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Ventura Harbor Village a Safe Bet for Traveling Families

Apr 23, 2014
Families planning road trips along California’s coastal Route 101 should consider a stop in Ventura Harbor Village.

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Spring Break Ideas to meet every family’s wish list


600x160-dolphin1Maybe your gang wants to ride roller coasters all day.  Maybe you want to join the grandparents on a cruise.  Maybe your idea of a perfect Spring Break getaway is cheering on your favorite baseball players at Spring Training games in Florida or Arizona.  Whatever floats your family’s boat—literally—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.  And if you plan smart, you may even snare a bargain.  You may find time to give back on vacation too. Websites like www.togetherforgood.org and www.packforapurpose.org can show you how easy it can be!

Here are some of the places TakingtheKids and Family Travel Forum recommend for a stupendous spring break, whether you’re traveling with kids of any age, friends, partners or other couples.

Spring Break Adventures

Kids and kids-at-heart love a good adventure and spring is the perfect time to enjoy one, or plan an escorted summer expedition for the whole family.  We’ve had some of our most memorable trips sharing adventures.

Couples as well as families will appreciate time to explore new adventure destinations like Nicaragua. The rain forest in Panama is another popular eco-tourism spot, and luxury outfitters like Austin Adventures are branching out with new escorted tours for all ages  around the globe with 20 different trips now in Africa, even tracking gorillas in the Congo.  

O.A.R.S. has been offering family adventure vacations since 1969.  You can put together your own group of family and friends too, whether you prefer a wilderness camping adventure, a yacht-based trip or a lodge vacation. This spring O.A.R.S is featuring raft trips on Oregon’s Rogue River, Idaho’s Lower Salmon River and the Green River through the Gates of Lodore in Utah.  Also new — Premier Pricing with discounts of up to 10% for the first 4 people to book on most of domestic trips by March 31.

Favored by families for its immediate access to national treasures and hidden gems in the region, Rapid City is nestled among the pines of South Dakota’s beautiful Black Hills and centrally located to Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial, Custer State Park and Badlands National Park. Rapid City offers the perfect complement to a Black Hills adventure with added urban pleasures like great local restaurants and an assortment of boutiques and gift shops. Do Big Things by discovering unique attractions, a spirited art scene, museums and galleries, Native American history, and much more.

Spring Break Beach Vacations

All ages love the sea and sand of a beach vacation, even if the water along the eastern seaboard isn’t always warm enough to swim.  That’s why we like the action in South Beach Miami and Greater Fort Lauderdale, beach cities packed with cultural venues, shopping and fine restaurants to keep everyone busy if the ocean seems too chilly.

Spring is also the season to help toddlers hunt for shells on Sanibel Island, build sandcastles with the fine sand at Panama City Beach, and explore other Gulf Coast resort areas where shallow, warm water welcomes little ones.

Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort in Destin is the perfect destination for your clan, particularly if they like golf and tennis.  Sandestin packs in the value with complimentary amenities, resort events and family friendly activities that are sure to please people of all ages.  One of the top events of the year is the Sandestin Wine Festival, April 10-13, featuring the pouring of more than 600 wines.

Introduce kids to roller-blading and people watching at a low-key Key West resort and get your teens into standup paddle boarding.  

Puerto Rico is the island getaway for those looking for Latin culture without needing a passport; this territory welcomes US visitors of all ages to its beautiful beaches, historic fortresses, rain forest canopy tours, bio-luminescent bay, and contemporary art galleries, with just a photo ID

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 serve as on-site ambassadors, hosting Mini Club activities, poolside events, a disco party, breakfasts and a 50-minute live show spectacular called the Raggs Pirate Show. 

