Families have discovered that it is easier — and often cheaper — to get away in the spring than in the summer when camps and summer jobs — not to mention work schedules and peak travel season perils — wreak havoc with family vacation planning.
You’ll find plenty of good deals too, wherever you want to go. Here are 23 ideas to get you started. You can find read a lot more about most of these destinations in my columns and travel diaries. Just enter the destination in the search tool.
1.ADVENTURE The Grand Canyon, for example, is a terrific spring option — especially when you can trek through narrow side canyons and camp, cooling off in the waters from Havasu Falls. This is a no-work camping trip, though, because Austin Adventures guides do all the work. Check out www.fsguides.com for other guided adventure options in beautiful wild places. Here’s your chance to send a postcard from the Native American village of Supai — the most remote in the country. REI Adventures is another great option for a wilderness adventure led by professionals who take care of much of the camp work for you. They also offer a week in the remote area of the Grand Canyon’s Havasu Falls, or a backpacking adventure in the Great Smoky Mountains. Go to Peru or take your teens on a trek to Everest base camp (just $1,411 per person for 15 days) with Australia-based Intrepid Travel where your trip might include a home stay with a local family. Or try searching for whales with Sea Kayak Adventures in Mexico’s newest national marine park.
2.ALOHA Hawaii. Especially if you are on the West Coast, you’ll find great deals in Hawaii like those from Pleasant Holidays where you can score an air-car-condo deal. Concentrate your stay on one island like Kauai where you can stay at a luxe resort like Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort, the centrally located Kauai Marriott Resort or a relaxed condo like The Colony Resort on the North Shore and take your pick of adventures—surfing, snorkeling, hiking. Opt for a different kind of all inclusive at Kona Village where you stay in thatched-roof bungalows with no TVs and the kids will leave with a new appreciation for the ancient Hawaiian culture.
3. ATLANTIS, the gargantuan (3,500-room ) Paradise Island resort boasts everything from a teen club CRUSH to cooking lessons for kids to interactions with dolphins and sea lions and an expansive Aquaventure Waterpark as well as spa treatments (for kids as well as parents) and some 40 restaurants and lounges. But despite kids eat and stay free deals, Atlantis can be expensive when you add up all of the activity charges.
4. BELIZE or Costa Rica Check out Chaa Creek Lodge, Located at the base of the Maya Mountains in Belize, where you can visit well-preserved Mayan sites, stay on a private nature preserve, ride horses through a jungle, canoe, visit the butterfly farm and combine a stay at a beach resort. Kids up to 18 stay free when sharing a room with parents at the Chaa Creek and the resort offers babysitting services and jungle safaris for kids. Commune with the monkeys in Costa Rica. Friendly Planet Travel has some extraordinarily well-priced tours. Look for other kid-friendly tours from companies like Wildland Adventures and Thomson Family Adventures.
5. CITY LIGHTS Amtrak offers significant discounts for kids to let you explore a nearby city over a weekend when hotels are eager to fill rooms which means you will score a deal. Check websites like www.getaroom.com and www.hotels.com , or check www.craigslist.com for apartment rentals in cities where you want to visit and propose what you are willing to pay. Check the city’s official tourism website like www.bostonusa.com, www.nycgo.com or www.sanfrancisco.travel for the latest deals and to see what special family offerings are available when you want to visit—new museum exhibits, theater productions? Let each child plan a day of the itinerary. You will be amazed where they lead you!
6. CALIFORNIA Take your pick of Disneyland (look for kids fly free deals), Universal Studios Hollywood or Legoland. You can head to to beach towns like Huntington Beach, explore museums and restaurants in San Francisco, shop till you drop in Los Angeles, maybe spying a celebrity and San Diego. Want to commune with the animals? Go Whale Watching and to the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey or head to the famous San Diego Zoo or Sea World.
7. COLLEGE TOURING-Leave the other kids in the family behind and opt for some one-on-one time with your high school junior. Stay in a Bed and Breakfast near the campus to pick up some intel from locals. Don’t try to cram too many schools into one trip. They all start to seem the same! Check out www.goseecampus.com, a free website offering the first online college trip planner for high school students and parents. Bring a lap top or iPad and have your high schooler jot down some thoughts after each visit. What did he like? What didn’t she like? And if you drive up to the campus and they refuse to get out of the car, keep driving.
8. CHERRY BLOSSOMS Spring is a terrific time to visit Washington, DC. The National Cherry Blossom Festival starts March 20 and lasts until April 27 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 the National Mall with DC by Foot, a walking tour company that gives kid-friendly tours complete with games and fun facts, See money made with a free tour of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, Play pilot in a mock cockpit at America by Air, an exhibition on permanent display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Get close to original Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights at the National Archives, then stick around to research your own family’s immigration records. The Fairmont Washington, D.C. is collaborating with Friends of the National Zoo on The Panda Package in honor of the giant pandas – Mei Xiang and Tian Tian. Families The package includes overnight accommodations for two adults and two children and a Zoo Welcome Kit featuring a cuddly stuffed plush panda, a zoo map, Zoo Tycoon 2 computer game for Windows, and more. For every room night booked $10 USD of the room rate will be donated to the Giant Panda Conservation Fund. Rates start from $199.
