Posts Tagged ‘ family travel ’

High to Low Orlando: Staying From $55 to $479 a Night

Thursday, October 9th, 2014

We split our recent Orlando vacation between bargain and pricey options. Here’s a breakdown of what we got (and didn’t get) at each price point.

Whippoorwill KOA from $55

The kids and I stayed here because it’s close to the airport and we needed to pick my husband up from a flight. But also, we love a KOA (short for Kampground of America), and this one has a pool, playground, pretty lake, and friendly geese. 

What’s to love A KOA cabin has a ship-like compactness. Though tiny, it fits a fullsize bed, bunk bed, desk and chair, television, and A/C. There are deluxe cabins with bathrooms, but we’re cheap and fine with sharing campground bathrooms. Whippoorwill is primarily a base for RVs, so we seemed to be the only customers in the bathrooms anyway. This particular KOA offers clean linens so we didn’t need to bring our own. We had a pizza delivered to our cabin for dinner and drove three miles to a Panera for breakfast. Our short stay felt like a taste of “real Florida” as opposed to “tourist Florida.”

But of course You have to enjoy camping to stay at a campground. Whippoorwill KOA is very close to the airport but not particularly close to the theme parks; the Orlando/Kissimmee KOA is a little closer to that action. Though you’ll spend far less on lodging here, you won’t get any park perks such as early admission and you’ll need to drive everywhere, plus pay for parking, tolls, and gas.

Cabana Bay Beach Resort at Universal Orlando from $134

This is Universal Orlando’s first moderate resort. Our family of four stayed in a Tower Suite which runs closer to $200 a night since there’s a sitting area plus a kitchenette. My mom stayed in a poolside room for about $150 a night; standard rooms lose the view but are bargains starting at $134.

What’s to love Universal went all-out with the retro theme of this hotel, and the kitsch is cute. My kids loved the pools and sand areas. A free bus pulls up to sweep guests over to Universal’s parks pretty much constantly, especially in the morning hours. And because you’re on Universal property, you can get into the parks an hour early most days.

But of course A stay at Cabana Bay does not get you the Universal Express Pass, useful for cutting wait time at rides. Guests at the pricier Loews Portofino Bay and Hard Rock Hotel do get Express Passes, worth up to $60 a person, so if you’ll be riding a lot during high season, paying more for one of those hotels may make sense. We, however, were only interested in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and Express Passes are fairly useless there: Most Potter rides don’t accept them. If, like us, you’re going to Universal Orlando for Potter mania, Cabana Bay Beach is a fantastic option.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge from $289

There’s no other resort like this one in the country, where you are immersed in another culture and also in a wildlife park. We stayed in a villa in the Kidani Village, where rooms are spacious. By this point it was me and my kids, my mom, plus my brother and sister-in-law and baby niece. Our two-bedroom, three-bath with a full kitchen plus laundry (and a living room that became a third bedroom at bedtime) runs for $767 a night, more affordable (about $256 per family) than three separate rooms.

What’s to love Staying on Disney property means Extra Magic Hours, free transportation to and from the airport, free bus service all through the resort, and Magic Bands. We were not low-maintenence, between my newly hip-replaced mom’s scooter and my niece’s stroller, and a ground-floor room at Kidani turned out to be ideal. We pre-ordered breakfast groceries through gardengrocer.com and ate morning meals in our pajamas. Every room has a balcony for animal-watching, and tracking the creatures was a highlight of the trip for every one of us. The pools and restaurants are among our favorites too!
But of course This is one of Disney’s Deluxe Resort Hotels and hanging out with the giraffes isn’t cheap. But though it’s deluxe-priced, you can’t walk to any of the parks like you can from the deluxe Contemporary or Yacht Club Resort. (Then again, Animal Kingdom is the only hotel with a nightly drum circle!) If you want a Disney hotel but need to really slash lodging to more like $100 a night, check out Disney Value Resort Hotels. The grounds are not as lush, but you still get all the park perks.
This resort invited us in during their opening month and we couldn’t say no. It was back to me, my husband, and our two kids, and we’ve never stayed together somewhere this luxe.
What’s to love Uh…everything. I woke up from my deepest sleep in years in one of their comfy beds and was inspired to hit the fitness room and walk around the lake while my kids actually slept in. It would be easy to spend an entire day among the pools, lazy river, and water slides, where staff rush to supply you with ice water, sunscreen, and frozen fruit (all free!), or pretty much anything else you want (mostly for a price). There’s an on-site Disney concierge to help with park logistics, a tropical paradise of a kids’ center, and a spa. And you can see the Magic Kingdom’s fireworks from here.
But of course You don’t stay at a Four Seasons unless you can spend. There’s no parking lot, only a valet (and valet charge). Our dinner, with a bottle of wine, went over $200. And that $479 price is not really for a family; using the Web site to try and book a room for four people, rates seem more uniformly about $700 a night. You’re living in a beautiful dream here, but it is Top. Of. The. Line.

