May 8, 2015
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 2015 family summer vacation ideas. These ideas will help you take the kids—and the grandkids and any other kids in your lives—and give all of you the best bang for your vacation buck and, more importantly, create lifetime memories.
WHEREVER YOU DECIDE TO GO, lodging options abound. HomeAway, the world’s leading vacation rental marketplace, recently surveyed more than 2,500 kids (ages six to 18) to uncover what today’s youth really want on vacation and reveal their influence on travel decisions. In partnership with independent market research firm YouGov, HomeAway’s Kidfluencer Survey shows kids wield significant decision-making power over the entire travel planning process and have a strong point of view on where to go, what to do and who to bring … and parents are listening. An astounding 85% of parents across the globe give kids a say in vacation destination planning, with one in three (34%) of U.S. millennial parents allowing their kids to have full control over the final vacation decision. More than half (50%) of the U.S. kids surveyed said one of their favorite things of vacations was “being together with my family,” while 41% of parents say the most important part of a family vacation as spending quality time together. We totally agree!
Hotels, of course, offer a variety of services and amenities. If you prefer a hotel stay, Trivago.com will help you find the best rates anywhere in the world. Trivago recently published a guide to the 10 Best Islands in the Mediterranean – seven of them are Greek Isles. Trivago is the world’s largest online hotel search site, comparing rates from over 700,000 hotels on over 200 booking sites worldwide.
Before we head off on any vacation, we consider purchasing travel insurance to cover the unexpected. We don’t want to think about it but what if someone gets sick or injured while traveling abroad; or has to cut a vacation short because of a family emergency back home? Or what if your personal items get lost or stolen? A policy like the Allianz Classic Plan covers kids under 18 free of charge as long as there is one paying adult included, and covers pre-existing conditions like a bad knee if you buy it within 14 days of departure. If you’re not sure about this modest investment, they offer a free 10-day “look” so if you change your mind for any reason, you can get a refund as long as you have not left on your trip.
On 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, and eat fresh seafood and homemade ice cream. Virginia Beach has 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.
In FLORIDA, 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.
In the CARIBBEAN AND MEXICO, the all-inclusive Palladium Resorts enable families to have fun together and parents to get a break with mini clubs that are open all day. More family fun is coming to the Grand Palladium Hotels & Resorts in Montego Bay, Jamaica. A new children’s splash pool and water park with two slides will be the perfect addition to the already hardy list of existing kid-friendly activities like age-tiered kids’ clubs and the must-see Play at Palladium with Raggs program. The Grand Palladium Colonial Resort & Spa in Riviera Maya, Mexico is upgrading rooms and facilities with new décor and flat-screen TVs and making more rooms accessible to those with disabilities.
On Mexico’s Pacific Coast, Riviera Nayarit offers a plethora of all-inclusive resorts along with small hotels and bungalows. There are small towns to visit, fishing villages to explore and natural wonders to see, including some of the best bird-watching areas in the world. Read my travel diaries about a recent visit there. A family itinerary may include a visit to a turtle camp. Nesting season is from June through December. Or swim with the dolphins in a variety of areas. You can’t leave without enjoying a sailing sport because the Riviera Nayarit is one of the best spots on the planet to enjoy windsurfing, kite surfing, catamaran and sailboat tours on vessels large and small.
The Bay of Banderas,t, just a stone’s throw from Riviera Nayarit, is big and sheltered, ideal for little ones who want to play in the gentle surf. This region has been active in the conservation of marine turtles for decades and one of the thrills for visitors to the main resort town of Puerto Vallarta is observing the turtles that come to lay eggs on its beaches. Local conservation teams protect them from beach-goers, then allow hotel guests to help shepherd the newborns into the sea after they hatch, typically between August and November. Accommodations range from world-class luxury to small inns and the staff can help you find a conservationist-led tour. Visit their website for a chance to win a family vacation this summer.
On the U.S. PACIFIC COAST, 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. Santa Monica is an 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 and the rides (especially the Ferris wheel!) Play volleyball — there are always games going on — or play in the surf.
In HAWAII, 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. 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.
CITY BREAKS FOR SHOPPING, CULTURE AND CUISINE
Let the kids help you plan a visit to a city near you with my KIDS GUIDES series (featuring, New York, Washington DC, Orlando, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and Denver-Boulder). 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 each 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.
In many cases you can save on admission to local attractions with a program like CityPASS, which is adding Dallas to its list of premier city destinations. Each Dallas CityPASS ticket booklet ($44 for adults; $30 for children, 3-12) saves visitors 41 percent off combined admission to the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, Reunion Tower GeO-Deck, a choice between the Dallas Zoo and the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, and a choice between the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum and the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden. Even better, the Dallas CityPASS booklet saves time, allowing holders to skip most main-entrance ticket lines.
You’ll find hotels offering special weekend deals and family amenities. Omni Hotels invites you to linger a little longer. Relax and enjoy 10% off a one-night stay, 15% off a two-night stay and 20% off a three- or more night stay. Available June 1 – September 7. Omni also has a teen concierge program in its New York City hotel.
