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This content is sponsored by Fireside Resort Cabins, Wyoming Enjoy the outdoors sustainably without compromising comfort at Fireside Resort Cabins in Wilson, Wyoming. The 25 LEED-certified individual cabins offer modern luxuries in a rustic setting near the mountain town and ski slopes of Jackson Hole. Each cabin has hardwood floors, craftsman-style décor, Native American artwork, king-sized Tempur-Pedic bed, walk-in rain shower and a living room with a fireplace and kitchenette. The atmosphere of a wooded campground is complete with a private campfire and hot tub. Some of the best-known parks in the country – Grand Tetons National Park and Yellowstone National Park, are nearby. Moab Springs Ranch, Utah Located just minutes outside Arches National Park, the Colorado River and Canyonlands National Park, Moab Springs Ranch is a locally owned, eco-friendly resort. There are studio-style stand-alone bungalows with private porches, and spacious townhouses with one, two or three bedrooms to accommodate large families. The resort itself backs up to Moab’s majestic red rocks and offers walking, biking and hiking trails, as well as a relaxing garden with hammocks and waterscapes. Tiny Town Cabins, Colorado Since there are no accommodations inside Rocky Mountain National Park, most visitors choose to stay at the bustling city of Estes Park. The energetic town filled with eclectic restaurants and shops, is located at the footsteps of Rocky Mountain National Park, just 90 minutes from Denver. For a typical Colorado-style cabin experience, stay at Tiny Town Cabins at Trout Haven Resorts outside the park. Located alongside the trout filled Big Thompson River, the 19 individual cozy cabins offer a blend of modern amenities and historic architecture. In case you want to bring your four-legged family members along, the cabins are also dog friendly. Lazy Z Resort, California Nestled in the Sierra Nevada Mountain in Sonora, California, Lazy Z Resort is a family-owned retreat offering 13 cabins and cottages in 40 acres of pines, cedars, and oaks. The expansive rooms come with private kitchens and decks, while common areas include a rustic club house filled with family heirlooms and a relaxing swimming pool in the woods. The mountain retreat is great for nature lovers looking for peace and tranquility, and an easy access to Yosemite National Park. Treetop Hideaways, Georgia Located at the border of Georgia and Tennessee, Treetop Hideaways is one of the most luxurious and sustainable treehouse accommodations. Made of reclaimed wood, copper-lined whiskey barrels, and backed by a crowdsourcing campaign, the two treehouses offer the ultimate glamping experience. Complete with climate control, heated floors, walk-in rain-head showers, and ultra-fast internet, these treehouses feel like an ultimate nature resort in the sky. Nearby, explore Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, the first and largest national military park in the country. Glacier Bay Lodge, Alaska The rustic Glacier Bay Lodge is the only hotel accommodation available within the Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve in this remote part of Alaska. Glacier Bay Lodge offers spectacular views and easy access to Bartlett Cove and the Fairweather Mountain range. It is also the perfect place to embark on an adventure day cruise to see towering snow-capped mountains, magnificent glaciers, humpback whales, moose, mountain goats, brown and black bears, and bald eagles. Sunshine Key Tiny House, Florida Sunshine Key Tiny House Village features all the comforts of home cleverly designed in a fascinatingly small space. The bright tropical colored tiny homes are ideally located on the 75-acre island of Ohio Key, in the lower Florida Keys. Each tiny house is individually designed and decorated to express a unique personality (such as Hemingway), and inside you’ll find comfortable sleeping accommodations, a kitchenette, full bathroom and a flat screen TV. With steps from the beach, Sunshine Key Tiny House Village provides the perfect getaway for ocean activities, or for just relaxing at the water's edge for romance. Tiny House Village is next to the Bahia Honda State Park in Florida. The Everglades National Park and Biscayne National Park are also just two hours away. Falling Waters, North Carolina Inspired by ancient Mongolian design, the yurts at Falling Waters Nantahala provide a unique alternative to cabin rentals. Falling Waters’ Yurt Village in the Smoky Mountains encompasses 8 yurts scattered across 22 acres in the scenic vistas of Western North Carolina. Watch the stars from the domed skylights while lying on a comfortable queen size bed, or gaze at pristine Fontana Lake from a private deck. These yurts come with a refrigerator, coffee maker and heater for those chilly nights. Falling Waters is located within a few minutes of Nantahala National Forest and Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Castle House Estate, California Situated just outside of Joshua Tree National Park, near Los Angeles, The Castle House Estate is a unique glamping site that looks like a medieval castle. Different lodging options at the nine-acre desert estate include