Did you know that one of Santa’s favorite pastimes is actually surfing?
Floridian’s were the first to uncover St. Nick’s secret, which is why, each Christmas Eve, Cocoa Beach (the Surfing Capital of the East Coast) hosts its annual Surfing Santas event.
This fun and free event has proven to be a big attraction (and photo opp!), pulling in more than 800 Santas and 10,000 spectators annually. It gets better though - Surfing Santas has also raised more than $60K for local charities, most notably The Florida Surf Museum and Grind for Life.
Check it out!
If you don’t have children of your own or yours have left the nest, it’s still possible to experience the joys of travel through the eyes of a child.
Plan a trip to any of these five places with a niece, nephew, grandchild or young cousin and you’ll forever be a rock star relative:
Beach vacations are hard to beat.
Toddlers build sand castles. Teens socialize around a volley ball net or work on their tan.
Adults enjoy a little peace and a paperback.
Here are eleven beach destinations that offer sun, sand and something more:
Caneel Bay, St Johns Virgin Islands.
Once a favored getaway for Laurance Rockefeller and family, this 170-acre island paradise is tucked within the Virgin Islands National Park, a protection made possible by Rockefellar’s land donation to the government in 1956. Today, family travelers can hike park trails and swim, snorkel, dive, kayak and sail in the pristine waters of the resort’s bays and inlets. Youngsters can enjoy a complimentary kids club experience while parents opt for tennis, relaxation on one of seven beaches or a massage in an open-air cabana. Plein aire art classes are also available for the creatively inclined. Contact: 340-776-6111; RosewoodResorts.com/en/caneelbay (Recovering from hurricane damage.)
The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman.
Wrap yourselves in luxury (and those deliciously cozy bathrobes) and enjoy a seaside holiday. Stow yourselves away inside the lush grounds or spill onto the famous Seven Mile Beach where snorkeling, beach walking, sand castle building can engulf the day. The hotel’s Cousteau-inspired Ambassadors of the Environment program offers more than 40 three-hour learning programs each week, designed to send family members home with a greater understanding of the islands as well the interconnectedness of the natural world . Contact: 800-241-3333; www.ritzcarlton.com/grandcayman
Bitter End Yacht Club. Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands.
Are there Jack Sparrow fans in your clan? This haven for sea-loving sailors and beach-goers is known for a plethora of harbors and cays that once served as refuge for Blackbeard and other sword-bearing swashbucklers. Their fanciful stories still abound. Your family will also enjoy sailing and other kid’s camp activities, kayaking, snorkeling, hiking, yoga classes, fishing and spa services. Contact: 800-872-2382; www.BEYC.com. (Recovering from hurricane damage.)
Atlantis Resort. Paradise Island, Bahamas.
With more than 140 acres of lazy-river rides, 18 adrenaline pumping slides and 11 pools, the kids may never dry off. Swim with the dolphins, join yoga and family fitness classes on the beach, and make arts and crafts. Check out The Dig, inspired by the legend of Atlantis, where an underground maze mixes tales of mysterious royal treasure with live eels and piranhas. Teens will love the swanky 14,000 square foot nightclub Crush. Contact: 1-888-877-7525; www.Atlantis.com.
Curtain Bluff Resort, Antigua, West Indies.
Visit this laid back, but luxurious, family-owned resort for an all-inclusive experience that offers extensive water sports including water skiing, deep sea fishing, snorkeling, paddle-boating, tennis, yoga, and sailing. As the kids burn off energy post another delicious meal, relax in a hammock you’ll find tucked within the palm trees. Spend an afternoon at the spa where open air massages provide a perfect end to sports-filled day. Contact: 888-289-9898; www.CurtainBluff.com.
Hilton Head Island, SC
Miles of bike trails, parasailing, plenty of golf, tennis and of course 12 miles of great beaches make this barrier island a popular destination for families. Scope out the blue herons or spot dolphins on the horizon. Contact: www.HiltonHead.org.
