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By Eileen Ogintz
Finally, summer’s here! We know everyone’s schedule is jam-packed and every vacation day—every vacation minute—really counts. That’s why we’ve partnered with Family Travel Forum to come up with the best 2013 ideas to take the kids—and the grandkids and any other kids in your lives—that will not only give you the best bang for your vacation buck but will create lasting memories:
BEACH VACATIONS ARE SUMMER FAVORITES
ALOHA HAWAII Especially if you are on the West Coast, you’ll find great deals in Hawaii like those from Pleasant Holidays, where you can score an air-car-condo deal. Concentrate your stay on one island like Kauai where you can stay at an upscale resort that is a favorite with families like Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort, or a relaxed condo like The Colony Resort on the North Shore and take your pick of adventures—surfing, snorkeling, hiking—and add a volunteer component to your vacation at the National Tropical Botanical Garden.
First-time visitors shouldn’t skip Oahu and Pearl Harbor as well as Waikiki teaming with activity that your tweens and teens will love. For an entirely different scene, visit quaint Haleiwa, about an hour north of Waikiki and the surf capitol on the North Shore. Opt to stay at Disney’s Aulani Resort away from the Waikiki crowds with its emphasis on Hawaiian culture and complimentary kids’ activities.
Maui is the island for golden sand, surf lessons, posh resorts and the beautiful Kaana’pali Beach. On Hawai’i, the Big Island, you can visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and see Kila uea Volcano, tour a macadamia nut plantation or a Kona Coffee farm, and get to know the real Hawaiian culture.
THE ATLANTIC COAST
You have your pick of beach towns from Maine all the way to Florida where you can play on the beach, ride bikes, challenge the kids to a tennis match or hone your golf game.
We love Cape Cod with its chance for old-fashioned fun on and around the water. Take a sailing lesson, ride on the famous Cape Cod Rail Trail, visit the National Sea Shore, quirky Provincetown and eat fresh seafood and homemade ice cream.
Virginia Beach has got great weather, the chance to catch crabs off Chesapeake Beach and a three mile boardwalk and miles of shoreline. Kayak, fish, or take the kids to explore the marshes and wildlife refuge.
Anchor your gang at a Palm Beach-area or Miami resort and hit the spa and view the alligators in the Everglades for a fraction of what it would cost in winter! Key Biscayne, at the very top of the famous Florida Keys, is a good bet for families a short drive from Miami over the Rickenbacker Causeway, on the island of Key Biscayne. It’s got the only underwater, federally recognized archaeological trail in the country and two major parks—Crandon Park and Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, and all the white sand beach you could want. Key West is about fun family hotels, great conch fritters, five-toed cats at Ernest Hemingway’s home, and the boutiques and key lime pie bakeries of Duvall Street.
The Jersey Shore promises it is ready for visitors after a big post-superstorm Sandy cleanup and beach cottages are a top value this season. We are interested in its famous boardwalks and friendly towns, from the Silverball Pinball Museum in Asbury Park to the amusement park in Ocean City, the mini-golf courses in Avalon and the dolphin boat tours of Wildwood. The best way to support the shore towns is visiting, eating in the restaurants, and shopping the downtowns. Don’t forget that classic Cape May welcome all ages from baby to grandma to its gentle surf and Kids Day events at its Victorian cottages. Take your teens to watch a minor league ball game (the Phillies’ Lakewood BlueClaws play here.)
At most popular beach destinations, families who stay more than a few days will prefer spreading out in a condo or beach rental. Take advantage of companies such as Flipkey, a vacation rental marketplace with hundreds of thousands of rentals around the world, including many at popular beach destinations with special deals offered each day on the website. The FlipKey Beach Vacations section suggests favorite rentals, verifies owners and provides guest reviews so that you’ll know what you’re getting before you arrive.
THE PACIFIC COAST
SAN DIEGO You can’t do better than San Diego with its world-class Zoo, SeaWorld, beaches and 15 major museums and entertainment venues at Balboa Bark. A half-hour north in Carlsbad is LEGOLAND California and the brand new LEGOLAND Hotel where you can choose whether you prefer your room to be decorated to accommodate pirates, adventurers or royalty. Young kids will love this place!
SANTA MONICA is the ideally located SOCAL beach destination—not too far from either from Disneyland or LA but with plenty of beach, the world-famous pier and the pedestrian-only Third Street Promenade. Kids love all the gymnastics equipment in the sand, the chance to fish from the end of the pier and the rides (especially the Ferris wheel!) Just north is a former Hearst mansion, now the public Annenberg Community Beach House, where families can play, swim or take yoga lessons at no charge. You can rent a bike or inline skates and go for miles on the bike bath right along the beach. Play volleyball — there are always games going on — or play in the surf.