yurts, trailers, and guard towers. The estate offers incredible stargazing opportunities in one of California's designated International Dark Sky Parks. Shash Diné Eco Retreat, Arizona Shash Diné Eco Retreat is one of the few glamping bed-and-breakfast that allows guests to stay directly on the Navajo Nation. The homey Bell Tents, cabins and shepherd huts are outfitted with king size beds, hot water showers and candle lanterns. There are also two Navajo Hogans, which are traditional dwellings of the Navajo with earthern floors. Each site has a fire pit to make s’mores under a star-studded night sky. Located just 12 miles south of Paige, Arizona, Shah Diné acts as an easy base from where you can access Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, Lake Powell, and Grand Canyon National Park. View of the Grand Teton Mountains from Oxbow Bend on the Snake River © RIRF Stock / Shutterstock Tips for Glamping in 2021 Whether you are planning to camp, glamp or stay at a hotel, traveling during the pandemic requires some advanced planning and additional safety measures. Always call the property ahead to inquire if it’s currently open, at what capacity, and what safety measures they are taking to sanitize the rooms and public areas. Some places may offer touchless check-in, to-go breakfast only, or may temporarily close hot tubs and reception areas. When venturing to the national parks, keep in mind many of them now require advanced reservations to visit. Make sure to print out your reservation confirmation and enter the park during the allotted time. Cell phone reception is generally limited inside the parks, so make sure to download park and surrounding area maps ahead of time. A good way to plan your road trip and hiking trails in advance is by using the free National Park Trail Guide app. Avoid the most popular trails during peak hours and plan your routes in reverse order to escape traffic. Most facilities inside the parks, such as restaurants and gift shops, are closed due to COVID-19 or may have limited operations. Therefore, it is better to prepack snacks, food and drinks for the day before entering the park. Public restrooms inside the park are generally open, but carry PPP items such as hand sanitizers, wet wipes and masks to ensure an extra layer of protection. Carefully crafted collaboratively between GEICO, Budget Travel, and Lonely Planet. Both parties provided research and curated content to produce this story. We disclose when information isn’t ours.Sponsored by GEICO
This content is sponsored by Before you leave, make sure you check health and safety regulations in any area you are traveling to, as well as the weather conditions. Mountain roads in particular are subject to closures due to snow. Prior to setting off on any road trip, make sure your car is ready for the journey. You could save 15 percent or more on car insurance by switching to GEICO. Going-to-the-sun road - Glacier National Park, Montana Going-To-The-Sun Road in Glacier National Park in Montana is almost 50 miles carved into the beautiful Rocky Mountains. It is the only road that traverses the park, providing access to Logan Pass at the Continental Divide. This alpine road is so winding it takes up to ten weeks for snow plows to clear them each year, so the best time to visit is later in the summer and early autumn. We recommend lodging on the Western edge of the park in Kalispell, where there is also an airport. Shenandoah National Park © Laura Brown / Budget Travel Skyline Drive - Shenandoah National Park - Virginia Skyline Drive is a 105-mile mountain road that runs the length of Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, starting in Front Royal, about an hour west of Washington, DC. There are 75 overlooks, providing amazing views of the Shenandoah Valley and the Piedmont. It is especially beautiful in the summer and autumn. Drivers should plan to spend a full day doing Skyline Drive, and we highly recommend you make time to watch an evening sunset from a west-facing overlook. King's Canyon National Park © Laura Brown / Budget Travel King's Canyon Scenic Byway - California State Route 180 This state road has the benefit of going through two National Parks in short order. The first is the General Grant Grove of Giant Sequoias in Sequoia National Park. The road continues for another 50-miles through the Western Sierra to King’s Canyon National Park, an underrated gem in the National Park system. The nearest major city to King’s Canyon is Fresno, California. Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rob Hainer / Shutterstock Cades Cove Loop, Great Smoky Mountain National Park The 11-mile Cades Cove Loop is deep into Great Smoky Mountain National Park and it makes for a perfect leisure drive. Spend 2-3 hours exploring an early 1800s European settlement and appreciate the fresh air and beauty of the mountains. Make sure you plan a picnic and stop at Cable Mill, which also has restrooms. For accommodations, we recommend nearby Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. The nearest airport is in Knoxville, Tennessee. The Overseas Highway © Laura Brown / Budget Travel The Overseas Highway: Miami to Key West The 110-mile Overseas Highway drives, well, overseas – connecting Miami to Key West through all the Keys. Drivers will feel the salt air and sunshine on their face and find plenty of charming nooks to explore along the way. There are beaches with public parking and unique local art gardens. At the end, arrive in beautiful Key West. North Cascades National Park © Checubus / Shutterstock North Cascades Scenic Byway, Washington The North Cascades Scenic Byway in Northern Washington is the most mountainous and hair-raising road traversing that park. You will see turquoise blue glacier water and sprawling mountain peaks. Make sure to stop for a photo at the Washington Pass Overlook. Eat, explore and stay at one of the 1920s towns along the way, and spend some time in the outdoorsy Methow Valley. Like most mountain passes, this is closed in the winter due to snow. North Cascades is relatively far away from society, the nearest airport is Seattle. Beartooth Highway © Laura Brown / Budget Travel Beartooth Highway - Southwest Montana This 68-mile mountain pass crosses from the town of Red Lodge, through Southwest Montana, and into the Northern entrance to Yellowstone National Park. It crosses through the beautiful Beartooth Mountains, one of the most remote regions of the United States, and one of the most ecologically diverse. The Beartooth Highway offers some incredible vistas as it climbs up the mountains. The nearest major airport is in Billings, Montana. Monument Valley © francesco ricca iacomino / Getty Images US Rt 163 - Monument Valley, Utah US Rt 163 is the 64-mile highway running from Arizona through the Navajo Nation in Southern Utah, showing off the dramatic and beautiful landscapes of Utah in Monument Valley. The red rocks and cliffs are one of the most iconic scenes in America, and the wide-open space makes the drive feel uncrowded. Plan at least two hours to make this drive and take time to stop for photography. Sunsets are particularly spectacular. The nearest major airport to Monument Valley is in Flagstaff, Arizona. The coastline surrounding Acadia National Park © Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock Park Loop Road - Acadia National Park, Maine The 27-mile Park Loop Road is the primary road around Mount Desert Island in Acadia National Park. It offers scenic ocean vistas where the rocks hit the water, and the forest changes colors with the seasons. Make sure to plan extra time to stop for hiking and photography. For inexpensive accommodations, we recommend staying in nearby Bangor, Maine. Rocky Mountain National Park © Ronda Kimbrow Photography / Getty Images Trail Ridge Road - Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado The Trail Ridge Road is a 48-mile long mountain route, nicknamed the ‘Highway to the Sky.’ The highway starts in Estes Park in the East and goes to Grand Lake in the West. It climbs up more than 4,000 feet to above the tree line in Rocky Mountain National Park. Considered the highest elevation paved road in Colorado, it features plenty of hairpin turns. Plan at least half a day to fully appreciate this trip. The nearest major airport is in Denver. SPONSORED BY Carefully crafted collaboratively between Budget Travel, GEICO, and Lonely Planet. All parties provided research and curated content to produce this story. We disclose when information isn’t ours.Sponsored by GEICO
Rocky Mountain National Park closes due to fires
Strong winds in Colorado this morning sent the East Troublesome fire exploding across 1000s of acres on the western side of Rocky Mountain National Park. RMNP announced its closure due to fire. The fire has jumped across the Continental Divide, prompting closures and evacuations of Grand Lake. An evacuation order has also been issued for Estes Park, Colorado. The Colorado National Guard has been activated to respond to the crisis. Latest satellite info shows increased fire intensity on the #EastTroublesomeFire early this afternoon. The fire has jumped the Continental Divide and is now burning in the upper reaches of Rocky Mountain National Park. #COwx pic.twitter.com/6onPKwCfi4— NWS Boulder (@NWSBoulder) October 22, 2020
Estes Park, CO: Where to Eat, Play & Stay
Any way you look at Estes Park, Colorado, it calls your name. Its natural beauty surrounds and enchants visitors, from the heart of downtown to its vibrant “backyard,” Rocky Mountain National Park, with its iconic peaks, array of wildlife (including the main draw, majestic elk), and miles of rivers, lakes, and streams. In winter and early spring, the town is in close proximity to some of America’s prime backcountry skiing and snowshoeing areas, minus the sticker shock that comes with Colorado’s resorts (skiing here is actually free). In summer, you can spend most of your day outdoors exploring nearby forests, parks, and waterways, or chill at a local festival, music concert, art gallery, or farmers market. In autumn, Colorado’s eye-popping golden aspen leaves rival the fall foliage of any region in the U.S., and the annual elk rut draws visitors from across the U.S. Hungry? Estes Park is a place where you can play all day then sit down to an exquisite meal accompanied by exceptional wine. With all that Estes Park has to offer, we’ve assembled a handy guide for visitors, including something for