Our Very Best Summer Vacation Ideas

The annual summer family vacation is a welcome treat each year, even if you didn’t have the brutal winter that our family experienced.  It’s a chance to slow down and visit with loved ones as life rushes by, or an excuse to take several mini-getaways in between over-scheduled weeks. As vacation time becomes more precious we want to help you make the most of it, so we teamed up with TakingtheKids.com to share some of the best ideas for grandparents, parents, extended family and children of all ages to enjoy together.

 

#BestSummer Beach Vacations

Whether you’re headed north or south, east or west, it’s a safe bet that a beach stay is part of your summer vacation plans (in fact, 43% of you have told your travel agents that, says a recent survey).  Here are some favorites that offer plenty of off-the-sand activities for all ages, in addition to clean, safe surf to swim in.

East Coast Beach Family Vacations

On the east coast along the Atlantic Ocean, you have your pick of beach towns from Maine all the way to Florida where you can play on the sand (and often a boardwalk), ride bikes, challenge the kids to a tennis match or hone your golf game. We love the cool breezes of Cape Cod where families can take a sailing lesson, ride on the famous Cape Cod Rail Trail, catch a baseball game, visit the National Sea Shore and, at the end of the day, savor fresh seafood and homemade ice cream. There are also ferries back to Boston, and between Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket for more action.

You don’t have to be a Springsteen fan to know that New Jersey is summer. Freshly renovated beach cottages along the famous Jersey Shore boardwalks are great value before July 4th and after mid-August. Don’t miss daytrips to the Silverball Pinball Museum in Asbury Park, Ocean City’s Luna Park, Avalon’s mini-golf courses and Wildwood’s dolphin-watching boat tours. Classic Cape May is proud of its baby-friendly gentle surf and the Kids Day events scheduled at its Victorian cottages. 

Southern Beach Vacations in Florida, Caribbean, Mexico

Florida conjures images of chaise lounges on hundreds of miles of broad sand beach, but in Daytona Beach, your family can also drive on it, at the site of the city’s first speedway. Unplug the kids and take the Waybac machine to Pine Island, a channel island in the Gulf of Mexico near Ft. Myers, and swim off boats or fish to your heart’s content. Watch sunbathing alligators in the Everglades for a fraction of what it would cost in winter, or try snorkeling from one of the many small Florida Keys resorts.

The most beautiful tropical beaches are found along the Caribbean coast and off the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico. Here, several new and all-inclusive Palladium Resorts (currently there are 12 Grand Palladium Resort & Spas located in Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Spain and Brazil) enable families to have fun together and apart, guilt-free. Grandparents and parents can master their iPads, work on their tans or sailing skills, while kids from 4 to 12 are enrolled in supervised mini clubs. The Play at Palladium with Raggs family program has colorful puppy mascots from the Raggs TV show who engage kids day and night in learning activities, poolside events, a disco party, breakfasts and a 50-minute live show spectacular called the Raggs Pirate Show.

The Bay of Banderas on Mexico’s Pacific Coast is big and sheltered, ideal for little ones who want to play in the gentle surf. This region has been active in the conservation of marine turtles for decades and one of the thrills for visitors to the main resort town of Puerto Vallarta is observing the turtles that come to lay eggs on its beaches. Local conservation teams protect them from beach-goers, then allow hotel guests to help shepherd the newborns into the sea after they hatch, typically between August and November. Accommodations range from world-class luxury to small inns and the staff can help you find a conservationist-led tour. Visit their website for a chance to win a family vacation this summer.

Oregon, California, Hawaii Family Beaches

On the Pacific Coast, most northern beaches are better for surfing or watersports (in wetsuits) than for swimming but they’re still lots of fun with younger kids. Lincoln City, Oregon has waterfront motels that make a good base for windsurfing, dog walking, watching birds and sunsets. Your youngest kids will find great sticky sand for building sand castles. Don’t get too cozy here; you must make time for the Oregon Coast Aquarium at Newport.