CARIBBEAN AND CENTRAL AMERICA TROPICAL GETAWAYS
Many call the summer family season in the Caribbean because low-season prices attract a lot of families to the beaches that are as wonderful in summer as in winter.
Consider an all-inclusive chain like Palladium and you can take your pick of all-inclusive resort getaways in the Dominican Republic at Punta Cana, in Jamaica, or in Mexico (where you will be safe as long as you stick to the tourist areas like the Riviera Maya and, on the West Coast, Riviera Nayarit which has just undergone a $20 million renovation) Families love all-inclusives like this because there are organized activities for all age groups , suite accommodations, and everything included — from drinks for parents to meals to activities. And there is plenty of culture in Mexico too—from Mayan ruins to a unique biosphere to explore.
The sun-kissed island of Anguilla is a place for families to experience an off-the beaten path Caribbean vacation with luxurious and affordable accommodations, outstanding cuisine and serene settings. It offers island-wide summer rates starting at 30 percent off. The island is best known for its 33 pristine powder-white sand beaches. Beyond the beach, kids of all ages can enjoy activities like swimming with dolphins, hiking Anguilla’s Katouche Valley, learning about the island’s rich history at the quaint Heritage Collection Museum and getting all-under one room at one of Anguilla’s many villas. Anguilla has more than 100 restaurants, from fine dining, to road side barbeques, to beach-front bistros and beyond.
The Cayman Islands with shallow waters and calm seas are a great place for your kids to learn to snorkel, scuba dive or sail. Their Cayman Islands summer promotion means a 20% discount at the Turtle Farm, and many other attractions on Grand Cayman that offer kids free admission. Look online for offers posted by the participating partners. They also have a unique partnership with the Fresh Air Fund which sends inner city New York kids to stay with Cayman Islands families and Cayman kids to go to a Fresh Air Fund camp. Here’s what one middle schooler wrote about her experience.
Look for discounts at all-inclusive resorts like Beaches Ochos Rios Resort & Golf Club in Jamaica and its sister on Turks & Caicos, with special Sesame Street activities for the youngest travelers, a pirate-themed pool, and tween and teen clubs for older siblings. The Ocho Rios resort has been fully renovated and has a Greek Village with family suites and new restaurants, some serving food grown on the resort’s own organic farm.
THE ISLANDS OF THE BAHAMAS is a lot more than just Nassau. Here’s what I wrote about a recent stay at a tiny resort in the Bahamian Exumas which boasts more than 300 islands. I LEARNED TO scuba dive on Green Turtle Cay in the Abaco Islands where many families like to sail and kick back. Join the Bahamas People-to-People experience and meet locals—at no charge. You’ll be paired with a local Bahamian family who can share their way of life with your family. The Bahamas even has a Chief Family Officer to give you advice!
MEXICO’s RIVIERA MAYA is a great bet to explore the ancient Mayan ruins at Tulum, let the kids practice their Spanish and get in some serious beach time. Tulum is one of the best preserved coastal Mayan archeological sites on the Caribbean, and is easily accessible from many resorts. Iberostar and RIU Hotels, among Playa del Carmen resorts, offer all-inclusive options.
NICARAGUA, PANAMA and HONDURAS are good bets for families who want to add adventure to their beach time. It’s a bargain to travel there with a family: 20-30% less than comparable purchases/services you’d find in Costa Rica. The beaches (especially at places away from the towns and cities) are mostly deserted and the water temperatures are perfect… averaging 82°F to 86°F and peak in mid-June. Snorkel at Anthony’s Key on Roatan off Honduras, or explore the rain forest at The Gamboa Resort in Panama. There are chances to see exotic wildlife, explore ancient ruins and shop in local markets. Opt for an eco-resort like Morgan’s Rock in Nicaragua where the rustic bungalows allow you to hear the monkeys howl at night.
CITY BREAKS FOR SHOPPING, CULTURE AND CUISINE
Take a weekend to visit a city near your home. Go to a baseball game, a museum, a festival, a theatrical performance, a locally run restaurant; families with high school juniors can include a college tour or two on their summer vacation itinerary. Check the city’s official tourism website for the latest deals and to see what special family offerings are available. Let each child plan a day of the itinerary. You’ll find hotels offering special weekend deals and family amenities. Omni Hotels & Resorts has launched a teen concierge program in its New York City hotel. Check out their On a Whim deal that can save you 15 per cent on a last-minute getaway. Members of Omni’s Select Guest customer loyalty program receive a 25 percent discount for booking their stay through Omni’s website. Upon check-in, guests also receive a summer experiences booklet (a “Passport to Omni”) highlighting Omni destinations across the U.S.
