In this column, Nancy Schretter, Managing Editor of the Family Travel Network, answers real family vacation questions from some of our readers.
No Hurricanes, Please
Q. We are planning a summer family beach vacation in August and would like to go somewhere where there aren't going to be any hurricanes. We're looking for a place with a nice beach where we could snorkel and do lots of watersports. Could you give us some recommendations? P.E., Dunwoody, GA
No destination can offer a 100% "no hurricane" guarantee, but Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao in the Dutch Caribbean are about as hurricane-free as you can get. All three islands offer good family-friendly accommodations as well as excellent snorkeling and watersports. In Aruba, two of the best family-friendly resorts are the Marriott Aruba Resort & Stellaris Casino and the Tamarijn Aruba All Inclusive. In Bonaire, both the Buddy Dive Resort and Sand Dollar Resort Condominiums offer kids programs and activities as well as superb snorkeling. On the island of Curacao, check out the Curacao Marriott Beach Resort & Emerald Casino and Breezes Curacao, an all-inclusive resort with a variety of programs and activities for kids and families. Breezes Curacao is also offering a special promotion allowing kids 13 and under to stay, play and eat free at the resort this summer. See this article on The Family Travel Network for more details on the Breezes "Stay, Play and Eat Free" offer.
Travel With Tiny Tots
Q. My husband and I would like to take a beach vacation this summer with our two young children. My oldest is a little over 2 1/2 and my youngest is 13 months old. Do you have any ideas for us? We are willing to fly, but we will only consider someplace with direct flights from the Washington, D.C. area. A.R., Potomac, MD
There are a number of great resorts with excellent programs for babies and toddlers, allowing you and your husband to relax on vacation and enjoy some time alone together. Club Med Sandpiper, located in Port St. Lucie, Florida, offers Baby Club Med for children from 4-23 months of age and Petit Club Med for ages 2 through 3. In addition, Club Med's Baby Welcome program provides a variety of amenities for babies and toddlers, such as changing tables, high chairs, bottle warmers, potties, portable cribs, strollers, baby baths, and toys. The resort's beach is located on the St. Lucie River and a public beach on the Atlantic Ocean is about 20 minutes away. Southwest Airlines flies direct from Baltimore/Washington International Airport into West Palm Beach, US Air flies direct from Washington Reagan to West Palm Beach, and a number of airlines fly direct from Washington area airports into Fort Lauderdale.
The island of Jamaica is home to a number of innovative resorts for families with very young children. All-inclusive vacation packages at both the Franklyn D. Resort and Spa and FDR Pebbles include a Vacation Nanny to help care for your children during the length of your stay. Beaches has three all-inclusive resorts in Jamaica with nurseries and Ultra Nannies for infants up to 23 months of age and toddlers programs for 2-5 year olds. The value-priced all-inclusive Starfish Trelawny has kids activity programs for newborns through 2 years of age and older, while the Holiday Inn Sunspree Resort in Montego Bay also offers the KidSpree Vacation Club for little ones ages 6 months to 3 years. Kids 12 and under also stay, play and eat free at the Holiday Inn Sunspree. Air Jamaica offers non-stop flights to the island from Baltimore/Washington International Airport.
The Paradisus Riviera Cancun woos parents of tiny tots with its Family Concierge and Club 4 for children who are 45 days old to 4 years of age. In Punta Cana, the Baby Rock Club at the Melia Caribe Tropical entertains kids from 4 months to 4 years of age. USA3000 offers direct flights to Punta Cana and Cancun from Baltimore/Washington International Airport and United offers direct flights to Cancun from Washington Dulles. Another domestic option might be a cruise aboard Disney Cruise Line. Disney's cruise ships offer nurseries and children's programs for kids 12 weeks of age and older and can be accessed via direct flights to Orlando from Washington D.C. area airports.
Q. I've planned many family vacations using your site and it's a great resource. This isn't exactly a family vacation question, but maybe you can help. My 3 friends and I always take a moms' getaway when our kids are at camp during the summer. We've done beach trips and spas, but this year we're looking for something new. Do you have any ideas for where four 40-something moms could go for a girlfriends getaway? Something with a little adventure would be nice, but we still want the pampering. No camping, please. J.S., Dallas, TX
I've just returned from a place that sounds perfect for your moms' getaway. Ka'ana Boutique Resort is a little oasis of pampering nestled in the Maya Mountains of Belize's Cayo District. On our recent trip, our group of women bonded while zip-lining through the jungle, tubing through ancient cave systems on the crystal clear Caves Branch River, and climbing pyramid and structures at nearby Mayan sites. We then returned to Ka'ana for gourmet meals, swims in their lovely infinity pool and relaxing spa treatments. The resort offers 15 air-conditioned rooms in Casitas or in the Balam building. All rooms have iPod docking stations, LCD flat screen televisions, wireless Internet service, expresso makers, sitting areas and large private baths. The resort offers a number of tours and excursions, and Ka'ana's concierge can take care of all the details. It's a great place to escape the everyday stresses of life, experience a variety of adventure activities, and then retreat back to toast the events of the day over a glass of fine wine and a gourmet dinner. Horseback riding, canoeing and shopping for local crafts are also available nearby.
