Posts Tagged ‘ Family Vacations ’

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 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

Add a Comment

Family Weekend Getaway: 10 Things to Do in Charleston, South Carolina

Friday, December 20th, 2013

Kiawah Island Beach South Carolina Low CountryThe winter chill may have finally settled in the northeast, but my mind’s still on memories of warmer climes. Thanks to Wyndham Vacation Rentals, I had the opportunity to visit South Carolina during the summer. (Watch my video at the end of this blog post to see more photos from the trip.)

Over four days, I stayed at a Gone With the Wind-esque rental house on Kiawah Island with a small group of journalists, and we got the chance to explore the historic sites of Charleston. Along the way, we took a photo with actor Bill Murray at the airport, consumed enough biscuits and sweet tea to make Scarlett O’Hara blush, and even spotted a real alligator hanging out in the street.

As a Yankee exploring southern delights for the first time, I was charmed by Charleston: the restored and ornate architecture, the buttery food (deep fried or not), and the friendly, relaxed atmosphere. Kiawah Island has plenty of quiet, low-key beaches (and golf courses) while Charleston is teeming with more active family-friendly attractions. To help you plan your next laid-back weekend getaway, here are 10 family-friendly things to do around Charleston:

1- Hang Out at Kiawah Island Beaches – No matter which Kiawah Island beach you end up visiting, you’re guaranteed to find white, hard-packed sand (great for strolls along the shore!) and Jacuzzi-warm waters. Kiawah Island is also surrounded by marshes teeming with wildlife, so you may see ospreys, herons, and alligators on your scenic drive to a beach. We ended up at Royal Beach, with gorgeous views of the ocean on one side and views of castle-like houses on the other.

2- Grab Dinner at the Fat Hen – Get initiated into Lowcountry cuisine at the Fat Hen, a neighborhood fave on Kiawah Island. Start by ordering tried-and-true southern dishes like fried green tomatoes,  boiled peanut salad, She-Crab soup (Casey, fellow diner and blogger of Moosh in Indy, gave this rapturous praises). You’ll also be well-stocked with warm biscuits and lemon-laced sweet tea from the gregarious staff.

3- Visit the Sea Turtle Hospital, South Carolina Aquarium – The amazing veterinary staff at the South Carolina Aquarium rescue sick and injured sea turtles and nurse them back to health. Kids will get to meet and touch (small) turtles and learn about the turtles’ ailments and recovery process before they’re released back into the wild. The adjacent aquarium boasts equally impressive sights, including an albino alligator (named Alabaster), an American bald eagle, and a two-story tank filled with fish, coral, and sharks.

4- Eat Lunch at Poogan’s PorchPoogan’s Porch is a cozy, light-filled eatery transformed from an 1888 Victorian house and named after a neighborhood dog. Once you see pimento fritters and fried alligator on the menu, you know you’re in for a culinary ride; you can’t go wrong with the buttermilk fried chicken and the airy biscuits. Plenty of celebs have visited Poogan’s (there’s a wall of photos), but what really makes it stand out are the spirits that still live there: Poogan the dog and schoolteacher Zoe St. Amand.

5- Stroll Through the Charleston City Market – For families who want an easy, relaxing afternoon, head to the 206-year-old Charleston marketplace, two long, green-roofed buildings that house artisans selling American Classic Tea sourced from the Charleston Tea Plantation, sweetgrass wreaths and baskets (made by the descendants of West African plantation slaves), and other handmade goods. Or stop by the other shops outside the marketplace, such as River Street Sweets for warm, slightly gooey pralines.

6- Ride a Carriage Tour of Historic Charleston – All tours are designated along three separate routes to avoid traffic, and every carriage must stop at a small shack before the tour begins. Kids will love watching a cage-like machine toss out a colored ball that indicates the carriage route. Our Palmetto Carriage tour highlighted sites such as Cabbage Row (which inspired the setting for “Porgy and Bess”), several Civil War-ear mansions, and Rainbow Row (pre-Revolutionary buildings renovated and repainted in pastel colors). You’ll also notice a ton of churches with tall steeples; in fact, no building in Charleston is allowed to be taller than the highest church steeple. Along the way, your guide may even point out spots where The Notebook and The Patriot were filmed.

