AFFORDABLE VACATIONS WITH TOTS IN TOW
Life certainly changed when you started a family.
Life certainly changed when you started a family. In your B.C. days (before children), you may have measured a successful vacation by how many sights you soaked in. Now it's all about flexibility. You're crafting itineraries around nap times and feedings, looking for stroller-accessible routes and scoping out noisy eateries where diners won't be bothered by a babbling toddler.
Traveling with babies, toddlers and preschoolers can be fun as long as you don't have to hassle with jet lag and you don't pack too many activities into each day. If you want to spend hours in the Louvre, leave baby at home with Grandma. But if you want a low-key family getaway, check out these ten fun and flexible destinations that'll leave you, Junior and your wallet happy.
By Erin Burt
SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS
Whether you and your little one are ready to fiesta or siesta, San Antonio is just the ticket. For starters, Sea World San Antonio can serve as a cheaper alternative to tourist-mobbed San Diego and Orlando -- single-day tickets cost up to 30% less than at its sister parks. Junior might also enjoy seeing the dinosaur bones or the exploring the giant tree house at the Witte Museum.
For a leisure itinerary, swing by the Alamo or unwind in Brackenridge Park which boasts wide open spaces, gardens, waterfalls and a miniature train ride. You can also take your tot for a boat ride on the San Antonio River or stroll along the River Walk, where you'll be serenaded by Mariachi bands among the festively lit restaurants and shops. Bring a stroller or baby backpack, though, because there's no guardrail to keep your curious wanderer out of the shallow water.
Your child couldn't care less about the history of the nation's capital, but it's a great place to visit with young ones because almost all the sights are free. So if you only have a couple of hours between nap times, you can swing in to see the pandas at the zoo or the dinosaur bones at the Museum of Natural History without feeling like you've wasted your money if you have to leave quickly -- and you can always come back later.
Another free activity: Take a stroller walk down the National Mall to see the World War II Memorial, Vietnam War Memorial, Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial. Your toddler will love climbing the steps of the Capitol, flying a kite on the Mall or watching the birds splash in the reflection ponds. You can take clean and safe public transportation to almost any sight in D.C. Plus, the underground Metro stations have elevators for your stroller -- truly, a godsend.
U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS
With new rules requiring passports for U.S. travelers to the Caribbean, a young family of three could spend as much as $276 on new passports. You can still have an affordable tropical getaway in the U.S. Virgin Islands, however, where no passport is necessary. Plus, spring and summer are the off-season in the Caribbean, so you can find great deals on lodging. For example, at Secret Harbor, a resort on St. Thomas Island, you can get a one-bedroom beachfront suite for $235 a night from April to December. Peak winter rates for the same room run as high as $400 a night. The resort offers babysitting services for $20 an hour.
If you're feeling adventurous, take the ferry over to St. John Island and the Virgin Islands National Park where your family can "camp" in a single-room beach cottage. They're a bit rustic -- they have electricity and fans but no air conditioning -- but at $63 to $105 a night, you can't beat the price. Cribs are available for rental.
Looking for a family-friendly alternative to hoity-toity bed and breakfasts? Weatherbury Farm in Avella, Pa., holds the barn door wide open for little ones. This B&B is a working farm, where the owners encourage tots to get up close and personal with the animals -- helping to bottle feed baby animals, hand feed goats and sheep, and gather eggs and feed the chickens. You and your kids can also lounge in the swimming pool, frolic in the wide-open space or explore the countryside.
Weatherbury Farm is 45 minutes Southwest of Pittsburgh. A family of three can spend a single night in a farm room for $139 (includes tax). Stay two or more nights and you can save 16% to 31% off the nightly rate. Suites are also available. You can find similar farm-stay accommodations from California to Alabama to Wisconsin. Look for an agritourism Web site in your home state to search for accommodations.
This scenic destination is popular among honeymooners, but it's perfect for young families, too. You'll find sandy beaches for romping and relaxing, rocky coves with tide pools for poking around in and plenty of vistas for whale watching, otter spotting and bird chasing. Monterey is also home to one of the best aquariums in the country, where you'll be as mesmerized by the exhibits as your tykes.
Take a stroller walk along the shops on Cannery Row or Fisherman's Wharf and watch the sea lions lounge nearby. And if baby's having trouble napping on vacation, lull him to sleep along the famous 17-Mile Drive while you take in the breathtaking vistas and ogle some incredible homes. It can be pricey to fly into Monterey's airport, so book bargain airfare into San Jose instead -- it's only an hour's drive away.
