Where will you venture this year?

What sounds appealing? A warm, sandy beach? An active, alpine adventure? Here are seven ideas to consider as your family plans for the year ahead.

1. Consider Costa Rica.

More than a quarter of this Central American country is composed of natural and conserved territory, making it an extraordinary destination for nature lovers. Surfers give the richly diverse nation top marks as do adventure lovers who visit the small country for river rafting, hiking, biking, canopy tours and volcano watching. Families can take advantage of wildlife or culturally-focused volunteer vacations, clan-friendly resorts and beachside boutique accommodations. Pura vida, the local’s friendly attitude and approach to life, provides a hospitality-rich backdrop.

Contact: www.visitcostarica.com; AustinAdventures.com.

Visit Alaska in 2014

2. Amazing Alaska.

Still America’s last frontier, our 49th state offers year round adventure for families.  Scope for whale tails while cruising the Inside Passage, celebrate more than 100 years of sled dog racing on the Iditarod Trail or explore the far reaches of Denali National Park. Learn about Alaska’s native culture, hike and bike in the backcountry or make wildlife watching the centerpiece of your adventure. A favorite among anglers, wade the state’s rivers and streams and you’ll return home with amazing fish stories and pictures to prove your prowess.  A free vacation planner is available to help get you started.

Contact: www.travelalaska.com

float the grand canyon in 2014

3. Float The Grand Canyon.

Whether you travel by raft or dory, for a few days or a few weeks, the majesty of the Grand Canyon may well provide a transformative experience, as it does for many visitors.  This national treasure stretches 277 miles across northern Arizona, and plays host to more than five million visitors each year.  From your craft on the Colorado River, geologically diverse canyon walls rise as high as 9,000 feet toward the western sky. Hike the side canyons, plow through storied rapids, relax on sandy beaches and revel in the grandeur of one of nature’s finest accomplishments. You’ll want to go back for more.

Contact: www.oars.com/grandcanyon;

cruise the carib in 2014

4. Cruise the Caribbean. 

Now rated fourth in the country in cruise traffic, the addition of Galveston as an important point of departure, offers sea-faring travelers expanded opportunities.  Four cruise companies – Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Disney and Princess – offer itineraries ranging from four to eight nights on board ships bustling with activity and entertainment.

Cruise companies eager to lure parents with young children as well as multigenerational clans, provide a smorgasbord of kid-thrilling options ranging from wave machines and super slides to teen lounges and zip lines. Deals abound, particularly for those with flexible dates.

Contact: www.Galveston.com

Take an african safari in 2014

5. African Safaris. 

Multigenerational families celebrating a “milestone moment” are among those seeking the excitement and adventure found on safari.  And more tour operators, eager to capture this growing segment of the market, are creating itineraries that cater to both ends of the age spectrum. The chance to observe a lion stalking his prey, a wildebeest migration or to learn the customs of the Masaii people are experiences more families are putting at the top of their lists.

Contact: FamilyAdventures.com; AustinAdventures.com; Wilderness-Safaris.com.

6. The Bahamas.

You’ll find grand resorts in a bustling enclave as well as small getaways on tiny spits of sand just 50 miles off the coast of Florida.  Choose your preferred environment from among 700 islands surrounded by crystal clear water and the world’s third largest barrier reef. Visions of snorkeling, fishing, ecotours, horseback riding, boating or just relaxing on soft, sandy beaches will provide plenty to compel your family to consider a visit to this breathtaking archipelago. 

Contact: Bahamas.com.

Ski Keystone with kids 2014

7. Get some altitude!

Are you ready to embrace winter sports? Perhaps this is the year to push beyond the local sledding hill and expand your winter sports experiences. Lace up the skates, strap on the snowshoes, learn how mushers round up their sled dogs or consider an ice climb. Go downhill, cross-country, into the back-country and then warm up in a steaming hot spring. Skate ski to dinner served in a yurt or ride aboard a horse-drawn sleigh headed to cozy cabin where you and your family can savor supper served fireside.

Contact: www.Colorado.com. www.VisitMontana.com. www.SunValley.com, www.VailResorts.com

 

Published in Destinations

Are you ready for a getaway? Plan your own classic American holiday. Here are fun-filled ideas to help you create an iconic family vacation:

Take a Road Trip.

A concept often parodied on television and in the movies, the family road trip continues to be a source of fun and happy memories for clans across the country. Play games, sing songs, tell stories along the way. Access the American Automobile Association’s plentiful and user-friendly information on road conditions, weather, deals, discounts, and gas prices. They can also help with roadside assistance, travel planning and maps.

Contact: 1 (800) 332-6119; www.AAA.com.