Club Med Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.
If your kids (or you for that matter) have dreams of joining the circus, this seaside, all-inclusive resort is for you. Kids fly through the air on a swinging trapeze, learn juggling, acrobatics and other circus tricks and then provide a demonstration for the family at week’s end. A picturesque beach and extensive programs for kids from babies to teens, make this resort a great choice for active families. Contact: 1-888-932-2582; www.ClubMed.us.
One of our family favorites, the long, wide stretch of sand is home to the iconic Hotel Del Coronado, which provides easy access to the water and a host of sea side activities. Get out your boogie board, take surfing lessons or watch Navy seamen from the nearby base train along the beach. Contact: www.beachcalifornia.com/coronado
Assateague Island, MD
Assateague Island, home to Maryland’s only ocean State Park, is a barrier island bordered by the Atlantic Ocean and Sinepuxent Bay. Two miles of ocean beaches offer swimming, beachcombing, surfing and fishing. On the bay side explore secluded coves by canoe or kayak. Check out the marsh areas for a variety of wildlife including the famous feral horses. Contact: http://www.atbeach.com/mdstpark/index.asp
Swim in the still waters of Nantucket Sound on the north side of the island or choose the Atlantic beaches on the south shore. Once a booming port, Nantucket is picturesque, historic and awash in the whaling lore that provides much of its current character. Still pristine, nearly 40 percent of the island is protected conservation land. This is an ideal spot for a relaxing family beach vacation. Contact: www. www.nantucketchamber.org
South Walton Beach, Fla.
Here 26 miles of sugar white sand beaches provide the perfect home base for relaxation or fun for the active family. More than 40 percent of the area is preserved through state parks and forests, creating an ideal place to hike, bike, kayak and fish. Contact: www.beachesofsouthwalton.com.
Gather your family to wish upon a star.
Here are five extraordinary places to view the night sky:
Check into Little Kulala, a desert eco-retreat within southern Africa’s Kulala Wilderness Reserve. Hop aboard a Land Rover to scope out springbok, ostrich and oryx or float above the dramatic landscape in a hot air balloon. Visit the world's tallest dunes amid Namibia’s famed “sand sea”. Then fall asleep on your rooftop Sky Bed and enjoy a late night show where shooting stars and the Milky Way serve as headliners. Contact: www.wilderness-safaris.com/safaris/index.jsp; www.TravelBeyond.com.
Winter Star Party. West Summerland Key, FL.
Every February, during the new moon week, amateur astronomers gather in the Florida Keys for six days to learn from guest speakers, observe an unobstructed clear night sky and share information with other star enthusiasts. Hosted by the Southern Cross Astronomical Society (SCAS), Inc., the Stellar Star Party also includes a Kids Kamp. Contact: 1-800-FLA-KEYS; www.fla-keys.com ;www.scas.org.
In 2001, the City of Flagstaff, in Northern Arizona, was designated the world's first "International Dark-Sky City" by the International Dark-Sky Association. Expect stellar stargazing as well as the chance to tour the Lowell Observatory. You’ll see the telescope where planet Pluto was discovered in the 1930's and look through the century-old Clark telescope. Further south, check into the Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale where you’ll find high powered telescopes in your room and constellation charts on your pillow at turndown. Opt in for complimentary Friday evening stargazing with a local astronomer or a Celestial Picnic accompanied by a pro.
Red Rock Country.
By night, the dark skies of Utah provide ample opportunity for magnificent stargazing. Join astronomer Alex Ludwig atop a mesa to learn about star clusters, nebulae, and galaxies. He will explain how Native Americans teach their children about the constellations, lancing the quiet night with stories that will entrance young and old. By day, a slew of parks, canyons and rivers provide outdoor adventure opportunities.
Contact: 435-210-0066; www.moab-astronomy.com; www.discovermoab.com/
Northern Lights From Norway.
