Nature On Tap Takes Flight at Chicago MuseumApr 25, 2015
The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in Chicago welcomes aerial photographer Mark Reed to Nature on Tap on Tuesday, April 28.
Does your gang wants to ride roller coasters all day? Maybe you want to join the grandparents on a cruise. Could your idea of a perfect Spring Break getaway be cheering on your favorite baseball players at Spring Training games in Florida or Arizona?
Spring break is a terrific time to get away. Spring break clearly has moved beyond bikinis and beer kegs as growing number of families find it the ideal time to get away together.
Tucked between the pricey winter holidays and the crowded summer ones (or vice versa in some parts of the world), vacations between February and April are easier on your budget, too. Order a latte and sit down with this roundup of the top adventure, beach, resort, cruise, festival, city, historical and international short breaks and explore the possibilities.
If you associate spring break with a blanket on the sand, join the crowds. Beach vacations remain the most popular choice for all age leisure travelers. However, you don’t need to track sand into the room when you choose one of the dozen Great Wolf Lodge indoor waterpark resorts. These close-to-home resorts are the way to introduce little ones to the fun of waterplay in a safe setting, and once you’ve got a room key, all ages can play at the pool, day and night, at, even if snow is piling up outside. The New England Great Wolf Lodge in Massachusetts, their newest, is the perfect place to enjoy the change of seasons, too. With the “More Fun For Less” promotion, valid January 13-March 26, 2015, families can save 20% on a two night stay at the Great Wolf Lodge of your choice. Enter promo code MOREFUN.
But if salt water is your thing, there are some alternative towns where you’ll find temperate weather and better values. Vroom! to Daytona Beach in central Florida. Rev those engines and get set to take your rental car for a spin on the beach, at the place called home by the Daytona International Speedway. As one of our reporters found out on her spring break in Daytona, the speedway -– currently being expanded in this revitalized town -– has a fascinating history. Twenty-three miles of pretty beaches and fine food add to the local fun.
Mission Bay in San Diego is a popular beach area for sun and surfing, but there’s lots more to do after you pack up your beach umbrella. This spring, the nearby San Diego Zoo is opening a new habitat for critically endangered snow leopards and Amirleopards. The 16,500-square-foot area includes multi-level feline living space with outcroppings, trees, and shrubs.
Some will say there’s nothing like a spring break on the beaches of the Caribbean and Mexico. The 14 all-inclusive Palladium Resorts located in Mexico (Riviera Nayarit and Riviera Maya), the Dominican Republic, Jamaica (and even Ibiza, Spain and Bahia, Brazil) enable families to have fun together, while adults can get a break with mini clubs that are open all day and evening.
An ideal choice for anyone with tiny travelers is the Melia Vacation Club in the classic resort area of Puerto Vallarta, on Mexico’s Pacific Coast. Their “Kids & Co” family facilities are themed to the Flintstones and the Baby Rock Club nursery allows ages 4-48 months to nap, play, do arts n’crafts and dress up under the supervision of certified staff with 1st Aid and CPR training. For kids from 5- 11, there is the Bamm Bamm Club (if you’re not smiling already, you’ll have to rent “The Flintstones” cartoons on Netflix!) Big siblings 12-15 can try hip-hop, karaoke, beach parties and more – and with all the watersports and entertainment included in the all-inclusive rates, even extended family will find lots to do. This spring, your family has a chance to win a wonderful beach vacation in Puerto Vallarta so join their contest now.
Of interest to those who are on special diets, all Palladium Hotels & Resorts now cater to guests with dietary needs. Resort chefs accommodate for gluten-free (celiac) and Type 2 Diabetes diets by preventing the introduction of allergens during the food sourcing, preparation and handling processes. Allergies to nuts, fruits and vegetables, seafood, eggs, dairy and lactose, fish and monosodium glutamate can be accommodated. Kids on gluten-free diets can join their families eating pasta and pizza. Check the Palladium Resorts website for advance purchase savings at several resorts; as we go to press you can save up to 50% at their Jamaica resort.
We all know that travel is educational, but the USTA’s Summer 2013 Education Survey found that students who traveled in their youth tend to have higher school grades and test scores than those who didn’t.
With college kids away on spring break, it’s the perfect time of year to plan campus visits. Make a vacation out of visiting the coveted surf schools in southern California, the action-packed ski schools in Colorado, the Ivy League schools of the Northeast, and major universities in and around many great cities.
