Our Very Best Summer Vacation Ideas

FamilyTravelForum.com and TakingtheKids.com have partnered to come up with the very best family vacation ideas for your summer getaway, the most rewarding time of the year for the 81% of families who vacation with both children and grandparents.

To score the best deals in this era of jam-packed planes and economic confidence, family planners will have to do their research and book as early as possible.

So even if you haven’t picked a recipe for the class potluck or bought a gift card for your child’s favorite teacher, we recommend you kickstart your summer vacation planning now with some of our suggestions. And if it’s already the dog days of August and the family needs a quick getaway, there are sure to be helpful ideas for that too.
 

THE FIRST STEP:  GETTING THERE


GetGoing is a new travel site focused on helping families easily discover and book the vacation experiences they want, at a price they can afford. GetGoing’s FlightFinder technology is the quickest and easiest way to search for the cheapest flights to specific places, while also helping discover deals to destinations you may not have considered. And GetGoing’s Pick Two, Get One system makes significant discounts available to travelers who are willing to travel to one of two fun vacation options the site offers, depending on availability.

BEACH VACATIONS ARE SUMMER FAVORITES

Get Going

Cayman Islands

Aspen Colorado

Park City Mountain Resort

Super 8 Motels

Stein Eriksen Deer Valley

Austin Lehman Adventures

Wyndham Vacation Rentals

LEGOLAND

FlipKey Rentals

Anguilla

Omni Hotels

VIARail

OARS

Discover LA

Palladium Resorts

Great Wolf Lodge

The Bahamas

Morgans Rock </p />
<p>Nicaragua

Whether you’re heading south, east or west, if you’re beach-bound for more than a few days you will want to spread out in a condo or beach rental.  Flipkey is a vacation rental marketplace with rentals around the world, including many at popular beach destinations. The FlipKey Beach Vacations section suggests favorite rentals from among their more than 170,000 vacation homes, with special deals available daily from their website.

Islands of Hawai'i

The Hawaiian Islands rank atop many wish lists, and families on the West Coast will find great flight-hotel-car packages like those from Pleasant Holidays. Concentrate your stay on one island like Kaua’i where you can stay at one of the upscale family resorts or in a relaxed condo like The Colony Resort on the North Shore and take your pick of adventures -- surfing, snorkeling, sea kayaking, paddle boarding, hiking and more.  Kaua’i is also known for its gentle surf and soft sand beaches; ideal for your tiniest travelers. Opt for the new Disney Aulani Resort & Spa on Oahu or stay in Honolulu, Oahu’s major city perfect for visitors interested in the Hawaiian Islands’ culture and nightlife attractions. Maui is the island for golden sand, surf lessons, posh resorts and the beautiful Kaana’pali Beach.  On the Big Island of Hawai'i, you can visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and see Kilauea Volcano, tour a macadamia nut plantation or a Kona Coffee farm, and get to know the real Hawaiian culture.

California Beaches

Santa Monica may be our ideal Southern California beach destination. It’s not too far from Disneyland or LA and has plenty of golden beach, the world-famous Santa Monica Pier and the pedestrian-only Third Street Promenade.  Kids love all the gymnastics equipment in the sand, the chance to fish and the carousel at Pacific Park, the pier’s own amusement park. Just north is a former Hearst mansion, now the public Annenberg Community Beach House, where families can play, swim or take yoga lessons at no charge.  You can rent a bike or inline skates and go for miles on the bike bath right along the beach. 

New England Beaches

For a mix of beach, culture and history, head to an East Coast Beach.  You have your pick of beach towns from Old Orchard Beach, Maine to Florida where you can play in the sand, ride bikes, tour New England towns, challenge the kids to a tennis match or hone your golf game. We love Cape Cod with its chance for old-fashioned fun on and around the water.  Cape Cod seashore attractions include sailing lessons, a ride on the famous Cape Cod Rail Trail, the National Sea Shore, quirky gay-friendly Provincetown and feasts of fresh seafood and homemade ice cream. 

Mid-Atlantic Beaches

Your babies will love Bethany Beach, Delaware. Just 15 miles from busy Ocean City, Maryland, it’s one of the quiet Atlantic beaches where you can stroll the boardwalk and enjoy a local Dickie’s frozen custard. The Jersey Shore promises it is ready for visitors after a big post-superstorm Sandy cleanup and beach cottages are a top value this season. Our family is going to explore its famous boardwalks and friendly towns, from the Silverball Pinball Museum in Asbury Park to the amusement park in Ocean City, the mini-golf courses in Avalon and the dolphin boat tours of Wildwood. Don’t forget that classic Cape May welcome all ages from baby to grandma to its gentle surf and Kids Day events at its Victorian cottages.  The best way to support the shore towns is by visiting, eating in the restaurants, and shopping the downtowns. Virginia Beach is a great family reunion destination with great weather, the chance to catch crabs off Chesapeake Beach, a three-mile-long boardwalk that rocks with free summertime concerts, and miles of shoreline to explore.  Kayak, fish, or take the kids to the marshes and wildlife refuge.

