It's time to start vacation planning for 2012. Last year we took the little guy to Disney World for 3 days of fun. I would love to go back next year but the prices are pretty steep now that we have to buy his ticket. I'm going to keep looking back for great deals for this trip but push come to shove, we will need to find another vacation spot. Any recommendations?
Book lover - Sewer - Movie lover - Mommy to a wonderful little boy (8/4/08) - Aspiring writer - On a mission to lose 15 pounds - all-around cool chick
We go on a few 3- and 4-day getaways throughout the year, but usually plan one full week somewhere. (This past year, it was Disney. And we only went when we did because the kids' tickets were free - it hurts when one kid goes from age 2 to 3 and you have to start paying for their tickets!) The key for us, cost-wise, is that we generally go on trips during the off-season. It saves us a ton of money and the crowds tend to be low.
For instance, last year, we spent President's Day weekend on Hilton Head Island. We booked at the very last minute - a couple of days before we left - because the weather was unseasonably warm, we stayed in a hotel (not on the beach) as opposed to a rental home, and the beach was basically secluded. It was great! (We live just outside Chattanooga, so not far from where you are, and Hilton Head was a very do-able road trip in one day.)
We're hoping the weather pulls the same trick this year around the same time, because we'd like to head back to that same area (though maybe closer to Charleston, or further south on Tybee Island.)
We did Asheville in September last year, and stayed in a cabin that we rented via vrbo.com for about $100/night. Gatlinburg is also great during the off-season, and smaller cabins can be had for $100/night (sometimes less!) with a full kitchen and a hot tub. I use vrbo.com for condos in Panama City, FL on the cheap as well.
Also, keep an eye on cruises. I am on a couple of email lists for cruise travel agencies, and had I not been pregnant, we would have jumped at the chance to go on a cruise this year. Especially if you wait to book at the last minute, GREAT deals can be had. I LOVE cruising, but won't do it unless I can book it for less than $50 per person per day (not counting taxes, tips, and extras), and I won't cruise on NCL or Carnival. (There was a cruise out of Port Canaveral that we could have gone on for $30 per person per day this week and we would've gotten an on-board credit and pre-paid tips...even if we never left the ship and hung out at the pool the entire time, the $30 per person, per day covers all of your food and the kids' club, so it's not bad at all!) Even when we figure in hotel cost for the night before the cruise and tips, it generally becomes a very affordable vacation, especially compared to Disney, if you are careful about what you do in each port.
But again, with cruises, the best deals can be had during the off-season (our favorite time to cruise is right after Thanksgiving/first half of December. It's warm in the Caribbean and most of the ships aren't completely overrun with kids like they are in the summer.)
DD 06/05, DD 02/07, DS 02/08, DD 01/12
I see you are near Atlanta. We did a fantastic trip this past fall to Callaway Gardens. We stayed at the Lodge during the week when rates were much lower (I think it was $79/night, but that could have been DH's government employee rate, I'm not sure). They also have a cheaper place to stay, but when I've been there it wasn't nearly as nice. We did a lot of walking (with kiddos in the stroller) to see things like their birds of prey show, their butterfly garden, there was a beach front that the kids liked playing in the sand (it was too cold for the lake), put put golf. It was a very relaxing trip and we all had fun. There's also a fireplace in the lobby and my boys loved drinking hot cocoa by the fire each evening we were there. I think most rooms have a refrigerator if you bring your own food to eat, but they don't have microwaves in the rooms.
Disney is much cheaper if you go during free dining time. We did this in January and it was GREAT. During free dining, you don't have to get tickets to the park for every day you're there, but you still get to eat free while you're on property (although eating options are more limited when you aren't at the parks). So, you can stay 7 nights, but only get park passes for 4 days and you can spend the extra days playing at the hotel, going to Downtown Disney, or visiting other attractions in Orlando. We've also rented a condo just off property where we were able to cook our meals and we just had to buy the tickets to the park. We've split a condo with my sister's family twice and only spent $150 for 5 nights (it was a 3 bedroom condo with plenty of room and a communal pool).