just about every travel personality, from foodies to outdoors enthusiasts to those just seeking a relaxing place to kick back and savor a starry sky (either with the naked eye, binoculars, or at the town’s very own observatory), a rippling mountain stream, or unique shopping. And with one of the finest systems of public transportation of any community of its size, it’s no wonder that Budget Travelers have named Estes Park one of the Coolest Small Towns in America. WHERE TO EAT For many travelers, one of the main attractions of being on vacation is the opportunity to chow down on some truly great local food and expanding their culinary horizons. (Maybe that’s why “eat” is the first word in the phrase “eat, play & stay.”) When it comes to hungry travelers, Estes Park delivers something for every taste and budget, from upscale finery to fast-and-good and everything in between. One of the reasons the food scene here is so rich is its relationship to the land and the wild game of the region: Diners who are eager to try menu items such as local bison or elk or mountain trout are rewarded with the freshest possible fare. (You’ll find elk on the menu at nearly 20 percent of Estes Park eateries.) More familiar western comfort foods abound as well, as do any array of ethnic traditions. Just a few examples of popular eating experiences that have generated buzz in recent years: Sip local Colorado craft beer along with your gourmet burger at Latitude 105 Alehouse; sip a cold margarita along with your bison (or chicken, beef, or pork) burrito at Peppers Mexican Grill; or drink in views of Rocky Mountain National Park from your table as you enjoy fresh-caught trout or locally raised lamb at Bird & Jim. WHERE TO PLAY (Fiskness/Dreamstime) Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the most-visited national parks in the U.S., and certainly the crown jewel of Colorado’s parkland. Open year-round, the park beckons every traveler, from those seeking easy trails and wildlife perfect for hiking and photography practically under their nose to those who are looking for the thrill of rock climbing, horseback riding, or ice climbing. For a popular overview, drive Trail Ridge Road, a National Scenic Byway (at more than 12,000 feet, the highest in the U.S.) that takes you from Estes Park to Grand Lake. Visitors of all ages will love the ranger programs devoted to wildlife such as black bear, elk, moose, mule deer, and the iconic bighorn sheep; forest stewardship; geology; the night sky; and more. Kids will especially enjoy the NPS’s educational and fun Junior Ranger program, which ends with the presentation of an official badge. Camping is always the most affordable way to immerse yourself in a national park, but sites fill up fast and you should make a reservation six months in advance. Skiing and snowshoeing are two of the best ways to navigate the mountains around Estes Park not only in winter but also in early spring, with March and April being two of the very best months for that great combination of snow and sun that skiers crave. It’s a short drive to some fine ski areas, including Eldora, Echo Mountain, and the Hidden Valley zone within Rocky Mountain National Park. Experienced backcountry skiers may want to try the terrain in Rocky Mountain National Park. (Steven Miller/Dreamstime)Outdoors enthusiasts will never want to leave Estes Park, and why would they? The truly adventurous can go rock climbing, whitewater rafting, and mountain biking in some of the most challenging and jaw-droppingly beautiful terrain in America. The moderate thrill seeker will love learning to fly fish, climb, or ride a horse, and hiking the miles of trails in search of Colorado’s smaller wildlife such as the snowshoe hare and the great-horned owl. And what if you just want to kick back and relax? In winter, snuggle with that special someone by a roaring fire and watch the snow outside your window; in summer, enjoy watching the sunset over the mountains and the range of light from bright yellow to gold to red to blue as day gives way to night; year-round, pack binoculars for a spectacular view of Colorado’s dark starry skies. Points of interest and events around town are seemingly endless, and vacationers of every kind will find something to do. Art lovers will spend hours browsing exceptional galleries and regular public art events in warm weather. Avid shoppers will find that the only challenge is how to get their haul of unique locally produced clothing, jewelry, packaged foods, and souvenirs home in their suitcase. And an array of other events including outdoor concerts, historical commemorations, and celebrations of Native, European settler, and other ethnic cultures will keep every family member engaged in Estes Park’s substantial history and vibrant cultural scene. WHERE TO STAY Ready to start planning your Estes Park vacation? The town’s lodging options are as varied as its food, outdoor activities, and cultural offerings. Take your pick from camping in Rocky Mountain National Park to bunking down in one of the cabins at the YMCA of the Rockies (winner of the 2018 Budget Travel Award for Value Resort) to booking one of the many hotel rooms, suites, cabins, and vacation homes available around town.