Book ahead for weekend campus tours so you can take advantage of lower rates at city hotels, and de-stress the experience with some fun excursions. CityPASS prepaid ticket booklets have a 95% approval rating from families who have saved up to 50% on admission fees to the top attractions. Our favorite thing about using them? CityPASS tickets get you front of the line access in 11 major cities — New York City, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, Southern California and Toronto — all day, every day. In one of our top spring cities – New York – the National September 11 Memorial & Museum and the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum will join the New York CityPASS program on March 1, saving visitors 42% off the total combined tickets prices at attractions and museums.
Don’t let “museum” become a dirty word; museums today range from those which make sense of the visual arts –– to hands-on, interactive displays about history and more. In fact, New York’s American Museum of Natural History is featuring two fascinating shows – one on disease and one on disasters – that cater to the scientists in the family.
The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis (the largest children’s museum in the world) museum celebrates its 90th anniversary this year. Party like it’s 77 million B.C.E. this spring break by visiting a rare, mummified dinosaur in Dinosphere: Now You’re in Their World. Or experience Dale Chihuly’s Fireworks of Glass and examine the impact of children who have shaped history in The Power of Children: Making a Difference among other permanent exhibits. There will also be nine new, temporary exhibits in 2015 including Inside Hollywood Film & TV – You’re on the Set! (Jan. 31-July 26, 2015), which allows visitors to role play and go behind the scenes or on the set of recreated television shows and films with real props and costumes serving as inspiration.
Las Vegas is another good option for a family spring break and Nevada boasts 14 colleges, not to mention the many in nearby northern California and southern Utah. What stays here for adults is not what families come for. Roadtrippers seeing national parks, Europeans on a tour of the States, Asians who love to gamble, and thousands of other parents who bring kids find that they love the glitzy hotels, free window shopping, neon light shows and public art that’s on display. Vegas in the cooler spring months can also be a real value for families, if you choose the right family-friendly Vegas hotel and stick with the bargain buffets offered almost everywhere. Most of the attractions are free and it’s easy to avoid the high-dollar bungee jumps and VR coaster rides because there’s always something else to do at the next corner.
Cruises are always a good bet for relaxing reunions because meals and accommodations are pre-arranged and paid for, and there’s no worrying about getting to the next destination. If grandparents are along, the supervised programs for infants, tots, kids and teens – not to mention the scheduled bridge games – keep everyone in the family busy. In our Family Cruise Section you’ll find many reviews of the major cruise lines. Alternatively, you can visit a travel agent near your home who is a cruise expert by looking at Cruising.org, the website of the cruise industry’s trade association.
Conde Nast Traveler recommends Adventuresmith Explorations for its expertise in small ships that ply unusual itineraries in the Americas, Asia, Mediterranean and polar regions — an adventure you really want to check out before you commit. AdventureSmith has launched new adventure cruises for 2015 including a 7-day excursion to Bali featuring coral reef snorkeling, visits to coastal villages, and more. You can also choose from new itineraries like Alaska’s Golden History, trips to historic Croatia and Montenegro, or an Anakonda Amazon Cruise.
Kansas City, Missouri is the site of our next TMS Family Travel Conference, and we’re very excited to get to know it better. KC is home to the fascinating collection of documents, art and memorabilia known as the Black Archives of Mid-America and boasts many special events during February, Black History Month. Any time of year, the historic 18th & Vine District is fun to visit. The American Jazz Museum puts on regular Open Jazz Rehearsals so visitors can watch musicians practice and talk about their artistry. Nearby, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum celebrates the success of black athletes in the era between the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement, when baseball and other sports were not integrated. The Crown Center is the place to make free crafts projects at Hallmark’s Kaleidoscope workshop, buy souvenirs at Taste of Kansas City, watch your burger arrive by elevated train at Fritz’s or have a colorful family dining experience at the Crayola Café. If you miss the annual Restaurant Week, count on a great meal at the classic Jack Strong or one of the hundred other barbecue joints in every Kansas City neighborhood.