COPPER MOUNTAIN, COLO.
Ski resorts from California to Vermont are going out of their way to accommodate families, in any season. For example, there's still plenty to do in the summertime at Copper Mountain Resort, located 75 miles west of Denver, including pony rides, a scenic chair lift ride, bumper boats, mini golf and go-karts (pictured here). You can also splash at the indoor pool and play at the arcade. Or kick back under the stars for an outdoor movie.
Copper Mountain offers group care for children ages 6 weeks to 5 years if you want to enjoy the resort's grown-up activities (climbing the rock wall, going mountain biking, playing golf or getting a massage, for example). You'll pay $88 for a full day of childcare. You can also pay $12 an hour for a private in-room sitter. Planning your trip in the off-season snags you a good deal on lodging. Rates for a one-bedroom suite start at $120 per night.
Thinking of cruising with kids? Forget about Mickey Mouse. While Disney Cruise Lines caters fantastically to babies and toddlers, you might be able to find a better deal elsewhere but still get the kid-friendly amenities you seek. For example, we recently found a four-night Bahamas cruise in May for two adults and one 2-year-old on Disney Cruise Lines starting at $1,941. The same family would pay about half that price on Royal Caribbean or Carnival Cruise Lines for a similar room and itinerary.
Carnival offers a complimentary toddler program for kids ages 2 to 5. Kids under 2 can use the ship's play facilities when accompanied by an adult. Or if you need some adult time, you can hire a babysitter for $6 an hour. Royal Caribbean provides free play programs for kids ages 6 months to 3 years, however, one parent must accompany the child. You can leave tots age 3 and up unaccompanied in the complimentary Aquanauts program. And you can also hire a private babysitter for $8 an hour in the evenings. Group baby sitting costs $5 an hour.
BRUCE PENNINSULA, ONTARIO
When traveling with an infant or toddler, you want a location that's not overcrowded, overpriced or overheated. Hello, Canada. About four hours Northwest of Toronto is the Bruce Penninsula -- a picturesque piece of land that juts out into Lake Huron. The average July high temperature is a kid-friendly 75 degrees. Tots will enjoy the wildlife at Bruce Penninsula National Park, and you'll be awed by the beautiful limestone cliffs, caves and ancient forests. At the 21-island Fathom Five National Marine Park you can lounge on the beach, hike the park trails or take Junior for a glass-bottom boat ride to view shipwrecks off shore, such as the one pictured here.
Bypass the B&Bs in favor of a cottage rental to make a vacation with your tot more enjoyable for all. We recently found a private lakeside cottage with two bedrooms for about $660 a week for a family of three at Cedar Grove Cottages Family Resort.
OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK, WASH.
There's something for everyone here. Olympic's terrain varies from Pacific Ocean beaches with excellent tide pooling and room to frolic, to dense rainforest valleys (some trails are even paved for stroller access), to glacier-capped peaks viewed from nature trails lined with wildflowers. Located across the Puget Sound from Seattle, this park isn't plagued by the chronic overcrowding of other national parks. A seven-day pass to the park costs $15 per vehicle, and inexpensive camp grounds abound.
If you're not feeling up to camping with your baby or toddler (we don't blame you), check out the cabins at the Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort. Nestled among the evergreens along the Sol Duc River, cabins cost between $125 and $145 a night and some include kitchens. The resort is known for its natural mineral hot spring pools, and it also has a toddler pool for little ones.
AMELIA ISLAND, FLA.
Here's an affordable alternative to overcrowded Florida beach destinations. About 40 minutes north of Jacksonville, this pristine stretch of land is the perfect place for young families to unwind. Go beachcombing for shells or shark teeth, catch a cruise on a scenic waterway, explore Fort George Island, or rent a bike and baby trailer to take in the coastal views.
Discount airline Southwest flies into Jacksonville. And just because you're traveling with a child doesn't mean you can't enjoy luxury accommodations. The plush Amelia Island Plantation offers rates starting at $166 a night. The resort offers a kids camp for children ages 3 and up (rates start at $40). It also has a pool and a kid-centric nature center for all ages to explore. Or, spring for a condo to enjoy family-style living -- a two-bedroom place costs about $1,200 a week.