This video nails all the reasons to go beyond the rides.

Disney's Magic Kingdom: Beyond the Rides
Disney's Magic Kingdom: Beyond the Rides
Disney's Magic Kingdom: Beyond the Rides

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Score a Family Vacation Package from Stowe Mountain Lodge

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

* This is part of a series of special travel deals. Most families take at least one vacay during the year; we’ll help yours be one of them.

THE DESTINATION: Stowe Mountain Lodge, in Vermont

Instead of going south again this year, travel to the northeast and escape to Vermont! This luxury lodge, which was named as a top family hotel in North America, is located at the base of the Stowe resort. If you’re someone who gawks at covered bridges, sparkling lakes, woodlands and majestic peaks, then this is the place for you!

BOOK IT! Be a first-timer at their unique activities including glider rides, a rustic Vermont furniture making class, and outdoor Yoga (Stowega). There’s also a 36-hole golf course, guided hikes, and the town’s famous bike paths, plus a world-class spa. PS your dog is welcome too.

HERE’S THE SPECIAL! By booking your reservation through the Mountain Memories special offer, you can save each additional day you stay. For instance, save 20 percent for a two-night stay, 25 percent for a three-night stay and 30 percent when you stay four days or more.

Also, if you’re on Facebook you may be able to win the Mountain Memories Facebook Photo Contest, which is worth more than $10,000. Submit a photo on their Facebook page from one of your own remarkable travel memories and tell your friends and family to “like” it in order to vote for you. The photo with the most vote at the end of each week wins. Four lucky winners will then be entered into the final week’s grand-prize drawing. The photo with the most votes at the end of week five wins a grand prize including a five-day trip to Stowe Mountain Lodge/ Stowe Mountain Resort, Airline Tickets from JetBlue, and items from participating partners, such as Burton Snowboards, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Ferro Jewelers and more.

Want your child to grow a green thumb? Show them how to grow and play outdoors all summer long.

Gardening with the Kids
Gardening with the Kids
Gardening with the Kids

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One of the Coolest Science Exhibits Ever

Friday, June 13th, 2014

Last year, Parents rated Philadelphia as one of the 10 best cities for families to visit. If it’s in your summer plans, be sure to check out the massive new exhibit, Your Brain, that opens at The Franklin Institute tomorrow. Almost 10 years in the making, the exhibit has dozens of interactive features. When my daughter and a few friends (ages 9 to 12) visited during a sneak peek event earlier this week, they were blown away, and you know that tweens are not easily impressed. Some highlights:

The exhibit starts out with a large screen that lets you see your own skelten. Jump, bend your leg, raise your hand, and the skelton on the screen will move too.

 

The visuals in all the displays were bold and fun, like this one that demos what a brain scan is like.

The kids spent a half-hour on two-story climbing structure, complete with lighting and sound effects, that represents brain pathways. They would have stayed in there all day if we let them.

Many of the activities in the exhibit are geared to kids ages 8 to 13. But if younger sibs are exploring too, making a face on this magnetic board will be fun for them (and so will that climbing structure!).

Another section of the exhibit focuses on illusions. I won’t give away all the surprises, but be sure to go in the bedroom. I took this pic of the kids in an area designated for photo ops.

Bonus! A traveling exhibit, Circus Science Under the Big Top, is at the Franklin Instutute through September 1. Check out the dress-up area with amazing costumes (of all sizes), a tight rope that kids who weigh 50 pounds or more can walk on, and circus games.

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Score a $90 Yearly Pass for Your Preschooler and You at LEGOLAND Florida Featuring New DUPLO Valley

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

* This is part of a series of special travel deals. Most families take at least one vacay during the year; we’ll help yours be one of them. 