Like the previous poster, we've visited Asheville too and it's a LOT of fun.
Chattanooga is also a fun place to visit and very family friendly (like the previous poster, I live near Chatty).
We have visited the Gulf Coast of FL in the winter months and had a great time. We stayed in the stretch between Clearwater Beach and St. Pete Beach. There are lots of affordable condo rentals on the beach and many mom and pop low rise motels. I love St. Pete Beach, it has a funky vibe. The last time we were there we rented a 3BR condo right on the beach with a balcony. There was a heated pool at the complex and I think the cost was $175 a night. The 1 and 2BR were considerably less.
The beach is generally calm and the sand is wonderful to walk on, you can go for miles.
Free or low cost things to do in the area:
Suncoast Seabird Sancutary
We took a dolphin cruise late afternoon, it went around the bay for 2 or so hours. We saw lots of dolphins and it was fun and relaxing to be on the water
I always thought I wanted to take our kids to Disneyworld (I went as a college student, and loved it). Then we ended up taking a trip to Washington State when our twins were 4. They loved the Seattle Zoo, the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, Mt. St. Helens, and the Olympic rain forest. At that moment DH and I decided there were so many natural wonders in this country, we could do without the Mouse.
Our kids are 17 now, and they have been backpacking in New Mexico (including a side trip to the Grand Canyon); dogsledding in Minnesota; scuba diving in Florida; skiing in Montana. We live in North Dakota, so our shorter trips are to the Black Hills, the ND badlands, and Duluth.
Our favorite family vacation, however, is an annual week at a Minnesota resort - swimming, fishing, water skiing and tubing, and just relaxing by the lakeside. The best part is it's only 2 hours from home, so we don't waste a lot of our vacation time with travel.
If the chips are down, the buffalo is empty.
Do your research on this! We went this fall, and had the option of a room discount, free tickets for the kids, or free dining. (Apparently, Disney was hurting to get people in their parks!) If you don't normally eat the way the dining plan is set up, you may not save any money. We don't normally get desserts with our counter service meals (they are included with the dining plan, but when crunching the numbers, it doesn't make sense to include them if you wouldn't pay for them under normal circumstances), we wouldn't eat at a sit-down restaurant every day, we usually bring our own water into the parks, we don't drink much soda, tips for sit-down meals are NOT included in the dining plan, etc. We saved WAY more money taking advantage of a different offer. Menus with pricing are available online, so take an hour or two to do some math before you jump in with free dining. It DOES work for some people, but not all. (The original free dining plan was a fantastic deal, but it's all been going downhill since then.)
That said, next time we go, we're planning to stay off-site in a condo, since the kids had just as much fun swimming as in the parks, we want to save a bit more money cooking, there are other places, stores, and restaurants in the Orlando area that we like to visit, and we can find one that is on par, cost-wise, with the All-Star resorts and gives us more space, that it makes more monetary sense for us to do it that way.
DD 06/05, DD 02/07, DS 02/08, DD 01/12
Cruising can be a cheaper alternative. We went on a cruise this Fall for a reasonable price. Other things added up like our pre-cruise stay in NYC and our flights there but if you are driving to the port and only get a hotel for one night before the cruise, it can be manageable. I notice that you are in Georgia and if you have a reliable car you can drive down to Port Canaveral or FLL, MIA. Some hotels will let you park your car for free during the cruise with one night stay. If you are booking last minute there are cruises for as little as $50 per person per day. This includes great food, entertainment, lodgings and potentially visiting a new spot each day. They have a kids club where your little one can play. I never left mine there but we played and used their play area and activities. We sailed on Celebrity Cruise Line but Royal Caribbean and Carnival have more activities for kids and are typically cheaper.
Also try bidding for hotels on priceline. We stayed at the Hilton for 70% off regular rates. There are deals to be had but it just takes research.
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