Branson has gained a name for itself as a quintessential family vacation destination. Nestled within the Ozarks in Missouri, this town offers a 19th-century themed amusement park, a water park and a life-size replica of the Titanic. What's more, activities like swimming in Table Rock Lake and touring the Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery are free. Read More »
Why you should go: The landlocked country has a rich indigenous culture (por ejemplo: you can buy dried llama fetuses from colorfully dressed mamitas in the markets of La Paz), and a stunning range of landscapes, from rust-colored desert where dinosaurs once trekked to lush pampas and jungles to the otherworldly expanse of the Salar de Uyuni, where the horizon disappears between ground and sky. Adventurous spirits can find some of the cheapest paragliding in the world in Cochabamba, while mountaineers can tackle the 21,000ft high Nevado Sajama. The rest of us can wander around charming cities like Sucre, or take in the mesmerizing sunsets of Lake Titicaca, as beautiful to behold as it is fun to say. - Laura Yan, Thrillist contributor
With daily flights from many cities across North America, affordable hotels and resorts, and activities that range from scuba diving to horseback riding and caving, Belize has become a popular destination for tourists from around the world. You can find Belize accommodations for less than $100 per night, and fill your days with cheap food and outdoor fun. (Getty Images)
Why: Peru’s northern beaches are an excellent option for budget travel, and Trujillo is no exception. The vibrant coastal city is awash with warm-colored colonial façades dating back to its status as a colonial powerhouse, and it offers excellent cultural and adventure activities, as well as upscale restaurants that are surprisingly affordable ($10-15). Accommodations are also very inexpensive; for example, the four-star Costal del Sol Wyndham can run as low as $65. Trujillo is home to the former capital of the Chimú people, the behemoth archaeological site of Chan Chan. Its Spanish-influenced architecture and bohemianism were an inspiration for the illustrious author Cesar Vallejo, and it continues to keep traditions alive by hosting prestigious events such as the month-long Marinera Dance Festival. For some action under the sun, check out the famous beach Huanchaco, Latin America’s first designated world-surfing reserve. Watch wave chasers in their caballito de totora boats and cool off with a plate of fine ceviche at its birthplace. Trujillo flies under the radar for tourists who focus on Cusco and Machu Picchu, but with its rich heritage — in addition to year-round sunshine, delicious food, vibrant dance and beaches — you’ll have plenty to write home about.
Another affordable European destination for this summer is Budapest. Here, you’ll get two cities for the price of one — Buda and Pest, separated by the Danube River. With new routes from American Airlines launching this summer to/from Philadelphia, competition is driving airfare prices down. Average airfare from New York and Boston for the summer is under $700 round-trip; I also found deals under $600 round-trip from Chicago.
The summer is definitely the best time to take advantage of a Virginia Beach vacation package. The classic seaside vibe paired with a festive boardwalk and wooden roller coaster rides will please everyone on your trip. If you need a little more excitement, head for the East Coast’s version of Vegas. Our Atlantic City vacation packages will make you feel like you’ve made it to the big time. You may end up even saying “What happens in Atlantic City, stays in Atlantic City,” by the time you leave.
With new babies, booking a one-way flight is essential. Think about renting a vacation house or apartment for maximum space and flexibility. Or go the all-inclusive route: resorts and cruises handle the meals and sometimes also the child care too. Some luxury hotels have amenities jut for babies, such as chic cribs or infant-only toiletries. With school-aged children, consider traveling with another family whose kids are your children’s age. Companionship goes a long way towards engaging—and delighting—young ones. (Pools go a long way in this department, too.) Disney World and Disneyland are big players at this age, as is camping. The National Park System is probably the best bang for your vacation buck anywhere in the world, being consistently stunning and always affordable. Kid-friendly resorts can provide a variety of on-site activities, such as pizza-making or baby shark feeding or mini science camps, all while giving parents a break.
Huatulco: A beach town located in Oaxaca to the southwest of Puerto Escondido, Huatalco offers tons of water activities such as snorkeling and scuba diving, some nearby surf spots, and tours of coffee farms to boot. While Huatulco itself is considered one of the safest places in Mexico, the State Department is restricting travel along Highway 200 in the area (except to and from the airport), so you may not want to wander too far. Getty Images/iStockphoto
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.
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.
