Get in on the not-so-spooky fun for families with Great Wolf Lodge's annual Howl-O-Ween celebration, taking place now through Oct. 31, 2019.
Guests are encouraged to don costumes and join in daily activities, from monster bash dance parties and fall-fun crafting projects, to a trick-or-treat trail filled with interactive games and adventures that snakes throughout the resort. A fall tradition, families are sure to enjoy the spooky spirit at Great Wolf Lodge.
Howl, hop and hustle around Great Wolf Lodge as the Grand Lobby transforms into a spooktacular extravaganza complete with pumpkins and festive decorations. During Howl-O-Ween, guests can partake in complimentary programs including Twisted & Tangled, where children follow the spinner and try to stay on their feet to get a treat and be declared the winner. Guests can also enjoy Boo Bingo where five in a row gets them a bingo and yelling “boo” is the winning lingo.
Howl-O-Ween favorites include the Costume Parade, where children showcase their favorite costumes during an event in the Grand Lobby, and then attend a Monster Bash Dance Party.
On the Trick-Or-Treat Trail kids can play interactive games and collect candy at stops located throughout the Lodge. The trail features a Teal Pumpkin stop, offering a Great Wolf Lodge non-food treat for guests with food allergies, or parents looking to avoid too many sweets. There are also Howl-O-Ween overlays to the children’s activities throughout the season, including Spooktacular Story Time, Critter Cartoons, and Paws On Projects feature arts and crafts with a silly, not-so scary twist.
Other highlights of Howl-O-Ween include:
In addition to two days of play in the water park for each night stayed at Great Wolf Lodge, all the Howl-O-Ween activities are included for no extra charge. Activities vary daily and by location. A complete listing of daily activities and times can be found in the Lodge Life event schedule provided to guests upon check-in, verified in advance at GreatWolf.com or by calling the location directly.
Plan a snowy getaway with your family.
Here are five escape-worthy spots to consider:
The Sebastian, Vail, CO.
Splurge on a ski vacation and let the resort pros make sure your high altitude holiday goes off without a hitch. The Sebastian’s amenities-on-demand program can deliver ski and snow essentials to your room along with an energy-filled breakfast. Order up an extra pair of toasty socks, hand warmers for the kiddos or another round of sunscreen. Guests can also arrange to have a steaming bubble bath drawn prior to a return from the slopes.
Team up with the adventure concierge to plan a moonlight snowshoe adventure and ice-skating for the older kids while the littlest one plays in the Tykes Room. Should the kids need a break from the mountain they can also opt for hosted crafts in the Upper Lobby where creating hand puppets, finger knitting and experimenting with snow slime are possibilities. Should grown-ups need a break, the hospitality team is on hand to make restaurant reservations and scout for a babysitter.
Basecamp Hotel, South Lake Tahoe, CA.
Clever and cool, your kids will love the cozy options available at this boutique hotel, where exploring the local mountain community is encouraged. The Great Indoor Family Room sports a King bed for the grownups, adjacent to a wall tented room featuring bunk beds, a faux campfire, a picnic table and camp chairs. Designed as an alternative to a cookie cutter hotel, owners have repurposed “under-appreciated” buildings and infused them with “soul”. Happy hour includes homemade soups and stews. No surprise: s’mores are served nightly.
The National Park Inn. Mt. Rainer National Park.
Leave your technology behind and immerse yourselves in the beauty of this majestic setting in the Park’s Longmire Historic District. Check in to one of 25 rooms in the two-story lodge. Relax in the lounge and sip hot cocoa near the massive stone fireplace while enjoying stories of the day and making plans for the next. Visit the general store, a circa 1911 log cabin, for access to cross-country and snowshoeing rentals and other goodies.
You’ll find it difficult to emerge from the cozy lodge warmed by a roaring fire or your cabin crafted from indigenous materials. But when you do, choose from cross country and snowshoe trails that run deep into the woods or sunlit downhill runs on the slopes of Mount Timpanagos. Founded my film maker and conservationist Robert Redford, the resort offers family-friendly pottery, beading and printmaking classes in the Art Shack, winter fly-fishing and dining menus with an emphasis on organic and locally sourced ingredients.
Devil’s Thumb Ranch. Tabernash, CO.
Stay in a cozy cabin or opt to sleep in the High Lonesome Lodge where ranch guests steep in expansive views of the Continental Divide and the Ranch Creek Valley while channelling the pioneering spirit of early homesteaders. The centerpiece of the lodge is a reconstructed Civil War-era barn. Choose from 31 guest rooms and four suites, each with private outdoor patios and Adirondack-style rockers. Grab the binoculars to catch a glimpse of wildlife roaming on this 6,000 acre expanse of Colorado beauty or set out on the Nordic trails for an up-close view of winter scenes.
