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
Why: When it comes to cheap destinations, you can not beat Thailand. Phuket is a beautiful beach spot that is famously known for nice people, affordable hotels and amazing food. Low season is in the spring and winter. (Don't go during summer because it will rain everyday.) Once in Phuket, head to Patong beach at night: The nightlife is something to see, with loud music and constant entertainment. The next day you should head to Phuket Town. With its colorful buildings, Phuket Town looks like you stepped into Portugal. Stay at Andakira Hotel Patong for under $50 a night. Before you leave Phuket, make sure you take a ferry for around $30 roundtrip to the Phi Phi islands: It's a two-hour boat ride, but so worth it.
Denver: With mild weather and plenty of museums to explore, Denver is a family-friendly and affordable summer vacation this year. According to WalletHub’s Best Places to Visit in Summer, Denver ranks sixth, earning a spot for its low travel costs and minimal hassles. KAYAK’s 2018 Travel Hacker guide also lists median airfare to Denver under $250 round-trip from the U.S. and Canada for the summer months, and median hotel nightly rates around $150. Getty Images/iStockphoto
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.
White-sand beaches run the length of the 96-acre Kamalame Cay private-island resort. If your kids aren't smitten with the place from the moment they hop off the private ferry from Andros, the fresh homemade cookies laid out each afternoon should do the trick. Villas are pricey, but a good choice for multigenerational stays. Alternatively, the all-inclusive Small Hope Bay Lodge on Andros has 21 beachfront cottages.
What to do: Stroll through the mile-long Lady Bird Johnson Grove, a mossy jungle of sky-high sequoias — some of them 2,000 years old (kids can crawl through the hollow ones). See if Roosevelt elk are grazing in Elk Meadow, then pick up the path to Trillium Falls and be on the lookout for yellow banana slugs along the way. There are coastal trails too: Take guided tide pool walks to discover anemones and sea stars. Note: your best chance of spotting whales is from December through April.
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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.
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.
Why you’ll love it: Located along North Carolina’s central shore, the Crystal Coast has been a favorite beach destination for generations and represents one of the few remaining natural barrier island systems in the world with 85 miles of sparkling beaches. Base yourself near Beaufort, a 300-year-old town filled with pirate lore (Blackbeard’s sunken flagship, The Queen Anne’s Revenge, rests in its watery grave just miles offshore), and plan a trip to The North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores for an up-close look at what lives beneath the seas.
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.
Why: It might be expensive to get to the Northern Territory of Australia, but the investment of money and time is worth it to experience this once-in-a-lifetime destination. The Northern Territory of Australia is best known for Australia’s most famous natural landscape, the dual World Heritage listed, Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, which spans 311,000 acres of wilderness. Australia’s spiritual center, Ayer’s Rock, is all lit up by internationally acclaimed artist Bruce Munro’s immersive installation, “Field of Light Uluru.” The exhibition has been so popular since it launched in April 2016 that the artist has agreed to keep the installation open until December 31, 2020. Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia sustainably manages Ayers Rock Resort on behalf of the Indigenous Land Corporation, and all profits from the business go toward supporting indigenous training and employment across Australia. Safari in Australia? What's that you say, mate? The diverse geographic terrain of the Northern Territory allows for travelers to go from the Outback to the tropical Top End, which experiences some of the dramatic climatic extremes of any region in Australia. The coastal floodplains are Australia’s answer to the Okavango Delta and the Kakadu and Arnhem Land are the heartland of indigenous culture. Stay at Kakadu Lodge and Caravan Park for as little as $78 a night, where you can save your money for the ultimate treat: a stay at the bucket list-worthy Bamurru Plains, a bush camp on the edge of the Kakadu National Park.
Just how cheap is it? Dirtbag backpackers can get by on less than $30 per day, easy. Dorms in La Paz, the sprawling capital, are as low as $5 a night. Lunches cost $3, and including rice, a main (usually meat), and soup. Buy some llama print sweaters to take home at $10 each, and spend $20 to cram onto a bus to the next city. A three-day tour in the damn Amazon jungle will set you back just $200 (bring a headlamp and expect to lounge in hammocks next to baby tarantulas).
Then, sit back and wait. Some (but not all) websites are set up to automatically send a coupon or other offer to people who almost make a purchase but change their minds at the last minute. Coupon values vary dramatically, so you have to know what will be enough to sway you. You might only get a token discount, but it’s not unreasonable to see 10%, 15%, or even 25% off.