Go to a city your kids are pining to visit:
NEW YORK CITY reports more families are visiting than ever and it’s easy to see why — world class museums — kids’ favorite the American Museum of Natural History with its stand-out kids’ website (here’s what I wrote recently — Broadway (Matilda the musical is the hottest ticket in town), Central Park, two major league baseball teams—the Yankee sand the Mets as well as the chance to see a minor league team play), great ethnic eats (who doesn’t love Little Italy and Chinatown) shopping and the 9/11 Memorial. Opt for the Conrad in lower Manhattan and get a well-appointed suite right next to Battery Park for the same price as a room. The concierge will arrange for you to visit the 9/11 Memorial too. Here’s what I wrote about a visit to lower Manhattan. The new edition of my The Kid’s Guide to New York City will help the kids to lead the way!
LOS ANGELES has got everything from Hollywood—and the chance to see the magic behind the movies on the studio lot tour—to the chance to see the space shuttle Endeavour at the California Science Center in Exposition Park. Even Angelenos don’t realize that LA has got more than 100 museums—kids especially love the Le Brea Tar Pits and both locations of the J.Paul Getty Museum—the Getty Villa in the Pacific Palisades the Getty Center in Brentwood because they have terrific family programs. The city has just initiated itineraries that enable you to get around without a car via public transportation. Go to the Original Farmer’s Market downtown for lunch and stroll over to the Grove outdoor shopping center and see if you spy and TV stars. Many work at the studios nearby. Let the kids see who their handprints match up with at the Chinese Theater – is it their favorite star or Mickey Mouse
SAN FRANCISCO and BEYOND Come to see the Exploratorium’s new digs on the Embarcadero—it’s triple the size and the interactive museum of exploration now has outdoor as well as indoor exhibits focused on The Bay. Of course there’s the Cable Car Museum, the chance to bike ride over the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, the local farmers at the Ferry Building farmer’s market and the chance to sample veggies you’ve never tried, among San Francisco’s many family attractions. Stay in a boutique hotel—San Francisco is known for them! Head north to see the Giant Redwoods in Muir Woods or near Half Moon Bay or see how the Marine Mammal Center in the Marin Headlands saves orphaned and sick sea lions and other marine mammals.
CHICAGO is at its best in the summer. There’s Chicago’s famous Lakefront where you can ride bikes, inline skate or in Lincoln Park, visit one of the few free zoos in the country where kids especially love the polar bears. Take in a concert in Millennium Park where you can’t help but be awed by “The Bean,” as locals call the giant CloudGate sculpture where you can see a reflection of the skyline in its shiny surface. Some of the best kid-friendly museums in the country are here too. Let the kids lead the way through a great art museum (Art Institute Chicago is always free for kids under 14.) Kids especially love the Thorne miniature rooms and the Ryan Education Center where you can get gallery games and information. See the most complete T-Rex in the world at The Field Museum, commune with creatures from the deep at the Shedd Aquarium (everyone loves the beluga whales and the dolphins). Board a German U Boat and descend into a coal mine at The Museum of Science and Industry where little girls especially will love the miniature Fairy Castle. We can’t forget that the first American Girl Doll store was here and still is a top tourist attraction, drawing 1.5 million visitors a year.
NEW ORLEANS is home to the Audubon Nature Institute which has every child’s activity a curious kid could want—from insects to dinosaurs to underwater creatures. Visit the Audubon Zoo to see exotic animals, play in a water park, go on a dinosaur adventure and ride a colorful carousel. At the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, you can walk through an underwater reef tunnel, feel the fear at the tropical shark exhibit, watch penguins play and get a hands-on experience with hundreds of exotic birds. And don’t forget the Audubon Insectarium for an up-close glimpse of creepy crawlers, butterflies and edible insects. The National World War II Museum has just opened its US Freedom Pavilion that showcases many personal war stories; end your day at the 1,300-acre New Orleans City Park with its moss covered oak trees, lagoons, walking trails through Couturie Forest and plenty of opportunities to spot birds.
LONDON is a great place to take kids for a first foreign experience—everything is different –from the busses to the police officers and the ancient architecture but everyone speaks English in London. Take the kids to the London Eye, the Tower of London and to watch The Changing of the Guard. Make a rubbing in Westminster Abbey and walk over the Tower Bridge. Take in a museum or three—from the Tate Modern and National Gallery to the Victoria and Albert Museum. Go to Regent’s Park where you might meet local families—at the world-famous London Zoo or take a boat ride.
