By guest blogger Barbara Messing
Being a mom who works in the travel industry, I’m always getting questions from other parents about how they can plan a getaway with the kids that won’t break the bank. These questions range from “Where should I go to get the best value?” to “How can we save money on holiday travel?” to “What is a great family-friendly destination?”… just to name a few. And while the state of the economy has many families feeling stretched, there is a silver lining when it comes to travel. The travel deals out there are better than I’ve seen in years, making this fall a great time to take a family vacation.
I am seeing two interesting trends in the industry these days. First, people are booking their vacations closer to the actual travel dates, as they want to have the best picture possible of their life before they make the decision to book their travel arrangements. Second, I see the “power of the purse” in action, with more women making the majority of travel decisions and taking responsibility for booking family getaways. I call it the “anti-Clark Griswald effect.”
So how do you get the most for your money when booking travel for your family? Here are five ideas to make family travel affordable this fall:
1. Picking the right destination: Deals are abundant, but especially at family destinations this year, so now you just need to decide where to go. Occupancy levels at popular family resorts were already low, and with families back to school the hotels have even more empty rooms. If you can steal a break with the kids this Fall, San Diego, Orlando, Hawaii and Los Angeles all offer amazing value this season and plenty of entertainment for your family.
2. Finding flights: Prices are great right now as airlines are trying to fill seats with earlier and more aggressive fares than normal fall sales. Airline prices change constantly, so look for these low fares now and when you see a great fare, book it immediately. A handful of airlines still offer child discounts, but as a general rule, you will find a better deal if you look out for the lowest fares you can find online and special sales. These are inevitably lower than the full-priced child fares. You can sign up for sale and fare alerts with your favorite airlines and travel sites.
3. Consider all-inclusive resorts: All-inclusive resort vacations are a family’s best friend and are offering some of the best discounts I’ve seen in years. Perfect for a cross-generational family beach vacation - everyone can eat, stay and play at an all-inclusive with one set price. Plus, most resorts offer a “kids camp” so that the parents can enjoy some downtime with a fruity drink and a book by the pool—a rarity on most vacations.
4. Timing is everything: If you want to save even more money and score some incredible deals on flights or beach vacations, try between now and December 19th, when the demand and prices are low. The next few months before the holidays are a great time to visit Florida, Mexico and the Caribbean for some of the lowest rates of the year. Vacation packagers will often offer rates at 4-star All-inclusive resorts that include airfare for around $100 per day during these low-season times. Often children under 12 are able to stay and eat for free at these resorts, so check around for the best pricing.
5. Booking holiday travel: If you haven’t booked your holiday travel yet, I would suggest doing that now. October is a very good time to book travel because you will still see some good options on pricing and routes. I have a couple of recommendations to keep both your costs and stress in check. If possible, try to fly nonstop out of a popular airline hub. You will find more competition among airlines and thus better pricing. More importantly, by flying nonstop you will not get stuck at one of your connections with your tired and cranky family, nor will your luggage with all of the Christmas presents end up at the wrong airport. If you do have to make a connection, try flying on the off-peak days of the holiday and when picking your routing, avoid hubs that get frequent weather delays. Finally, treat yourself well. If you don’t want to sleep on grandma’s air mattress, check out the amazing hotel rates during holiday weekends. Business travelers who head home for the holidays leave empty hotels, which translates to great discounts to gain your business. Or even better, leave the kids on the air mattress and enjoy a hotel getaway for yourselves.
An avid traveler with stamps from over 50 countries on her passport, Barbara Messing applies her passion for travel to her role as vice president of Travel Ticker and new business development at Hotwire. Barbara is responsible for overseeing the new Travel Ticker product, which delivers handpicked, insider deals to motivated travelers. You can also find Barbara on Twitter @Travel_Ticker, where she was recently ranked as one of the top 21 travel twitterers by Condé Nast Traveler.
By guest blogger Elliot Cohen
Temperatures have finally dropped and people are donning coats and scarves and heading out to brave the... 60 degree weather? C’mon folks, it’s not THAT cold out yet! Take off your earmuffs and enjoy the pleasant early fall weather before you need those coats and scarves for real.
Until then, how about you plan a weekend that celebrates Autumn in New York, or in Boston, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, or any other urban center where fall means finally having some fun outside in the sun.
The good thing about cities, is that they’re big. That means there’s lots of free, outdoor, fun things to do in Manhattan, and endless number of places to visit in Philadelphia, enough historic sites to keep you busy for days in our nation’s capital, and you won’t have to fight over picnic spots in Boston. These cities come well-equipped with reliable public transportation (so you can leave your car at home), they’re easy to get to, and most of all, the American big city is family and kid friendly, especially those cities that include huge parks.
And huge parks are where it’s at this fall. Many families have trimmed down their vacation budgets this year, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t vacation at all. Splurge on an urban fall weekend and you’ll find that “splurging” doesn’t need to cost an arm and a leg! Especially when Mother Nature doesn’t charge a dime to show off her stunning display of fall foliage.
During your 2009 fall family weekend getaway, make sure you enjoy some fun in the shade at these free fall foliage wonderlands:
Have a fall picnic in Manhattan’s Central Park, followed by a boat ride and a visit to the Central Park Zoo.
Be on the cutting edge of NYC attractions at Manhattan’s brand new High Line Park.
Ride your bike through crunchy golden leaves at the Bronx’s Van Cortlandt Park.
Have a family game of ultimate Frisbee at Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, followed by lunch in trendy Park Slope.
Explore the historic old city of Philadelphia, go shopping in some Center City boutiques, and then lay out with a book and a cup o’ jo at Philly’s famous Washington Square Park.
Forget about the urban jungle around you and hike through one of the largest city parks in the world at Fairmount Park in Philadelphia.
Don’t let the nippiness of a cold fall day in Boston keep you indoors. Visit the Arnold Arboretum or the Boston Common to see what New England fall foliage is all about.
Gather some friends and hike the Ridge Trail in Washington, D.C.’s Rock Creek Park.
Take in the color-changing dogwoods, willow, oaks, and ferns at the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C.
Elliot Cohen is CEO of TripCart.com, a leading US Road Trip Planner. What other people do you know who are so passionate about travel that they build their own travel site? Since being an internet entrepreneur is kind of demanding, Elliot doesn’t have nearly enough time to road trip like he used to, but that doesn’t mean he can’t still organize family picnics in Central Park or a weekend boat trip to peep at Catskills and Hudson Valley fall foliage ...both things that you and your family should consider, too!
That reunion you're planning, or thinking of planning, is coming up more quickly than you might think. Studies show that while most reunions take place in summer, reunion planning goes on year-round. In a recent article for Leisure Group Travel, Edith Wagner of Reunions Magazine writes that accommodations for summer reunions are typically locked in by March so that members can plan ahead. She adds that planning and activities are becoming more organized as well, with programs often including golf tournaments or city tours in addition to the classic group picnic.
Because planning a reunion can be a daunting undertaking, Wagner urges planners to delegate and use all the help they can get. Getting others involved in planning generates "ownership" in the event's success and spreads around the gratification, as well as the workload. See our Family Reunion Guide for more tips and suggestions on planning your reunion. Have fun!
By guest blogger Suzanne Rowan Kelleher
Love family vacations? Love golf? Bringing the two together has never been easier, as more hotels and resorts are wooing parents with excellent golf schools and family-minded packages. But how will you know if a resort’s family golf program is really as kid-friendly as promised?
You can tell a lot simply by reading the property’s brochure or web site, says Jerramy Hainline, director of instruction at the Hilton Golf Academy, whose three resorts welcome over 350 kids each year. Compare how the resort describes its junior golf instruction with how it portrays its adult offerings. “If there’s very little difference in how the classes are described, it’s more than likely that the resort hasn’t tailored anything for kids,” says Hainline. “If a resort or school truly wants kids there, it will have made accommodations to offer junior golfers a quality experience.”
What else should you look for? Here are 10 more clues that a resort will deliver a golf vacation that’s truly a family affair:
- On-course instruction. A no-brainer, right? Far from it. You’d be surprised at how often a kids’ golf “program” turns out to be a 90-minute etiquette lesson in a windowless conference room or an hour on a driving range plus a soda break. It’s critical that a program teaches kids how to play the game, not just how to drive a ball or putt. “Kids need to experience being on the course to bring it all together,” stresses Hainline. So if a resort’s junior program doesn’t feature any on-course time, it’s a deal breaker.
- Reduced green fees. Discounts for junior golfers or deals where “kids play free” with a paying adult demonstrate that a resort is serious about encouraging kids to play.
- Low student-instructor ratio. Class size for kids ages 6 to 17 should never exceed six kids per instructor, says Hainline. “And for 4- to 5-year-olds, the ratio should be closer to 2 to 1.”
- Inclusive instruction. Even preschoolers can learn the fundamentals of golf, including the basic rules of etiquette—whose turn it is to putt, where to stand, and that old bugaboo, when to be quiet. A family-friendly resort will have come up with ways for kids as young as 5 or 6 to participate in the game.
- Child-savvy pros. “You want instructors who have experience with the programs and a history of working with junior golfers,” says Eric Alpenfels, director of instruction at the Golf Academy at Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina. “I think five years of experience is a good start. Junior-golf certification programs vary from facility to facility.” If you can’t find this information on the resort’s web site, call and ask.
- Family-friendly tees. Most youngsters don’t have the skill and strength required to play a long course. To get kids in the game, many resorts now offer forward tees set at shorter distances. Having a variety of tees allows the family to play together, with Mom and Dad playing the long course and kids hitting from the forward tees. Some resorts even have special scorecards with more realistic pars for kids.
- Kid-size clubs. “Cut-offs” are adult clubs that have simply been shortened, resulting in a heavy head relative to shaft length. They’re better than nothing, says Hainline. But it’s preferable that a resort provide kids with junior clubs, which are scaled down appropriately from top to bottom.
- Big balls, little balls. Young kids are still working on eye-hand coordination. At the Hilton Golf Academy, junior golfers start off hitting beach balls. Once they’ve mastered those, it’s on to rubber balls, then tennis balls, and finally golf balls.
- Designated family time. Many resorts now offer special tee times reserved just for families. Pinehurst’s “Family Fairways” program goes one better, giving parents and their kids one course all to themselves for several hours each afternoon. “Family Fairways takes the intimidation factor out of play,” says Alpenfels. “You don’t need to worry about who’s behind you, or hitting in the middle of the fairway, or going straight to the putting green.”
- Non-golf kids’ activities. If family members have varying levels of skill and interest, it’s simply unrealistic to expect your whole clan to golf 24/7. Look for a swimming pool and other recreational activities to keep everyone happy. An on-site kids’ camp or babysitting service will add flexibility to your schedule.
Bio: Suzanne Rowan Kelleher is the Editor-in-Chief of WeJustGotBack.com, a family travel website with resort and hotel reviews, how-to articles, readers’ tips and recommendations, and planning advice for kid-friendly vacations.
Turkey day is almost here. Families will gather across America to feast on meat, stuffing, mashed carbs, cranberries, and some form of green veggie dish. Aside from the obvious Congressional overturn, dinner table conversations will inevitably turn toward personal life, especially since relatives and/or close friends are gathered in one place.
Use the Thanksgiving holiday as an opportunity to start planning family reunions or trips with friends. At minimum, share upcoming travel plans. You just might discover useful tips on what to do/see in an area or thoughtful advice on how to solve a trip planning issue from your wise resources at the table. Ten table topics:
- Family reunion plans: Start the discussions among your immediate family and any relatives at the table on ideas for the next reunion.
- Brainstorm ideas for reunion locations, (someone's house? a destination that everyone can travel to?) themes, (someone's birthday? an important anniversary?) and timing. These are three critical early planning steps for reunions. Why not discuss while you pass dishes during Thanksgiving, or are all on a walk the day after Thanksgiving, or gathered around the fireplace visiting?
- Upcoming weddings: Gather ideas from decorations to music to locations if you're the bride or groom; and if you're going to attend a wedding soon, ask for ideas on wedding gifts.
- Spring break trips for college students, teachers at the table, or parents who use that opportunity for a family vacation: Gather ideas, brag about trips already set, or ask to borrow items needed such as snorkel gear, binoculars, etc.
- Winter or ski travel plans for the upcoming season: Thanksgiving is traditionally more than turkey, it's the start of ski season at slopes across the Northern Hemisphere. Plan a ski trip with family and/or friends. The deals are as fresh as the snow, but will be harder to get later in the season. After dinner, take a trip to the computer and research ski resorts and accommodations that fit people's budgets.
- Road trips: The beauty of a road trip is the wandering nature of the journey. Because you can detour to so many tiny towns and off-the-beaten path areas, you may want to gather ideas from the brain power at the dinner table so you don't miss something.
- Any travel abroad is usually planned several months to a year in advance, and sharing ideas or learnings from research about the area is great table conversation. You may even be surprised at who else around the table knows about a certain country. Some of the best conversations can be jump-started by someone saying they are traveling to a foreign country within the next year.
- Trips with friends: Share upcoming plans for trips with friends (road trips, girls getaways, bachelor parties) and find out who might know about the destination and surrounding attractions. Use your family and friends as resources.
- Delegation: with so many loved ones around during this holiday, this is a perfect time to delegate assignments for planning reunions or weddings to people who can help. Shuttling people to and from the airport, decorations, meals, activities, child care, rain plan alternatives, etc.