You can ignore the cold waves because you never have to get wet in Santa Cruz, just south of San Francisco. The beautiful, big Santa Cruz boardwalk turns 107 this summer yet its classic midway with turn-of-the-century rides always seem fresh and yes, thrilling. The sprawling Seascape Resort is a good base for active families.

Santa Monica is the ideal SOCAL beach destination because its pier boasts rides and a carousel at Pacific Ocean Park, places to fish, and easy access for daytrips to Disneyland and Los Angeles.  North past the romantic seafood restaurants like Gladstone’s is 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.  Play volleyball — there are always games going on.

To the south, the city of San Diego keeps families busy at its world-class Zoo, SeaWorld, and 15 major museums and entertainment venues at Balboa Bark. Even if you’re not traveling with your pet, don’t miss the Coronado Dog Beach near Mission Bay where each summer you can catch the Loews Coronado Bay Surf Dog Competition.

First-time visitors flock to Oahu because of the constant buzz around Waikiki, a mecca for tweens and teens, especially if they want to learn how to surf. Book ahead for tickets to see Pearl Harbor and don’t miss the battleship Missouri celebrating 80 years of commission. For an entirely different scene, visit quaint Haleiwa, the surf capital on Oahu’s North Shore.  Maui is the island for golden sand and tans, surf lessons, posh resorts and the beautiful Kaana’pali Beach.  On Hawai’i, the Big Island, 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 that George Clooney showed us in “The Descendants.”

 

#CityBreaks for Foodies, Artists, Shoppers

City breaks offer value summer vacations packed with art, interesting dining options and great shopping, because there are so many free activities and cheap hotel rates on weekends. No need to wait till kids get older; we know even your super smart preschoolers can enjoy an urban getaway as long as you don’t plan too much each day.

If either New York, Washington DC, Orlando, Chicago or Los Angeles is on the wish list, pick up one of the invaluable KIDS GUIDES (coming soon: San Diego, San Francisco and Denver-Boulder) written by Eileen Ogintz. These fun, fact-filled guides encourage kids to lead the way on your family adventures -- a good idea say 81% of parents polled by TripAdvisor.

You’ll find convenient downtown hotels offering special weekend deals like free breakfast or half off connecting rooms. Although it counts business travelers among its guests, Omni Hotels & Resorts has a teen concierge program and other family perks at its hotels.  Check out Omni’s Dive Into Summer package that includes a backpack full of goodies for tiny travelers.   In 10 major cities including Tampa, where it will be available for summer 2014, you can save on admission to local attractions with a program like CityPASS. CityPASS booklets contain prepaid admission to the most popular attractions in the top US cities, plus Toronto, that enables families to avoid long lines. Be sure to visit their blog for helpful planning tips so you have time to fit everything in during your stay. 

Philadelphia for an Art & Science Family Vacation

We always love Philadelphia, and the developments along Ben Franklin Parkway have made it even easier for families to appreciate the city’s charms. There’s the new Barnes Foundation Museum and the wonderful Please Touch! Childrens Museum, where you can spend the entire day. In mid-June, The Franklin Institute expands into the Nicholas and Athena Karabots Pavilion that will add 53,000-square feet of exhibition space for “Your Brain,” an interactive exhibit about neuroscience and psychology. The Philadelphia Museum of Art (free admission to kids 12 and under) transforms into a family hot spot with its Art Splash program, where visitors of all ages can meet the masterpieces.  Outdoors along the Schuylkill River, the Philadelphia Zoo is unveiling an overhead trail system called Big Cat Crossing. See lions, tigers, jaguars and other large felines roam 14-feet above the ground.  

New York for a Theater & Museum Family Vacation

New York City reports more families are visiting than ever and it’s easy to see why — among the many world class museums, the American Museum of Natural History has a new Planetarium show and a rich kids’ website. Broadway has many great musicals this season, and apps like TodayTix.com help you find same-day and within-the-week discounted tickets, without waiting on the TKTS line at Times Square. Central Park literally blossoms in summer, especially with Tavern on the Green reopening in late May after several years’ absence. Ask the kids to pick between seeing a game at one of two baseball stadiums with the most expensive hot dogs in the MLB, having dinner in Little Italy or Chinatown, renting bikes or bicycle rickshaws, shopping at Macy’s or the Lower East Side, and touring the 9/11 Memorial (the long-awaited Museum opens May 21st so book tickets ahead at 911Memorial.org), or the Statue of Liberty and we guarantee a memorable visit.