WASHINGTON DC sure it’s hot in the summer but it’s got more free attractions than just about anywhere else: monuments, all of the Smithsonian’s 19 museums (we love the kids’ website) , including the National Zoo, visits to the Capitol or the Supreme Court, a walk on the African American Heritage Trail or a hike in the enormous (more than 1,754 acres) Rock Creek Park. Even the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts has free daily performances — at 6 p.m. on the Millennium Stage. On the Smithsonian’s site, you can also find special activities for families like the Art a la Cart program. My new Kid’s Guide to Washington, DC can help the kids — and you – plan.
CRUISES COME IN ALL SHAPES AND SIZES
ALASKA is a great bet for multigenerational families whether you want to cruise the Inside Passage on a large cruise line — including Disney or a smaller ship – the 12-passenger Sea Wolf that enables you to kayak every day in Glacier Bay to discovery ships with special family sailings from Inner Sea Discoveries with resident naturalists and the chance to kayak right from the boat or Lindblad Expeditions with National Geographic photography instructors on board. Here’s what I said about our “un cruise” in Alaska
CRUISE from a port near your home. You have more than two dozen to choose from. Cruises are good bets for families whether the kids are preschoolers (organized activities!) or teens (all they can eat! A safe place to roam!). Some Royal Caribbean ships and Disney Cruise Line have day care for infants. Royal Caribbean has just launched a new Barbie Experience; Norwegian has its new Breakaway ship. You can cruise from more than two dozen U.S. ports (including New York, New Jersey, Galveston, TX and Los Angeles), which means you can avoid flights. On the other hand, many families find a cruise in Europe a great way to introduce kids to Great Sites without the stress of navigating from city to city. Even luxe Crystal Cruises is offering kids-cruise free deals this summer in Europe. And it’s not too late to snare a deal. If you are a first-time cruiser, this is one trip where you will need the help of a travel agent because there are so many ships, so many different cabin types and so many different itineraries. You can find a travel agent who is a cruise expert at Cruising.org. See what line might be best for your family in our 2013 Cruise Guide.
HOUSEBOATING is easy, economical, and a great option when you want to travel with family and friends. You can cruise through spectacular sandstone canyons on the border of Arizona and Utah in Lake Powell or explore the Atlantic coast around the Sanibel and Captiva Islands of Florida. Houseboat on Lake Shasta in California surrounded by the Trinity National Forest or along the Erie Canal in New York state — there are nearly 2,000 miles of coastline — you can swim, water ski, fish, explore side canyons, camp on the beach. Share a boat and your houseboat vacation is even more economical. You can also houseboat elsewhere, of course. Some houseboats start at under $500 a week. Here’s what I wrote about houseboating with my family.
WINDJAMMER cruise in Maine is where kids have the opportunity to time travel back and explore the spectacular coast for a few days on a historic schooner. Imagine eating just-caught lobsters on a deserted beach, exploring tide pools teaming with sea life, berry picking and hunting for sea glass. The kids can help sail historic vessels and learn traditional skills like knot tying, steering, hauling sails, polishing brass, rowing, cranking ice cream. This isn’t luxurious though, windjamming is like camping at sea.
RIVER CRUISES have been growing in popularity for families as an easy way to explore Europe. Uniworld has special multigenerational program on its Paris and Normandy river cruises complete with kids’ cooking class; Tauck Bridges also has a France Family River Cruise complete with kid-friendly Paris tours (think a scavenger hunt in the Louvre) Some families—including mine—have opted to rent their own barge to explore a region—whether in France, Ireland, Holland or elsewhere.
SAILING CHARTERS are great fun for adventure-loving families, whether in Maryland, Florida or the Caribbean. We’ve “bareboated” which means we’ve sailed ourselves around Caribbean islands although you can get a captain and crew to do all the work. Here’s what I wrote about our stellar Captain who sailed us around Tahiti.
ECOTOURISM AND ADVENTURE TRIPS
ADVENTURE TRIPS are memorable as well as relaxing when you let an outfitter do all the work, whether you want to go to Costa Rica, or Yellowstone. A growing number of outfitters now offer special family itineraries and work to put kids of similar ages on the same group trips. Austin-Lehman Adventures, whose six-day “Black Hills to Mt Rushmore, South Dakota” trip combines hiking through prairie land, exploring National Parks and riding the local Rails to Trails bike routes, will also customize an itinerary just for your family. Here’s what I wrote about a guided trip to Yellowstone and another to The Arctic on an expedition ship Some adventure travel companies have specialty destinations: Lindblad-National Geographic (known for family Galapagos trips), Thomson Family Adventures (Africa), Wildland Adventures (Costa Rica and Panama). Backroads features deluxe, multisport trips and Adventures by Disney runs fun, escorted tours to Europe and even specialty tours on their European cruise ships These companies all offer trips to far flung corners of the globe and are guaranteed to de-stress the experience, whether in a national park or a foreign capital.
