Travel-and-Leisure Articles

Saturday, April 11, 2009

10 Family-friendly Places to Visit Before the Recession Ends

10 Family-friendly Places to Visit Before the Recession Ends

The current recession has hit hard, from the largest corporations down to each individual. At best it has caused financial belt-tightening among some, at worst it has devastated others. No one is completely immune.

But there is a silver lining: The travel industry has felt the effects, too, which has caused some of the best deals in a very long time to become available. Travel suppliers (airlines, hotels, cruises, car rentals, etc) need people to travel.

The current economy has made family travel, in particular, abundantly affordable. Yes, individual travel is also affordable, but do the math and you'll see why family travel is economically hot.

My family totals five people so I have to account for the travel costs of four additional people. My co-worker (and site editor) Melanie Nayer recently raved about an amazing deal in Jamaica this year (it truly is amazing) that she is considering. It's a great luxury vacation for less, especially for an individual, but can it equate to a cheap vacation for a family of five?

The hotel is offering an all-inclusive experience (room, meals, drinks, activities, transfers, taxes, tips) for a fantastic rate. Bonus: kids under 12 stay and eat free. There is a four night minimum though, and I would have to pay to fly all five of us there. But factor in the free meals, free drinks and free activities that the hotel is offering and the deal is great even for a family of five.

There are destinations meant for everyone and every family. If you have the means to travel, now is the time to do so. In some cases, it would be cheaper for you to travel than to send your kids to camp for a week (I know from experience). Food for thought.

I’ve compiled a list of some of the more family-friendly destinations that you should consider more closely this year, mainly because all of these places now are within reach financially:

1. Hawaii:

Yes, it is a long flight even from the West coast, but once you are there it is so worth it. Last year, when fuel was over $4 per gallon, Hawaii travel was out of reach for many people. It just took too much fuel to fly there and thus added extra cost.

Now that fuel is 58 percent less than it was last year, airfares have dropped. If you have to pick one island, I highly recommend Kauai (although you can’t go wrong on the other islands). Kids will love playing in tide pools, seeing Waimea Canyon, and will be mesmerized by Wailua Falls. That is, of course, if you can get them to leave the beaches long enough to explore the rest of the island.

2. Las Vegas:

Take advantage of cheap airfare deals to Las Vegas and then head off in the opposite direction to explore the desert. Check out Hoover Dam (30 miles away); Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area (20 miles away); Grand Canyon (about 200 miles away); Zion National Park (170 miles away); even Scottsdale, AZ is nearby. In Las Vegas, there are options other than whether to play blackjack or poker.

3. London:

Cheapflights’ world headquarters is in London. Every time I go there, I always think how much I want to bring my family on the next trip. For such a big reputation, London feels small when you're there.

It is a city easily walked and has a great mix of historical sites (Buckingham Palace, Big Ben) and more interactive activities (London Eye, Taussaud’s Wax Museum). Restaurants and hotels are equally ample. Plus, the value of the dollar has strengthened dramatically in Europe making it even more affordable once you are there.

4. Cruise:

(Full disclosure: I’ve never actually been on a cruise but I have always been interested in trying it.) With some of the great deals we are seeing now, this just might be the year to hit the high seas. The nice thing about a cruise is there is truly something for everyone.

The vacation can be whatever you want to make it and in most cases, you stop at three or four ports so there's a nice variety of sites to see. Many cruise lines are offering package deals that include airfare and upgrades to more premium cabins. I couldn’t offer a top 10 list without this making the cut.

5. Australia:

Summer of 2008, you would have had a tough time finding a good deal from the U.S. to Australia. It was just too far and required too much jet fuel to get there. What a difference a year makes.

Today, Australia airfares range from $900 - $1000 per round-trip ticket, which makes this one of the more expensive places on this list. However, these are actually great deals for Australia. The point of this list was to stretch the boundaries and show you how to afford something that may have been out of reach before. Once there, Sydney offers excellent museums and cultural activities. Head to the Gold Coast for wonderful beaches and some neat water parks.

6. Seattle:

Ask anyone what the weather is like in Seattle and they will mention rain. It does rain there, but it’s actually not nearly as bad as is portrayed. Seattle has a laid back attitude that makes stress and anxiety a thing of the past.

Explore Pike Place Market, take advantage of the many parks throughout the city, see the Space Needle, or rent some kayaks and explore Puget Sound. If you have some extra time, you could set your sights on Vancouver, home of the 2010 Winter Olympics.

7. Chicago:

It’s a quick and direct flight to Chicago for most. For the price of a taxi ride, spring for a flat rate and catch a limo ride from the airport to the city, which will excite adults and kids. Once in the city, you don’t need to rent a car – you can either walk or take the El (subway) to most of the popular sights.

Rent bikes to ride along the shore of Lake Michigan; visit Navy Pier, or spend time in the world class museums. Head out to Wrigley for classic old-time baseball. But most of all, make sure you leave room for the best deep dish pizza you will ever have.

8. San Francisco:

Ok, this one is for my East Coast contingent. Not only have airfares come down dramatically, but you have several more airline options at your disposal as JetBlue and Virgin America expand their offerings.

Take your kids to Alcatraz, ride the cable cars, and explore the recently developed water front (not Fisherman’s Wharf which is very touristy). Rent bikes and ride over the Golden Gate Bridge.

You have a ton of hotel options at your disposal from big name chains to boutique smaller properties. A good airfare in 2008 ran around $400 round-trip per person. This year, you’ll pay closer to $250. How’s that for affordable?

9. Orlando:

I hesitated with this one, I really did. Many parents don’t look forward to a visit to Disney while almost every kid would jump at the chance. I get why, believe me, I do. However, with the Orlando flight and hotel deals that abound (many including park admission as well), a trip to Orlando definitely makes sense.

I have three kids under 9 years old and the wonderful Disney marketing machine has made an impact. I know firsthand how badly kids want to visit. Why pay more once the recession ends?

10. Ireland:

It use to feel like stepping way back in time when I visited Ireland 15 years ago. Today, my brother lives there so I’ve been quite a few times. Although the major cities have stepped into the 21st century, you can still feel the old world charm when you visit the outlying countryside.

True, I have a free place to stay when I visit (and no, I am not divulging my brother’s address), which helps contain my costs. However, Melanie recently booked a trip to Ireland for the summer - the notoriously peak-travel season - and found great rates on hotels in top cities.

For only $92/night, she nabbed a one-bedroom suite along Ireland's West Coast. The hotel has an equestrian farm on site for horseback riding, and is only a few miles from one of the most breathtaking sites in the world: the Cliffs of Moher.

Rent a car (they drive on the opposite side then we do in the US so be careful!) and drive to Kinsale which is one of the prettiest seaside towns I have ever seen. Head up north and tour the Ring of Kerry on your way to Galway.

(Another hotel deal: Melanie booked a room at a bed-n-breakfast in Galway Center for $80/night.) On your way back, leave some time to explore Killarney which is beautiful, as well. Your kids will love the outdoor activities Ireland has to offer and you will love the slower pace (and the fresh Guinness for lunch…or maybe that was just me).

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