Travel Q&A: Ask KidTravel
In this travel column, Nancy Schretter, Managing Editor of the Family Travel Network, answers real family vacation questions from some of our readers.
Recommendations for Single Parent/Son Getaway
Q. Do you have any good resort suggestions for a weekend getaway for a single dad and his 7-year old son? I need something within easy traveling distance of New York City and New Jersey. R.B., New York City, NY
There are a number of family-friendly weekend spots close to New York City and New Jersey. Rocking Horse Ranch, an all-inclusive resort ranch located about 90 minutes from New York City, wows families with trail rides, hay rides, indoor and outdoor pools, a private lake with loads of watersports activities, miniature golf, theme parties, scavenger hunts and more. Single Parent Travel takes groups of single parents and kids there every year and the trip gets rave reviews. Woodloch Pines Resort in the Pocono Mountains Lake Region of Northeast Pennsylvania is just 2 hours from New York City and northern New Jersey. Woodloch's list of family oriented activities and amenities is expansive, and includes an indoor pool, bumper cars, family Olympics, sports and activities on the lake, mini-golf, contests, and other events. Most guests choose the Traditional American Plan here, as the meals and homemade bakery items are delicious. To experience a little bit of Europe without leaving the country, head to Mohonk Mountain House. Situated on Lake Mohonk just 90 minutes north of New York City, this Victorian castle has been delighting families for well over 130 years. In addition to an indoor heated swimming pool, the resort has 85 miles of hiking trails through the property's 2,200 scenic acres and many other seasonal activities that parents and children can do together.
Summer Multigenerational Cruise
Q. I'm beginning to plan a multigenerational cruise next summer for an extended family group of over 20 people. My own family did a Caribbean cruise on Royal Caribbean and loved it, but I'm not sure if that's going to be the best thing for my parents and my husband's folks. They like to have quiet places to relax, and all the activity and noise might be a bit too much for them. Most of the kids in our group are between 8-13, but there are a few younger ones as well. What cruise line would work well for kids, parents and grandparents? A.N., Oakton, VA
Holland America truly excels at multigenerational cruising. Based on what you've told me about your group, I think that cruise line would be an excellent choice for your family vacation. Holland America understands the unique needs of multigenerational groups traveling together and has designed their ships and programs to offer something special for each family member. The cruise line's Signature of Excellence program totaling more than $225 in enhancements fleetwide has resulted in many new features and improvements, such as significantly expanded kids and teens programs, larger spas, new interactive Culinary Arts Centers, opportunities for open restaurant seating, and the new Explorations Cafe. Holland America's Explorations Cafes are some of the most beautiful shipboard spots I've seen, providing a quiet place to enjoy coffee, browse one of the largest libraries at sea, surf the Internet, and watch the world go by. The cruise line's Club HAL program offers a wide variety of supervised, age-specific activities for children ages 3-12, while the teen program caters to guests ages 13 to 17. Kids in the 8-12 age group have an area that features Sony Playstations, arcade games, foosball, Karaoke, and family-safe Internet access at a minimal charge. This group has their own program of daily activities including golf putting, arts & crafts, deck sports, karaoke, cooking programs in the Culinary Arts Center, parties and more. Since teens crave their own space, Holland America created a special area on all their ships called The Loft - a teens-only lounge where they can hang out and enjoy a full menu of daytime and evening activities including music, games, movies, karaoke and parties. The Oasis, a teens-only sun deck area, is also available on most ships. Holland America's special Family Reunion Program for families booking a minimum of eight or more staterooms would also probably apply to your group. The Family Reunion Program includes:
* Special group pricing
* Fountain Soda Card for every member of the family group (good for 20 glasses of fountain soda and a souvenir cup)
* One family photo per stateroom
* Lunch for the entire family in the Pinnacle Grill Restaurant, the alternative dining venue onboard the ship
* A special Head-of-the-Family Reward for one stateroom in the 8+ stateroom group, which includes all of the amenities list above plus a complimentary upgrade from an outside stateroom to a verandah stateroom.
We cruised on Holland America in the Mediterranean this year and saw so many multigenerational families having fun and enjoying each other's company. As I was coming back onboard the ship one day, I rode up the elevator with a grandmother and her cute ponytailed granddaughter. "This is the best trip ever, Grandma!" exclaimed the little girl as she pulled her grandma close. "Can we do this again next year?" The grandmother absolutely beamed in response. Having been in your shoes before, I know those words would be music to any vacation planner's ears. Holland America does an exceptional job catering to multigenerational families and the cruise line has wonderful summer itineraries in Europe as well as Alaska. Both destinations are proven winners for multigenerational trips. A good cruise consultant can help you choose the ship and itinerary that will best fit your group's interests and needs.
