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Tips for a Successful & Fun Family Vacation

Family Walking Along Beach

Like parenthood itself, a family vacation is both wonderful and a big headache. It's expensive but full of moments to cherish. Is it worth all the trouble if it leaves you feeling like you need a vacation after your vacation? We say definitely. The editors of American Baby do a lot of traveling ourselves! Here's advice we've gleaned from experience.

The Top 10 Family-Friendly Cities

  1. Boston
  2. Chicago
  3. Ft. Lauderdale
  4. Nashville
  5. Orlando
  6. San Antonio
  7. San Diego
  8. San Francisco
  9. Seattle
  10. Washington D.C.

Surviving the Long Drive

Every summer, Managing Editor Kate Kelly and her husband drive their three sons on an 18-hour trip to Canada. Their lessons learned:

Break up the trip. Keeping kids in car seats for more than 6 hours means misery. "We stay with friends one night, stay at a hotel the other night, and stop at local attractions along the way," Kelly says.

Take blankets and pillows to help kids nap in the car.

Get a portable DVD player. At Best Buy and Amazon.com, kid-friendly models range from $100 to $250.

Give kids daily playtime at parks or fast-food playgrounds.

Production Editor Heidi Balaban is her family's travel agent. Her tips:

Read about hotels at tripadvisor.com and travelpost.com. Keep in mind what matters to you -- complaints about kids running around, for instance, might be good news.

Book flights online. Balaban checks Orbitz.com and hotwire.com, as well as sites that comb other sites, like mobissimo.com, sidestep.com, and kayak.com.

Travel while school is in session. Having preschoolers means you can go when rates are lowest.

Plan far ahead. The year, Balaban's family went to South Africa, so she got passports months in advance.

Hotels We Trust

  • Best Western: While individually owned, they generally have clean pools, friendly staff, and affordable prices.
  • Omni Hotels: They offer family packages, while Omnis in Texas have suites decorated by Pottery Barn Kids.
  • Beaches Family Resorts (in the Caribbean): They give you face time with Elmo and Cookie Monster and have Crayola Art Camp.
  • Hyatt: Resorts all have kids' camps (for ages 3 to 12) and family-friendly pools and restaurants. But you'll appreciate the adult amenities so you can also treat yourself.

New Passport Regulations

Now, even newborns need a passport to travel aboard, even to Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean. In 2008, everyone will need passports for cruises as well. To get a passport for a baby, Mom and Dad have to apply together, in person, at a post office or a FedEx Kinkos store.

8 Plane Activities

  • Eat: Don't fill up in the airport; draw out snacking one Goldfish at a time.
  • Browse: The in-flight catalog and safety card might catch baby's interest.
  • Play: It's hard to put on a voice for a car or pony more that 5 minutes, but delve into your inner actress.
  • Watch TV: On Jet Blue, each seat has a satellite TV; on other airlines, take a portable DVD player.
  • Cuddle: Depending on baby's age and mood, having you available is a thrill.
  • Color: But crayons roll off the tray; don't depend on this for too long.
  • Nurse: Swallowing alleviates ear pressure.
  • Unwrap: Buy a dollar store toy, gift-wrap it, then use it as a surprise.

Don't Count On

  • A walk: No strolling the aisle -- you're in the way.
  • Sleep: Toddlers like to be hyper for the entire flight, then fall asleep five minutes before landing.

Online Resources

  • Byways.org to find scenic driving routes.
  • Nps.gov for information on national parks.
  • Traveltoysandgames.com and madallie.com are both children's travel stores.
  • Travelzoo.com for last-minute deals posted weekly.
  • Familytravelforum.com for finding destination recommendations.

Win a Vacation to Orlando!

One lucky family will fly AirTran Airways to Orlando, stay at the fun-filled Nickelodeon Family Suites, and enjoy world-famous theme parks! Visit orlandoinfo.com/baby to win.

 
Favorite Spots for Getting Wet

  • Nickelodeon Family Suites, Orlando: Two water park-like pools outside your door, plus breakfast with Dora and SpongeBob (nickhotel.com).
  • Atlantis Resort, Paradise Island, Bahamas: It calls the new Aquaventure "the largest water-themed attraction in the world," and we're not arguing (atlantis.com).
  • Great Wolf Lodges, nationwide: Their indoor water parks can occupy kids all day (greatwolflodge.com).
  • La Costa Resort and Spa, Carlsbad, California: It's Splash Landing kids' area rocks (kslresorts.com).

Our Favorite Places

"Maui is the perfect blend of activities and relaxation. There's always something to do, but you can always do nothing. It doesn't feel like you're in the United States, but you don't have to deal with customs or passports."
Colleen Dowd, Editorial Assistant/Lifestyle

"I love all things Disney: sprawling Disney World in Florida, the more intimate Disneyland in California, and the amazing Disney cruise ships. It's easy to be a parent when you're on their property because everything is geared to your children, and everyone smiles at your family. You can stop apologizing for kids being kids."
Jessica Hartshorn, Senior Lifestyle Editor

"Arizona has a great climate. You always know it's going to be warm there and the scenery is beautiful, so you can't lose."
Katie Rockman, Editorial Assistant

"Acadia National Park, in Maine, is gorgeous, with its lakes and craggy shoreline. And there's a lot for families in Monterey, California, from historic Cannery Row to the aquarium to a children's museum."
Christine Porretta, Health Editor

"I love Prince Edward Island in Canada because it's got beautiful beaches but never gets too hot. It's not overrun with tourists either. And there's great ice cream!"
Kate Kelly, Managing Editor

"I ski because I like to be outside all day. Kids need to be 3 or 4 to do most ski schools, though. I highly recommend the resorts in Colorado, Montana, and Wyoming. I also have nothing against beach vacations; I spend time with my nieces and nephews at the New Jersey shore."
Tricia O'Brien, Features Editor

"I'm a sucker for the beaches on Long Island, New York. Though it can be a pain to drive out there -- summertime traffic can be horrific -- once you arrive, it's worth every mile. Wide beaches, beautiful sand, endless stretched for walking and dreaming."
Judith Nolte, Editor-in-Chief

Originally published in American Baby magazine, June 2007.