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 , 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. Take advantage of the unique teen guide program at the 911 Memorial Museum, which opened last year. My The Kid’s Guide to New York City will help the kids to lead the way!
LOS ANGELES has 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. In San Francisco, see the Exploratorium’s new digs on the Embarcadero, the wonderful hands-on Children’s Creativity Museum or head north to see the Giant Redwoods in Muir Woods .
CHICAGO is at its best in the summer—just ask the kids I interviewed for my Kid’s Guide to Chicago. There’s Chicago’s famous Lakefront where you can ride bikes, in-line skate or in Lincoln Park, visit one of the few free zoos in the country where kids especially love the polar bears.
WASHINGTON DC has 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 and their famous pandas, 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. Here’s what I wrote about a visit with teenaged boys. Even the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts has free daily performances — at 6 p.m. on the Millennium Stage.. My Kid’s Guide to Washington, DC can help the kids — and you – plan. Stay in comfort at the Fairmont in Georgetown, convenient to all the D.C. sites, which is offering a special family package that includes free breakfasts and valet parking.
CRUISES COME IN ALL SHAPES AND SIZES
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!). See what line might be best for your family in our 2015 Cruise Guide.
HOUSEBOATING is easy, economical, and a great option when you want to travel with family and friends. 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.
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.
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.
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. Leading travel operator Adventures by Disney continues to bring the world’s greatest stories to life with five new itineraries for 2015. Travelers can set off on a new trip that explores Ecuador, the Amazon and the Galapagos. This amazing ‘double-bucket list’ itinerary not only travels through the Ecuadorian Amazon, but it also explores the Galapagos Islands, proving to be the most adventurous trip announced to date. A new European itinerary for 2015 is a 9-day, 8-night Spain tour that takes guests off the beaten path on an unforgettable trip exploring Spanish culture, art and history. Read what I wrote about exploring the land of “Frozen” in Norway last summer.
DUDE RANCHES: Vista Verde, a luxury guest ranch located just north of Steamboat Springs, CO, offers traditional week-long dude ranch stays, combined with the amenities, service, and culinary options of a luxury resort. Families with children 6 years and up come to spend a week trying out exciting adventures, meeting new friends, and relaxing and reconnecting. The top notch riding program provides in-depth horsemanship, cattle-working clinics and adventurous, scenic trail rides. The ranch also offers extensive mountain biking, hiking, fly fishing, rock climbing, photography, wild yoga, cooking classes, wine tasting, and an engaging kids and teen program. Vista Verde’s all-inclusive pricing makes vacation planning easy. Rates include meals, beer and wine, activities, guides, equipment, instruction, kids program, airport transfers, etc….
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. 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 with a city child.
RAFT on a wild river like the Green River through Desolation Canyon in Utah. 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). Here’s what I wrote about rafting on the Yellowstone River.
HISTORY: The Virginia colonists never had it so good — Busch Gardens, Colonial Williamsburg, Water Country USA and more in Virginia’s Historic Triangle. Learn more about the Civil War in Gettysburg. PA. and in Richmond, VA, once the Confederate capital and filming location of the movie “Lincoln.” Learn about the 18th century slave culture at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello or 19th century boat building at Mystic Seaport in Connecticut. Here’s what I wrote about a day at Mystic 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 or science museum around your kids’ current passions—mummies, dinosaurs, photography. Here are five places to get up close and personal to dinos.
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.
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. Autism on the Seas helps arrange vacations on land and sea for families with Autism, Asperger Syndrome and other Developmental Disabilities.. 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; Greenloons, the company that helps families make sustainable vacation choices, lists volunteer options on its website.
NATURAL WONDERS AND THE GREAT OUTDOORS
ROMANCE AND FUN — Excitement is in Niagara Falls, America’s longtime honeymoon spot, this summer. Get closer than you can imagine to this Wonder of the World, at the Cave of the Winds! Go face-to-face with the pounding waters of Niagara Falls and get soaked on the Hurricane Deck and stand just feet from the thundering waters! Come aboard the iconic Maid of the Mist boat tour and get a first-row look at the Horseshoe Falls. Visit at night and witness the illumination of the falls in a rainbow color. At the Aquarium of Niagara. Live penguin and sea-lion feedings occur daily at 10 a.m. in the outdoor tidal pool. Food, festivals and fun are on Old Falls Street, a three block cobblestone street just footsteps away from the Falls!
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. Places like Telluride, CO, offer festivals just about every weekend – here’s what my daughter wrote about last year’s BlueGrass Festival.
A visit to Stratton in the Green Mountains of Vermont means everything you and your family love about summer is right outside your door, from golf (with family tees plus a pitch & putt course) and tennis, hiking, paddling and fat bike tours (with kids bikes). There is lots of live music, festivals, farm-to-table dining and scenic gondola rides to the summit of southern Vermont’s highest peak. Lodging choices include convenient hotels and spacious condominiums, all at rates far below winter season, starting at $72 per person, night (double occupancy) with kids 12 and younger staying free. Special packages are offered throughout the summer along with KidsKamp programs, Tennis and Golf School with family and junior sessions.