Sharks continue to fascinate kids of all ages. Here are five ways to plan a family trip that incorporates sea-faring adventure and facilitates a greater understanding of our oceans and the creatures that live in the sea.
1. Summer of Shark, Princess Cruises.
If your crew is known to binge on the annual Shark Week programming, you’ll want to join the cruise line’s Discovery at SEA program, offered in partnership with the Discovery Channel, for a fully immersive experience honoring the great finned creatures. Expect elevators, restaurants and other public spaces decked out in shark style as well as themed events, culinary offerings and other shark-centric festivities.
Children and teens can head to the newly designed Camp Discovery where age-appropriate shark-themed activities will be underway, including shark face painting, the crafting of shark clay models and shark inspired jewelry. For those seeking more of an adrenaline rush, ask about the shark diving and whale shark encounters available during some sailings.
2. Cancun, MX.
Swimming with the largest fish in the sea is a thrill worth seeking. Whale sharks reach lengths of 40 feet and can weigh 15 tons. Despite their imposing presence, the gentle creatures peacefully share the warm seas with visitors who arrive via boat from the shores of nearby Cancún. Two at a time, along with a guide, you'll don a life jacket or wet suit and fins before jumping in for a swim with these plankton-slurping vegetarians. No touching is allowed (the mega-fish are considered a "vulnerable species") but you can swim alongside as they thrust forward their supersize square jaws and begin filtering everything in their path like a water-born vacuum cleaner.
Contact: cancun.travel; solobuceo.com.
3. Atlantis Resort. Paradise Island, Bahamas.
Slip, slide and walk among sharks at this expansive island resort where families have access to141 acres of adrenaline-pumping water play. Head for the Leap of Faith slide at the top of the Mayan Temple, plop in an inner tube and hang on for the ride. You’ll twist and turn through a tunnel, dropping almost 60 vertical feet, before emerging in a clear, acrylic tube deep within a shark-filled lagoon. For those who want to stay dry, panoramic windows offer views of Hammerheads, Reef Sharks and barracudas. The more adventuresome can don specially designed underwater helmets and walk with the sharks inside their exhibit.
4. Cabo San Lucas, MX.
Join the trip to Cabo Pulmo to experience 300 species of fish, 200 marine invertebrates as well as Bull Sharks in what is called the world’s most “robust and healthy marine reserve”. For the more adventuresome (and those over 15) consider the Cabo Shark dive that includes swimming with silky, blue, smooth hammerhead and mako sharks. The organization’s founder and professional shark dive guide, Jacopo Brunetti, is an Italian marine biologist, PADI scuba instructor, and a shark behavioral expert. His goal is to encourage shark viewing and diving as an eco-sustainable activity.
Learning to scuba dive is a great way to learn about sharks and other creatures of the deep blue sea. Tom and Margo Peyton, co-owners of Family Dive Adventures, advise families to choose family-friendly destinations where the water is warm, clear and there is no current. They often recommend Bonaire, Grand Cayman and St. Lucia for beginners and early diving practice. The company provides group and custom dive trips and has certified more than 5,500 children during the last two decades. Ask about Kids Sea Camp, during which children and their parents learn about sharks, manta rays and the latest in global marine conservation. Contact:
Resource: Check out the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week programming for a massive menu of documentaries, videos, shark cams, virtual dives and “fintastic” facts. Contact: www.Discovery.com.
To begin, the name — Death Valley National Park — doesn’t immediately conjure visions of a lively holiday. And you’ve heard: It’s the lowest, driest, hottest place on earth. All true. But here, in one of the world’s most dramatic desert landscapes — a place of shifting sand dunes, multi-hued rock formations, and hidden canyons — you’ll wake before dawn to watch the rugged mountains turn pink with the sunrise. Then, come nightfall, you’ll marvel at star-filled skies as the desert wind rustles the palms. And you’ll wonder why it took so long to find your way here.
Full of Life
Death Valley has earned its “dry” reputation thanks to an average annual precipitation of fewer than 2 inches. In fact, no rain fell at all in 1929 or 1953.
Yet, Death Valley is full of life. From autumn into spring, the weather is positively heavenly. The occasional winter rainstorm ushers in vast fields of wildflowers. And a remarkable range of creatures, both great and small, have either adapted to summer’s harsh conditions or find refuge in the area’s diverse habitats. Not merely barren desert, the park also encompasses spring-fed natural oases, pinyon-juniper woodlands and even pine forests. With so much to see and do, the intrepid explorer should determine a base camp. Just a stone’s throw from the national park visitor center, The Oasis at Death Valley, comprised of the historic Four Diamond Inn at Death Valley and The Ranch at Death Valley, provides a well-situated solution with unexpected luxury. It’s a true oasis-like setting, with modern accommodations, fine dining and spring-fed pools, a welcome contrast to a day spent exploring salt flats, mud hills and volcanic craters.