San Francisco High Tech Family Vacations

In addition to many other attractions, San Francisco boasts one of the most scenic ballparks in America. AT&T Park, the waterfront home of the SF Giants, overlooks the Pacific on one side and an intimate playing field surrounded with terrific food concessions and kids play areas on the other. Welcome the city’s legendary children’s museum, the Exploratorium, into its huge new home on the Embarcadero by interacting with many expanded exhibits indoors and out.  Tour the Cable Car Museum, bike ride over the Golden Gate Bridge if the kids are hardy, admire Alcatraz from the water, or sample any of San Francisco’s other family attractions.  Live like the high-tech locals by booking an entire family apartment through AirBnB.com and get around at night with Uber, the hometown car sharing service that’s expanded into 35 countries.

Washington DC Family Vacations Are About Knowledge

It wouldn’t be summer without thousands of teachers and parents planning educational visits to the nation’s capital. But Washington DC is much more than government, especially in this season’s hot and humid lazy days. This top-value city plans weekly festivals and street fairs,  and the dozens of free monuments and 19 no-charge Smithsonian museums (we love the kids’ website) mean there’s never a bad time to visit, no matter which temporary shows are in town. Unlike when we were kids, the engaging Visitors Centers at the White House and Capitol mean you won’t have to plan ahead or wait in line to see the real thing… the behind-the-scenes exhibits are more revealing than being in the actual building. You will have to book ahead, however, to be among the first to see the restored Washington Monument, which reopens May 12 -- three years after a magnitude 5.8 earthquake shook 150 cracks into its marble walls.  Tickets for National Park Service properties can be obtained in advance from Recreation.gov.  Even the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts has free daily performances — at 6 p.m. on the Millennium Stage. Stay in comfort at the Fairmont Washington DC in Georgetown. This elegant AAA four-diamond hotel, convenient to all the major attractions, is serving a bountiful Mother’s Day and Father’s Day family brunch with healthy Fairmont Lifestyle Cuisine options designed for those with allergies or dietary needs. Their seasonal family package provides a large room with two queen beds, free breakfast and valet parking – ideal for a pampered, relaxing weekend road trip with kids.

 

Cruise the High Seas or Nearby Waterways

With major cruise lines now departing from 24 homeports, the majority of Americans can be at a cruise terminal with just one day of driving, bringing this already great value vacation into the reach of many more families.  This is one industry seeing more than 50% of guests sailing with a group, mostly multigenerational and extended families who appreciate that there’s fun new experiences for all ages on these floating resorts. Check out our 2014 Guide to the Top Family Cruises to see which line might be best for your family and, remember, since there are no lifeguards on duty at waterplay areas, you’ll have keep an extra vigilant eye on the kids.

#CrewUp: Houseboats, Schooners & Bare Boat Yachts

Houseboating is easy, economical, and a great option for a laid back, have-a-few beers type of family and friends getaway.  Some houseboats start at under $500 a week.  Share a boat, barbecue your fresh catch, and the houseboat vacation is even more economical. Lake Powell and Lake Meade are popular U.S. destinations but you can also book a stationery houseboat in Boston, San Francisco, Amsterdam, London and elsewhere if you shop on VRBO.com for vacation rentals by boat owners.

With the wind at your back and a seafood cookout offshore, nothing beats a windjammer cruise in Maine.  The young at heart of any age can adventure back to the golden age of clipper ships and explore the spectacular coast for a few days on a historic schooner.  Imagine eating just-caught lobsters on a deserted beach, exploring tide pools teaming with sea life, berry picking and hunting for sea glass.  The kids can help sail historic vessels and learn traditional skills like knot tying, steering, hauling sails, polishing brass, rowing, cranking ice cream. This isn’t a luxurious cruise and it’s not for the disabled; the beauty of windjamming is that it’s like camping at sea.

