Why: Okay, you may be thinking, “Isn’t Saint Martin/Sint Maarten destroyed?” Yes, this unique Caribbean island, which is half French (Saint Martin) and half Dutch (Sint Maarten), was devastated by Hurricane Irma. But now it’s on the mend. Saint Martin’s famed Princess Juliana International Airport has been open since late October 2017. The majority of the island’s electricity has been restored, and many beaches, bars, restaurants and businesses have reopened their doors. Because tourists are still wary, many hotels have discounted rates (like Hotel Mercure for $169 night) as well as gorgeous Airbnb properties starting at $50 a night. It’s a win-win. Not only will you save money, but your money will be spent on businesses and people who really need our help.
Eliminate the stress from your next family vacation by reading our frequently asked questions. Learn how to pick the best family vacation destinations for traveling with children, learn how to survive a long airplane flight and read our easy tricks for getting the best hotel or resort deal. Planning a trip with kids can be a fun project for everyone involved. The best way to get started is to consider everyone's favorite activities and narrow it down to top family vacations & ideas that are best for you. Younger kids usually like sandy beaches where they can build sandcastles and surf gentle waves in the shallow waters. Pre-teens and teens tend to like resorts with many attractions such as water slides, activity centers that rent kayaks, teen spas, and kids' clubs with games. Since every family is different, fining the best spot for yours involves a bit of careful planning. Last but not least, families can save a lot of money on vacation by looking for last minute hotel deals and packages. Before you leave, call ahead and book all the favorite activities because they often sell out, especially during peak holiday weeks.
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Charlotte’s Carowinds, a combination amusement park and waterpark, is a big hit with families. Weekdays offer shorter lines than weekends, and themed events are scheduled near year’s end. Young park-goers will discover mini-rides just for them, while teens will be thrilled with the likes of Intimidator and Fury 325. The park offers free water at multiple stations, but parents consistently recommend purchasing cups with free refills for the day. Count on $20 for parking, and budget extra for food, or consider at least one combo ticket, which includes food throughout the day.
Larounis’ top tip: Know the next available flight to your destination. “All 180 people on your plane will try to get on the next flight. As soon as you know of a delay or cancellation, feed your info to an agent,” said Larounis. Sign up ahead of time for Expertflyer.com’s Pro Plan ($99 a year) and you’ll be told if a seat has opened up on one of the next flights. “Even if one seat opens, you can grab it,” Larounis said.
The Magdalena Grand Beach Resort, set among a virgin mangrove forest and lush tropical vegetation, offers the ultimate escape to paradise at a more affordable price. It includes lots of family-friendly features, like three large swimming pools and a free kids’ club with the chance to learn about Tobago’s green, leatherback and hawksbill turtles. A free shuttle will bring you to popular Pigeon Point beach, while the complimentary buffet breakfast offers lots of tasty hot items, including an omelet station. Rooms feature ocean view balconies and even marble baths, along with numerous dining and drinking options, including a piano bar and a coffee shop.
What to do? Get a look at Plymouth Rock, where colonists first set foot on American soil. You won’t believe how tiny it is. Costumed actors recreate what it was like on the crossing and in the settlement. As you roam through the 17th century village, you’ll encounter farmers, cooks, blacksmiths and other residents, and hear their stories about life in the New World. Meet actual Native Americans at the Wampanoag Homesite, and learn about their cooking, crafts and culture. Make sure to save time for a visit to the nearby Plimoth Grist Mill where you can see how they grind corn and even buy it to take home!
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.
Where to stay: Book a room at the newly renovated Hyatt Regency Rochester, which is a 5-minute drive or short walk to the museum. Other family favorite hotels include the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Rochester, which features a large, indoor pool in the hotel’s atrium (plus a complimentary cookie at check in!), and the Hilton Garden Inn Rochester University & Medical Center which is connected to the new College Town shopping complex.
Steeped in Civil War history, the picturesque town of Gettysburg makes a pleasant and educational base for families. Tour the Gettysburg Battlefield, the National Military Park, and the Shriver House Museum at your leisure, or hop on a guided bus tour of the town to get the expert lowdown on all the key sights. From historical re-enactments to ghostly tours, there’s so much here to keep the whole family entertained.
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.
Why you’ll love it: You can explore more than 300 miles of shoreline jetting out into Lake Michigan and Green Bay in Door County all dotted by charming communities and a Midwestern friendliness that will make you feel like you stepped back in time. Younger kids will enjoy peering through the periscope at Door County Maritime Museum with views of Sturgeon Bay and active shipyards; teens will enjoy hiking, biking, and kayaking along the Mink River Estuary. Everyone will love the classic Skyway Drive-In and the creamy treats served up at the old-fashioned soda fountain at Wilson ice Cream Parlor.
“We decided to rent this cabin a week before 4th of July. It was our very first experience on TripAdvisor… The cabin is amazing. [It’s] very modern, clean, and full of any kind of supplies, from glasses to dishes, from a huge collection of music to a great collection of DVD, from towels to linens. EVERYTHING. Huge fire pit outside, amazing grill, summer shower to cool down. Amazing screened porch to spend the nights chatting with friends and laughing. ” — TripAdvisor Reviewer
Less than a hour by plane from Miami, not only can visitors frequently score cheap Bahamas flights, but staying at the Breezes Resort & Spa is an outstanding budget alternative to all of those pricey all-inclusive resorts that average $500 or more a night. Guests have access to a wide range of amenities for less than half that price, and there is no tipping allowed either. You’ll find three outdoor pools, a swim-up bar with submerged seating, and get direct access to the unspoiled white sands of Cable Beach. Nightly entertainment, sailing, rock climbing and more are all included, and there are five dining options, including a diverse buffet and a la carte options, along with four bars.