Travel News: Top Trends for Summer Travel, America’s Ultimate YMCA, and Virgin Atlantic Says ‘Sock It to Me’
From the top trip-inspiring trends dominating U.S. travel this summer to the ultimate budget lodging for families and pets in the Rockies, to a brand-new piece of footwear some of you may want to add to your repertoire, this week’s latest news is kicking summer 2018 into high gear. TOP TRENDS FOR SUMMER TRAVEL Our friends at Red Roof Inn (redroof.com) have crunched some data to share some surprising trends for summer 2018 travel - in some cases, these findings have us re-thinking some last-minute vacation ideas: More than 90 percent of Americans will travel by car for their summer vacation, clocking more than 500 miles round-trip. Budget Travel has celebrated the great American road trip for more than two decades, so we can’t say we’re shocked by this stat. Are you ready to hit the road?While “beach” may be the first vacation image that springs to mind when we say “summer,” data from AAA suggests that more Americans are headed to cities for vacation - can’t argue with the museums, theaters, parkland, and chic shopping they’ll find there.More than 50 percent of U.S. travelers are headed to national parks, and around 40 percent are headed to theme parks. Of course, there are plenty of cool destinations (California and Florida spring to mind), where you can easily do both.We may have to redefined the “dog days of summer.” Turns out 40 percent of U.S. travelers will bring their dogs along with them on vacation this year.Travelers prize authentic experiences and “living like a local” more than the conventional hotel or resort experience. Budget Travel’s “Locals Know Best” series can certainly help you get the most authenticity out of your trip.AMERICA’S ULTIMATE YMCA Singing and dancing to the Village People’s classic ‘70s hit is optional, but the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park, CO, may be the ultimate YMCA in the U.S. USA Today named it the “Best Family Resort in America,” and the property borders gorgeous Rocky Mountain National Park on three sides, meaning you can bunk down in affordable style (lodge rooms from $99, two-to-three-bedroom cabins from $113), spend your days among the aspens, bighorns, and picture-perfect trails of the park and enjoy the unplugged vacation every family needs right now. VIRGIN ATLANTIC SAYS ‘SOCK IT TO ME’ Here’s one you don’t hear every day: Virgin Atlantic has partnered with Happy Socks to provide fun, specially designed socks in Virgin’s distinctive red and purple depicting images that celebrate passengers’ love of travel. For those of us in the cheap seats, the socks will be available for purchase via Virgin’s Retail Therapy onboard and online platforms, while passengers in the cushier sections will receive them as part of a complimentary amenity kit. We’d love to hear from travelers who opt to kick their summer travel into high gear wearing Virgin’s bespoke socks:)
10 Best Bargain-Priced Family Vacations
For our readers with kids (those fortunate folks!), Budget Travel has asked America's foremost expert on family travel to select what she regards as the top budget-priced family vacations for the year ahead. She's responded not simply with names but with prices, addresses, and phone numbers for snaring a reservation without further ado. At the start of a new year, it's appropriate that we should select prize-winning family vacations available throughout the year, in every season. Though we may highlight an especially low price available only during one season, each of the vacations we've described below is offered at reasonable rates in all 12 months. Our choices fall into 10 basic categories and number around 30 different specific programs, resorts, or facilities. The envelope, please, and the winners are... 1. Family camps They are a way to have some fun in the woods, watch the leaves change colors, and later, play in the snow without paying for a pricey ski condo. There are kids' activities, meals available, and plenty of wildlife. And in summer there are plenty of affordable packages, too. The YMCA of the Rockies' Snow Mountain Ranch in Winter Park, Colorado, has 5,100 pristine acres near world-class ski resorts; room for 2,500 people in lodges and cabins; organized activities for children three and older; miles of hiking, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing trails; an indoor pool and gym, even a climbing wall; and horseback riding in summer. Rates for a two-bedroom cabin start at $126 per night with fully equipped kitchens; lodge rooms as low as $50. The YMCA also runs an even larger resort