Just about every adventurous activity imaginable can be found in Costa Rica: kayaking, zip-lining and surfing, to name a few. Plus, there's the opportunity to see fascinating wildlife — monkeys, sloths, hundreds of bird species — right outside your door. Bonus: This exotic destination won't bust your budget. Zip-lining, mountain biking, whitewater rafting: that's just some of the GoPro-worthy action you'll find at Sky Adventures Arenal Park. Too extreme? Try the three-hour walk across hanging bridges high in the canopies, or glide 3,200 feet above the rainforest in the Sky Tram. Take a break from the hot Central American sun with a day pass to the water slides and pools at Baldi Hot Springs Hotel Resort & Spa.
What to do: Watch your kids awaken their inner superheroes at the museum’s American Comic Book Heroes exhibit or walk their way through the world’s largest pop-up book in Reading Adventureland. For nostalgia, visit the Toy Halls of Fame and play your way through the history of video games at eGameRevolution. Expect to spend at least four hours at The Strong National Museum of Play.
What to do: See where Olympic dreams are born and watch athletes train for upcoming events at the Olympic Training Center. Then, hand feed the giraffes at the country’s only mountain-top zoo, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. Older kids will want to hike to the summit of Pikes Peak — the mountain that inspired the lyrics to “America the Beautiful” — and cross North America’s highest suspension bridge at The Royal Gorge. Finally, explore the geological wonders of Garden of the Gods, rated the No. 1 park in the U.S. by TripAdvisor users in 2014.
This friendly place on the Atlantic Coast has a boardwalk packed with lively eateries. Families tend to favor Funland for its arcade games and vintage rides and Jungle Jim’s Water Park for water slides, go-karting and mini-golf. For a bit of calm before bedtime, you could head slightly north and take a river cruise, enjoying the peaceful views of the shoreline and its birdlife before the sun sets.
In La Fortuna, at the foot of the Arenal Volcano, you'll find a variety of lodging options; many boast hot springs and natural pools on the property. Hotel Los Lagos offers villa rentals that can sleep up to nine and feature a full kitchen, dining room and volcano views. Arenal Kioro has spacious family suites with two queen beds and a daybed that can sleep a small child, as well as options for connecting or adjoining rooms and free cribs on request.
Just how cheap is it? Dirtbag backpackers can get by on less than $30 per day, easy. Dorms in La Paz, the sprawling capital, are as low as $5 a night. Lunches cost $3, and including rice, a main (usually meat), and soup. Buy some llama print sweaters to take home at $10 each, and spend $20 to cram onto a bus to the next city. A three-day tour in the damn Amazon jungle will set you back just $200 (bring a headlamp and expect to lounge in hammocks next to baby tarantulas).
Why you should go: Prague is quintessentially European, an architecture junkie’s dream for its lofty spires, stuccoed high ceilings, and Art Nouveau quirks. Sure, it’s touristy -- just try fighting through the selfie sticks on Charles Bridge or not wincing in disgust at Kafka bastardized on T-shirts and coffee mugs -- but this is also a city with plenty of nooks and crannies to escape from the masses, from dimly lit bars, minuscule art galleries, or in some old world cafe.
The 22-acre Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort complex, set on the widest strip of beach in Waikiki, is a family-entertainment mecca. You can swim, surf, snorkel and paddleboard right from the hotel. Ideal for little ones is its beachfront lagoon, which lets them experience salt water without the big waves. Four nights of the week, the hotel stages Waikiki's only outdoor luau, with traditional food, Polynesian dancing and music, and fire dancers. The resort's Spirit of Aloha snorkel tours include a visit to Turtle Canyon. Sea turtles come to a spot where fish "clean" them before the turtles push off, making way for the next ones in line. If you don't want to get wet while experiencing the ocean, descend 100 feet in an Atlantis Submarine to see reefs, sunken boats and planes, along with fish, sharks and turtles. — Todd Pitock
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Where to stay: Panama Jacks Resort Playa del Carmen is located on prime beachfront real estate (steps away from the shop-lined Fifth Avenue) and home to the Camp Jack kids club, so it gets our vote. Outside of town, Barcelo is the brand to look for with everything from its impressive Barcelo Maya Grand Resort (five family-friendly hotels in one) to its more intimate Allegro Playacar where babysitting is always available. Finally, if you want to overnight in Cozumel, Allegro Cozumel has a Pirate’s-themed water park on site.
Why you’ll love it: The Lake Cumberland State Resort Park is located on one of the ten largest man-made lakes in the country, and it’s one of the top vacation destinations in the eastern United States. But, it’s still affordable, with elementary school-aged activities such as horseback riding ($18), miniature golf ($4), and a boating adventure to Cumberland Falls ($9), all within easy budget reach.
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