMMER FUN IN SKI COUNTRY Located near downtown Aspen, and a natural destination for a western road trip Snowmass Village, Colorado, is in the heart of the Rocky Mountains. While known as a world-class ski resort, its location and scenic beauty make it an awesome destination for summer vacation fun among its peaks and valleys. There are more than 80 miles of hiking and biking trails, clear rivers for fishing and rafting, and amazing views for miles and miles. The Village offers lots of fun with al fresco dining, open-air concerts, festivals, a renowned arts center, a robust V.I.K. (Very Important Kids) program, and even a genuine Western rodeo. Be sure to visit the Snowmass Ice Age Discovery Center which celebrates the discovery of a huge cache of prehistoric Mastadon bones. Snowmass is a place to commune with nature, hang out with family and friends and enjoy yourself with a myriad of activities. With nightly summer rates notably lower than in winter Snowmass is an easy and affordable summer vacation destination for the whole family. Here’s an account of Eileen’s Mother/Daughter summer visit to Snowmass. Final word – don’t miss nearby chic Aspen for its galleries, and Music Festival which offers concerts and workshops for kids.

SURFING You can blame surfing’s surging popularity on Jan & Dean’s “Surf City,” the 1963 beach anthem that led Huntington Beach, California to name itself after the song in 1991 or, on the many hits of the Beach Boys. The world actually fell in love with surfing through Duke Paoa Kahanamoku, a Honolulu native who became an Olympic medalist in swimming in 1912. By his death in 1968, the Duke –Hawaii’s Official Ambassador of Aloha — won eight Olympic medals, appeared in 28 Hollywood movies, and rode a monster wave in Waikiki for 1¼ miles – the longest ever recorded. Today, beginners can experience the thrill of surfing in artificial wave pools and take lessons around the world, including five famous watersports destinations where the surf’s always up.

THEME PARKS A dizzying array of new and innovative rides focusing on kid’s attraction to cutting-edge technologies, parents seeking rides that their whole family can enjoy and the increase in water-based attractions, has brought more options to parks all across the U.S.  Orlando, one of the country’s most favorite destinations is gearing up for the popular summer season. The latest attraction at Disney World  is the largest ever expansion of Animal Kingdom with the debut of Pandora – The World of Avatar, featuring bioluminescent rainforests, a Banshee flying attraction and the family-friendly Na’vi River Journey ride, opening May 27. The news at Universal Orlando Resort, is the opening of Volcano Bay on May 25. The waterpark features a Fire and Water Volcano which streams water during the day and lava effects after dark, plus other volcano-based experiences, as well as a relaxing beach, and river and rainforest villages attractions. SeaWorld Orlando presents deep sea mission themed Kraken, Florida’s only virtual reality rollercoaster, and Electric Ocean, an evening spectacle. Big news at Legoland Florida – Ninjano World where kids sharpen their ninja skills, and the ride’s vehicles have sensors that interact with 3-D computer animation and 4-D effects.  New in lodging there is the whimsical Legoland Beach Retreat with 83 beach-themed bungalows now open, awaiting your Legomaniacs. Just an hour from Orlando is the Space Coast and the Kennedy Space Center, whose space camp and astronaut encounters allow everyone’s imagination to take flight. Opening on May 27 at Disney California Adventure Park in Anaheim is Summer of Heroes which expands their Super Hero universe with the highly anticipated “Guardians of the Galaxy- Mission: BREAKOUT!” Rides with visual and audio effects will have guests face-to-face with Rocket, Star Lord Gamora and Groot.  Knotts Berry Farm in nearby Buena Vista is debuting “Sol Spin” a rotating swing which dangles you six-stories above ground. When you are ready to re-enter the 21st century from the 18th century at Williamsburg, Virginia, try out Busch Gardens new “InvadR,” and experience an 81-foot drop and moments of weightlessness on its first wooden roller-coaster. Want to battle giant mutant spiders? Plan a visit to Six Flags, whose parks across the country are abuzz about its new extreme virtual reality experience debuting this summer. Designed in partnership with Samsung Electronics America, USA, and with the use of Samsung Gear VR, this ride goes beyond VR coaster rides to the first VR drop ride, and by drop, we mean a virtual 100 stories in 10 seconds, at 90mph. Check the Six Flags site because this ride opens on varying dates at each park. The Great Smoky Mountains, home of Dollywood suffered terrible wildfires at the end of 2016.  While the theme park was spared from damage, there was property loss and damage and some fatalities. Dolly Parton’s company established a fund and a foundation to help firefighters and first responders, as well as families who are homeless as a result of the disaster. Despite the tragedy, this summer Dollywood will introduce several new experiences including “Whistle Punk Chaser,” a wooden roller coaster for the younger set, and “Drop Line,” a drop tower to thrill teens.  See Waterparks section below for more park fun.