Your adventure-loving family may want to charter a sail boat, whether in Maryland, Florida, California, Hawaii, the Caribbean or off the coast of Central America in Honduras or Belize among other destinations.  If you have the skills, like our friend Eileen Ogintz and her posse, you can save money by “bareboating” or sailing yourself around. Of course, big families may prefer having a captain and crew to navigate, cook, clean up, stock groceries, provide water toys, and generally do the work of sailors so you can relax. 

 

Environmentally Friendly, Adventurous and Green Family Vacations

Tourism relies on a healthy planet, and we all know that making our own lifestyles more environmentally friendly may lessen the impact of climate change. So before you pack your bags, share this wonderful new guide, Disney Go Green: A Family Guide to a Sustainable Lifestyle with the kids and their friends, and ask them how they can apply what they’ve learned to your upcoming road trip or hotel stay. We think you’ll be surprised at how much they want to help our planet when it’s Mickey Mouse showing them how easy it is.

Introduce the environment and healthy eating in a hands-on way with an agritourism or farm stay vacation. Farm vacations are cheap and popular in Europe, where so much dining is naturally farm-to-table. More North American working farms are supplementing their crop income with overnight lodging, meals and a peek into a farmer’s lifestyle. School age kids will love joining in as cows are milked, eggs are collected fresh from the hen house, and carrots are pulled from the ground. Go to our directory of farm stays and choose your pick of working farms and ranches across the U.S. (in all 50 states and U.S. Territories).

Guided Tours & Professional Outfitters Plan Better Adventure Trips

Today, even the youngest kids are being included on guided trips, with cultural tours offered by Adventures By Disney catering to ages 4 and up. A growing number of “adult” outfitters also offer special family itineraries organized for kids of similar ages, like long-time favorite Collette Vacations with new family tours to Washington DC, Ireland and Itay, with big discounts for travelers under 14.

You’ll really want a top outfitter to do the planning when you embark on an outdoors ecotourism trip, whether it’s to Costa Rica, Alaska, Yellowstone or other national parks (among the most popular family destinations).  Austin Adventures is featuring trips to Yosemite National Park this summer, where their trained naturalists lead hikes among the granite monoliths and giant sequoias of northern California. As part of their family itinerary, you can swim under cascading waterfalls, mountain bike through a glacier-cut canyon and trek through valleys – the variety of activities available on many of their national parks and even South American guided adventures.

Stay Wet on a #River Rafting Family Expedition

There’s no better bonding to be had that with DIY cruising, that is, paddling together on a river rafting adventure through pristine wilderness.  Many river rafting outfitters start families on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River between Idaho and Wyoming; or on the Green River in Utah where Class III rapids can be navigated by lighter-weight paddlers. With experienced rowers or teens, branch out to West Virginia’s New River or the big one -- the Grand Canyon on the Colorado River.  You’re guaranteed relaxation:  there’s no cell service, river guides will paddle for you, and they do all of the shore work including preparing sumptuous meals, setting up tents, organizing hikes, baiting your fishing rods, and entertaining the kids.  Active grandparents like sharing these adventures; individual kayaks and group rafts allow siblings time apart or the chance to pull together, too. The company OARS, who have been boating on the world’s major rivers since 1969, is a top operator in this area. You can see from their OARS catalog that they’re paddling waterways from Alaska to Zambia, and many trips welcome children as young as 4 years; check out this blog about rafting on the Yellowstone River

 

Educational Summer Vacations for Family Learning

Summer’s the ideal season to pursue your interests as a family by going to a museum devoted to a sport like the Baseball Hall of Fame celebrating its 75th anniversary in Cooperstown, New York; the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts; or the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Ontario. Our family has flipped for a few museums: the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio and, on one rainy Washington DC day, the great Newseum devoted to the history of journalism. There are cool museums even in small towns, where you can look at old mummies, study the chemistry of photography, or get close to dinosaurs.

