51 Great Ideas for Your Best Family Summer Vacation Ever

Summer is the time to reconnect and relax with family, to recreate favorite childhood memories and make new ones together. Do you see the family lying on a beach, splashing around a resort pool, hiking mountain trails, learning history from a national park ranger, exploring a new city, being thrilled by an exotic adventure or braving new theme park rides?

To make your summer fantasy the best one ever, we present 51 great summer vacation ideas with our partners at The Family Travel Forum. Teens can write about your trip for our 12th annual Teen Travel Writing Scholarship, too. We guarantee there is a memorable getaway, and a practical and affordable one, for everyone.

Rafting on the Klamath with OARS (photo: Josh Miller)
Rafting on the Klamath with OARS (photo: Josh Miller)

1. ADVENTURES ON THE RIVER  Celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act this summer on a family rafting adventure on Northern California’s Lower Klamath River, Idaho’s Salmon River or on the Green River through Desolation Canyon in Utah. Veteran outfitter, OARS offers one- to six-day professionally guided trips for families with kids as young as 4 years old. Trips include all rafting and camping equipment, gourmet meals, and no wi-fi, no cell service, no distractions. Request your free copy of the 2018 O.A.R.S. Family Adventures Catalog today and if the dates don’t work out, use it to inspire a private adventure for your extended family or friends.

2. AGRITOURISM AND FARM STAYS Well recognized in Europe, farm stays and farm vacations are gaining popularity as more farms offer overnight lodging, meals and a peek into the agricultural lifestyle. Our agritourism holiday guide is 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. Check out the online directories of working farms and ranches across the U.S. and abroad.

Meet sled dog puppies on a Princess Cruises shore excursion in Alaska. Photo c. Carnival Cruise Lines
Meet sled dog puppies on a Princess Cruises shore excursion in Alaska. Photo c. Carnival Cruise Lines

3. ALASKA TOURING Sail the Inside Passage on many large cruise lines including Princess Cruises, with round trip Los Angeles itineraries and more ships in Alaska than any other line. Guests are encouraged to engage with the environment – by meeting sled dog puppies brought on board, exploring the custom-designed wilderness treehouse at Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge, or testing their Alaska knowledge against the lodge’s resident naturalist. Princess is rolling out its new Camp Discovery Youth & Teen Centers developed in partnership with Discovery Channel fleetwide, and they’ll be on Grand Princess in Alaska. But you can also tour Alaska on a different kind of trip, whether you want to fish for Salmon in the Kenai River, stay at a rustic lodge, opt for an adventure cruise with daily kayak trips and hikes or even see Glacier Bay from a restored World War II Mine Sweeper. Holland America Line offers an upscale, multigenerational Alaska experience on a mid-sized ship, if your family prefers that to Caribbean, South America or Europe routes. In December 2018, Nieuw Statendam joins the fleet, as the company undergoes $300 million in brand enhancements. On land in Alaska, you can also stay in Camp Denali  or go on an Alaska Custom Hummer Excursion in Juneau with a chauffeur-guide.

4. AMERICAN HISTORY One of the best places to learn about American history is Boston, Massachusetts. The Freedom Trail and Boston National Historical Park are free educational destinations where you can plan ahead for tours; see The Kids Guide to Boston for other sightseeing ideas whether you’re with little ones or college hunting teens. Philadelphia is another great city for history. Independence National Park is a spread out urban ‘park’ that conserves Independence Hall (where the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were debated) as well as the Liberty Bell, Betsy Ross’ house and more; there are several free tours scheduled on weekends. Philly is popular with teens, too, and both cities have great local cafes for stops between the history lessons.

Beach Boys lounging at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess
Beach Boys lounging at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess

5. ARIZONA’S PLAYGROUND: SCOTTSDALE  Ice cream cones and cannonballs, favorite songs, sunshine, sandcastles and spending time with family: what’s your favorite summer memory? This year, make it your best summer ever at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, this AAA Five Diamond play-cation paradise is the perfect backdrop for families to make memories to last a lifetime. Summer weekends mean cool rides down waterslides, wiggling toes in the sugar white sand of Sunset Beach, plus H2 Glow pool parties, Dive In movies, virtual reality roller coasters, Mermaid University and fishing derbies at the lagoon with Ranger Rick, with most activities being complimentary for overnight guests. Upon arrival, families meet Bixby and Gibbs, the resort’s loving, lobby canine ambassadors and kids also receive a Summer at the Princess ball cap at the children’s check-in desk. With water, water everywhere, pools are the place to be and the Princess has six, from it largest and newest – Sunset Beach with games with the Fairmont Funergy team – and two other pools just for grown-ups.  his summer, culinary masters are creating a “wow” at the resort’s top-rated Bourbon Steak, La Hacienda, Toro Latin Restaurant & Rum Bar and Ironwood American Kitchen.   After dinner, fireworks light up the sky Saturday evenings and the holiday weekends of Memorial Day, 4th of July and Labor Day offer an even greater line-up of festivities.             The “Best. Summer. Ever.” vacation package starts from $179 per night and includes a $50 resort credit and a complimentary photo session with the Princess’ Instagram Concierge. This package is bookable now for stays May 28 – September 4. For details, call (480) 585-4848 or visit www.scottsdaleprincess.com.