Florida Beaches

Anchor your gang at a Palm Beach-area resort and hit the spa for a fraction of what it would cost in winter. Among the toney set’s many family attractions are an Everglades airboat tour, a zoo and wildlife refuge, pretty beaches, a Playmobil Fun Park, and many foodie-caliber dining venues. Key Biscayne, at the very top of the famous Florida Keys, is another upscale getaway a short drive from Miami over the Rickenbacker Causeway.  It’s got the only underwater, federally recognized archaeological trail in the country and two major parks—Crandon Park and Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, and all the white sand beach you could want. For a totally different, more casual style with a funky charm and some pirate flair, head straight south to Key West, where kids love the pirate lore associated with the many wrecks that have been found off its shore. It’s not about the beach; Key West is about fun family hotels, great conch fritters, five-toed cats at Ernest Hemingway’s home, and the boutiques and key lime pie bakeries of Duvall Street.

Caribbean & Central America Tropical Getaways

New routes on American Airlines and JetBlue to major destinations in the Caribbean, Central America and South America have opened up endless opportunities for family adventures. Although it’s hotter, summer is a bargain compared to the winter high season and you usually don’t have to worry about hurricanes till late August.
 

Tropical All-Inclusive Resorts

For a relaxing Caribbean getaway, consider an all-inclusive chain like Palladium. You can take your pick of resorts in the Dominican Republic at Punta Cana, Jamaica, Brazil and Mexico. Tourist areas like Mexico’s Riviera Maya and, on the west coast, Riviera Nayarit (which has just undergone a $20 million renovation) have remained very safe. Families love all-inclusive resorts like this because there are organized activities for all age groups , suite accommodations, and everything is included:  from drinks for parents, to meals, to kids activities and nightly entertainment. And there is plenty of culture in Mexico to explore at nearby Mayan ruins. Beaches Ochos Rios Resort & Golf Club in Jamaica and its sister resorts have special Sesame Street activities for the youngest travelers, a pirate-themed pool, and tween and teen clubs for older siblings. The Ocho Rios resort, fully renovated, now has a Greek Village with family suites and new restaurants, some serving food grown on the resort’s own organic farm.
 

Tropical Islands Packed with Family Adventures

The Cayman Islands, with shallow waters and calm seas, are a great place for your kids to learn to snorkel, scuba dive or sail.  Their Cayman Islands summer promotion means a 20% discount at the Turtle Farm, and many other attractions on Grand Cayman that offer kids free admission.  Look online for offers posted by the participating partners.  In partnership with the Fresh Air Fund, 10 lucky New York City kids can stay each year with Cayman Islands families: here’s what one middle school student wrote about her experience in the Caymans.

The Islands of the Bahamas comprise a lot more than just Nassau, as you can see from this review of a recent stay at a tiny resort in the Bahamian Exumas which boasts more than 300 islands.  Kids can learn to scuba dive on Green Turtle Cay in the Abaco Islands where many families like to sail and kick back.  Join the Bahamas People-to-People experience and meet locals—at no charge.  You’ll be paired with a local Bahamian family who can share their way of life with your family. The Bahamas even has a Chief Family Officer to give you advice!  

The sun-kissed island of Anguilla is a place for families to experience an off-the-beaten-path Caribbean vacation with luxurious and affordable accommodations, outstanding cuisine and serene settings. In summer, it offers island-wide rates starting at 30% off. The island is best known for its 33 pristine powder-white sand beaches. Beyond the beach, kids of all ages can enjoy activities like swimming with dolphins, hiking Anguilla’s Katouche Valley, learning about the island’s rich history at the quaint Heritage Collection Museum and getting all-under one room at one of Anguilla’s many villas. Anguilla also has more than 100 restaurants, from fine dining, to roadside barbeques, to beachfront bistros to please appetites of any age.
 

Exploring the Caribbean Coast of Mexico and Central America

The Mexican Caribbean coast along Riviera Maya is the place to explore ancient Mayan ruins at Chichen-Itza and Tulum, let the kids practice their Spanish and get in some serious beach time. Tulum is a fun waterfront site that’s easily accessible from many resorts, or the place to find a low-key bungalow colony.  Iberostar and RIU Hotels, among Playa del Carmen resorts, offer all-inclusive options. Nicaragua, Panama and Honduras are good bets for families who want to add adventure to their beach time. Hiking, watersports, horseback riding, beach combing, practicing a language, trying new fruits and foods – all are easily found at good prices.  Opt for day hikes at an eco-resort like Morgan’s Rock and try to spot monkeys, wild birds, sloth, and other wild animals that their naturalists can teach you more about.  Explore the rain forest at The Gamboa Resort in Panama, or snorkel at Anthony’s Key on Roatan off Honduras.




