Before the crowds hit the beaches and mountains for summer vacation, spring break is a treasured time for getaways for most American families. Vacations between February and April also can be easier on your budget and easier to plan.
These days, you likely will find more families on spring break—often with grandparents in tow—than college kids.
Does your gang want to ride roller coasters all day? Maybe the grandparents want you to join them 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 or showing the kids great sites abroad— less expensive than in summer. Flights can be cheaper as well.
We are joining our colleagues at Family Travel Forum to recommend getaways that are guaranteed to please, whether you’re planning a reunion of several generations, a wild time with a bunch of friends, or some “we” time with loved ones, we hope you’ll find this roundup of the top adventure, beach, resort, cruise, festival, city, historical and international short breaks a helpful starting point.
And, for more ideas for memorable family vacations in the US and Mexico during every season of the year, here is how to receive a complimentary download of our e-book America’s Most Popular Family Vacations, with a special savings offer from Diamond Resorts International.
Adventures By Disney on Land and Sea
A leader in guided group travel worldwide, Adventures by Disney has new Southern California land packages available to add on to 2018 Disney Cruise Line vacations setting sail from San Diego. For example, the full access Disneyland Resort and Southern California six-day tour includes a VIP visit to both theme parks in Anaheim, with backstage tours; escorted tours of Walt Disney Studios & Archives and Disney Imagineering in Burbank; up close tours of the TCL Chinese Theatre, the Jim Henson Company, Hollywood Walk of Fame and enough of the Hollywood icons to thrill every movie buff in the family. Note the new cruise vacations for 2019, offering more European river cruise sailings than ever before, including all-new sailings down France’s Seine River for spring break.
Explore deeper in 2018, going beyond a journey to Machu Picchu, to understand traditional village life and customs in the highlands around Cusco. It will be the highpoint on an unforgettable trip to Peru.
Craving a taste of spring with a dose of culture? Head to the 82nd annual Atlanta Dogwood Festival April 13-15, and join 250,000 other festival-goers at art shows (including the best local high school work), international performances, midway rides and a “Backyard Bites & Brews” food fest; Family Friday offers big discounts on admission and rides. If that timing doesn’t work, pick up a CityPASS and follow thisgreat family itinerary including Atlanta’s top year-round family attractions. (Note that top value CityPASS is available in 11 other spring break worthy cities too.)
Alternative Spring Break
The alternative spring break movement began on college campuses and today, many non-profit organizations organize volunteer vacations where you can work together on sustainable projects. Start local; once the kids are ready, opportunities for VolunTourism are varied and exist in countries throughout the world.
Baseball Breaks and Spring Training
If sports rule in your household, this is the time to take your team to spring training, a mainstay at small stadiums in Florida that host the Grapefruit League, and at Arizona’s Cactus League parks. In Peoria, Arizona, spend the afternoon watching the San Diego Padres or Seattle Mariners get into form. The San Francisco Giants polish their game at Scottsdale Stadium, where you can relax in one of many great family resorts, then head out to do a night vision tour of the starlit desert and get to know the region’s nocturnal creatures. Here’s an account of a family’s experience checking out the Cactus League. If you’re trying out a new sport or outdoor skill during spring break, make sure to reinforce it during the summer so that it becomes an ongoing part of your family’s fitness routine.
With five huge mountain peaks and nearly 3,000 acres of skiable terrain to explore by day, an authentic hip mountain town to experience by night, and lively free events, “Breck Break” is the perfect time to visit Breckenridge. Book a ski vacation between Jan. 16-Mar. 11, 2018 and enjoy perfect powder days, festivals, spring weather and some of the biggest savings of the season, with up to 30% off on lodging at Breckenridge.com. The resort’s Ski & Snowboard School also launched the reimagined Breck Guides program, where the focus is not just on teaching skiers and snowboarders skills, but teaching the mountain itself, and imparting the confidence to explore Breck in every visitor. Renowned for the welcoming spirit and friendly character of the locals, with over 200 restaurants, bars and shops, and numerous year-round off slope activities, Breck is especially popular with tweens, teens and multigenerational families.
Black Hills of South Dakota
Are you going to South Dakota to visit with past presidents at Mount Rushmore? How about spending a few more days in the Black Hills. There are bears and reptiles to meet, caves to explore, and lots of shopping and eating to do. Or, if you are up for a bit of a road trip from Rapid City or perhaps from Minneapolis, Sioux Falls, South Dakota with its fabulous children’s museum is a wallet-friendly, great family town.