6. ASHEVILLE ART SCENE From May 17- Oct. 7, 2018, Asheville N.C. is celebrating Summer of Glass with a show of dazzling Dale Chihuly sculptures adorning the lush Frederick Law Olmsted gardens at the Biltmore Estate. Take a break from your Blue Ridge Parkway road trip to hop a Gray Line Trolley and tour several galleries, or check out the Black Mountain College Museum + Art Center, Center for Craft Creativity and Design, and the nonprofit, public-access glass studio at North Carolina Glass Center. Travel packages including hotel, Chihuly tickets and a make-your-own drinking glass workshop at Lexington Glassworks are available at Aloft Asheville Downtown from about $420 for two.

7. BEACHES South from Maine to Florida, East coast and regional families have plenty of beautiful beaches to choose from. The weather is usually more predictable and the Atlantic Ocean is warmer the farther south you go. Without jumping straight to Florida, your family can find rentals at tranquil Bethany Beach in Delaware and deeper south in Virginia Beach, Virginia with its extensive and well-known boardwalk jammed with restaurants and shops. We recommend Myrtle Beach for older kids and active families. It has golf, amusement parks, shopping malls, the Grand Strand boardwalk and a variety of beachfront family resorts at all price points.

8. BLACK HISTORY & CULTURE 2018 marks the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination, a time to revisit that momentous event. Museums and historic sites around the country are putting the civil rights struggle in context for 21st century kids, from the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC to the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site in Kansas. In Alabama, visit the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail, the Birmingham Civil Rights and the Freedom Riders National Monuments, and Montgomery’s new Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice commemorating slave history. In Jackson, Mississippi, the new Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, the first state-funded civil rights museum, has won high marks for honestly telling the story of the struggle for civil rights and the continuing efforts today. It offers interactive exhibits and stories from people who fought for civil rights in Mississippi.

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9. CARIBBEAN Caribbean islands are popular with families in the summer because rates are so much less than in winter, and the beaches and cultural attractions are just as appealing. This summer, we’re seeing a refreshed Bermuda, where activities go from beach to spelunking, marine exploration and dolphin encounters to electric cars. The posh Hamilton Princess opens the Prince & Princess Kid’s Club June 18 in a new home to share activities and Bermudian culture with ages 4-10. Since many islands have just recovered from last summer’s bad hurricane season (did we mention that travel insurance is a wise idea?), you’ll find excellent values – like $149 per night suites at Princess Heights Hotel in Sint Maarten — and restoration projects that the family can volunteer on together. Look for deals that include kids-free meals and activities. Consider Antigua, spared from last season’s hurricanes, where Curtain Bluff is both upscale and kid-friendly. And if your kids are pining to go to Atlantis in the Bahamas, consider staying at the newly renovated Comfort Suites next door where breakfast is free and you have access to all that Atlantis has to offer.

Get fit at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis Sports Legends Experience and realize your potential! Photo c. Children’s Museum of Indianapolis
Get fit at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis Sports Legends Experience and realize your potential! Photo c. Children’s Museum of Indianapolis

10. CHILDREN’S FITNESS & FAMILY FUN  The world’s largest children’s museum just got bigger with the opening of the 7.5-acre Riley Children’s Health Sports Legends Experience at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. The new national model for health and fitness is not just for kids. It is immersive and highly interactive with sports activities for all ages, sizes and abilities. It’s a place where families can learn rules, strategies, good sportsmanship and teamwork together. Practice skills and drills to improve in a variety of sports at the Indiana Pacers and Indiana Fever Basketball Experience, Indianapolis Colts Football Experience, Indy Fuel Hockey Experience, Indianapolis Motor Speedway Pedal Car Racing Experience and even The Fantasy Tree House of Sports — 60 feet tall and designed for children and kids at heart to climb and explore. Each miniature sports experience offers age-appropriate equipment and hands-on activities designed to get the whole family working together as a team. In June, life-sized bronze statues of sports stars will be installed within the experience along an area called the Old National Bank Avenue of Champions. There, visitors will learn the path to success taken by sports legends like Wayne Gretzky, Larry Bird, Hank Aaron and Tamika Catchings.

11. CITY LIGHTS Even if you just have a long weekend, consider a city stay. Denver is a great bet for families with so much green space, the chance to watch the Rockies right downtown and hands-on activities in every gallery of the Denver Art Museum. Leave the car at home and take the train and rely on public transportation – you can even take the light-rail right from the airport to Union Station. Hit a museum or two, hike and have some good eats. Check local tourist offices and sites like Groupon and RetailMeNot for restaurant and activity coupons. Let each child plan a day of the itinerary. You will be amazed where they lead you.