in Estes Park, Colorado, that is known along with Snow Mountain Ranch for hosting large family reunions. Visit ymcarockies.org or call Snow Mountain Ranch at 970/887-2152; Estes Park at 970-586-3341. Elsewhere in America, Montecito-Sequoia Lodge is between Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks on Lake Homovalo in California. The lodge has two big stone fireplaces and a deck to take in the view of the Great Western Divide. Stay in a lodge room with private bathroom or a rustic cabin with a wood-burning stove and bathhouse nearby. Stuff to do includes hiking, fishing, canoeing, tennis, and organized kids' activities such as all-day programs in summer and plenty of sing-alongs around the campfire. In winter, tube, sled, cross-country ski, or snowshoe. Packages include meals. Midweek stays in fall (until just before Thanksgiving) start at $180 per night for four in a cabin, including breakfast, dinner, and activities. Book a Thanksgiving package for four nights and five days for under $1,200, including meals, kids' activities, guided hikes, and more. Other winter packages cost less in cabins, slightly more for stays in the lodge. Visit mslodge.com or call 800/227-9900 or 650/967-8612. 2. Dude ranches Some of them are open year-round and are just as much fun when the leaves are changing in autumn and snow is falling in winter. Malibu Ranch, in Milford, Pennsylvania, is on a thousand acres of forested land in the Poconos just 75 miles from New York City. It's the oldest working dude ranch in the East. The kids can swim in the indoor pool, fish, try pinball, dance, play with Bobo the donkey, and--of course--ride horseback. You can also ski in the winter. Five-day/four-night packages, including meals and riding, average $930 for a family of four. Two-night winter weekend packages for a family of four are $555. Contact 800/862-5428 or malibududeranch.com. Alternately, you can be a real Texas cowboy at the Flying L Guest Ranch, 40 miles northwest of San Antonio in the spectacular Texas Hill Country. The Flying L has hosted John Wayne and Willie Nelson, among others, and now spreads over 700 acres. There's breakfast and dinner, nightly western entertainment. Swim outdoors year-round, play tennis, golf, or fish in the San Julian Creek. If you don't want to ride, you can traipse miles of hiking trails. All-inclusive rates average $90 per night for adults and $40 for kids and teens. Contact 800/292-5134 or flyingl.com. You can also book these ranches and other affordable adventure trips through Gorp Travel at gorptravel.com or 877/440-4677. 3. Working farms Younger children love farms where they can gather eggs for their breakfast, milk a cow, feed the goats, or go for a hayride. At The Inn at East Hill Farm in Troy, New Hampshire, they can learn to water-ski in summer; ice-skate in winter; hike in the fall. In winter, there are sleigh rides, cross-country skiing, an indoor pool, and daily kids' activities. Bring the family before Christmas and cut down your own Christmas tree at a nearby farm. Fall rates, including meals and activities, average $78 per night for adults and $58 for kids; slightly higher for winter and summer stays of less than five nights. We know families who return year after year. Learn more at 800/242-6495 or east-hill-farm.com. 4. Hulas and such Hawaii can be more affordable than you might think, with off-season packages and bargain airfares. Get every fifth night free mid-April to mid-December with packages starting under $175 per night for one-bedroom Maui condos booked with Destination Resorts Hawaii, the largest condo company in the upscale area of Wailea. There are special car rental, tennis, and golf packages as well as larger units, ideal for family reunions. They'll even buy your groceries for you before you arrive. Contact 800/367-5246 or drhmaui.com. While on Maui between May and November, pay $54.50 (a $20 savings) and take a child free on the Pacific Whale Foundation's ecotrip to watch the dolphins play, and then snorkel at a partially submerged volcanic crater. Naturalists will point out the Hawaiian green sea turtles. Contact 800/942-5311 or pacificwhale.org. Throughout the fall, pay just $73 a night ($90 in summer), including continental breakfast, at the newly renovated Aston Aloha Surf Hotel in Waikiki. The kids will love the hotel's surfing theme. Kids' Camp costs $40 daily, including lunch and snacks. Call 800/922-7866 or log on to astonhotels.com for deals throughout the Hawaiian Islands. Outrigger's Ohana Hotels (ohana means "family" in Hawaiian) are a block or two from the beach but have rates as low as $69, based on availability. Rooms with kitchenettes start at $119. Book the "Big Kahuna" package for five nights and get a free night, plus some other goodies (800/462-6262, outrigger.com). California-based Pleasant Hawaiian Holidays has some of the best air/hotel packages around, starting at just over $500 per person from the West Coast for Oahu. There are also good air/hotel deals from Chicago and New York, starting at $767 per person. Ask about added values like free nights, complimentary room upgrades, and food and beverage credits (pleasant.net, 800/242-9244). 