Why you’ll love it: It’s a city with a sandy beach right downtown! How fun is that? Plus there are scenic riverboat rides, the Shedd Aquarium, the Field Museum of science, Lincoln Park and the zoo, the Museum of Science and Industry, and a giant Ferris wheel at Navy Pier. Oh, and pizza, lots and lots of cheesy, stringy, deep-dish pies perfect for family dining.
What to do: Sleep under the stars in the national park named for Theodore Roosevelt who once lived here. Let the kids’ imaginations run wild amidst these dramatic badlands (home to the Painted Canyon) and have a contest to see who can spot the most bison or elk. Laugh out loud at the prairie dog towns where the barking is audible and the little critters are as entertaining as they are mischievous. Just outside of the park, explore downtown Medora — an Old West cow town where horses are still a form of transportation.
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.
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.
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Locals refer to Long Beach as one giant playground, so families are certainly welcome here. And there’s one place you really can’t miss. More than 11,000 creatures await you at the Aquarium of the Pacific—you can even touch and feed some of them. Learn about all the animals of the ocean and the importance of conserving their environment. Long Beach also has lots of family-oriented places to eat and plenty of fun watery activities, including boat tours.
Yelapa: Yelapa is “Mexico’s last authentic beach town,” says Gerardo Tanaka Pacheco, senior account executive for MSL Group, the public relations firm for VisitMexico.com, “and is definitely under the radar. [Expect] great seafood, great beaches, nice hotels and none of the inflated prices.” Note that it’s in one of the State Department’s orange zones, while nearby Puerto Vallarta is exempted — so you’ll want to do a bit more research before choosing this part of Jalisco. Getty Images/iStockphoto
Why you’ll love it: Sometimes the kids only want to go to Disneyland; never fear, we’ve found a way to visit Mickey without breaking the bank. The Disney experts at UnderCover Tourist offer discounted tickets and additional money-saving tips at their site as well as calendars about when to visit when it’s least crowded. And of course Disney magic is always a hit with kids of all ages.
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.
What to do: Crystal Cruises, the first cruise company to complete the entire Northwest Passage, has several options for experiencing Alaska’s glaciers. For example, its Glacier & Gold Cruise visits the Inside Passage where it parallels the tallest coastal mountains in the world. On port days, kids can learn about the historic Gold Rush in the once-booming frontier town of Skagway or do optional excursions like dogsledding or taking a floatplane to go fishing in a remote inlet. Of course, it’s also nice to just relax on the Crystal Symphony or Crystal Serenity and use their spotting scopes to look for humpback whales, get crafty in the Fantasia children’ playrooms or hit up the all-you-can-eat Scoops Ice Cream Bars.
What to do: First, sign up for the Very Important Kids Snowmass program to see the resort’s daily child-friendly programming and packages. Then, drop the younger ones (2-4) off at The Treehouse Kids Adventure Center for their lessons and then head to Camp Aspen with the older kids and pre-teens for their programs. In the afternoon, meet up to ski together, go tubing or take a free naturalist tour. End the day by enjoying a Snowcat dinner or a family Chuckwagon Dinner hosted at a remote cabin showcasing a quieter side of the mountain.
Since no one has time to check flight prices constantly throughout the day, it’s a good thing that you can ask someone else to do the searching for you. Sign up for a fare alert, which is a subscription notification (usually via email) that provides a selection of flights and prices to a chosen destination. For example, I receive a daily email that tells me the cheapest flights over the next six months to London, Paris, and Bora Bora.
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!
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.
What to do? Immediately head to Siam Park — voted the best water park in Europe (it has nearly 25,000 reviews on TripAdvisor). Check out the water slide that travels through a shark tank or relax at the world’s biggest wave pool. Rent a car and drive across the island to paddle board, kayak and snorkel with Teno Activo at Los Gigantes (where coral reefs meet towering cliffs). Also, don’t forget to check out Loro Parque — voted best zoo in the world by TripAdvisor — and visit the volcano in Teide National Park. It’s Spain’s highest point and the third tallest volcano in the world!
*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.
As The great Eastern philosopher Lao-Tzu once said, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." At TravelGuidesFree.com we want to be that first step you take that enables you to embark on the great adventures of your lifetime. Our Free Travel Guides and travel brochures of the United States and surrounding regions are the perfect way to begin your exploration of destinations that will suit your travel wishes and help you determine which trip is right for you.