If you want to beat the heat, consider heading to Snake River Lodge & Spa in Teton Village, Wyoming. Located at the base of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and surrounded by Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, this award winning AAA Four Diamond resort features an exceptional blend of adventurous experiences, breathtaking scenery, and world-class amenities. Snake River Lodge serves as an excellent base camp for exploring the surrounding area and pampers its guests with 93 well-appointed guest rooms, gourmet dining, and the 17,000 square-foot Avanyu Spa. Take a Yellowstone wildlife safari, ride the aerial tram or mountain chair lifts for incredible scenic views, go whitewater rafting on the Snake River or shoot down the Alpine Slide on Snow King Mountain. Golf, horseback riding, hiking, mountain biking, and boat cruises on Jackson Lake are also available. The Grand Teton Music Festival offers nightly concerts during the months of July and August. Check with the Lodge's concierge for more details.
Alaska With Teens
Q. My two teens wanted to go to Europe this summer, but I've looked at the air travel and costs and it just won't work. We have a total of 8 vacation days and I want to do something we'll all enjoy. We've had great vacations in Hawaii and Mexico before, but we'd like to do something different this year. One of my friends recommended Alaska. Do you think our teens would have a good time there? P.C., Thousand Oaks, CA
Your friend is right. Your teens will love Alaska, as long as you pick the type of vacation that suits their needs as well as the interests of you and your family. Start by getting them involved in planning your family's vacation so they'll "buy in" from the beginning. With teens, it's generally best to choose family vacations that offer teens a chance for a little independence as well as camaraderie with other teens. In Alaska, this makes cruises a particularly good option for families with teens.
Large cruise ships such as those operated by Royal Caribbean, Princess Cruises, Holland America, Norwegian Cruise Line and Carnival offer a wide variety of Alaska travel itineraries, visiting major Alaskan cities and towns each week. All of these cruise lines are good choices for families with teens, offering a wide range of family oriented activities, daily teen programs and an extensive list of shore excursions. A good travel agent or online research on sites such as Cruise Critic and CruiseMates can help you determine which cruise line and ship is right for you. Price shopping on sites such as VacationsToGo, Cruises.com and CruiseCompete can also help.
When choosing an Alaska family vacation on one of the major cruise lines, pay close attention to the itinerary, shipboard amenities, teen program details, and the variety of shore excursions and cruise extensions offered. All of these vary from ship to ship and from cruise line to cruise line. Ships with all-weather facilities, such as pools with retractable roofs, are particularly good choices for Alaska family cruises as the weather there can be variable.
If you like the cruise option but are looking for something a bit more intimate, consider a small ship cruise that caters to families. Thompson Family Adventures offers an 8-day Inside Passage cruise aboard the Sea Wolf and the company takes care to try to match passengers with kids of like ages. Cruise West, American Safari Cruises and Lindblad Expeditions also provide excellent small ship cruise experiences for families.
If you'd prefer to plan your own Alaska road trip, make sure to pack in plenty of adventures, excursions and activities. There's nothing that will bore a teen faster than hours and hours of driving and sightseeing. For some ideas on planning an Alaska driving adventure, see this article on The Family Travel Network.
Wedding Anniversary ... With Kids?
Q. Our 10th wedding anniversary is coming up and I'd like to go somewhere really special with my husband to celebrate. Our children are 4 and 7, though, and we don't have anyone who could come to our home and stay with them while we go away. Is there a romantic luxury resort that you could recommend that also has really outstanding programs for kids so that we could have some private time together? I'd like to go somewhere memorable, but I don't want to feel guilty about leaving my kids or forcing them to go to some boring kids program. K.R., Chicago, IL
There are some fantastic resorts in the Caribbean that also have exceptional programs for children. These properties cater to kids with interesting activities, leaving the parents to enjoy the resort's many amenities and have some couples time on their own. The Four Seasons Resort Nevis is just the type of property you are seeking. Set on the exotically beautiful island of Nevis, the Four Seasons Resort Nevis is known for entertaining and pampering its guests -- both couples and families. This luxury resort offers well-appointed beachfront rooms, a long palm studded beach, beautiful pools, a spa with a wide variety of treatments including a romantic couples massage, an 18-hole Robert Trent Jones golf course with dramatic views, tennis, watersports, and a variety of restaurants perfect for celebration dinners. The Resort's award-winning "Kids for All Seasons" program, provided on a complimentary basis for children ages three to nine, offers a wide array of exciting and innovative activities, including a creative educational component highlighting sea turtles. Activities include Turtle Tales under the Tree, Turtle Watch Beach Walks, arts and crafts, games, and other events. Upon arrival at the Resort, your children will find an edible rice crispy "turtle" treat designed by the Resort's Executive Pastry Chef and a plush turtle toy waiting for them in their guest room. The Four Seasons Resort Nevis is both an exciting destination for children and an alluring, romantic getaway for parents. You'll be able to celebrate your wedding anniversary in style at this resort.
The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman is another luxury Caribbean resort with outstanding children's programs. This AAA Five Diamond oceanfront hotel is set on Grand Cayman's lovely Seven Mile Beach and features richly appointed rooms, outdoor pools, five restaurants, a La Prairie spa, a tennis center, a 9-hole Greg Norman-designed golf course, and a comprehensive watersports program. The Resort's "Ambassadors of the Environment" program by Jean-Michel Cousteau offers 42 three-hour programs throughout the week in 3 time slots: 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m; 1:45 p.m. to 4:45 p.m.; and 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. daily. The Ritz-Carlton's "Ambassador Kids" program for children ages 4-7 would wow your children with activities like Animal Olympics, Creatures of the Night, Sea Turtle Discovery Lab, The Case of the Missing Stingray, Mangrove Forest Pontoon Trip, and other adventures.
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