5. Mexican beaches All-inclusive resorts are always a hit because everyone can do what they want, when they want, and there are plenty of organized activities for the kids as well as other children for yours to pal around with. Usually you can get bargain rates throughout the Caribbean until mid-December and then again from just after Easter all the way to Thanksgiving and beyond. A trip to Mexico can really be a bargain and will give the kids a chance to practice their Spanish and see a different culture. At Allegro Resorts, kids can stay and play free until December 20 and then again during the summer. All-inclusive rates for a family of four start at $160 per night, including meals, liquor, sports, and kids' activities. Contact 800/858-2258 or allegroresorts.com. Akumal's Club Caribe is one of my favorites, south of Cancon's crowds but smack in the middle of the Yucatan coast, with prime snorkeling, diving, and plenty of Maya ruins to explore. Rates start at under $150 per day, including parents' meals. Costa Azul, an hour north of Puerto Vallarta in San Francisco, Mexico, is a soft-adventure resort ideal for preteens and teenagers where they can swim through caves, trek through jungles, kayak to hidden coves, and learn to surf. Room rates start at under $100 for a family of four. Book Akumal or Costa Azul at Rascals in Paradise, (800/872-7225 or rascalsinparadise.com), where you can also ask about other bargain finds. 6. Cruises offer the benefits of an all-inclusive vacation with the added plus of being able to explore many new places during one trip. They are especially good bets if the grandparents are coming. There are morning-till-night activities for children as young as three on most major cruise ships and plenty to keep adults busy, no matter what their ages. And, because of increased competition in the industry, cruising has never been more affordable. Even cruises to Alaska and Europe can be had for under $900 per person, less for kids. Carnival Cruises and the Disney Cruise Line are especially popular with budget-minded multigenerational groups. Kids will love the waterslides on Carnival ships and Disney's private island--Castaway Cay--complete with a jungle gym that's anchored in the water. Seven-night cruise packages for fall until just before Christmas, and in late spring, start at $799 for adults and $399 for kids up to age 12 who share a stateroom with two parents. There are also shorter cruises available. Contact 888/325-2500 or disneycruise.com. Check Carnival's Web site at carnival.com for specials under $500 per person per week. Call 888/227-6482. Cruises Only (800/278-4737 or cruisesonly.com) can offer substantial discounts. 7. Go granny Grandparents are taking the grandkids on more trips than ever, leaving moms and dads behind. Elderhostel (877/426-8056, elderhostel.org) offers some of the best grandparents-with-grandkids deals anywhere, among them some 140 different intergenerational trips where families can spend a week between Christmas and New Year's Day exploring Yellowstone National Park, or in Minnesota learning about animal-tracking, bird-banding, wolves and deer, weather, and lake ecology (through the ice!). There are year-round programs in the United States, Canada, and abroad--take a Grand Canyon river excursion or a train trip in Louisiana. Packages start at under $500 per person including meals, accommodations, and programs. 