There’s plenty of history outside museums. We’ve never heard kids more impressed than when they talk about the bullet holes left in the buildings on Gettysburg, Pennsylvania’s Main Street. Learn more about the “Star-Spangled Banner,” celebrating its 200th anniversary of flying over Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and the Fort McHenry National Monument; the city boasts weekly festivals and lots of discount hotel packages too. Get an intimate look at the 18th century slave culture of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello or at 19th century boat building techniques at Mystic Seaport, Connecticut.

Living History in Virginia & New York

Williamsburg, Virginia’s living history museum at Colonial Williamsburg, as well as the nearby Jamestown Settlement and museum at Yorktown Victory Center, are ideal places to take school-age children. One of the best family bases is the Kingsmill Resort.  With several restaurants, swimming pools, golf courses offering golf lessons and camps for all ages, tennis, fitness center and spa, there’s always something to do after the day’s learning, including Segway tours, boating and days out at Busch Gardens, Water Country USA and more. Their Ultimate Family Fun Package starts at $429/N for family of four for a guest room (one- to three-bedroom suites with full kitchens and washer/dryer are available), daily breakfast, complimentary use of non-motorized water sports including paddle boards, sea bikes and kayaks, and tickets to these nearby attractions.

New York State, the nation’s fifth colony, is brimming with more than 500 historic sites, several of which are featured over two family-focused weekends in June during the Path Through History Weekends.  Special milestones are being marked with fun celebrations all summer long, like the 5th anniversary of the Walkway Over the Hudson, the longest elevated pedestrian bridge in the world. The borough of Queens marks the 50th and 75th anniversaries of the World's Fairs in Flushing Meadows Corona Park with fireworks and more. Beginning August 21, 2014, the Great New York State Fair in Syracuse showcases regional cuisine and the state’s agricultural bounty.  Look up at the hot air balloon festivals taking flight from Binghamton to the Adirondacks, where you can spend a day at the split log Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake.

Volunteer Activities & Summer Programs for Kids with Challenges

Children with special learning needs or disabilities and their families have many recreational options, from horseback riding to kayaking to cycling, in summer. The National Ability Center in Park City, Utah and the National Sports Center for the Disabled in Winter Park, Colorado offer a variety of outdoors programs.  Autism on the Seas helps arrange vacations on land and sea for families with someone on the autism spectrum. In Orlando, Give Kids the World welcomes kids suffering from life-threatening illness and their families to take a break from treatment, hospitals and doctors and just enjoy themselves for a week. In partnership with Universal Orlando, they also offer half-day volunteer opportunities for more fortunate families visiting the Orlando area.

You will learn so much by doing on a volunteer vacation, especially if the kids are older. 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.  Established organizations like Cross-Cultural Solutions , Earthwatch, and Global Citizens Network among other non-profit organizations help you find a family volunteer opportunity. Many of G Adventures family trips include volunteer activities to sustain the communities at the destinations visited; use promo code 20FAMILY2014 to get 20% off trips booked by May 31st.

If you have teens ages 13-18, encourage them to participate in the 8th annual Teen Travel Writing Scholarship. What better way to keep their brains from turning to mush than to blog for a merit scholarship? It’s easy, free to enter, and a great cause we support each year. 

 

Mountain Vacations & Touring the National Parks

Hit the slopes in summer; mountain townies joke they came to a ski town for the slopes and stayed because of the gorgeous summer weather.  Look for summer deals across the country at ski resorts from Maine to Colorado, Utah and California.  In Park City, 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 for example, has a popular Alpine Awakening B&B package  (valid May 31-September 28, 2013) when a one-bedroom suite with its own hillside deck and hot tub starts at $395/N.  Make it a family reunion for your music-loving clan in a four-bedroom unit, too.

Classic ski towns like Aspen, Colorado host music and arts festivals organized by residents all summer long, and they’re great events for travelers as well. For the best family lodging values, book a June visit for especially good deals. And take in Jazz Aspen Snowmass, the Food & Wine Classic, music classes and a Backcountry Marathon.  There are plenty of opportunities for  hiking, rafting, mountain biking and learning to flyfish every day of the week.