Many Death Valley National Park visitors venture to this remote region 120 miles northwest of Las Vegas to marvel at the stark desert beauty and escape into the beautiful silence of the park’s vast expanses. But given that it is the land of stark contrast, why not create your own itinerary with a nod to the exotic landscape?
Mix in a massage under the Oasis’s date palms with a summit of the Mesquite Flats Sand Dunes. And pair a soak in the Inn’s healing waters with a mountain bike ride out Skidoo Road. Follow a jeep tour to a ghost town and enjoy a glass of fine wine, sipped al fresco on the terrace, as the sun sets in the valley below. You get the idea.
Wondering where to begin?
After the 1848 discovery of gold in California, the valley experienced more than a century-long mining boom. Most pioneers set out on a quest for gold and silver but were met with a notable lack of success. The only long-term profitable ore to be found in the region was borax, which was transported out of Death Valley with the famous 20-mule teams.
Today visitors can explore the once bustling towns of Chloride City, Gold Point, Panamint City and Ballarat, among others. Peer into abandoned mines, and step inside the old saloons, post offices and abandoned houses and imagine what life must have been like for these hearty Westerners.
Tee it Up
Bring your A-game (and your camera) to the lowest golf course in the world, The Furnace Creek Golf Course at Death Valley, at 214 feet below sea level. The hazards here include coyotes that like to fetch golf balls (you are allowed a free drop) and the perplexing fact that balls don’t travel as far below sea level. Recent renovations on Death Valley’s 18-hole, par-70 course addressed water conservation and transitioned 15 acres of maintained turf to desert with low-water-use native plantings. But the improvements didn’t make the course any easier. So, should the top-rated links humble you, look forward to the smile-inducing, 19th-hole grill and bar, complete with a drive-through for golf carts.
Scout for Wildlife
Remarkably, more than 400 animal species are native to the park, including dozens of reptiles, 51 different mammals and even six kinds of fish. You never know what you’ll see, so keep your eyes open for roadrunners zooming across the highway and coyotes feeding on fallen fruit in the date palm groves of the Inn at Death Valley.
Most of the park’s animals are nocturnal, so venturing out at dawn or near sunset when animals are active is your best bet. The park’s scattered water sources, including Darwin Falls, draw a wide range of animals. Carry a small pair of wide-angle binoculars. When possible, choose a spot that offers a wide view and stay put.
Swim and Soak
Back at the Inn, built on the grounds of a natural spring in 1927, a million gallons of fresh glacial water flow out of the ground daily. The naturally heated Travertine Springwater, a comfortable 84 degrees year-round, fills swimming pools at the resort and at the nearby Ranch at Furnace Creek. Because the water is continually replaced with fresh spring water, there’s no need to chemically treat the pools.
Explore by Jeep
Rent a Jeep, load up, and learn about the local geological and mining history as you wind through Titus Canyon, a 27-mile-long gorge through the Grapevine Mountains. Expect door scraping narrows when you encounter rock walls — hundreds of feet tall and only 20 feet apart — before rising via ribbon-like switchbacks. Along the way you’ll see American Indian rock art and learn about the early miners, lured to the region by the prospect of riches.
Strap on Your Hiking Boots
Stop by the National Park Service visitors center to learn about hikes within the park, for any fitness level. We love the colorful Mosaic Canyon and Badwater Basin salt flats, the lowest place in North America. Other options include an easy (albeit sandy and rocky), 1-mile round-trip up a canyon to Natural Bridge, the largest of the park’s natural bridges. Consider a hike along the rim of a volcanic crater just over an hour northwest of your base camp. Six hundred feet deep and a half-mile across, Ubehebe Crater looks like something you might find on the moon. It formed around 2,100 years ago as magma flowing upward from deep within the earth met pockets of groundwater, setting off a powerful volcanic steam eruption.
Be sure to practice safe hiking (bring plenty of water) in this rugged terrain. Ranger-led hikes, such as the 7-mile Death Valley Paleontology Tour that leads to Pleistocene-era fossils, are also available in season.
Explore on Two Wheels
With hundreds of miles of both paved and dirt roads, road and mountain biking are popular within Death Valley National Park during the winter months. Visitors can bring their own or rent mountain bikes at the Inn or the Ranch. Either way, resort staff members can suggest tried-and-true scenic rides and safety tips.
