All Aboard the Polar Express on the Grand Canyon RailroadDec 9, 2013
The Grand Canyon Railroad brings a classic holiday tale to life with the return of the Polar Express. Now through January 4, families can experience this themed train ride that follows the storyline of the acclaimed children’s book.
Just because summer’s over, doesn’t mean fun is over. There’s no better time than fall to get away with a few days to savor our kids, laugh with our girlfriends and make time for romance with our mates. As the First Lady explains in my exclusive interview, it’s great to get outdoors—and get active—with the kids whenever you can. Here’s what I wrote about all the fun you can have in fall. We joined forced with Family Travel Forum to come up with the best fall getaways.
1. Go for a Free Fall Festival –
With preschoolers, go apple picking or on a hayride. It’s easy to find a u-pick farm with our directory of orchards and pumpkin patches near you. During peak foliage season at Lake Morey Resort in Fairlee, Vermont, guests of all ages can learn to make – and taste! – freshly-pressed apple cider during complimentary lessons from the resort’s cider press team.
With girlfriends or your partner, sample local foods and brews. In New York state, there’s the Finger Lakes Cork & Fork in September and all things oyster celebrated Oct 19-20 on Long Island. Celebrate Oktoberfest wherever you are—from Squaw Valley in California Sept.28, to Mount Snow Oktoberfest Oct 10 in Vermont, to Chattanooga Oktoberfest Oct 19 in Tennessee. The Sonoma County Harvest fair starting Oct 4 promises plenty of wine and microbrew tastings.
Couples get the chance to get away somewhere new, stay in a romantic Bed & Breakfast and share a memorable experience. How about a weekend biking on Cape Cod in Massachusetts after the crowds are gone or wine tasting in Washington state?
Autumn is the time to harvest some of the many free festivals and discounted hotel rooms offered by small towns across America. How about a Cream Cheese Festival in Lowville, NY, home of the world’s largest cream cheese plant, or the Wife Carrying Contest at Sunday River, Maine’s Fall Festival. Go to the Cranberry Festival Oct. 12 on the island of Nantucket or the Dia de los Muertos Sunday, October 27, 2013 in Oceanside, CA.
Everyone can enjoy Oktoberfest, that German ritual that dates to the 1810 wedding of Bavarian King Ludwig. In Germany, the whole month showcases local beers with Oktoberfest family events and community dinners where kids are always welcome. Several U.S. towns with German heritage celebrate in the US, tops among them being Oktoberfest Zinzinnati which draws 500,000 Samuel Adams fans to Cincinnati Sept 20-22 for the Running of the Weiners dachshund races. The New Ulm Oktoberfest Minnesota takes place in several venues over the first two weekends in October. Even Vail Mountain celebrates the first two weekends in October, with many family events scheduled in the base villages. Have you ever tried keg bowling?
See what Family Travel Forum says about free fall festivals around the country.
2. Watch the Leaves Change
With kids, choose road trips within a day’s drive of home and break up your trip with plenty of fun stops. Family Travel Forum’s state-by state directory of leaf peeper hotlines guarantees you’ll find the peak colors. Bring zip-lock bags so you can collect different leaf species, nuts and pine cones for art projects. Bring glue to press flowers and scrapbook tourist brochures It’s not just about looking at the leaves! Let preschoolers jump in them and make leaf scrapbooks and acorn or pine cone sculptures for school. Have a scavenger hunt on a hike to see how many different kinds of leaves you can find.
Team up with another family with young kids, another couple or some buddies in a spacious condo from Flipkey.com a TripAdvisor company — you have choices across the country where you can enjoy the fall colors, weather and discounts from Northern California to Colorado to the Carolina Coast where two bedroom/two bath condos can be had starting at $125 a night.
Couples can relax with no set itinerary, lingering over a farm-to-table meal, perusing local galleries and museums. Girlfriends can catch up during the road trip; end at a spa, like in Scottsdale. Here’s what I wrote about a girlfriend getaway there.
USA Today recently named nearby highway M-37, along the Old Mission Peninsula of Michigan home to 10 microbreweries, eight area wineries, orchards, farm stands, forests and streams and a 45 minute drive from Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
3. Exercise your ski legs at Mountain Resorts
Before the snow falls, mountain resorts have lots of activities and lodging bargains, making them a great choice whether you’re with kids, gal pals, those frat buddies or a significant other. Mountain bike, hike together and leave some road trip time to watch the aspen change color. Check out where you want to go for winter break. Online snow sports experts like Ski.com help you choose the best resorts for your skill level and interests, and will sort out the best deals for early bookers.