12. COLLEGE TOURING Leave the little ones behind and opt for some one-on-one time with your high school junior or senior. Stay in a B&B near the campus you want to tour so you can collect some intel from locals. Try not to cram too many schools into one trip and check out resources like GoSeeCampus.com, a free website offering an online college trip planner for high school students and parents.

The luxurious Seabourn Ovation at sea. Photo c. Carnival Cruise Lines
The luxurious Seabourn Ovation at sea. Photo c. Carnival Cruise Lines

13. CRUISE   Cruises are good bets for families, whether the kids are preschoolers (organized activities), teens (all they can eat, a safe place to roam) or grandparents — plus you have more than 20 homeport cities that host the major cruise lines. Affluent couples traveling with grown children (or extended family without kids) might opt for Carnival Corporation’s ultra luxury  Seabourn brand , introducing its fifth  ship, Seabourn Ovation, to the fleet this month. Carrying just 600 guests, the all-suite Ovation offers amenities those accustomed to traveling first class expect — a private veranda spacious enough for al fresco dining, elegant bedding, a walk-in closet, movies, music, radio and TV on demand, a marble bathroom with separate bath and shower and even a mini-fridge stocked according to guest preferences. With kids, you can’t beat Carnival Cruise Line’s newest ship, Carnival Horizon, which sails four-day Bermuda and eight-day Caribbean cruises from New York after this spring’s inaugural Europe season. The 133,500-ton vessel offers a variety of unique and exciting innovations, including the first-ever Dr. Seuss water park, the line’s first teppanyaki venue and Smokehouse Brewhouse featuring four craft beers brewed on board and real-deal barbecue with tantalizing menu items created by longtime Carnival partner and Food Network star Guy Fieri. The ship, second in the line’s highly successful Vista-class, also features such popular features as the bike-ride-in-the-sky attraction called SkyRide, the cocktail pharmacy-themed Alchemy Bar, the Havana section with its own Cuban-themed bar and pool, and Family Harbor with the Family Harbor Lounge. Read about Eileen Ogintz’ non-stop activities on her cruise aboard Horizon’s sister ship Vista. Eileen also reports on the topic of cruise safety –  the subject of lifeguards aboard ships, water safety measures and the importance of adult supervision.

14. CULTURAL EXCHANGE IN CUBA According to recent surveys, Cuba is one of the top summer cruise destinations. The island’s trade winds guarantee a temperate climate and the rush of airlines and kid-friendly cruises makes it even more enticing. Contact tour operators or travel agents for information on Norwegian Sky, sailing 4-day itineraries with an overnight in Havana; or Royal Caribbean’s smaller Empress of the Seas, featuring salsa lessons and a café con lechebar on 4, 5 and 6-night trips from the port of Tampa. Here’s what kids had to say about experiencing Cuba on the first ship to sail into Havana in nearly 60 years.

15. EUROPE’S LESSER-KNOWN GEMS  With destinations such as Barcelona, Amsterdam and Venice suffering from overtourism, this is the summer to head off the beaten path. Have you considered the beautiful Baltic Sea beaches in eastern Germany, which are much cheaper than France or Spain? Charming Windsor in the English countryside, site of the recent Royal Wedding and home to Legoland, has free family multimedia tours on weekends. Berlin is cheaper than Paris and Rome and is considered perhaps the hippest city in Europe. Edinburgh, Scotland is where J.K. Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book, and you can see the sights that inspired her, as well as Edinburgh Castle. If you have travelers under age 26, look into the Eurostar sale through May 31, offering youth tickets from $49 for use throughout the summer on new routes from the U.K. to mainland Europe.

16. FOOD TOURS, COOKING CLASSES AND FARMERS MARKETS Food tours are a great way to introduce kids to a new culture whether you are in Athens, San Francisco (try Wok Wiz Chinatown Walking Tours) or London. Whether you have a child that enjoys decorating sugar cookies or you are an adult trying to perfect your coq au vin, odds are there is also a local cooking class at your travel destination. Sites like Cozymeal.com pair local chefs with visitors who want to learn how to prepare dishes. For authentically Italian pizza, check out the family-friendly cooking tours in Italy by Cooking-Vacations and those in Paris with La Cuisine Paris. Here are five ways to make food a fun part of vacation.

17. FLORIDA When you think Florida you probably conjure up beaches, watersports and theme parks and, why not? However, many people are not as aware of Florida’s extensive park system which features its natural wonders, camping facilities, historic museums and more. If you’re still looking for America’s best beach, Clearwater, famous for its miles of white sand and luxurious but well-priced family resorts, just won TripAdvisor’s Best Beach Reader’s Choice Award. This town is also home to Winter the Dolphin, who has inspired millions. Because she was rescued after an accident and has thrived with a prosthetic flipper, Winter draws visitors facing their own challengers to the Clearwater Aquarium.

18. GULF COAST FAVORITES  Florida’s Paradise Coast is an ideal summer vacation destination. You can slow down the pace and enjoy the sunshine state without wandering around jam-packed theme parks. Instead, take advantage of countless choices along the Gulf of Mexico shores for family-friendly and entertaining activities. You’ll find interactive experiences at the Dalton Discovery Center and a show with Presley impersonators at the annual Tupelo Elvis Festival during the first week in June.