City universities and colleges come in all shapes and sizes; even the tiny state of Vermont has 24 institutions of higher learning to choose from. We love funky Burlington, a fun student town that has been “Feeling the Bern” for generations. In addition to being able to ski at Middlebury Snow Bowl and tour that campus, the Consortium of Vermont Colleges provides school information about regional colleges and universities, plus itineraries to help you find the best options for your children. Remember that children get a better feel from a campus tour when school is in session, so plan your travel dates carefully.
While many Caribbean islands suffered badly from Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, recovery efforts are well underway and the Caribbean Tourism Organization reports that 70 percent of the region was not affected. To help all the islands, Allen Chastanet, prime minister of St. Lucia, urges travelers, “Your visit to our islands is more important now than ever [because] you will be contributing to our assistance to our fellow islands who are still recovering.” Consider Antigua, known for gorgeous sandy beaches and clear blue water perfect for beachcombing, sailing and snorkeling, which was only minimally affected. Curtain Bluff Resort is a favorite for many families who return over the years — maybe it’s time for your family to discover it.
As we get into March and the Easter break, Chicago’s Grant Park warms up with sights of spring. At the 360 Chicago observatory atop the 1,000 foot-tall John Hancock Building, the brave ones in your group can try “Tilt,” a glass chamber that leans out over the skyline to create the feeling of floating over the view. Among other Chicago attractions that kids love is the similarly terrifying “The Ledge” — an enclosed platform at the Willis Tower Skydeck observatory where you can look straight down. Inclement weather? The Chicago Art Institute, where kids 14 and under enter free, has several spring shows opening in February, and a daily, complimentary, drop-in Artists Studio where families work together to create an art project. Last but not least, don’t forget to take in a ball game with the Chicago Cubs at historic Wrigley Field; opening day in March 29, 2018.
Clearwater Beach Time
Clearwater Beach, Florida, whose sunny skies, Gulf Coast climate and sugar white sand earned it a “Top 25 US Beaches” by Trip Advisors Traveler’s Choice Award, welcomes families for spring break. Stroll through over 21,000 square feet of sand masterpieces created by professional sand sculptors during Pier 60’s Sugar Sand Festival from April 13-22; enjoy the smooth sounds of the Clearwater Sea Blues Festival in Coachman Park from February 24-25, watch beautiful sunsets every evening and go meet Winter, the dolphin who changes lives. With the opening of the Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach, Opal Sands Resort and Fairfield Inn, Clearwater Beach continues to offer a wide-range of accommodation choices including a host of eclectic boutique motels along the beach.
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. Carnival Corporation, with its 10 major brands and more than a dozen U.S. homeports, has cruises at every price point including the famous transatlantic Cunard Liners, ideal for crossing the pond on a multigenerational trip. Explore more itinerary options in our Family Cruise Section, where you’ll find reviews of the major cruise lines and their family offerings.
Daycation at a Theme Park
Family spring break programs 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. No need to travel far; most of the local parks open with spring and Easter themed weeks in preparation for the summer crowds and many offer great season pass deals. Amusement parks are especially welcoming for those with special challenges too. By the way, couples with babies in tow can take advantage of the Rider Switch policies at the major 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 Downtown Disney District is continuing its ambitious, promenade-wide transformation in 2018. While remaining open to guests, multiple new venues and significant refurbishments will create a fresh, one-of-a-kind day and evening Disney experience. Coming soon: Ballast Point will open its first Orange County location in Downtown Disney, the first-ever on-site brewery with a tasting room, kitchen and outdoor beer garden. Meanwhile, the popular Disney California Adventure Food & Wine Festival returns to the Disneyland Resort from Mar. 2- Apr. 12, 2018. Inspired by the Golden State, the culinary festival marketplaces will present unique food and beverages; celebrity chef demonstrations; tastings; beer, wine and spirit seminars; and more. Guests also will enjoy live music, entertainment and special activities. Another guest-favorite returning to festival is the complimentary Junior Chef experience, with hands-on fun led by Chef Goofy, for children ages 3-11. Pixar Fest debuts at Disneyland on April 13. Celebrating the animation studio that brought you “Toy Story,” “Monsters Inc.,” “Finding Nemo” and “Up,” you can meet the characters, enjoy fireworks during “Together Forever – A Pixar Nighttime Spectacular,” focusing on the importance of friendship, and attend “Paint the Night and “Pixar Play” parades.
