Budget tips: There’s plenty to do for free in Rapid City: Visitors can participate in a free, interactive walking guide of the City of Presidents, a series of life-size bronze statues of our nation’s past presidents along the city’s streets and sidewalks. A slight detour leads into Art Alley, a stunning expression of Rapid City’s creative community. After a day of exploring, cap off the day with a stroll through Main Street Square, a community hub featuring year-round free events for travelers to enjoy, as well as public art such as The Sculpture Project.
The beach's calm waters and ample room to sprawl out make this coastal South Carolina city a hit with adults and kids. There are plenty of other family-friendly attractions here, too, including amusement and water parks, mini-golf courses and an aquarium. Sports enthusiasts will especially love taking in a baseball game at Pelicans Ballpark. Read More »
Chosen By: Michaela Guzy, an American media executive, entrepreneur and on-air show host. She is the executive producer for two online television shows, Michaela’s Map and OhThePeopleYouMeet. Based in New York City, she is also an adjunct professor at New York University School of Professional Studies, where she teaches a course called "Travel Storytelling: Creating Video Content."
It’s worth noting that if the original price isn’t always posted for these types of deals, so you may not know exactly how much you’re saving (or if you’re saving at all). And while Groupon does post the percent savings (and it’s often 50% off or even higher), some critics point out that the “original” prices for Groupon deals and other discount sites are occasionally inflated to make the deals look better.
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.
*All advertised pricing is per person, based on double occupancy, does not include airfare unless otherwise noted and is valid at time of printing. Prices, dates, itineraries and inclusions are subject to change without notice. Exclusive AAA Member Benefits and AAA Vacations Amenities are available on select sailings or departures and may not be combinable. Amenities and travel escort on Explorations departures may require minimum passenger counts to be guaranteed. Terms and conditions apply to partner special offers. Government fees and taxes are not included. Cruise lines reserve the right to impose a fuel surcharge. Go to AAA.com/ VacationGuide for full details or ask a AAA Travel Agent. AAA Club Alliance is not responsible for errors or omissions.
Why: The second largest city in Morocco, Fez has an enchanting souk, lively markets, fascinating leather tanneries (which you can sniff out before you see) and quaint cafes serving Moroccan mint tea and local pastries. Fez is also filled to the brim with palatial riads, Moroccan homes built around a central courtyard or garden, which feature cozy rooms and rooftop terraces where you can relax after a walk through the bustling labyrinth of alleyways right outside your front door. Prices for a double room in a riad can be as low as 550 dirhams ($60), while a tangine dinner is around 50 dirhams ($6). Step inside a medersa, a theological college, to marvel at the splendid architecture and tilework and get a scrub at a hammam for a fraction of the cost of a spa in the U.S.
Albania: Summer is arguably the best time for a European vacation because of the great weather and easy accessibility, but popular cities are crowded and expensive. Check out Albania as an alternative to pricey Mediterranean destinations. While direct airline routes are hard to come by from the U.S., Tirana (the country’s main international airport) recently opened up routes with Wizz Air, and has affordable fares from London-area airports for under $200 round-trip. Getty Images/iStockphoto
What to do? Ride the Blue Streak — a historic wooden roller coaster dating back to 1964. Or, opt for more modern thrills like the monstrous Millennium Force (rated one of the best steel coasters around), suspension coasters (your feet dangle from the floorless Raptor) and the maXair—one of the world’s biggest pendulum rides. Younger kids will find fun at Snoopie’s Space Race and the Kite Eating Tree.
Why: Manaus in the north of Brazil is a short flight from Miami and provides multiple economical options in one. It is a top destination for adventure travel or a sedate wildlife and photography sojourn or a serious eco-tour. Although it's a city of 1 million inhabitants, Manaus is mainly famous as the gateway to the Amazon rain forest. Comfortable, modern hotels like the Caesar Business Hotel start at $63 year round. Aside from visits upriver in the rainforest, Manaus offers sites ranging from the local Amazon tributary, the Rio Negro and the fabled Renaissance-style Manaus Opera House/Amazon Theatre. For an up-close look at wildlife, including endangered species, there is a free, small zoo at the Hotel Tropical. A biologist heads up this state-certified rescue center that has elusive deep-rainforest species, from jaguars to the lovable 120-pound capybaras. The Bosque da Ciencia (Science Center) is a popular open-air wildlife park just outside the city of Manaus. Local species roam freely in front of strolling tourists. Day-trip options include short visits to the rain forest as well as the Presidente Figueiredo Waterfalls and Gruta do Refugio do Maroaga, a cave filled with marine life and bats. Traveling in the rainy season provides an even better value, and the weather is no hindrance to boating and spotting a wide array of tropical birds, pink dolphins and a feisty piranha or two.
