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What to do: First, get your bearings from a ride in an open cockpit biplane at the Military Aviation Museum — TripAdvisor’s top-rated attraction in all of Virginia Beach. Then, hit the beach and Neptune’s Castle where the kids can even compete in a sandcastle building contest if your timing is right. Finally, take a quick drive to Fredericksburg to walk in the footsteps of our country’s first president at his boyhood home, Ferry Farm. George Washington lived there from the age of 6 to 22, and it’s a true testament to what colonial life was like.
Why you’ll love it: Kids of all ages will be impressed when they hear the more than 3,000 tons of water that crashes over the falls here every second. Here you can witness nature at its best, explore acres of pristine hiking trails and scenic terrain, immerse yourself in outdoor adventure. You can walk around Niagara Falls State Park (the oldest park in the country) for free, but experiencing the views of the thundering falls aboard the famous Maid of the Mist is what will be the most memorable way to take in the falls (including a soaked selfie). Or sign up for the Cave of the Winds tour, where you’ll find yourself deep in the Niagara Gorge and face to face with the crashing water of the falls.
What to do: Visit Panda Trek first or last in the day, when crowds are lightest, to see the zoo’s black and white superstars, as well as red pandas. Don’t miss: Elephant Odyssey, where the pachyderms often have pool parties; and Northern Frontier, to watch polar bears swimming underwater and see playful arctic foxes. Also noteworthy is the Africa Rocks exhibit (baboons, leopards, blue-eyed lemurs, etc.) that opened in 2017.
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
Teens who like golf will love hanging out at Topgolf. Fun music adds to the excitement of golfing with a variety of provided clubs on a three-level driving range. Servers keep the food and drinks coming, while you rack up the points and have a few laughs. Charlotte—a major metroplex—has no shortage of other family-friendly restaurants at all price points.
Why: With so much to see in Namibia, Windhoek, the country’s capital, is just the jumping point. Best of all, the U.S. dollar is strong enough to make travel, accommodations and activities all relatively inexpensive in the country — even for some luxury experiences. Windhoek is cheap in itself and has plenty of see, between exploring the local scenes like at the Namibia Craft Centre and checking out the city's German influence like at the Christuskirche church. Five-star properties, such as the Hilton Windhoek and The Olive Exclusive All-Suite Hotel can be booked for less than $150 per night, thanks in large part to the preferable exchange rate to Namibian dollars. But some of the best sights to see are located outside the city limits. Consider day or multi-day trips to get your outdoor fix and to see the stunning scenery and dunes that makes up the majority of the country. Tours, which often include meals, camping, activities and more, can be found for reasonable prices. If you’re more interested in seeing the beautiful country on your own, consider renting a car and driving to all of the sights. Entrance fees to national parks, such as the Etosha National Park, go for as little as $6 per day. Throughout the country, don’t anticipate spending a lot on food — you can find good, local dining for less than $10 per meal.
What to do: Bring your passport, so you can view them from the Canadian and American sides; to visit both, just cross Rainbow Bridge. Board the Maid of the Mist boat from either shore to get right up to the raging water (they give you ponchos so you don't get drenched). By day you'll see rainbows; at night, the falls are dramatically lit, and there are fireworks too! If your kids aren’t afraid of heights, they’ll also love the bird’s eye view from Skylon Tower.
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.
An inexpensive way to visit the Caribbean can be aboard a cruise ship. The cruise industry is constantly coming up with bigger ships packed with activities for vacationers of all ages. You can cruise Bermuda and the Bahamas with Regent Seven Seas, take a Nickelodeon-themed family cruise or pick one of the many affordable itineraries offered by the Royal Caribbean.
Why you’ll love it: If you have baseball fans in the family, you’ll want to focus on Cooperstown, home to The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, where they honor some of America’s athletic heroes. You can also visit The Fenimore Art Museum, which boasts an extraordinary collection of American Indian and folk art, or step back in time at The Farmers’ Museum where American history comes to life with real-life experience on a working Farmstead. Then taste your way through over 40 specialty food products at the Fly Creek Cider Mill & Orchard, including cider that’s been made for over 150 years in a water-powered mill.
Why: This small island nation is easy on the wallet and big on experiences. I came here on a three-week tour expecting to be a beach bum, but instead, found so much more: delicious (albeit spicy) food, stunning ancient rock formations in Sigiriya, surfing at Arugam Bay, and some of the most physically rewarding hikes I’ve ever done. Climbing to the top of Adam’s Peak and (barely) surviving the 5,500 steep stairs that make up this pilgrimage, with the help of a friend and a monk, taught me some inner lessons about strength and power. Don’t miss a chance to visit Ella, a small mountain town with a laid-back hippy vibe, accessible via a scenic train ride from Kandy that will cost you less than $10 and bring you past stunning tea plantations. The real magic of the country is outside of Colombo, but since your flight will always begin/end here, I strongly recommend starting your trip with a stay at Penthouse Above Sea ($100 a night). The amazing woman who runs this property can help you plan your time in the country.
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.
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.
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