Breckenridge, Colorado is a bonafide historic mining town where you’ll find a mix of galleries, museums, historic sites, good restaurants and plenty to keep you happy outdoors whether you want to bike, hike, fly-fish, zip line or tour a gold mine. You won’t go hungry either—not with 75 restaurants and bars to choose from. Just be mindful of the high altitude. Many locals parents start their kids on one baby aspirin a day for the week prior to arrival to help them acclimate.
Aspen, Colorado is the place to hike, mountain bike, fly fish and indulge at a spa when hotel rates are as much as 50% off. Check out the guided hikes at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, enjoy Yoga on Aspen Mountain. Explore the spectacular Maroon Bells hiking trails or the locals’ fave — Hunter Creek Trail. Read what I wrote about learning to fly fish recently in Aspen.
Jackson, Wyoming is the gateway to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks and fall is an ideal time to visit—after the summer crowds are gone. Unlike other snow resorts, Jackson is busier in the summer than the winter. Explore Grand Teton National Park with an expert from the Teton Science Schools and see the wildlife in Yellowstone. Go horseback riding and experience the authentic Wyoming ranching culture. Ride the tram up at Jackson Hole snow resort and mountain bike or hike down.
Waterville Valley Resort, in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, is in the middle of 770,000 acres of National Forest with hiking, trout fishing and mountain biking. ; The valley touts its own skate park, golf course, tennis courts and indoor ice arena and a White Mountain Storytelling Festival the end of September and a Fall Foliage Festival in mid-October. There’s even a Waterville Valley Witch Fest the weekend before Halloween.
You’ll find golf, boating, fishing, hiking and mountain biking at several of the resorts around California’s Lake Tahoe. For adult fun, check into a Lake Tahoe resort on the Nevada side of the hills and enjoy gambling and night life – several can provide childcare too so parents can have a night out on the town.
4. Find Summer Fun in the Fall in Off Season Florida
The towns throughout Florida, the most visited state in the Union last year according to D.K. Shifflet, have many different personalities, but they all have great weather in common. Up north there’s history and Spanish style in St. Augustine and a whole Greek fishing village in Tarpon Springs. Make your base camp the Westin Cape Coral Resort at Marina Village, with its spacious suites that include full kitchens and even washers and driers and located on the Gulf of Mexico by the Caloosahatchee River and Tarpon Point Marina, which offers access to the Gulf of Mexico with a water-taxi to nearby beaches, kayak, boating and fishing charters. Parents can get a break with the resort’s new kids club. There’s plenty to do in the surrounding areas of Cape Coral, Fort Myers and Naples.
Come fall, score a better hotel deal in Orlando and avoid the crowds. Check Visit Orlando for the latest deals. TheMagicard offers discounts on everything from attractions to accommodations and restaurants.
Adults and older kids will love the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival when the park blooms with samples, fall blossoms and a more sophisticated crowd; this year from September 28 to -November 12, 2013.
If you promised the kids a theme park vacation but didn’t have the budget this summer, make their wishes come true now. The all-suite Nick Suites Resort is offering up to 40% off during the fall, while Disney World resorts are touting 30% off certain weeks and a free dining plan. Kudos to the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin which doesn’t limit kids to the kids menu with their kids-eat-free (under 10) deal that’s part of the resort’s Love Your Family package that also includes special Mickey Vision glasses.to watch the fireworks (think Mickey appearing in the lights.) Rates start at just $139.
With preschoolers, fall is a great time of year to go—still warm enough for hotel pools and not nearly as many kids waiting to meet and great characters. Check out my new Kid’s Guide to Orlando.
Hawks Cay Resort on tiny Duck Key south of Miami has an onsite dolphin research facility so you can have your own guided, dolphin interaction. Their Indies Club and teen spa make it a magnet for families with this hard-to-please age group, but adult guests will find kiteboarding, fishing, diving in the only living coral reef in the continental U.S., restaurants and funky local charm to keep them busy. The daily Camp Hawk for ages 5-12 offers supervised activities that include nature hikes, fish feedings and even snorkeling so parents can go offshore for a scuba excursion.
For an unforgettable ecotourism encounter, head north to Homosassa Springs for the chance to swim with manatees or study them up close in a special aquarium. These “sea cows” as the enormous, gentle creates are known, live in the Springs’ unusual mix of salt and fresh water, in an area protected by the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation. They are most numerous from the late fall through February so plan a visit before the snowbirds arrive.