FARM VACATIONS are well recognized in Europe, and they’re gaining popularity in North America as working farms offer overnight lodging, meals and a peek into their 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. There is a rhythm to the chores. There are stars in the sky. And, there is dinner (and play) all together as a family. Go to our directory of farm stays and choose your pick of working farms and ranches across the U.S. (in all 50 states and U.S. Territories). Here’s what I wrote about a farm stay last summer with a city child.
RAFT on the Middle Fork of the Salmon, the Green River, or if you have teens, through the Grand Canyon. You’re guaranteed to be unplugged without cell service and to relax since the guides do all of the work, even preparing sumptuous meals and entertaining the kids. Active grandparents like sharing these adventures as do families traveling together. Besides rafting, you can hike in deserted canyons, fish, and play on beaches. Companies like OARS, who have been around the world’s major rivers since 1969, now host trips as diverse Alaska or Zambia and many take children as young as 4 years (download OARS catalogs here). Also check out companies ROW and Dvorak Expeditions who offer some kids-free trips every summer, some just a long weekend. Some trips include a day or two on the river as part of a multi-sport adventure. Here’s what I wrote about rafting on the Yellowstone River
LEARNING AND EXPLORATION TOGETHER
DO SOMETHING YOU’VE NEVER DONE— It might be a language course at your Costa Rican all-inclusive resort, or hula lessons at a Hawaiian hotel. Get your kids to unplug, open their minds, and improve their life skills every day. Learn to scuba dive together. Here’s what I wrote about our experience in the British Virgin Islands.
COOKING TOGETHER Many resorts now are offering cooking classes for kids—from chef for a day programs at the Wequassett Resort on Cape Cod to New Jersey’s Crystal Springs Resort to Blackberry Farm in Tennessee, ABC News Reported The Essex Resort & Spa Camp Cook is offering some kids programs that last as long as a week; CuisinArt resort in Anguilla, famous for its Hydroponic garden offers cooking classes for kids and adults. In Sonoma County, the Ramekins School holds classes for ages 7-17 in age-appropriate groups, and advises parents on the child-friendly vineyards in this bountiful region. Opt for a cooking class where you are visiting or ask if you can tour the kitchen of a resort.
HISTORY Build a trip around American history whether you are exploring Civil WAR HISTORY IN Gettysburg —it is the 150th anniversary of the famous battle with many special activities —or NY State which has launched a “Passage to History” program. Richmond, Virginia, once the Confederate capital and filming location of the movie “Lincoln,” just opened its Liberty Trail along key historical sites. Learn about the 18th century slave culture at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello or 19th century boat building at Mystic Seaport in Connecticut. Visit the Statue of Liberty when it reopens in July or join the revolutionary army in Colonial Williamsburg. Road Scholars offers many educational trips around the world for grandparents and grandchildren. Here’s what I wrote about a day at Mystic with two inner city boys and what one of our correspondents wrote about Mount Vernon.
FOLLOW YOUR PASSIONS Explore a museum devoted to sport like the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts where the game was first invented; music (the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, OH) , or journalism at the Newseum in WASHINGTON, DC. Focus a visit to an art science museum around your kids’ current passions—mummies, dinosaurs, photography. Opt for a behind-the-scenes experience at zoos and aquariums interacting with the keepers and the animals. Here’s what I wrote about one experience at SeaWorld Orlando and at Atlantis in the Bahamas. Many zoos and aquariums now offer sleep over experiences too.
THE APPALACHIAN MOUNTAIN CLUB offers a variety of opportunities for families to get outdoors and explore whether staying at their famous huts along the Appalachian Trail, or their lodges in Maine and New Hampshire. We love that there are guided activities every day and that you can borrow whatever gear you need without charge. Here’s what I wrote about a recent winter visit. If you stay in the huts, you can give your kids a taste of the wilderness without carrying loaded backpacks as cots, bedding and meals are supplied.