TRAIN TRAVEL Amtrak offers 50% discounts for kids 2-12 and 15% off for students ages 13-25 who book 3 days ahead on Amtrak.com. Have a 4th grader? Take advantage of a 75% discount for kids who bring an adult with them to the national parks this summer — you save on transport and get free entry. Did you know that most long distance trains feature volunteer guides who answer questions about the natural and cultural heritage sites passing by? America’s railway also has more than 50 national park packages including hotel, sightseeing, activities, dining and more on their site.

TRAVEL SAFETY & SECURITY In the MMGY Global 2016 Portrait of the American Traveler survey, 85% of millennial families said safety is an important factor in selecting a vacation – it’s even more important this summer. Plan ahead by staying up to date with destination news and advisories from Travel.State.gov. Research necessary travel documents and don’t forget to renew passports if they have less than six months’ validity – an issue with many countries. You won’t be allowed to board your flight! And be prepared before you go if your passport is lost or stolen. Do you have extra photos? Your passport numbers? You will need to go to the local consulate.(the Fastport Passport blog is a comprehensive resource for all things passport and visa related.) Many new safety technologies are being tested, as reported at the Travel Security Summit. In addition to taking precautions, purchase travel insurance to protect your investment. Many travel mishaps are related to airline delays, severe weather or unforeseeable situations like lost luggage, all of which may be covered by a good policy. If anyone in your family suffers a medical crisis, insurance may also cover your evacuation and emergency medical care; or reimburse your additional costs to fly home to be with a loved one. Travel insurance from Allianz Global Assistance includes many other benefits, such as trip delay coverage, trip interruption coverage and more, competitively priced.  They also provide 24/7 travel assistance, so if you need help in unfamiliar territory, they’re just a phone call away.

VACATION RENTALS While hotels and resorts offer service and amenities your family is sure to enjoy, there are other options to consider. Online resources have revolutionized vacation lodging, especially for multigenerational groups or families traveling with friends. Here are Five Reasons Families Favor Airbnb Vacations. Also, check sites like HomeAway, Wyndham Vacation Rentals and Hideaways International for listings and inspiration.

VOLUNTEER Opportunities for travelers to give back abound these days, whether you’re touring with your church, an educational group, or on your own. Even a theme park like Universal Orlando gives families the chance to spend four hours working for the local Give Kids The World, a vacation residence for children with life-threatening illnesses, as part of a three-night stay. Weeklong Fathom cruises to the Dominican Republic combine land-based volunteer opportunities suitable to families, with onboard education in the region’s culture, language and lives of the people who travelers assist. Together for Good lists over 120 groups that families can contact about donating supplies or volunteering half days while on a resort vacation or cruise in the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America.

WASHINGTON,DC is chock full of venues and events to keep families happily occupied for many days and nights. With all of the branches of the Smithsonian Institution free-of-charge, the nation’s capitol is also easy on the wallet. Celebrate history and Americana at the American Celebration at Mt. Vernon on July 4 and at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the National Mall from June 29-July 9. Wear your comfortable shoes and explore all the city has to offer. The newest museum on the Mall, the National Museum of African American History and Culture invites you to learn the story of a people brought here in chains, and of their struggles and contributions. Opened in September, 2016 by our first African American president, the museum has much information to impart. Washington DC has more free museums than any other city so you don’t need to feel guilty just focusing on the exhibits that most interest your gang.