CITY BREAKS FOR SHOPPING, CULTURE AND CUISINE

Hot town, summer in the city… Families will find that most cities now cater to little ones as well as to teens, with new museums, indoor playspaces and programs designed for local children.  If you’re traveling with high-schoolers, combine a cultural feast with some campus touring so they’ll be prepared for college application season. Check the city’s official tourism website for the latest deals and to see what special family offerings are available. Let each child plan a day of the itinerary. 

Urban Hotels Have Summer Family Packages and Deals

You’ll find hotels offering special weekend deals and family amenities, so choose one that the kids are dying to visit. Omni Hotels & Resorts had launched a teen concierge program in its New York City hotel that proved to be a big hit.  For summer 2013, let your tweens and teens know that a teen concierge will be on staff at the Omni Parker House in Boston, Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort, Omni Hilton Head Oceanfront Resort, and the Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate. Check out Omni's On a Whim deal that can save you 15% on a last-minute getaway -- it's valid at the Omni Berkshire Place, for those who have New York City in their eyesights!

New York Is Always New

2013 will be big again for New York City, which welcomed 52 million tourists last year. Coney Island and the Long Island shoreline are competing for your time with super chic Brooklyn (for galleries, restaurants, the new Barclay’s Center) and the Bronx (new stadium for the Yankees, Bronx Zoo, and the New York Botanical Garden). Don’t forget to pick up The Kid’s Guide to New York City to help in trip planning.  In Manhattan, families are heading to the city’s world class museums, discount shopping, entertainment and places like Central Park, where you can hop on a bike, don roller blades or just stroll the miles of pathways guided by free audio guides. The Conrad, where stylish suites cost the same as a room, is downtown in Battery Park City near Statue of Liberty Tours (she reopens July 4th), the Stock Exchange, and the 9/11 Memorial (the concierge will get you tickets.) 

Los Angeles, from Stars to Space

Families can choose the glamor and glitz of Los Angeles, California and the chance to see the magic behind the movies on a studio tour, at the Universal Hollywood themepark, and in Hollywood itself. You can do most family attractions without a car using the popular Red Metro Line which connects to many other electric bus routes. Among the 100+ museums, kids love the gloppy, bubbling La Brea Tar Pits, the J. Paul Getty Museum, and downtown’s MOCA for contemporary art.  Explore the space shuttle Endeavour at the California Science Center in Exposition Park and tour the USC campus. Get free tickets for a TV show that your school-age and older kids will enjoy through HollywoodTickets.com.

Exploratorium and More in San Francisco

The Exploratorium is one of San Francisco’s best family attractions, and it just reopened at Pier 15 on the Embarcadero. Now triple its former the size, the world-class interactive museum sets the standard for fun, hands-on discovery.  But there’s much more: The Walt Disney Family Museum has a special show commemorating the 50th anniversary of Maurice Sendak’s “Where The Wild Things Are,” the Cable Car Museum, Alcatraz (the prison museum), the Children’s Creativity Museum at Yerba Buena Gardens, medicinal herb shops in Chinatown, the Ferry Building farmer’s market and the chance meet local farmers and sample veggies you’ve never tried.  Bundle up for the chilly, foggy weather – even the sea lions seek the sun in summer. San Francisco tourism can help you find a good hotel deal in one of the small boutique properties.

Chicago Heads Outdoors in Summer

The city of Chicago, in contrast, is at its best in the summer when the lakefront becomes the place to ride bikes, inline skate or stroll with baby after a morning at the Navy Pier and its wonderful Children’s Museum. In Lincoln Park, visit one of the few free zoos in the country where kids especially love the polar bears.  Take in a concert in Millennium Park where you can’t help but be awed by “The Bean,” as locals call the giant CloudGate sculpture where you can see a reflection of the skyline in its shiny surface.  Some of the best kid-friendly museums in the country are here too: Art Institute Chicago (always free for kids under 14), The Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium (save on a hotel and spend the night), and The Museum of Science and Industry. For families who want to know more about President Obama, a long time Chicago resident, we share our walking tour of Obama Neighborhoods.  
 

New Orleans Welcomes Multigen Visitors to WWII Museum

National World War II Museum and its new US Freedom Pavilion are the summer’s biggest story in New Orleans, if you don’t mind a tropical climate. After beignets at Café du Monde, take the kids to the Audubon Zoo to see exotic animals, play in a water park, go on a dinosaur adventure and ride the carousel.  At the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, you can walk through an underwater reef tunnel and greet hundreds of exotic birds.  The Big Easy has lots more family fun in store plus top values at hotels, especially on summer weekends.   Ride a streetcar along St. Charles, shop the second-hand stores of Magazine Street, tour a nearby plantation and when the sun falls, take the family to meet someone’s ancestors on one of the city’s popular French Quarter ghost tours.