*Unless otherwise noted, fares include ROUNDTRIP AIRFARE via U.S. certified air carrier, hotel transfers (in Mexico and the Caribbean), hotel tax, resort baggage handling, fuel surcharges and all pre-collected U.S. and foreign taxes and fees including September 11th Security Fee. Packages in Turks and Caicos or San Juan, Puerto Rico do not include airport transfers. Packages flying into Cancun but staying in Cozumel require supplemental ferry transfers at an additional cost. More details
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.
Why: When people think of beach getaways, they never consider Egypt. Tourism in Egypt is down, due to the unstable government, shaky economy and terrorism. Despite this, you shouldn't fear going to Egypt. In my experience, I have found it to be completely safe. Plus, it's remarkably cheap. During the low season (spring), you can catch flights from the U.S. to Egypt for around $400-$600 then get a flight to Hurghada for around $50 or so roundtrip, depending on the date. Hurghada has coral reefs and beautiful deserts. A desert tour can cost you about $30. What's remarkable: The five-star luxury hotels are so cheap. I stayed at the Marriot Hurghada right on the beach for $50 a night. Literally as soon as you step outside the hotel you're on the beach. Most of the rooms right now in Hurghada are going for under $100. Your money goes a long way in Egypt because the dollar is worth more and not many people are going, due to fear.
In 2014, CheapAir.com also analyzed nearly 2 million international trips covering 3,184 markets. International flights usually open for booking slightly less than a year in advance. CheapAir.com found that prices “stay fairly flat for a few months” after flights open for booking – but, of course, not all of us are ready to lock down travel plans nine months in advance. After the initial flat period, prices “start to creep up slowly, until about 90 days before departure when the pace of increase starts to accelerate.”
What to do? Start monitoring flights months in advance and consider European airlines. (For example, low-cost carrier Norwegian Air is just as comfortable as major American airlines but often has round trip, nonstop London flights from several major U.S. cities for less than $500.) On your first full morning in London, check out the Changing of the Guard where the soldiers march out in their trademark red coats and fuzzy black hats, accompanied by music and royal horsemen. It starts at 11 a.m. (10 a.m. on Sundays) but get there at least a half-hour early so the little ones have a spot they can see from. If the royal flag is flying, it means the Queen is in residence. While the kids can’t run wild in the palace itself, St. James Park is a stone’s throw away and has a lovely playground. If you’re lucky, you’ll see ducklings, swans and maybe even a pelican or two.
Soar through towering trees on a zip line, raft down a whitewater river, hike a section of the Appalachian Trail, and go camping on a Great Smoky Mountains Family Adventure. This park has an incredible variety of plant and animal life, so look for old-growth trees, salamanders, black bears (do not feed or approach them!), wild turkeys, and, for a short period each spring, fireflies that blink in unison. Take selfies at Cades Cove, a popular stop for visitors, where you’ll see historic homes and churches. Go in the spring to enjoy the butterflies and wildflowers, or in the fall, when the trees turn brilliant orange, gold and scarlet.
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.
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.
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!
What to do: Miami Beach has the most tropical beaches in the continental United States. Its warm waters are calmer than North Atlantic counterparts and less salty than the Pacific. As you drive to Miami Beach from Miami, you hit your first two must-see attractions. Indoors, there’s the internationally recognized Children’s Museum that shares an island with Jungle Island — an interactive zoological theme park. Beloved by celebrities just as much as kids, The Sugar Factory on Ocean Drive is also a mustl. It's the most Instagram-worthy restaurant in the world!
Why you’ll love it: Naples-area beaches are regularly ranked among the best in the world, landing on TripAdvisor’s Travelers’ Choice Awards for the Top 25 Beaches in the U.S. Families can learn to skimboard on Naples Beach; then take a stroll to the iconic Naples Pier, where fishermen hang their lines in hopes of a bite. For a peaceful beach scene, head to Tigertail Beach Park on Marco Island.
Boston has it all—the culture, the fantastic city parks, and a relaxed pace you might not expect in a city of its size. Baseball fanatics, young and not so young, will love Fenway Park, home of the Red Sox. You can take a guided tour, watch a game, and soak up some sporting history. Also check out the giant ocean tank at the New England Aquarium and board a Boston Duck Tour to be transported around this beautiful city on land and water.