19. HAWAII Summer is an ideal time to visit Hawaii, especially with hotels such as the Aqua Kauai Beach Resort. This hotel was recently renovated and has a new deluxe-room category- with modern décor throughout as well as mountain, lagoon, pool and ocean view rooms. While you are on the Island be sure to check out the annual Hawaiian Cultural Festival and BioBlitz at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

20. HOUSEBOATING Going house boating is a super laid-back vacation option for families. An average houseboat is similar to a Winnebago mounted on twin pontoons. Rentals range in length from 44 to 75 feet and the largest can sleep 12 people comfortably. You will feel like you are in a home afloat. A good place to set sail is Lake Powell which starts in northern Arizona and extends into southern Utah. The natural beauty of Arizona’s Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is breathtaking.

The Toy Story Land opening is part of the incredible excitement at Walt Disney World for summer 2018. Rendering c. Walt Disney World
The Toy Story Land opening is part of the incredible excitement at Walt Disney World for summer 2018. Rendering c. Walt Disney World

21. INCREDIBLE DISNEY WORLD SUMMER  The latest attraction at Orlando’s Disney World is at Magic Kingdom, with the premiere May 25 of the Incredible Tomorrowland Expo that celebrates all things super. Guests will interact with Mr. Incredible, Frozone and other characters from Disney•Pixar’s “The Incredibles” and upcoming “Incredibles 2.” And, for the first time ever, you’ll meet Edna Mode, the world’s greatest costume designer for the Supers. The capstone of the Incredible Summer at Walt Disney World is the June 30 opening of Toy Story Land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Part of a multi-year reimagining of the park, the 11-acre land will transport guests into the adventurous outdoors of Andy’s backyard and feature two new attractions. Slinky Dog Dash is a family-friendly coaster that will send riders dipping, dodging and dashing around turns and drops that Andy has created to stretch Slinky and his coils to the max. “Toy Story” pals also come to life in another fresh-from-the-box themed attraction – Alien Swirling Saucers. This Pizza Planet playset is loaded with aliens circling about in their flying saucers pulling along rocket ships full of guests. The new land includes the quick-service Woody’s Lunch Box and encompasses one of the park’s most popular attractions, Toy Story Mania!, which gets a brand-new entrance designed to look like a play set filled with carnival games. And, in addition to the 20th anniversary celebrations at Disney’s Animal Kingdom (Donald’s Dino-Bash! opens Memorial Day Weekend),  the year-old Pandora – The World of Avatar continues to attract huge crowds; even food is a popular part of the adventure.

22. KIAWAH ISLAND GOLF RESORT This South Carolina resort has it all for family fun, but it is best known for being voted the #1 tennis resort in the world at TennisResortsOnline.com. The Roy Barth Tennis Center and the West Beach Tennis Club both offer a weekly menu of programs for adults and juniors. In addition to golf and tennis at the resort, there are bike trails, kayaks, fishing and camp Kiawah which offers activities for kids.

23. MAINE Whatever you want to do outdoors — hike, kayak, paddleboard, fish, bike — you can do it in Maine, as big as all the other New England states combined with over 5,000 miles of coastline, 6,000 lakes and ponds and of course, L.L. Bean in Freeport which is open 24/7. Take your foodies to Portland where you can cruise on Casco Bay. You’ll find beaches, amusement parks, mini-golf and outlet malls on the southern coast and plenty of fishing villages mid-coast. Go out on a lobster boat or join a rustic, three-night Windjammer cruise around the islands. Mount Desert Island is home to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park. Check out Eileen’s new Kid’s Guide to Maine for more ideas.

24. MEXICO The country’s Riviera Maya coast attracts history and archeology buffs to its ancient Mayan sites at Tulum and Coba, making the Kid Stays Free deal at the all-inclusive Iberostar Playa Paraiso Golf & Spa complex a good one. From May 1-Oct. 31, one child 12 and under can stay and play and dine free with two paying adults, on minimum three-night stays. Family rooms (one king bed and a guaranteed connecting double room) are styled with fun décor, kids’ minibar and kids’ room service menus. Have two kids under 13? Head to the 5-star, all-inclusive Iberostar Cozumel. Two Kids Stay Free and play at the Cozumel resort, ideally located near a coral reef for snorkelers and divers. Expect a laid-back style with bungalow rooms that feature hammocks, natural landscaping and amenities that make it green-certified. Since summer begins the traditional hurricane season, be sure to purchase travel insurance covering your entire vacation.

25. MONTREAL Quebec’s major city offers options to experience a new culture and country without going too far from home, and at great prices. The annual summer comedy festival is always a big draw, as is the International Festival de Jazz de Montreal, this year from June 28- July 7. Artists range from Seal to Boz Scaggs and there are lots of kids’ activities, play areas and relaxing places for families to watch. Plus, did we mention most concerts are free of charge? At La Ronde, a Six Flags amusement park in Montreal, Carnaval en Folie re-creates the festive atmosphere of the fairs and carnivals of yesterday. Try the three new rides: the Toubillon carousel, Petite Roue Ferris wheel, and Tour du Fou, a high-flying merry-go-round.