Introduce the kids to the Victorian era in Galveston, Texas, which has prospered as a cruise ship port and used those resources to clean up its historic district. The Pleasure Pier built in the style of the 1930’s adds a fun amusement park where a wristband will buy the kids all the rides they like. The large glass domes at Moody Gardens support different habitats that range from rain forest to penguins to sharks, with a small palm-fringed waterpark for toddlers, three movie theatres and even a paddlewheel boat. Want Texas style culture? There’s an Oil Rig Museum so when you’re done making sandcastles in view of the rigs, you can head inside and learn more about them. Note that the amazing Schlitterbahn Waterpark is open year round and is much less crowded than in summer.
Spring is a terrific time to visit Washington, DC where some of the nation’s finest museums and annual festivals are totally free. March 20 through April 12, 2015 is the period for the National Cherry Blossom Festival, which even includes a special Blossom Kite Festival. There is lots of commemorative programming planned for Ford’s 150: Remembering the Lincoln Assassination, events marking 150 years since the assassination of Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865. Programming spans January through May 2015 and includes the world-premiere play The Widow Lincoln, the musical Freedom’s Song: Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War, an exhibition at the Center for Education and Leadership next to the theater that showcases actual items that Lincoln carried or that were in Ford’s Theatre on the night of his assassination and much more. Check out the full schedule of events. Don’t forget that the tips in Eileen Ogintz’ “Kids Guide to Washington DC” will help kids lead the way.
Always include a stop at historic sites in major resort areas, too. There’s plenty of colorful history at the Alamo in the city of San Antonio, and the famous battleship Arizona memorial at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. Such places bring famous battles to life and encourage grandparents to connect with younger generations through stories only they can share.
If sports rule in your household, this is the time to take your team to spring training, a mainstay at small stadiums in Florida and Arizona. You’ll find special lodging packages close to every stadium; Kissimmee Florida, for example, is a great place to catch the Houston Astros in training followed by an afternoon at the nearby Orlando theme parks. In Peoria, Arizona, spend the afternoon watching the San Diego Padres or Seattle Mariners get into form, then head out after dark to do a night vision tour of the starlit desert and get to know the region’s nocturnal creatures.
Grandparents, on the other hand, may find it perfect weather to introduce the grandkids to their passion for golf, possibly at its best in Arizona, Hawaii and Palm Springs resorts. Myrtle Beach is another popular springtime golf destination, with more than 100 local courses, many of which let kids play free. From there, it’s a day’s drive to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, only one of the many national parks that are much less crowded in spring than in summer.
At Yellowstone National Park, guests can traverse the snow-packed trails to Old Faithful on private Snowcoach tours, or check into lodges to snowshoe, snowmobile or go ice-fishing before everything melts. In the Pacific Northwest, Olympic National Park has tidepools, some of the largest remnants of ancient forests left in the country and mountain vistas, three major ecosystems to explore. Visit the John Wayne Marina near the Dungeness Lighthouse; it was a favorite sailing area for the cowboy star and is the place to rent boats so you can get up close with this striking lighthouse.
The longer days, warms rays of a spring sun and the dry light powder that falls out West make spring skiing one of life’s great pleasures. It’s also the perfect weather to turn your littlest ones, who are so susceptible to the cold, into lifelong snow sports lovers. The online resources at Ski.com make planning easy, because their site is searchable by “family” so you can easily find deals and “kids ski free” options for your small group. See our annual roundup of the Top Family Snow Sports Resorts for more reviews and destination ideas.
Spring skiing is still awesome in Colorado, where snow has been falling in buckets all winter. Kids 12 and under ski free at Keystone Resort every day of the 2014/15 winter season without any blackout dates. (Families must stay two or more nights in one of Keystone’s numerous owned and operated accommodations.) Check out the daily Kidtopia activities and don’t miss the huge ice fort at the top of the mountain. Moms will appreciate their new women’s clinics which focus on getting the ladies in your group up and out on the moguls.
Snowbasin is an unusually luxurious resort in Ogden, Utah that many compare to its sister property, Sun Valley in Idaho. We like their innovative Burton Dino Riglet Park, a specially groomed beginner area that follows the prinicples of terrain based learning combined with special equipment, to get kids ages 3 and up riding and doing tricks on tiny snowboards. Even better, the east-facing mountain gets lots of sunshine and tons of powder at an altitude lower than many of its neighbors, making it ideal for families who don’t get to high altitudes the rest of the year. Ogden is the nearest town for accommodations, a place where value lodging and restaurants attract a big family crowd in spring.