Marvel at the Amazing Night Sky
With its desert-clear air and miles-from-anywhere location, the expansive night sky at Death Valley is ablaze with stars. Because it has some of the darkest night skies in the country, it is designated a Gold Tier International Dark Sky Park, the highest level awarded. Don’t miss the ranger-led astronomy tours offered throughout winter.
It’s been said that Death Valley National Park is like a different planet. Apparently, George Lucas agreed. Rather than attempt to create a galaxy far, far away, he chose to film both “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope” and “Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi” in the national park.
Explore the otherworldly terrain that helped to inspire these classic films when you head to the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Desolation Canyon, Golden Canyon, Dante’s View and Artist’s Palette to stand where Luke Skywalker contemplated the Force in 1977.
Wonder at the Wildflowers
The wildflower bloom demonstrates the life that springs forth from late fall and winter rains in this 3.3 million-acre park. Each year’s display varies with the intensity of the bloom and the timing of the flowers’ appearance.
But it is not uncommon to see Desert Gold and Brown Eyed Evening Primrose or Notched Leaf Phacelia appear in mid-January or earlier. The full impact of the revitalization becomes most apparent between February and March but sometimes continues until June at higher elevations.
Change doesn’t come quickly in Death Valley National Park. Geological time remains the standard, human impacts are minimal, and the landscape is seemingly eternal. The coyotes continue to howl on the flats, yet a resounding silence prevails.
Once nourished by the vast, unexpected beauty and the startling contrasts, the change within will be yours to define.
If you go
The Oasis at Death Valley (formerly Furnace Creek Resort) sits in a lush oasis surrounded by the vast and arid desert of Death Valley National Park, California —just 120 miles northwest of Las Vegas and 275 miles northeast of Los Angeles.
The resort includes two hotels: the historic Four Diamond Inn at Death Valley, with 66 newly refurbished rooms and 22 all-new casitas and the more family-oriented, 224-room Ranch at Death Valley. Learn more at oasisatdeathvalley.com or call 844-236-7916.
You know Colorado, right?
World-class skiing, snow-capped mountains, frigid temps.
Yet, during a recent family trip from our mountain home to another part of the state, we were reminded of how much more there is to explore.
Rocky Mountain Divide
The famous Rocky Mountains run through the middle of the state, dividing the mountainous highlands from...well, essentially Kansas.
The Front Range is what the locals call the eastern foothills of the Rocky Mountains, and there is no uncertainty about where those hills end and the Great Plains begin.
The line of mountains looks like a long wave about to crash on a smooth beach. And it's a crowded beach. More than three fifths of Colorado's happy population live in the flatlands (albeit tucked up against the base of those majestic mountains), including the capital, Denver, and the hip college towns of Boulder and Fort Collins. Also in that list is the historic and sometimes overlooked Colorado Springs, the state's second largest metropolis.
So Much To Do In The Springs
The Springs, as locals abbreviate it, isn't absent from the national consciousness, strictly speaking, but it is surprising how its vast and diverse array of activities can remain a secret to most outside the state. Many know it for being the home to the stunning U.S. Air Force Academy and the U.S. Olympic Training Center, for its iconic view of Pikes Peak (where Katharine Lee Bates was inspired to pen "America the Beautiful"), and for the U.S. Air Force North American Air Defense Command or NORAD (actually inside Cheyenne Mountain, to protect it from a nuclear strike!).
And while it recently had some recognition for its move-worthy amenities and lifestyle with US News & World Report ranking it the 2nd most desirable place to live in the U.S., it is currently getting more well-deserved love as a tourist destination.
Families Take Note!
But families in particular should stand up and take notice of Colorado Springs. Per square mile, there may not be a more beautiful, diverse, affordable, family-friendly place.
Homebase for our Colorado Springs adventure was the Cheyenne Mountain Resort. Located on 200 acres, with golf, spa, a 35- acre lake with loads of water action, and plenty of hiking trails nearby, it was a grand location from which to explore.
Your family can sit around a beach bonfire, go paddle boarding at sunset, or play Marco Polo in the pool. There's also a Kid's Club to consider and special programs offered during summer and school holidays.
Of course the whole place started with natural beauty. Approaching the city from the east, you'll see Pikes Peak looming over it, just as the mountain's namesake, military explorer Zebulon Pike did in 1806. After the area was settled, it became famous for its healing climate and spring waters (of Manitou Springs). That attention in turn made visitors notice the exceptional aesthetic beauty that is still the soul of the place.