West Coast families should head south to Puerto Vallarta on Mexico’s southern Pacific coast. The long famous beach resort is a great base to sample the region’s many adventures: whale watching; swimming with dolphins; nature encounters with sea lions and tropical birds; fishing; helping out with the local sea turtle release program; and swinging through a forest canopy in the Sierra Madre Mountains. Toddlers will enjoy the calm shallow surf along many of the resort beaches on in Banderas Bay. Ask about guides to visit the Indian community of San Andrés Coamihata, home to the Wixárika or Huichol Indians, where the whole family can learn about their culture.

Visit Surf City USA — Huntington Beach, CA where among other places fit grandparents can learn boogie boarding, a California art form. My new Kids Guide to LA can help the kids lead the way, with tips from local and visiting kids.

You can alternate beach time with attractions like SeaWorld, the San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park, and LEGOLAND in Carlsbad.  Make Carlsbad  your vacation home with its seven miles of beaches, proximity to nearby attractions and plenty of kid-friendly hotels.

Kids, couples, grandparents will find the islands of Hawaii have beaches, recreation and historical attractions to suit every age; Hawaii is also a great destination for single parents. We especially love Kauai where Hanalei and beyond make us think this is what Hawaii used to be like — one-lane bridges; narrow, winding roads; shaved ice stands selling flavors like Li Hing Mui (sweet Asian plum) and Guava;  Kauai offers adventures everywhere, whether you want to hike, kayak, surf, snorkel or play golf.

Families say they have a new reason to visit Oahu now that Mickey and Minnie have landed at Disney’s  Aulani Resort and Spa with its first-rate and complimentary kids’ club and emphasis on Hawaiian culture.  

City Breaks and College Tours

Knowing that the college kids are on spring break makes this the perfect time of year for campus visits, a rite of passage for every family. Take advantage of visiting the Ivy League schools and major state universities by combining your school tour with a city break in New York City, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle or Southern California.  Whether you crave a lively city experience or relaxing resort getaway, Omni Hotels & Resorts has the perfect destination for the entire family; pick up a CityPASS for every family member, saving up to 50% on top attractions and bypass the lines with your prepaid coupon.

Amtrak offers significant discounts for kids to let you explore a nearby city over a weekend when you will score a hotel deal. Check websites like Getaroom.com  and Hotels.com, or check vrbo.com for apartment rentals in cities you want to visit and propose what you are willing to pay.  Each city’s official tourism website will have the latest deals and special family offerings. Check out review sites like Yelp or Chowhound and plan a special dinner out with your (almost) grown up teens.

New museum exhibits are geared to all ages; we especially love the Childrens Museum of Indianapolis, the largest in the country which will be celebrating the10th anniversary of Dinosphere with the display of Leonardo, the mummified dinosaur (listed in Guinness World Record book as the best preserved dinosaur in the world).  You can travel all the way to China too with the Take Me There: China exhibit.

Look for unique places wherever you visit–Fort Worth, Texas is another historic destination that brings Cowboy lore to life with weekly cattle roundups, Stockyard tours and Western art museums., BuffaloBill’s Wild West Show at Cowtown Coliseum and  even the Fort Worth Herd’s free Cow Camp  See what we said about our visit here. 

We mean it:  Let each child plan a day of the itinerary. You will be amazed where they lead you!

Spring is a terrific time to visit Washington, DC. Consider the Fairmont  Washington DC  where kids love the indoor pool and everyone likes the courtyard garden DC. They’ve got a Panda Package in collaboration with the Friends of the National Zoo and in honor of the zoo’s giant pandas – Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, and the new baby Panda Bao Bao.  Get overnight accommodations, a cuddly panda, computer game and more and for every room booked, a donation to the Giant Panda Conservation Fund for $229 a night.

The National Cherry Blossom Festival starts March 20 and lasts until April 13 and even includes a special Blossom Kite Festival.  There are plenty of  freebies (or nearly free)  like  seeing  the stars in Rock Creek Park at the only planetarium operated by the National Park Service, touring the National Mall and the Smithsonian’s many museums.  My Kids Guide to Washington DC can help the kids lead the way.