9. EUROPE It’s a lot less crowded, less hot and cheaper than in the summer! If you book a package that includes flight and hotel on a website like www.travelocity.com you can save as much 20%. Plan a 10 day 8 night spring break trip to the historic cities of Florence and Rome with www.tourcrafters.com. The package for two adults and one child up to 16 in a triple room costs $1,049 per adult and $720 per child. These prices include air fare from New York, four nights accommodation at the 4-star Hotel Rome, four nights at the 4-star Hotel Rin Florence, buffet breakfasts, Hop On Hop Off tour of Rome, Eurostar train ticket, free ice cream for kids in each city, and a special kit, Florence guidebook and restaurant discount for kids. Prices are valid from March 1 to 31, 2012. Opt for an active European adventure (Kayak and bike the Croatian coast perhaps?) with Adventure Center’s multi-activity family trips. On the Croatian Coastal Adventure, you can run rivers, canoe and kayak along the coast, along with bicycling through villages and discovering Croatia’s Rich history!
10 .COOKING TOGETHER Learn how to make a delicious Italian pizza or pasta by hand, while exploring regions of Italy famous for the culinary traditions along the way. Boston-based Lauren Birmingham Piscitelli leads culinary tours in Italy with a focus on kids cooking — whether they are three or 18.
11. FLORIDA. There is a lot more to see and do than Orlando in the Sunshine State. Head to a resort like Sandestin on the Gulf Coast where you can sign the kids—and yourselves–up for golf and tennis clinics as well as explore miles-long white-sand beaches. Sandestin is offering many deals this coming spring, including Stay 4 nights and receive the 5th night free (Mention Code FREE5), a 21-Day Advance Purchase – Book your stay early and receive up to 25% off select accommodations for your Spring Break visit (Mention Code LOWEST), and the possibility to save up to 25% off a consecutive seven-night stay on select accommodations for your week-long visit (Mention Code WEEKLY). They also offer Complimentary amenities including free rental of bicycles, canoes, kayaks, and tennis courts; free fitness center access; free children’s activities (in season), and complimentary resort-wide tram service offered every day of a guest’s stay. Anchor your gang at a Palm Beach area resort and you can take in some spring training games, hit the spa and view the alligators in the Everglades.Or, Tradewinds Island Grand Resort in St Petersburg has just opened a new floating water park in the Gulf of Mexico www.JustLetGo.com/Waterpark while Loews Miami Beach Hotel amped up its kid-friendly offerings as part of its $50 million renovation, complete with a retro ice cream ship and Sushi making lessons.
12. FOLLOW THE SUN TO THE CARIBBEAN Low season starts in mid-April which means prices drop dramatically. But this year, you will find plenty of deals in March too.
Look for packages like at St. Croix’s Buccaneer which offers free breakfast, kids club and among many other spring specials. Check out the new junior tennis camps at the beautiful yet quiet Curtain Bluff Resort on Antigua. Rock Resorts are touting a free night at its rapidly expanding group of Caribbean properties, many which have condo-like accommodations. Look for discounts at all-inclusive resorts like Beaches in Jamaica and Turks & Caicos with special Sesame Street activities for the youngest travelers and tween and teen clubs for older siblings. Jamaica’s Breezes Trelawney Resort has everything from trapeze, rock-climbing, tennis lessons, to mini golf and a water playground.
13. FOLLOW YOUR PASSIONS Or, learn something new together. Learn to scuba dive at a place like Bohio Resort in Turks and Caicos. For more dive resorts and learning how to scuba dive, visit www.padi.com. Explore a museum devoted to sport like the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield Mass where the game was first invented; music (the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, OH) , spies (The International Spy Museum in Washington DC) or stars at Pacific Science Center’s planetarium.
14. HILTON HEAD, SC is a small island with preserved nature, beautiful beaches, golf, tennis and more. The Sea Pines Forest Preserve within the Sea Pines Resort offers boardwalks to explore the wetlands, observation decks, and a nice hike. The famous “Salty Dog” in Sea Pines is a marina area offering jet skiing, para-sailing, boat rentals, as well as a bar area near the beach. The Museum of Hilton Head has guided tours of the beaches offering both bike and kayak tours. Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort has the wide range of activities for kids and teens that other Disney Resorts have, but on a picturesque beach. Family activities are also included. Westin Resort Hilton Head Island has a kids camp for ages four to twelve, which includes crafts, trips to the pool and beach, and more!
15. HISTORY Build a trip around American history whether in the Historic Triangle of Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown and Yorktown, or Boston where you can walk the Freedom Trail with a costumed interpreter or Philadelphia where you can see the Liberty Bell in the new Liberty Bell Center. If your family is into war history, you can also tour a battlefield like Valley Forge or Gettysburg.
