THOUGH VACATION TIME IS SUPPOSED TO BE A TIME FOR relaxation and fun, planning a getaway for the whole family can too often prove more stressful than staying home.
But carefully planning how to get there and what kind of fun you'll have once you do, can ensure an enjoyable family vacation and minimize the are-we-there-yets along the way.
A host of resorts and attractions cater to families looking to get the most experience for their vacation buck.
Disney cruises advertise family packages; priced per family member, and all inclusive with entertainment, meals and the like.
Caribbean resorts offer getaways for a set price as well. Package add-ons, such as a scuba package, can be purchased in advance.
Hitting the open road? Consider visiting any of America's 350-plus national parks. Most tourism offices and state park officials will send information packets and recommend accommodations. All you have to do is choose from anything between glaciers and deserts to canyons and redwood trees. Most locations offer a Junior Ranger program to keep kids interested and busy. And don't think camping is just about a sleeping bag on the hard ground. Many state and national parks have deluxe cabins and yurts available for very little cost. Be sure and book way, way ahead, though, as there are few and they fill up quickly.
Think outside the box and venture abroad. Travel agents can help plan locations in other countries that kids and parents will enjoy. Thinking exotic, how about an African Safari? Travel agents have immediate access to a long list of wilderness adventures available in a range of price and comfort zones.
From jungles and old castles to a week with Mickey and Minnie, with a little planning, the possibilities are endless.
Mom and dad might be perfectly content at a quiet B&B or relaxing on a private beach, but kids want activities and entertainment. Plan a quiet, stuffy adult getaway and kids will ensure it's anything but!
First and foremost, get the whole family involved in planning the trip. Choose a local travel agent or round up a stash of brochures and spread them out after dinner one night to get a conversation going. The earlier you plan, the lower rates you'll find on airfare and accommodations.
"Properly planning for these vacations can mean the difference between a successful vacation and a disastrous one," says Burgess Travel Inc. owner Ron Burgess.
An experienced travel agent can help you plan your vacation by offering tips and suggestions about the different places that you might want to go. From family-oriented Disney cruises to tropical resorts, finding a kid-friendly destination is key. A tropical getaway is nice, for example, but not for the kids if it caters to nudists.
While some places don't necessarily beckon to families, there are a host of places that do. In planning activities, work out details ahead of time.
Families who plan lots of time in the water should check for weather conditions and water issues such as red tide or jellyfish. A camping getaway? Avoid fire season. For theme parks, consider a visit during the off-season for lower rates and shorter lines.
On the flip side, says Chuck Brook of Medford's Express Travel Inc., cruise lines and resorts often provide a children's and/or teen's program, allowing parents some alone time, too. A final detail to iron out, select a method of travel based on distance.
If the family wants to take a camping trip a few hours away, driving is feasible, especially during a time of day kids are likely to snooze. Longer trips are best done by air. Consider an adventure by train if it jives with other plans.
For a lengthy trip, pack portable music and movie players and plenty of snacks and toys. When long flights are unavoidable, minimize layovers if possible.
"If you have a three, four, five-hour layover — and sometimes people don't plan things — it starts out for a bad vacation," Brook says.
Finally, consider finances. Sometimes a small escape with plenty of "extras" is more enjoyable than a longer trip with little cash left over for fun. Watch for group rates and package deals on hotels, meals and attractions.
A bit of advice, some upscale resorts are more expensive and have more rules.
"A lot of times [a] family of six would like to go to Disneyland, but most of the standard rooms will accommodate five so they'll require you have two rooms, which is fairly expensive for Disneyland," Brook points out.
"But you can find some off-site resorts that will cater to families with [something] like a one bedroom suite that will save you hundreds of dollars a day."
Brook adds, "Most people start out with Disney, which is great if you can afford it, but if you stay across the street you can get a family suite for half the price. The way I figure is, if you save $200 a day, you have that much more money to spend inside Disney."
Most importantly, kids will go along for any sort of adventure as long as mom and dad seem enthused. Burgess encourages parents to involve kids — assign jobs, such as trip photographer or map navigator.
Look at destination websites together, talk about activities, the weather and other details of the trip. Traveling to a foreign place? Sample potential new foods at a local restaurant and learn a few key phrases like "hello" and "thank you."
Finally, don't over-plan. Allow for time to sleep in, relax and just hang out. Most importantly, plan for some down time after the trip to get ready for the inevitable return to reality!