Because of an increase in solar flares, NASA is predicting Northern Lights activity will be stronger this winter than any time in the last 50 years. Therefore cruising Norway’s coast high above the Arctic Circle could provide family travelers with the opportunity to experience the aurora borealis in a rare and extraordinary way. In addition to visiting ports that provide a glimpse into winter life in Norway, passengers will also be privy to lectures regarding the Northern lights as well as local culture and history.
Photo: Copyright Lynn O'Rourke Hayes - Little Kulala, Namibia
Explore our underwater world during a family dive vacation. Here are great places to consider:
1. Small Hope Bay Lodge, Andros Island, Bahamas.
Check into one of this family-run resort’s 21 cottages and prepare to explore, relax and enjoy a special holiday. Young children can begin by participating in the young naturalist program before moving on to shoreline snorkeling lessons, a snorkel reef trip and then on to SASY (Supplied Air Snorkeling for Youth) Diving. The latter enables kids 7-9 to experience the underwater world wearing a small tank and other dive gear. At age ten, the Discover Scuba program is available for those interested in pursuing the next level. The resort’s on site dive staff will provide scuba lessons for one or more. The all inclusive resort offers complimentary babysitting from six until nine pm. Contact: 800-223-6961; www. SmallHope.com.
2. Florida Keys.
Explore the only living coral reef system in the continental United States during a visit to this scenic South Florida region. For kids eight and older: the Summer Marine Science Camp at Pigeon Key, an historic site 100 miles southwest of Miami, offers programs that include information about reef fish, coral reef systems, underwater photography and the gathering of specimens. Kids can get scuba certification during a camp session or brush up if already certified. Also included: underwater obstacle courses, volleyball, and snorkeling. Also in the region: the Wreck Trek Passport Program," spotlighting the Florida Keys Shipwreck Trail, where certified divers can explore a string of sunken vessels and artificial reefs with local dive instructors. Contact: 305-289-0025; www.PigeonKey.com; www.Fla-Keys.com/diving.
3. Brac Reef, Cayman Brac.
From this small, family-friendly island, families can enjoy a dive vacation that includes exploring the waters around Cayman Brac as well as the Russian Frigate and the Bloody Bay Wall near Little Cayman Island. The on-site dive shop provides personalized attention to the soon-to-be certified as well as the seasoned diver. The all inclusive, beach front resort also offers free bike rentals to explore the island, spa services and volley ball. Ask about special packages for families. Contact: 1-800-594-0843; www.BracReef.com.
4. Grand Wailea, Maui.
For families who choose to blend a luxury resort holiday with a scuba experience, this hotel fits the bill. Give the sport a try by joining instructors twice daily in the comfort of Hawaii’s only specially designed scuba pool. Interested in learning more? Certification classes are offered at every level. Once the instruction is complete, escorted ocean dives are available. Meanwhile, families can enjoy the super-cool pool on the property, an expansive beach ,as well as a spa and numerous family-focused resort programs. Contact: 808-875-1234; www.GrandWailea.com.
5. Harbour Village, Bonaire.
Children ages five to 12 can join the Kid’s Great Adventure program at this Caribbean resort. They will learn about the Bonaire Marine Park, snorkel, ID fish, and get comfortable with the SASY (Supplied Air Snorkeling for Youth) program, a wonderful precursor to SCUBA. Children eight and over can take part in the PADI Bubblemaker program, which enables young enthusiasts to breathe with a regulator in shallow ocean water. At ten, kids can earn their Junior Scuba Certification. From now through December 16, 2011 the second diver in your party dives free when you book the Dive Into Luxury Package. Children under 16 stay free in the room with their parents. Contact: 1-800-424-0004; www.harbourvillage.com.
Set within the turquoise waters and world renowned coral reefs surrounding Key Largo, Florida, the Ocean Reef Club's OR SEA Diving Camp offers families an opportunity to discover the wonders of the world-famous Carysfort Reef, once navigated by famous undersea explorer Jacques Cousteau.