16.HIT THE SLOPES There’s nothing like some spring skiing sunshine. Look for late-season deals across the country from Vermont to Colorado, Utah and California Websites like www.ski.com can save you significantly when you book flights, lodging and lifts together. For example, the Sky Lodge in Park City, UT () is offering the “Stay Three, Stay Free & Ride Free” package, where you can get a 4th night free and a 4th day of skiing complimentary–this includes daily lift tickets to Park City or Deer Valley. The package is available March 16, 2012 through April 15, 2012, excluding certain blackout dates. You can save up to $800! Look for family oriented festivals like Kidtopia at Keystone Resort in Colorado. If everyone in your gang is a beginner, consider smaller mountains near where you live–Hunter Mountain in New York, for example, Crystal Mountain in Michigan, Brian Head Resort in Utah, Bolton Valley in Vermont and Mount Rose on the North Shore of Lake Tahoe.
17. HOME AWAY FROM HOME Whether you want to head to the mountain slopes or the beach, book a condo or vacation home and you can invite your favorite niece to babysit the toddler, join forces with another family (great for single parents!) or invite a friend for your teen or tween. Check out www.perfectfamilyvacation.com for good deals on digs in resort locales with multi-bedrooms. Also try sites like www.vrbo.com and www.homeaway.com where you can negotiate directly with a homeowner. Look for free nights from www.resortquest.com.
18. MEXICO You’ll find great deals at Mexico all-inclusives along the Riviara Maya, which is still considered safe place to to vacation. Those who like history and archeology, will be fascinated by visits to ancient Mayan towns, such as Tulum or Coba. Head to eco-cultural nature and water parks, Xcaret and Xel-Ha, where you can swim with dolphins, drift on crystal-clear underground rivers or enjoy various shows by Mayan performers. Adventure lovers will enjoy zip-lining, ATV driving or horseback riding in the jungle, and snorkeling or diving in the Caribbean Sea that boasts the world’s second largest coral reef.
Check out the Azul Sensatori, the new Villa del Parmar Cancun–which offers fully equipped kitchens and deeply discounted all-inclusive rates through the end of April, and Occidental Grand Xcaret–with hands-on activities to encourage families to engage with and learn about the environment. The hotel offers a turtle tip program in which guests can participate in the liberation of baby turtles; an Xcaret eco-path designed especially for children. You can opt for a condo hotel right in the fishing and tourist town of Playa del Carmen. Try Condo Hotels Playa del Carmen with five boutique luxury properties, located right next to each other and by the sugary white sand beach. If you are looking for luxury, try one of the four Velas resorts, where you can experience all inclusive deals with beautiful ocean views, a spa, golf course s and gourmet meals. Hacienda Tres Rios: A green resort in the Mexico’s Riviera Maya, is offering a special spring travel promotion, where you can stay at almost 50% off normal prices.
19. ORLANDO BOUND 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. And it won’t be nearly as hot. TheMagicard offer discounts on everything from attractions to accommodations and restaurants. Check out www.mousesavers.com for deals on all things Disney. And, explore outside Orlando. 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. Holiday Inn Club Vacations is offering more space, more amenities and more things to do this Spring Break. If you book your stay early, you can save 30%! Kids will love the water playground and putt-putt golf.
20. PLAY BALL! Cheer on your favorite teams at spring training games in Florida and Arizona. Look for deals like at the InterContinental Tampa, which is close to George Steinbrenner’s Legends Field. You’ll find special packages close to every stadium—and plenty to do when the games are done.
21. RANCH Your kids might never look at chores the same way again, once they’ve pitched in at a place like the Rockin’ R Ranch in Utah, an authentic cattle ranch where besides riding they can try their hand at barrel racing, archery, roping, and more. Not only won’t you have to worry about entertaining the kids, you won’t have to worry about feeding them either because all the meals are included. There are plenty of other ranch options too, with many opening mid-spring, according to the Dude Ranchers’ Association. Check out the new website from a Montana mom who was raised on a ranch and is raising her kids on a ranch — www.Top50ranches.com — which focuses on top riding experiences at ranches in the U.S. and abroad. My gang loved Vista Verde Ranch in Steamboat Springs, CO.
22.SAIL AWAY Cruises are good bets for families whether the kids are preschoolers (organized activities!) or teens (all they can eat! A safe place to roam!) Some ships like Disney Cruise Line even have day care for infants.) You can cruise from more than two dozen U.S. ports (including New York, New Jersey, Galveston, TX and Los Angeles) which means you can avoid flights. Go for three days or a week. Invite grandma and grandpa along. Mega ships like Norwegian’s Epic and Royal Caribbean’s Oasis and Allure offer something for every age group. And it’s not too late to snare a deal. Check websites like www.cruisecompete.com for good deals and www.cruisemates.com for a family cruise guide. You can find a travel agent who is a cruise expert at www.cruising.org.
23.SAIL YOURSELF AWAY Moorings or Sunsail are among the companies through which you can charter a yacht with or without a captain for a high-seas family vacation. Consider the British Virgin Islands, acknowledged as among the best boating destinations in the world, where you are rarely out of site of land. With a “Powercat”, a family can cover a lot of ocean but there’s always the option of dropping the anchor and going snorkeling, scuba, fishing, reading, or sunbathing! Another option is Mexico’s Baja Peninsula near Cabo San Lucas and Baja California. The bodies of water include the Gulf of California and the Sea of Cortez, both with views of pristine beaches and beautiful mountain ranges.