CREATING A PERFECT FAMILY VACATION
Going away with the entire family can be a joyous, memorable experience... or it can be a nightmare. Advance research and planning can make all the difference. Following these simple steps should help.
The Potter girls on Disney's
"private island." Disney
Magic in the background
Depending on the age of your children, it might be a good idea to sit down together and discuss what everyone wants in a family vacation. This might seem redundant but it's surprising how few families actually do this. Older kids will have definite ideas of what constitutes a perfect getaway. Younger children usually choose theme parks featuring their favorite characters from television.
Know going in to this discussion that compromises will be necessary. Have an "agenda" for the meeting so you can guide the discussion.
Which activities and environments best suit your family make-up?
Which age-appropriate activities are critical to your vacation's success?
Which activites can you live without?
Once you've made some preliminary decisions, put everything into a list. Then you need to determine your budget within 10%.
Tony examines a sloth
at Marco Island Marriott
Now to the fun part. Using the list you've made, start narrowing down your choices to resorts, hotels, cruises or destinations that fit most of the criteria in the list and that fall within your budget.
If you decide on a resort that requires a flight, call the vacation department of the airlines that fly to that destination. The vacation packages are often substantially less than booking each component individually and include taxes, transportation from the airport (or rental car) and often some add-ons at no charge. Most airlines that fly into areas with theme parks have packages that include entry to the parks.
Hyatt and Four Seasons resorts have the best programs for children, with Camp Hyatt and Kids for All Seasons respectively. Other (less expensive) hotels and resorts offer programs for children too, and there are several all-inclusive resorts that have family activities. Sandals Beaches provides the "ultra-inclusive" experience for all ages, and Occidental Resorts have several properties that cater to families. If you go to a resort that isn't all-inclusive but that does have a program for kids, make sure you verify what ages are included in the program and what the charges (if any) might be. You'll have to incorporate those charges into your budget.
If you want to experience several destinations at one time and still have a full "resort" experience, nothing beats a cruise for a family vacation. With most of the cruise lines now stressing home-port cruising, odds are that you will find a cruise within driving distance of your home. Carnival, Norwegian Cruise Lines and Disney have the best programs for families, with non-stop activites for all ages. A cruise vacation can be very economical since it's inclusive of all meals and almost all activities including the Kid's Clubs.
Cruise ship cabins are generally tiny... much smaller than the average hotel room. Most people don't spend a lot of time in the cabin, but it can be tight depending on the size of your family and the ages of the kids. You can book a cruise online if you know exactly what you want or use a cruise specialist travel agency. They often get volume discounts and can offer extraordinary prices. They can also monitor the prices to see if they drop after you've booked, getting you a refund for the difference or an upgrade in cabin type.
The Pashniks enjoy family time on
Carnival Cruise Lines M.S. Victory
A long car trip can exhaust parents and kids alike. Make sure you stop frequently and plan your trip so that you don't spend more time in your car than anyone in the family can tolerate. This might mean driving very short distances, but it's more important to have a good time together than to get to a far-off destination. Plan accordingly.
Two final tips:
Make sure that you are getting what you expect in your vacation package before you pay for it. Have everything documented.
Book early, but keep checking to see if the rates have gone down since you confirmed your reservation. If they have, you might be entitled to a refund.
The column on the right provides useful links to help you plan that perfect family vacation.
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