Washington DC Museums Beat the Heat

Washington, DCis hot in the summer but there are so many indoor, air-conditioned DC family attractions– most of them free – that your family will have a blast. For the latest in flight, stick around Dulles Airport to see the Udvar-Hazy Center, the wing of the Smithsonian big enough to house real aircraft. There are 18 more Smithsonian museums, most on the National Mall, but the Washington Monument itself is still under repair for damages suffered in the summer 2012 earthquake. Join a free walking tour with Free Tours By Foot, who offer visitors a 2-hour guided adventure just for tips, or explore Rock Creek Park. Even the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts has free daily performances at 6 p.m. on the Millennium Stage. Stuff the Kid’s Guide to Washington, DC in your treat bag, and the kids can help you plan out each day.

London is Kids' Favorite European City

London family attractions – sophisticated, unusual but in English -- make it an ideal place for that first visit to Europe. There is great theatre at value prices, Carnaby Street where the Beatles roamed, Buckingham Palace Guards who won’t smile and, of course, traffic and pedestrians on the “wrong” side of the street. Take the kids to the London Eye, the Tower of London and to Westminster Abbey where Kate and Prince William got married. There’s history and culture galore, at the Tower of London, museums like the Tate Modern, National Gallery, Victoria and Albert and The British Museum. And unlike the summer of the spectacular London Olympics, prices will be lower and attractions will be less crowded.






CRUISES COME IN ALL SHAPES AND SIZES


With more than 1 million passengers under 18 sailing in 2012, it’s no wonder that cruise ships of all kinds cater to families. Cruises are good bets for families with kids of all ages --  they’re top value, and they’re easy too:  no packing and unpacking, loading up the car, searching for restaurants, making the bed. What more could you ask for?

Alaska Adventures

Our roundup of the top family cruise lines will help you select the ones plying the waters off Alaska in summer, the best time for multigenerational families to spot wildlife. Explore the Inside Passage on a large cruise line -- including Disney, Princess and Holland America -- or an alternative such as the “un cruise” in Alaska or the small ship Sea Wolf.  For value, book Alaska sea and land tours in May, June, late August or September, or cruise the Caribbean – its low season is summer.

Major Cruise Lines Debut New Ships

The major cruise lines always make news, and with more than two dozen American “homeports,” you can embark for the Caribbean (or other tropical climates) without investing in airfare.  Royal Caribbean has just launched a Barbie Experience with special fan activities; the Norwegian Breakaway has a totally new ship design with an open-air boardwalk, 28 restaurants including an Ice Bar, and innovative staterooms.  The luxury Crystal Cruises is offering kids-cruise free deals in Europe, and it’s not too late to snare a summer deal.

Environmentally Aware Cruise Options

Back to nature cruising is another option. Explore a different ecosystem with the luxury Paul Gauguin small ship cruises in the South Pacific, Latin America, the Caribbean or Europe. Their famous Ambassadors of the Environment Youth Program designed by Jean Michel Cousteau introduces kids to the natural wonders of French Polynesia.  Float through the arid canyonlands of Utah, Arizona and Nevada on an eco-friendly houseboat vacation, and let the kids raft and swim when you moor at night. Houseboating.org can steer you to marinas on California’s Lake Shasta, along New York’s Erie Canal, or on Florida’s Sanibel and Captiva islands. Share a boat and the trip is even more economical; small houseboats start at under $500 a week.  A windjammer cruise off the coast of Maine aboard a historic schooner is a very different experience, one that’s ideal for kids who are into authentic sailing, even though it’s rustic. They can learn traditional skills like knot tying, steering, hauling sails, polishing brass, and rowing, while enjoying the camaraderie among only 22 passengers, sleeping out on deck and lobster bakes on remote shores.

Sailing charters are great fun for adventure-loving families, whether in Maryland, Florida or the Caribbean.  The Ogintz family has bareboated the Caribbean on their own without a crew, although you can get a captain and crew to do all the work.

Cruise Europe on its Great Rivers

River cruises have been growing in popularity for families as an easy way to explore Europe. Uniworld has special multigenerational program on its Paris and Normandy river cruises, complete with kids’ cooking class; Tauck Bridges also has a France Family River Cruise complete with  kid-friendly Paris tours (think a scavenger hunt in the Louvre)   Some families—including mine—have opted to rent their own barge to explore a region—whether in France, Ireland, Holland or elsewhere.

