Tuesday, July 12, 2011

For the Love of Family Vacations

"Hey, hey easy kids. Everybody in the car. Boat leaves in two minutes...or perhaps you don't want to see the second largest ball of twine on the face of the earth, which is only four short hours away?"
- Clark Griswold

Ahhhh, family vacations! When I was young my childhood friend, Katie, would drive to Florida every year with her parents and five siblings. At the time I thought it must be the most glamorous vacation ever. Now that I have four children, all I can do is admire her parents for their patience!

My name is Maria Anderson and I round out the team of co-owners here at MTS. The travel industry is such an exciting world to me because it is ever-changing. I love being a lifelong student of geography, tourism, economics and let's face it - leisure! I recently got back from a fun-filled weekend up north with some high school girlfriends. Every year we go on a little getaway where we laugh, relax, and laugh a little more. This year was no exception. On the way home we started chatting about how expensive it's gotten to rent a cabin and it got me thinking about family vacations. If we thought that cabin was expensive and we were only paying for a quarter of it, imagine the cost for a family that has to pay full price!

I know that airfares have been elevated in the past few years. We used to see last-minute deals for as low as $99 round trip, and it's just not happening anymore. Last year, if families waited until January or later to book their Spring Break vacation, they were stuck paying $700 a ticket or staying home! Many wise families have now opted to put a deposit on their trips early to lock into a good rate and take advantage of Early Bird discounts that many resorts offer. The other trend I've been seeing is families forgoing their warm weather Spring Break destinations and instead driving to a cabin or resort up north.

It sounds like a great idea, right? Rent a two bedroom cabin for three nights, go fishing, take long nature hikes, roast marshmallows by the campfire, sing Kumbaya (or in my family's case growing up, playing Rambo along the trails of Gooseberry Falls). Oh yes, the memories you can make with your kids up north are truly priceless, they just aren't as price-less as you might think. Yes, you are saving on airfare and depending on the size of your family that can mean all the difference. But remember that two bedroom cabin I mentioned? It was $479 per night. It was clean and comfortable, but definitely not the lap of luxury you would expect for that price. It did not have a kitchen or fireplace, just two bedrooms, a little sitting area and a small deck. While you could certainly bring some snacks and a cooler for drinks, you would still be paying for meals elsewhere. Your inexpensive family getaway has quickly become much more than you had planned. The cabin alone has set you back $1437. Factor in gas, three meals a day, a drink or two at the pool or beach, watersports such as a pontoon or jetski rental, and all the myriad of incidentals that our kids can talk us into (t-shirts, candy, ice cream, slushies, that one bouncy ball that they HAVE to have and lose in three minutes) and you suddenly have yourself a $2000 vacation.

Well, the good news is this: it is still possible to take a warm weather family vacation at an affordable price, and the best way to do that is all-inclusive resorts.You pay one price up front, and do not have any surprises after that. The kids can eat whenever they are hungry, and most all-inclusive resorts have at least one buffet-style restaurant, so you and your little sweeties can pick out what they will actually eat and they will finish their plate. (How many times have you paid for each of them to have a meal only for them to take four bites and say they're full?!?) There are also kids' programs and non-motorized water sports available so you'll never hear, "I'm bored!"

One of the deals I found is a three night August getaway at the Holiday Inn Sunspree in Montego Bay, Jamaica, where kids 11 and under stay for free. A family of four can pay as little as $1650 for their entire stay! This includes round trip airfare, transfers to the resort, meals, beverages, water sports, tennis, mini-golf, nightly entertainment, hotel taxes and gratuities.

This resort is perfect for families because it is just a short ride from the airport (no "Are we there yet?") and there is so much for your little bundles of energy to do. There are seven different dining facilities and a wonderful children's program where kids can play pool games, all kinds of sporting activities, crafts, put on their own concerts and hang out in the kids' disco. There is also a large family activity pool where you can all rest and play together, which is something families rarely get the chance to do anymore. Sounds like paradise!

Another option is the Sea Adventure Waterpark and Resort in Cancun. No "spring breakers" or honeymooners here! This is truly a resort that was made for families from top to bottom. A family of four will pay as little as $1690 for three nights at this waterpark/resort, and the best part about Cancun is that you can often find great rates on non-stop flights, which makes traveling with children a LOT easier!

Surrounded by tropical palms and fragrant flowers, this classic oceanfront retreat offers families comfortable accommodations, decorated with bright colors and authentic Mexican decor. But the most rewarding moment will be seeing your munchkins' eyes light up when they see the waterpark that they will automatically have access to, where waterslides, mini-golf and playgrounds will keep them active and entertained throughout your stay.

If the Caribbean is not your style or you don't have time to get passports, consider Orlando for a nice getaway. While a full-time Disney vacation might be something you'll have to save for, there are ways to cut costs in Orlando. Three nights at the Clarion Inn Lake Buena Vista with airfare costs as little as $1140 for our imaginary family. Now, this is not an all-inclusive resort, but kids stay free, and kids nine and under receive free breakfast and/or dinner when accompanied by an adult. This hotel also offers free shuttle service to Disney, Universal, and Sea World, so if you wanted to add on a day pass to any of those parks the choice would be yours.

No matter what you decide to do for your family vacation, rest assured that in the eyes of your little darlings, you will be a hero. In this day and age of year-round sports, dance, band and seemingly endless activities, it is important to take the time to just get away from it all and be together. Even if they won't stop poking each other or bickering like the brothers from Ocean's Eleven, some day they will look back and laugh with each other at the memories created on these trips, and I promise you, you will never regret it.

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