Spring Season Cruises for Kids, Teens, Couples and Grands

Cruises are always a good bet for families—especially when grandparents are along(or treating everyone to the trip)  They work whether the kids are preschoolers (supervised play time) or teens (all they can eat, a safe place to roam, youth spa treatments).  See our Family Cruise Section.  Some ships like Disney Cruise Line and select Royal Caribbean  ships even have day care for infants while Carnival Cruises nursery begins at age 2.  

Go for three days or a week.   Mega ships like Royal Caribbean’s Oasis and Allure offer something for every age group.  Check websites like www.discountcruises.com for the latest deals, and get custom advice from one of their agents.   Alternatively, you can visit a travel agent near your home who is a cruise expert by looking at www.cruising.org.

The big news for cruising this Spring is more ships, bigger ships and more homeports to save families from purchasing air fare just to board their cruise.  For example, Royal Caribbean is sailing to the Caribbean from Baltimore, Cape Canaveral, Fort Lauderdale, Miami, New Orleans, the New York-area and Tampa with Navigator of the Seas, now sailing year-round from Galveston with a slew of upgrades. (Think virtual balcony staterooms, new restaurants and the signature FlowRider surfsimulator.)  

Consider a small expedition ship that sails to exotic ports those big ships can’t maneuver in. Adventuresmith Explorations is Conde Nast Traveler’s pick for small ship expertise; yacht cruises around Hawaii, Alaska, family sailings along Baja California

Spring Time History and Heritage Journeys

February is African-American Heritage Month celebrating the struggles and contributions of all who built the country we know today. The Mt. Vernon Historic site outside Washington DC – a great city to visit during the President’s Day school break — has special programs with interpreters introducing visitors of all ages to plantation life.

Build a trip around American history in Virginia’s Historic Triangle of Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown and Yorktown. Kingsmill, a premier resort located along the James River, features one- to three- bedroom suite accommodations with kitchens, washer/dryers, spacious living areas and multiple bedroom units. Kingsmill has activities to keep then entire family busy during spring break and is offering the “Spring Fever” package that starts at $399 per night for a family of four.  The resort offers five on-site restaurants, three 18-hole championship golf courses (offering golf school/camp for the whole crew), 15 tennis courts, fitness center and spa, indoor/outdoor pools, Segway tours and a full service marina; plus a shuttle to popular attractions like Colonial Williamsburg and Busch Gardens. 

In New York State, learn baseball history at Cooperstown or visit a fort like Fort Ticonderoga.  A new Path through History website enables you to plan around themes like the War of 1812, Women’s Rights, Sports History, Civil Rights and more.  There’s lots going on too: Holiday Valley has their Winter Carnival the first weekend in March; Windham has an Irish Festival the second weekend.  The state’s sweetest event is Maple Weekend, taking place March 22-23 and 29-30, 2014 at more than 100 maple producers around the state – pancakes anyone?

In Philadelphia see the Liberty Bell  in the Liberty Bell Center.  Include a stop at historic sites in major resort areas, too, like Pearl Harbor in Hawaii (here’s what we said about our visit.)  Such places bring famous battles to life and encourage grandparents to connect with younger generations through stories only they can share.

SPORTS, SPA AND NATIONAL PARKS

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 packages close to every stadium—and plenty to do when the games are done.

Grandparents, on the other hand, may find it perfect weather to introduce the grandkids to their passion for golf, at its best in Arizona, Hawaii and Palm Springs resorts.

Spring Break is also a great time to visit some of our national parks, like the Grand Canyon.  Here’s what we said about a Spring Break trip

Scottsdale, meanwhile is known for its spas as well as golf courses and spectacular spring weather.  Here’s what we said about a mom’s getaway  that included spaaing it up at the JW Marriott Resort and the Boulders where we were also able to take a night time bike ride in the desert.  Fun!  We’re also fans of Tucson with its dude ranches, spectacular desert hikes, birding and laid-back cowboy sensibility.  