7- Take a Walking Ghost Tour of Charleston – Charleston is considered one of the most haunted cities in America, so for families who like a good dose of spooky and supernatural stories, a walking ghost tour is a must. Even though we got a toned-down private ghost tour with Lindsay Beard from Bulldog Tours, our Charleston insider and local guide, the stories were still spine-tingling enough to stay with us for a few hours. Just make sure to check with the tour group to see if the outing will be too scary or too extensive for young kids.

8- Go Horseback Riding on Seabrook Island – The riding path on Seabrook Island starts on a residential street and then meanders through a plant-dense path until it opens onto a breathtaking, wide, flat beach. The sand is firm, making it easy for the calm, slow, gentle horses to walk on. Even though the horses are well-trained enough to know where to go and when to stop, horse rides are probably best for kids 8 and up who have some experience riding on their own.

9- Set Sail to Watch Dolphins – Dolphins are abundant along the South Carolina shore – just make sure to go during high tide to spot them. But even if you don’t encounter any dolphins, there is still plenty to see – like shorelines dotted with antebellum homes, islands teaming with pelicans, and boats with fishermen casting nets. Our group set sail on a small charter boat with Captain Robb of Lowcountry Inshore Charters, a South Carolina native who knows the ins-and-outs of the ocean, and kids who ride on his boat are given the chance to haul up a cage full of blue crabs. Depending on the tour, rides may also be best for kids 8 and up who know how to swim and who are comfortable on a fast boat.

10- Stroll Magnolia Plantation and GardensMagnolia Plantation has been around for over 330 years, and it’s one of three big plantations that still remain in Charleston. The rice plantation has passed down through 15 generations, and it is now open to the public. There are a variety of walking and vehicle tours. Beautiful garden tours lead through romantic paths with lush trees and flowers while other tours include separate train and boat rides that highlight alligators and turtles, slave cabins, and the plantation house.

For more sites to see, things to do, and places to stay in Charleston, check out the Family Vacation Guide to Charleston, South Carolina from our sister magazine, FamilyFun.

Top 3 Things to Do in Charleston, South Carolina
Top 3 Things to Do in Charleston, South Carolina
Top 3 Things to Do in Charleston, South Carolina

Special thanks to: Phillip Tumminia of Wyndham Vacation Rentals and Gina Anderson of Weber Shandwick for organizing the South Carolina trip; Body and Skin by Rachel for providing soothing massages; and personal chef Mark White for cooking a delicious five-course meal of local Lowcountry favorites.

Add a Comment

Save $1,500 with Exclusive Hotel Discounts

Monday, July 1st, 2013

Thinking about taking a trip with the kids this summer, but don’t have anything booked yet? Then read my new story on the 10 best cities for families to visit. Not only will you get a list of must-see attractions, you’ll also find exclusive deals and perks for hotels in many of the top cities. $1,500 worth of savings! To make it more convenient for you, we’ve put the details on all the offers below. Which place are you dying to visit? Chicago is on my bucket list for this summer!    

Omni San Diego Hotel
Get 10 percent off and free parking with promo code PARENTS; Book from June 30, 2013 to January 20, 2014. Subject to availability.

Hilton San Diego Bayfront Hotel (shown at right)
Enter promo code PMAG for free kids’ meals with the purchase of an adult meal at Vela Restaurant. The offer is valid July 1, 2013 to September 30, 2013. Based on availability. Certain restrictions apply.

Catamaran Resort Hotel and Spa
Use promo code P15 for a 15 percent discount; book by August 1, 2013 for stays that occur between July 8, 2013 and September 30, 2013. Offer is not available August 30, 2013 through September 1, 2013. Subject to availability.

Hotel Rouge
Use the promo code PARENT for a 10 percent discount; book by December 31, 2013. Subject to availability.

Wyndham Grand Orlando Resort Bonnet Creek
Book at for 15 percent off a two-night stay plus a $50 resort credit. Book by September 1, 2013 for stays between August 1, 2013 and October 31, 2013. Subject to availability.

Hotel Lincoln
Call the hotel at 855-514-8112 and mention Parents for a 10 percent discount. Book by December 31, 2013 for rooms from September 1, 2013 to April 30, 2014. Subject to availability.

Hyatt Chicago Magnificent Mile
Use promo code PARENTS to receive a 10 percent discount for stays between July 1, 2013 and September 6, 2013. Subject to availability.