ECOTOURISM AND ADVENTURE TRIPS

Whether you want to go to Costa Rica, on safari, or to Yellowstone, an organized family adventure trip can be both memorable and relaxing if an outfitter does all the work. You can also use their expertise to book a private trip just for your extended family. Austin-Lehman Adventures, whose six-day “Black Hills to Mt Rushmore, South Dakota” trip combines hiking through prairie land, exploring National Parks and riding the local Rails to Trails bike routes, does both.  Some adventure travel companies have specialty destinations: Lindblad-National Geographic (known for family Galapagos trips), Thomson Family Adventures (Africa), Wildland Adventures (Costa Rica and Panama).  Backroads features deluxe, multisport trips and Adventures by Disney runs fun, escorted tours to Europe. Tour operators who offer special family departures are also savvy enough to bring counselors, and put kids of similar ages on the same trips.
 

FARM STAYS AND RIVER-RAFTING WITH THE LOCALS

Well recognized in Europe, Australia and New Zealand, there are growing opportunities for farm family vacations or agritourism. More than ever, farmers offer overnight lodging, meals and a peek into their lifestyle. Here’s your chance for the kids to see where their food comes from and help harvest it. Our directory of farm stays in the US and globally will help you plan a quiet weekend away.

River-rafting is as close as it gets to being at one with the water. Companies like OARS, who have been around the world’s major rivers since 1969, now host trips as diverse Alaska or Zambia and many take children as young as 4 years. Be sure to request their catalog of family river-rafting adventures so you can get the kids involved in choosing which trip they'd like to take.

Closer to home, many river outfitters run the Middle Fork of the Salmon, the Green River, the Colorado through the Grand Canyon and the New River in West Virginia. You’re guaranteed to be unplugged without cell service and to relax since the guides do all of the work, even preparing sumptuous meals and entertaining the kids. Check out companies like Western River Expeditions, ROW and Dvorak Expeditions who offer some kids-free trips every summer; Arizona River Runners is known for their challenging Grand Canyon trips, some as short as three days. 


LEARNING AND EXPLORATION TOGETHER

Keep your kids in the learning groove by studying something unexpected on vacation. It might be a language course at your Costa Rican all-inclusive resort, or hula lessons at a Hawaiian hotel. Get your kids to unplug, open their minds, and improve their life skills every day.  Learn to scuba dive together, like Eileen Ogintz did on vacation in the British Virgin Islands. 

Learn to Cook and Get Healthy

The concern with childhood obesity and nutrition has spawned an interest in gardening, visiting farm markets, and cooking – the best ways for children to understand and control what they put into their bodies. Some Hyatt Hotels and resorts now have cooking classes for kids — from chef for a day programs at the Wequassett Resort on Cape Cod to New Jersey’s Crystal Springs Resort to Blackberry Farm in Tennessee, ABC News reported that at the Essex Resort & Spa near Burlington Vermont, Camp Cook is offering some kids programs that last as long as a week. CuisinArt resort in Anguilla, famous for its Hydroponic garden offers cooking classes for kids and adults. in Sonoma County, the Ramekins School holds classes for ages 7-17 in age-appropriate groups, and advises parents on the child-friendly vineyards in this bountiful region.
 

Civil War History 150 Years Later and Everything In Between

The 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War is being celebrated around the United States, with major museum exhibits, historical re-enactments of key battles, and new interpretive trails.  Richmond, Virginia, once the Confederate capital and filming location of the movie “Lincoln,” just opened its Liberty Trail along key historical sites. Gettysburg has planned dozens of special activities all summer, and in NY State, families can plot a weekend or a long road trip along the “Passage to History” route. Waterfront Mystic Connecticut is packed with seafaring history, and  Baltimore and Philadelphia are among our favorite cities for civic-minded families.  Road Scholars offers many escorted educational trips around the world for grandparents and grandchildren.

Destination Museums Are a Good Vacation Focus

Make a museum the focal point of your trip. One-of-a-kind establishments like the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis feature an immersive Egypt experience (next year it will be China.) In Cooperstown, New York, sports fans have the Baseball Hall of Fame; in Massachusetts, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame; in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Conserve, Renew, Refresh in Nature

Animal lovers who plan ahead can score a cheap hotel (more like a sleepover with sleeping bag) at many of the country’s top zoos and aquariums, which welcome families to spend the night, get to know their creatures better, and participate in preparing meals and feeding time. Many non-profit environmental and conservation organizations raise money by hosting special summer weekends and learning trips. The Appalachian Mountain Club, for example, encourages families to help maintain trails, camp overnight at their rustic huts along the Appalachian Trail, or book a room at their comfortable lodges in Maine and New Hampshire.  Each has activities and evening programs at no extra cost, and everyone in the family can borrow the gear needed for their trip (try the walking sticks if you have stiff knees!)