5. Prepay the Pleasure at a Caribbean All-Inclusive Resort
You’ll find top values, music festivals on the major islands, and cheaper flights in the shoulder season between Labor Day and Thanksgiving. Take the whole family for a long weekend in Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands — no passports are required, saving you about $100 per person right there! Head to an outer island of the Bahamas and “Two Fly Free from Nassau.”
With preschoolers, take advantage of special weeks at the Beaches Resorts and other top all-inclusives where the little ones can play in a kids club while adults hit the links, the spa, the courts or the surf. Join the celebration with the Sesame Street crowd as the resorts celebrates 10 years of having fun together.
At the all-inclusive Grand Palladium resorts in Punta Cana and elsewhere in the Caribbean, your kids can now play with the loveable Raggs characters—the five musical pups in the PBS series. Look for fully-produced live musical stage shows at the resorts’ on-site theatres later this fall, but meanwhile parents can also arrange for a special breakfast with Raggs or a themed birthday party. Palladium’s Kids’ Club in Punta Cana, “Castillo del Pirata” is the largest in the Caribbean and Mexico with a mini-club for ages 1-3, kids programs for ages 4-12 and a Black & White Club for teens. We also like that you can send your requests ahead for formula type, diaper size, video game choices, etc. And it will be waiting for you. At Palladium Resorts, up to two kids 12 and under are free until December.20, 2013
The Radisson Blu Resort, Marina & Spa, St. Martin is offering their suites for travel dates through December 19, 2013 at 50% off, including daily breakfast buffet for two, complimentary in-room Wi-Fi, 24-access to the fitness center, and resort activities such as nature hikes, bocce ball and kayaking. This is a truly romantic getaway for couples with a spa that will suit those longing for a wellness retreat.
Moon Dance Cliffs, a luxury boutique hotel and villa resort on Jamaica’s scenic Cliffs of Negril, is touting not only the all-inclusive resort’s lowest rates of the season but through Dec. 19, an extra night free if you book four. Instead of taking the kids, opt for a parents getaway or one just for the girls. Here’s what I wrote about a girlfriends getaway to Anguilla.
Fall is also the height of the Caribbean hurricane season. Don’t let that ruin your family vacation plans. Make sure to get and check what kind of hurricane plan the hotel has. Will they refund your trip?
At the Palace Resorts on Riviera Maya, if you book a five-night’s stay through December 15th, you can take advantage of $1500 in resort credit to cover spa, golf, dolphin encounters, sightseeing excursions, special romantic suppers and more.
Those who like history and archeology will be fascinated by ancient Mayan towns, such as Tulum or Coba. Head to eco-cultural nature and water parks such as Xcaret where you can now arrange to explore the Mayan jungle in the moonlight or dive into four different underground cenotes and Xel-Ha, where you can swim with dolphins, drift on crystal-clear underground rivers or enjoy various shows by Mayan performers. We loved our recent stay on the shores of the Caribbean at the Moon Palace.
Adventure lovers will enjoy zip-lining, ATV driving or horseback riding in the jungle, and snorkeling or diving in the Caribbean Sea that boasts the world’s second largest coral reef. Here’s what I wrote about the Riviera Maya and Oaxaca.
6. Harvest the Tastes and Trails of Autumn
Show your partner a natural wonder like Niagara Falls. Enjoy the Niagara Falls State Park at any time of the year and experience over 400 acres of protected wildlife and lush landscape. Get closer to each other at the Cave of the Winds, go face-to-face with Niagara Falls and get soaked on the Hurricane Deck where you are just feet from the thundering waters. Be sure to plan a visit at night for Illuminations over the Falls; some nights there are fireworks, too. Their autumn Wine and Wonders Package, available through October 23, provides a Vino Visa Passport so you can enjoy wine tastings at the many local, award-winning wineries, souvenir wine glass, discounts at popular local restaurants, and additional hotel discounts if you stay two nights or more. Fit in lots of sightseeing with the Niagara Falls Discovery Pass, which includes tickets on the Maid of the Mist boat, visit to the base of Bridal Veil Falls, the Observation Tower, Aquarium of Niagara, Niagara Adventure Theatre, Niagara Gorge Discovery Center and a day of unlimited rides on the Scenic Trolley. Kids’ rates are available too. The Niagara region has many other free attractions from a Senecca Indian Reservation to a Jello Museum, working farms and more.
Camping out is a great activity for fall weekends, and autumn means perfect weather for hiking and fishing. Whether you’re with friends or family — novices don’t have to go far — your nearest state park is a good bet. If you’re taking a toddler, check out these tips for camping with little ones.
