Taking the children on vacation can be a daunting task for parents. Countless questions course through your brain. How long will it take before they become bored? What happens if they become ill? How can we keep them happy in the car? On the plane? Will there be kid-friendly places to eat? Will hotel personnel sniff at the prospect of children in tow or will they be greeted with open arms?
What Earlychildhood NEWS is offering below is an attempt to lessen some of these fears. In addition to research into many of these locations, we also conducted an informal poll of parents across the country for some of their tips and favorite destination locations. You’ll find learn more about the top ten family vacation spots, child-friendly hotels and restaurants, and general tips for traveling by car and plane.
Top Ten Family Destinations
Cruise to Alaska on Holland America (www.hollandamerica.com) which offers Club HAL for children aged five to 17. Some of the features of the program include on-board activities, special menus and optional “Just for Kids” shore excursions that are designated for children six to 12 and those 13 to 19. Examples of Just for Kids excursions for the younger set include Kids’ Nature Discovery Tour in Juneau, Totem Heritage Center & Crafts in Ketchikan and Wild Ride Street Car Tour in Skagway. Older kids can go on a Rafting Discovery Tour in Juneau, Alaska Bushplane Ride for Teens in Ketchikan and the Trail of Gold Hike for Teens in Skagway. Cruises take place from May to September.
Sandals, an all-inclusive resort created exclusively for couples now offers Beaches (1-800-BEACHES) which is for everyone including families. Locations include Beaches Negril in Jamaica, Beaches Inn Negril and Beaches Turks & Caicos in the British West Indies. Toddlers are set up with separate play areas, toddler pool, beach activities and miniature golf at Beaches Negril. Older kids keep busy with ice cream parties, treasure hunts, arts and crafts and at Beaches Turks & Caicos, there’s Pirates Island, an action adventure water park.
Club Med Snow Villages
Club Med (www.clubmed.com) has one Village for Families in Crested Butte, Colo., which is geared for ski vacations as well as five in Europe. The one in Crested Butte has a Mini Club Med for children four years and older. While a full-day ski school is available from Tuesday through Thursday (downhill skiing from four years and snowboarding from six years) and a ski pass is valid for seven days, ski equipment (including cross country and snow-shoeing) is extra.
Club Med Sun Villages
It’s hard to believe that Club Med (www.clubmed.com) is celebrating its 50th birthday! There are more than 30 all-inclusive Club Med Villages for Families around the world that cater to families and also offer Children’s Club facilities. Children’s Clubs are divided into four age groups. Baby Club Med is for four- to 23-month olds with activities including wake-up games, gentle walks, afternoon naps and teatime. For two and three year olds there’s Petit Club Med. Activities include puppet shows, face painting and playing games. The world of action awaits four to 12 year olds at Mini Club Med. This age group can take part in nonstop games, sports and other activities. Junior Club, for teens, has activities gear to this age group. Kids eight and older can attend Circus School while four to eight year olds can go to a food-tasting workshop. And, once a week, the Children’s Clubs put on a workshop for parents.
Disney Cruise Line
The Disney Magic or the Disney Wonder (www.disneycruise.com) whisk guests away on fun-filled vacations. The seven-night Caribbean Cruise goes to the eastern Caribbean including St. Maarten and St. Thomas plus a day at Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay. The seven-night land and sea vacation includes three or four nights accommodation at a selected Walt Disney World Resort. Also included is unlimited admission to all four Walt Disney World theme parks, three Disney water parks, among other attractions, and a three or four night cruise to the Bahamas. In addition there are three or four night Bahamian Getaways. Children, from ages three to eight, can take part in Disney’s Oceaneer Club, which includes playgrounds, computer stations, costume dress-up areas and Snow White storytelling. Kids nine to 12 take part in Disney’s Oceaneer Lab where there are hands-on interactive lab stations including learning some of the secrets of Disney animation. Cruises depart year round from Port Canaveral, Fla.
Hawaii is a great—albeit expensive—place to go with the family. Runaway Hawaii (check with your travel agent for more information) offers vacation packages including many that have kids programs and kids can stay free in their parents’ room. Major hotels are some of the many accommodations from which to choose. Another great way to book a vacation is through Pleasant Hawaiian Holidays (www.PleasantHolidays.com). Many of the properties they work with offer children’s activities and Hawaiian programs including lei making and hula dancing. Most of the hotels and condominiums offer a kids stay free program when children share the same room with their parents.