There’s lots of news in the ski industry, including better snowmaking so your spring skiing adventure is guaranteed to have better quality snow and grooming. That means even New England resorts, where some travelers might head for spring golf, fishing, hiking and mountain biking will be able to keep their runs open.
New York has more ski mountains than any other state and 25 of them welcome all 3rd and 4th graders to learn the sport with free lessons and lift tickets all season. There’s lots of history in those hills, making getting there intriguing for all ages: Holiday Valley has their classic Winter Carnival the first weekend in March; Windham has an Irish Festival the second weekend and historic Lake Placid, home to two winter Olympics, offers luge or bobsled rides down an Olympic track (with a driver), ice climbing, and skating on the famous Olympic Oval when you’re not skiing or riding Whiteface Mountain.
Mountain resorts know how to enjoy spring in the snow, and even dude ranches provide some horseback riding, good meals and a relaxing time in spectacular country whether in Arizona, Texas or Colorado. Some ranches and mountain destinations organize local dogsled tours, a great way to get babies and toddlers out into the woods on very cold days. These operators provide all the clothes and gear you’ll need; in fact at the Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge in Ely, Minnesota you can climb aboard and travel for several days of adventure. If you’re really into the outdoors, consider joining Minnesota’s Winter Scavenger Hunt (yes, their spring feels like other place’s winter sometimes.) Among the dozen “only in Minnesota” locations you have to find is Ely’s International Wolf Center. In its second year, the statewide hunt known as “Checkpoint MN,” runs through March 5, and gives participants a chance to find and win $50,000 in prizes, like winter gear to stay warm.
Family spring breaks are all the rage at the major U.S. theme parks, where all ages can find thrill rides, themed attractions and live shows to their liking. The parks are especially welcoming for those with special challenges too.
This spring, Legoland California in Carlsbad is opening the Star Wars Miniland Death Star (six feet across) and showing iconic film scenes made of Lego bricks that were filmed inside the Galactic Empire’s space station. Lego models of Stormtroopers, a Rebel X-wing fighter pilot, and an Imperial Star Ship pilot will also be on display.
Universal Studios Hollywood in California debuts two new attractions in 2015. A new Simpsons-themed area brings the fictional hometown of the Simpsons to life with accompanying retail and restaurants next to the park’s existing “Simpsons” ride – we’ve seen it in Orlando and it’s great fun, especially for teens. The park is also introducing the “Fast & Furious Supercharged” motion simulator, which uses a tunnel-like movie screen to create an immersive 3-D experience based on the hit movie franchise.
Two and a half million visitors makes Orlando, Florida one of the country’s top Spring Break destinations. Plan ahead and avoid lines with Undercover Tourist by purchasing discounted theme park tickets shipped directly to your door. Their site has tips on how to make the lines seem shorter and their Wait Times App steers you to easiest ones to get on. Getting up to 50% off car rental rates is another perk. If you can, go to Orlando after the few weeks of spring and Easter break, and before mid-June, for the best deals, or wait until September when prices drop again. The city’s Magicard offers discounts on everything from attractions to accommodations and restaurants.
Couples with babies in tow can take advantage of the Rider Switch policies at major Disney and Universal theme parks, which allow one parent to wait with baby at the head of the line while the other one rides, then switch without waiting again. The latest attractions at Disney World’s New Fantasyland even have a play area where families can romp while waiting to be notified of their turn by electronic pagers.
This spring, other special events at the Walt Disney World parks include the Walt Disney World Pro Soccer Classic (February 1-March 1), the lovely Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival (March 4-May 17), a Garden Rocks Concert Series on select nights from March 6-May 17 at Epcot, and for the baseball fans in the family – don’t forget the Atlanta Braves Spring Training, in town from March 4 to April 4. The seven Downtown Disney hotels are having a spring sale February 1 to March 31 with great rates and extra savings.
More good news: central Florida is not as hot and humid as in July. Just an hour from Orlando is the Space Coast and the Kennedy Space Center, whose space camp and astronaut encounters allow everyone’s imagination to take flight.
The 19 different Six Flags parks promise plenty of new thrills and family attractions with new water rides (Buchenner Beach at Six Flags Great Escape in New Jersey and Dive Bomber at Six Flags White Water in Georgia), a 40th Anniversary Celebration at Six Flags Great America in Chicago, and more thrills throughout multiple parks. Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, near Los Angeles, adds the Twisted Colossus wood hybrid coaster –- a real screamer.