Go to Farm Stay U.S. for a directory with over 975 working farms and ranches in all 50 states and U.S. Territories. Here’s what I wrote about learning sustainability and eating healthy at the Inn at Valley Farms in Walpole, NH.
Show the kids a natural wonder like Niagara Falls, N.Y. Enjoy the Niagara Falls State Park at anytime of the year and experience over 400 acres of protected wildlife and lush landscape. Get closer than you can imagine at the Cave of the Winds! Go face-to-face with the pounding waters of Niagara Falls and get soaked on the Hurricane Deck where you are just feet from the thundering waters! You cannot get any closer to the Falls! Be sure to plan a trip at night when the Falls are illuminated in a rainbow of color!
Fall is the ideal time of year to tour the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas. With trails that are easily accessible to the very young and the less fit, and even some that accommodate wheelchairs, it’s a great place to explore with three generations. Be sure to pack a flashlight for your peek into Cobb Cave.
Head to Lake Placid. There is so much to do in the Adirondacks, an area bigger than Yosemite, Glacier, the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and the Great Smokey National Parks combined. Lake Placid also offers: A wonderful interactive museum about the animals and environment in nearby Tupper Lake that is a great introduction to the region, The Wild Center. The Olympic Complex ( two winter Olympics were held here, in 1932 and 1980, where you might be able to watch a skating competition or hockey game or climb into a bobsled for the ride of your life down an Olympic track. Outdoor adventures for every season — hiking, golf, kayaking, canoeing and fishing in summer and fall; skiing on Whiteface Mountain, snowshoeing and ice skating all winter. Here’s what I wrote about visiting Lake Placid recently
Leave the tent behind and hike hut to hut on the Appalachian Mountain Trail where the Appalachian Mountain Club staff serve you dinner and breakfast.
Head to a dude ranch in fall for a few days of riding, good meals and relaxing in spectacular country whether in Arizona, Texas or Colorado. It’s a good bet for a couples’ getaway and fun way to challenge friends, especially when you can practice your cattle-penning skills like you can at Tanque Verde Guest Ranch in Tucson. You can even join the cattle drive at Vista Verde Ranch in Colorado. Visit a vineyard—or two.
Girlfriends can support each other in reaching new heights on a n organized bike trip with www.backroads.com or one you organize yourself: Rent the gear you need from REI or borrow what you need and take off on foot or mountain bikes.
7. City Getaway
Now’s the time to explore city neighborhoods, see a new museum exhibit or a new play, check out the hottest restaurants or shop till you drop. If you plan to take in the major sights in a city like New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Southern California, Boston or more, check out CityPASS which enables you to save up to 50% on admission and cut most of the lines.
With preschoolers, check out San Diego, which boasts LEGOLAND, the San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park and SeaWorld as well as many wonderful museums in . Here’s what I wrote about all the museums in Balboa Park and the new Legoland Hotel.. Come in October when San Diego celebrates Kidvasion-- kids stay and play free throughout San Diego.
Take a weekend to visit a city near your home — Chicago, Los Angeles or Miami — and explore like a tourist. Go to a museum, a festival, a theatrical performance, a locally run restaurant. Here’s what I wrote about the wonderful Space Shuttle exhibit at the California Science Center.
Many people only think of Hollywood and Universal Studios when they think of Los Angeles. But there are also many unique and wonderful museums. Kids love the La Brea Tar Pits, where bones from nearly 2,000 saber-toothed cats have been found . The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) offers the nation’s only free youth membership program! NexGen offers free general admission to anyone 17 and under as well as one accompanying adult. At the Petersen Automotive Museum , there not only are all kinds of vehicles but a Discovery area just for kids while the Getty Center and the Getty Villa in Malibu offer special family events and activities. Visitors shouldn’t miss the California Science Center and the wonderful new Space Shuttle exhibit. Here’s what I wrote about it.
Visitors who book two nights or more at any participating Los Angeles area hotel Oct. 7 through Nov. 12, 2013 will receive two free museum passes and gift shop discounts at over 25 participating institutions. For more information or to book a package, visit www.discoverLosAngeles.com/cultureLA. The deal is timed to coincide with the unprecedented cultural eclipse that is currently taking place with dozens of the city’s museums celebrating anniversaries. LA’s oldest museum in continuous operation, the Natural History Museum, is marking its 100th anniversary with the recent opening of Becoming Los Angeles—a 14,000-sq.-ft. exhibit that pays tribute to LA’s heritage and that explores the natural and cultural history of Southern California.