SUMMER PROGRAMS FOR FAMILIES WITH SPECIAL NEEDS

The family member facing special challenges has a variety of day and sleepaway summer programs that meet physical or intellectual special needs.  Both The National Ability Center in Park City, Utah and the National Sports Center for the Disabled in Winter Park, Colorado offer many different  outdoors programs for children with special challenges and families visiting Sunday River Maine enjoy everything from horseback riding to kayaking to cycling to special camps.  There are sliding payment scales so that if a child or a member of your family faces special challenges, that no longer should keep you home. Autism on the Seas helps arrange vacations on land and sea for families with a child with an Autism Spectrum disorder. Orlando is home to Give Kids the World, a residential style village designed for kids suffering from life threatening illness (and their families), who have chosen Orlando as their wish destination.
 

VOLUNTEER VACATIONS ARE FUN ANY SEASON

Your teens may feel the pressure to perform community service for college applications, but we think volunteering is a great vacation activity with any school-age child. And 11% of the kids who enter the Family Travel Forum Teen Travel Writing Scholarship each year say they “travel to help others.” The website Together for Good lists over 90 places that families can give back -- even just for a day -- on a land-based vacation or cruise in the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America.  Passports with Purpose enlists travel bloggers to support various volunteer vacation options. Other non-profit organizations can place your teen or find a family volunteer opportunity; or you can stick close to home in a cause like hurricane Sandy relief, and do good.
  

MOUNTAINS, NATIONAL PARKS AND THE GREAT OUTDOORS

When the snow melts, look for top value deals across the country at ski resorts from Vermont to Colorado, California to Utah.

Majestic Mountain Towns in Summer

In luxurious Deer Valley, Utah, mountain bikers, hikers and outdoors enthusiasts who come for the crisp mountain air can also enjoy the Deer Valley Music Festival. Hotel values abound; the Stein Eriksen Lodge Alpine Awakening B&B package  (valid May 31- September 28, 2013), for example, provides a one-bedroom suite with its own deck and hot tub from $395/night. Allow for down time at Utah’s only Forbes Five-Star Spa or biking on the rail trails, or keep teens busy at the zip line and alpine coaster rides at Park City Mountain Resort.  Hop aboard their free shuttle to Historic Main Street Park City for museums, more family-friendly dining and the weekly Park Silly Sunday Market, a free eco-friendly outdoor festival on Lower Main Street filled with live music, costumed performers and artists. Other ski towns like Aspen  and Telluride tout festivals all summer long; Aspen's Food & Wine Classic is a repeat-treat for thousands of foodie families.  Sunday River, Maine rolls outs everything from mountain biking to their famous wife-carrying challenge, golf, disc golf and White Mountain hikes. 

For the coziest base on a national parks trip, opt for a centrally located vacation condo or house. You’ll have room to spread out, and can save money whether you want to prepare picnics for your day hikes, or dinner while you watch old DVDs by the fireplace – this family did both during their Blue Sky Breckenridge condo reunion. Wyndham Vacation Rentals offers options – at beaches, lakes and even cities around the world -- that are reviewed and professionally managed.  To negotiate directly with a homeowner you can try VRBO and, for lesser budgets, AirBnB; many of our friends love the barter-only system of house swapping websites.
 

Family Camps for All Ages

Family camps have become more popular in recent years, whether they’re rustically luxurious like Tyler Place in Vermont, or traditional camps like Camp Nebagamon in Wisconsin which open their doors to families during specific summer weeks. The YMCA offers family camps around the country that are well priced and ideal for family reunions. Among the most popular are Trout Lodge and Camp Lakewood in the Missouri Ozarks, and the YMCA of the Rockies: Estes Park and Snow Mountain Ranch, Colorado. Your family reunion group will find meeting space to gather, all meals, childcare, and lots of activities led by their staff, from horseback riding to crafts, archery, fishing, mountain biking and even a zipline.  YMCA Camp Du Nord in Minnesota is on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, where you can try sailing, kayaking, canoeing, cook outs and more – bring bug repellent. 

National and State Parks Have Summer Learning Programs

With nearly 400 national parks and monuments, families have plenty of ways to explore the outdoors. But this summer, when the Sequestration means shorter hours at Visitors Centers and fewer staff to lead programs, consider other, less crowded alternatives, such as llama trekking in Colorado. Bike the rail trails at Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio, or Coeur d’Alene Idaho whose annual summer antique Cars d’Alene Show draws as many visitors as its beautiful lake and fishing grounds. Make the most of your family’s time by planning to participate in any special activities, ranger-led walks or kids programs. In exploring national parks with kids, TakingtheKids.com offers other ideas.


RESORTS AND WELLNESS VACATIONS

When life slows down in the summer, it’s time for many moms to sit back, evaluate and be proactive about personal health and wellness. Of course, if we can, we want to share any opportunity for better health with our kids. Here are some ideas on how to do it.


Guests have been coming to The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia since the 18th century for its 5-star spa where you can soak up the healing properties of native sulphur springs.  This classic, very luxurious resort, gives tours of its Cold War era bunker and its historic golf courses; as well as scheduled horseback riding, skeet shooting, falconry, kayaking and paintball lessons.