- Ask for planning tips from family, relatives, and close friends at the table. Whatever upcoming vacation(s) you're planning, asking for help can yield sage advice. You might be surprised at what you learn.
I just discovered a site called BabyCenter with loads of good family and parenting articles. One of the best articles I've read in a long time about family travel is called "Family Vacation Disasters and How to Avoid Them." Classic.
Parents who are pregnant, who have infants, toddlers, or older kids will all gain some wisdom from this sage advice. There are numerous real stories from parents that teach good lessons. And anyone who travels with friends or family members who have kids, you'll also get a kick out of these stories. But overall, my favorite part was the 7 Ways to Avoid Vacation Hell. Here are my favorite excerpts:
- Call ahead: A sure sign the hotel is kid-friendly is if you inquire about how friendly they feel toward kids and they say, "We've got a camp run by an art teacher." Bad sign: "I think there might be some crayons around here."
- Think outside of the box: Travelwise, faster or cheaper is not always better. Your whole life you've probably sought nonstop flights, but now it might actually be easier to get out and run around halfway through. Or you might want to invest in a seat for the baby, even though you don't have to. For a short trip, you might consider taking a train — so you can cuddle and nurse the baby — instead of driving.
- Do your driving at night: Plan car trips after bedtime. The kids will sleep, there will be less traffic, and you may even get to have your first adult conversation in months! Also, you can snack uninterrupted on the good chocolates you've been hiding from the children.
- Have a bathroom plan: If you're traveling by car, consider bringing a potty with you so your new toilet-trainer has a familiar place to sit. Bring emergency diapers on the plane. Plan plenty of bathroom stops for any trip longer than ten minutes.
- Do less: It sounds simple, and it is. You'll have years of vacations with your kids: Do less now, and enjoy your time with them. It's the one week of the year when you don't need to rush everyone — so don't. One good rule of thumb: While you're planning your itinerary, plan for half of every day to be free, unscheduled time.
Can't leave home without Fido? Love your cat and want her to see the world and smell new air? Pet travel is becoming an increasingly popular concept. Rest assured that wherever you travel, pets are welcome in more cities than you'd imagine.
Think of the possibilities. Your dog roaming through vineyards with you and your pals in Walla Walla, Washington or accompanying you at a B&B in the French countryside, you sipping French wine, the dog lapping up French water. The possibilities are endless.
BringFido.com has a U.S.-specific list of pet-friendly hotels, plus dog park info and a list of top destinations for dog lovers who travel. Who says group travel only includes humans?
Ask any proud parent and they'll tell you their kid is their highest priority. That means when deciding where to go for vacation, toddlers and kiddies usually factor into the equation. Without having the finger dexterity to book tickets or cognitive development to plan itineraries or agendas, little munchkins across the world help set the pace and plan for family vacations or reunions with friends who have kids.
I recognized this when my nephew was born this year (my first nephew ever!) and our whole extended family decided to gear Thanksgiving around where he (and his parents) live. We just may decide to adjust schedules around baby for Christmas as well. Why not? As the first grandchild in our family, we're all enamored and want to spend as much free time as possible before he's grown up and it's too late. OK. So it isn't that urgent. But you get the point.
And when kids are in school with more pronounced likes, dislikes, and interests, parents can consider what types of vacations to take the kids on: nature explorations, camping trips, road trips to the national parks, beach vacations at luxury hotels, sailing adventures, overseas travel, theme parks, etc.
When organizing that next group trip with the kids, consider how much is being determined by the kids themselves. Their influence is significant.
The New York Times ran a story on a new trend for millionaire vacations: why travel alone when you can afford to take your friends and family and pay for them? Group travel doesn't discriminate against cash in pocket, banks, investments, etc. Everyone travels for the same reason when planning a group trip: to stay connected to close friends and family.
This new luxury travel trend - dubbed as a result of the rich in America getting richer and not being shy to foot the bill to spend quality time with people - presents interesting opportunities for group travel, along with dilemmas.
- Opportunities: Free time at no to little cost to enjoy a vacation, opportunity to see a new place or try out a new style of living potentially out of bounds otherwise, take the attitude of "carpe diem" and just go for it.
- Dilemmas: The guilt of feeling obligated to somehow return the enormous favor, the feelings of inequity among friends, not feeling "right" about accepting such a gift. And the giftor must decide who's in and who's not invited, which can get uncomfortable with those uninvited. Ugh.
On my boating trip this summer (split the costs evenly), one of our stops was Roche Harbor, San Juan Island. We happened to arrive during a mega yacht meet-up and our 33-foot wooden boat was dwarfed by many pristine, fiberglass ships. For the size of little quaint Roche Harbor (at least that's how I remember it from my childhood) it seemed ridiculous. But after reading this NYT article (which is intriguing, and a must read) now I wonder how many people on yachts were on gift vacations.
If you have the means to plan a luxury trip with friends and family (whether you gift it or not), you can use TripHub to coordinate and share trip details.
Holidays are just around the corner. Families and friends will gather to spend quality time reconnecting. While the holidays are some of the busiest travel times of the year, there are several prep steps to take to avoid the typical holiday stress.
Here's how to avoid common holiday stressors by planning ahead:
Long linesAvoid long lines at airports by taking an extra day off of work (on less busy travel days), or traveling when flights are less likely to be full. Be flexible.
Travel expensesBook early to save on flights and hotels. If you see a sale price for a package deal (hotel + airfare) or hotel, or flight, you should grab it as prices are only likely to increase as the date approaches. Also, consider airports nearby but not exactly where you wanted to go and consider renting a car, taking a train, or a puddle jumper plane to your destination. Sometimes, creative planning can get you there for cheaper. Shop around on discount sites or even use sky miles to help out.
Rides to and from airportNothing is worse than standing in the cold outside an airport hoping your ride shows up soon, at that terminal, at that airport, on that day. Coordinate early and use TripHub's Event Schedule to list rides available for people in your group. If Uncle Bob is planning on picking up Aunt Sue at 8:40 PM the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, note this on the Event Schedule of your trip home page so others can hitch a ride if convenient.
Where to stayIf gathering at a relative's house, discuss or share accommodation options together. TripHub has tools to do just that. 1) You can discuss accommodation options within the Trip Blog when you set up a trip home page with your group, or 2) discuss hotels using the custom feature built for making comments within a hotel search results page, or 3) if you have set plans or can open your house up for guests, share your accommodation information with other members of your group.
No peace and quietWant to ensure you have a little solo time on your trip, so you aren't inundated with family 24/7? Here are a few tips for getting time to yourself through the joys of iPods, books, exercise, and dogs.
Missed opportunitiesTo plan ahead on attractions, shows, museums, theater events, golf tee times, and other activities that could be sold out, you can use TripHub's Trip Blog and/or Event Schedule to share ideas and information with people and avoid any confusion.
To plan your holiday group getaway, you can use TripHub to plan where to stay, how to get there, and what to do when you're together. It's an easy, free way to plan ahead and avoid the stress of the happy holiday season.
Families with health on the mind can now expect an increase in health food options at the Walt Disney World theme parks. Both the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida and Disneyland in California will be affected by the CEO's decision to create new food health guidelines.
Disney is framing their decision as a way to offer kids and parents healthy foods, with an understanding that kids associate theme parks with fun, so it'll be a prime opportunity to encourage healthy eating habits. This isn't just good news for kids. It's also good for any group traveling together to know they can get apple sauce or carrots instead of fries on the side. The healthy food changes will unfold over the next few years. With America's obesity high, this is good news.
My speculation on what's next for Disney: Putting park visitors on treadmills or giving them weights to lift while waiting in ride lines. How about yoga with Winnie the Pooh? Or stretching with Goofy? Healthy food is just the beginning, in my opinion. With Disney's budget and influence, think of the impact they could make on healthy habits of Americans.
For families, reunions, weddings, group getaways, and more, Orlando rolls out its magical red carpet for every guest. Castles, fireworks, movie sets, water parks, shows, roller coasters, world-class theme parks and rides, golf, and romantic activities all await Orlando's visitors. As one of the most popular worldwide travel destinations, this sunny city delivers fun on a silver platter, but not necessarily out of budget. There are several affordable ways to enjoy the attractions and activities that make Orlando a year-round playground.
Theme parks enchant every kid and the kid in everyone.
Walt Disney World Resort
Step foot on this quandrant of theme parks and walk into fairytales and animal kingdoms, parades of Disney characters, and entertainment variety for every member of the group. Downtown Disney is where the nightlife happens with Cirque du Soleil, restaurants, dance clubs, and shopping. Weddings are organized at Disney hotels and parks through Disney's Fairytale Weddings and Honeymoons. The four theme parks are world-renowned for blurring lines between dreams and reality, tales and non-fiction, and making the movies, characters, and world of Disney come to life with whimsy, rides, and a bit of pixie dust.
- At Epcot, Disney proves it's a small world after all with food from numerous countries along walkway of the World Showcase Lagoon. As dusk settles, get ready for the fireworks display while enjoying desserts from Bavaria, Morocco, France, Japan, China, or any other country. Epcot is also home to rides like Mission: SPACE and Nemo and Friends.
- Disney's Animal Kingdom Park is a world apart from the other theme parks with a safari ride that goes outside to desert areas for guests to view zebras, giraffes, and other African creatures. The flavor of this park is nature, with a Lion King parade, and more.
- Disney-MGM Studios is a walk down Hollywood Boulevard, with an Indiana Jones show, Disney studio tour, and movie glitz all around. Great for adults as well as kids, this park would be ideal for girls getaways or wedding parties.
- Magic Kingdom is the classic Disney theme park, complete with Cinderella's castle (ideal for group photo ops). This park's parade tops all theme parks and is where toddlers and young children get wide-eyed with glee when meeting Pooh, Piglet and all the A.A. Milne's characters, along with Snow White, Goofey, the Seven Dwarves, and the rest of the Disney characters. Relive your childhood and watch kids' faces light up at this quintessential Disney park.
Stroll around Universal Studios and you're likely to see Blues Brothers Jake and Elwood cruising around the streets. There are plenty of rides, shows, and attractions to entertain for a day or more, including a boat ride with a Jaws encounter, Revenge of the Mummy - The Ride, and a new Shrek 4-D ride. Thrills galore. The Incredible Hulk roller coaster is also sure to bring goose bumps and keep your heart pumping, Seuss Landing brings the Dr. Seuss books to life with rides and shops, and Universal CityWalk, a 30-acre entertainment complex with live music, movies, nightlife, entertains romantic couples, groups of friends on a getaway vacation, and families.
- Islands of Adventure take you on thrills and spills with the Hulk roller coaster, a Cat in the Hat ride with no straight lines in design (just like Dr. Seuss's books), a Jurassic Park river ride where you can splash about under the Florida sun, and an audience-participant Spider-Man 3-D ride.
- Universal Studios Florida brings the movie sets to life in an entertaining, sometimes scary way, with a Jaws ride, an ET adventure, Revenge of the Mummy ride, an alien attack in Men in Black, Shrek 4-D, and audience-participating in a live Fear Factor show.
This world-class marine theme park features a new Orca whale show with Shamu, and the park's first family-friendly roller coaster, Shamu Express. Sea-themed thrills vary from the tallest and only floorless roller coaster in Orlando, the Kraken, named after the mythical sea creature, to guest feedings of sea lions and dolphins. Like Disney and Universal, SeaWorld is a family-friendly park, but also entertaining for adults who like a big splash on their vacation.
Don't let the theme park prominence of Orlando fool you. While the parks celebrate themes we value in life: movies, nature, science, culture, culinary delights, participatory entertainment such as rides and shows, you can enjoy walking around the parks, taking rides that splash through water to cool off on hot, summer days, and swim in the pools that most major hotels have. For many, this is exercise and activity enough.
For group travelers who want to break free from the parks and explore the Orlando's landscape and beyond, there are 168 golf courses to play, hot air ballooning, and renowned beaches just a day trip away. You can go horseback riding at a ranch or rent a Harley-Davidson hog and head out on the highways looking for adventure. Plus, there's a 19-mile biking, skating, and walking trail near Lake Apopka and a plethora of tennis courts around Orlando at at its many hotels and resorts. Play tennis morning, day, or at lighted courses at night.
Arts & Culture
The main draws to Orlando are the theme parks. But if you dig a little deeper, you'll find an array of shopping, restaurants, theater, and other things to do. For a little culture go to the Orlando Opera, the Shakespeare Festival at Loch Haven Park, the ballet (central Florida's only pro ballet), Millenia Fine Art for an impressive contemporary art display, or Cornell Fine Arts Museum with both European and American fine arts, sculptures, and decorative arts. You can also take the kids to Celebration, a unique town, listen to Bach by Orlando's orchestra, visit the outdoor Southern-style Harry P. Leu Gardens, take the family to see a Broadway show (they regularly play in Orlando), or head for Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens which is on the National Register of Historic Places for its showcase of the Czech sculptor's art in his home, in a gallery, and outside in the Winter Park garden.
Activities Galore for Families
More Orlando Fun
Events Guide and Calendar
- October - Universal's Halloween Horror Nights
- October - SeaWorld's Halloween Spooktacular
- October 2006 - April 2007 Orlando Magic rival NBA teams in home and away games
- Check Orlando's year-round calendar for events, museum exhibits, and shows throughout each month and season
Photos provided by Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau, Inc.
Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Eve are three of the biggest holidays of the year. I received my first holiday party invitation just last week, which reminds me that people are planning early. If you're traveling or hosting a family or friend get together around the holidays, here are some basic tips:
2-3 months in advance (minimum)
- Research how group reservations work if 10 or more people are traveling together for a holiday.
- Restaurants book up during the holidays and often stop taking reservations when they've reached reservation capacity. Book reservations for your group now for holiday parties and gatherings.
- Holiday travel is one of the busiest times for many airlines. Start looking for flight prices and if you find one in your budget, book it now. Depending on your location, you can look into train travel as a transportation alternative.
- Hotels in major metropolitan areas and beach areas see an uptick in business around the holidays, so book early.
- Create or determine a budget for yourself (for Christmas gifts especially) and stick to it.
- If your trip hinges around one big event such as a New Year's event, purchase tickets as early as possible.
1 month in advance
- If you're hosting guests for big meals such as Thanksgiving, Christmas dinner, etc., plan the courses and make food assignments if necessary (desserts, salads, appetizers, wine, etc.) to share the expense and responsibility. Most guests want to contribute.
- Accommodations for those not staying in hotels or last-minute arrangements for friends/family who weren't able to book in advance. Perhaps you can make arrangements to borrow a neighbor's house while they are away, or book a local B&B that isn't easily discovered on the internet but would make the trip more enjoyable and affordable for some.
- Plan group activities such as area sightseeing, attraction visits, purchasing admission tickets for events such as art exhibits at museums/galleries or theater shows.
- Collect money from everyone and track shared expenses.
- Shop for gifts.
1 week in advance
- Confirm all flight, accommodation, activity, restaurant and train reservations and/or arrangements.
- Final gift shopping.
- Dust off games, borrow games from friends/neighbors, or buy new ones to make time spent with friends and family more enjoyable.
3 days in advance
- If cooking a big meal, get all foodstuffs and start preparing meals early.
- Wrap all remaining gifts. Buy a few extra general gifties (calendar, journal, wool socks, gift certificate to Barnes & Noble) in case someone brings a boyfriend or girlfriend home unexpectedly.
- Clean the house, or if everyone is traveling to a destination, make sure you have a friend or neighbor keeping an eye on your place (collecting mail, watching pets, watering plants, etc.)
- Relax and enjoy the company of friends and family
Here's something shocking. Call me a Gen X traditionalist, but Gen Y kids have it easy when taking family vacations. Not only are rental SUVs equipped with DVDs so kids can substitute road trip daydreaming (something no doubt good for their brains) with spacing out blankly at a screen, now hotels are taking Gen Y travel targeting to the hilt.
Oahu's Hilton Hawaiian Village now offers YSpa with massage and other treatments for teens and tweens. I guess it isn't enough to enjoy a family vacation, snorkeling and swimming in the sun-kissed waters of Hawaii. Now kids need pampering for all their hard school work (and parents foot the bill)? If I reflect back on my teenage years (ack, don't make me!) I think I would have died to have a spa vacation. But now that I'm an adult and can afford the services for myself, I realize what a treat spa services are. If they had been handed to me as a teen, I don't think I would have the same appreciation for such an indulgence.
When these Generation Y kids grow up, what will they have to look forward to as a treat?
Are you a last-minute traveler? Spontaneous to the core? If so, you're probably too busy enjoying summer to think about early fall. But you may to keep a few festivals on your radar. September is a golden time of year for cooler weather, for warm, gentle breezes, for parents who get to usher their kids onto school buses or into schools, for the buzz of summer to wind down, and for people to plan those last days of summer vacations.
There are several September festivals for all spectrums of life: families, music lovers, art adorers, food fanatics, and more. Here's a snippet of what's on the horizon for late summer, early fall.
Sausalito Art Festival, Labor Day Weekend (early September)
The Mediterranean-style seaside town of Sausalito, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, has hosted the world-famous art festival annually since 1952. "The best local, American, and International Artists bring their combined perspectives, virtuoso skills, and more than 20,000 original works of art — including paintings, sculpture, ceramics, jewelry, fiber art, fine glass, woodwork, mixed media, and photography."
Telluride Blues & Brews Festival, September
"...three days of world-renowned musicians performing live on the famous Telluride Town Park stage, late night jams in the local juke joints, 50 choice microbreweries serving up their handcrafted "cream of the barrel" during Saturday's Grand Tasting, the Rainbow Kids area, free Acoustic Artist Series, Blues For Breakfast, and the Telluride Acoustic Blues Camp."
La Tamale Festival, in Los Angeles, September
This red hot event is in its second year, drawing 60,000 visitors. You can enjoy a kids pavilion, world record-eating contests, tamale-making classes, and as much spicy Latin sauce as you can dish up.
Russian Mosaic Festival in Philadelphia, September
This free festival will be a day packed with music, dance, and entertainment. This year's seven-hour concert program is set to showcase the Russian community's original folk, classical, and ballroom dancing performers.
Plano Balloon Festival in Plano/Dallas/Fort Worth, late September
A "something-for-everyone" event, this festival is filled with plenty of hot air. Cow-shaped balloons awe the crowds from above, hot air balloons offer rides, a team of expert sky divers do stunts out of planes. All this with entertainment, food, and plenty to keep the kiddies occupies.
Visit Festivals.com to find a wide range of other arts, cultural, music, and family festivals in the U.S. and around world.
By guest blogger Jacquelin Carnegie
When planning a family reunion or wedding, taking over a small resort for your exclusive use works wonders. Certain criteria apply to site selection: The resort (or villa or hacienda or block of rental homes) should be a superior facility, offer sumptuous food, non-intrusive service, first class accommodations, and a secluded setting away from distractions.
There are a number of properties around the country (and the world) that exemplify such high standards. Here are tips on how to research your group's idyllic casa away from casa:
- Look for places that have the feel of a private estate, an ambience of another time and place and are so well run that you (the planner) can relax and enjoy yourself as well.
- Pick a spot with a distinct change of atmosphere to reinforce the concept of getting away from it all. Also, make sure it's the type of place where guests are pampered and made to feel special. You can feel the difference in the level of relaxation for guests when a resort is reserved for your group's exclusive use.
- Small resorts with a residential feel and hotel amenities work best for groups of friends and/or family. The sense of being on a private estate helps people let their guard down and unwind, fostering camaraderie—the reason you all wanted to get together in the first place!
Prep Steps Before You Go
- Before your group arrives, send the property a detailed list of a) The names of all the people in your party, b) The names of people sharing rooms and c) Of those sharing rooms, which ones require a double bed or two single beds.
- Charm also has its downside. In a hotel, most rooms are uniform but in an estate or hacienda, every room is unique, both in size and decoration. Make your guests aware of this beforehand so cousins don't get miffed because one has a nicer, larger room.
- If the property offers activities (such as horseback riding or tennis) or has a spa facility (with facials and massages), check if these services need to be booked in advance. If so, let your guests know and provide a way to tally who wants what when - before you arrive!
- If you are going to a resort outside the U.S., make sure everyone has a valid passport (and remembers to bring it).
Recommended Haciendas in Chile and Mexico
Hacienda Los Lingues in Chile:
Hacienda Los Lingues is about an hour south of Santiago in the heart of the wine-producing Cachapoal Valley. It's one of Chile's oldest and best-preserved estates and the same family, whose home it's been since 1599, now runs it as a hotel. The debonair Don German Claro Lyon and his family are your delightful hosts.
If you're looking for old-world, South American charm, the Hacienda Los Lingues is the spot. Shaded verandas lead to 18 rooms and suites furnished with heirloom antiques, family photos and memorabilia.
Activities for groups: a) wine tasting - there's a lovely vineyard on the property and day trips to local wineries; b) horseback riding - the stable of "Aculeo" horses, related to the famed Lipizzanas, is world-renowned.
And, if looking for a destination wedding spot, you can get married in the estate's beautiful, traditional Chilean chapel. You'll feel as if you're on the set of some fantastic South American movie.
Hacienda Temozón in Yucatan, Mexico:
In the early 1990's, abandoned (and formerly luxurious) haciendas from the economic heyday of the Yucatan region around Merida, were restored and converted into luxury hotels. Hacienda Temozón, about a half hour from Merida, is the grandest of three newly-restored properties, now part of The Luxury Collection of Starwood Hotels and Resorts.
As a result, you get the best of both worlds: a sense of the affluent lifestyle enjoyed during the economic boom and lovely, modern amenities. Much of the original décor, such as intricately-decorated floor tiles and beamed ceilings, has been preserved in the 28 elegantly-furnished rooms and guest quarters.
Spacious gardens, a spectacular swimming pool, and spa make this an ideal place to relax. It's also an excellent base for exploring the rich cultural heritage of the Yucatan peninsula and the surrounding Mayan architectural sites.
There is also a 17th-century church on the property, ideal for weddings.
Jacquelin Carnegie is a Contributing Travel Editor to Accent magazine. For the past 15 years, she has covered international travel destinations for both consumer and business publications.
My family has been having reunions since I was little girl with goldilocks. For the third in a row, we've gotten together on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state. Over the years, I've discovered a few myths that I hope will help any reunion planner in preparing for that next family reunion.
Myth 1: I won't drink too much
Be honest. Unless you're making a conscious effort to not drink at all, chances are you'll drink more than usual.
Myth 2: I won't eat too much
Family reunions are all about the food. Obviously, the reason to get together is to reconnect. But more effort goes into meals for this occasion than most other parties. Here are summertime recipes for family reunions.
Myth 3: I won't get a sunburn
Chances are you will, unless you're extra careful to apply sunblock throughout the day, and stay out of the sun during peak midday hours.
Myth 4: I will get ample sleep
It always seems that something is disrupting a perfect night's sleep: varying hours of going to bed, staying up late, getting up early for scheduled activities, kids over-excited, etc.
Myth 5: I will visit with everyone
Chances are slim that you'll have meaningful conversations with all attendees. But the connections you make are important, a link to your past, and a way to keep in touch with extended family. Make a mental list of the top three people you really want to reconnect with and make an effort to do so. You'll thank yourself.
Myth 6: Like other vacations, I'll relax as much as I want
There's an air of formality in a family reunion that is unlike friends traveling together or immediate family taking a vacation. Relatives come together who are genetically similar, but often live very different lives, in different places. You may feel the need to connect with select (extended) family members, while others are interested in visiting with you. This can be tiring, albeit rewarding.
Myth 7: Recycling will take care of itself
People tend to be much more lax about following recycling rules when at a big gathering like a family reunion. A mini tragedy of the commons. Luckily for my family, I have one highly type A uncle who takes big plastic garbage bins, labels them each with his neat hand writing ("plastics," "trash," "glass"), and strategically places them around the main eating/gathering area. We tease him, but appreciate his orderly tendencies.
Myth 8: Injuries are avoidable when family gathersAs for all other vacations (and life in general), safety is important. Have a first-aid kit and phone handy for emergencies. If you have any doctors in your family, the trip organizer may want to locate that person ahead of time and ask if they could wear a cell phone during the reunion just in case.
Myth 9: All the in-laws will fit inAll in-laws are not created equal. Pay attention to spouses or significant others who aren't socializing as much as others and make an effort to include them in conversations. Ask them about their family reunions, family dynamics, family heritage. Or learn more about what they enjoy doing in their free time. Family reunions can be intimidating for the non-genetically related.
Myth 10: My kids (grandkids, nieces/nephews) are the cutestAll kids are adorable in their own quirky or beautiful ways! Careful of becoming that obsessive family member who talks only of your kids (grandkids or nieces/nephews) and has no interest in any other subjects, or continually draws conversations back to your kids. It's wonderful to see such love and devotion to the kids, but even the kids (if they could speak up for themselves) would blush at all the gush.
What are other family reunion myths? Share your stories.
So many museums, memorials, houses of government, national landmarks, and historic places of interest fill the 67-square-mile area that comprises the nation's capital, a visitor soaking it all in should receive an honorary college degree.
This is not dry educational overload, however. Many of the sights can be toured with knowledgeable and entertaining guides — and many offer reserved tours and special events for groups — and intriguing opportunities for witnessing the city in action can be had, such as watching the Senate in session or money being printed at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.
At night, the suits come off and the atmosphere turns from all-business to a lively urban scene. The performing arts season lasts all year, from the National Symphony performances at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts to jazz combos at various hip nightclubs to theater, opera, ballet, comedy, rock concerts, and children's shows at venues all around the city. A number of the metro area's museums and historic sites offer their own events: cultural film series, early-music concerts, Shakespearean theater, author readings, and lectures that discuss the latest findings in their field. There's plenty of dance clubs to satisfy the party-people in the group, and the city has become a gourmet's destination for fine fare from celebrated chefs.
Yet amid all of this culture and Capitol conduct lies a surprising amount of open green space, where visitors can clear their history-saturated heads with an afternoon of bicycling along a historic towpath, riding horseback along paths once trodden by Civil War soldiers, or simply getting the group together for an easy hike in summer or heading to an ice-skating rink in the cold months. Not bad for a city that 200 years ago was nearly abandoned for being a mosquito-infested swamp.