Radisson Fisherman’s Wharf
Stay 3 nights or more and receive 2 percent off your room rate using promo code PARMAG. Promotion is available for select dates between July 1, 2013 and December 30, 2013. Subject to availability, black-out dates apply. Advance reservations are required. Maximum occupancy is 4 guests per room with 2 double beds and 2 guests in a room with 1 king bed. Not valid with any other discounts or promotions. Cancellations must be made 24 hours or more before arrival. Cancellations made less than 24 hours prior to arrival will be charged one nights room and tax charges.

Hotel Diva
Mention Parents magazine when you check in at Hotel Diva from July 1, 2013 to September 30, 2013. Your kids will receive a goody bag while you’ll snag a special welcome amenity. Subject to availability.

Hotel Beacon
When making a reservation, use the code PARENTS to get Jacques Torres chocolates at check-in. Valid for stays between July 1, 2013 and September 30, 2013. Subject to availability.

Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort and Spa
Rooms with two queen beds start at $169 per night with promo code PARENT. You also receive a free breakfast daily for 4. Book by August 31, 2013 for stays between August 1, 2013 and October 31, 2013. Subject to availability.

Embassy Suites San Antonio Riverwalk-Downtown
Go to to book a room with a 10 percent discount. Book by December 31, 2013 for rooms from June 12, 2013 to December 31, 2013. Subject to availability.

SpringHill Suites Indianapolis Downtown
Book at room at for a 15 percent discount. Book by December 30, 2013 for rooms from August 1, 2013 to December 30, 2013.

Loews Philadelphia Hotel
Get a 10 percent discount by using the promo code READER; book and use between now and December 30, 2013. Subject to availability.

The Rittenhouse Hotel
Use the promo code N28C between July 1, 2013 and September 8, 2013 to receive a 10 percent discount. Subject to availability.

Add a Comment

Finding a Family Legacy in the National Parks

Monday, April 1st, 2013

Arches National Park, UtahEditor’s Note: In a post for an ongoing series, Dr. Harley A. Rotbart, a Parents advisor, will be guest blogging once a month. He will be offering different advice, tips, and personal stories on how parents can “savor the moment” and maximize the time they spend with kids. Read more posts by Harley Rotbart from this series.

Back when Great Sand Dunes National Park was still just a national monument, and our graduate student daughter was still just in kindergarten, the National Parks system became our partner in parenting. Our family “collected” national parks. We spent spring breaks, summer vacations, and fall breaks photographing our three kids standing astride the welcome signs outside dozens of national parks and monuments, from Arches to Zion, Badlands to Yellowstone, Capitol Reef to Yosemite.

It was in the parks that our kids learned about fragile cryptobiotic soil and the tundra, the desert and Death Valley, petrified forests and ancient redwoods. They heard rangers talk about fossils, geodes, and glaciers; they watched bison, wolves, bear, elk, moose, ptarmigans, and caribou in their natural habitats. They saw an owl capture and eat a mouse, salmon swimming upstream to spawn, and eagles fishing for those same salmon in the same stream. Along the way, they heard stories about Native Americans and the mysterious Ancestral Puebloans, about dinosaurs and wooly mammoths. But the lessons our Junior Rangers learned far exceeded those the park rangers could teach them: They learned about life.

It’s become a cliché to talk about life lessons gained through childhood experiences, but the ones our kids learned in the national parks were anything but cliché. They were only 3, 5, and 7 years old on our first visit to the Sand Dunes in southwestern Colorado, the home of the highest dunes in North America. The base of the dunes rests at 7,500 feet above sea level, and the climb from the base to the top of the highest peak is another 750 feet. On hot sand with unsure footing, boots and sandals are usually abandoned for stocking feet. The climbing is tough even for fit adults, but our 7-year-old son was determined to make it to the top with Mom, the parent with good knees. His sister, the 5-year-old, wasn’t as sure, so we encouraged her to stay behind with her little brother and me to play in Medano Creek at the base of the dunes. The creek “runs” in a wide splay that resembles a wading pool more than a flowing body of water, the perfect milieu for building sand castles. She had to choose: Climb the hot sand on a hot day to a faraway peak few young children ever reach, or wade and splash in the cool stream.