EPCOT Flower & Garden Festival at Disney World
At Orlando’s Walt Disney World, the 25th Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival runs Feb. 28-May 28, extending one of the parks’ most popular attractions for a full 90 days packed with sights for every age group. In addition to the millions of blooms and delightful topiaries (now at the entrance), the festival melds in world flavors with 15 new Outdoor Kitchens set up among Epcot’s many pavilions. Have a princess in tow? Morning Tea Tours at the UK Pavilion highlight the tea plant, its history, and how best to consume it with scones and treats. Look for several new interactive gardens and kids play areas throughout. Garden Rocks concerts featuring hits from the 60s-90s are scheduled Friday through Monday each week.
A Galapagos cruise is a rare opportunity to experience sunbathing sea lions, skittering Sally Lightfoot crabs, penguins, blue-footed boobies, even century-old tortoises close up. While you’ll call a comfortable expedition vessel home, the fun is when naturalists lead your family on shore activities include panga rides, hikes to the top of a dormant volcano for stunning views, kayaking and snorkeling. Work with a travel specialist to pick the best itinerary for your kids ages; even budget eco-cruises are costly. Checkout this Galapagos cruise option.
Get Outside at National Parks
Henry David Thoreau who wrote, “In wildness is the preservation of the world,” would certainly have been a frequent visitor to our treasures, the National Parks. This year, thanks to the government’s Every Kid in the Park program, 4th graders and their families can again visit all national parks, lands and waters for free. Order your parks pass, and start planning at their website, which notes that Amtrak is giving a 75% discount to all 4th graders traveling with adults as part of the effort to reach 500,000 children this year.
Recognized as a top family resort destination, Keystone is located in Summit County, Colorado and just 75 miles from Denver. Spring is an excellent time for a family trip to a Keystone, where lodging deals up to 40 percent off and sun-filled days await. The resort is home to more than 3,000 acres of skiable terrain including three peaks, five above-tree-line bowls, night skiing and an in-bounds cat skiing program. Families can save big money with the industry’s leading Kids Ski Free offer, where kids 12 and younger can ski and ride for free every day, all season long with just two or more nights of lodging booked through the resort, no blackout dates. Keystone’s signature Kidtopia activities elevate any visit with a variety of free, daily family offerings throughout the winter season, such as arts and crafts events, scavenger hunts, a parade and fireworks, and the world’s largest Snow Fort. The weeklong Kidtopia Music Experience, Mar. 2-10, is when families can rock out on the snow and in the village. We love the convenient touches like free designated family parking and complimentary red wagons to help parents tote gear, and excited kiddos, to and from the slopes because they really help make a spring family visit to Keystone easy and hassle-free.
If you have always fancied showing your kids the sights of London], now may be a very good time for your wallet. Bring the family during the U.K.’s school breaks in mid-February and March, and take advantage of extra programming for kids at already free museums. Of the two big spring 2018 attractions at The Southbank Centre], we love ABBA Super Troupers (open through April 29) an immersive guided tour through sets that follow the famous Swedish pop band’s career. With “Mamma Mia 2: Here We Go Again!” opening in July, this is so timely for fans and older kids (age 7 is minimum). Families with infants through age 12 will find days’ worth of events — children’s theater, hands-on activities, talks by inspirational and new authors, radio personalities, comedians and storytellers — more than half are free, at the Imagine Children’s Festival (Feb. 7-18). Use the Brexit break to find deals and splurge at some of the city’s posh hotels like The Grange Holborn, where, by using the coupon code SCHOOLHOL, you’ll get a School Holiday package valid Feb. 9-18 and Mar. 30-Apr. 20, 2018 with a family room (2 queen beds plus sofabed), free continental breakfast for all, free kids meals when they dine at the hotel’s restaurants with paying adults, access to their beautiful swimming pool (plus spa, sauna and steam for adults), and tickets to your choice of one of the four Royal Palaces for $168 per night. Get out of London for a day or two, to Bath, Oxford or a country hotel for the weekend.
In New Orleans, 2018 brings the biggest Mardi Gras ever, as the city celebrates its 300th Anniversary. In addition to festivals, fireworks, concerts, commemorative displays in museums and around town, visitors will see signs of growth: a new airport, redevelopment of the riverfront, and a focus on the city’s medical industry and infrastructure. NOLA is honoring its rich immigrant past and the blend of French, Spanish and African cultures that spawned Mardi Gras, which is comprised today of 135 yearly festivals including more than 35 Second Line parades. The big day is Tuesday, Feb. 13 and there is always a party somewhere, as you can see in our roundup of the world’s top 15 Carnivals.