Snowsports in Spring

There’s nothing like a gentle spring sun, soft fluffy powder and afternoon hot tub crawls to make expert skiers and snowboarders relax with delight. It’s also the perfect weather to turn your littlest ones, who are so susceptible to the cold, into lifelong snow sports lovers.  Check out our FUN IN THE SNOW section.

Bretton Woods, NH  is New Hampshire’s larges snow sport resort and home to the historic Omni Mount Washington Hotel where you also have the chance to  experience a zip line (actually nine of them, two sky bridges and three rappels on a unique canopy tour.

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 http://www.iskiny.com/ski-deals/free-kids-program.

Kids 12 and under ski free at Keystone Resort every day of the 2013/14 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.  See what I wrote about KidCentric Keystone.  Keystone’s on-mountain resorts.

The Treehouse Adventure Center  at Snowmass Village, one of the Aspen resorts, is one of the best in the industry (think a mini indoor climbing wall!) Kids and parents alike love the Friday night Ullr Nights at the top of Snowmass Mountain complete with an ice Viking “ghost” ship, sledding, snowbiking and s’mores by the bonfire. Wally, the new safety mascot, has helped Snowmass to expand a fun and dynamic kids’ safety message throughout the mountain.  Don’t miss the chance to see a paleontologist at work Thanks to Denver Museum of Nature & Science (DMNS) some fossils from the Snowmass Ice Age Discovery are now in the preparatory process at the Ice Age Discovery Center on the Snowmass Village Mall.  A scientist will be present to show and explain how the fossil preservation process works all ski season.  At the Aspen resorts kids stay, rent, ski and even eat  free  all March and April (as long as you book in advance and purchase lodging and a three day adult lift).

Deer Valley Resort in Park City, Utah consistently wins kudos from families for its service and food (as long as they are skiers—no snowboarding allowed) and The  ski-in ski-out  Stein Eriksen Lodge offers convenience,  understated luxury and pampering (check out the huge spa!) for everyone in the family. We like the roomy units and amazing Sunday Brunch.

At Lake Placid, NY, the home of two  winter Olympics, you can   take a luge or a bobsled ride down an Olympic track(with a driver!) , take the teens ice climbing, skate on the famous Olympic Oval as well as ski or ride at Whiteface Mountain.

There’s plenty of fun off the slopes too

Ride, Em Cowboy. Winter and spring are particularly special times of the year to experience everything a dude ranch  has to offer in some of the most spectacular areas of the country, from Colorado to Wyoming to the Southwest.  Think snow-covered sleigh rides, tubing, hot chocolate (and wine) by the fire.  Check out Vista Verde  Ranch  in Steamboat Springs, CO; See what I wrote about our stay at  at the C Lazy U Ranch in winter.

Explore Yellowstone National Park  where you can snowshoe, snowmobile,ride in a snow coach come face-to-face with a buffalo  and other wildlife and watch Old Faithful without huge crowds.

Zipline through the snow-covered trees  at snow resorts like Big Sky Montana  where you swoop your way down the mountain on four lines 150 feet above the forest;  On the East Coast, there’s the Bretton Woods Canopy Tour in New Hampshire in the heart of the White Mountains with nine cable zip lines and two adventure sky bridges some 165 feet above the ground.

Dogsled   at many snow resorts or sign on for several days of dogsledding adventures at places like the Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge in Ely, MN.

Experience Nature at its Best  with programs that get you outside whether you are staying at the Appalachian Mountain Club lodges in Northern New Hampshire ( I love that you can borrow all the gear and clothes you need ) or in Aspen where the  Aspen Center for Environmental Studies will take you on a guided snowshoe hike—even through a ghost town.

Look for late-season deals across the country from Vermont to Colorado, Utah and California

If everyone in your gang is a beginner, consider smaller mountains near where you live – Bolton Valley in Vermont right near Burlington is one of our faves, as is Mt. Rose in Lake Tahoe, California

Theme Parks in the Springtime

Family spring breaks are all the rage at theme parks, where all ages can find thrill rides and shows to their liking. 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.