Of course natural beauty often inspires creative beauty, and Colorado Springs is a testament to that aesthetic connection. The Air Force Academy grounds and chapel are a stunning blend of modern architecture and design sprouting from the dense coniferous forest. And if all that doesn't inspire the kids, there are planes, gliders, and skydivers overhead all day long.
The Broadmoor Hotel is worth a visit, even if you're not staying. The grounds and buildings are breathtaking, and the activities in and around will keep you busy for easily an afternoon or more. The founder of Colorado Springs, William Palmer, built a castle, called Glen Eyrie, in the western foothills near Garden of the Gods that is today open to visit, tour, and relax for high tea (it is a castle, after all). And perhaps most inspiring are the Anasazi Cliff Dwellings above Manitou Springs. The dwellings were actually relocated from southern Colorado over 100 years ago to save them from further destruction by artifact poachers, but there is no better testament to Necessity as the mother of art and Nature as her muse.
All of these things are within 20 minutes of each other, making a visit more about experiences and family time than travel time. Particularly convenient is the Colorado Springs airport. If you can fly there from your home city, you'd likely save money on Frontier Airlines, or justify the extra cost of avoiding the time-sucking Denver International Airport. On a recent flight to Phoenix from Colorado Springs, our family timed our trip from car door to gate in less than 15 minutes, with a stop to check luggage!
If you go
Check out Colorado Springs Convention & Visitor’s Bureau for great family activities.
You can find a place for any budget in Colorado Springs, but check out these options that add some character, history, and entertainment into the package.
Located near the Broadmoor Hotel, the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, and North Cheyenne Cañon Park, this family-friendly hotel feeds kids 10 and under for free and offers packages to keep them busy while you golf, swim, hike...spa! It's also surprisingly affordable.
The Grande Dame of Colorado Springs hotels boasts a massive property with all sorts of amenities, history, and breathtaking view from its high perch. It'll cost you a bit more, but this is the life of the finer things.
WARNING: This North American chain is a self-contained family zone. With a massive indoor water park, restaurants, performances, and activities, Great Wolf will tempt you into never leaving the grounds. You must not let that happen. Our preferred strategy is one to two nights at Great Wolf and at least three more in a property that embodies the character and charm of Colorado Springs.
Did you Know?
It’s that time of year when we review recent adventures and plan for the year ahead.
Here are five ideas to inspire your family’s travels:
Travel for adventure.
Stoke your family’s passion for new experiences with Lindblad Expeditions and partner, National Geographic, through their recently launched Global Explorer’s program. Designed to inspire the next generation of global stewards, kids will hike up volcanoes; snorkel with sea lions; walk among giant tortoises, all while learning how to read maps, populate a field notebook, and build storytelling and observation skills. Celebrating 50 years of exploration, Lindblad launched the program in the Galapagos Islands and will expand to Alaska in 2018.
Travel to relax.
Check in to a luxury resort where the mesmerizing view, impeccable service and options for family fun will be enough to lower your blood pressure. At the Four Seasons in Jackson Hole, WY, slumber at the gateway to world-class skiing, hiking, fly-fishing and two of the most breathtaking National Parks in our portfolio of national treasures. Take advantage of the heated pool, top-notch spa and fine dining. Grown ups can plan a day touring local art galleries while youngsters are engaged by the smart kids program.
Travel with the whole family.
With busy careers and geographic spread, it can be challenging for the generations to spend time together. Group vacations can offer a workable solution. Cruises, all-inclusive resorts and resort rentals provide easy to predict pricing as well as built-in activities for every age group. Tour companies like Thomson Family Adventures specialize in crafting compelling itineraries that appeal to multiple generations, including departures for parents and adult children. Book spacious condos with resort rental site Vacatia and you’ll have the option to make payments and split the bill with family members using Flexpay.
Travel to learn.
A family trip is one of the best educational tools available. From guided tours in faraway places, to your own take on a local museum, you are sure to return home with new insights. Visit The National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Smithsonian’s newest and only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, history, and culture. The centerpiece exhibit, which explores the complex story of slavery and freedom, may provide a pathway for discussing current events. Gain new insight into our national tragedy during a heart-wrenching tour of New York’s 911 Museum. Learn about animal behaviors at a nearby zoo or animal park. In short, discovery adds to the magic of travel.
Contact: www.911Memorial.org; www.AZA.org; https://www.si.edu/museums/african-american-history-and-culture-museum
Use the bounty of easy access apps to make the most of your travel time and resources. Organize your details with Tripit. Make Gasbuddy your reliable, road trip pal. If your well-crafted plans go awry, know that HotelTonight can help track down a last-minute place to stay. And turn to GateGuru for airport security and restaurant intel should your family be faced with delayed flights or a long layover. Search Oh, Ranger! Parkfinder, by destination and activities to find great places to play in our parks and public lands. Then share your experience with friends and family via Postagram, which will deliver a photo and message via snail mail.