OARS and Rafting Rivers
There’s no time like spring to take a ride down a wild and scenic river on an all-inclusive family vacation with the rafting and adventure experts at O.A.R.S. Since 1969, O.A.R.S. has offered VIP access to our country’s most cherished landscapes with top-notch guides, delicious meals and comfortable accommodations. More than 10,000 families have trusted O.A.R.S. with what they call “ “the best family vacation ever!” whether they went whitewater rafting at the Grand Canyon or standup paddleboarding, sea kayaked in Grand Teton National Park or hiked at Macchu Picchu. Request your free copy of the 2018 O.A.R.S. Family Adventures Catalog today.
Two and a half million visitors during the season make Orlando one of the country’s top Spring Break destinations, and the variety of teen activities is one of the reasons. No matter what your budget, there’s a flight, train or bus on its way there right now and there are hundreds of hotels to choose from. Check out the upcoming deals in Kissimmee, the neighboring community packed with top value hotels and special theme park ticket offers for Canadian visitors.
Philadelphia is a great city, and easy on the wallet too as many of the best attractions are free or nearly free. Here are some favorites for every family member, including these picks by local kids. The world’s largest indoor flower show is held in Philadelphia March 3-11. For history buffs: Independence National Park includes Independence Hall (where the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were debated) as well as the Liberty Bell, Betsy Ross’ house, the U.S. Mint which houses the nation’s first coin press, and the National Liberty Museum which celebrates the fragility of our freedom. Go together to the Museum of the American Revolution where you can see the contributions of women and African Americans to the creation of our country. Future scientists and engineers will love the Benjamin Franklin Museum about the inventor/statesman/philosopher’s life and accomplishments. The Franklin Institute wows the family with hands-on activities and learning opportunities. Speaking of hands-on activities, the Please Touch Museum is Philly’s children’s museum, one of the best in the country. Art lovers will flip at the Barnes Foundation and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. For straight fun, head to Franklin Square where playgrounds, a fountain and plenty of open space welcomes the youngsters, and Smith Memorial Playground and Playhouse an indoor-outdoor venue in the city’s fabulous Fairmount Park. Checkout dozens of spring Hotel Packages from VisitPhilly.com.
San Diego and Zoo Babies
San Diego is a popular beach area for surfing and sun with several resort hotels, but spring is the season for the world-famous San Diego Zoo, home to three rare giant panda bears. There is an add-on option to enter the zoo before opening to experience an Early Morning Visit with Pandas while they eat breakfast. Another takes you behind the scenes to learn how the zookeepers care for the animals and includes a Keeper for the Day T-shirt. From Feb. 10-25, celebrate the Lunar New Year at San Diego’s SeaWorld with the flavors of Asia, Chinese acrobats, and welcome the Year of the Dog in the Puppy Garden. Check out the Kid’s Guide to San Diego (Kid’s Guides Series) for more great ideas.
San Francisco Sights
If you’re heading to San Francisco, you’re probably dreaming of taking the kids to The Rock, the famous prison on Alcatraz Island that is celebrating 55 years as a museum this year. Although you’ll have to book weeks in advance to get tickets, a free exhibit at the Parc 55 San Francisco Hotel gives families an up close look at what happens when you misbehave. Through June 28, 2018, “Alcatraz: Life on The Rock” features memorabilia and a lecture series about the prison isle; and starting Feb. 21, the nearby Hilton San Francisco Union Square will have a replica jail cell and escapee memorabilia in its lobby for the kids to try on. Check out San Francisco’s top family hotels for spring weekend specials, and pick up the Kids Guide to San Francisco for a kid’s take on the city by the Bay.
It’s easy and cheap for beginners to learn skiing or snowboarding by using the resources of the Pennsylvania Ski Association, which promotes 19 member resorts by highlighting their bargain rates — especially during Learn to Ski and Snowboard month and midweek after the holidays. The state welcomes local and visiting 4th and 5th graders to ski free, with a free lesson, rentals and beginner lift ticket package for a minimal processing fee. Check out their ongoing Daily Deals page which has discount coupons to several resorts and other short term promotions, and do it soon – most of these mountain resorts will close by mid to late March, depending on snow conditions.
Space and Beyond
With news of Space X launches and the blockbuster “Star Wars, The Last Jedi,” it’s time to plan your trip to outer space. 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. And, really, central Florida in spring is not as hot and humid as in July so you’ll have an astronaut’s worth of stamina for exploration.