THE DESTINATIONLEGOLAND Florida, with its latest attractions area for preschoolers ages 2 to 5, DUPLO Valley.

This new expansion, which opened on May 23, brings the LEGO DUPLO line of building toys to life with farm-themed attractions, an air-conditioned indoor play area and a water play area. From the DUPLO Train, DUPLO Tractor, and the DUPLO Splash and Play, to the reopening of the indoor DUPLO Barn, kids can play in a comfortable, toddler-friendly atmosphere where their imagination comes to life! Your toddler can aboard the DUPLO Train by themselves or you can ride along, either way it’s fun for the  whole family to get involved.

HERE’S THE SPECIAL! In part of opening its doors, DUPLO Valley welcomes visitors with a new pass, known as the Preschool Pass, available for visitors will children under 5. The Preschool Pass is for weekday Monday through Friday admission to LEGOLAND Florida, plus standard parking, for one child under 5 and one adult, for a full year. It’s only $90, plus tax, and it normally costs $84 for a person age 13 and up to get in for just one day! So even if you only use your yearly pass on two days, you’ll save some serious cash.

Even better: The pass is in the child’s name, and is transferable to multiple adults and guardians in your family. You can take your toddler to the park one day and Grandma can take him the next time–allowing the entire family to enjoy!

BOOK IT! Check out all their annual passes as well as their various ticket prices online. You can view all of their summer hours online as well.

Want tips and tricks on how to pack your munchkin for a summer vacation?

 

How to Plan a Trip
How to Plan a Trip
How to Plan a Trip

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Travel Advice from the Kids

Thursday, June 5th, 2014

I don’t know about your kids, but my 11-year-old has very strong opinions about our family vacations. It also amazes me what has stuck with her the most from her trips over the years—for instance, she still talks about the hotel in Orlando we stayed at several years ago that gives out rubber-band bracelets for free ice cream. According to this cool infographic, 66% of kids help plan daily vacation activities and 63% of parents say their children has influenced their vacation decision. Has yours?

 

Why We Loved Our Disney Cruise
Why We Loved Our Disney Cruise
Why We Loved Our Disney Cruise

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Score a Family Vacation Package from Grand Traverse Resort and Spa

Wednesday, May 28th, 2014

* This is part of a series of special travel deals. Most families take at least one vacay during the year; we’ll help yours be one of them.

THE DESTINATIONGrand Traverse Resort and Spa, in Northern Michigan 

Take advantage of this two-night Family Fun package at a 900-acre resort that’s consistently rated among the country’s best. It’s got a child-friendly lakeside beach and an indoor water playground to boot.

BOOK IT! From $457 for a two-night stay in the Hotel for up to four persons in one room during the summer season (now through August 30, 2014). Weekend rates are from $485 for two nights in the Hotel. Note: There’s also a $15/night resort fee and 11 percent tax, and some restrictions apply. 

HERE’S THE SPECIAL! The Family Fun package includes two nights, four breakfast coupons for the bistro, one in-room movie (not available in some accomodations), a pound of candy from Dylan’s candy bar, 20 arcade tokens, and either two ice cream cones or lolliopops. Click here to explore more. You can also call them at 800-236-1577.

Get your kids psyched for an upcoming vacation (or the end of school!) with this Countdown Caterpillar craft:

Vacation Countdown Caterpillar
Vacation Countdown Caterpillar
Vacation Countdown Caterpillar

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Score a Family Vacation Package from Embassy Suites!

Thursday, May 22nd, 2014

* This is the first in a series of special travel deals. Most families take at least one long vacay during the year; we’ll help yours be one of them.

THE DESTINATION: Embassy Suites, participating hotels across the country

No matter where your family heads for the summer, this premiere chain has got you covered, with more than 200 hotels in the U.S., Canada, and Latin America. Plus, all guests enjoy amenities like two-room suites, free breakfast, and complimentary drinks and snacks at the nightly Evening Reception.

BOOK IT! From $127 (subject to availability at participating locations); you can check your travel dates online at EmbassySuites.com

HERE’S THE SPECIAL! Embassy Suites Hotels has an exclusive Family Fun package. If you book three nights or more at a hotel in the U.S. or two nights or more at a property outside the country, you’ll get complimentary Wi-Fi, breakfast for four daily, and late checkout at 2 p.m. You must book and complete your stay by July 30, 2014. Other restrictions may apply; call 1-800-EMBASSY for full details.

