NORWEGIAN AIR: By far the biggest of the new European low-cost carriers, Norwegian flies a staggering 53 routes to Europe from 14 U.S. airports that range in size from Newburgh, N.Y., to Los Angeles. With a mix of Boeing 787 Dreamliners and Boeing 737s, Norwegian has the most diverse set of options for U.S. fliers. It offers some point-to-point routes (like Newburgh-Bergen) as well as connections through bigger airports like London Stansted, Oslo and Paris. Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren, special to USA TODAY
Why you should go: Not only is it arguably the greatest swinging-around-a-stage-in-purple-sequined-zebra-print-pants anthem of David Lee Roth-era Van Halen, it’s a slinky, skinny swatch of land with the Caribbean Sea on one side and the Pacific on the other. Smaller than South Carolina, it boasts 1,800 miles of ocean coastline and 5 million acres of national parks on the inside. For those who enjoy stylishly restored ruins, Panama City’s old quarter, Casco Viejo, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that dates back to the 1600s and is now filled with hipstery shit, because of course it is. This cobblestoned city center is surrounded by the ultra-sleek, modern, quasi-futuristic skyscrapers of Panama City, which kind of looks like Rio without the smog and soon-to-be decaying Olympic infrastructure. - Nicole Rupersburg, Thrillist contributor
Merida and Valladolid: Gerardo Tanaka Pacheco, senior account executive for MSL Group, the public relations firm for VisitMexico.com, recommends these two towns as great alternatives to other nearby tourist hot spots. “A lot of people go to Playa del Carmen and Tulum, but on the Yucatan Peninsula there are these two beautiful colonial cities that are so welcoming, colorful, and full of traditions that travelers won’t regret visiting them,” he says. Getty Images/iStockphoto
Forgo fancy duds and pack extra swimsuits for the Abacos' endless water activities, including boating, snorkeling, swimming and paddleboarding in the clear, shallow waters. Island-hopping is a must: Green Turtle Cay offers plenty of shelling and a bit of history at the colonial settlement of New Plymouth, while the Sunday-afternoon pig roast at Nipper's Beach Bar & Grill in Guana Cay is a tradition — kids can build sandcastles and splash in the calm blue water while you wait. Abaco Beach Resort's "Bahama Buddies" program introduces younger visitors to local children and invites them to spend the day together, learning how to catch and cook fish, make island crafts and crack coconuts. There's a variety of accommodations for all family sizes: oceanfront rooms with two beds, and one-bedroom suites with a pullout sofa.
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What to do? Don’t get out of town without visiting Denver’s top attraction, The Denver Zoo. It’s more than 100 years old! Today, kids can get hands-on in the 'Be a Zookeeper Zone' (open Spring through Fall), marvel at swimming elephants and sign up for more than a dozen different behind-the-scenes animal encounters. While in town, take the younger kids to the Children’s Museum of Denver where they can experiment in a test kitchen, cool off in an outdoor splash zone and live out their fantasy of being in a room dedicated to bubbles. Older kids will appreciate the interesting exhibits and the Phipps IMAX 3D Theater at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. When their feet get tired, take a ride in the free open-air Denver Trolley to learn about the city’s founding and its famous Gold Rush.
Northern California also has many riches and wonders to offer. Nothing beats the morning mist swathing the Golden Gate Bridge during a San Francisco vacation. Be sure to hike at Batteries to Bluffs Trail and take in the expansive ocean views. If you’re craving sparkling pools, shimmering night skies, and majestic mountain scenery, instead of bay views, spending your vacations in Palm Springs is the way to go. Hollywood’s Waiting Room for Heaven is the ultimate desert playground for people-watching and wandering through art galleries.
Chosen By: Patricia Stone, founder of Global Adventuress. She's traveled to 157 countries and seeks out unique, off-the-beaten-path destinations for solo travelers, girlfriends, couples and families. Her site has been featured in the L.A. Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Toronto Star and was nominated by USA Today as a Top 20 Travel Destination site.
Last Minute Deals and Packages: If you decide to take a last minute trip with the kids, look for savings and special offers, especially in the off-season. Lately we've been seeing major resort discounts even during high season, so once you decide where you want to go, call the hotel or resort directly and don't be afraid to ask for a package deal before you book. Offers can include room discounts, dining and activity credit, free transportation to and from the airport, and other perks. Most hotels will let you book connecting rooms so that you can keep an eye on the kids while still enjoying some privacy on vacation. If you are taking a weekend trip to a major city such as New York, Chicago, San Francisco or London, hotels usually discount rooms on weekends because there are no business travelers on weekends, so it's quite easy to find a last minute deal. In the Caribbean, look for all-inlcusive packages and affordable rates in the summer. Keep reading for more best family vacations.