The Land of Lincoln
Since most children study Abraham Lincoln in elementary school, what better diversion than to visit Springfield, Ill., the state capitol and the home of Lincoln for 25 years before he became president. Visit the only home he ever owned, see where he worked as a lawyer and visit his grave. For more information, log on towww.nps.gov/liho/ or http://www.historyplace.com/lincoln/index.html for a look at Lincoln’s life before you go.
This is a Mecca for kids. Everything is here! Disney World, Universal Studios Florida, water parks and, not too far away, Cape Canaveral, home of the Kennedy Space Center (www.kennedyspacecenter.com/) and the space shuttles. Universal Studios Florida (www.universalstudios.com) has a backlot as well as the Islands of Adventure, which includes Toon Lagoon, Marvel Super Hero Island and Jurassic Park. It’s also home to Nickelodeon Studios Florida. There are accommodations including the Hard Rock Hotel and special packages are available. Walt Disney World also has an abundance of hotels and packages in addition to its many theme parks including Magic Kingdom, Epcot Center, MGM Studios and Disney Animal Kingdom. Disney also has an array of water parks to choose from. Disney’s Deluxe Magic Package includes all the Disney attractions, meals and all amenities (http://disney.go.com/park/homepage). Also in Orlando is a Wet ’n’ Wild Water Park and Sea World Adventure Park Orlando (www.seaworld.org/) featuring Shamu, the killer whale.
This is another fantasy world for kids and the young at heart. North of Los Angeles in Valencia is Six Flags Magic Mountain (www.sixflags.com/magicmountain/) and Hurricane Harbor water park (www.sixflags.com/hurricaneharborla/). The thrill rides here are not for the faint of heart with a bevy of rollercoasters from which to choose. Younger children will enjoy Bugs Bunny World. The water park is a welcome respite from the hot dry summer heat. Universal Studios Hollywood (www.universalstudios.com) has an amazing backlot tram tour (movies and TV shows are shot there regularly). There are rides as well as a wide variety of stunt shows including an action-packed homage to Waterworld. Disneyland (http://disney.go.com/park/homepage) in nearby Anaheim is over 45 years old and has recently refurbished its Tomorrowland. Next door, California Adventure opened its gates in early February and is a paean to California as well as its many attractions. Close to Anaheim, in Buena Park, is Knott’s Berry Farm (www.knotts.com). There are more thrill rides here but it’s also home to Camp Snoopy. Look for special vacation packages in conjunction with the nearby Radisson Hotel. Don’t forget to try the famous fried chicken at Knott’s. Heading toward San Diego is Legoland (www.lego.com/legoland/california/home.asp/) in Carlsbad, Calif. This is a terrific park for children aged three to 12. The rides are gentle and there is a Lego version of New York City, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. among other cities. Kids can also build their own Legos and race them with each other. In San Diego, in addition to the zoo, there is Sea World (www.seaworld.org/) featuring Shamu, the killer whale. This park has some easy-on-the-heart rides and wonderful shows featuring dolphins, whales and otters. And, of course, don’t forget the miles of beaches, from Santa Barbara to Coronado Island, that await your visit.
For school-age children who are studying about our founding fathers and early life in the U.S., a trip to Washington, D.C. and its environs may be in order. The Smithsonian (www.si.edu/info/education.htm) is chock full of fun activities and there are tours of the White House (http://www.whitehouse.gov/tours/) as well. Go to historical Williamsburg (www.williamsburg.com) to see how early settlers lived. This place is amazing and keeps on getting better. There are tours of George Washington's Mount Vernon homestead (www.mountvernon.org/) as well as Thomas Jefferson's home called Monticello (www.monticello.org/) which also has displays of his experiments in agriculture.
10 Hotels that Welcome Families
When you're busy making plans for that long-awaited summer vacation, you want to make sure you choose an accommodation that welcomes kids. Here are 10 choices…but remember there are more out there. Take advantage of your local AAA office where they have lots of information available or go to www.travelwithkidsabout.com for a plethora of family vacation ideas.
Del Coronado Hotel
This historical hotel located on Coronado Island near San Diego was the inspiration for the Emerald City in the Wizard of Oz. Tent City Tykes Camp (ages three to four) lets young ones experience camp like a big kid with arts and crafts, games and stories. Tent City Kids Camp (ages four to 12) offers a full afternoon of sand castle building, tide pool education, beach games, swimming, arts and crafts, paddle boating and refreshments.