WATERPARKS INDOORS AND OUT Summer’s the season when most waterparks open, and there’s nothing more fun than a sunny day spent at Hurricane Harbor (Six Flags), Adventure Island (next to Busch Gardens), Sandcastle in Pittsburgh, Gator Run at New Orleans’ Audubon Park and Schlitterbahn. Excitement at Universal Orlando is that Wet n’ Wild has recently been joined by Volcano Bay, the newest attraction at the park, which features a “virtual line” wristband that alerts you when it’s your turn and allows you to have fun while waiting. In Carlsbad, Legoland California’s waterpark expansion includes waterslide races at  “Legoland Surfers.  New at Knotts Berry Farm’s Soak City Waterpark, “Shore Break” with six water slides at seven stories above ground, features near-vertical drops in a flume and “The Wedge,” a family together raft ride, which isn’t as gentle as it sounds. In the mid-west, at Ohio’s classic Cedar Point in Sandusky, the renovated Cedar Point Shores Water Park presents four new attractions include the exciting “Point Plummet,” tube slides at “Portside Plunge,” a family splash park at “Lakeslide Landing,” and a “Lemmy’s Lagoon” for toddlers. Dollywood’s Splash Country water park debuts “Tailspin Racer,” a high-speed water slide race.Hate the sun? Facing monsoon rains? Head to Great Wolf Lodge Resorts, indoor waterpark heavens located around the country.  See Theme Park Section above for more park fun.

WINDJAMMERS. Sail powered cruises in Maine give kids the opportunity to help sail historic vessels and learn traditional skills like knot tying, steering, hauling sails, polishing brass, rowing, and cranking ice cream — at budget prices. There’s plenty of shore time for tidal pool exploration, swimming, berry-picking, stone skipping and seaglass hunting. Imagine windjamming like camping at sea: there’s stargazing, storytelling, singing, games and sleeping out on deck on one of the nine historic vessels — a sight to behold.

WORLD WAR I This year marks the centennial of America’s entrance into WWI, known as The Great War when it raged across Europe and Africa from 1914-1918. In the Champagne region of southern France, commemorations have been taking place by the battlefields of the Western Front. In medieval-era tunnels 30 feet below the ground, the Museum of 1916 Somme uses dioramas to bring the plight of WWI soldiers to life. Britain’s largest monument, the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing, as well as sites in Marne, Verdun and elsewhere honor the fallen. The little known Château of Blerancourt, home to Anne Morgan, daughter of the wealthy American John Pierpont Morgan, celebrates Franco-American cooperation with exhibits on her volunteer work, the first American ‘fly boys’, Lafayette Flying Corps and the volunteer ambulance drivers of the American Field Service. London’s Imperial War Museums (no admission charge) premiered its  new, immersive Galleries of the First World War in 2014 as part of a four-year commemoration of the war. (Read about what kids told Eileen about their visit. More than 1,300 objects ranging from weapons and equipment, to diaries and trinkets, tell many sides of the war’s story. In this country, the National WWI Museum and Memorial atop Kansas City, Missouri’s tallest hill, is marking the centennial with two special exhibits. Never before seen in public, the moving Vive L’amerique!: French Children Welcome Their American Ally (through October 15, 2017) features drawings and essays created by school children after the Americans landed in France in 1917. Fields of Battle, Land of Peace: The Doughboys, 1917-1918 gives families the chance to contemplate the war’s aftermath in striking, larger than life photo murals by Michael St. Maur Sheil installed outside.

This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.

This special FamilyTravelConsulting.com travel section contains advertising and some sponsored content.  All opinions are based upon the authors’ actual travel experience and knowledge.


Seasonal Travel Tips | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

6 Responses to 51 Great Ideas for Your Best Family Summer Vacation Ever

  1. aaliyah says:

    Good work thanks

  2. Anne S says:

    This is a very impressive post! My husband and I are just planning our vacation with our children and your post is a huge source of inspiration. Thank you so much for your oustanding ideas and suggestions. We really needed this info right now!

  3. thomsonriver says:

    In lieu of the crowded beaches of Cancún and Cozumel, make your way to the state of Veracruz, where you can enjoy the seafood like spicy crab broth.

  4. Juan Pablo says:

    Why not taking the kids with you in a People to People Travel to Cuba?

    Good work!

  5. Tom says:

    Hello Everybody,

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