Contact: Tripit.com; GasBuddy.com; HotelTonight.com; GateGuru.com www.Sincerely.com/Postagram.com; www.ohranger.com.
Looking for luxury?
Here are five dreamy destinations that are sure to please:
Four Seasons Resort Lanai, Lanai City, HI.
It’s a lush island of contrast, where sea-faring activities and land adventures compete for your attention. Paring a family-friendly attitude with well-crafted luxury, your family will feel right at home amid the towering pines, tropical flowers and brightly-hued birds on the property. Spend the day at the beach where surfing, snorkeling, kayaking and turtle watching are on the itinerary. Play a round of sunset golf on the stunning, oceanside, Jack Nicklaus Signature Manele Golf Course, head out for a snorkel and sail adventure, or find your way to Shipwreck Beach in a high-clearance Jeep. Spa time, archery, clay shooting, hiking, horseback riding and off-roading are also options. Your youngsters will want to tap into the Kids for All Seasons program, where hula and ukulele lessons, story telling and lei making add to the holiday memories. Contact: www.FourSeasons.com/Lanai
Fairmont Grand Del Mar, Del Mar, CA.
What does it take to be named the Top Luxury Hotel in the US in the 2017 TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice Awards? Find out when you check into the family-friendly, Mediterranean -inspired resort. Lounge aside one of four, heated pools, check out the equestrian center, sign up for a guided hike into the adjacent canyon preserve, or consider a mother-daughter spa treatment. Get in the swing of things on the Tom Fazio-designed golf course or pile into the free shuttle for a day at the SoCal beach. Do yourself a favor and indulge in an adults-only evening at Chef William Bradley’s Addison restaurant, Southern California’s only five-star, five-diamond eatery. Contact: www.fairmont.com/san-diego/
Sugar Bay Resort & Spa, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands
Plan an all inclusive family getaway and enjoy stunning sea views, casual or fine dining programs and activities that are sure to have the kids falling into bed with a smile each night. There’s a half-day, kids program for youngsters ages four to twelve, water sports, tennis, mini golf, eco-tours, sailing and shopping. Scout for tropical fish while snorkeling or take your turn in a kayak. Stop into the spa for the treatment of your choice and enjoy a daily workout in the fitness center. Ask about current specials for those who book soon. (Temporarily closed due to hurricane damage. We wish them well.) Contact: https://sugarbayresortandspa.com
Regent Seven Seas, Alaska.
Are you eager to sample the wild beauty of our 49th state? The cruise includes unlimited shore excursions, the heart of any Alaskan adventure, and promises glaciers, mountains, historic ports and wildlife viewing. Relax in the on-board Canyon Ranch Spa or settle in for enriching lectures about the region. The Club Mariner program provides special activities and experiences for children. Ask about special youth pricing. : www.RSSC.com/Alaska
Turtle Inn, Placencia, Belize.
A holiday trip to this Central American outpost offers an extraordinary bounty of experiences packed into a short time frame. This trip offers a chance to explore ancient caves, get immersed in Mayan culture and kayak through freshwater lagoons. You can also snorkel above the second largest barrier reef in the world, hang out with spider monkeys, loggerhead turtles, toucans and kingfishers, and watch the sunset. End your trip at the Francis Ford Coppola-owned, 25-room, seaside refuge where you will fall fast asleep to the sweet song of the natural world in your thatched-roof bungalow. Contact: www.CoppolaResorts.com/TurtleInn; www.TravelBelize.org
Ranch life continues once the snow flies!
Located approximately 130 miles west of Denver, Colorado, Latigo Ranch is situated in one of the most beautiful places on earth and offers a panoramic view of the Continental Divide.
Guests can drink in the views, inhale the crisp mountain air, and gaze in awe at some of Colorado’s most spectacular scenery from the front porch of the ranch’s historic log lodge. Guests will experience warm hospitality and winter activities, cross country skiing, snowshoeing, and tubing that keep Latigo Ranch guests coming back year after year.
The outdoor activities are as invigorating as the inside comforts are cozy. Winter rates and packages start just before Christmas and run through late March.
Port Aransas, Texas Offers a Reasonably-Priced Beach Vacation during These Economic Times
Many families in Texas (and beyond) enjoy vacationing in Port Aransas, as the island on the southeast part of the state offers a truly economical trip for families of any size.