Indianapolis is a surprising city with the largest Children’s Museum in the country—come this fall for the country’s oldest Haunted House! The museum is focused on ancient Egypt these days and is preparing for a huge display of China’s Terra Cotta warriors. Grab your pals for a ride through the Indy 500 Museum or any of the city’s fine arts collections or visit the Indianapolis City Market.
If your kids are studying American History or need a bit of college-aspiration-inspiration, there’s no better city to explore than Boston where you can literally walk in the footsteps of the Revolutionary War Patriots on the Freedom Trail, re-enact the Boston Tea Party at the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum or tour the oldest warship afloat—the USS Constitution. Eat clam chowder at historic Faneuil Hall Marketplace where street entertainers perform outside where Patriots rallied the citizens of Boston to their cause. No matter what your kids’ ages or interests, you’ll find activities for them in Boston. Visit Harvard, the oldest college in the country and the Boston Children’s Museum, celebrating its centennial with great fanfare. Here’s what I wrote about the children’s museum. Go Whale watching with the New England Aquarium.
If you’ve got cowboy and cowgirl wannabes in your house, head to the Dallas – Fort Worth Metroplex. Fort Worth prides itself on being the City of Cowboys and home to the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame that celebrates the resilience and athleticism of the women who helped settle the frontier. But Fort Worth also prides itself on being a city of culture, with five world-class museums including the second-largest museum gallery space for modern art in the country after MoMA New York, and the fantastic Fort Worth Museum of Science and History. Neighboring Dallas has the skyscrapers, the glitzy shopping centers, the terrific new Klyde Warren Park offering daily activities (children’s yoga or family reading games) and the brand-new Perot Museum of Nature and Science, which brought together the Dallas Museum of Natural History, the Science Place and the Dallas Children’s Museum under one green roof and is designed to offer living science lessons. Any one visiting this area should also make time to visit the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealy Plaza, which tells the sobering story of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. November 22, 2013, marks the 50th anniversary of this landmark event and even those too young to remember it will be fascinated by the multimedia collection and its insights into the 1960s.
Girlfriends and couples should check out Santa Fe with its wonderful galleries, history (it’s 400 years old) and 20 spas to choose from, and San Francisco with its museums, restaurants, spectacular coast and one of the best Farmer’s Markets in the country. Here’s what I said about it.
8. London in the Fall
When the tourist hordes are safely back home, London becomes one of Europe’s most welcoming cities, one whose familiar language and culture make it easy to explore and enjoy. The British have returned from their vacations in the south of France or Spain and are ready to celebrate the autumn weather with a bounty of festivals. You’ll find the Thames River busy with crews preparing for the 21-mile-long Great River Race held September 7th. The third weekend in September, Open House London is the quintessential “insider’s” event, a weekend where more than 700 municipal and private buildings open their doors to the public. Tour power stations, the original Benjamin Franklin house and more, by road, foot and by boat with expert guides — and it’s all free. We love the London Restaurant Festival throughout October, because prices are kept in check with sampling menus. If you don’t know what you want to eat, you can get on the Routemaster’s Bus Tour for a Gourmet Odyssey.
Theater-goers will find a frenzy of musical revivals (“Jersey Boys,” “Book of Mormon,” “The Lion King”), many of which have played on Broadway but which can be seen in London for a fraction of the price. Girlfriends should book tickets to catch Jude Law in “Henry V,” the contemporary interpretation of Shakespeare’s great story of the King of England by director Michael Grandage. Playing at the Noel Coward Theatre in November, tickets begin at just $15 each. November 5th is Guy Fawkes’ Night, and bonfires and fireworks light up the skies to commemorate Guy Fawkes’ foiled attempt 400 years ago to blow up the Houses of Parliament. Keep the kids awake and you can teach them a bit of history during the many free festivities; Visit London keeps track of many other seasonal festivals.
Harry Potter fans of any age will get a big bang out of the new Warner Bros. Studio Tour, The Making of Harry Potter in Leavenden outside of London. Visitors get to see what the camera doesn’t show by going behind the scenes and viewing the sets, costumes, props and visual effects, all capturing the artistry and technology that brought the books to life. A real crowd pleaser, it’s gained even more popularity since a very pregnant Kate, with Will and brother Harry, was caught play-fighting with wands from Ollivander’s.
The Athenaeum Hotel, one of our favorites with 18 posh townhouse apartments adjacent to the main hotel, guarantee tickets to the tour when you book their Spellbinding London package, which also includes breakfast, WiFi, a stocked minibar and access to the hotel’s spa, gym and hot tubs. The Family Apartments sleeping four start from £625 (approximately US$947) per night. Double rooms are about half that price and kids 12 and under dine free at their restaurant.
