Posts Tagged ‘ vacation ’

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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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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Dreaming of the Beach

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

Listening to the radio this morning, I hear that it’s 13 degrees in New York City, but it feels like 4. As I grab a thicker sweater, my mind drifts to warmer days—specifically a weekend in October I spent on Emerald Isle in the Southern Outer Banks in North Carolina. I arrived late at night, and though I couldn’t see the beach when I got to the house in which I’d be staying, I was greeted with the sound of the waves and the refreshing smell of the salty air.

The view from my room.

After a restful night’s sleep, I awoke to a view of the sun rising over the beach. Ah. Heaven! I would’ve loved to have sipped coffee on my room’s balcony, but there was no time to sit and stare (plus, there’d be time for that later. I soon realized that staying in a rented beach house, with it’s mix of privacy and luxury, is a nice change of pace to my usual resort vacations). After a quick breakfast with a few fellow journalists who were also touring N.C., we were off to the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores. Once there, I gazed at the various swimming creatures, pet a couple rays in the touch pool, and took part in the Sea Turtle Rescue exhibit, where I assessed the ailments of a (plastic) turtle and diagnosed it with hypothermia. How appropriate. I’d welcome the blanket I used to treat the little guy now!

Me, posing at the aquarium!

Later that day, we took a boat ride to Cape Lookout National Seashore where we had a picnic lunch on the beach to fuel our 207-step climb to the top of Cape Lookout Lighthouse. From our new perspective we gawked at the gorgeous view of sand, sparkling ocean, and the wild horses galloping on a nearby island.

Looking at the lighthouse before our climb. It wasn’t as strenuous as I expected!

 

After our descent, we got back on the boat and headed for home. About midway back to shore, a team (school? Pod?) of dolphins surrounded us! The playful fellas jumped and squeaked, seemingly pleased to pose for our cameras.

Click to watch a video of the dolphins!

The following day we got up early and headed to Hot Wax Surf Shop for a stand-up paddle-boarding lesson. Don’t let the picture fool you—we did make it out on the water! We were doing great, despite it being all of our first times, until the Coast Guard cruised by and knocked us all down with the waves created by their boat! There was no harm done, though, and we all had a good laugh, got back onto our boards, and continued paddling.

The beginning of our lesson.

After drying off and freshening up, the gang headed to historic Beaufort (the third oldest town in North Carolina) where we heard about the history on a double-decker bus tour. It’s a quaint town right on the water that started as a fishing village. (Side note: If you’re a fan of fishing, the Outer Banks is the place for you! I took a run on the beach each day of my trip and dodged happy-looking fishermen, -women, and -children the whole way.) Okay, back to Beaufort: Unfortunately, we didn’t have much time to spend there but other highlights are the Maritime Museum, tours of restored historic buildings, and a yummy fudge shop (okay, I may have made the time to sample some fudge).

The group in front of the double-decker bus.

Later that evening, we were treated to a 5-course catered dinner at our vacation house, where we raised a glass to a great stay in North Carolina!

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Book a Holiday Getaway

Thursday, November 8th, 2012

Resort in New MexicoIf you’re looking for a last minute holiday get away, check out the Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort and Spa in Santa Ana Pueblo, New Mexico – the queen bee of family stays. Located on 500 acres of a 73,000-acre Native-American reservation, the resort hosts unbeatable views of the Sandia Mountains and Rio Grande and an even more unbeatable lineup of activities for the holiday season.

The Tamaya Resort and Spa has an assortment of family-friendly excursions year round, ranging from hot air balloon rides to tribal dancing performances. But when you go in November, you can take part in hay ride tours, landscape painting classes, treasure hunts, and a pueblo-style Thanksgiving celebration. Or enter a New Mexico-style winter wonderland in December, for ornament making, gingerbread house decorating, and stories and s’mores under the stars. The best part? Most of the activities are either free for guests or super affordable.

Don’t miss out on booking one of the 350 pueblo-style rooms from now until February 28 for the awesome $155 per-room winter rate that includes 20 percent off trail rides, spa and salon treatments, and green fees at the Twin Warriors Golf Club. It’s definitely a steal for the gorgeous setting and one-of-a-kind amenities, but more so for the peace of mind that even though Albuquerque and Santa Fe are less than 50 miles away, there’s enough excitement at the resort to keep your kiddies entertained from check-in to check-out.

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Celeb Chat With Nancy O’Dell: Family Vacations

Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

When you think of celebrity vacations, exotic resorts and spas may come to mind. But our celeb correspondent Nancy O’Dell found out that many famous parents like to have a low-key summer with the kids. Some of their favorite getaway spots may even be in your neck of the woods. Check out the celebs and their destinations of choice by clicking here for the full story from the July issue of Parents. And don’t forget to catch Nancy weeknights on Entertainment Tonight–or chat with her directly at facebook.com/nancyodellspage.

 

Image courtesy of Ulrica Wihlborg

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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.

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Win Your Bucket List

Friday, July 13th, 2012

What ever happened to the wish list you had as a child—the one where you planned to ride an elephant in Africa, touch the Eiffel tower in Paris, and play in the oceans of Hawaii? If you’re like most adults, your list of whimsical dreams was replaced with paying bills, saving for your kid’s college, and planning for retirement. But what if you had the chance to make your number one childhood wish come true?

Hilton Garden Inn wants to make that happen with their second annual Life’s Ultimate To-Do List contest. Like your very own fairy godmother, Hilton Garden Inn will help 10 people cross off the top goal from their bucket lists—and give them $2,000 and airfare to make it happen. All you have to do is tell Hilton your ultimate wish by August 5th and why you deserve the prize. It’s that simple! (And way easier than planning your next vacation.) Check out Hilton Garden Inn’s facebook to see the rules, recent entries, and to submit your own.

Who said only kids get to have all the fun?

 

Image: Man parasailing over the ocean via Shutterstock

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Summer on the Slopes!

Friday, June 8th, 2012

Photo courtesy of Smugglers' Notch Resort

Looking for something fun to do now that summer’s here? Hit the slopes! We’re not kidding. Winter resorts like Smugglers’ Notch near Jeffersonville, Vermont, are just as fun when the sun is shining and no one is skiing. Smuggs (as the locals call it) offers summer camps for kids ages 9-17 such as H2Awesome! Water Camp for your little fishies (turns out there are a lot of watering holes and beaches in the area) and Survival Camp, a four-day adventure for camping lovers to learn wilderness survival skills. Each day focuses on a new topic – including shelter, water, food, and fire. Smuggs also offers special activities and trips such as visits to ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center, where kids can discover 70 live species and participate in more than 100 interactive experiences. For families with special needs kids, Smuggs even offers their Adaptive Program.  For more information about these and other programs at Smugglers’ Notch, go to smuggs.com.

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