Why: Slovenia is in the heart of Europe and borders the alps and the Mediterranean Coast. It’s a country that has a little bit of everything — mountains, beaches, pristine lakes, 11,000 karst caves, castles, a Pannonian Salt Plain, healthy water springs and city life in Ljubljana, European’s Green Capital. No wonder it’s been called the New Zealand of Europe. One of my favorite towns to visit is Piran, located on Slovenian’s Istria on the Adriatic Sea. Explore this coastal town — a little Venice — and savor a fresh seafood meal for under $10. It’s the perfect place to visit on foot. Meander through the alleyways and visit the market. Climb up to the city walls and to the top of the bell tower for spectacular views. Or rent a bike and cycle through the countryside. It’s an easy day trip from Ljubljana, but if you plan to stay the night, check into a luxury four-star hotel like Hotel Piran for just $80 a night. How to get around? Visit GoOpti for airport transfers as low as $9. If you want to carpool from Slovenia to Italy or Croatia, check their site for great deals. For example, you can carpool from Ljubljana to Venice for as low as $18. Round About Slovenia offers deals for tours around the country and even Croatia (how about a $45 half-day tour to Lake Bled?).
It's easy to unwind on this South Carolina barrier island. Parents eager to hit the links can book packages through local resorts, and the wide, clean beaches don't cost extra to enjoy. Families with aspiring naturalists will appreciate Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge's animal-filled hammocks, which are free to explore on foot or by bike. Read More »
Menorca is an oceanfront paradise with a prime setting along the Mediterranean Sea. Here, you'll find lower prices on food and lodging (as well as fewer tourists) compared to other nearby Spanish islands. Simply put, Menorca is perfect for frugal travelers who want to avoid the party scene of Ibiza and the tourists of Mallorca, and worship the sun in peace. (Getty Images)
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.
Lara is a travel writer and editor with a closet full of musty thrift store finds from all over the world. Her ideal vacation is a big city one packed with live music and good food, but she admits there’s also a place for relaxing by the pool. Her all-time favorite getaway was a month hiding out in Brooklyn, getting the best museum, gallery and foodie fixes. The udon noodles at Samurai Mama still haunt her dreams...
Just how cheap is it? Poland’s economy is swinging upward, but the price of traveling here is still indulgently cheap compared to other EU countries (that could change, though, so don’t dally). In its bigger cities -- Warsaw, Kraków, Wrocław -- you can get a centrally located, one bedroom Airbnb for $30 all to your lonesome. Polish food is notoriously cheap and filling, especially if you’re dining on pierogi and goulash in no-frills milk bars (cafeteria-like relics of Communist times). In Warsaw, you could ball out on craft cocktails at bijou bars (or just drink $1 Polish beers and vodka shots for that matter). Or treat yourself to a two Michelin star meal at Atelier Amaro, where the six-course meal is a reasonable $70.
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.
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.
What to do: After learning all about the game America loves, take the younger kids to The Farmers’ Museum and Tractor Land at Fly Creek Cider Mill & Orchard. Then, practice those swings at Barnyard Swing Miniature Golf. For some relaxing sightseeing, climb aboard the Cooperstown and Charlotte Valley Railroad or cruise Otsego Lake on the Glimmerglass Queen.
Where do we go on the West Coast? Explore California’s scenic coastal towns, have fun at Disneyland, tour Hollywood and check into a full service spa resort for a few days of pampering and relaxation. Some family-friendly ski resorts to try on the West Coast include Mammoth, Badger Pass and Snowmass. San Diego is a popular destination for families with kids, offering amusement parks, beaches, the New Children’s Museum, Maritime Museum and a zoo which will keep little ones busy.
What to do? Hike! How else are you going to get close enough to touch an actual glacier? The Going-to-the-Sun Road (one of the most scenic in the world) is also fun to bike, but it's best ridden early or late in the season when car traffic is minimal. The popular, open-top Glacier Park red bus tours allow kids to see wildlife from a safe distance and you to photograph without worrying about pulling over and parking. If you want to get out on the park's many glacial lakes, rent canoes or kayaks or book a boat tour with Glacier Park Boat Co.
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Why: The Central Coast runs roughly from Santa Barbara to Monterey and the string of small towns between San Simeon and Pismo Beach is an unexpected surprise for many California coast road trippers. This is where SoCal surf town meets fishing village, and otters and elephant seals share the spotlight with European masterpieces at the Hearst Castle. Veer away from the coast and in a few minutes you'll find yourself at the wineries of Paso Robles, with tastings that are half the price of Napa and Sonoma. Adelaida is open daily; for a special hilltop tasting, try their Vineyard Tour, Taste and Tailgate. An emphasis on eating local and fresh creates foodie-worthy dining options throughout the region. Pismo Beach and quaint Moonstone Beach in Cambria offer the largest selection of lodging with the best value outside of the holidays and summer. Guests at Cambria Shores Inn relax each evening in Adirondack chairs positioned perfectly to take in the sunset. Afterwards, take a five-minute stroll to Sea Chest Restaurant for local seafood or drive to the Cracked Crab in Pismo Beach where the Deadliest Catch crew dined and all things crab are on the menu.