What to do: Book Trafalgar Tours' Contrasts of Canada trip. It's a two-week itinerary stretching across the Canadian Rockies from coast to coast. Begin in Vancouver where the kids will be wowed on a drive along the Sea-to-Sky Highway. Then, travel by rail across the country, watching the glaciers turn into cowboy country, wheat fields and finally, the cosmopolitan city of Toronto. Here, the older kids will demand extra time to see the Stanley Cup at the Hockey Hall of Fame and get their hearts rate up at Sharks After Dark at Ripley's Aquarium of Canada.
Where to stay: Located opposite the Royal Mews, The Rubens at The Palace could be to London what the Plaza Hotel was for Eloise. The property even has an official Director of Fun! The Nadler Victoria also gets points for its prime location just steps from Buckingham Palace. There’s a mini kitchen in every room, but the property also partners with local restaurants to offer guests exclusive dining discounts.
Virginia’s Historic Triangle extends to nearby Jamestown and Yorktown, where innovative exhibits and educational experiences depict America’s first permanent English colony and guide visitors through the battlefield where American independence was won – advance 7-day passes are available, so you can return with the family to explore time and time again. Merchants Square, an 18th-century-style village, includes more than 40 shops and restaurants ranging from family-style to fine dining.
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.
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.
Why: Kuala Lumpur is a gem most people have not found out about, which is to your benefit. Kuala Lumpur has a mix of different cultures, from Asian to Indian, which makes the food really great. While there, I was able to grab food in Little India and ate amazing chicken tikka masala, then I headed to China Town and ate the most delicious noodles. The mix of cultures even shows with the attractions. I was able to explore a Chinese temple (Thean Hou), the Bantu Caves and a mosque (the National Mosque) all in one city. Kuala Lumpur is also known for its sky bars (rooftop bars). The one to check out is Sky Bar, which has a pool and overlooks the Petronas Towers. Hotels are mega cheap, as well: You can get a five-star hotel with an infinity pool on the rooftop for only $42 a night. Check out D'Majestic Place by Swiss-Garden. Kuala Lumpur is also the hub for cheap flights throughout Southeast Asia. You can get a roundtrip flight from Kuala Lumpur to Thailand for $24.
What to do: Rent a car and head for the crater! After hiking around La Soufriere Volcano’s hot springs, let the kids throw mud at each other in a mud bath. (You can relax in the mineral waters beneath a waterfall.) Of course, you can’t visit St. Lucia without spending time on the water. Joys Adventure Excursion & Coastal Cruises has a highly coveted 5-star TripAdvisor rating and offers kids the chance to swim at Lover’s Rock as seen in Disney’s "Pirates of the Caribbean."
Why: The Golden City of Jaisalmer is often overlooked by travelers because of its distance from Delhi (a 14-hour train ride), but it is absolutely worth a visit for its stunning architecture and magical atmosphere. Situated in the heart of the Thar Desert, the Jaisalmer is made entirely of yellow sandstone and looks like an enormous sandcastle rising out of the desert. A visit to the Jaisalmer Fort costs 50 rupees ($0.80) and offers sweeping views of the city below; aesthetes will appreciate the intricately carved and painted havelis (homes). Don't miss stopping by the picturesque Gadisar Lake, dotted with beautiful temples, and taking a camel ride in the dessert.
Why: Made up of 15 islands and less than 100 square miles, the Cook Islands are everything you’d hope to find in the South Pacific — lush tropical beauty, vibrant reefs and a Polynesian vibe that is both traditional and modern. Its rich Maori culture is still very much intact and hospitality exudes through the friendly locals. Think: Hawaii half a century ago, but with 21st century conveniences like WiFi. Take your pick on where to stay — you’ll find reasonably-priced luxury alongside Airbnbs, beach shacks alongside boutiques, all with a rustic, island-chic appeal. The largest island, Rarotonga or “Raro,” is made up of rugged mountains, unspoiled beaches and the national capital of Avarua, where you’ll find boutique hotels, quaint shopping, rare pearls, hole-in-the-wall restaurants, coffee shops, a distillery that makes banana vodka by coffee pot and even a Friday night party bus. The island is easily accessible by bus and being only 20 miles in circumference, you can easily conquer the entire island in a day. Note to Type A travelers: Bus timetables are on, well, island time. Aitutaki Island to the north, is home to what many refer to as the world’s most beautiful lagoon, thanks to its crystal clear turquoise waters, coral reefs and sandy islets that allow for world-class snorkeling and scuba diving. When visiting the Cook Islands, it's not to be missed.