26. MUSEUMS FOCUS ON WOMEN Every family will probably visit at least one museum this summer, so let’s show our kids the ways women have contributed and made a difference in our history. If you are visiting Jamestown Settlement in Virginia’s Historic Triangle, for example, highlight the real story of Pocahontas, who helped ferry food to the starving English settlers in Jamestown and was considered a sign of peace for helping John Smith avoid execution. In New York’s Hudson Valley, you can visit Eleanor Roosevelt’s house Val-Kil, the only National Historic Site dedicated to a first lady. It’s located on the estate that was the home of Franklin D. Roosevelt in Hyde Park, N.Y. The Georgia O’Keefe Museum in Santa Fe, N.M., showcases not only one of the most significant artists of the 20th century, but also offers insight into the way she used the world around her to inspire her work.

Adventure out on the Aerial Bridge during the Expedition Zip Line Tour at Breckenridge, Colorado. Photo c. Andrew Maguire, Breckenridge Epic Discovery
Adventure out on the Aerial Bridge during the Expedition Zip Line Tour at Breckenridge, Colorado. Photo c. Andrew Maguire, Breckenridge Epic Discovery

27. MOUNTAIN HIGH SUMMER DISCOVERY Summer 2018 marks the first full season of Epic Discovery at Breckenridge Ski Resort, the perfect opportunity to get outside and experience the resort destination on a whole other level – more than 10,000 feet above sea-level to be exact. Late last summer, Breckenridge debuted Epic Discovery, launching new summer outdoor activities designed to immerse guests in Breck’s High Alpine environment. Alpine Camp is the heart of the new activities and adventures at Breck, the place to zip, climb, soar and explore on the Expedition Zip Line Tour, Alpineer Challenge Course, Gold Summit Climbing Wall, Observation Tower and Interpretive Hiking Loop. Epic Discovery at Breck provides a connected on-mountain summer experience for the whole family, with a combination of big-time thrills that allow all ages to challenge themselves physically, guide them to explore and better understand their natural surroundings, and ultimately create lifelong memories. Escape the heat and smog at Breckenridge and enjoy all that this friendly mountain destination has to offer.

28. NATIONAL PARKS Let’s #FindYourPark this season and raise a Junior Ranger; the new Passport to Your National Parks Junior Ranger Edition features interactive content and the chance for kids to collect park stamps, getting them “canceled” at each visit. But crowds can be frustrating for families, as Eileen discovered last summer, searching unsuccessfully for a parking place at Rocky Mountain National Park trailheads. All the more reason to consider less visited parks, especially with younger kids who won’t be able to handle a park’s most epic hikes and experiences. For example, North Cascades National Park, which has more than 300 glaciers, gets just over 30,000 visitors a year. The Black Canyon of the Gunnison has some of the steepest cliffs in North America but gets just over 300,000 visitors a year. And if you are intrigued by Yellowstone’s thermal features, consider Lassen Volcanic National Park in California with acres of bubbling mud pots and other hydrothermal sites, but with less than 600,000 visitors a year — as compared to Yellowstone’s 3.6 million. Check out our Top 10 National Parks for Family Vacations and keep in mind that at all parks and monuments, park rangers provide special activities free of charge.

29. NEW MEXICO ENCHANTED The Land of Enchantment offers a great mix of history and culture in Santa Fe, Albuquerque and Taos, as well as the opportunities to learn Native American history and experience outdoor adventures. Don’t miss this year’s Arts and Crafts Show benefitting Girls Inc. of Santa Fe where you can buy handmade items. It will take place on August 4 -5, 2018. And you and the kids can see historic adobe structures during a road trip tour with 11 scenic stops.

30. NEW YORK CITY The Big Apple is tops on every family’s wish list and it is easy to understand why — from Broadway shows to world-class museums, multiple neighborhoods to explore, Central Park, professional sports teams as well as delicious food and the outstanding 9/11 Memorial Museum ( best with ages 10+). Midtown is booming too, with new attractions such as National Geographic’s Ocean Odyssey, the world in miniature at Gulliver’s Gate and the International Spy Museum. Eileen Ogintz’ The Kid’s Guide to New York City has lots more ideas to keep the kids busy.

31. OREGON Southern Oregon is a family vacation heaven only 7 hours north of San Francisco and 4 hours south of Portland by car. Two of the main attractions are The Oregon Shakespeare Festival and the popular Family Days that feature a play to be shared between an adult and a child (ages 6-17). The presentation includes a Prologue by the Education Staff. And youth aged 6-17 get a 30 percent discount on tickets. Eugene is a fun town for historic sightseeing, as these kids report. Other fun activities include a trip to Crater Lake National Park, where you can go whitewater rafting on the famous Rogue River, or a visit to the first rate Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport.

