Budget-Wise Winter Vacations

Sydney Julien is thinking snow. Lois Naftulin wants nothing but warm sun.

But both the mothers, Julien in Los Angeles and Naftulin in New York, are hoping for the same thing from their upcoming winter vacations.

``The change of scenery,'' explains Naftulin, who can't wait to get to Florida.

``The time to focus on each other,'' adds Julien, who will be packing ski gear for her trip to Jackson Hole, Wyo.

``We leave all the work at home,'' says Naftulin, a lawyer. ``There's nothing else to do but be together.''

``And we get to fulfill our winter wonderland fantasy without having to live in it,'' jokes Julien.

We're not talking budget-busting trips here. Naftulin and her family will stay with family in Miami while Julien's brood will be visiting friends. Any winter getaway, no matter how modest, both women assert, is enough to help busy families survive the always-too-hectic fall.

``It's not a keep-up-with-the-Joneses thing. It's a sanity moment,'' observes Kathy Sudeikis. She is a national board member of the American Society of Travel Agents and a family travel expert at All About Travel, a large suburban Kansas City agency.

Judging by a brand-new (embargoed until Dec. 11) national survey, a lot of exhausted parents feel they can't wait till next summer for a vacation, no matter what their income bracket.

Not only are more winter vacations planned overall this year, but a record 40 percent -- 139 million trips -- will include children, the Travel Industry of America, the tourism industry's research arm, reports.

The top picks for winter travelers: Florida, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Arizona and Colorado. Sudeikis, for one, is sending families everywhere this winter from a quick city weekend in St. Louis or Chicago to a yacht charter in the Caribbean to a driving trip up the California coast. To save money, they're cashing in frequent flier miles, booking shorter stays and splitting condos with friends.

``Parents figure when the kids are out of school, someone has to stay home from work anyway to watch them. And the more people who go, the more people are saying `let's just do it,' '' says Sudeikis.

``People feel good about the economy so they feel comfortable splurging and taking the kids,'' says Shawn Flaherty, a spokesman for the Travel Industry Association. She likens the winter travel surge to the crowds of post-Thanksgiving shoppers hitting the malls. Just as the shoppers found, travelers are realizing there are winter bargains to be had.

``You just have to look for them,'' says Flaherty.

Consider these:
-- Cruise lines, including Carnival, Princess, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian, are offering reduced rates for kids sharing a cabin with their parents -- as low as $99 on selected sailings. The discount booker Cruise Line, Inc. says a family of four could sail for seven days this winter for just over $1,400. Call your travel agent or The Cruise Line at 800-777-0707.

-- Families with young children or those who are beginning skiers can save big at smaller areas where lodging and lifts are cheaper. Book in January and save even more. Some areas, such as Vermont's Okemo Mountain Resort, offer two children skiing with parents free beginner lift tickets. Call 800-78-OKEMO. Most Colorado areas now offer all children kindergarten age and younger free lifts. Consider Silver Creek, one of Colorado's smallest ski areas. A family of four could ski the area's 250 acres for just $84 a day. Some major areas will cost you nearly double that in lifts. Call 800-754-7458.

-- For less than $1,000, a family of six could spend three days at the Woodstock Inn in postcard-pretty Woodstock, Vt. The deal includes two rooms, ski lifts and rentals, a lesson and most meals for the kids. Availability is limited. Call 800-448-7900.

-- Bring Grandma and Grandpa along free to Jamaica's all-suite Franklyn D. Resort from Jan.2 through Feb. 12. One grandparent can stay free for every full-paying adult. In addition, the family gets upgraded to a two-bedroom suite. Kids 16 and under always stay and eat free at the all-inclusive resort where a nanny is assigned to each family. A family with four adults and four kids could vacation for a week for $3,720, plus air fare. Call 888-FDR-KIDS.

-- Book a $129-per-night ``Dream Deal'' package at the Doubletree Resort in Ixtapa, Mexico, and get breakfast for a family of four and free supervised all-day activities for the kids. A similar deal at the Doubletree all-suite Sapphire Beach Resort on St. Thomas starts at $310 per night, but also includes all children's meals when they eat with their parents. Call 800-524-2090.

-- Scuba divers can get a free refresher dive course at any participating dive operator in Curaco and a 15 percent discount on all dive equipment rental. Non-diving kids and spouses can get free snorkeling gear. Call 800-3-CURACAO and ask about the ``We Want You Back...Diving'' promotion.

-- Stay in the heart of the Big Apple but pay just $169 per room per night this winter for a Central Park view from the newly renovated St. Moritz on the Park. Availability is limited. Call 800-221-4774.

Wherever you go, remember you'll cut costs significantly if you're willing to stay slightly farther from the beach or the slopes.

``Just two blocks from the beach, prices might drop by half,'' notes Laura Sutherland, who co-authored the soon-to-be-released new edition of ``The Best Bargain Family Vacations in the U.S.A.'' (St. Martin's Press, $13.95).

Another money-saving tip from Sutherland: If you don't have a kitchen, bring along a small cooler and serve the kids breakfast in the room. All they want is cereal and milk anyway. Brown-bagging lunch saves plenty when heading to the ski slopes or the beach, too.

Don't forget the peanut butter.

(Look for Eileen Ogintz's new books from HarperCollins West: ``A Kid's Guide to Vacation Fun in the Rocky Mountains'' and, for parents, ``Are We There Yet?'')

(Send your questions and comments about family travel to Los Angeles Times Syndicate, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053 or e-mail to eogintz@aol.com. While every letter cannot be answered, some of your stories may be used in upcoming columns.)

(c) 1996, Eileen Ogintz. Dist. by Los Angeles Times Syndicate

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