Sure, Iceland is cold, but there’s still plenty to do on a Winter Iceland Family Adventure. Kids age 12 and up can snorkel with you in the crystalline waters of the Silfra fissure, an opening between the North American and Eurasian continents. Explore the old harbor and famous Hallgrimskirkja church in Reykjavik, the capital city, and then venture into the largest man-made ice cave in the world, at Langjokull Glacier. The whole family can learn how the island’s natural phenomena were formed by volcanic and geothermal forces when you hike at scenic Skaftafell National Park.
What to do: Since they’re open year-round, the indoor water parks can be enjoyed any month. Get a day pass for Noah's Ark water park (America's largest) and race each other down 2018’s newest ride, the Raja, which ends in the mouth of a king cobra. Or book one of the wet and wild resorts, like the African-themed Kalahari (the Sahara Sidewinders looping slides literally drop you through the roof) or Mt. Olympus (the Lost City of Atlantis water fortress has slides, geysers and monster dump buckets).
WOW AIR: WOW Air as grown at a staggering rate since it first began flying from the USA in 2015. It now flies from 13 U.S. airports, including just-launched service from airports in Cleveland, Cincinnati, Detroit and St. Louis. All of WOW’s U.S. flights are to its hub near Reykjavik, where connections are available to more than 20 European destinations. Flights from Iceland to India will provide a new option starting in December 2018. Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren, special to USA TODAY
Cozumel is considered one of the Western Hemisphere’s top diving destinations, and for those who want to explore this spectacular underwater world without shelling out an arm and a leg, El Cozumeleno, facing the Caribbean Sea directly on a white sand beach, is an affordable all-inclusive resort that can help make that a reality. The rooms are no-frills, but you’ll probably be spending most of your time in the water, diving, swimming and snorkeling. There are five swimming pools too, including one with the swim-up bar.
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
The toughest part about being a pint-size tourist in Costa Rica is that many of the activities are often — literally — out of reach, with size, weight or age restrictions. Instead, peg your adventure to nature. Manuel Antonio National Park, which stretches from the Pacific coast up into the mountainous rainforest, is brimming with wildlife: Hundreds of species of mammals and birds live within its 1,700 acres. (If you don't spot a few white-headed capuchin monkeys, you aren't looking.) Visitor numbers are capped, so start early, and take the flat, easy main trail. Pack a swimsuit for this family vacation: Off the trail is the famous Playa Manuel Antonio, with warm blue waters and a crescent-shaped ivory-sand beach. (Note: The park is closed on Mondays.)
Why: La Paz is the perfect destination for those looking for a bit of adventure with the comfort of being in a vibrant, bustling city. Surrounded by the Bolivian Andes, La Paz is an outdoor adventurer’s paradise. Visiting during the winter season (May through October) is the best time for escaping to the slopes. If you’re looking for a real adventure, day tours to ski on one of the highest ski slopes in the world go for less than $70, including transportation and food. If you’re looking to stay more grounded, check out the local activities, such as Cholita Wresting, a La Paz specialty combining WWF and lucha libra. Or check out the Mercado de las Brujas (the Witches’ Market), an attraction not to be missed with locally handcrafted items and some herbal and folk remedies. The best part of all: You can live in near-luxury at five-star hotels around the city, with prices almost always less than $150 per night. Check out the Camino Real Aparthotel & Spa and the Casa Grande Hotel.
As for compensation, if you’re supposed to be flying out of a European Union country and the plane is delayed or canceled for mechanical problems, be sure to mention to the airline something called “EU 261.” That’s the rule that lets fliers get $300 to $600 if the plane is delayed for a reason within the airline’s control (not weather). “They’re forced to pay you by law if you file a complaint and cite EU 261,” Larounis said.
No. 4. South Beach – Miami Beach, Fla. People watching is a great pastime in Miami's South Beach, which draws celebrities and models. Travelers love the wide, fine, white sand-covered beaches as well as the surrounding area, known for wild nightlife and excellent restaurants. “Direct access to the beach! The promenade is always full of people walking, biking and strolling with their dogs and families. Very clean and well-kept area,” wrote a TripAdvisor reviewer. • Beachfront bargain hotel nearby: Room Mate Lord Balfour, from $264 per night on TripAdvisor • Great airfare found on TripAdvisor: As low as $107 round-trip from LGA (New York) to MIA (Miami) wsfurlan, Getty Images/iStockphoto
A trip to Europe is for families who enjoy exploring historic sites, sampling local cuisine and learning about a different culture. Visit Florence, Italy, which is an easy historic city to explore with children. Another great city to visit with kids is New York. Younger children can explore a huge variety of playgrounds, climb on giant statues representing characters from children's books, visit a zoo, ride on a carousel, visit a planetarium and watch a show at the Marionette Theater.
Billed as the Waterpark Capital of the World, Wisconsin Dells is an obvious choice for fun-seeking families. It’s hard to experience every single one of the great attractions and activities here (because there are so many!). Take your pick of indoor and outdoor adventures, such as Mt. Olympus Water and Theme Park, Noah’s Ark Waterpark, Timber Falls Adventure Park, Circus World, Timbavati Wildlife Park…the list goes on and on.