Vacationing with Grandkids
America's foremost expert on family vacations explores the (usually) pricey intergenerational trip
MeriStar's all-suite Sundial Beach Resort on laid-back Sanibel Island (just off Florida's west coast near Fort Myers) boasts a mile-long beach, five pools, children's "Fun Factory" program, and an Environmental Coastal Observatory Center with a 450-gallon "touch tank" that lets kids touch starfish and such. Summer rates start at $175 a night. Information: 800/965-7772, sundialresort.com.
Go to camp
A nonprofit organization called the Foundation for Grandparenting sponsors two weeklong "Grands Camps" during the summer at the rambling, historic, Great Camp Sagamore on upstate New York's Raquette Lake; there's even a special program for teens. Except for an adults-only session on more effective grandparenting, grandparents do all activities with the kids, including hiking, swimming, canoeing, tennis, picnics, and performing in a show. All meals are included, and prices start at $363 per person. Elderhostel runs similar summer programs at similar rates during different periods. To book or learn more about any of the above, check with the Sagamore at 877/426-8056 or sagamore.org, or with Elderhostel at elderhostel.org.
The Sierra Club (415/977-5522, sierraclub.org/outings) also runs family camp programs that are ideal for active folks who like to camp and hike. There's even one in Lake Tahoe, California, designed specifically for grandparents and grandkids-you stay in a lodge, not a tent; for five nights, it costs $595 for adults, $495 for kids.
The grand, 130-year-old Chautauqua Institution's sprawling campus in southwestern New York State offers more than 400 classes, plus special activities for ages 3-15 and dozens of intergenerational programs. Learn how to surf the Web, make rockets, or act out Shakespeare; there's also golf, tennis, swimming, and boating, and many concerts and other theatrical performances. Room rates start at $85 a night; ask about room-and-board packages. Details: 800/836-ARTS, ciweb.org.
Go for the snow
Many grandparents still like to ski or ice-skate-or at least simply cuddle with their wee ones in front of a fire while it snows outside. All over America, most ski resorts offer substantial discounts for seniors (inquire), and some, like Steamboat in Colorado and Snowbird in Utah, offer free skiing for kids 12 and under (with purchase of a five-day adult pass at Steamboat and a one-day adult pass at Snowbird). Six-night ski-and-stay packages (lodgings and lift tickets) for a family of four start at just over $1,300 (cheaper early in the season) at Steamboat in Colorado, a considerable savings for that many people. Call 800/922-2722 or log on to steamboat.com.
In the East, an outstanding package at southern Vermont's Mount Snow, "Wicked Wild Weeks" starts at $636 for a family of four and includes five nights' lodging, lifts, adult clinic, and fitness classes (kids' ski school is extra). Information: 800/245-7669, mountsnow.com.
And obviously there are other winter activities at all the resorts-heated spas, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, and of course shopping-and the same resorts provide excellent and even lower-cost recreation the rest of the year, including fishing, hiking, and simply enjoying the mountain scenery.
Meeting Mickey, or Men in Black
Obviously, Orlando's Walt Disney World, Universal Studios Escape, and SeaWorld have to be included as a high-priority destination for a grandparents and grandchildren's vacation, and while its educational value might be questionable, certainly no one will get bored! For deals in Orlando, the Orlando Convention and Visitors' Bureau Web site at Go2Orlando.com, includes online coupons.
As for accommodations, two vast complexes are perfect for the intergenerational trip. The 800-suite Holiday Inn Family Suites (877/387-5437, hifamilysuites.com) features two-bedroom "KidsSuites" with a separate area for the youngsters with its own TV, VCR, and Nintendo 64. There's a 32-foot train that offers free rides around the resort, and a poolside kids' activity center. An ample hot breakfast and shuttles to Disney World are free; kids eat free all the time from the children's menu when with an adult diner; special SeniorSaver programs also apply to kids traveling with oldsters.