By Eileen Ogintz
Tribune Content Agency
Are you ready to trade snow boots for flip-flops?
You’ve never needed a little fun in the sun more than now after a winter that’s repeatedly buried us in snow and ice — even in the South — and given us school snow days that have wreaked havoc with parents’ work schedules.
Spring break these days is more for families than for college kids, as parents find it easier to grab a few days off in spring rather than summer when the kids have jobs, summer school, camp, sports practice and everyone at work is vying for the same vacation days. In fact, spring has become one of the most popular times for families to visit Orlando, the vacation capital of the country. (TIP: If your kids aren’t in school yet, wait until after April to visit The Mouse!)
No worries if you didn’t plan a spring break, even though it’s coming up in a couple weeks.
The good news is it’s not too late to get away for a few days, whether your gang wants to ride the latest theme park attractions in Orlando, cheer on your favorite baseball teams during spring training in Arizona or Florida, head to the beach (you don’t need a passport to go to Puerto Rico, Hawaii or the U.S. Virgin Islands) or even a ski slope where you can play in the snow rather than shovel — or curse — it. Spend a weekend splashing in the water slides at a Great Wolf Lodge water park resort (the Great Wolf Lodge New England is set to open later this spring).
Here are five guaranteed-to-please ideas that won’t bust the budget:
1. Tour the nation’s capital where most museums and attractions are free, like gazing at the stars in Rock Creek Park at the only planetarium operated by the National Park Service, touring the National Mall at night and some of the Smithsonian’s 19 museums. (You can download activities from “Awesome Adventures at the Smithsonian: The Official Kids Guide to the Smithsonian Institution”). Visit the pandas at The National Zoo! The National Cherry Blossom Festival starts March 20 and lasts until April 13 and even includes a special Blossom Kite Festival. There are plenty of freebies (or nearly free). My “Kids Guide to Washington, D.C.” can help the kids lead the way.
2. Alternate beach time with museums and attractions like SeaWorld, the San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park and LEGOLAND. Stay in San Diego or nearby Carlsbad with its seven miles of beaches and proximity to nearby attractions, including Disneyland and plenty of kid-friendly hotels.
3. Let the kids lead the way as you explore a favorite city — Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles or San Francisco — or one you don’t know well (Portland, Ore., for your junior foodies, Indianapolis to tour the largest children’s museum in the country, Philadelphia to get up close and personal to the Liberty Bell) over a long weekend when hotel rates drop at full-service business hotels. If you’ve got high school sophomores and juniors, include a college tour or two. Amtrak offers significant discounts for kids. Check websites like Getaroom.com and Hotels.com, or check vrbo.com or airbnb.com for apartment rentals in cities you want to visit. Official city tourism sites will have the latest deals and special family offerings. Let the teens peruse sites like Yelp or Chowhound and plan a special lunch or dinner out with you. (NYC Restaurant Week lasts through March 7 with three-course lunches for $25 and dinner for $38 at nearly 300 restaurants.)
4. Cruise away from a port near your home — you have more than two dozen to choose from — for three days or a week. The big news for cruising this spring is more ships, bigger ships and more homeports to save families from purchasing air fare just to board a ship. (Kids 11 and under cruise free on MSC Cruises, and teens cruise at a discount; look for deals that include discounts and shipboard credits.) Check websites like www.discountcruises.com for the latest deals and get custom advice from one of their agents. Alternatively, you can visit a travel agent near your home who is a cruise expert. Just be mindful of the kids around the cruise ship pools. There aren’t always lifeguards.
5. Play in the snow at a snow sports resort where, hopefully, the sun will shine. Rates drop in spring and kids 12 and under ski free at Keystone Resort every day of the winter season without any blackout dates. (Families must stay two or more nights in one of Keystone’s numerous owned and operated accommodations.) Check out the daily Kidtopia activities and don’t miss the huge ice fort at the top of the mountain. At the Aspen resorts kids stay, rent, ski and even eat free all March and April (as long as you book in advance and purchase lodging and a three-day adult lift). Go on a unique canopy tour above the snow in Bretton Woods, N.H., or Big Ski Montana. Channel your inner-Olympian in Park City, Utah or Lake Placid, N.Y., where you can take a bobsled ride down an Olympic track. Look for late-season deals across the country from Vermont to Colorado to Utah.
6. Head to the sun whether in Arizona (split time between a Scottsdale resort with a great water playground and the Grand Canyon), Florida or the Caribbean. Let the deal be your guide, especially if you are flying. You can save significantly if you book air, accommodations and rental cars together.
Start planning! You’re guaranteed to feel better as soon as you do.
© 2014 EILEEN OGINTZ, DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.