Make your way to the Mountains.

Fill your lungs with pine scented air. Raft the rivers, wonder at the wild life or travel by horseback into the backcountry. A visit to a mountain destination like Jackson, WY will offer you and your family the best of the great outdoors paired with a glimpse into our western heritage. Take in the rodeo, a cowboy cookout, visit the hot springs and the Grand Teton National Park.

Contact: 1 (888) 838-6606; www.jacksonholewy.com.

Head to the Beach.

You may have a family favorite or build sand castles on the beach closest to home. However, if you are looking for a new sandy spot, consider the annual list created by coastal expert Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman, Director of Florida International University’s Laboratory for Coastal Research. For the last 20 years, “Dr. Beach” has used 50 criteria, including water, sand quality, safety and environmental management, to rank seaside playgrounds. Beaches in New York, Florida, California, Hawaii and North Carolina top the lists. Contact: www.DrBeach.org.

Relax at the lake.

With more than 1,000 miles of shoreline, Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks is a family favorite. In addition to boating, swimming, fishing and a wide range of water sports, generations of lake lovers enjoy hiking in the nearby state park, biking, mini-golf and water parks as well as access to plenty of restaurants, music and other kid-friendly attractions.

In Montana, Whitefish Lake is a family favorite. With Glacier National Park in the neighborhood, you can't go wrong. 

Contact: 1 (800) 386-5253; www.funlake.com; www.ExploreWhitefish.com

Visit a National Park.

Celebrate our freedom and the beauty of our land within one of our 392 national parks. With so many historical and natural wonders to discover, consider heading to the National Park Service’s web pages, specifically designed to help regular and first time visitors plan a meaningful trip. There you research park activities as well as camping, back country, lodging and educational options. Across America each day there are special events, institute and field schools as well as volunteer opportunities. Check for fee free days and Junior Ranger programs for the kids.

Contact: www.nps.gov/pub_aff/plan_your_visit/index.htm

Get Sporting at the Wintergreen Resort. Wintergreen, VA.

Parents can join their kids for group golf lessons and then head to the course to refine their skills. This is a family-friendly resort on the eastern edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains and offers up a range of easily accessible sporting options. With 45 holes of championship golf as a cornerstone, families can enjoy a holiday that includes a children’s program at The Treehouse, hiking, fly-fishing and an award-winning tennis program.

Contact: 800-926-3723; www.wintergreenresort.com

Published in Gather

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.

port royal

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.

port royal

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

 800-242-1034

www.port-royal.com

Beachgate CondoSuites & Resort

2000 On the Beach Dr., Port Aransas, TX 78373

361-749-5900

www.beachgate.com

Fins Grill & Icehouse

420 W. Cotter, Port Aransas, TX

361-749-8646

www.finsgrillandicehouse.com

Coastal Ed’s Coastal Cruisers & More

513 N. Alister St.,

Port Aransas, TX 78373 361-749-7001

www.PortAGolfCar.com

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.

Published in Destinations

Port Aransas, Texas Offers a Reasonably-Priced Beach Vacation during These Economic Times

Beachgate CondoSuites, the Ideal Location for Families

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 (called “Port A”) 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 so the distance is drive-able for most (which is appealing for many families).

The island offers quite a few options for family accommodations but an ideal location to park your family for a visit is at Beachgate CondoSuites. Located on the public access beach, the walk from front door to beach spot is just about 100 yards (close enough for a quick bathroom trip while on the beach).

You’ll find a lot of benefits to Beachgate 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!). Beachgate condos have fully stocked kitchens and plenty of space to entertain.

I highly recommend Beachgate III, the most recently-renovated building on property. 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).

The condos are very spacious, clean and the property tries to accommodate guest’s needs as much as possible. 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.

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.

Highlights of Beachgate CondoSuites:

  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. The exterior is less appealing than the interior (I’d always rather have a nicer interior than exterior, if I had to choose). But do not be scared off by the photos on the website. Beachgate III is nicely renovated.
    2. Make sure and ask for items not found in the condo that you need, such as shampoo/soap, cleaning supplies, etc.
    3. In each of the Beachgate III condos, there’s one large bathroom and one smaller (for the kids).
  • The Beachgate III condos have an exterior wood door with a bolt lock but the sliding glass doors off the patio do not lock (the office said none of them do but we got one of the two to lock). But if you are worried about this as a safety issue, ask for a condo/suite that is completely locked up. However, Port Aransas is a safe area, on the whole.

Beachgate CondoSuites & Resort

2000 On the Beach Dr., Port Aransas, TX 78373

Phone: 361 749 5900

 www.beachgate.com

Published in South