SPECIAL CHALLENGES The National Ability Center in Park City, Utah and the National Sports Center for the Disabled in Winter Park, CO offer many different summer outdoors programs for children with special challenges and their families—everything from horseback riding to kayaking to cycling to special camps. There are sliding payment scales so that if a child or a member of your family faces special challenges that no longer should keep you home. Autism on the Seas helps arrange vacations on land and sea for families with Autism, Asperger Syndrome and other Developmental Disabilities.. Walt Disney World and Disneyland get high marks from visitors with disabilities. There are special park maps and handheld devices for those with visual and hearing disabilities too. Orlando is home to an entire resort to Give Kids the World, where kids suffering from life-threatening illness and their families can take a break from treatment, hospitals and doctors and just enjoy themselves for a week.
VOLUNTEER, especially if your kids are older. The website Together for Good lists over 90 places that families can give back—even just for a day– on a land-based vacation or cruise in the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America. Organizations like Cross-Cultural Solutions,Earthwatch and Global Citizens Network among other non-profit organizations can help you find a family volunteer opportunity; or you can stick close to home in a cause like hurricane Sandy relief, and do good. Greenloons, the company that helps families make sustainable vacation choices, lists volunteer options on its website.
MOUNTAINS, NATIONAL PARKS AND THE GREAT OUTDOORS
HIT THE SLOPES—IN SUMMER. Locals joke they came to a ski town for the slopes and stayed because of the summer. Look for summer deals across the country at ski resorts from Vermont to Colorado, Utah and California. In luxurious Deer Valley, mountain bikers, hikers and outdoors enthusiasts who come for the crisp mountain air can also enjoy the Deer Valley Music Festival. Hotel values abound; the Stein Eriksen Lodge for example, has a popular Alpine Awakening B&B package (valid May 31-September 28, 2013) when a one-bedroom suite with its own deck and hot tub (they can accommodate your reunion group in a four-bedroom units, too!) starts at $395/N. Allow for down time at Utah’s only Forbes Five-Star Spa or biking on the rail trail; or keep teens busy at the zip line and alpine coaster rides at Park City Mountain Resort. Hop aboard their free shuttle to Historic Main Street Park City for museums, morefamily-friendly dining and the weekly Park Silly Sunday Market, a free eco-friendly outdoor festival on Lower Main Street filled with live music, costumed performers and artists. Other ski towns like Aspen and Telluride tout festivals all summer long There’s hiking, fishing, rafting and mountain biking. Here’s what I wrote about hiking with the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies last summer and learning to flyfish. Sunday River, Maine rolls outs everything from mountain biking to their famous wife-carrying challenge, golf, disc golf and White Mountain hikes.
HOME AWAY FROM HOME Opt for a vacation condo or house and you’ll have more room to spread out, and can save money cooking in whether you want to head to the mountains, the beach or even the city Wyndham Vacation Rentals offers options all around the world that are professionally managed. Here’s what I wrote about a family reunion where cooking was a big part of the equation at Blue Sky Breckenridge. To negotiate directly with a homeowner you can try VRBO and, for lesser budgets, AirBnB. Consider trading homes with a house swapping website like www.homeexchange.com Some families even trade pets and vehicles.
FAMILY CAMPS Many traditional camps open their doors to families during specific weeks at the end of the summer, including Camp Nebagamon in Wisconsin which my son attended for many years. The American Camp Association’s Find a Camp database lists over 400 family camps that are searchable by location, cost, activities offered, and more. (Start the search by selecting the 4th option, “Family Camps or Camps for Adults) There are many camp-like resorts too from Maine (Migis Lodge) to Minnesota (Ludlows Island Resort where we vacationed when my kids were small to California (Montecito Sequoia Lodge and Summer Family Camp). Among the most popular YMCA camps are Trout Lodge and Camp Lakewood in the Ozarks of Missouri and on a 360-acre lake surrounded by 5,200 acres of forest. The YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park and Snow Mountain Ranch in Colorado are so popular for family reunions that they have an entire staff just to plan activities for reunion groups — horse back riding, crafts, archery, fishing, mountain biking and even a zipline. YMCA Camp Du Nord in Minnesota has been providing outdoor experiences for families more than 50 years on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area—sailing, kayaking,, canoeing, cook outs and more. Here’s what I wrote about our stay at Migis Lodge.
NATIONAL PARKS There are 397 National Parks to choose from and the biggest and best known—as wonderful as they are—aren’t the only places where you can have a stellar experience with your family, whether you want to explore a cave (see the bats fly out at night in Carlsbad Caverns, NM) compare your size to giant trees (Sequoia & Kings Canyon in California), peer into ancient cliff dwellings like we did (Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado), or see amazing sea life in tide pools (Olympic National Park in Washington, State). At all of these parks you will find rangers eager to help you make the most of your family’s time there with special activities, including the Junior Ranger program . Here’s what I wrote about exploring national parks with kids.