Sleepaway Camps & Guided Glamping for Families

Nostalgic about sleepaway camp? Many traditional camps open their doors to families during specific weeks at the end of the summer. The American Camp Association’s Find a Camp database lists over 400 family camps that are searchable by location, cost, activities offered, and more. (Start the search by selecting the 4th option, “Family Camps or Camps for Adults)  The YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park and Snow Mountain Ranch in Colorado are so popular for family reunions that they have an entire staff just to plan activities for reunion groups — horseback riding, crafts, archery, fishing, mountain biking and even a zipline. YMCA Camp Du Nord has been providing outdoor experiences such as sailing, kayaking and canoeing for more than 50 years on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Minnesota. There, the climate-controlled accommodations make it closer to glamping -- the glamorous style of fixed tents and prepared meals many outfitters now offer -- making YMCA Camps a good choice for multigenerational vacations.

East coast hiking doesn’t get any better than with the Appalachian Mountain Club headquartered in New Hampshire. Their naturalists program hands-on education about the great outdoors each day, whether you stay at their famous huts along the Appalachian Trail or their comfortable lodges serving home-cooked meals in Maine and New Hampshire.  We love that there are guided activities and loaner hiking gear so you can borrow whatever you need without charge (a dad in our group loved trying lightweight, collapsible walking sticks).

Look for #Hidden National Parks & State Parks

Summer is the busiest time of year to visit the 397 National Parks so you may want to plan road trip that encompasses some lesser known ones. Have a stellar experience with your family exploring a cave (see the bats fly out at night in Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico), comparing your own height to giant trees (Sequoia & Kings Canyon in California), peering into ancient cliff dwellings like we did (Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado), or seeing amazing sea life in tide pools (Olympic National Park in Washington state). At all of the national parks and monuments, park rangers help you make the most of your time with special activities, including the Junior Ranger and recreation programs. 

 

Road Trips by Car & RV are more than Vintage Vacations

For a different kind of overland adventure, consider renting an RV for the whole family. The high cost of fuel is offset by hotel savings -- and bonding on wheels is its own unique treat.  Read more about Eileen Ogintz’ RV trip with kids in Colorado to see why.

Whether you’re in a camper, a rental mobile home, a fixed RV or would like to pitch a tent, you can find a spot at more than 485 KOA campgrounds across the US and Canada.  KOA also has a large inventory of cabins and cottages, including some with bathrooms and kitchens. The best part about camping in a cabin is you can still have the outdoor experience on your deck or patio by day, and use the fire-ring to enjoy an evening campfire.  Use their blog, review sites like Yelp.com and the KOA e-newsletter to help you make a selection. KOA has three big summer weekends where campers can save and, on its mobile app, you can find and book a nearby campground and manage your Value Kard Rewards membership.   

Whether you’re heading out on one of our top 10 family road trips or driving to the grandparents, we recommend that anyone with preschoolers drives during morning and afternoon nap hours, plays at lunch and rest stops, and sets daily mileage goals before departure. With older children your route can be more serendipitous (filled with missed exits and unusual must-stop roadside attractions), but make sure they select some off-the-highway activities each day just for them.  Download our backseat car games cheat sheet to make the time fly by for everyone.

Among our favorite road trips are The Blue Ridge Parkway through Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee; the classic Grand Canyon to Las Vegas route; and the foggy but thrilling Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

 

Theme Parks, Water Parks, Nearby Staycations

According to the trade group, IAAPA, nearly 300 new rides and attractions will open at theme parks, water parks, family fun centers, zoos, aquariums, and museums in the United States and Canada in time for summer. With so many choices, families who like to take short breaks can book a local motel or vacation rental and turn a weekend into an album full of memories – or just stick to daycations.

Theme Parks Were Born on the West Coast

Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, where the wheels-down Cars Land has proved a big hit with younger children, is just one of the many southern California theme parks.  Base your family at an Anaheim hotel with its fun pools and family amenities and explore the whole region. Locals say you’re missing a lot if you skip Knott’s Berry Farm with its roller coasters (including the family Coast Rider), Camp Snoopy for younger kids and new Boardwalk family attractions this summer.  Teens especially love Magic Mountain -- one of the first Six Flags parks with some of the fastest, tallest rides in the country, just outside Los Angeles.