Buy the best value Oyster Card to get around buses and trains, the London Pass with discounted admission to major attractions , and don’t miss a visit to Kings Cross Station. This London tube stop was featured in the “Harry Potter” series as Platform 9-3/4, the portal to the wizarding world. And if you can’t get enough of Potter, take in the world-class collection at Regent’s Park Zoo. Their Reptile House was the location where Harry learned he could speak to snakes, something that the whole family is welcomed to try.
9. Cruise from a Home Port near your home
You have some 30 ports to choose from and you can go for a long weekend or a week, whether you want to head to Bermuda from New Jersey, up to Canada from Boston or New York, the Caribbean from Galveston or Florida or Mexico from California. Check out our family cruise guide to decide what ship is best for your family. Shoulder season deals are everywhere and you might still be able to snare a deal for Thanksgiving or Christmas.
And whether your kids aren’t in school yet or you’re looking for an adult getaway, opt for a cruise on a luxury liner instead of a driving trip to see the best of the fall foliage. Many of the major cruise lines sail special New England to Canada itineraries at this of year: Here’s what Family Travel Forum said about these cruises.
Norwegian Cruise Line’s new Breakaway sails weekly from New York to Bermuda and then the rest of the year to the Caribbean. It’s got the largest water park at sea complete with a splash zone for the littlest cruisers, huge sports complex, Broadway productions, Nickelodeon Characters and 28 different dining options. Here’s what I wrote about being aboard Breakway.
Disney Cruise Line sails from Galveston as well as Florida and the West Coast some times of the year. You’ll find a nursery at sea, all of the characters and princesses your kids want to see and first-rate kids and teen facilities and programming. Everyone loves Disney’s private island
American Cruise Lines has small ship river cruises along many of the inland waterways and rivers in the USA; they’re a great bet for multigenerational groups or grandparents traveling with grandkids. Cruise from New Orleans, Memphis, St. Louis or St. Paul on the Mississippi River. The Queen of the Mississippi is the first new paddlewheel river boat built for the Mississippi in nearly two decades, There are also cruises in the Pacific Northwest, New England (a more intimate way to enjoy leaf-peeping than on mega-cruisers), Mid-Atlantic and Southeast. If you sail on one of their Thanksgiving cruises in the South, the company will donate to local charities that provide meals to the needy.
Alternatively, sail off aboard a Windjammer and enjoy the coast of Maine at its finest, as leaves change and rates fall in local B&Bs. Rockford, Maine, with its charming old B&Bs and fine farm-or-sea-to-table restaurants is a great choice for a girlfriends or couples’ weekend away.
10. Adventure Out and Make New Friends
Maybe you’ve sent your last child to college. Maybe you are celebrating a special birthday or anniversary. If you can get away in fall, you’ll have your pick of unique experiences.
Take a culinary and wine tour on a small ship in the Northwest; birdwatch in Costa Rica or head to the Galapagos. Adventuresmith Explorations has many options and their expert team will help you find the perfect one to meet your needs. If you’re planning a big anniversary or notable family celebration, consider your own charter or do a once-in-a-lifetime cruise to a place like the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador.
Austin-Lehman Adventures has stress-free trips whether you want to explore Utah’s national parks, tour the Dalmation Coast or see Provence. This fall they are touting Nicaragua where their intrepid guides will take you “ash-boarding” on top of a volcano, or — for the less adventurous — take you on tours of colonial-era village squares.
Fall is the time of year when the whales have moved on, the tourists have gone home, and the polar bears come out to play in Churchill, one of Canada’s most beautiful ecotourism destinations. During this season, nearly 1,000 polar bears migrate from their summer habitat on the Manitoba tundra to the ice-pack that forms out over Hudson Bay. The local tourism office is a great resource to investigate the many hotels that organize polar bear viewing with overnight accommodations, the best value in planning this trip.
Sound too chilly? Try Bahia, Brazil, where families can explore Chapada Diamantina National Park and stay in a cozy Eco lodge. In Panama, the Gamboa Rainforest Resort is popular and luxurious; in Nicaragua, Morgans Rock wins consistently high reviews. We love the Iguana Lodge on the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica, where guests can participate in the great work in turtle conservation. There are others like Arenas del Mar within walking distance of Manuel Antonio National Park and its famous monkeys, or Arenal Kioro with its views of the Arenal Volcano and mud facials
If your children have chosen a gap year in their education, or if you’ve got willing pals, a special companion or want to go it alone, there’s no better opportunity for a volunteer vacation, Opportunities range from wildlife tracking to guided archeological digs, to house building in every corner of the world or right near home. You can clear hiking trails, ride the sloop Clearwater to test the water quality in the Hudson River, or volunteer to children in South Africa or Thailand or Cambodia learn to read.