What's not a top attraction in the nation's capital? Yet with so many places of interest in close proximity to each other, it's easy to fill the must-see list with check marks. Start at the tree-lined National Mall, a two-mile-long grassy expanse flanked by the U.S. Capitol on one end and the Lincoln Memorial on the other. Guided group tours (reserve in advance) of the Capitol visit several floors and allow a peek into the galleries if the Senate or House is in session. Public tours are also offered at the Library of Congress and the Supreme Court (when not in session). Get some fresh air by strolling the U.S. Botanic Garden; groups can reserve a 45-minute guided tour of the 4,000-plant Conservatory.
The Mall's monuments, memorials, and museums guarantee hours — really, days — of enlightening exploration. A gauntlet of Smithsonian museums lead to West Potomac Park, crowned by the Washington Monument and its photogenic reflecting pool and also site of the Lincoln, Jefferson, and FDR memorials, and those honoring veterans of World War II, the Korea War, and the Vietnam War. Surrounding all that marble are the Constitution Gardens and the Tidal Basin's necklace of cherry trees, whose spring blossoms merit their own festival. North of the Washington Monument lies the White House, which groups of 10 or more can tour if they put in an advance request with their member of Congress.
Visiting this nucleus of historic sites and beyond can easily take up an entire vacation. One way to squeeze it all in is an Old Town Trolley Tour, accessed at any of the trolley's stops, including those on the Mall as well as the National Zoo, the National Cathedral, and the two-centuries-old houses of Georgetown. The Tourmobile follows a similar hop-on, hop-off route that also includes Arlington Cemetery, where visitors pay homage to the Tomb of the Unknowns, the Kennedy gravesites, and the Space Shuttle Challenger Memorial. There's no need to rent a car for self-guided explorations — public transport is comprehensive and easy to navigate, even off the tourist routes to places such as the 18th-century Octagon House and the Woodrow Wilson House and presidential museum (both offering group tours).
With more than 300 parks in this cultural hub, urban green space is easy to find. National Mall visitors can take a breather in East Potomac Park, where diversions include golf courses, a public pool, and biking paths along the river. Anacostia Park in northeast D.C. has a golf course and driving range, an aquatic center, tennis courts, and the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. Visitors craving wild nature should head out to Rock Creek Park, a 12-mile vale that deserves a day's exploration in itself, or at least a few hours to relax in the ample play and picnic areas, golf, hike or ride horseback on wooded trails, or bike or skate paved pathways. Combine exercise with edification with stops at the 1765 Old Stone House and the remains of the 1861 Fort DeRussy, both within park boundaries.
Perhaps D.C.'s best example of historic value meeting outdoor fun is the Chesapeake Ohio Canal National Historical Park, which follows the 185-mile-long canal — from 1824 to 1928, the main route for transporting coal to the city — from D.C. into Maryland. The towpath is a popular ride for bicyclists; hiking trails lead into deciduous forests where woodland creatures may be spotted. The gentle canal waters offer a view of the park from a kayak, canoe, or mule-drawn canal boat tour (summer only). In winter, birdwatchers are often rewarded with sightings of pileated woodpeckers, yellow-bellied sapsuckers, and hooded mergansers.
Sports fans in the group can cheer on the Washington Nationals baseball team at RFK Stadium; in fall, the Washington Redskins provide spectator thrills at FedEx Field. Come winter and early spring, park hiking and biking trails become cross-country ski and snowshoe trails, and outdoor ice-skating venues can be found throughout the city.
Arts and Culture
Few cities offer so much by way of the arts: The Smithsonian museums alone warrant many hours of perusal amid African textiles (National Museum of African Art), Southwestern pottery and basketry (National Museum of the American Indian), dinosaur skeletons (National Museum of Natural History), moon and Mars roving vehicles (National Air and Space Museum), Christo and Muñoz installations (Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden), and much more. All Smithsonian museums are free and most offer highlights tours. (Note that some museums may be closed for renovations; check the Smithsonian website for updates.)
Outside the Smithsonian's aegis lie many other collections sure to intrigue, with the International Spy Museum a top priority for kids and fans of James Bond movies. At the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, exhibitions provoke meaningful conversations (reserved group visits receive a personal orientation). Architecture buffs won't want to miss the National Building Museum's vast collection of plans, drawings, and photographs; an array of artworks spanning six centuries awaits art lovers at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Many museums offer regular events, such as the lecture and film series at the Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site, and the Folger Shakespeare Library, which hosts readings, plays, and early-music concerts.
Visual art gives way to that of the performing variety at some of the nation's most venerated venues. One is even a national park: the Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts, where performances ranging from National Symphony Orchestra Pops concerts to Irish music festivals, sketch comedy to kids' theater take place in the airy Filene Center in summer, then move into the cozy Barns at Wolf Trap come fall. The same eclectic variety can be had at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, whose September Prelude Festival kicks off nearly a year of performing arts (check on discounts and special events for groups of 20 or more). The Carter Barron Amphitheatre in Rock Creek Park and the Frank Gehry-designed Merriweather Post Pavilion are both outdoor concert venues primed for good times in natural settings.
Attractions Great for Groups
- Colonial Williamsburg The world's largest living history museum lies 150 miles from the capital. Served by tour operators and Amtrak, with group packages available.
- Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park The serene landscape of these four Civil War sites belie their legacy as among the U.S.'s bloodiest battlefields.
- Harpers Ferry National Historic Park John Brown's armory raid to free the slaves is just one of the historic events that took place at the confluence of the Potomac and the Shenandoah.
- Monticello Thomas Jefferson's grand estate in Charlottesville, Virginia, about 125 miles from D.C. A number of tour operators offer day trips.
- Mount Vernon George Washington's home includes original furnishings, outbuildings, and a working farm; groups can arrange for a colonial-style lunch.
Washington, D.C. Events Guide and Calendar
- St. Patrick's Day Parade Pipe bands, floats, Irish dancers, police and firefighter contingents march down historic Constitution Avenue, Sunday closest to St. Patrick's Day.
- National Cherry Blossom Festival Two weeks of art exhibitions, Japanese cultural performances, and fireworks, culminating in a parade and a Japanese street festival. Late March-early April.
- Smithsonian Kite Festival Handmade kite competition, kite battles, and a "hot tricks showdown" over the National Mall, last Sunday in March or first in April (weather permitting).
- Washington International Film Festival Twelve-day film fest screening more than 100 international features, documentaries, and shorts at cinemas throughout the city, April.
- Capital Pride Events at the nation's fourth-largest gay/lesbian celebration include a parade, street festival, and the Mr. Capital Pride Leather Contest, nine days in early June.
- DC Caribbean Carnival Watch bands of masqueraders parade in outrageously colorful costumes to the music of steel bands, plus food, crafts, and more, late June.
- National Capital Barbecue Battle Pennsylvania Avenue hosts a weekend of beef and pork mania as teams compete for $25,000 and the National Pork BBQ Champion title, late June.
- Smithsonian Folklife Festival Celebration of global living traditions with performers, crafters, food, and hands-on kids' activities on the National Mall, late June to July 4.
- Independence Day Celebration The nationally televised one, with a noon parade, the National Symphony Orchestra, and a 30-minute fireworks display, July 4.
- Legg Mason Tennis Classic A U.S. Open series tournament, with crowds packing the William H.G. Fitzgerald Tennis Center to see top-seeded players on the hard court, early August.
- Kennedy Center Prelude Festival A month-long series of symphony, comedy, and theatrics celebrating the start of the center's performing arts season, September.
- Adams Morgan Day Community festival with artwork, vendors, a kids' fair, dance troupes, and two music stages, second Sunday in September.
- Black Family Reunion Celebration Gospel and R&B concerts and an international marketplace highlight this celebration of the African American family on the National Mall, in mid-September.
- National Book Festival More than 80 authors read from their works at this one-day fest in late September.
- National Christmas Tree Lighting Long-honored lighting of the capital tree, followed by three weeks of nightly concerts at the Ellipse, December.
Photos courtesy of the Washington, D.C. Convention and Tourism Corporation
Families fit into San Diego's cheerful profile like feet into flip-flops. This coastal city's perennial sunshine, sandy beaches, and kid-friendly attractions make it easy for adults to trade workday stress for an endless-summer attitude — even in December.
The agreeable climate engenders a laid-back, welcoming aura that pervades from mountain town to beachside community. And this is truly a year-round destination: Visit in fall and winter to get a healthy dose of vitamin D on beaches offering plenty of elbow room. Come in spring for the spectacular wildflower show in the Anza-Borrego Desert. Early summer sees the city caressed by a cool marine breeze before heating up for events such as the San Diego County Fair, the World Championship Over-The-Line beach softball tournament, and the US Open Sandcastle Competition.
America's Finest City is not just one long strip of beach, however. Mountains border the county's eastern reaches before dropping into a vast desert valley; in between lie scores of diverse neighborhoods that blanket the region's tawny hills. San Diego is a military municipality, a college town, a center of Mexican-American culture; wholesome and yet tolerant of its more counter-cultural facets. And it is a city on the cutting edge of urban renewal, having taken a shambling downtown and reincarnated it as a vibrant destination for entertainment, dining, shopping, and strolling. No visiting groups should miss the Victorian charm of the Gaslamp Quarter, Horton Plaza's colorful complex of shops and cinemas, and the revitalized areas surrounding the city's architecturally distinct convention center and PETCO Park, new home of the San Diego Padres.
Thanks to San Diego's temperate climate, animal lovers can get their share of critter-viewing and then some: at the San Diego Zoo, where a pair of panda cubs delight amid Tasmanian devils, sun bears, two-headed snakes, and a kingdom of creatures; the San Diego Wild Animal Park, 1,800 acres of African-style savannah with free-ranging lions, zebras, elephants, and other beasts; and SeaWorld, home of Shamu and his orca descendants, dolphins, penguins, and the seasonal Cirque de la Mer.
For a constructive take on theme parks, head to LEGOLAND, the original plastic-brick playland, with 15,000 LEGO models built from more than 30 million pieces. Or combine old-fashioned amusements with hot new rides at Belmont Park, right on Mission Beach. Ride the restored wooden Giant Dipper Roller Coaster, built in 1925, then hone surfing or skateboarding chops on the new FlowRider, a continual sheetwave that provides a steady supply of excitement for all ages.
Get immersed in the city's history, starting at Mission San Diego de Alcala, founded in 1769 and first of the California missions. At Old Town State Historic Park, original adobe buildings showcase furnishings, artifacts, and skills from San Diego's beginnings. The 1863 Star of India anchors the flotilla of historic ships that comprise the Maritime Museum of San Diego. Tour the decks and exhibits and try to catch a sailing aboard the tall ship Californian. Wrap up at Cabrillo National Monument, which commemorates the 1542 landing of explorer Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo and, incidentally, provides commanding views of San Diego Bay. Betrothed couples take note: All of these locations, including two of the historic ships, make for popular and unique wedding settings.
Naturally, with 300 days of sunshine a year comes a wealth of opportunities for outdoor adventure. The Mission Beach Boardwalk provides an ideal way to people-watch while zipping along on inline blades or bike. Pick up wheels from one of several rental shops, or rent a bodyboard and surf the friendly waves. Mission Bay's mellow inlets and coves make a family sailing on a rented sloop a breeze; groups can charter a boat for private cruising, diving, and sportfishing in the harbor and beyond.
Golfers wanting seaside vistas can tee up at the 18-hole Torrey Pines Golf Course, a junior-golf-friendly set of championship greens and fairways. Hikers, mountain bikers, and equestrians of all ages can tackle trails in the Cuyamaca and Laguna Mountains, where meadows and woods are rapidly recovering from the wildfires of 2003 (find stables and more in the nearby gold-rush town of Julian). Closer in, 40 miles of trails traverse the oak woodlands and open chaparral of Mission Trails Regional Park, including three paths that ascend 1,400-foot Cowles Mountain.
For a break from attraction overload, pack a picnic basket and head to the park. Balboa Park, San Diego's queen of green space, surrounds cultural attractions with 1,200 acres of woods, gardens, and sports fields. Mission Bay Park is an ideal setting for family reunions, with its 27 miles of meandering shoreline, sandy beaches, and grassy swards with picnic tables and firepits. Perched high above Pacific Beach, Kate O. Sessions Park offers views, ocean breezes, and sloping runs of grass perfect for kite flying.
Arts and Culture
Playtime isn't just for the playground. San Diego's renowned theaters offer up year-round theatrical diversions of award-winning caliber. The Old Globe Theatre brings Shakespeare out under the stars during the summer-long Shakespeare Festival, while other seasons see new works and revivals on the boards. Celebrated playwrights often premiere their latest at the La Jolla Playhouse, a 1993 Tony Award winner for America's Outstanding Regional Theatre residing on the UCSD campus.
Performing within the historic confines of the 1929 Copley Symphony Hall, the San Diego Symphony pleases classically minded parents as much as it does fun-loving kids, with its occasional Family Festival (with free pre-concert activities) and annual Summer Pops series, where families can spread a blanket on the lawns of Embarcadero Marina Park South and enjoy programs like classic cartoon tunes and Tchaikovsky's thunderous 1812 Overture.
Nurturing an appreciation of the arts and sciences is easy at Balboa Park, the urban cultural oasis that mingles museums with lush greenery and a nonstop sense of fun. Kids willingly accompany mom and dad to view the collections at the San Diego Museum of Art, knowing they'll also see the cool displays at the Aerospace Museum and Model Railroad Museum, plus virtual-reality exhibits and IMAX movies at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center. Teens dig the WorldBeat Cultural Center's music-oriented exhibitions and drumming classes. The park also features a miniature railroad ride and a 1910 carousel, not to mention restaurants and dozens of other absorbing sights to see.
