Book your Kids on the Wisconsin Polar Express Train this YearNov 23, 2014
November 21st through December 22nd, Wisconsin and Southern Railroads is holding its family getaway holiday package with tickets to the Polar Express Train Ride
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 2014 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.
If you have teens ages 13-18, encourage them to participate in the 8th annual Teen Travel Writing Scholarship. What better way to keep their brains from turning to mush than to blog for a merit scholarship? It’s easy and a great cause we support each year.
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 and evening, especially now with the new Play at Palladium with Raggs family program complete with the five Raggs TV characters who host Mini Club activities, poolside events, a disco party, breakfasts and a 50-minute live show spectacular called the Raggs Pirate Show. On Mexico’s Pacific Coast, Puerto Vallarta offers a wide array of family activities, including a visit to a traditional Mexican ranch, or a tour of a native Huichol Indian village or wildlife watching on the Marietas Islands, home to turtles, dolphins, tropical fish and seabirds including the famed Blue-footed Boobies. Take a canopy tour or, from May to September, participate in the sea turtle protection program.
On the 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 and, coming soon, 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.
You’ll find hotels offering special weekend deals and family amenities. Omni Hotels & Resorts has a teen concierge program in its New York City hotel. Check out Omni’s Dive Into Summer package that includes a backpack full of goodies for their smallest guests. In many cases you can save on admission to local attractions with a program like CityPASS. A brand-new Tampa Bay CityPASS program launches on May 20, 2014.. CityPASS booklets contain prepaid admission to the most popular attractions in 11 North American destinations, also enabling you to avoid long lines.
In PHILADELPHIA this summer, there’s a lot to attract families to the famed Ben Franklin Parkway. Opening in mid-June, the Nicholas and Athena Karabots Pavilion will add a 53,000-square-foot wing to The Franklin Institute, one of the nation’s first hands-on science museums. The centerpiece of the new wing: “Your Brain,” an interactive exhibit about neuroscience and psychology. Visitors can climb through giant neurons! Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Museum of Art (free admission to kids 12 and under) will be transformed into a family hot spot with its Art Splash program, where visitors “meet the masterpieces.” Outdoors, the Philadelphia Zoo is unveiling an overhead trail system called Big Cat Crossing. See lions, tigers, jaguars and other large felines roam 14-feet above the ground.
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. Here’s what I wrote about a visit to the Statue of Liberty. The new edition of 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 2014 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. A growing number of outfitters offer special family itineraries and work to put kids of similar ages on the same group trips. Explore the soaring granite monoliths and sky scraping giant sequoias of Yosemite National Park with Austin Adventures where you’re steeped in both geological and American history. Swim in natural pools below cascading waterfalls, bike winding roads through a glacier cut canyon and trek up to the valley summit to find out why it was dubbed the “grandest of all the special temples of Nature.” Here’s what I wrote about a guided trip to Yellowstone
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 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). Here’s what I wrote about rafting on the Yellowstone River
HISTORY: The Virginia colonists never had it so good! In Williamsburg, Kingsmill’s summer packages are helping families’ plan a perfect summer getaway for all ages. The Ultimate Family Fun Package (starting at $429 per night for family of four) includes accommodations in a resort guest room (upgrade to one- to three-bedroom suites featuring a full kitchens and washer/dryer available), daily breakfast, complimentary use of non-motorized water sports including paddle boards, sea bikes and kayaks, tickets to popular nearby attractions — Busch Gardens, Colonial Williamsburg, Water Country USA and more (resort shuttle available). Kingsmill, Williamsburg’s premier resort, houses four on-site restaurants, championship golf courses (offering golf school/camp), 15 tennis courts, fitness center and spa, indoor/outdoor pools, Segway tours and a full service marina.
New York State is bursting with great family activities. Special milestones are being marked with fun celebrations all summer long, like the 75th Anniversary of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, and the 5th Anniversary of the Walkway Over the Hudson , the longest elevated pedestrian bridge in the world. The borough of Queens marks the 50th and 75th anniversaries of the World’s Fairs in Flushing Meadows Corona Park with fireworks and more. Talk about a milestone — 2014 is the first year that the iconic Maid of the Mist boat tour sails only from the American side of Niagara Falls, with families sporting the Maid’s trademark blue slickers to feel the spray at the base of the Falls. Path Through History Weekends during the first two weeks of June feature everything from tours to art projects to ghost walks at hundreds of historic sites all across the state. The 12-day Great New York State Fair in Syracuse showcases the best of New York’s cuisine and agricultural bounty. And hot air balloon festivals from Binghamton to the Adirondacks fill the sky with color and whimsical designs.
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.
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. Ski towns like Aspen CO tout festivals all summer long. Come in June for especially good deals. 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.
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.
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.
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. KOA also has a large inventory of cabins and cottages, including some with bathrooms and kitchens, decks/patios and fire-rings. The best part about camping in a cabin is you can still have the outdoor experience with decks/patios and fire-rings so you can enjoy an evening campfire. KOA has three big summer weekends where campers can save, and its mobile app, you can find a campground, book a reservation, and manage your Value Kard Rewards membership.
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 SPLASH
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.
Great Wolf Lodge New England opens in June. Located in Massachusetts, 45 minutes west of Boston in Fitchburg, MA, the lodge features 406 suites and like at other Great Wolf Lodges, the 67,800-foot indoor water park is the centerpiece of the resort (and largest in the state), with signature water rides including the six-story funnel slide, Howlin’ Tornado. There’s also Slap Tail Pond wave pool and Fort Mackenzie – a multi-level interactive tree house with its signature water tipping bucket. The Wolf Tail waterslide is a 360-degree thrill ride that begins with a steep drop into an enclosed tunnel and culminates in a great splash down below.
At SILVER DOLLAR CITY in Branson MO, the all-new festival Star-Spangled Summer takes summer family time to new heights, presenting the new show Flying Ace All-Stars, featuring Olympic athletes and future hopefuls performing amazingly daring stunts on trampolines. Also new, The Magic of Brad Ross stars the Merlin Award Winner for Best International Family Entertainer, as he dazzles audiences with world-class illusions. Silver Dollar City’s 30-plus rides and attractions add launch, drop and barrel-roll cool to the family thrill options, with the world-famous, award-winning wood coaster Outlaw Run topping the must-ride bucket lists.
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 of course is home to Disneyland and Disney California Adventure where the Cars Land has proved a big hit. 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.
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 Disneyland, 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 opening DUPLO VALLEY. Disney World continues to expand its New Fantasyland with its new Mine Train coaster and the ability to customize the times for your FASTPASS. Experience a unique flying coaster when you ride SeaWorld’s Manta. Universal Orlando Resort is touting the expansion of its Harry Potter attractions. See The Space Shuttle Atlantis at the Kennedy Space Center, an easy drive from Orlando and well worth the effort to see one of only four shuttles on display.. 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 travel section contains advertising and some sponsored content. All opinions are based upon the author’s actual travel experience and knowledge.