11. Back to School with Campus Visits and College Touring
Ready to hit the town? The college town, that is. Leave the other kids in the family behind and opt for some one-on-one time with your high school junior or senior.
There are lots of fun things to do along with the college touring whether you are heading to Boston — college central with more than 50 universities and colleges — a small college town or a thriving intellectual community like Ann Arbor or Madison, Wisconsin.
In fact, Ann Arbor, home to the University of Michigan, is a great town to visit at any time of year. If your family is drawn to arts and culture, Ann Arbor is home to several terrific museums (two on the university campus are excellent and free of charge), dozens of galleries plus a rich offering of performing arts. If you are a sports enthusiast, you can watch a football game at “the Big House,” the largest college stadium in the country. Not to mention dining at Blimpy Burger or touring the Jiffy Mix plant in Chelsea, nearby. Be sure to mix some local sightseeing in with an admissions office visit so the whole family can get a sense of what the town offers outside the classroom.
See if you can get coffee or lunch on campus; browse the shops nearby. Allow enough time to have some fun — whether going to the top of the Prudential Center in Boston, on a hike in New England, or to a museum in Chicago. Hit a farmers market or a pumpkin stand as well as the campus.
In Northampton, MA, home to Smith College and the Five College Consortium (Mt. Holyoke, University of Massachusetts, Amherst and Hampshire Colleges), the café scene is one of the best around. Peruse the many shops on Main Street and on the second Friday of the month; check out the free family events at the Smith College Museum of Art. In this quiet corner of the Pioneer Valley where maple and oak line the shores of the Connecticut River, there is great hiking and canoeing when you’re done with the campus tours. There are also many motels, hotels and posh New England B&Bs, but UMass housing is one of the best values around and their hotel it serves as a training site for students in the hospitality and tourism management department in the Isenberg School of Management.
Don’t try to cram too many schools in to one visit — and certainly no more than two a day. Ask your teen to keep notes or shoot some video on their phone; otherwise, they all start to look the same! Here’s what I wrote about Boston college touring.
12. Support our National Parks off Season
Whether your kids aren’t in school yet, you have a mid-fall break or are looking for a getaway with girlfriends or your significant other, fall is a great time to visit our national parks, after the crowds are gone. You have 397 to choose from and there’s something special about each one.
We like Cape Cod National Seashore in fall, with its miles of beaches, hiking and biking trails. A large number of small motels, inns and waterfront hotels reduce their rates and roll out the welcome mat for couples, highlighting romantic lobster dinners and spa discounts. The Cape Codder Resort near Hyannis has a large indoor water play zone that kids will enjoy no matter the weather; and when it’s nice outside, you can explore the shoreline for shells that collect as the Atlantic winds get stronger. It’s also cranberry season in Massachusetts and kids will enjoy a cranberry bog tour.
In the Pacific Northwest, Olympic National Park has got tide pools, some of the largest remnants of ancient forests left in the country and mountain vistas, three major ecosystems to explore
Bryce and Zion are favorite national parks in southern Utah. A great choice for road trips, especially for adults planning a Las Vegas getaway, they are easy to access from several neighboring states, and the stunning views and unusual rock formations are guaranteed to silence even the most squirmy backseat passengers. Hoodoos, finger canyons and challenging bike trails greet visitors as soon as you park the car. The Zion Ponderosa is a 400-acre campground – families can actually bunk down in a covered wagon if they don’t have their own tent or RV — and an activity center featuring ATV and horseback rides.
In Colorado, visit Mesa Verde National Park where you can climb up into ancient cliff dwellings and imagine what life was like here thousands of years ago. Here’s what I wrote about Mesa Verde.
Kids love the sand dunes at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in Indiana which hugs 15 miles of Lake Michigan Shoreline and offers 45 miles of trails and those amazing tall dunes. Hike up Mount Baldy— at 126 feet high, the tallest moving sand dune in the national lakeshore. Whitefish Dunes State Park in Wisconsin, also on Lake Michigan, has its own boardwalk circling the smaller Clark Lake. For lesser known park areas closer to home, consider the other Great Lakes: Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, which have beautiful parkland at the water’s edge with natural wonders to explore and great fishing.