Activities Galore For Families
More San Diego Fun
- Orange County theme parks: Two Disney and two Knott's Berry Farm amusement parks lie a two-hour or so drive north.
- Catalina Island: An attractive town and miles of hiking trails on a protected island off Long Beach reached via high-speed boat.
- Temecula wine country: So-Cal's hottest wine-growing city offers hot-air balloon and biplane rides above vine-covered hills.
Events Guide and Calendar
- Buick Invitational Golf Tournament, San Diego's original golf tourney, played in January amid the seascapes at Torrey Pines Golf Course.
- Accenture Match Play Championship, PGA championship golf arrives every February at the two par-72 courses of La Costa Resort and Spa.
- Carlsbad Village Faire, one of the state's largest street fairs, held on the first Sunday in May and November, with art, food, pony rides, and performances.
- Old Town Fiesta Cinco de Mayo, a lively celebration of Mexican-American culture with music, an equestrian show, and a Kids Village, first weekend in May.
- Summer Pops Series with the San Diego Symphony, Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend.
- Shakespeare Festival at the Old Globe, June to October.
- San Diego County Fair, top-name performers and thrill rides at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, mid-June through July 4.
- Del Mar Racing, thoroughbred races where the surf meets the turf, mid-July through Labor Day.
- OMBAC World Championship Over-The-Line Tournament, the city's unique beach softball tourney, on Fiesta Island, weekends in July.
- US Open Sandcastle Competition, one of the country's largest sandcastle events, held at Imperial Beach over three days in July.
- Street Scene, big-name bands performing on various stages across Qualcomm Stadium's parking lot on a July weekend.
- San Diego Pride Two-day gay and lesbian celebration with a parade, music, dance, and beer gardens at Marston Point in Balboa Park, July.
- San Diego Thunderboat Regatta, hydroplane races on Mission Bay, September.
- Traditional Gathering and Pow-Wow, the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation welcomes tribes from around the nation and visitors for dance, competition, games, and crafts, second weekend in September.
- Cabrillo Festival, re-enactment of Cabrillo's landing, plus dance, music, and food, first Sunday in October.
- Little Italy Festa, a weekend of food, bocce ball tournaments, and Italian crooners, second week in October.
- Miramar Airshow, three days of aerial performances and aircraft displays, capped by the Blue Angels, mid-October.
- For more listings, see The San Diego Event Guide.
Photos courtesy of the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau
Family life is full of major and minor crises -- the ups and downs of health, success and failure in career, marriage, and divorce -- and all kinds of characters. It is tied to places and events and histories. With all of these felt details, life etches itself into memory and personality. It's difficult to imagine anything more nourishing to the soul.--Thomas Moore
Even sad events such as illness or funerals can bring families closer together. I was recently reminded of this while attending a relative's funeral and visiting with extended family this past weekend. It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. Truly.
Once we all got the news, one family passed around itinerary info in one big email string so they all knew flight arrival info for coordination. My family used about 5 phone calls to coordinate. ("Are you going? Which flight? How much did it cost?") Who knows how many other families and friends did the same thing. I got to thinking that TripHub's group travel coordination tools would save time for families gathering under these circumstances. Maybe next time. Wait. I hope there isn't a next time... sigh.
Losing a loved one or going through any rough patch together makes us acutely aware of what's important in life and strengthens relationships.
Over the last several days, I carefully observed how extended family and friends kicked into high gear to help those most in need, ordering food, grocery shopping, playing waiter(ess), coordinating transportation, organizing church services, catering, telling story after story and listening intently as others shared theirs. Laughter and tears blended to reveal kindred spirits and compassion.
New bonds were created among old family connections. Cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, moms, dads, grandparents. Despite the circumstances, we were able to catch up, play a few games, distract people who needed distracting, hug those who needed more hugs than usual, and in general express what we forget to so often. I came away feeling uplifted.
I think the late French philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin summed it up best when he said (or wrote): We are not humans having a spiritual experience. We are spirits, having a human experience.
This weekend I volunteered at Seattle's Wooden Boat Festival on Lake Union. While there are countless festivities taking place across the country to celebrate America's birthday, the goal is the same: take time to play with family and/or friends. One big party from sea to shining sea.
Seattle's Wooden Boat Festival is unique to this city, but the energy, sentiment, food booths, kids activities, and arts and crafts show nature could be found in any other city or small town.
Celebrating 30 years, the Center for Wooden Boats has been involved in preserving maritime history and a maritime lifestyle with sailing lessons, rentals, an outdoor museum where you can walk the docks to view the boats, and an annual festival that culminates on the 4th of July. Classic wooden boats from around the Pacific Northwest anchor into about 10 to 12 different docks with shiny varnish, impeccable interiors (well, most of the boats, at least), and designs as varied as the owners.
After cruising on the 1922 Virginia V steamboat (one of two remaining steamboats of its kind in the U.S.) and going from upper tier deck to middle deck to lower deck (about 5 times each) I finally stood still, leaned against the railing, and took it all in. 30-ish feet above the water I peered down at houseboats and across the lake at the skyline, Space Needle and all. Complete peace.
Gliding into the dock, the hubub of a festival full of families, friends, boat-lovers, water-lovers all greeted us as we stepped off the boat back onto shore.
Holidays are great. We need more in this country. Until then, I'll be back at the festival tomorrow enjoying recess as long as I can.
Ah, cities with water. Whether its lakefront, oceanfront, bayfront, or riverfront, living in or visiting a city with water access can be bliss in the sultry summer months.
Dangling my toes from the bow, I went on a boat ride this past weekend with a few others. A potpourri group of friends and family. This activity is highly group-oriented, especially in a city known for having the highest number of boats per capita. Seattle waterways were jam-packed on Sunday with kayakers, power boaters, wooden boaters, canoers, rowers, floaters, pedalers, sailors, wake-boarders, water skiers, and the list goes on.
Watching other boats pass our boat, I noticed that regardless of age, gender, socioeconomic status (believe me, you can tell a lot by someone's boat), everyone had a perma-grin. Water can be the great equalizer. People on boats of all shapes and sizes (passengers to match) waved and smiled as they floated by each other.
With so many people crowding the waterways, I felt privileged to help the skipper navigate by yelling, "Canoers on the port side!" and other super official-sounding lingo. I was luckiest girl in the world, for the day. Warm breeze, water splashing, scrumptious food and drinks, all in good company.
I highly recommend some form of a boating this summer, kicking your feet up, and letting the wake be your guide. Even within city limits, you can be miles away.
With Las Vegas dubbed the Entertainment Capital of the World, it's no wonder that our research at TripHub shows more groups planning trips to Las Vegas than any other destination.
Surprised? Don't be. Las Vegas has long been popular for bachelor parties, bachelorette parties, weekend gambling getaways (and gawking) for guys, easy-bake wedding ceremonies or full-blown weddings, and a launch pad for visiting the Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam and other area attractions. And when conventioneers converge there, attendees often extend their stay and invite family or friends to join them.
Vegas continues to evolve, offering world-class shows (think Cirque du Soleil's Mystere, O, Zumanity, plus a bevy of Broadway, magic, and variety shows that thrill 'til dawn), concerts by renowned music artists, and more high-rolling resort casinos than anywhere else on Earth.
Even the anti-glitz travelers (ahem, like myself) who prefer tamer, more au naturale vacations, often admit that Las Vegas is good for entertaining and best enjoyed with a group of friends when you can double dare them to keep betting on the roulette table or give them a dollar bill to tip the dancer (that would be for the guys). The sweeping view from the top of Mandalay Bay is worth seeing, the Bellagio waterworks display dazzling, a massage at any of the luxury hotel spas relaxing, and other activities can fill your every waking moment. Sleep when you return home.
Planning a trip to Las Vegas with family or friends? Here are ideas to get you started:
Plan a weekend getaway with friends, bachelor(ette) party, family vacation, or wedding using TripHub by setting up a home page for your group, inviting guests, discussing hotels, sharing itinerary information, and more
Photos provided by Las Vegas News Bureau
By guest blogger Jacquelin Carnegie
Before You Go
Before you book a cruise, plan to spend some time talking with your travel agent about the likes and dislikes of the group. Don't be afraid to ask a lot of questions. Some things to consider:
- How much time can the group spend away from the office and from home?
- Where would we like to go? What cruises and destinations best match our interests?
- How does the cost of a cruise compare to other options?
- What is there to do on board and at the ports you'll be visiting?
- If you take the kids, which cruise lines offer the most appropriate activities for your children's ages?
For more information, contact: Cruise Lines International Association.
- How long is a cruise? You can go on a voyage for three months or three days. Most people take a cruise for a week or 10 to 14-days.
- Where to go? Some of the most popular cruise destinations are the Caribbean, Alaska, Mexico, the Panama Canal, Canada/New England, Europe and the Mediterranean. But, with over 1,800 ports-of-call around the world, there are plenty of choices.
- Themes to consider: The cruise industry has cruise lines, individual cruises and more with specialty cruises to suit nearly every interest: photography, gay/lesbian cruises, nude cruises, family cruises (think Disney Cruise Line), and more.
- What to wear? Pack as you would for any resort. Cruise vacations are casual by day, whether you're on the ship or ashore. In the evening, attire is a bit dressier. But, it's really up to you. At the "Captain's Gala," you'll probably want to wear something formal; for other occasions "suit" yourself. As you cruise from port to port, you won't have to worry about packing and unpacking. The hassles of an ordinary vacation are practically eliminated.
- Staying in touch: Today, most cruise ships are equipped with telephones with long distance capability, fax machines, e mail access, computers, in-cabin data lines for laptops, even laptop rentals.
Jacquelin Carnegie is a contributing travel editor to Accent magazine. For the past 15 years, she has covered international travel destinations for both consumer and business publications.
By guest blogger Jacquelin Carnegie
Cruises offer a unique opportunity to spend quality time with family. You can get pampered, take part in your favorite activities and try new feats, all while visiting some of the most beautiful or exotic destinations in the world.
Here's what you have to look forward to:
1. Quality Time: A wonderful aspect of being on a cruise is the opportunity to spend quality time with the family. Cruises slow down the rush of day to day life. While floating at sea, there's plenty of time to lounge on the deck, visiting like there's no tomorrow.
Cruise ships provide a unique environment for families. The varied activities allow you to spend time together (and apart!) making this kind of trip ideal for a special occasion (birthday, anniversary or family reunion). You'll get to be together in a way you never had time for before.
2. Total Relaxation: Bliss. Utter bliss. Nothing gives you the sense of being away from it all as a cruise. You can walk onto the ship a frazzled heap of nerves; and, after a week of sun, relaxation, a little exercise, and a few spa treatments, emerge a new person.
A cruise ship is a floating resort with all the things a fine resort has to offer and more. While you can just relax and do nothing, today's ships are well-equipped to keep sports oriented travelers busy from sunrise to sunset.
3. Built-In Value: The ticket price includes all of your meals and in between snacks onboard; your stateroom, activities, parties and entertainment; plus, an exciting voyage to interesting places.
Since you pay for almost everything up front, you'll know pretty much what the trip will end up costing before you go. (Your only extra expenses will be drinks, optional shore excursions, and personal services such as a massage or a new hairdo.)
4. Divine Destinations: One of the many benefits of the cruising experience is the ability to visit more than one place during a trip. Some of the most popular cruise destinations are: the Caribbean, Alaska, Mexico, the Panama Canal, Canada/New England, Europe and the Mediterranean. But, with over 1,800 ports-of-call around the world, there are plenty of choices.
On a cruise, you don't really notice the traveling because you spend the day exploring an interesting port and, while you sleep, the ship takes you to the next day's destination.
5. Enriching Experiences: As well as the discoveries you'll make in the various ports-of-call, many cruise lines feature seminars hosted by distinguished, guest speakers. Along with lectures on the sights you’ll be visiting, you can attend presentations on topics ranging from Renaissance art to financial planning to the secrets of French cooking.
6. Theme Cruises: Do you and your family have a particular interest or hobby such as golf, photography or architecture? You can go on a cruise filled with other enthusiasts and experts offering seminars and demonstrations on your favorite topic. Whether your passion is for gardening, wine tasting or 50's music, there's a theme cruise that suits your interest(s).
7. Activities for Kids: If you bring your children along, you can truly relax while the kiddies have a blast because all the activities for children are specially supervised. These fun and educational activities are designed with specific age groups in mind.
8. Food, Glorious Food: Cruises are known for their elaborate meals from bountiful buffets to midnight menus. You'll have the opportunity to "taste test" new specialties or enjoy some favorites such as roast beef and lobster. Each meal is a savory, multi-course affair.
For those with special dietary requirements, there are spa-cuisine offerings, low-sodium, low-cholesterol, kosher and vegetarian meals. There are even special children's menus to suit the tastes of the pickiest eater in the family.
9. Entertainment: On a cruise, the entertainment is practically non-stop. There's dancing, cabaret shows, feature films and parties. After dinner, there's often dancing to Big Band sounds and, for the night owls onboard, there’s entertainment in the nightclubs and lounges. Many ships also have casinos.