This hotel boasts two-room suites with a refrigerator and two televisions; cooked-to-order breakfasts (free) and kids under 18 stay free. A Family Fun Pak is available at select locations.
Hilton Vacation Station hotels provide suggestions with the free Welcome Packet for Parents. Visit the Hilton Vacation Station Lending Desk that is stocked with popular toys and games for your kids to play with, for free, during your stay. Kids 12 and under will receive a canvas travel kit with zipper pockets for organizing personal travel items. A number of hotels and resorts offer supervised activities for kids. Activities, age limits, fees and hours vary by hotel.
At Holiday Inn hotels, children 19 and under stay free in a parent's room and in the U.S. and Canada, kids 12 and under eat free as long as they are accompanied by an adult—who must also be eating—and the choices are limited to the kids' menu.
Holiday Inn SunSpree Resort is a family-friendly vacation hotel, located in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (near Orlando), dedicated kids and families. The resort offer a free year-round activity program—Camp Holiday—designed for kids ages three to 12. Kids have their own arrival area where they receive a goodie bag. They even have their own dining area (Kids’ Korner) where they can eat with other kids and watch cartoons and movies on TV; their own play area and their own CyberArcade. At several Holiday Inn hotels, families with kids ages four to12 can enjoy Kidsuites: a child-themed room within a room for adults, with special decor (jungle, circus, or pirate themes), board games, electronic games and videos.
Camp Hyatt® is a year-around program for children ages three to 12 and their families. The camp is available at participating Hyatt Resorts in the Caribbean, Hawaii, continental U.S. and Mexico. There is a Welcome Check-in Packet, frequent-stay rewards for kids, kid's menus and room service, kids under 18 stay free and Family Camp activities for the whole family, during holidays.
Manhattan East Suite Hotels
This is a group of nine hotels located on Manhattan's Upper Eastside as well as Midtown. The group offers a Family Weekend Package at eight of these establishments.
With Family Magic by Radisson, the entire family will enjoy a family-friendly adventure. Family Magic packages are available at participating Radisson hotels in North America, Europe, Asia, Australia, the Caribbean, Central and South America. All Family Magic package rates include your hotel room, 25 percent off an additional room during your stay, full breakfast for up to four and Gold Points or airline miles for your stay. Additional Family Magic amenities vary by location. Tenaya Lodge
Located in the High Sierra by Yosemite National Park, the Tenaya Lodge is a favorite of families. In addition to activities that will please all members of the family, the lodge offers several kid-friendly restaurants, an activity packet which includes an activities list, a box of crayons and a coloring page, a children’s playground, table tennis and board games.
Upon check-in, every child receives a Westin Kids Club sports bottle or sipper cup, which is filled with complimentary beverages at mealtime. Westin’s younger guests also receive coloring books and bath toys. Westin Kids Club offers special services and amenities for infants. For parents, there are safety kits complete with adhesive bandages, electrical outlet covers, identification bracelets and a list of local emergency phone numbers. Whenever possible, Westin guest rooms are set up in advance with high chairs, cribs and other items. Families can request preferred reservations at Westin restaurants and order their meals ahead of time so the food is ready when they arrive. Special children's menus are available both at hotel restaurants and through room service.
A Baker’s Dozen – Kid-Friendly Restaurants
With more than 1,000 locations in 49 states and eight foreign countries, Applebee’s serves up the usual kiddie fare such as burgers, chicken fingers, and macaroni and cheese. Kids get to color their placemats and they can take home their drinking cups. For kids old enough to use the Internet, Applebee's has activities on-line.
Baja Fresh Mexican Grill
Located in nine states—and expanding—Baja Fresh doesn't have a kid's menu per se but the tacos and quesadillas are sure to please young palates. The food is fresh, good and fast. This is an order-at-the-counter restaurant.
Kids love watching the chefs at work as the shrimp tails fly as the knives cut things at the speed of light. The children's menu includes Hibachi Chicken, Teriyaki Steak and Hibachi Shrimp. Each meal comes with a choice of Japanese Onion Soup or Benihana Salad, Cut Corn, Shrimp Appetizer, Steamed Rice and Ice Cream. Benihana is located in more than 20 states and a variety of countries around the world.