Beginning in late March, SeaWorld is kicking off an 18-month -long 50th anniversary celebration with an new Shamu Show, prizes given out at the parks and more.

The Six Flags parks promise plenty of new thrills and family attractions too with new water rides (Bonzai Pipelines at Six Flags Hurricane Harbor in LA) , bigger kids’ areas (Six Flags Over Texas in Arlington, TX)  and  thrills. There will be something new at every park! 

Take a virtual tour of Africa at Busch Gardens Tampa, Fla and to Europe at Busch Gardens Williamsburg, VA—along with plenty of animal encounters, roller coasters and for the littlest park goers, at the Sesame Street Safari of Fun 

So many families come to Orlando for Spring Break—2.6 million visitors in March and April – that  you’ll see more kids here than any time of year except the summer but it won’t be nearly so hot.  Undercover Tourist can get you discounted theme park tickets shipped directly to your door. Get discounted car rentals too.  TheMagicard offer discounts on everything from attractions to accommodations and restaurants.

The theme parks are especially welcoming for those with special challenges too. (A tip: If you can, go after spring break and before summer for the best deals, or wait until September when prices drop again.)

Explore outside Orlando too.  An hour south is the “Space Coast” with the Kennedy Space Center, which offers a space camp and a number of picturesque beaches and nature refuges.

International Getaways

Maybe you’ve already seen the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame.  Maybe you’re more interested in food and shopping than museums and churches.  Whatever your gang’s interests, you’ll find it less crowded—and hot—in Paris, in spring, rather than summer with  tours to suit everyone’s interests.  Look for my travel diaries  from my recent trip.  A tip: Invest in a Paris Pass that gets you entry to museums and top attractions but more important, insures that you don’t have to wait on long lines that stretch outside.

Have locals show you around—for free!  That would be Paris Greeters, which like Big Apple Greeters in NYC are part of the Global Greeter Network.  You connect via the website with a volunteer who lives in Paris and wants to show you  a  favorite neighborhood  and is available when you are in town.  No worries. You’ll be matched with someone who speaks English.   Here’s what I wrote about our experience.

You can also sign on for tours led by locals through companies like Tours by Locals where you choose your guide based on your interest and then communicate directly with them.  Another plus: You pay by the tour, not per person and you can customize the tour based on your interest.  For example, if you have kids in the group, or foodies.

Teens love Amsterdam, and it isn’t only because Marijuana is legal.  It’s because the city is so picturesque, everyone seems young and fit,  you can bike everywhere, the Waterloople in Flea Market  is fun  and there are first rate museums—including the  Van Gogh Museum, the Rijksmuseum  and of course the Anne Frank Museum.  Here’s what I wrote about touring Amsterdam with two teens.  I was glad we got the Amsterdam Card, which gave us access to museums and a host of other discounts that save us significant bucks.

Montreal is a great way to give the kids a bonafide foreign experience without having to cross the ocean.  They can practice their French, eat crepes and onion soup, shop till you drop or hit a museum including Montreal’s Space for Life, Canada’s largest natural science museum with a botanical garden, insectarium, and new Planetarium.  Everyone loves Mount Royal—right in the middle of the city and the Sun Life Olympic Park Esplanade which has been certified a “Children friendly Institution by local parents.  Skateboarders especially like the Big “O” a concrete tunnel built for the 1976 summer Olympics that now is considered a top place in the world for skateboarders.

We also love Vancouver with its museums (the Vancouver Aquarium is sure to please with its beluga whales, Pacific white-sided dolphins, Sea otters, Steller sea lions and more) outdoor adventures (just walking over the Capilano Suspension Bridge is an adventure) and fantastic food from around the world. Kayak, hike, rollerblade, bike or tour world-class museums. Did we mention Vancouver is a spectacularly beautiful city?

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Special thanks to Andrea Timpano 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.


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