10. The Art of Sitting Still: Besides the food, the entertainment, and various on-board activities, one of the best things about being on a boat is just sitting still and looking out at the horizon. With the sun glistening on the water and the work-a-day world far away, there is something deeply soothing about it.
With the busy lives we all lead, it's difficult to make the time to connect with family (and friends). However, cruises make connecting with people natural. And that's what makes it perfect for a family reunion or any kind of group trip.
Jacquelin Carnegie is a contributing travel editor to Accent magazine. For the past 15 years, she has covered international travel destinations for both consumer and business publications.
Gathering the generations together at one time is challenging. So many siblings, grandchildren, grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, and in-laws.
But family bonds grow stronger, stories accumulate, shared activities unite all age groups, and celebratory occasions (Uncle Bob's 50th birthday, etc.) entertain, making family reunions worth every ounce of effort.
Simplify the planning process with these family reunion tips and free the planning guru within.
Family Reunion Checklist 101: Budget, Guest List, Dates
Congratulations, you've just volunteered - or been volunteered - to organize your next family reunion. Dozens of relatives are counting on you. Don't stress out. Early essential steps will lead you to success (and peace of mind).
Checklist 102: Location, Accommodations, Activities
Location. Location. Location. And all other critical considerations you simply can't forget. Where will guests stay? What will the main events or activities be? These big ticket items set the pace, timeline, structure (and budget) for any family reunion.
The Art of Delegation
Delegate projects, tasks, "to do" lists with pizzaz and be an expert family reunion project manager by sharing the responsibility. No one is an island.
Make Every Communiqué Count
He said. She said. Who's on first? Communication is vital for a family reunion to succeed and that starts the very first day of planning. Here are tips to avoid over or under-communicating.
More Family Travel Tips:
No matter what kind of vacation is on your itinerary - family reunion, bachelor party, wedding of your dreams, high school or college reunion, or camping with lifelong friends, sun burns while playing and splashing around in the happy sun are part of every trip.
Here's the skinny on how to best protect your skin from a new site for anti-aging techniques called RealSelf. Sunscreen is one of the most widely used methods of protecting skin from the sun's rays. Little-known SPF insights from RealSelf include:
Ratings above SPF 30 do little if anything to provide further protection, which has led the Food and Drug Administration to examine unrealistic claims about sunscreen.
Labeling is key. To block out as many as 98% of UVA rays, you should choose a sunscreen with any of these FDA-approved ingredients:
- Titanium dioxide
- Zinc oxide
More tips for decoding SPF and choosing the right sunscreen for you. Here's to youthful skin, and vacations filled with youthful activities!
Every American should bookmark Gas Buddy. As gas prices skyrocket with no end in sight, finding cheap gas can make a wallet full of difference on road trips.
Gas Buddy makes it easy to locate the least (and most) expensive neighborhoods for gas and individual gas stations. Simply enter your zip code at the top of the home page, hit enter, and you’re on your way to a wealth of up-to-date (within the last 48 hours) pricing on gas stations near you. Stations are conveniently ranked by lowest price to highest.
Also, consider Gas Buddy's 10 essential tips for saving money on gas.
- Avoid High Speeds: As your speed increases, your aerodynamic drag increases in an exponential fashion. Driving 62 mph (100 km/h) vs 75 mph (120 km/h) will reduce fuel consumption by about 15%.
- Do Not Accelerate or Brake Hard: By anticipating the traffic and applying slow steady acceleration and braking, fuel economy may increase by as much as 20%.
- Keep Tires Properly Inflated: Keep tire air pressure at the level recommended by your vehicle manufacturer. A single tire under inflated by 2 PSI, increases fuel consumption by 1%.
- Use A/C Sparingly: When the air conditioner is on it puts extra load on the engine forcing more fuel to be used (by about 20%). The defrost position on most vehicles also uses the air conditioner.
- Keep Windows Closed: Windows open, especially at highway speeds, increase drag and result in decreased fuel economy of up to 10%.
- Service Vehicle Regularly: Proper maintenance avoids poor fuel economy related to dirty air filters, old spark plugs or low fluid levels.
- Use Cruise Control: Maintaining a constant speed over long distances often saves gas.
- Avoid Heavy Loads: Remove the sand bags from your trunk in the spring and pack lightly for long trips.
- Avoid Long Idles: If you anticipate being stopped for more than 1 minute, shut off the car. Restarting the car uses less fuel than letting it idle for this time.
- Purchase a Fuel Efficient Vehicle: When buying a new vehicle examine the vehicle's rated fuel efficiency. Usually choosing a small vehicle with a manual transmission will provide you with great fuel economy.
Gadling also has money and gas-saving tips, including road tripping with friends to split the cost of gas as a wise money-saving plan.
Any other helpful hints for saving money at the gas pumps?
Need your space when traveling en masse? Socialites and introverts alike all need a little solo time to recharge. Here are easy ways to politely find your own space while still enjoying the group parties, meals, events, activities, and hoopla.
A family reunion, bachelor party, or weekend getaway group agenda doesn't always have to be your agenda. One thing rings true on group trips, especially family reunions. There can be a lot of hanging out time or slower pace in doing things to accommodate for the slowest group member and herding the troops. After a couple of days, finding ways to get some personal space is just fine. Good friends or family should understand. Many will likely copycat your actions (or have already scheduled solo time for themselves). It's quite natural.
So, take that leap. Get the most out of any group vacation by returning relaxed (not revved) using these tips, ideas, and resources.
- iPod independence: Bring iPod, put earpieces in ears, close your eyes and tune out others and into yourself. Shuffle or create a travel play list ahead of time. Play list ideas:
i. songs that inspire you
ii. songs that fit the mood of the destination you're visiting
iii. work-out songs for running along that Caribbean beach
iv. comedy acts downloaded
v. walking tours downloaded (see podcast tours below)
- Podcast tours are a growing trend in travel sightseeing, a great way for individuals to absorb the rich history, culture, and get insider tips for exploring.
- Journal. Who wouldn't respect your request for a little alone time to jot down memories, thoughts, rants, raves of the trip?
- Arts and crafts: Draw, paint, knit or whittle. So much scenery, so little time. So many crafts to make, as well.
- Comforts of home: Bring at least one comfort of home along on your trip… animal slippers, aromatherapy candle, your favorite bubble bath, nail polish for painting your toes or nails (men, feel free to do the same if that’s your bent)
- Books: Most people bring books for plane rides, down time between transfers, and down time in general. A basic for down time which can double as nap time if you read with sunglasses (no one will be the wiser if you position your book and head on a pillow just so). How about books with Sudoko, crossword puzzles, and other mind games? Or are you the trashy romance novel type? John Grisham or Michael Crichton fanatic? See also Gadling's recommendation of classic books available in audio format for iPods.
- Dog therapy: When retreating temporarily at any group event, nothing's better than throwing a stick for a dog or taking pouch for a walk. Your companion doesn't require conversation and will be loyal all day.
- Yoga or jogging: Yes, two polar opposites on the yin yang spectrum of energy, but both can give you the same thing – time to yourself while staying fit.
- Just say NO. While the main objective of any group trip is to be together, taking time for yourself shouldn't catapult feelings of guilt into your conscience. Learn the delicate art of politely declining for certain activities.
- Space out. Walk the city, beach, destination and let your thoughts and imagination be your guide. One of the most relaxing elements of travel can be finding quiet time to ponder your current situation (career, lifestyle, health, relationships) or simply letting go of it all and fully immersing yourself in the now to contemplate lapping waves, patterns in the sand, or the origins of Pina Coladas. Our uber tuned-in lives taking over every waking moment (even podcast tours can be invasive if your vacation goal is to fully relax without much stimulus).
- Contact home base. Step away from the group to stay in touch with kids, family, others at home. Lifehacker comments on a USA Today article that highlights how easy it is becoming to call home from abroad. Even if you’re traveling in the U.S. with easy access to a phone, you may be able to use "an urgent phone call" as an excuse to duck out of a group event. The group can head off for hiking that day while you meet up with them after a tall, cool beer and the paper.
Any other ways to step aside from group gatherings to recharge with solo time?
Parents can spoil themselves when traveling with infants or toddlers by renting baby supplies, such as cribs, jogging strollers, gates, baby rails, rather than lugging them through airports or hassling with them en route.
Baby's Away is a site that seems to simplify family travel involving young kids. While it may not solve all your problems ("Are we there yet?") perhaps it can be another stress-reducer for traveling families. You can rent supplies from numerous metropolitan and resort locations throughout the U.S.
What was your first vacation memory? Visiting grandparents in a distant city? Building sand castles on the beach with siblings and parents? How did the family vacation memories changes as you aged and now as you're an adult - perhaps with kids and/or nieces and nephews of your own? Is there an ideal age to travel with kids?
Family Travel Files offers some insights into making the family getaway stress free for parents, depending on the age of the kids. Infants, toddlers, teens all have different needs and interests. Here are some quick tips (below) from Family Travel Files's article on family travel phases and how to plan ahead to optimize the fun for everyone.
In general, less is more. Jam-packing too much into a travel schedule can ruin an otherwise lovely trip. Build in plenty of free time between activities, meals, group gatherings, and family reunions to walk around, soak in the scenery, relax, nap, read, and so forth.
Traveling with kids 6 weeks to 5 years old
- Baby-proofing kit: Think about socket plugs, corner tabs, plastic glasses, room guards, nightlights and other typical portable protection devices.
- Keep familiar scents: Resist the temptation to wash everything just before leaving home. Babies and toddlers are particularly comfortable with the smell of their things. They are also sensitive and often cranky when their own things, complete with odors, seem to be missing.
Traveling with kids ages 6 to 12
- Pack a surprise: In case the plane is delayed or a child becomes ill along the way, pack a couple of vacation surprises well suited to alleviating boredom. Audiotapes from www.boomkids.com meet the boredom challenge for this age group.
- Do less: One of the biggest challenges for vacationing families is learning to do less and enjoy it more. Often parents return to work feeling just like they need a vacation. They intended to relax and catch up on sleep. They intended to enjoy free time with the kids. Instead they found themselves over scheduled and in a self-created time crunch. Anyone in charge?
Traveling with teens
- Pack less: This is a reality check. Teens want to be seen as cool by their peer group, yet not look obvious as they do so. The result is over packing. Why take one pair when six will do? Over packing comes from a lack of information about what is needed. Every family with teens should invoke the rule of all seasoned globetrotters: “Ye shall carry what you pack…all of what you pack.” Given the security concerns that now exist, less is will be less hassle.
- Determine who is in charge: Power struggles result when guidelines are not clear. Communicate expectations before buying tickets or making deposits. If sleeping until noon is not option say so early. If every one gets to choose a favorite activity say so early. If in reality grandpa is in charge then do not keep it a secret.
Read full article from familytravelfiles.com here.
What do you think? Is there an ideal age to travel with kids? Was there an ideal age of travel for you? My favorite childhood vacations were spent at a lake with white sandy shores and tons of relatives for our family reunions. Lots of cousins to play with and plenty of munchies and scrumptious food to boot.
Will wonders ever cease? I discovered a caretakers organization that prides itself on being the "number one" property caretaking source around. Caretaking in this context doesn't mean changing baby's diapers or live-in help for aging seniors; that's caregiving. Think travel, think vacation, think free. Can this be an actual industry?
If you've ever dreamed of playing host(ess) at a quaint inn, housesitting at a beachfront home, watching the condo and cat for someone who lives in a swanky loft with a cityscape vista, or being innkeeper for a small retreat center, take note.
Caretaker.org connects people willing to donate their time and sometimes skill or service with people in need of them. Families, couples, and individuals are all caretakers who travel for various lengths of time to plant themselves in a new locale and temporarily try on a new lifestyle. Free accommodations to boot. Of course, you'd have to figure out how to afford it. But if you apply for one of the caretaking "jobs" and time it with a family reunion in the same destination, in between jobs, or in an area where friends can easily visit for a weekend getaway, you just might have found nomadic nirvana.
If I find a European castle in need an innkeeper for a month, I might reconsider my current situation and start packing. Alternative travel. Gotta love it.
Or does this sound like pure hell? Anyone ever done a trip like this? Would you recommend it to others? Are there other sites or resources to find this type of opportunity?
Whoever said you can't take it with you is NOT hip to the 21st century. It turns out you CAN take it with you - your pet, that is. Taking dogs along on vacation has turned into a "thing." I've recently read more articles on hotels that accept pets, leaving that play and movie You Can't Take It With You in the dust of yester-century.
Journey, a AAA membership magazine, had a cover story recently titled "Dogs on the Go: 4 Fun Destinations for Pet-Loving Travelers." And I've seen other stories elsewhere.
I'm a bit surprised at this phenomenon. Perhaps that's because of my No Pets Allowed lifestyle and homestead. I adore visiting my mom's dog (shown proudly in the photo after a day chasing balls and seagulls at the beach) and treat her as if she's my own kin, but not sure I'd be up for a hotel full of pets. Sounds too much like a Gary Larsen cartoon in living, panting, barking color.
What about bringing pets to family reunions? Or a trip with friends? How common is the pet travel wave?
I ran across Sunset magazine's top camping spots in the western U.S. and couldn't help but drool over the cover photo and idea of escaping the city for s'mores, campfire-cooked grub, and snuggling up in a sleeping bag. Ah, summer. Close enough to smell in the air and start making plans for camping trips.