If you’re located on the West Coast, this year is one of the most affordable times to head to Tahiti. Why? This May, French budget airline Frenchbee launched non-stop service from San Francisco (SFO) to Tahiti (PPT). Searches for summer airfare yield results well under $1,000 round-trip, which is unheard of for this exotic destination. Travel in August to take advantage of fares under $750 round-trip. United will also fly directly to the South Pacific islands starting in October of this year, meaning prices will continue to be competitive through the fall.
Yellowstone's geysers are sure to inspire young children and teenagers, while geothermic wonders like Grand Prismatic Spring and Mammoth Hot Springs will captivate visitors of all ages. Hotel rates are at their highest during the peak summer season, but you won't have to worry about shelling out a pretty penny for a room if you bring your own tent or RV. Read More »
Campeche: A UNESCO World Heritage Site located on the western coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, Campeche is a walled Spanish colonial city that has been superbly restored nearly to its former glory. The walled center is somewhat of a museum piece, but the life of the town surrounding it might even be the main attraction. There are also significant Mayan ruins in the state of Campeche, of which the city is the capital; these aren’t as well known as the famous ruins to the east, and as such they’re less crowded. Getty Images/iStockphoto
Satellite Beach is a lesser-known but equally lovely section of the Atlantic coast. If you’re planning on visiting in June or July, you can enjoy sea turtle nesting season. Check in with the Sea Turtle Preservation Society for a guided tour. Once booked, you’ll be led out by expert guides equipped with the knowledge (and turtle-friendly lighting) to find mama turtles as they venture onshore to lay their eggs. Truly amazing!
What to do? Strike a pose in the reflective Cloud Gate sculpture (affectionately known as the Bean). It's like a giant fun house mirror. Splash around in the cheeky, animated Crown Fountain, which literally makes faces at you. Join one of the free activities (family yoga, anyone?) on the big lawn or rent bikes from Bike and Roll Chicago or Divvy Bikes Millennium Park to ride to nearby Navy Pier.
Carolina Beach offers an old-style boardwalk, a laid-back atmosphere and absolutely tons of activities for families to enjoy together. Take advantage of the water sports and seaside amusement rides (and grab some donuts from Britt’s). A few minutes down the coastline is Kure Beach, where you’ll find Ocean Front Park, with its boardwalk, gardens and beach—there’s even a giant pirate ship to play on. Continue down to the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher, which has some interactive exhibits and even an albino alligator.
D.C. is WalletHub’s top destination for summer travel this year, and with average domestic airfare at $300 to DCA for the season, you can travel to the city cheaply from almost any U.S. city, with the least expensive month for airfare in September. If you live in the Northeast, look into Amtrak’s summer fare deals on the Acela Express (up to a 25% savings) or $1 bus fares between D.C. and New York City, Philadelphia and Baltimore. An abundance of free attractions — including all of the Smithsonian museums and the zoo — keep costs low without sacrificing fun.
Just how cheap is it? In Prague, you can get a one-bedroom apartment on Airbnb for as little as $30 a night, just a few metro stops from Downtown. Public transportation costs a song ($1 for a half-hour ticket) and you won’t be using it much anyway, considering the center is compact and walkable. It’s a city that’s great for playing bougie tourist for less -- gourmet dining and museum entry fees are moderately priced -- but meager budgets can also get on too, with main attractions such as Charles Bridge, Old Town, and Christmas markets being outdoors and gloriously free.
If you’re looking to save money when going to Orlando’s amusement parks, look to travel in September during midweek and stay at a non-affiliated park hotel or one of the area’s campgrounds. Other money-saving tips for the parks include budgeting in a non-park day and instead relaxing at your hotel’s pool. If you’re a AAA member, you may also be entitled to hotel discounts and special packages with Universal Studios.
Looking for a flight on one of Europe's new set of long-haul low-cost carriers? Scroll through for a complete list of routes flown by those airlines (as of May 2018). Routes are organized by U.S. airport, with a list of each budget airline and its routes from that airport in parenthesis. Remember, some routes are seasonal. Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren, special to USA TODAY
At Velas Resorts, an onsite Baby Concierge means you can leave cumbersome gear at home knowing that a crib, a stroller, bottle warmers and sterilizers will be waiting in your room. The service is committed to making little ones comfortable, from a massage to help soothe fussy babies to a first haircut (with a certificate) to guarantee they look sharp at dinner.
Package vacations are a great choice for effortless traveling, as they are quick and easy to book and ensure that everything will be taken care of for you. For example, if your flight is canceled, it’s the travel provider’s job to find a new flight for you. You can rest easy knowing that your vacation will be stress-free and you are protected in case of changes to your itinerary.