Top Dive Location That's Exciting For Non-Divers, Too
Q. I'm an active mom with two boys, ages 8 and 10. My husband enjoys doing lots of diving on our family vacations, but my sons and I don't dive. I'd like to find a place that has great diving for my husband, but also lots of things for my sons and I to do. We like to snorkel, swim and hang out on the beach, but I'd like to go somewhere that has other activities, too. We've already been to Maui and the Cozumel/Riviera Maya area. Any suggestions? D.L., Houston, TX
For many years, Scuba Diving Magazine readers have voted Bonaire as the best destination for both beginners and advanced divers in their Readers' Choice Awards. Bonaire has miles of protected marine life and underwater formations, warm water temperatures and excellent diving conditions. It would be a perfect spot for your husband and the Bonaire National Marine Park has well over 80 top diving and snorkeling spots from which to choose. It's important to note, however, that Bonaire has so much more to offer than just what's happening under the sea. You and the boys can learn to windsurf at Sorobon Beach, one of the most kid-friendly places for windsurfing on earth. In fact, the Pro Kids Bonaire windsurfing competition is held there each year. Sorobon Beach is sort of like a giant bathtub filled with clear, warm water. Its sandy entry, shallow depth and steady trade winds make it perfect for young windsurfers. Head to Jibe City or Bonaire Windsurf Place for lessons. Land sailing is another popular activity for families and Landsailing Bonaire has the largest track in the world. Blokart sailing is one of today's fastest growing eco-sports and it's my favorite land-based activity on Bonaire. You can learn to sail the blokart in less than 10 minutes and once you try it, you'll have a hard time tearing yourself (not to mention your sons!) away from the track. No visit to Bonaire would be complete without seeing the island's resident pink flamingos by Bonaire's salt pans or around Gotomeer and taking a tour of Washington Slagbaai National Park. Other great activities include horseback riding, kayaking through protected mangrove areas, biking, caving, fishing, and visiting Klein Bonaire, a pristine uninhabited island just off the coast of Bonaire. Klein Bonaire's white sand beach is one of the most beautiful I've seen and the snorkeling there is excellent. Bonaire's local art studios, such as JanArt Gallery, are well worth a visit and a small selection of shops and souvenir stores can also be found along Kralendijk's Kaya Grandi. The Divi Flamingo Beach Resort is a good place for families to stay, with a PADI five star dive operation, good snorkeling spots, two swimming pools, a small beach, and studios with kitchens for families. If you need even more space for your family to spread out, try the one- or two-bedroom suites at Harbour Village Beach Club.
Family of Five-Friendly All-Inclusive
Q. I have three children under the age of 10 and it's been really hard for us to find an all-inclusive resort that can accommodate five people all in one room. Do you know of any nice all-inclusives for families with 3 kids in Mexico? K.L., Pasadena, CA
This is a big issue for many families and we've been receiving a number of inquiries about this lately. Here are some Mexican all-inclusive resorts that will accommodate families of 5 in the same room:
Cancun: Crown Paradise Club
Riviera Maya: Sandos Playacar Beach Resort, Sandos Caracol Resort & Spa, Grand Palladium Colonial, Grand Palladium White Sand Resort
Puerto Vallarta: Barcelo La Jolla de Mismaloya, Melia Puerto Vallarta
Los Cabos: Dreams Los Cabos
Manzanillo: Barcelo Karmina Palace Resort
Sally Black of VacationKids, a full-service agency specializing in family travel, is very familiar with this issue and has posted a complete list of family of five friendly resorts on her website. The list also includes EP and all-inclusive hotels in the Caribbean that can accommodate families of five or more as well.
Caribbean Vacation Without The Crowds
Q. Every time I plan a vacation to the Caribbean, I have this picture-perfect idea in my mind of some unspoiled place that my family can enjoy together. Instead, we get there to find high rise hotels everywhere, beaches crowded with tourists, mediocre food, and crazy competition for chairs at the beach and the pool. Honestly, is there still an island in the Caribbean that has good resorts for families with a nice beach and pool, but still isn't completely overrun with people? We want to go during the kids' winter or spring break. M.P, Deerfield, IL
The picturesque, unspoiled Caribbean is still alive and well -- you just have to know where to look. The island of St. Kitts changed its focus from sugar cane to tourism only three short years ago, so the 23-mile long island is not yet very built up and only 36,000 people call the island home. The terrain of St. Kitts is quite diverse, with lush rainforests and beaches on both the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. The St. Kitts Marriott Resort is a beautiful family-friendly resort with a lovely golden sand beach, three pools, numerous restaurants, an extensive Kids Club program, a large spa and fitness center, and a championship 18-hole golf course. Guest rooms and one-bedroom suites are available in the resort鈥檚 main building, and one- and two-bedroom suites are available in three-story garden houses. The beach at the St. Kitts Marriott has many cabanas for shade, chairs are plentiful at the pools, and spa treatments for kids and teens are also available at the resort. Although the island of St. Kitts is very laid-back, there are plenty of good restaurants and diversions available. Visit pretty Cockleshell Beach and have lunch at the Reggae Beach Bar, the new home of Wilbert the pig. Kids will enjoy petting Wilbert and watching for the many green vervet monkeys that live in the area. The St. Kitts Scenic Railway (also known as the "Sugar Cane Train") provides families with a unique way to tour the island. Kids will enjoy exploring Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park, and fashion lovers can make their way to Romney Manor where Caribelle Batik produces handmade dyed clothes and colorful wall hangings. Another unspoiled sister island, Nevis, is just a short 45-minute ferry ride away. Other less crowded Caribbean destinations include St. John and St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Out Islands of the Bahamas, Anguilla, Grenada, Belize, the British Virgin Islands (particularly Virgin Gorda or Anegada) and Turks & Caicos. We stayed at Providenciales' Ocean Club West in Turks & Caicos and both the all-suites resort and beach were lovely. Remember, periodic cruise ship arrivals on some islands can occasionally fill even the most pristine spot with tourists for a few hours. If you're planning to go off-property to explore or take a tour, make sure to plan your excursions for days when a cruise ship is not in port. Ask your resort's concierge or check on www.cruisecal.com for more information on cruise ship arrivals.
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