32. ORLANDO OPTIONS If you can get away, May is the best time to visit Orlando, before the waiting times and prices increase for summer. We’re city fans because in addition to the theme parks, there’s so much else to do: great outlet mall shopping, several small art museums, lots of fun dining experiences and sports events like the 38th annual Veterans Wheelchair Games, July 29-August 4, when veterans compete in 19 sports including table tennis, weightlifting, archery, softball, bowling, track and field and more. The news at Universal is the Fast & Furious Supercharged immersive experience, but even better for those traveling with little ones, the new Virtual Line system. Guests can select a time to ride via an app or at park kiosks, then enjoy other experiences throughout the park until it’s their ride time. At SeaWorld Orlando, where Florida preschoolers visit free this summer, learn about the animal rescue experts who have helped more than 31,000 animals in need. Legoland Florida is premiering the Great LEGO Race, a virtual reality roller coaster – a ride inside a LEGO race. Just an hour from Orlando is the Space Coast and the Kennedy Space Center, whose space camp, cool Mars exhibits and astronaut encounters allow everyone’s imagination to take flight. Orlando boasts hundreds of hotels, with value ones in fun places like Disney Springs — where you get theme park ambiance without having to buy park tickets – at just $82 per night till June 15.

33. PACIFIC COAST HIGHWAY, ROUTE 1 California’s stunning coastal route has attracted road trippers for generations, but that shouldn’t discourage you from making the famous drive between Los Angeles and San Francisco (the most popular stretch). Start your days early to avoid traffic, plan your route using our suggested Route 1 Roadtrip itinerary, and be sure to plan fun stops along the way. One classic inn is the oceanview Hofsas House Hotel in Carmel-by-the-Sea, an ideal place to take a day off from driving to immerse yourself at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Family suites (two bedroom, two baths and kitchen) sleeping up to six, including breakfast and WiFi, start at $265 per night in summer. Universal Studios Hollywood (Harry Potter Land) or Legoland. And you can visit surfing towns like Huntington Beach, explore museums and restaurants in San Francisco, or gawk at the movie stars in Hollywood.  San Pedro is a cool harbor town, homeport to many cruise lines and Santa Monica‘s pier boasts rides and a carousel at Pacific Ocean Park. To the south, commune with animals at the famous San Diego Zoo or SeaWorld, or visit the 15 major museums and entertainment venues at Balboa Park.

34. PENNSYLVANIA AND THE DUTCH COUNTRY You can plan a simple roadtrip that combines Amish culture in Lancaster County, in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch Country, with Hershey Park fun. Learn about a different culture when you visit the Amish Village interpretive attraction where kids can ask all the questions they want. And anyone who likes chocolate will love Hershey Park with its roller coasters and free chocolate samples at Hershey’s Chocolate World.

35. ROAD TRIPS Taking a road trip is a classic American family vacation. Even though there are challenges (“I have to go to the bathroom” and “He touched me!”) they seem to create sweet memories that families can re-live over the years. So, we have compiled our Top 10 Family Road Trips USA for your perusal. And, if you take the Grand Canyon to Las Vegas trip, check out 14 things to do in LV.  They are all free and family-friendly, so they have nothing to do with gambling at a casino.

Guests at dude ranches can look forward to horseback rides on beautiful wilderness trails. Photo c. Dude Ranchers Association
Guests at dude ranches can look forward to horseback rides on beautiful wilderness trails. Photo c. Dude Ranchers Association

36.RODEOS, COWBOYS AND COWGIRLS  Do you prefer gazing into a crackling fire instead of at a computer screen? Then get a taste of authentic American West at a dude ranch. With over 100 carefully chosen member ranches, the Dude Ranchers Association has a ranch vacation that is a good match for your family. These ranches are in the most picturesque regions of the USA and Canada near historic sites and national parks. Each has its own unique history, incredible horseback riding tailored to the rider’s age and ability, and exciting outdoor adventures like white water rafting, paradise fishing on scenic rivers, fun hay rides, hikes and golfing. The Dude Ranchers Association guarantees the lodging industry’s highest standards, with options ranging from rustic cabins to top end ranch resorts. Whether you’re anxious to get back on a horse or want to slip your foot into a stirrup for the first time, a dude ranch vacation surrounds you with landscapes so magnificent in their beauty that many of them are national parks. The prices, programs and activities vary at each, making the association’s website a great place to begin your search.

37. RIVER CRUISES CroisiEurope, Tauck and Uniworld river cruises increasingly are catering to families with special itineraries and activities. Adventures by Disney also offers special sailings. For those that want to bypass big ships and have a more relaxed experience, this can be a great way to go, as you only need to pack and unpack once, can opt in or out of the excursions — they are all included in the itinerary and free on some lines — and the ships are small enough so that most kids age 9 and older can comfortably explore on their own. Backroads offers special trips-within-a-trip for active families on AMA Waterways; here is what Eileen wrote about a Backroads bike trip in Europe that used a river cruiseship as a floating hotel.

38. SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS  This is a city that boasts more than 300 days a year of sunshine. It is hot, dry and busy in the summer because of The Alamo, America’s latest UNESCO World Heritage Site and Texas’ most visited historic landmark. Your kids can learn about the famous 1836 battle and visit the beautiful 300-year-old former Spanish Mission turned fortress, along with one of the nearby family or multimedia attractions that illuminate the story. The expanded Riverwalk, an entertaining riverfront promenade lined with cafes and biking paths, is the best place to go when you are not boating, touring SeaWorld, or visiting one of the nearby ranches or resorts.

39. SEATTLE AND SAN JUAN ISLANDS  Seattle is an excellent bet for family fun from the original Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI) store to Tully’s Coffee; to a world-class aquarium where you can learn all about Puget Sound sea life; and to Pike Place Market, the classic and colorful fish and produce market. Seattle is also synonymous with Microsoft, and their new Museum of History and Industry may inspire your kids to put on their thinking caps to become innovators and entrepreneurs. From there, head offshore to the San Juan Islands for the chance to kayak and see Orcas in their home environment; there are several guided boat tours and charming little bed & breakfasts, inns and camp sites on the islands.

40. SKI COUNTRY SUMMERS An off season ski resort should be a bargain whether you head to Steamboat Springs or Snowmass in Colorado (weekly rodeos and free concerts); Park City, Utah (careen down an alpine coaster or the Olympic bobsled track) or hike through Big Sky and Jackson Hole, among many other almost-four-season resorts. The good news is that lodging is a lot cheaper in summer at snow resorts and you don’t need a pricey lift ticket to hike or bike.  It likely won’t be as hard to get into restaurants either. Here’s an account of Eileen’s Mother/Daughter summer visit to Snowmass.

The popular ‘Paint the Night’ parade returns to the Disneyland Resort for Pixar Fest, this time making its way through Disney California Adventure Park. Photo by Joshua Sudock/Disneyland Resort
The popular ‘Paint the Night’ parade returns to the Disneyland Resort for Pixar Fest, this time making its way through Disney California Adventure Park. Photo by Joshua Sudock/Disneyland Resort

41. SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA, THE ORIGINAL DISNEYLAND  Disneyland Resort will open the highly anticipated Pixar Pier at Disney California Adventure Park on June 23, 2018, powering up summer with more of the playful Pixar stories and characters that guests have come to know and love. Go in early summer before the lines build for the best chance to experience the new Incredicoaster, a thrilling adventure with everyone’s favorite Super family and theming inspired by the newest Disney•Pixar film, “Incredibles 2.” Also debuting in June, a new float adds superhero fun to the electrifying “Paint the Night” parade, featuring characters from Disney•Pixar’s “The Incredibles.”

42. SPECIAL CHALLENGES AND DISABILITIES  There are more summer vacation options than ever if your child or other family member faces special challenges. Autism on the Seas helps arrange vacations on land and sea for families with those on the spectrum.  Contact the National Center for the Disabled in Winter Park, Colorado to schedule several different outdoors family programs for children with disabilities. Even theme parks are providing mobility devices, visual and hearing tools, special maps and allergen-free diets for their visitors now. At Myrtle Beach International Airport, which partnered with the Champion Autism Network to become autism-friendly, specially-trained ambassadors are available to assist families and there is a dedicated quiet waiting room for before and after flights.

43. STOWE, VERMONT Picture-perfect, small town New England, that’s Stowe; and it even has deluxe lodging at the Topnotch Resort and Spa. You can go shopping at boutiques, crafts places and markets, and dine at restaurants and pubs along scenic Mountain Road. Stowe is delightful because it has fun things to do such as the Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Factory tours and tastings and mountain biking on the scenic Stowe Recreation Path. You can also be adventurous by trying the zip lines or an Alpine slide in the region.

44. SURFING You can blame surfing’s surging popularity on Jan & Dean’s “Surf City,” the 1963 beach anthem that led Huntington Beach, California to name itself after the song in 1991 or, on the many hits of the Beach Boys. The world actually fell in love with surfing through Duke Paoa Kahanamoku, a Honolulu native who became an Olympic medalist in swimming in 1912. By the time he died in 1968, the Duke – Hawaii’s Official Ambassador of Aloha — had won eight Olympic medals, appeared in 28 Hollywood movies, and rode a monster wave in Waikiki for 1¼ miles – the longest ever recorded. Today, beginners can experience the thrill of surfing in artificial wave pools and take lessons around the world in spots ranging from Cabo San Lucas to Dubai.

45. THEME PARKS What’s new this summer is an awesome array of innovative rides using cutting-edge technologies, rides that the whole family can together, and an increase in water-based attractions. The IAAPA recently released its annual preview of new rides and attractions expected to open worldwide in 2018 and a notable attraction is Hang Time at Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, California — the West Coast’s first dive coaster scheduled to open June 1, 2018. Not far away at Universal Studios Hollywood is the very busy, fun for all ages Harry Potter Land modeled after the Orlando park, plus a new Castle Hotel in Legoland. For more traditional rides, head to Santa Monica for midway rides and a carousel at Pacific Ocean Park, on the Pier. To the south, commune with trained animals at the famous San Diego Zoo or watch animal encounters at SeaWorld, or visit the 15 major museums and entertainment venues at Balboa Park. High on the 2018 excitement scale: the Time Traveler roller coaster at Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri is the world’s fastest, steepest and tallest spinning roller coaster and features a 10-story, 90-degree vertical drop and three inversions.