Our daughter had always been a little fearful about trying new things. Sleepovers at friends’ houses, tennis classes in our neighborhood park, overnight class trips, and even the monkey bars on the school playground all started out scary. So we were more than a bit surprised when, a little tearfully, she opted for the climb. She seemed determined not to let her big brother outdo her or claim bragging rights alone this time. I trained my binoculars on the threesome as they started the climb, zigzagging along switchbacks that changed with each windstorm of the year. There were lots of pauses along the way for snacks and water, but in just over four hours they made it to the summit, where the weathered guest book waited for triumphant climbers’ autographs. I couldn’t make out the kids’ facial expressions through the binoculars as they stood at the peak with their arms raised, but there was no question about their jubilation as they rolled, surfed, and pranced down the steep sandy slopes on the way back.

That night, while the boys played nearby, we sat at the campfire with our daughter, cold packs around her mildly blistered feet, and talked about what her climb meant in the big picture of her young life. Her sense of accomplishment and the pride she felt for conquering her familiar little fear demon showed her that nothing could stop her if she put her mind to it. No obstacle, no challenge, no barrier, no self-inflicted ceiling should stand between her and her dreams. That was the Sand Dunes lesson she learned and never forgot. In the 18 years since, she has had many, many small Sand Dunes moments, and a few really big ones, where the achievements of that day on the dunes sustained her.

It was also in the national parks that our oldest became a role model and nurtured his leadership skills and ability to inspire. He developed a sixth sense about how his sister and brother were feeling about our wilderness exploits, when it should be their turn to lead, and when they had had enough for the day. In doing so, he learned to consider, respect, and advocate for the needs of others. He also discovered his fear of snakes and his propensity to see bears while everyone else saw big rocks. Our youngest didn’t play in the creek forever, either. After more than enough years watching his siblings undertake adventures he was too little for, his turn finally came. Delicate Arch at Arches National Park will be known forever in our home as “Sammy’s Arch” because at age 7, he led the rest of us on the very challenging (and somewhat treacherous) hike. He did this with a mixture of pride, fear, and (ultimately) profound relief at shaking off the “baby” burden from his shoulders.

The national parks have become a lasting legacy for our family. Our now-adult kids still tease us about the legendary 11-hour bus ride in Denali, laugh about the mama bear who charged the obnoxious tourist, and sing Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again” whenever we’re in the car together. If you’re looking for your own family legacy, or just ready to plan your summer vacation, visiting is a great place to start.

Dr. Harley A. Rotbart

Dr. Harley A. Rotbart is Professor and Vice Chairman of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Children’s Hospital Colorado. He is the author of three books for parents and families, including the recent No Regrets Parenting, a Parents advisor, and a contributor to The New York Times Motherlode blog. Visit his blog at and follow him on Facebook and Twitter (@NoRegretsParent).


Image: A photo collage of Arches National Park in Utah via Shutterstock.

Add a Comment

Win a week long vacation + $10k spending cash!

Friday, July 13th, 2012

Parents teamed up with Embassy Suites to find out how you vacation. According to our survey, more than one half of families, consider themselves “vacation dabblers,” who sporadically take days off throughout the year for shorter, one- to two-night trips. This is a surprisingly high percentage, considering people need at least three days to benefit from time off. On the other end of the spectrum, only a mere 13% are considered “vacation maximizers,” who patiently save up vacation days for one long trip.

So what does this mean? Those two-day mini vacations gaining popularity may seem great in theory, but commonly aren’t rejuvenating enough. To help families “moremize” their vacations, Embassy Suites has started a Facebook contest to give away week-long vacations. All you have to do is go to the page and post a picture of your family’s best “vacation face.” Don’t forget to include a caption to explain how your family plans on getting the most out of your summer vacation before, during, and after.

When the contest ends on July 20th, five lucky winners will receive seven nights at any Embassy Suits Hotel, roundtrip airfare for four, and $10,000 spending cash—the ultimate vacation!

Whether or not your family wins the contest, here are some helpful vacation tips from health and happiness expert, Dr. Susan Biali, to keep in mind the next time you’re contemplating how to spend your days off.

* Looking forward to a vacation actually improves your attitude at work and makes you more productive. This is what Dr. Biali refers to as “vacation anticipation.”

* “Vacation dabblers” should make sure they spend their couple of days off relaxing—not doing errands and running around. Those aren’t real days off and defeat the purpose!

* Post-vacation memories can help to rejuvenate you when you’re stressed. Display vacation photos and keepsakes where you can see them often to serve as pleasant reminders of fun family times.

Add a Comment