Sunset's favorites read like the greatest hits of America's western frontier, so I couldn't help but point them out as ideas for group camping trips. Highlights:
Washington: Olympic National Park1,442 square miles offer a constellation of landscapes no other national park can match
California: Yosemite National ParkGet up close and personal with Yosemite's grandeur at one of 13 park campgrounds
Wyoming: Yellowstone National ParkDiscover a world's worth of attractions: geysers, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, and some of the best wildlife-watching anywhere
Arizona: Grand Canyon National ParkAbsorb the park's immense beauty by spending a night there, beneath the stars
The West's other National Parks
Find great intimacy with the outdoors at Grand Teton, Rocky Mountain, and Zion
Where's your favorite place to camp with friends and family? This is a hit list of the best in the west. But what about the east coast or midwest? I've camped in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley and along the beaches of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. Any tips for great campgrounds for outdoor escapes?
I read a poem on Guy Kawasaki's blog today that caught my attention. The theme was our dispensible nature in life. Sad, but often true, when it comes to the functions/roles we play in a companies, organizations, and the like.
But it got me thinking. Thank God for friends and family. Without them, would we all be dispensible? True, for every job there is likely at least one other person who could do it as well if not better. True, the world will still spin without us. Life does go on.
However, with friends and family, we are an indispensible part of their lives, and vice versa. While the poem was meant to stymie swelled egos and praise humility (a good lesson), there is no better way (in my humble opinion) to foster a healthy ego, build a balanced sense of self, and have fun while at it, than by spending quality time with family or friends.
Today, while walking to lunch, I saw a TV crew interviewing folks and filming their "life lessons" on camera. I didn't stop to give mine; but if I did, I'd likely say something about stopping to smell the proverbial roses and hugging those you love more often.
Whatever does this have to do with group travel? Family. Friends. Spending quality time with each other. You connect the dots.
By Tom Easthope, guest blogger
Every family has a "golden age" where the elders have the resources, time, and need to connect. Children are old enough to appreciate the experience and able to travel without hassle. Traveling together with grandparents, adults, and children provides the opportunity to separate from daily routine and form a more meaningful bond with extended family members.
When evaluating different options for intergenerational travel, here are several factors to consider:
- Choice - Does the travel adventure or tour provide enough choice for you to find the experience that best matches your interests and abilities? For family tours this could mean grouping opportunities by age ranges of children which allow kids to more easily form bonds with each other.
- Fun Factor - Many kids work very hard during the school year. A successful family travel experience should include entertaining activities with a high fun factor for the kids.
- Experiences that Teach - Learning new things enriches the mind and is a significant value for adult travelers. Is there an educational program integrated into the itinerary?
- Responsible Tourism - Does the tour practice a responsible tourism philosophy? Are the natural and cultural environments you visit treated with respect to sustain them for future generations?
- Family Orientation - Will your family travel experience allow you time to bond as family? This could range from meal times to free time for sightseeing and exploration, two prime bonding times.
- Value - What is included in the package or tour? Are there hidden costs such as escort and driver gratuities or "optional" admissions to attractions? Are discounts available?
- Financial Security - Are your prepayments put in a trust or escrow account? Does the company belong to a tour protection insurance plan? This can be important as many intergenerational family trips are planned months in advance and often the major vacation for the year.
Today, numerous companies are jumping into the family travel arena. Unfortunately, this creates additional confusion for those trying to determine the best match for their family. As the travel industry continues to evolve, niche companies like Generations Touring Company will emerge to address and specialize in specific types of family travel. Research and plan ahead to find a tour or travel mode that best suits the generations in your family.
Tom Easthope is a travel industry veteran, successful entrepreneur, and founder of Generations Touring Company*, offering small-group travel experiences for families and their generations – kids, adults, grandparents.*
I worked at a national park one summer during college. It was the only travel-related "offline" job I've ever held, but gave me insights into the types of people visiting national parks and why these American treasures are still ranked high for so many summer vacations.
National parks are ideal for group travel.
- Open space and natural resource bounty create a wide range of activities such as hiking, biking, kayaking, rock climbing, river rafting, swimming (often all in the same park).
- Families flock to parks and the parks welcome them with family-friendly passes that offer discounts.
- Inexpensive or free entry fees are helpful for budgeting the family, girls mountain retreat, guys rugged adventure, or other group trip.
- National parks offer a way for people to connect with nature and loved (or liked) ones all at once. Getting away from the noise of everyday or city living to the quiet beauty of a natural park is a real way to reconnect with others.
- Plus, there are a range of accommodation options nearby or within the national parks: hotels, lodges, bed and breakfasts, resorts, campgrounds, and RV lots.
Whether it's a family reunion, wedding, classmate or friend reunion that brings you together, national parks are some of the most popular places to share vacation experiences.
When growing up, I can remember driving through a national park with my family and (at a very young age) asking my parents, "Why are there so many trees? Where are all the buildings?" Silly me. As an adult, I find myself increasingly posing the opposite question, "Why are so many trees being replaced with buildings?" At least national parks are protected (for now) and still offer respite from the urban jungles and sprawling suburbs that many of us live in.
Summer's approaching and thousands of families will go on road trips or fly to visit national parks. Groups of friends will do adventure weekends filled with hiking and backcountry camping to rejuvenate and breathe in raw earthly beauty.
Here's a sampling of national parks to whet your appetite for summer exploring:
Acadia National Park, Maine
A rugged, rocky island replete with wildlife and stunning views all around and plenty to keep the kids (or the kid) in you busy.
Arches National Park, Utah
Here, over two thousand sandstone rock formations stand proudly, boasting the world record for greatest density of natural land arches... great for planning a group hiking vacation.
Badlands National Park, South Dakota
Badlands is really a misnomer for "bad-ass lands." With 244,000 acres of sharply eroded buttes, pinnacles and spires set against a backdrop of the largest, protected mixed grass prairie in the U.S., this is prime terrain for family or friend road trips (or motorcycling).
Biscayne National Park, Florida
The family or group of college pals can explore this Florida Keys underwater gem of ship wrecks (some listed as National Historic Sites) and wiggly, colorful marine life.
Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
This park has wide open desert-esque spaces with stunning geological formations; ideal for hiking, backpacking, and contemplating life. Perfect for an adventure group trip.
Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska
Featuring North America's highest mountain, 20,320-foot tall Mount McKinley (reason enough to go), this park is chock-full of glaciers, wildlife, and mountaineers.
Everglades National Park, Florida
Alligators and crocodiles and flamingoes - all reasons for families to travel to Florida, take a side trip at a family reunion or others to visit the area. While much of this park suffered damage during hurricanes Katrina and Wilma, repair efforts are underway and most of the park is open.
Glacier National Park, Montana
Big sky yields big smiles with mountain peaks and ranges, glistening rivers and lakes and miles of forests. Glacier preserves over 1,000,000 acres of forests, alpine meadows, and lakes - clearly great for group hikes.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii
On the Big Island of Hawaii, this park offers numerous hiking trails and campsites in its wilderness and a rare chance to get up close to some of the world's most mysterious and active volcanoes. Great day trip for destination wedding guests or spring or summer breaks.
Clearly, this is the front end of the national park ABCs, but the remaining parks are equally as enticing. Explore for yourself and find the national park that best matches your group's need or desire for activities, adventure, sights, places to stay, and budget considerations.
With summer on the horizon and national park visits peaking in summer months, now is the perfect time to plan your family summer vacation or road trip so you get the hotel, campsite, or RV spot you want. The national park pass offers family, senior, and disabled discounts. Not a bad way to spend a summer, year, or lifetime.
Here are highlights:
Families – The National Parks Pass, for only $50, provides entrance into any national park for one year, plus your spouse, kids, and parents if they accompany you on the trip. And 80% of the funds go directly back to programs that help preserve the national parks such as habitat restoration, endangered species protection, educational exhibit creation, and historical site preservation.
Seniors or Disabled Persons – A series of golden passes are available to people 62 or older or persons with permanent disabilities that appears to be like a pass to all federal land for life. The passes can be used at any national park for your lifetime and also admits your spouse and children when they are with you. Plus, access to sites managed by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U. S. Forest Service, and the Bureau of Land Management is also included. Quite the bargain.
Remember the man or woman at your last reunion who sat quietly in the corner, eyes glazed or buried in a book a bit too often? Is this person you?
Family reunions are great events, ways to touch base with old family members, visit with cousins, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews. And if it's your family, most likely people will be stealing your attention as you will be with them.
For spouses, day after day of socializing with in-laws, while not necessarily boring, can get old. Here are some helpful tips to keep the doldrums away, make yourself look like a bit of a star, and survive your mate's family reunion.
Have a spouse who might benefit from these tips? Pass them along. After all, if you both enjoy yourselves fully, the whole trip looks brighter.
- More is better - The more people at the reunion, the more likely you are to find someone with tastes and interests similar to yours.
- Cook a meal - This makes you the star for an evening and gets you out of doing the dishes.
- Develop carnival skills - Find a way to win kids a cool gift at an arcade (or similar location) and you'll be the talk of the reunion.
- Wine and song - Bring a set of CDs or an iPod programmed with tunes you know the whole group will love. Alcohol, groups and music make the time fly by.
Summer is fast-approaching, a prime time to gather the family, invite the grandparents, and host or attend a family reunion. One thing is a given at family reunions of any size: the food. Are you hosting a family reunion? In charge of cooking a meal for the whole group? Impress the family with a scrumptious recipe that leaves everyone sated and singing your praises.
Here are tips for planning meals (for family reunion organizers) and recipe ideas:
1. Potlucks - If many family members are near the reunion host's home, a potluck is the perfect way to feed the clan, sharing costs and meal-prep time with those who can whip up a dish.
2. BBQs - Nothing is more classic for family reunions than a good old-fashioned summertime barbeque feast with steaks, seafood, veggies, chicken, and burgers fresh from the grill, dripping with succulent sauces and smokey flavoring.
3. Family-hosted meals - Simplify meals and cut down on costs by rotating meal responsibilities between families. Reunion planners can plan ahead by coordinating on meals using TripHub's "send a message" feature.
4. Low calorie dishes – Many people watch their weight and may dread the idea of a family reunion breaking their healthy eating habits they've worked hard to attain. Keep temptations at bay by hosting a low-cal meal or having low-cal side dishes at each meal.
Here are many more recipes ripe for the summer season, a time most families get together for family reunions. Recipe sources: allrecipes.com. Bon appetit!
Start planning your family reunion today.
More recipe resources to check out:
In this day and age of computer-savvy kids, iPod-tuned-out teens and easy burn-out, good old-fashioned family fun at the beach can be just the ticket to bring everyone closer together. I've had so many family reunions at the beach, I've started naming starfish.
Ah, a field trip to the beach. Soul food and family time. There’s no greater good. In the spirit of creating family memories without all the hoopla of our modern age, here are classic beach activities, (mostly) no purse strings attached.
1. Sand castle contests
Pile it up high and sculpt a castle fit for royalty. Then challenge your family members to do the same and have an objective person be the judge.
Find the sand sculpting contest nearest to you.
See what the sand-sculpting experts are molding at Sandsational.
2. Body surfing
Fling yourself on a wave and ride it board-free to the shore. It sounds easy, but can be surprisingly challenging. Stay safe by body surfing in areas where you can touch easily. With little kids, you can make the lapping waves fun by sitting in them and letting the water gently toss you ashore.
Learn how to paddle in kike a pro and catch waves with ease: https://www.surfer.com/how-to/paddling-in-step-by-step-instruction-tutorial
Safety tips for body surfing (from a UK site, but many apply to any beach):
3. Beach soccer
Shed the shin guards, shoes and kick the soccer ball down the beach in a family-friendly game of soccer with sand as your field. This leisure sport seems to be gaining popularity as there’s an annual tournament for kids ages 9 to 18 from around the world: North American Sand Soccer Tournament.
4. Row, row, row your boat
Boating, kayaking and canoeing are all great ways to experience the beach with your family. Water activities are half the reason we scramble to the beach anyway. Bring inflatable rafts, rent a paddle boat or kayak, or take an excursion that’s often available at popular beach destinations.
5. Picnic on the beach
Eating is its own activity, especially with families. At family reunions, it can often feel like a circus. Yet some of the best family conversations take place while gathered for a meal. The necessity of eating, the pleasure of food itself, along with the social nature of dining together all make beach picnics great as a mellow, yet bonding, family activity.
6. Rock stacking
A time-honored art going as far back as Stonehenge (probably farther), it’s easy to take rocks and make art formations, assuming you’re at a beach with rocks. I’ve recently discovered the Zen-like satisfaction of stacking rocks and found that there are many rock stackers who make it a big part of their lives. Give it a try.
7. Skipping rocks
How many skips can one rock make? That’s for you to find out. Grab a handful of as many skipping rocks (round-ish, flat-ish) as you can, angle yourself toward the water, and toss each stone so it bounces, leaps or skims across the surface just right.
The Brits call it stone skimming. The Irish call it stone scuffing. The French call it ricochet. There’s even a stone skipping association. Join the multitudes of people who skip beach rocks and develop your own, unique technique.
8. 50-yard splash dash
Mark start and finish lines in the sand, just above the surf line, have someone stand at the finish line as objective judge (if your family members are competitive) and go for the gold. You can adapt this to a relay race, handing off driftwood as a baton. Reward all "winners" with ice cream!