46. TRAIN TRAVEL  Make memories and save money when you take the kids on a journey they will never forget. They can experience the wonder of the train, while you enjoy a trip without baggage fees or traffic jams. Children ages 2-12 are eligible to receive a 50 percent discount on the lowest available adult rail fare on most Amtrak trains with each fare-paying adult. Infants ride free. The rule is one child under the age of 2, not occupying a seat, may ride free with each fare-paying adult (age 18+). Another good deal: Amtrak offers 50 percent discounts for kids 2-12 and 15 percent off for students ages 13-25 who book three days ahead on Amtrak.com. And did you know that most long distance trains feature volunteer guides who answer questions about the natural and cultural heritage sites passing by?

During the busy summer season, travel insured against bad weather which can cause flight delays and missed connections
During the busy summer season, travel insured against bad weather which can cause flight delays and missed connections (Photo: Ron Bozman)

47. TRAVEL SAFETY & SECURITY  In the MMGY Global 2017 Portrait of the American Traveler survey, 85 percent of millennial families said safety is an important factor in selecting a vacation – it’s even more important this summer. Plan ahead by staying up to date with destination news and advisories from Travel.State.gov. Research necessary travel documents and don’t forget to renew passports if they have less than six months’ validity – an issue with many countries — or you won’t be allowed to board your flight! In addition to taking precautions, purchase travel insurance to protect your investment. Most travel mishaps are related to airline delays, severe weather or unforeseeable situations like lost luggage, all of which may be covered by a good policy. If anyone in your family suffers a medical crisis, insurance may also cover your evacuation and emergency medical care; or reimburse costs to fly home to be with a loved one. Travel insurance from Allianz Global Assistance includes many other benefits, such as trip delay coverage, trip interruption coverage and more, competitively priced. They also provide 24/7 travel assistance, so if you need help in unfamiliar territory, they’re just a phone call away.

48. VACATION RENTALS While plenty of hotels and resorts offer services and amenities your family is certain to love, there are other options to consider. Just do a little research online to find vacation lodging, especially for families traveling with friends or multigenerational groups. The five reasons families favor Airbnb vacations are listed here. A couple of other good sites to check out are HomeAway and Wyndham Vacation Rentals.

49. VOLUNTEEROPPORTUNITIES Whether you go with a church or school group, a tour led by non-profits or on your own, there are many ways to give back to local communities. Parents and teens with at least one week have summer volunteer programs – often organized by NGOs in the community — that range from environmental fieldwork to house building or reading with children. Together for Good lists over 120 opportunities to help in the US, Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean whether you have a half day ashore on a cruise or spare time on a resort vacation.

50. WASHINGTON, DC There is something going on almost every week in the Nation’s Capital. You can take a trolley tour through the old town to see all the magnificent monuments and visit the Smithsonian’s 19 branches at no charge. Younger kids will enjoy the National Zoo and the whole family will love the Folklife Festival which will run from June 27–July 1 and July 4-8, 2018.

51. WATERPARKS INDOORS AND OUT An overnight getaway at an indoor waterpark hotel tops our staycation list, because you’re guaranteed fun no matter the weather. At any of the 15 Great Wolf Lodge resorts in the U.S. and Canada, you can count on attentive lifeguards, big 84°F indoor pools, thrilling slides, tube rides, a climbing area with a dump bucket for little ones plus dry activities too. At Great Wolf Lodge Anaheim, for example, get indoor thrills and an outdoor lagoon for 30-50 percent off if you book rooms 60 days in advance, for stays beginning June 21. Waterparks are a fun option in Europe too; check out three of our favorite European waterparks.

Is there a 52nd idea you want to share with us? Please do so in the Comments Field, or visit more coverage of top summer holidays on www.takingthekids.com throughout the year.

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This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.

This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. I would also like to suggest going to escape rooms; currently a rage in the western countries. Kids will have fun as well as flex their mental capabilities. Escape games are full of adventure and suspense.

  2. Really, these are the best places for enjoying with family and friends. Pictures are very inspirational and can inspire anyone to visit there. You can find related info here: https://www.mytrips360.com/

  3. Found your blog. Its really nice on family trip
    .I appreciate your article. If you want to go a Europe trip then you should have to know the information about the different place in world . So thanks for sharing all that important information.

  4. Interesting and helpful ideas.

  5. Thank you for taking the time to provide such an informative and helpful post.

  6. Great list dear,Well, I am looking for places to travel with my family. Thanks for sharing Keep it up!

  7. So happy to see that Europe is appearing on a lot of must-visit lists. We spend a month there and loved every second of it. Very untouched and beautiful!!

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