Plan on eating out with your little ones while traveling? These tips will help you teach them how to behave at restaurants.

Manners & Responsibility: Eating Out with Kids at Restaurants
Manners & Responsibility: Eating Out with Kids at Restaurants
Manners & Responsibility: Eating Out with Kids at Restaurants

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Brooke Burke-Charvet: “We have a pretty good sense of adventure as a family.”

Friday, May 2nd, 2014

One celebrity mom who knows a thing or two about travel: Brooke Burke-Charvet. The Dancing with the Stars champ and mom of four has ventured all over with her family, from the states to Europe, even Africa. It makes perfect sense then that the TV personality recently teamed up with Embassy Suites Hotels to host a panel with her daughter Rain, 7, and son Shaya, 6, on the “Pretty Great Family Debate,” a discussion on tackling common family disputes like homework, bedtime and yes, vacation planning. Parents got the scoop on how Brooke keeps her cool while traveling and what she can’t wait to do with her kids this summer.

P: So your family likes to plan vacations together. What helps you all make decisions without butting heads?

B: I’m all for a family meeting, but it’s really tough. I have four very opinionated children. The little ones, Rain and Shaya, kind of go with the flow but my teenage daughters Neriah, 14, and Sierra, 12, always have their own plans in mind. We try to do one big family vacation a year, so what we do is we’ll sit down and agree on a destination. More so, it’s about them deciding how we want to spend the time once we’re there. I try to let everybody choose one thing that they want to do. You want to make sure that family travel is enjoyable for every member, so it’s not just all about the kids or all about the parents.

P: In your travels, what places have your kids found cool?

B: We have a pretty good sense of adventure as a family. My children love to be on an island; they love the water. This summer, we’re going to try scuba diving for the very first time now that the kids are old enough. We’re going on a family cruise too, which I’m really excited about. They even like to go to Europe and discover history. I’ve always felt like we make every destination family-friendly. We teach them how to conduct themselves in any environment.

P: How do you keep your children entertained on longer trips?

B: I really feel like that depends on the energy and nature of the parent. I mean, I took Shaya and Rain to Africa when they were 2 and 3, even though every other mother thought I was insane. It’s just a matter of trying to go with the sun rather than staying on your own time zone. Be flexible as a parent and try not to travel as Americans. Get into the mindset of the local people wherever you are. When you go into a trip expecting to have exactly what you have at home, you’re just going to be disappointed. And I’ve found red-eye flights can be really great for long trips because everybody can just shut down and go to sleep.

P: What go-to items are with you all the time on vacation?

B: Books! I’m a big believer of less is more, and I like to encourage my children to read. It’s a great way to wind down on the plane. I limit tech, but everybody likes to have some iPad time. They’ll play with a mix of educational and pure entertainment games. I also like arts and crafts that are containable, like everyone’s into these bracelet-making projects right now. The things that take up a small amount of space but are cute and nifty are great for me.

P: Family fights are never fun! How do you handle meltdowns during a trip?

B: With more kids, it’s bound to happen. There’s always one child not happy. I just think you have to nip it in the butt really quickly. I don’t tolerate a lot of family fighting.

P: With summer on its way, what activities are you most excited to do with your kids?

B: My two teenagers are into paddle boarding, and I also just started doing Soul Cycle with my oldest, Neriah. We have a trampoline in the backyard; that’s great exercise and super fun. Shaya is honestly determined to teach me how to do a back flip. God help me! We also like to be outdoors and go on hikes.

P: I’m sure you’ll have more free time this summer with your children out of school. What helps you unwind in your spare time?

B: For me, it’s really my workouts. That’s totally my only hour in the day that’s me-time where I really don’t have to think about anything else. It’s not just a physical benefit; it’s also great for mind, body, and soul. And I love to cook. I find that it’s really relaxing. It’s a huge bonus because my family loves to eat and there’s a lot of people to feed.

Planning a family roadtrip? Use these tips for a smooth ride!

Top Tips for Better Family Roadtrips
Top Tips for Better Family Roadtrips
Top Tips for Better Family Roadtrips

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