California Pizza Kitchens
A variety of pizzas and pastas are available for children here. The pizzas include Pepperoni, Original BBQ Chicken and Traditional Cheese. The pasta choices are Fusilli with Meat Sauce, Buttered Fusilli, Fusilli with Tomato Sauce, Fusilli Alfredo and Curly Mac n' Cheese. Kids can order a choice of desserts and each kid’s meal come with complimentary refills on lemonade and fountain drinks. With locations across the country, CPK has a birthday club and boasts a website with on-line games.
With locations in nearly every state, this neighborhood grill brings a feeling a familiarity to children. All children's meals come with a fountain drink and in addition to the usual kiddie fare, there's Penne Pasta with Marina or Alfredo Sauce, Cheese Pizza, Corn Dogs and Hot Dogs.
This hamburger chain features Big Kid’s Combo Meals that include a toy surprise, Fudd Fries, a drink and a cookie. Kids can upgrade the drink to a shake and the cookie to a cookie sundae. Junior Kid's Meals include Fudd Fries, a drink and a cookie. These restaurants are located nationwide.
Hard Rock Café
This chain — with locations around the globe as well as tourist areas and large metropolitan centers in the U.S.—has a terrific children's menu at reasonable prices which is, unfortunately, not listed on its website. Plus the chaotic atmosphere makes families feel right at home.
This Italian specialty chain offers Cheese Ravioli with tomato sauce and Grilled Chicken and Broccoli in addition to the standard fare. All kids' items are served with a choice of beverage and they include dessert. With locations in most states, the websites sports on-line games for kids.
Located in 11 western states, its kid's menu is divided into two categories: Kid's Features and Junior Features. All of Marie's Kid's Meals are served with a freshly baked cookie. The Junior Features also include the child's choice of a cup of soup or dinner salad or the salad bar at participating locations. In addition to the usual fare, the restaurant serves Chicken and Cheese Quesadilla, and a Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich. The Junior Features include Lasagna, Junior Roasted Turkey Dinner and Kid’s Salad Bar
With locations across the country, the Joey Menu offers a Joey Sirloin and a Spotted Dog Sundae. All kid’s meals include a beverage.
This restaurant chain has an on-line kids' page with over 40 new games in the Red Robin Game Zone. Featuring the usual kiddie fare, Red Robin also offers bottomless steak fries. Red Robin currently has over 170 restaurant locations throughout the United States and Canada.
With locations in more than a dozen states, families can dine on healthy salads as well as soups and pasta. There are muffins and forcaccias as well as a dessert bar featuring a frozen yogurt station. The choices offered in these buffet-style restaurants are a pleasant departure from the norm.
Friday’s kids’ fare include Friday’s Fries and Mott’s Fruitsations® strawberry applesauce. The chain also offers Fish and Fries in addition to the standard choices. On weekends, kids can brunch on eggs, pancakes or a bacon and egg muffin. Located in more than 50 countries, Friday’s has a T.G.I.Friday’s Kids Crew Club that children can belong to and receive special offers.
General Tips for Travel by Car and Plane
- If your child gets travel sick, limit the amount and type of food you give her before the flight departs. Crackers and pretzels are good choices.
- Don’t panic when you’re only an hour into your journey and your child announces he wants to go home now. Pull a surprise goodie (it can even be wrapped for added excitement) from your bag. Small cars are good for boys while girls like different hair clips and scrunchies. New books, modeling clay, and Silly Putty are also good choices.
- Pack toys and games such Magna-Doodle, Etch-a-Sketch, travel chess (school-age children often learn to play at school), magnetic checkers, and word search and maze books (but know before hand if your child is prone to travel sickness) are fun for kids to play and pass time quickly.
- Don’t forget the wipes. Not only are these good for diaper changes, they’re great for cleaning up older kids as well. Put 10–15 wipes in three separate resealable, plastic bags and put them in different places in your hand luggage. This should cover the entire trip in case one bag gets thrown out by mistake and another gets left open.
- Take a container of antibacterial gel in your handbag. This is really useful when you have to clean up hands and the line to the restroom is too long.
- Bring some empty plastic Baggies to store things in so you don’t have a mess in your bag. This will help you keep track of all the pieces of games the kids have. You’ll also have a spare bag for the crayons when the kids’ bag falls apart.
- Let each child bring their own pillow, small blanket, or lovey from home. They’ll have something familiar in the hotel room each night as well as something comfy to curl up with during those long night drives or flights.
Working for nearly two decades as an award-winning journalist, Barbara Wexler lives in the Los Angeles area. Her proudest accomplishment, though, is being the mother to her eight-year-old twin boys, Sam and Dillon.