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) 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 — horseback 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.
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.
OLD FASHIONED LODGES: The last great American summer vacation lives on at Woodloch Resort in the Northern Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. Days at TripAdvisor.com’s 2015 #1 Hotel for Families are filled to the brim with activities- go-karting, archery (and even archery tag!), zip lining, swimming, rock wall climbing, and boating of every imaginable sort and then some! Evenings are highlighted with both the brilliant lights of their Broadway-style theme show and world-class entertainers… and also by the more low-key illumination of campfire sing-a-longs. Team up to compete for coveted medals in their Pool Games, Double Dare, Scavenger Hunt and Olympics. A dedicated children’s program keeps even the toughest audiences smiling all through their stay. And don’t worry too much about Mother Nature’s agenda- a plethora of indoor games, including “Name That Tune,” “Woodloch Feud” and “Cake Wars” render her attempts to rain on your parade futile. It’s the ultimate bonding experience for families- kids (and kids at heart) simply won’t want to leave.
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 wrote about RVing With Kids in Colorado.
Whether you’re in a camper, RV or would like to pitch a tent, you can find a spot at more than 485 KOA campgrounds across US and Canada. The KOA Yellow Sign has been around for more than 50 years but and many campers and potential campers don’t really know that KOA offers more than a place to pitch a tent or hook-up your RV. Many KOA facilities across the country now offer cabins, some with kitchenettes and bathrooms for families on the road. Throughout the summer, KOA will be encouraging campers to “Find Out What’s Behind the Yellow Sign.” And during June, the campgrounds will be promoting “Great Outdoors Month providing advice and inspiration through KOA’s blogs on where to go, what to do, what to pack and meal plans that make it easy to get out the door for the weekend.
Among our favorite routes: Conquer the states of Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee on The Blue Ridge Parkway, or drive the classic Grand Canyon to Las Vegas route. 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. For scenic beauty, nothing beats the coastal road that connects them.
THEME PARKS AND WATER PARKS
You will have your pick this summer when nearly 300 new rides and attractions open at 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.
All 12 Great Wolf Resorts, famed for their indoor water parks, are offering 15% off two nights or 20% off three or more nights for stays until September 4 (Promo code: SAVINGS). Outdoor ropes courses have been added to Great Wolf resorts in the Pocono Mountains of PA; Grand Mound, WA; Grapevine, TX; Concord, NC and Williamsburg, VA. These exciting attractions are 50 feet tall and feature several trails, zip lines and unique passes. For little ones, there is a toddler version as well – it’s a little closer to the ground. In addition, the Great Wolf Lodge resorts in the Pocono Mountains and Williamsburg are have debuted “Slideboard,” a new interactive waterslide — offering riders the chance to compete with each other as they go through the colorful slide to see who has the quickest reaction time.
The Wisconsin Dells boasts that it has more water parks than anywhere in the country including the largest outdoor water park in the country, Noah’s Ark Waterpark. Think over 200 water slides and plenty of water play areas for the littlest park goers.
CALIFORNIA AND FLORIDA, of course, home to Disneyland and California Adventure (in Anaheim) and Walt Disney World Resort (Orlando). Go to the 60th Anniversary Diamond Celebration at Disneyland Resort beginning May 22, and continuing through the end of the year with spectacular new after-dark shows, including a new fireworks show that surrounds land park guests with pyrotechnics overhead and special digital projection on surrounding buildings. The “Paint the Night” parade will be the first nighttime parade in land since the retirement of the Main Street Electrical Parade in 1996. At Walt Disney World in Orlando, dining and shopping experiences will crisscross the resort throughout the summer. Guests seeking cool thrills have Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at Magic Kingdom; Soarin’ at Epcot or Expedition at Disney’s Animal Kingdon. Or if they really want to cool off, they can visit their “Frozen” pals at Disney’s Hollywood studios.
Locals in Southern California 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.
ORLANDO of course is theme park central with plenty for little kids as well as older ones. Check out the new Undercover Tourist website. A time and money saver for Orlando theme park visitors, Undercover Tourist now offers discount theme park tickets to California attractions as well, with additional destinations coming this year! You’ll also find enhanced Walt Disney World touring plans and planning content, as well as travel guides for land, Universal Studios and SeaWorld.
Because it can be hot and crowded at the parks in the middle of summer, consider a trip in May or June. Active duty military get in free to LEGOLAND Florida, which is expanding it’s park with the opening of Heartlake City and the new LEGOLAND Hotel in summer 2015. Experience a unique flying coaster when you ride SeaWorld’s Manta. Universal Orlando Resort Wizarding World of Harry Potter™ now spans across two parks. 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 with more than a dozen coasters including 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!) 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.
This special FamilyTravelConsulting.com contains advertising and some sponsored content. All opinions are based on the authors’ actual travel experience and knowledge.
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