8. Breakfast with Mickey Mouse Every family wants to go to Orlando at least once, and if you plan smart - say a long fall weekend or January after the holidays--you may find a trip to Mouseville more affordable than you might think, with deeply discounted hotel and air deals available. Even better, the crowds won't be nearly as large. After a hard day at the Orlando theme parks, come home to your own pool and plenty of space in a four-bedroom, three-bath house for just $105 a night; three-night minimum. For this and other top deals in Orlando, call Leisure Link International at 888/801-8808 or visit eleisurelink.com. If it's your first trip and you're planning to concentrate your time within Disney World, stay at one of Disney's own budget-priced properties (All-Star Sports, Music, or Movies Resorts) for as little as $80 per night (less for campsites), entitling you also to use Disney World's free transportation system and thus avoid a car rental. Call 407/934-7639 or visit disneyworld.com. Finally, grandparents and parents who are 50 or older save big-time at the Holiday Inn Family Suites Resort (877/387-5437, hifamilysuites.com), paying as little in some off-season periods as $89 a night or less. The older you are, the less you shell out for a two-bedroom suite complete with free breakfast (kids eat all their meals free), VCR, and separate TVs and video games for the kids. There are good deals for younger parents too. 9. Giant faces, buffalo, and more On a visit to the Badlands of South Dakota, the kids can count all of the different license plates in the parking lot of Mount Rushmore, which just celebrated its 60th anniversary. (Get more Mount Rushmore information at nps.gov/moru or 605/574-2523.) Kids can't climb on the monuments, but Mount Rushmore can still serve as a welcome respite during an interminable cross-country trip or the centerpiece for a family vacation that's certain to please. You can explore caves, pick up rocks blasted from the mountain where the colossal statue of Chief Crazy Horse is a work in progress, join a "dig" at the Mammoth Site where more than 50 giant mammoths were trapped more than 26,000 years ago, and take a Jeep tour through a buffalo herd. Call 800/952-3625 or visit South Dakota's official tourist site at travelsd.com or blackhillsbadlands.com, the site of the Black Hills, Badlands & Lakes Association, which lists 50 "G-rated" family attractions in the region. Stay also at Custer State Park, where besides seeing the buffalo, you can rent an old-fashioned cabin on a lake starting at under $100 a night, go gold-panning, or make animal tracks with the kids at hands-on junior naturalist programs. Contact 800/658-3530 or state.sd.us/sdparks. 10. The time machine Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown are absorbing year-round, as historic interpreters dressed in period costumes help thoroughly modern families appreciate what life was life without TVs, computers, or indoor plumbing. In eighteenth-century Williamsburg, you'll find the largest outdoor living history museum. The kids can help weed the garden in spring, make bricks in summer, or attend a slave couple's wedding in winter. Visit in summer and you can also go to Busch Gardens Williamsburg and Water Country USA. Families can book a four-night/five-day stay, including accommodations and unlimited admission for $700 or less. If you go in the winter, you won't have the roller coasters but you will have fewer crowds and can join holiday celebrations. More information at 800/465-5563 or williamsburgfun.com. Money-saving smarts 1. Alternate pricey attractions with those that are free--a hike in the woods, the best playground in the area, a tour of the local potato-chip factory. 2. Set the souvenir budget before you leave home and stick to it. Suggest the kids start collections along the way-postcards, pins, patches, for example. 3. Always ask when you call for reservations if there are any other discount deals available-kids eat free, a room upgrade, a second room at half price, etc. Playing hooky 1. Carefully check the calendar to make sure your children won't be missing a school concert, championship soccer game, or dance. 2. As soon as you have your trip tentatively scheduled, inform the teacher. Ask for the work ahead of time and suggestions of how your children can share the experience with their classmates. An oral report when they return? A photo journal? 3. Buy your children journals so they can keep a daily record of what they're seeing and doing. 4. Set aside "homework time" every day so they don't fall behind. 5. Bring some goodies back to share with the class from the region you're visiting. Get the kids involved 1. Get out a map and talk about where you want to go and what you want to do. Even the four-year-old will have an opinion. 2. Make sure everyone gets at least some of their picks on the itinerary. 3. If the kids are old enough, suggest each one plan a day's activities. 4. Surf the Web with them to find where you want to go, the best deals to get there, and what to do once you've arrived. Often, the kids are the best Web browsers in the family. 5. Consider inviting a friend for an only child or for a sole preteen or teen in the family. He or she will be much happier.
More Places to go
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