The La Costa Resort, Spa & Golf Club in Carlsbad, California -- said to be Hollywood’s “fat farm” -- has made personal wellness its mission since 1965. Starting with accommodations ranging from studios to large homes, plus more than 400 beautifully landscaped acres, and championship golf and tennis facilities, they have expanded with a Premier Fitness bootcamp, the on-site Chopra Center led by Dr. Deepak Chopra, a renewed spa, and a kids waterplay pool complex. Given the excellent children’s program that minds babies through teens, this is the place parents and kids really have time to get in shape.  

With branches in Tucson, Arizona; Lenox, Massachusetts; Miami, Florida; and a few day spas; Canyon Ranch is a place to improve your health and have a good time through fitness, good nutrition, and healthy living. Go to classes, take hikes, enjoy the spa.Take your favorite student age 14 and over and they stay free through the summer; there are other parent and child deals too.

Pritikin Longevity Center and Spa, based at the full service Turnberry isle Resort in Florida, offers a Summer Family Program (June 29-July 12) for kids 8 and older with a focus on healthy living and eating with tennis and golf lessons, swimming and games in the pool, beach volleyball at the nearby Turnberry Beach Club, cooking classes, dance classes, and aerobic workout sessions in the well-equipped, professionally staffed Pritikin spa and health club. Parents can enroll in the traditional Pritikin Health and Weight Loss Program and feel even better after their vacation. The Biggest Loser Resorts accommodate teens starting at age 14, who are accompanied by an adult for a program that runs at least seven days. There are resorts in Niagara, New York;  Malibu, California; Chicago, Illinois; and Ivins, Utah.
 

OVERLAND TRIPS OFFER AMAZING VARIETY

Given the time needed to plan and execute an overland adventure, most families save this rite of passage for the summer. If you’re not into a summer road trip, take advantage of the full-service, escorted VIA Rail train trips across the spectacular country of Canada – you can see more than if you drove and it’s far more comfortable.  VIA Rail Canada’s Land Touring is also an ideal way for families to enjoy multi-generational trips and family reunions – you can fit 22 of your closest relatives into one sleeper car. Their most famous railfan route is The Canadian, a four-day deluxe adventure from Vancouver through the Rocky Mountains to Toronto, which guarantees great views from their domed Skyline cars; comfortable compact bedrooms; freshly prepared, locally sourced food; onboard lectures and the chance to make lots of friends. Stops are infrequent, but the Entertainment Coordinator holds talks about railway history, shows old train videos and organizes activities like on-board group games for the children. There are other shorter routes; kids under 12 pay only half price in economy and seniors and young people ages 12-25 get special discounts.
 

Fun Road Trip Ideas on Popular Routes

For the DIY perfect family road trip, we recommend that anyone with preschoolers drives during morning and afternoon nap hours, and sets daily goals before departure. With older children your route can be more serendipitous (filled with missed exits and unusual must-stop roadside attractions), but you must include some activities just for them. And always remain playful;  backseat car games make the time fly by for everyone.

Inexpensive and trustworthy chains like Super 8, with more than 2,300 motels throughout North America, are great at day’s end.  At many of them, kids can jump into a swimming pool, the dog can relax in your air-conditioned room, and amenities like free WiFi and a microwave (to make a pizza) as well as a big free breakfast make you feel at home.  Stay three nights or more (average daily rate of around $60 a night) and save 20% off the best available rate.

Among our favorite routes: Conquer the states of Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee on our favorite road:  The Blue Ridge Parkway. This incredibly scenic route winds through Shenandoah National Park, past Jefferson’s historic home Monticello (former presidents James Madison and James Monroe have historic homes nearby too), and through the small towns of Appalachia. Don’t miss the Blue Ridge Music Center and other highlights along The Crooked Road Cultural Trail, or a few days in the chic hippie town of Asheville. When you arrive at your goal in Sevierville, Tennessee, you can reward all those patient kids with a day at the Dollywood theme park.
 
If your destination is Florida, as it is for an estimated 89 million each year, take the slow road with our Florida US1 tour, a combination of Route 1 and Route A1A that snakes along the Atlantic coast from Jacksonville to Key West.  Let the kids blow off steam at the 10-acre Kids Campus in Jacksonville, sip at the Fountain of Youth in St. Augustine, dune buggy and meet astronauts on the Space Coast (see the Space Shuttle Atlantis), then hit the beaches, shopping and fine dining in Palm Beach, Ft. Lauderdale and Miami.  The southernmost end was built as the two-lane Overseas Highway from Miami to Key West in the mid-1930s and was annexed to US 1 soon afterwards.