Historically, Port Aransas (referred to as “Port A” by Texans) has been one of the state’s top beach destinations. Not as far south as South Padre, Port Aransas is approximately 4 hours from Austin/ Central Texas so the distance is drive-able for most (which is appealing for many families). The island offers quite a few options for family accommodations. An ideal location to park your family for a visit is at Port Royal, situated out of town on Highway 361.
Located on the more secluded beach, the walk from condo to beach spot is a quick jaunt over the boardwalk (close enough for a quick bathroom trip while on the beach). Another option I highly recommend is Beachgate, which is located on the busy public access beach. Beachgate III, the most recently-renovated building on property, is the best bet. You have several options, depending on the size you need. You can reserve just one condo, which is 2 bedroom/2 bath, and can sleep up to 8 people (2 king beds, 2 futons and an air mattress). Also, you can reserve two condos on the same floor, which are adjoining, and you have 4 bedrooms/4 baths. This option is ideal for multiple families traveling together or a family reunion. There are 4 floors in Beachgate III (2 condos per floor).
You’ll find a lot of benefits to both locations for a family vacation. You can drive up, park your car, and not get back in until it’s time to leave (a huge plus for us families with young kids!). Both condo properties have fully stocked kitchens and plenty of space to entertain, including spacious dining areas and living rooms. I recommend bringing all your food and drinks and feeding your family in your condo. That way, you have plenty of food, snacks and drinks to take down to the beach with you, as well.
If you’re at Port Royal, it will be a 20-minute roundtrip to the grocery store in Port Aransas. When your troops get tired of the beach, you also have the option of swimming in the two Beachgate pools, which are great for young kids because they are fairly small and shallow. There are also hot tubs next to each pool. My kids enjoyed hanging out on the beach all day and finishing up the evening in the pool. At Port Royal, you’ll find this a perfect spot for off-season, also. We visited in February and, although we could not enjoy the beautiful palm-tree lined pool, we could certainly enjoy the three hot tubs alongside the pool area. Each one is large enough for a family to enjoy.
Highlights of Port Royal:
1. Quiet section of the beach and very peaceful during off-season.
2. Beautiful pool area with slides, hot tubs and poolside dining (in the summer). 3. Spacious and modern condo unit that could easily sleep a family of six. 4. DSL plug-in Internet access.
Highlights of Beachgate:
1. Easy access to the beach (no boardwalk or dangerous streets to cross with kids)
2. Large renovated condos with full kitchen, dining area, living area and 2 bedrooms with king bed in each. Each bedroom and living room has a flat-screen cable TV. 3. The property offers an array of different sizes and styles of accommodations, from large condos to small suites. 4. For those of us that work while on vacation, there’s high-speed wireless Internet in each condo.
A few important points to consider:
1. At Port Royal, each condo is individually owned. Therefore, you can’t be sure what type of unit you will end up with unless you’ve been there before and can request a certain unit. Some will be more modern and comfortable than others, depending on the furniture, furnishings and kitchen. They have 1, 2 & 3-bedroom condos.
2. If you like a busy beach, you’ll prefer Beachgate. If you like a more peaceful location on the beach, you’ll prefer Port Royal, which is at marker #68.
3. The exterior is less appealing than the interior at both (I’d always rather have a nicer interior than exterior, if I had to choose). But the condo we were given at Port Royal was beautiful and modern. Beachgate III is nicely renovated.
4. Don’t forget plenty of sunscreen, buckets and shovels for the beach. You’d rather not have to purchase these items onsite.
My top two suggestions on your family vacation to Port Aransas are: Fins Grill & Icehouse is a relaxed restaurant if you enjoy eating right on the water. The grill has laid-back options such as appetizers, seafood and burgers. You can ask for a table outside that puts you right on the back patio, overlooking the bay. From here, you can watch the boats come and go out of the marina.
During your stay, make sure and rent a golf cart dune buggy from Coastal Ed’s in town. Coastal Ed is a great guy and very helpful. Your kids will love riding the dune buggy on the beach and around town. Coastal Ed’s has open-air carts (versus others that will be more closed) and is gas-powered vs. battery-powered.
You’ll have a great day cruising the beach in your bright yellow ride!
Port Royal Ocean Resort
6317 State Hwy. 361,
Port Aransas, TX 78373
Beachgate CondoSuites & Resort
2000 On the Beach Dr., Port Aransas, TX 78373
Fins Grill & Icehouse
420 W. Cotter, Port Aransas, TX
Coastal Ed’s Coastal Cruisers & More
513 N. Alister St.,
Port Aransas, TX 78373 361-749-7001
Marika Flatt has been a freelance travel writer since 2002, writing for publications such as GoodHousekeeping.com, Austin Lifestyle magazine, Austin Woman magazine, ChickVacations.com and Plate & Vine. She lives with her husband and 3 children (who love to travel) in Austin, Texas.