9. Kite flying
A family staple at the beach, kite flying has been around since the dawn of kites. Want to find any kind of kite, learn its history and see how it operates? Check out this Smithsonian article on how kites fly.
10. Playing Frisbee or catch
Nothing beats a classic. Something as simple as a driftwood bat knocking a ball out of the sandy ballpark or a Frisbee gliding smoothly into your hands turns the beach into your own, personal playground.
Did I miss a great family beach game or activity? Post a comment at the end of this article and let me know.
Family reunions often require more than a single notice. Reunion planners commonly communicate with their families numerous times during the planning process. That’s a lotta family! Even before you reunite. Here’s how to make every communiqué count:
1. Include family in early decisions about date and location. By including more family members in the early, pivotal decisions of location and date, other details become secondary. Any decision you make about transportation, food, activities, etc. become part of the bigger decisions they helped select. It also builds interest and momentum. Plus, the bigger the consensus on location and date, the more people you’re likely to get by giving them a chance to plan their travel schedules well in advance. Points for you!
2. Send a "save the date" reminder. Once the key decisions of date, location and budget are made (via the first, exploratory communications), send out a "save the date" reminder email (made easy with TripHub.com's free planning tools) with the reunion dates, location and, if known, lodging info.
At this point, you can also ask people whether they plan to attend to get an estimated head count.
"Save the date" reminders are also great opportunities for enlisting volunteers to help with planning. See The Art of Delegation for ways to get the most out of your volunteers.
3. Lost in email translation. Spam, work and personal emails all create mounds of cyber-data that can be overwhelming. In group planning, I’ve found sending details out in bulk after key decisions have been made mitigates questions and headache for you, the organizer.
4. Written invitations. While email works well for many communications, a written invitation for a family reunion can do wonders - something colorful, eye-catching and postcard-sized that can easily be put on your fridge or bulletin board. This also helps for great-grandparents or others less likely to use email regularly (or at all).
What to include on your invitation:
- Times of scheduled events or activities
- Location (with full address or map)
- Lodging options (including phone numbers and room block details)
- Overall trip agenda (if confirmed) so attendees can plan their free time accordingly
5. Highlight volunteers. You might want to highlight volunteers who are helping to plan particular activities. This increases visibility to those helping, shows appreciation and stirs interest in the reunion by alerting the family of fun that will be had by all. This also gives you a way to steer communication to the volunteers in charge of them, freeing up your time to focus on other projects.
6. Get RSVPs back on time. Whether using the "save the date" or written invitation to get RSVPs, give your group a specific deadline. Provide both an email and phone number for people to RSVP. I also recommend picking one key contact per nuclear family to get their family’s RSVPs back on time. This simplifies things and leaves the burden of communication to a head of household or ultra-organized family member (anyone come to mind?).
How TripHub helps track RSVPs:
- You can easily track response rates using TripHub, including regular reports on who has booked hotel rooms, who has RSVP’d and more.
- Attendees can RSVP right on TripHub or call you and you (as group organizer) can alter their status.
- If response rates are low, you may need to send out another email or follow up with people individually. TripHub allows you to filter and alert all or only those who haven’t yet responded. If they don’t respond by email, you might try calling.
7. Final family reunion reminder. Send a final reminder email several weeks before the reunion. This is your opportunity to communicate any updates or changes and to reconfirm key details. This email can also serve as a "last call" to those who have not yet confirmed their plans. Using TripHub.com free planning tools, everyone can see who else is coming. This will get people excited and give them a chance to schedule their own "side events" (i.e., golfing with Uncle Bill). Other helpful items to include are maps, destination information, important numbers (one cell phone number per nuclear family, etc.) and a "what to bring" list.
8. Post-reunion wrap-up. Finally, you can send a wrap-up letter/email to the whole family (everyone who was invited, not only those who attended) with your favorite stories, pictures from the reunion, and a family contact list. A family Web site is great for this as well.
Do you know of other ways to make communication efficient and easy? Share your thoughts by posting a comment.
Organizing a family reunion? Dozens, perhaps hundreds, of your relatives are counting on you to plan a great event. Don't stress out. Here are tips for finding locations, hotels and activities to ensure the family reunion is a smash hit.
- Location, location, location. As in real estate, location is key. If you have a tradition of rotating between the homes of various family members or there is an obvious central location, this decision is easy. However, if your family is spread out and there’s no pre-established plan, choosing the location may seem daunting. Many families converge at places such as Disneyland and other theme parks, top vacation spots such as Hawaii or the Caribbean, they explore national parks and monuments and also gather in urban, rural and resort towns across the United States. Your choices are endless and depend on group size, budget, time of year and the type of activities best suited to attendees.
Here’s a quick checklist to help you find the location just right for your next family reunion:
- Can the majority of folks easily get to the location without a huge expense (or are they willing to pay to travel that far)?
- Does the location provide fun and engaging activities for all ages from kids to seniors?
- Does the location have multiple activity options both indoor and outdoor (for those who need to get out of the sun, rain, or cold)?
- Is there anyone in your family or extended family that may have difficulty in a location (wheelchair considerations, health issues, etc.)? If you choose a theme park as your major destination, can everyone or most participate?
- Parents with infants have a special set of needs (nap times, feeding times, diaper changes) and may require easy-access to a quiet room.
- Will in-laws (who may not be as excited as y'all about the prospect of spending an entire weekend sitting around listening to old family stories) have interesting things to do?
- Check with the convention and visitors bureau (CVB) before setting a date to ensure there isn’t a major event in town to avoid filled hotels and a location busier than normal. On the other hand, you could make a public festival or event part of the fun!
- Explore the advantages/disadvantages of having the family reunion in the same location as a previous year. There is comfort for people in being on familiar ground; plus, you can always try new activities, food and places to stay in that same location. Survey your group and find out if they prefer a new destination or an old favorite.
- Be flexible and you’ll have the greatest chance of securing a better rate. Keep in mind peak or off-season for various locations. For example, occupancy rates in Florida are very high over spring break but typically much lower in August. Granted, Florida is much hotter in August, but prices are significantly lower.
- Hotels, resorts and vacation rental homes. To ensure that you are able to secure your desired lodging at the best possible rate, it's best to start the search as early as possible. Key considerations in selecting the right place(s) to stay for your group include:
- Your group's per night budget
- Number of rooms required
- Hotel's location
- Amenities required (on-site restaurant, pool, in-room kitchens, etc.)
- Meeting space and catering services available (if required)
- Shuttle service and parking
When making hotel reservations, simplify this part of the group organizing process by offering options in a range of price categories (for larger groups, arrange room blocks at multiple hotels):
- Budget (typically 1-star and some 2-star hotels)
- Moderate (mainly 3-star and some 2-star hotels)
- Higher-end and luxury (4-star and 5-star hotels)
- Suite hotels, houses for rent, villas, condos with in-room kitchens (often ideal for groups with young children)
- Schedule events and activities. Why? They increase the fun factor, offer bonding opportunities, serve as fodder for conversations, jokes, photo-ops and turn into life-long memories.
Events and activities vary from formal sit-down meals to casual barbeques, from guided tours to theater, and from physical activities to family-oriented games. Activity-planning tips:
- Activities such as swimming, tennis, golf, bicycling, walking/hiking, shopping and visiting museums and historical landmarks provide great entertainment for family members young and old.
- Be creative and leverage the talents and skills of your group when thinking about food, decorations and entertainment for these activities.
- Schedule two events per day as well as "optional" choices such as a golf tournament or a hike so people can participate or opt out.
- Everyone may not know each other (spouses, for example) so think about ways to introduce people to each other. Nametags with names and favorite villain, cartoon, sport, animal, kitchen gadget, dessert or vacation spot (you choose!) is sure to spark conversation.
- Make sure that there will be enough space and food per activity.
- Alert the group when meals are incorporated or provided with activities. If a stop at a world-famous milkshake joint follows a white-water rafting excursion, you might entice more people to go rafting.
- Have a Plan B in case of rain.
- Family reunions are designed to bring people together so plan events and activities that encourage group interaction. Something as simple as a potluck brings everyone to one place for mingling.
- Provide games (Scrabble, cards, other board games) so people can sit down and relax without feeling anti-social.
- Bring a first-aid kit on excursion-type activities such as hiking, biking, touring.
- Provide a list of what to wear and bring for each activity.
Have any tips for family reunion activities that have worked especially well? Post a comment.
Congratulations, you've just volunteered - or been volunteered - to organize your next family reunion. Dozens, perhaps hundreds, of your relatives are counting on you to plan a great event. Don't stress out. Follow these basic steps to ensure the family reunion is a wild success.
Start planning today. Family reunions can be particularly time consuming. So start early. Planning in advance will increase the odds that more people will be able to attend the reunion, which translates into more fun for everyone. By booking early, you can most likely secure better rates and/or reserve your preferred hotel or retreat site, flights and other travel arrangements.
Guest list size. Deciding which members of the family to invite and how far to extend the family tree can create stress and challenges. It's akin to planning a wedding invitation list. You don't want to hurt anyone's feelings and yet you have to draw the line somewhere. This is a personal family decision. While you can extend the invitation to more people over time, in order to begin the planning process it's critical to understand how big of an event you are planning and to have a rough sense of who will be attending.
Money matters. Your group's budget is perhaps the most important consideration to understand up-front. When estimating the expense for each attendee, consider the costs of transportation (by air or car), lodging, food and entertainment. With input from other family members, set a budget that will be comfortable for the vast majority of the family. If you will be collecting money from attendees to help cover the costs of special events and activities, keep detailed records of your expenses including any deposits for hotels, caterers or other service providers. Unfortunately, trip organizers are often left holding the bag with extra expenses. Don't be shy to ask for contributions. And, while you want to keep the event as affordable as possible, make sure you add some buffer to your budget. If there's extra money left over, splurge on a special treat for the group, or bank the funds for the next reunion. Most importantly, plan activities that can be enjoyed regardless of budget: potlucks, games, music, storytelling.
Choose the date. First of all, know in advance that you will not be able to accomodate everyone's schedule. With that in mind, here are hints to get the best date locked in:
- If you're scheduling the reunion around a particular event (i.e., a grandparent's birthday or 50th wedding anniversary), holiday or school break then your options may be limited. If you're not date constrained, and if there are particular family members who absolutely must be there, speak with them first.
- Next, talk to key family members (i.e., Uncle Bob who keeps in close contact with many people in and beyond his branch of the family tree) to determine if there are other events that might create a conflict for a number of possible attendees.
- Then select 3-4 dates that provide sufficient planning time, and send these dates to the family.
- Ask people to let you know which dates work best for them of the 3-4 options you provide, but make sure to emphasize that the majority rules so no one feels singled out if they are not able to attend.
- Many people may not be able to fully commit six or more months in advance so you may need to request guesstimates. To increase your response rate and make decision making easier, give people a deadline and ask them to rank their date preferences.
- Finally, stick to your decision. Changing dates mid-stream can create a phenomenal amount of additional work.
Give us feedback and your lessons learned by posting a comment. Read Part 2.
One of the most memorable yet tiring aspects of family trips is planning for and adapting to the needs of child travelers. Some people decide to delay involving children until they are "older" ... usually teenagers. Yet others travel near and far with little ones in tote.
Bear in mind is that children are generally much more flexible and adaptable than you think. Encourage them to try everything once (whether it's an unfamiliar dish or activity). By exposing your kids to other cultures or traditions you just may foster in them a greater appreciation for things outside their comfort zone of home.
Under current U.S. air rules, kids under the age of two can fly free if they sit on a parent's lap. While the choice still remains with the parent or guardian, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is urging the industry to require the use of child safety seats. Today, most airlines accommodate families who choose to use a car safety seat if they buy a ticket for their child. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) strongly recommends the use of child safety seats to improve child safety during flights; however, they have not made their use mandatory.
FAA Tips for Safe Air Travel with Children:
- Make sure your Child Restraint System (CRS) is government approved and has "This restraint is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft" printed on it. Otherwise, you may be asked to check the CRS as baggage.
- Measure the width of your CRS. It should fit in most airplane seats if it is no wider than 16 inches.
- Ask your airline for a discounted fare. Many airlines now offer discounts of up to 50 percent for children less than two years old. Buying a ticket for your child is the only way to guarantee that you will be able to use a CRS.
- Reserve adjoining seats. A CRS should be placed in a window seat so it will not block the escape path in an emergency. Do not place a CRS in an exit row.
- If you do not buy a ticket for your child, ask if your airline will allow you to use an empty seat. If your airline's policy allows this, avoid the busiest days and times to increase the likelihood of finding an empty seat next to you.
- Ask your airline if they can provide a CRS for your child. If so, you may not be permitted to bring your own CRS on board, and may need to check it as baggage.
- Arrange for your airline to help you if you need help making a connecting flight. Carrying a CRS, a child, and luggage through a busy airport can be challenging.
- Pack a bag of toys and snacks to keep your child occupied during the flight.
The FAA also recommends that a child weighing:
- under 20 pounds be placed in a rear-facing CRS;
- from 20 to 40 pounds use a forward-facing CRS;
- over 40 pounds may safely use an airplane seat belt, just like an adult.
Source: Federal Aviation Administration (Flying with Children)
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