On a fall getaway when they’re too little for school

Our kids in a Wisconsin pumpkin patch in the late 1980s

By Eileen Ogintz

Tribune Media Services

You are so lucky.

Sure you have to drag a diaper bag (not to mention stroller, car seat and a generous supply of Goldfish) everywhere you go, you haven’t had a full night’s sleep in you can’t remember when and the dire economic news makes you wonder how you’ll ever pay for preschool, much less college, but then there’s the bright side — travel-wise, anyway. While everyone else is up to their ears in carpools, homework and soccer games, you’re free to get out of town.

You gleefully avoid traveling during the crowded (and pricey) school break weeks, which means you not only pay less but garner more attention for your little darlings — better service for you too. You’ll curry favor from co-workers for working those weeks they desperately need off. The best part: You’ve got your pick of places to go this fall — some just a short drive or train ride from home — that not only won’t bust the budget but will welcome diaper-wearing, Goldfish-toting babies and toddlers. Choose smart and you can grab a bargain, especially right now as the travel industry — just as jittery as the rest of us — trots out an array of deals with plenty of extras thrown in. (How many resort credits can you use in a long weekend?) You might even manage a little time for romance — or at least for an afternoon nap. There are plenty of good bets for single moms and dads too.

Don’t let the hurricanes scare you off either. (Just make sure you’ve got the right travel insurance!) If your kids love Elmo and Ernie, book a seven-night stay at the all-inclusive Beaches Resorts (www.beaches.com) in Jamaica until Nov. 15 and get two free nights (up to 45 percent off regular rates) and stay a week for under $3,000 for a family of four. During October, Beaches will waive single-parent supplements and offer a host of special single-parent activities. There are live shows with Gordon and Elmo, Abby Cadabby’s own stage show, a complimentary baby portrait, and special activities for grandparents who’ve come along.

The all-new Sheraton Nassau Beach Resort (www.sheraton.com/nassau), with its adventure club for kids, starting at age four, offers the Love Your Family deal — (dive-in movies or stargazing anyone?), which includes a $100 resort credit each day, while kids, five and under, eat free and get free milk and juice throughout the resort with a special souvenir cup. The beach is gorgeous, as are the three pools, including one that’s a zero-entry pool, ideal for the littlest swimmers in the crowd.

If you don’t want to go as far as Nassau, but still want an all-inclusive experience, consider Club Med Sandpiper in Florida (www.clubmed.us), which offers daycare for infants, a Baby Gym program and a new Crayola Creativity program that will let you and your littlest artists create together. (When was the last time you had time to draw a sidewalk mural with your preschooler?) Visit Club Med’s Website and you can even download art activities to keep kids entertained on the trip there. All-inclusive rates start at under $800 per adult per week. Even better, kids under 2 stay free; kids 2 to 3 years old stay for 70 percent off and those 4 and older stay for 50 percent off.

Hit a living history museum where you’ll find all kinds of hands-on activities. At Mystic Seaport in Connecticut (www.mysticseaport.org), kids seven and under have their own children’s museum where they can “cook” dressed in sailor’s garb and try out a ship’s bunk. At Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia (www.history.org), preschoolers can explore museum galleries through special activities, hear stories that entertained young children in the 18th century, make a patriotic souvenir and see all of the farm animals. (Check out the well-priced Autumn Splendor package where a family of four, with two kids under the age of six, can stay at a Williamsburg resort hotel for $100 a night, breakfast and museum admission included.

Vermont, meanwhile, isn’t just for leaf peepers in the fall. Smugglers’ Notch Resort (www.smuggs.com), known for its stellar family programs, offers some of the lowest rates of the year through mid-October, with four-night packages starting at just over $700, including daycare at the resort’s first-rate children’s center, a daily afternoon family program and extensive guided hikes, art classes and more for parents (and grandparents). All of the accommodations are in roomy condos. You can find other well-priced deals at ski resorts from New England to California where there is plenty of biking, hiking and leaves to jump in. Got the baby backpack?

You’ll find even better deals if you can take a few days off during the week rather than the weekend. Myrtle Beach (www.myrtlebeach.travel) — where it’s not too cold to play on the 60 miles of beach — touts weekday deals for under $100 a night, while historic Mohonk Mountain House (www.mohonk.com), which sits on 2,200 acres in the Hudson Valley north of New York City, has slashed the rates on its private cottages by 40 percent midweek.

If you’d prefer a weekend getaway, head to the city nearest your home. (The kids will think it’s a real adventure, if you take the train!) When was the last time you saw the city from a small child’s perspective? It is an entirely different place! Check out the city’s official tourism Website to see what hotel deals you can find for a night or two, or a Website like www.hotels.com. Spend the afternoon at a children’s museum, aquarium, or the discovery room of the art or science center. In Philadelphia, for example, the Children’s Please Touch Museum (www.pleasetouchmuseum.org) is reopening with a Victorian-era carousel and a model of the Statue of Liberty torch made of toys (the real torch, in case you are wondering, was first seen in this historic building during the Centennial expedition. You’ll enjoy the collection of thousands of toys and games, which date back to 1945, as much as the kids. Consider Chicago where the Adler Planetarium (www.adlerplanetarium.org) is opening a new “Sesame Street”-themed sky show in mid-October created in partnership with the Beijing planetarium.

Find a place to stay in San Diego for as little as $59 a night (www.sandiego.org/happiness). There’s Legoland, Sea World and the world-famous San Diego Zoo (www.sandiegozoo.org) where kids 11 and under are admitted free in October.

Say hello to the pandas for me. And just make sure that wherever you go, you’ve got plenty of Goldfish.

(c) 2008 EILEEN OGINTZ DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.

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