Alternate the serious stuff with a laughter break at the Mall of America’s indoor amusement park, Nickelodeon Universe, open daily in any weather. Book one of the neighboring hotels to take advantage of unlimited ride passes and the many other attractions in its vast space, but avoid Saturdays at this very popular shopping and entertainment complex, one of the world’s largest.
The hotel metasearch engine, Trivago.com, says demand for international destinations is up everywhere. By analyzing bookings about eight weeks prior to arrival, they’ve found that spring break travelers are favoring London, Paris, Cancun, Rome, Barcelona, Amsterdam, Playa del Carmen, Dubai and Tokyo, in that order.
London may be on the top of family traveler lists because of Paddington, the original teddy bear whose film debut is playing at U.S. theaters this spring. If you’re going, be sure to check out VisitLondon.com’s guide to budget family activities all around the city.
Amsterdam is also very popular and it isn’t only because marijuana is legally served (to those over 18) in the city’s famous coffee shops. It’s because you can get around by bike or boat, the Waterlooplein Flea Market is fun, the architecture is so picturesque, and there are the first-rate museums such as the Van Gogh Museum, the Rijksmuseum with its new Phillips wing, and the Anne Frank House. There is also plenty for younger children to do in Amsterdam, where all ages will benefit from IAmsterdam Card access to museums and a host of other discounts. Don’t miss a day at Keukenhof Gardens, open this year only from March 20-May 17 with the most spectacular tulip and floral display in the Netherlands… and maybe the world.
While tourism to all of Europe is up due to the falling value of the Euro against the dollar, that popularity is driving airfares up. But for those who plan ahead, there are good values to be found in the Eastern European countries of Croatia and Estonia. Croatia especially has become a destination for small ship cruising with many beachside towns and small ports that are easy to tour on foot.
Some of the most memorable outdoors and wilderness trips are best undertaken in our spring, or autumn in the southern hemisphere.
With all the attention on Antarctica and its melting icecap, some well-heeled adventure travelers are sailing south to explore this little known region. One of our favorite trips for families is a cruise through Patagonia aboard an Australis ship, known for its comforts and knowledgeable, multilingual guides. Australis is celebrating their 25th anniversary with several new routes and good prices – we especially like the sail between Punta Arenas, Chile and Ushuaia, Argentina. Explore options now to go before June, when they stop sailing due to the arrival of the Antarctic winter season.
Couples as well as families who’ve followed “The Hobbit” on all its journeys will appreciate the fjords of Milford Sound, New Zealand. One of the many stunning natural locations for the recent Peter Jackson trilogy and for “Lord of the Rings,” it’s one of the world’s top adventure ecotourism destinations. Grandparents may want to consider a guided spring or summer tour for the whole family where the tour operator provides extra support for all ages to enjoy themselves.
Costa Rica is the original adventure travel destination, one where families can rough it or not, depending on your needs and interests. The new J. W. Marriott in Guanacaste, recently reviewed for Family Travel Forum, is a good example of a luxury resort with plenty of on-site activities and kids programs, yet wild adventures at the doorstep. When more than a quarter of this forward-thinking country protected within the National System of Conservation Areas (SINAC), it’s not surprising that there’s a Guanacaste National Park with a UNESCO World Biosphere designation. Located just 35 kms from the international airport at Liberia, it’s a known migration route for a large number of birds and animals. If you decide to stay longer and move into local lodging, both SINAC and the non-profit Sabatica offer many volunteer opportunities such as park maintenance within the country and its preserves.
Roughing it adventures are never cheap, but there are many budget trips where you will roam beyond your comfort zone and help the destination you are visiting. Many non-profit organizations organize volunteer vacations; groups like Together for Good can lead a “Cruise4Haiti” or share resources for multi-day or even half-day give back opportunities at most resort areas. Even your college students can benefit by considering an alternative spring break -– hotels like the Rosen Resorts of Orlando give college students housing and volunteer opportunities if they commit time to help local communities during their time off.
We look forward to hearing where you dream of spending your spring break and where you actually end up enjoying some time off. And if you can’t get away just now, remember, summer’s almost here.
Special thanks to Emily Sheehy for her research assistance on this story. 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.