RESORTS AND WELLNESS VACATIONS
THE GREENBRIER in White Sulphur Springs West Virginia is famous for its five-star mineral spa where you can soak up the healing properties of the native sulphur waters. Guests have been coming here since the 18th century for these springs. Of course the historic resort offers a myriad of other activities—from horseback riding to golf to kayaking and paintball.
The LA COSTA RESORT & SPA in Carlsbad, California — said to be Hollywood’s “fat farm” — has made personal wellness its mission since 1965. Starting with accommodations ranging from studios to large homes, more than 400 beautifully landscaped acres, championship golf and tennis facilities, they have expanded with a Premier Fitness bootcamp, the on-site Chopra Center led by Dr. Deepak Chopra, a renewed spa, and a kids waterplay pool complex. Given the excellent children’s program that minds babies through teens, this is the place parents and kids really have time to get in shape.
CANYON RANCH in Tucson, Arizona; Lenox, Massachusetts; and Miami, Florida is a place to improve your health and have a good time through fitness, and eating well. Go to classes, take hikes, enjoy the spa. Take your favorite student age 14 and over and they stay free through the summer; there are other parent and child deals, too.
PRITIKIN LONGEVITY CENTER, based at the full service Turnberry isle Resort in Florida, offers a Summer Family Program June 29-July 12 for kids 8 and older with a focus on healthy living and eating— with tennis and golf lessons, swimming and games in the pool, beach volleyball at the nearby Turnberry Beach Club, cooking classes, dance classes, aerobic workout sessions in the well-equipped, professionally staffed Pritikin spa and health club. Parents can enroll in the traditional Pritikin Health and Weight Loss Program and feel even better after their vacation.
THE BIGGEST LOSER RESORTS accommodate teens starting at age 14 who are accompanied by an adult for a program that runs at least seven days. There are resorts in Niagara, NY, Malibu, CA, Chicago, IL and Ivins, Utah.
OVERLAND TRIPS OFFER AMAZING VARIETY
Given the time needed to plan and execute an overland adventure, most families save this rite of passage for the summer. If you’re not into a summer road trip, take advantage of the full-service, escorted VIA Rail train trips across the spectacular country of Canada – you can see more than if you drove and it’s far more comfortable. VIA Rail Canada’s Land Touring is also an ideal way for families to enjoy multi-generational trips and family reunions – you can fit 22 of your closest relatives into one sleeper car. Their most famous railfan route is The Canadian, a four-day deluxe adventure from Vancouver through the Rocky Mountains to Toronto, which guarantees great views from their domed Skyline cars; comfortable compact bedrooms; freshly prepared, locally sourced food; onboard lectures and the chance to make lots of friends. Stops are infrequent, but the Entertainment Coordinator holds talks about railway history, shows old train videos and organizes activities for the children like on-board group games. There are other shorter routes; kids under 12 pay only half price in economy and seniors and young people ages 12-25 get special discounts.
For the DIY perfect family road trip, we recommend that anyone with preschoolers drives during morning and afternoon nap hours, and sets daily goals before departure. With older children your route can be more serendipitous (filled with missed exits and unusual must-stop roadside attractions), but you must include some activities just for them. And always remain playful; backseat car games make the time fly by for everyone.
For a different kind of adventure, consider renting an RV. Here’s what I said about RVing With Kids in Colorado.
Inexpensive and trustworthy chains like Super 8, with more than 2,000 motels throughout North America, are great at day’s end when kids can jump into their swimming pool, the dog can relax in your air-conditioned room, and amenities like free WiFi and a microwave (to make a pizza) as well as free breakfast make you feel like home. Stay three nights or more and save 20 per cent off the best rate.
Among our favorite routes: Conquer the states of Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee on our favorite parkway: The Blue Ridge Parkway. This incredibly scenic route winds through Shenandoah National Park, past Jefferson’s historic home Monticello (former presidents James Madison and James Monroe have historic homes nearby too), and through the small towns of Appalachia. Don’t miss the Blue Ridge Music Center and other highlights along The Crooked Road Cultural Trail, or a few days in the chic hippie town of Asheville. When you arrive at your goal in Sevierville, Tennessee, you can reward all those patient kids with a day at the Dollywood theme park.
If your destination is Florida, and it is for an estimated 89 million each year, take the slow road with our Florida US1 tour, a combination of Route 1 and Route A1A that snakes along the Atlantic coast from Jacksonville to Key West. Let the kids blow off steam at the 10-acre Kids Campus in Jacksonville, sip at the Fountain of Youth in St. Augustine, dune buggy and meet astronauts on the Space Coast (see the Space Shuttle Atlantis), then hit the beaches, shopping and fine dining in Palm Beach, Ft. Lauderdale and Miami. The southernmost end was built as the two-lane Overseas Highway from Miami to Key West in the mid-1930s and was annexed to US 1 soon afterwards.
