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Ready for summer vacation?

With five weeks to go, now is the time to plan a great trip

With five weeks to go, now is the time to plan a great trip

April 28, 2006|by KRISTIN WILSON

When you think summer vacation with your kids, do you think sandy beaches and palm fronds, or do you envision camping out and taking hikes?

Does your family feel more comfortable on the beaten path, or do you look for an adventurous destination?

Whatever your dream retreat, with the summer vacation season less than two months away, it's time for families who plan to get away from it all to be thinking what, when and where they want to vacation and how much they want to spend, say local travel agents.

"People need to think about family vacations before the end of school," advises Mary Anne Recher, leisure manager at Carlson Wagonlit Travel, east of Hagerstown. "There are times in the summer when there might not be as many choices," especially at popular destinations, she says.

Planning now also will help avoid confusion and overlap with preplanned summer camps and summer programs for children, she adds.

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The need to plan early is compounded by a growing trend of families traveling earlier in the summer, Recher says.

"June has become a very popular month for travel this year," she says. "From the time the kids are getting out of school until mid-July is very popular."

She attributes that to weather concerns since the two most recent hurricane seasons have been particularly severe. Hurricane season officially runs from June 1 to Nov. 30 but usually peaks between August and October, according to the Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory.

June and July are also ideal for many families because many sports-related camps kick off in August, leading into the fall sports season, Recher says.

With so many options for vacationing, it can be difficult to choose a destination, especially when kids and parents have different ideas about their ideal retreat.

When Recher's kids were young, her oldest child loved amusement parks, but her second child did not. When they traveled together they looked for destinations where they could do sightseeing some days and amusement parks at least one day to help make everyone happy, she says.

Finding destinations that have a variety of activities and landscapes work well for families with a variety of interests. Taking a trip to the Williamsburg, Va., area, for example, includes plenty of historical stops for the history buff, a Busch Gardens amusement park for thrill seekers, lots of shopping and plenty of museums for wandering.

"There are some places where you can cluster activities so that everyone has options," Recher says.

Summer family vacations have definitely changed in scope and variety, says Connie Richards, owner and vice president of Richards World Travel in Hagerstown.

"I remember that family travel used to mean a mind-numbing road trip to grandma's or a cramped time in a cabin somewhere," she says. "All that's over now."

Here are some ideas of the more popular summer destinations for people in the Tri-State area:

· The Disney vacation

Approximate cost for a family of four: $2,000. That is the estimated cost of hotel accommodations for a week and a week of visiting the Disney amusement parks in Florida. The estimation does not include meals or transportation costs.

"Disney is always a big one," says Recher. The Orlando, Fla., area has much more to offer than Disney World, however. The Universal parks and SeaWorld are concentrated around Orlando and there are plenty of day trips to take from the entertainment hub. Busch Gardens is in Tampa, Fla. Daytona Beach, Cape Canaveral and the Atlantic Ocean beaches are all accessible in the state.

· All-inclusive beach resorts

Approximate cost for a family of four: $3,500. That generally includes airfare, meals, accommodations and some activities.

All-inclusive resorts can be a great option for family travel, especially families with children younger than 12, Recher says. Many resorts offer big discounts for young children, and they can stay for free in some cases.

Families like the convenience of all-inclusive packages, especially since meals on vacation can get expensive, Recher says.

The Beaches family resort chain offers many family-friendly resorts in the Caribbean and the Turks Islands and Caicos Islands, Richards says. Some locations include a tie-in with "Sesame Street," with life-size, Sesame characters making appearances throughout the vacation. The resorts also offer video-game centers with "unlimited free play on Xbox," according to the Beaches Web site.

· A family cruise

Approximate cost for a family of four: $3,500. That's the average price of a seven day cruise, including meals and airfare.

The cruise industry has expanded over the past decade to offer a wide variety of cruise experiences. Increasingly, there are cruise ships geared specifically for families, Richards says. Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas is one that offers family suites with several adjoining bedrooms and a lounge. The ship also features a rock wall, an on-ship surfing pool, multiple swimming pools and an ice skating rink.

"We've seen more and more families cruising," Recher adds. "You've got this great accommodation. There are a lot of inclusions in the price." Cruise ships geared toward families usually offer daily childrens' programs and activities and some have separate dining areas for kids and adults.

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