Some popular resorts in Florida include The Breakers which has many family-friendly facilities and programs, Doral with its pool complex and famous golf courses, and The Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island with its Ritz Kids program. Ginn Hammock Beach Resort has a year-round water park, a 9-hole putting course and a program for guests ages 4-12. While kids are busy with their own activities, parents can treat themselves to relaxing massages at the spa, fitness and a selection of outdoor activities.
Boracay may be popular among local beach enthusiasts, but it's still vastly undiscovered by most international tourists. This island in the Philippines is known for its rugged scenery, turquoise waters, picturesque palm trees and exquisite beaches, including the popular White Beach. Once you get there, hotels can cost as little as $20 per night. (Getty Images)
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What are the best affordable family destinations? The biggest vacation cost is usually the airfare, so the closer to home you can find a destination that will please the whole family, the cheaper the trip. Take a look at our weekend getaways section which lists ideas from major U.S. cities, family vacations on the East Coast, West Coast, Midwest, the South and Southwest. If you are on a budget, stay in a cabin or a campground in a national park, or look for cheap vacation rentals online that will let you stay for under $100 per night. If you have access to the kitchen, you can prepare some of your own meals which will save you a lot of money. For best value, look for destinations where you will have access to many free activities, whether that’s hiking along a scenic trail, outdoor pool, games, or a kids’ club. Take a look at our family packages section for some of the best packages hand-picked by our editors.
Where to eat and stay: For family eats, don’t miss Bub’s Burgers & Ice Cream in the town of Carmel, home of The Big Ugly, a one-pound burger-eating challenge (eat the whole burger and you’ll get your picture framed on Bub’s infamous burger wall). Waddle back to your suite at the Residence Inn by Marriott – Carmel, Indiana, which includes full kitchens, complimentary hot breakfast buffet, indoor pool and outdoor SportCourt and BBQ patio starting at $115 per night.
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.
Summer is arguably the best time for a European vacation because of the great weather and easy accessibility, but popular cities are crowded and expensive. Check out Albania as an alternative to pricey Mediterranean destinations. While direct airline routes are hard to come by from the U.S., Tirana (the country’s main international airport) recently opened up routes with Wizz Air, and has affordable fares from London-area airports for under $200 round-trip.
Couchsurfing connects would-be travelers with hosts around the world who are willing to offer up a modest amount of space in their homes (not always an actual couch, though that is certainly common). As a matter of policy, Couchsurfing does not allow hosts to charge visitors money. However, it is common for visitors to thank their hosts by reimbursing the cost of groceries, or perhaps buying a gift equivalent to the extent to which they cleaned out their hosts’s wine cabinet.
What to do: Take it slow and make lots of stops — whether you conquer the whole thing (should take about four days) or just tackle small portions. Kids will be wowed by the Santa Cruz Boardwalk (ride the wooden coaster!); Monterey (go kayaking and see the Aquarium); Carmel's Pt. Lobos State Natural Reserve (otters, seal lions and whales hang here); Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park (great hiking and camping); Hearst Castle, in San Simeon, and the elephant seals on the beach just north of it.
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What are the best luxury vacation ideas for families? If you are looking to spend $5,000 or $10,000 on a family vacation, you can be as picky as you like (although that will not buy you a first class airline ticket). Luxury resort rooms and suites start at $350 per night, and can go as high as $900 per night for a villa in an exotic destination like Fiji. Some of the best luxury beach destinations for families include plush resorts in Barbados, Paradise Island in the Bahamas and beach resorts in Maui. Look for all inclusive rates at Sandals resorts in Jamaica and Turks and Caicos where you will have access to many fun activities for kids of all ages. Families have access to a wide selection of room and suite layouts, letting you balance cost and just the right layout. On your luxury family vacation, look for activities that will be fun for adults as well as kids, such as golf, spas and fun dining options. If you have a baby, Club Med’s Ixtapa resort in Mexico offers the Baby Med program which includes a crib, bottle warmers and diapers in your room.
Does your family thrive on challenges? Multiple escape rooms now pepper Charlotte, and near the intersection of the city’s two interstates, you’ll find Escape Kings. This family-friendly attraction lets those over 10 years of age test their collective wits by escaping from Aztec Ruins and Kings Quest rooms. The puzzle clues are for all ages, and escape is neither too hard for kids nor too easy for adults. To avoid disappointed faces, pick up tickets for escape rooms, Segway tours and other family-friendly activities in advance.
Why you’ll love it: Known as “charm city,” Baltimore is an enchanting, family-friendly destination loaded with history. Families can enjoy the scenic Inner Harbor or watch a ball game down the block at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. You can also sight-see by water-taxi or climb aboard Baltimore’s own pirate ship in Fell’s Point, Fearless, to hear swashbuckling tales of adventure. The fantastically fishy National Aquarium is a must visit too!