School’s out and so is the sun, so it’s time to plan a family vacation. For most families, summer is the best chance to take an extended, relaxed trip with the kids. Don’t have plans yet for a vacation, don’t worry: You can still – without breaking your budget from the following 6 trips.
Best Family Camping Escape
The pick: Yurt adventure at Sunset Bay State Park in Coos Bay, Ore.
Why the kids will love it: “Camping is just more fun when you’re staying in a yurt,” Whitley says of the domed, tent-like dwelling. “Kids get the run of the campground to explore, plus there are nearby tide pools, whale watching and swimming.”
If you have older kids in tow, hike the four-mile Oregon Coast Trail that winds from the beach to Cape Arago State Park. If you have smaller kids or just want a shorter walk (about two miles), follow the signs from the mouth of the big creek to the viewpoint overlooking Sunset Bay.
Why you’ll love it too: The sites feel very private, and there’s no need to worry about packing tents and air mattresses or dealing with chilly weather – the yurts come equipped with beds, heat and electricity.
What you need to know: Yurts easily sleep five, and they should be reserved on recreation.gov well in advance of travel. United Airlines flies to Southwest Oregon Regional Airport, which is just 11 miles from the park; Portland International Airport is about a four-and-a-half-hour drive.
“There’s no food at the state park,” Whitley adds, “so you’ll want to stock up on supplies in nearby Charleston or Coos Bay, where you can find a Fred Meyer or a Safeway.” She also suggests hitting up the fish market in Bandon, a touristy coastal town about a half hour’s drive away.
What it will cost: “At $36 per night in peak season,” Whitley says, “yurt rentals are much more affordable than area motel rooms,” which average closer to $100 per night during the summer months.
Best Animal-Centric Family Vacation
The pick: San Diego
Why the kids will love it: “San Diego -home to the San Diego Zoo, San Diego Zoo Safari Park and Sea World -is a paradise for kids who love animals,” Johnson says. The zoo houses the largest number of pandas outside mainland China, and there’s also a children’s zoo where younger tots can pet animals or do arts and crafts. At the Wild Animal Park, you can take a safari walk and see elephants, lions and giraffes -or hop on the Journey into Africa tram to glimpse zebras, buffalo and ostriches.
Why you’ll love it too: If you’re looking for more adult pastimes, San Diego has a thriving craft brew scene, and, adds Johnson, “the Del Mar Racetrack is a ton of fun to attend during the summer.” The season kicks off July 17 and runs through September 3, with races held Wednesday through Sunday -plus summer concerts on Fridays.
What you need to know: The city is fairly spread out, so you’ll want a car for getting around. As for where to eat, family-friendly eating options are plentiful. In particular, Johnson recommends the Old Town Mexican Café, which has outdoor seating and hearty portions of scratch tortillas and standout carnitas.
What it will cost: Single-day passes for the Zoo, Safari Park and SeaWorld are available, but your best bet is a seven-day pass that gets you unlimited access to all three, for $119 for kids ages 3 to 9, and $149 for adults and kids 10 and older.
Best Family Amusement Park Vacation
The pick: Walt Disney World in Orlando
Why the kids will love it: There’s a reason 48.5 million people visit Walt Disney World annually. The sprawling vacation destination has four parks, two water parks and 24 themed resorts. In other words, it’s a 42,000-acre fantasyland.
If you stay for a week, you can check out a different park each day. And there’s something for everyone -from the great-for-tinier-tykes boat ride of It’s a Small World to the Rock’n’Roller coaster, which is perfect for teens. “Kids can participate in the wildly popular Festival of the Lion King show or vote for their favorite singer in the American Idol Experience at Disney’s Hollywood Studios,” Kelly says, adding that “there are also opportunities to get face time with characters from current movies.”
Why you’ll love it too: “Disney is about reconnecting with your inner child,” Kelly says. “Something happens to adults when they are in the Disney bubble -they wear hats with mouse ears, and they sing along.”
Added bonus for Mom and Dad: If you want a night off, you can arrange for in-room child care or drop the tots off at one of the children’s activity centers -then have dinner at the Chef’s Table at Victoria and Albert’s or go see a Cirque de Soleil show.
What you need to know: “The end of August is one of the few off-peak times left at Disney,” notes Kelly, who also suggests planning your trip around free dining-plan days, when grown-ups and kids alike can eat free if they book a six-night Magic Your Way package, offered between August 31 and October 3, 2014.