I learned about the basic American hotel room from Howard Johnson in the 1960’s. Two double beds with back boards bolted to the wall, two fake oil paintings above said backboards, a stand in between the beds with a lamp and phone, a standard bathroom, and a TV. The last time I checked, little has changed. When you book a room in the USA you know exactly what you are getting.
This is not the case overseas. Europe has a 1-5 star rating system that is extremely consistent. But the stars have more to do with the amenities offered than the overall glamour quotient. My family quickly found that three star hotels were the right match for us. They were affordable, often family owned, clean, and came with breakfast in the morning. But the similarities stopped there. When it came to design, well, let’s just say that half the adventure of our day was exploring our night’s lodgings.
First, when you make reservations you must specify how many people will be in the room because you are charged per person rather than per room. Since we always wanted to be together, we would ask for a room for four people thinking that would be easy: two queen beds, Ho Jo style. But that was simply not the norm. Because there is no norm. Sometimes we’d get a double and two singles, or three singles and a sleeping bag, sometimes bunk beds, and sometimes four singles jammed into a space that looks like it could hold only a double. And the beds were not always lined up in neat symmetrical fashion. They were jammed in whatever way worked like pick-up-sticks that fall every which way.
Some of the rooms were cozy with wood furniture and pretty wallpaper. And some were as austere as prison cells with a tiny window that opened onto a dark alley. And the bathrooms, well, talk about an adventure all its own.
These are some of the unique styles that we have had the pleasure of sampling:
1. The shared bathroom down the hall. No comment.
2. The tiny bathroom that doubles as a shower. There is no shower curtain to cordon off the shower area. Simply a shower head in the ceiling and a drain in the floor. The entire contents of the bathroom gets soaking wet including all of your make-up and toiletries. After toweling off you feel this pressure to towel off the entire bathroom. Very time consuming.
3. The tiny bathroom that has a little shower curtain but no basin on the floor so the whole bathroom fills up with water since the drain usually is very slow and you have to slosh around in an inch or two of sudsy water while you attempt to towel off and get dressed. At least your toiletries and make-up are safe. But be careful not to drop the hairdryer.
4. The tiny bathroom with a shower curtain and a basin to catch the water. This is an appreciated upgrade. Even more so when the water temperature doesn’t alternate between ice and lava while you are showering.
5. The mid-sized bathroom with no shower. Only a tub with a hand held spigot for rinsing. Bath tubs are not necessarily designed for pampering, unless of course your idea of relaxing involves bending all of your joints at 90 degree angles at the same time. Again, this bathing experience usually ends up with water all over the bathroom floor as the absence of a shower curtain insures that the water from your hand held sprayer will bounce off your head and shoulders and land anywhere outside the tub. Besides, it is inevitable that at least once during the bath you will forget about the sprayer and will turn it in some unexpected position and it will spray all over the room. Usually hitting your make-up and toiletries.
6. The fancy bathroom. Once in awhile we would luck out and get a spacious bathroom with a big tub and separate shower. We would feel like royalty and take turns soaking in the tub after dinner thinking about the good old days when this was just a normal occurrence.
7. My personal favorite was the bathroom in the hotel outside Siena. This bathroom, presumably to save space, had a molded shower/bidet contraption that was cylindrical in shape. (God help the people that were over 140 lbs because there was no way the door would close) Besides the fact that you had to shower in the previous tenant’s bidet residue, you were sure that any moment you would be beamed up to the Enterprise in your birthday suit to meet Captain Kirk and the crew.
And another thing.
You will invariably find a cord hanging in every shower or bath. It is affixed to this little box that is stuck to the wall high above your head. Presumably it is to call for help if there is an emergency. What, exactly, are all of these bathroom emergencies that are going on all over Europe? Why have we not heard of these on CNN or FOX News? If you do pull on it (and you have no idea how tempting that is) does someone magically appear to help you? Does that someone look like Andy Garcia in a towel?
There is something to be said about all of this diversity. It has been amusing, creative, and entertaining. It has been the fodder for countless breakfast conversations and night time giggles. It somehow feels more human, and the fact that they are family owned makes them cozier. Maybe it’s the pride that goes into it, or the ‘make-do’ spirit. Or the individualism and personal touch of the owners who welcome you upon arrival and whip up breakfast for you at dawn.
It certainly made us wonder how a country such as ours, based on the strength and freedom of the individual, could evolve into a nation where everything looks the same.
Where’s the individualism in that?