How many websites do you have to visit to plan the perfect family ski or snowboarding vacation? In spring, it’s all about the weather and conditions at your destination resort. Check out our annual roundup of the Top Family Snow Sports Resorts for dozens of destination ideas to help you plan a spring break skiing or snowboarding adventure. And if you only need one idea, head to the self-styled “Spring Skiing Capital” at Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows in Lake Tahoe – here are a dozen reasons we love Squaw Alpine now].
If your family is interested in experiencing indigenous cultures, resource conservation, and hands-on education, put an eco-tourism vacation on your spring agenda and don’t neglect to purchase travel insurance. Why? Because, if your flight is delayed, insurance can help you catch up and if you have to cancel the trip, travel insurance can reimburse you. If anyone in your party suffers a medical crisis, insurance can cover your evacuation and emergency medical care. Travel insurance from Allianz Global Assistance includes many other benefits, such as lost/delayed baggage coverage, trip delay coverage, trip interruption coverage and more, affordably priced, that make it a smart purchase for any prepaid vacation.
Spring is The Netherlands’ favorite season, the time when tulips burst into bloom at Keukenhof Gardens and visitors can catch the latest museum shows. Families with younger children will love the Innovation Gallery at the new NeMo Museum for science, and the viewing booths at the Eye Film Museum (open till 10pm nightly) whose ship-like architecture stands out on the harbor. Among the many Amsterdam attractions for families is the small Hermitage Amsterdam, where traveling shows from the extraordinary palace museum in Moscow can be paired with a delicious lunch in the pretty outdoor garden.
Universal Orlando Resort
While Harry Potter continues to boost attendance, spring of 2018 brings “Fast & Furious Supercharged” to Universal Orlando Resort. Buckle up for this thrilling ride, a high-speed chase at over 120 mph. Opened in Hollywood, California since 2015, this upgraded version is based on the sixth installment of the film franchise and includes iconic vehicles and locations from the films. In August, the Universal Aventura Hotel will open its 600 room doors and offer complimentary shuttle bus service to the park, plus early admission to Volcano Bay and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter to guests.
Washington, DC oasts some of the nation’s finest museums and annual festivals, totally free. The newest branch of the Smithsonian, the National Museum of African American History and Culture is very popular, so check here about acquiring free tickets as soon as you determine dates. DC is also a great base to explore programs at the 20 colleges and universities in the area. Learn about our cultural ties to Japan during the National Cherry Blossom Festival (Mar. 20-Apr. 15) which includes a special Blossom Kite Festival on March 31. The 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement is explored in new exhibits at National Museum of American History and at the Newseum. Other spring ideas include a Valentine’s Day Card Workshop at the National Postal Museum on Feb. 10- 11, and having tea with Martha Washington at Mount Vernon Feb. 24-Mar. 24. Explore the world from May 1-31, during the international Passport DC event when 70 embassies will open their doors and present a cultural exchange to visitors of all ages. Don’t forget that the tips in Eileen Ogintz’s new edition of the “Kids Guide to Washington DC” will help kids lead the way.
Indiana is home of the World’s Largest Children’s Museum in Indianapolis. Don’t miss it. And whether or not you’re a fan of bright, paisley and floral-print totes, suitcases, clothes and accessories, the annual Vera Bradley Outlet Sale in Fort Wayne, Indiana is a grandmother-mother-daughter bonding trip like no other. Join 50,000 others this April 11-15 for bargain shopping here and at Fort Wayne’s other factories., which run simultaneous sales.
America’s 50th state is a great destination for outdoor adventures, especially the Big Island of Hawaii with its diverse habitats and eco-systems. Did you know your family can swim with manta rays in the dead of night, summit the world’s tallest mountain for stargazing and, even more amazing, hike across lava fields to catch a live volcanic eruption? Here are 3 Bucket List Adventures to Check Off in Hawaii so you can start planning now.
Winnipeg’s Festival for Adventurers
This year’s Festival du Voyageur (Voyageurs refers to the famed Canadian fur trappers who explored the country by canoe during the 17th century) coincides with the President’s Day break, Feb. 16- 25, 2018, with more than 150 international artists performing over 10 days. A multigenerational affair for half a century, join Canadians as they celebrate that spirit of outdoors discovery with snowshoeing, sleigh rides and hill climbing. Two warm up tents are packed with kids dance parties, circus workshops and crafts events. Don’t miss the carvers: there’s the first ever Bothwell Cheese Carving Competition on Feb. 18, ice and snow carving demonstrations, and a special Wood Carving Challenge featuring the country’s top chainsaw carvers. Free admission for children 12 and under.
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