“Disney resort guests can also reserve three Fastpass attractions 60 days in advance of arrival,” Kelly says. You can use your Fastpass, for example, to see the “Frozen” characters at the Princess Fairytale Hall. “Meeting the key characters, Anna and Elsa, is an Olympic sport,” says Kelly, who says a Fastpass will cut the wait time in line from as long as five hours to roughly 15 minutes.
What it will cost: During free dining-plan days, the Disney Pop Century Resort offers one of the most affordable deals: about $380 per night for a family of four, including park admission, two counter-service meals and a snack per person, per day. (If you want to upgrade to the full dining plan, including a sit-down meal, it comes out to $438 per night.) Also included: transportation to/from the Orlando airport.
Best Family Cruise
The pick: Princess Voyage of the Glaciers, departing from Anchorage
Why the kids will love it: The majesty of Alaska is truly awesome for kids -especially Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve. “In my opinion, the only way to see it is by cruise ship,” says Wetty. You can glimpse glaciers from the deck while a naturalist talks about the history of the park. There are also cool shore excursions, like dogsledding ($149 for adults and kids) and kayaking ($109 for adults and kids).
Why you’ll love it too: “All the meals and entertainment are included,” explains Wetty, including youth centers and teen lounges for different ages, “which makes it a huge value.” And Mom and Dad can check out the Sanctuary, an adults-only pool deck where you can have lunch and even get massages ($15 for a half-day pass; $25 for the full day).
What you need to know: If you book airfare through the cruise line, you can often get a good deal -plus you’re protected if your flight gets canceled, and you’ll get transportation from the airport to the ship.
And, says Wetty, be sure to time your trip to what you want to see. “In June, you have a greater chance of seeing the bears on the shoreline,” she explains. “In August and early September, you have a better chance of spotting lots of whales getting ready to swim back to Mexico.”
What it will cost: Rates start at $299 per person for a seven-day cruise in an interior stateroom, which can sleep up to four (two twins or one queen bed, plus Pullman bunk beds).
Best Active Family Trip
The pick: Caribou Highlands Lodge, in Lutsen, Minn.
Why the kids will love it: Endless activities -from hiking trails in the eight state parks along Lake Superior to guided kayak and canoe trips -keep high-energy tots and teens alike occupied. For quieter moments, there’s bocce ball and horseshoes. “Nightly bonfires with s’mores are also a hit with kids,” Murphy says.
Why you’ll love it too: “All activities are free, there’s a complimentary day camp for kids under 12, and the restaurant has a great selection of local craft beers,” Murphy explains. The mountain and lake vistas are also pretty spectacular.
What you need to know: The nearest major airport, Duluth International, is less than two hours from the lodge, so you’ll want a car for the drive -and for exploring the tiny towns (don’t miss Grand Marais), fish shacks and art galleries that dot the shoreline.
The resort’s restaurant, Moguls Grille and Tap Room, is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner -and features such hearty fare as wild game meatloaf and potato skins loaded with cheese, scallions, bacon and sour cream.
What it will cost: Main lodge rooms (with two queen beds) start at $119 per night in the summer. State park permits cost $7 per car for the day or $25 per year.
Best Family Enrichment Trip
The pick: Farm stay in Lancaster, Pa.
Why the kids will love it: “Farms are pretty accepting of kids being kids,” Humes says. In other words, running around, playing with animals and getting dirty are encouraged.
The region’s hearty, filling Pennsylvania Dutch food is apropos for teens with voracious appetites -and the Central Market is a circa-1889 food hall where you can get your fill of housemade sausage, kettle chips and bread and butter pickles.
Spots like the Landis Valley Museum -which offers hands-on experiences like farm chores and traditional games -introduce kids to the area’s history without making them feel like they’re getting an education.
Why you’ll love it too: “I liked learning about the different practices of the Mennonites and the Amish, and how their approaches to the modern world differ,” recalls Humes. She also says that traditional family dinners -a large number of people share hearty food and stories, and the hosts answer questions about their lives and traditions -are often part of the experience. You can also try regional activities like horse and buggy rides or a 45-minute trip to Paradise, PA, in a vintage car.
What you need to know: “The Mennonites are more willing to integrate outside visitors,” explains Humes, “but it’s possible to arrange to have a dinner with an Amish family in their home.” Such meals provide a unique opportunity for your kids to experience a different way of life, and can usually be arranged through your B&B. There’s no official cost, but a donation of $15 to $20 per person is suggested.
What it will cost: Farm stays run the gamut from very basic to significantly more refined -for the latter, check out the Manor View Inn (from $150 per night). The Pennsylvania Dutch Visitors Bureau lodging center offers a slew of options. Expect to pay around $100 per night for a family of four.
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