It may be too hot to keep the roof open, but there’s nothing quite like the classic Grand Canyon to Las Vegas route. We like to start at one of Phoenix many great resorts (Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, The Westin Kierland Resort & Spa, and the Hyatt Regency all have kids clubs and lots of activities), and there’s tons to do too, including the terrific Museum of Musical Instruments then head to the red rocks of Sedona for some hiking. At Williams, you can catch the Grand Canyon Railway. Just south of the entrance to the park is the National Geographic Visitor Center, a comprehensive mall offering Grand Canyon information, guides, and retail shops, as well as an official outpost of the Arizona tourist office. Here’s what I wrote about touring the Grand Canyon with kids. You’ll want a break from the heat at Lake Powell or Lake Mead in Nevada – you could rent a houseboat (see above) – or your teens may want to drive straight through to Las Vegas.
If the heat sounds like too much, opt for the summer fog and chill winds along California’s famous Highway 1, the Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco to Los Angeles. These two urban family destinations are among our top summer picks, but for scenic beauty, nothing beats the coastal road that connects them via Half Moon Bay, Santa Cruz (surprise the kids with a stop at its historic boardwalk theme park), and spectacular Monterey with its Monterey Bay Aquarium. (Here’s what I wrote about touring Monterey) Carmel, San Luis Obispo, Point Lobos, Big Sur – you’ve seen photographs of them all; yes, it’s worth stopping — but some very windy stretches will upset kids prone to motion sickness. Study your map and you’ll find easier ways to visit Hearst Castle, Santa Barbara and Malibu, all fun places to stop for the night.
THEME PARKS AND WATER PARKS SPLASH
You will have your pick this summer when nearly 200 new rides and attractions open at more than 80 theme parks, water parks, family fun centers, zoos, aquariums, and museums in the United States and Canada, according to the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions.
Great Wolf Lodges have affordably priced resorts with indoor, four-season waterparks around the country from Williamsburg, VA to to Pocono Mountains, PA to Niagara Falls, Ontario that are known for their indoor water parks and growing roster of family amenities for kids (think specially designed bowling alleys and “glowing” night time mini golf).
The Wisconsin Dells boasts that it has more water parks than anywhere in the country including the largest outdoor waterpark in the country, Noah’s Ark Waterpark. Think over 200 water slides and plenty of water play areas for the littlest park goers.
CALIFORNIA of course is home to Disneyland and Disney California Adventure where the Cars Land has proved a big hit. Here’s what I wrote about the new improved experience and the new. Locals say you’re missing a lot if you skip Knott’s Berry Farm with its roller coasters (including the family Coast Rider), Camp Snoopy for younger kids and new Boardwalk family attractions this summer. Teens especially love Magic Mountain—with some of the fastest, tallest rides in the country, just outside Los Angeles. LEGOLAND California has just debuted the first LEGOLAND hotel in the country in Carlsbad with themed rooms, a huge castle in the lobby and LEGO creations everywhere. Here’s what I wrote about visiting.
ORLANDO of course is theme park central. Because it can be so hot and crowded in the middle of summer, consider a trip in May or June. Active duty military get in free to LEGOLAND Florida, which is opening The World of Chima where you embark on a journey in search of a mystical energy source through an interactive water ride. SeaWorld Orlando is debuting Antarctica: Empire of the Penguins where you can meet four species of Penguins without a wall separating you from the animals. Disney World continues to expand its New Fantasyland, here’s what I said about it when it opened late last year. Universal Orlando Resort is touting Transformers: The Ride-3D. The Space Shuttle Atlantis is coming to the Kennedy Space Center which is an easy drive from Orlando and well worth the effort to see one of only four shuttles on display. The Magicard offers discounts on everything from attractions to accommodations and restaurants. Check out www.mousesavers.com for deals on all things Disney. My Kid’s Guide to Orlando can help kids lead the way.
CEDAR POINT in Sandusky, OH bills itself as the roller coaster capital of the world complete with Millennium Force which has been voted the best steel roller coaster in the world (think plummeting down a 300 foot drop at speeds more than 90 mph!) Did we mention there are 15 other huge coasters? But Cedar Point also has plenty for those who don’t want such thrills including four kids’ areas, plenty of live entertainment, a traditional midway arcade, and the Soak City Waterpark with dozens of water attractions.