It may be too hot to keep the roof open, but there’s nothing quite like the classic Grand Canyon to Las Vegas route.  We like to start at one of Phoenix many great resorts (Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, The Westin Kierland Resort & Spa, and the Hyatt Regency all have kids clubs and lots of activities), then head to the red rocks of Sedona for some hiking. At Williams, you can catch the Grand Canyon Railway. Just south of the entrance to the park is the National Geographic Visitor Center, a comprehensive mall offering Grand Canyon information, guides, and retail shops, as well as an official outpost of the Arizona tourist office. Touring the Grand Canyon with curious kids is fun. You’ll want a break from the heat at Lake Powell or Lake Mead in Nevada – you could rent a houseboat (see above) – or your teens may want to drive straight through to Las Vegas.

If the heat sounds like too much, opt for the summer fog and chill winds along California’s famous Highway 1, the Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco to Los Angeles. These two urban family destinations are among our top summer picks, but for scenic beauty, nothing beats the coastal road that connects them via Half Moon Bay, Santa Cruz (surprise the kids with a stop at its historic boardwalk themepark), and spectacular Monterey with its Monterey Bay Aquarium.   Carmel, San Luis Obispo, Point Lobos, Big Sur – you’ve seen photographs of them all; yes, it’s worth stopping -- but some very windy stretches will upset kids prone to motion sickness.  Study your map and you’ll find easier ways to visit Hearst Castle, Santa Barbara and Malibu, all fun places to stop for the night. For a different kind of adventure, consider renting an RV. You can read one trip journal in RVing With Kids in Colorado.


WATER PARKS AND THEME PARKS MAKE A SPLASH

More than 300 million people will visit U.S. amusement parks and attractions this summer, says the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, as the attractions industry provides 600,000 jobs and helps pump more than $57 billion into North America’s economy.  Aren’t you glad that your family is planning to do their part?

Indoor and Outdoor Water Parks for All Seasons

Don’t worry about the weather:  Great Wolf Lodges are affordably priced resorts with indoor, four-season waterparks located around the country from Williamsburg, Virginia to Traverse City, Michigan to Niagara Falls, Ontario. Built with a fun Northwoods theme (big family suites have ‘bear caves’ for bunks!), Great Wolf keeps kids busy with lots of activities, from arts n’ crafts to storytime to scavenger hunts, and has added even more family amenities (think specially designed bowling alleys and “glowing” night time mini golf). They also have a resort in the Wisconsin Dells, a destination that boasts more water parks than anywhere in the country including Noah’s Ark Waterpark --- think over 200 water slides and plenty of water play areas for the littlest park goers. 

Legoland, Disneyland and More In Southern California

Sunny Southern California is a region packed with themeparks and waterparks, including Disneyland and Disney California Adventure where Cars Land has proved a big hit. If you’re traveling with a family member with an Autism Spectrum disorder or any disability, both Disneyland and Walt Disney World get high marks from visitors for their special park maps and handheld devices for those with visual and hearing disabilities.

LEGOLAND California in Carlsbad, has just debuted the first LEGOLAND hotel in the country. The LEGO creations, themed lobby and rooms are sure to be a big hit with your little builders since they are ideally suited to ages 2 to 10. Locals say you’re missing a lot if you skip Knott’s Berry Farm in Anaheim with its roller coasters (including the family Coast Rider), Camp Snoopy for younger kids and new Boardwalk family attractions this summer.  Teens especially love Six Flags Magic Mountain north of Los Angeles, with some of the fastest, tallest rides in the country.
 

Count on Orlando, Florida to Wow Theme Park Fans

Orlando of course is theme park central, but there are many other Orlando attractions for families as well, and The Magicard offers discounts on everything from attractions to accommodations and restaurants. We also prefer to vacation in May or June, before the summer heat and afternoon rain storms; late August and early September are less crowded (and cheaper) too.

Active duty military get in free to LEGOLAND Florida, a new wonderland of brick- building that has enlarged with new attractions like the World of Chima interactive water ride in search of mystical energy (hint:  think Legos).  At SeaWorld Orlando families can cool off at the new “Antartica: Empire of the Penguins” exhibit and get up close and personal with penguins, or head over to her sister park, Discovery Cove and swim with dolphins or sting rays. 

The New Fantasyland with its “Be My Guest” restaurant has transformed the Magic Kingdom at Disney World, and we are impressed by the strides made in Disney’s healthy eating and food sensitivity programs.  Universal Orlando Resort has been transformed by – what else? -- Transformers: The Ride-3D.  Check out mousesavers.com for deals on all things Disney. 

Eileen Ogintz’ Kid’s Guide to Orlando can help kids prioritize their rides and lead the way.  For pure thrills in a compact environment, nothing compares to Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio, a small town with lots of budget hotels and waterpark resorts. We still love Millennium Force (300 foot drop at speeds of more than 90 mph) but there are more than a dozen other record-breaking coasters at this Lake Erie themepark, as well as a Snoopy playland for little tykes and a Soak City Waterpark with dozens of water attractions.