13. Families with Special Challenges have Special Options in Fall
If you thought you couldn’t travel because someone in your family has special challenges, think again. Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports , New England Disabled Sports at Loon Mountain, New Hampshire; The National Ability Center in Park City, Utah and Challenge Aspen, Breckenridge Outdoor Education and the National Sports Center for the Disabled all in Colorado, offer many different outdoors programs for children with special challenges and their families. Summer programs such as kayaking and hiking continue through fall, and thanks to the work of so many volunteers, fees are usually on a sliding scale to accommodate a family’s budget.
Autism on the Seas helps arrange vacations on land and sea for families with Autism, Aspergers Syndrome and other Developmental Disabilities. Los Cabos Adventures runs deep sea fishing charters and boating excursions in Baja California on a fully accessible boat designed for those in wheelchairs.
Walt Disney World and Disneyland get high marks from visitors with disabilities, because there are special park maps and handheld devices for those with visual and hearing disabilities. If you’re coping with dietary needs or food allergies, Family Travel Forum’s guide to Dining at Theme Parks shows you the healthy alternatives.
14. Halloween Fun
Neighborhood trick-or-treating is so Old School. These days, of course you aren’t limited to one afternoon or evening whether you want an evening of fright at a theme park, trick or treating at your zoo, or a stay at a haunted bed and breakfast. You aren’t even limited to the month of October.
Here’s what I wrote about some of the Halloween options across the country. Many family attractions near you, like the great for toddlers “Boo at the Zoo” in Kansas City, MO and the adult geek-chic “Spirits & Skeletons” party at the Houston Museum of Natural Science use the holiday to raise funds for their year-round educational missions.
And there’s no greater Halloween action than at theme parks whether you’re four or fourteen:
Both Disney parks kick off the fun on Friday the 13th – that’s September 13th! – when Hollywood Studios in Orlando and Disneyland in Anaheim get into the spooky spirit for one long day. Devilishly themed parties hosted by the most evil characters take place from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. making it a fun night out for couples, girlfriends and independent teens.
Disney World’s immensely popular Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party (23 nights between Sept 10-Nov. 1 ) and Mickey’s Halloween Party at Disneyland (13 nights between Sept 13-Oct.31) are both bigger than ever before. The lovable Mickey’s Boo-To-You Halloween Parade runs twice each night in Orlando, and a Monsters U Dance Party takes over Anaheim, in addition to plenty of opportunities to get up close and personal with your favorite Disney villains. (The Halloween parties require extra admission.)
SeaWorld’s Spooktacular in Orlando and San Diego, provides special Halloween shows and the chance for your younger kids to strut their stuff, showing off their costumes while dancing with life-sized, but not-too-scary, sea creatures. It’s all in the regular admission price.
Buy special tickets for Knott’s Berry Farm’s “Snoopy’s Costume Party” in Southern California, where your little witches, princesses and ghosts can sing and dance along with the Peanuts gang in Camp Snoopy. At night, of course, there’s the “Scary Farm Haunt;” five of its 11 cornfield mazes will be brand new for the four-week fright fest in 2013. Not recommended for children under 13. In addition to hotel packages, you can get a Fright Pass and Skeleton Key to bypass the lines and “unlock” additional interactive frights!
Weekend nights through October, The 13 Howl-O-Scream transforms three Busch Gardens theme parks – in Tampa Bay, Williamsburg and SeaWorld San Antonio — into the ultimate scare adult zone with 13 evils out to ruin your night. More haunted houses, the Pain Lane, Cut Throat Cove, and other psychotic surprises promise thrills after 6pm; before then the parks host a costumed array of very family friendly fare.
Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights begin September 20th and they promise to deliver more sophisticated and scary Halloween frights based on “American Werewolf in London,” “The Walking Dead” and other horror movies than ever before. The masters of cinematic special effects use both the Orlando and Hollywood theme parks to house bloodthirsty beasts, entertain haunted souls, and allow special ticket guests into way-too-scary haunted houses. Not recommended for anyone under 13 and maybe not even then.
The 19 Six Flags parks put on a Fright Fest like no other. During the day, come in costume for the Spooky Kooky Magic Show and the Monster Maze. At night, send your bravest teens to conquer the ghoulish scare zones, walk the terror trails and haunted mazes or fend off the 200 zombies who are trying out to play. Fright Fest runs seven weekends September through October.
And don’t forget to share your favorite fall adventures so I can include them in next year’s Fall Getaways roundup.