Action & Water Thrills in the Midwest

In the center of the country, don’t miss the thrills, shows, water play and other attractions in Branson, Missouri, a really popular place for multigenerational travel when grandparents lead the way. At Silver Dollar City, the 2014 Star-Spangled Summer features all new family entertainment, from the daring stunt show Flying Ace All-Stars, featuring Olympic athletes and hopefuls, to the “The Magic of Brad Ross,” an illusionist who’s won the the Merlin Award Winner for Best International Family Entertainer. There are more than 30 rides and attractions for all ages and thrill levels, topped by the award-winning wooden coaster Outlaw Run. 

The Wisconsin Dells of Wisconsin boasts it has more water parks than anywhere in the country including the largest outdoor water park in the country, Noah’s Ark, not to be confused with the Darren Aronofsky film “Noah.”  Just picture yourselves with more than 200 water slides and plenty of water play areas for the littlest park goers.

Midwesterners don’t need to travel farther for a real thrill than Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio. The self-styled America’s Roller Coast debuts its refreshed midway, a flying Lake Erie Eagles ride, and its famous coasters including High Thrill, Blue Streak and our favorite, Millennium Force, (think plummeting down a 300-foot drop at speeds more than 90 mph).  Cedar Point also has plenty for those who don’t want such big thrills including four kids’ areas, plenty of live entertainment, a traditional midway arcade, and the Soak City Waterpark with dozens of water attractions.

East Coast City-Dwellers have New Themeparks & Waterparks this Summer

Great Wolf Lodge New England opens in June, bringing the number of these fun indoor waterpark hotels to an even dozen. Located in Fitchburg, Massachusetts just 45 minutes west of Boston, the lodge features 406 suites, many sleeping up to 8 family members. The Great Wolf Lodge signature is the 68,000-square-foot indoor water park, the largest in the state, with a six-story funnel slide, Howlin’ Tornado. The 360º Wolf Tail waterslide begins with a steep drop into an enclosed tunnel and culminates in a great splash down below.  There’s also a gentler kiddie area, a Slap Tail Pond wave pool and Fort Mackenzie – a multi-level interactive tree house with its truly soaking overhead water bucket.

For many families, Orlando theme park central with lots of new attractions opening in 2014, many for toddlers and grandparents to enjoy together.  Before you go, check out the new Undercover Tourist website, helpful blog and mobile app. A well known time- and money-saver for Orlando theme park visitors, Undercover Tourist now offers discount themepark tickets to California attractions as well, with additional destinations to come. You’ll also find enhanced Walt Disney World touring plans, great tips on the best times to visit each park, as well as travel guides for Disneyland, Universal Studios and SeaWorld.

It gets hot, rainy and crowded at the parks in the middle of summer, so consider booking your Orlando vacation now for real savings in May, June or mid-September. Has the “awesome” Lego Movie convinced your clan to visit these fun, interactive parks?  Active duty military get in free to LEGOLAND Florida, where Duplo Valley designed for little Duplo fans will open in late May. Disney World opens the new Seven Dwarfs Mine Train roller coaster May 28 as part of the expanded New Fantasyland. Using the new website, mobile site or smartphone app, park visitors now have the ability to prebook Fastpass+ entry for three popular rides at a time, make restaurant reservations, and organize their group’s day. Add in the convenient, waterproof, anti-allergen (and loss-proof) Magic Band wrist straps and you should be able to keep everyone moving along each day!  Experience a unique flying coaster when you ride SeaWorld’s Manta is a big hit for summer, as is the coming expansion of Universal Orlando Resort with Diagon Alley, the London-based segment of the Harry Potter stories.

If outer space seems more real than the themeparks, the Space Shuttle Atlantis at the Kennedy Space Center is an easy drive from Orlando and well worth the effort to see.

We welcome you to add comments about your favorite summer destinations for 2014 below.

 

This special FamilyTravelConsulting.com travel section contains advertising and some sponsored content.  All opinions are based upon the author’s actual travel experience and knowledge.