This weeklong camp gives junior divers, ages 12 to 17, the chance to become PADI certified with lessons hosted by experienced instructors on the waters of the Atlantic. Participants will explore local ship wrecks and beautiful undersea life. Though Ocean Reef Club is a private, member-owned community, the camp is open to non-members. Check for updated schedules and pricing.
Many camps at Ocean Reef Club offer overnight options for an additional cost, which includes dinner, evening activities and accommodations in dormitory-style housing with their peers. Parents are invited to partake in the summer fun while the little ones are enrolled in camp with well-appointed accommodations at the oceanfront Inn available (children can also stay with parents). Parents will enjoy access to the many activities and facilities that Ocean Reef Club members enjoy, including dive trips through on-site Cristal Clear Charters.
Home to two state parks, a national park, and a national marine sanctuary, Key Largo boasts some of the most fascinating botanical scenery in the state of Florida.
For more information: www.OceanReef.com.
Visit America’s historic lodges and find rustic log exteriors, well-worn pine floors, or riverside ambience. Join your family in a walk back through time when you book lodging with a story of its own.
Timberline Lodge, Mount Hood, OR.
Located in Oregon’s Mount Hood National Forest, this magnificent lodge was built at the height of the Great Depression by unemployed craftspeople hired by the Federal Works Progress Administration. Completed on September 28, 1937, the lodge has long served as the centerpiece of a mountain playground where families ski, hike, dine, mountain bike, learn about the local flora and fauna and simply enjoy the high altitude natural beauty.
Kalaloch Lodge, Forks, WA.
Visit the complex landscape that is protected within the Olympic National Park & Forest. For bird watching, including the most significant habitat for bald eagles in the lower 48, beach combing, hiking and fishing, there are few destinations where families will find more beauty and opportunity to bond with nature. Consider the Kalaloch Lodge as a cozy home base. Serving up rustic yet charming accommodations, the Lodge offers tremendous views of the Pacific as well as the opportunity to spot puffins, sea otters, seals and a long list of other sea birds. Tap into rich history by asking about the dozens of shipwrecks that have occurred in the area.
Contact: 888-896-3818; www.OlympicNationalParks.com.
Rapids Lodge and Restaurant, Grand Lake, CO.
Located on the banks of the scenic Tonahutu River, this charming lodge has been offering Rocky Mountain hospitality since 1915. Nearly a century ago the doors opened offering running water and electricity generated by a nearby water wheel. Today, guests enjoy the outdoor wonderland that is Rocky Mountain National Park and then return to cozy lodge or cabin rooms and scenic dining overlooking the river.
Contact: 970-627-3707; www.rapidslodge.com.
Clay Hill Lodge. Lyons, OR.
Located on Oregon’s Rogue River, this “off the grid” lodge offers families the chance to enjoy pristine wilderness, hiking, bird watching, rafting and fishing in the country that provided Zane Grey inspiration for many novels. Steeped in history, the lodge has served as base camp for scores of enthusiastic fishermen including Clark Gable, Herbert Hoover, Victor Moore and Ginger Rogers.
Contact: (503) 859-3772: www.ClayHillLodge.com
Garland Lodge and Resort. Lewiston, MI.
Known as the largest log resort east of the Mississippi, this expansive playground is a family favorite for award winning golf, color tours, fishing, and hiking. A blend of old and new, sophistication and rustic charm, the AAA Four Diamond resort complex includes four championship golf courses. Ask about their family-friendly golf and spa packages.
Contact: (800) 968 0042; www.GarlandUSA.com
Tarpon Lodge. Pinelands, FLA.
Open since 1926, this charming waterfront lodge is located 30 minutes north of Fort Myers on Pine Island off Florida's Gulf Coast. Enjoy the local art community, live music, bird watching and picturesque sunsets. Visit pre- Columbian mounds of the ancient Calusa people and paddle through the local waterways. The sport of tarpon fishing originated in Pine Island Sound in the late 1880s so you’ll want to grab a rod and try your luck with one of the local outfitters.
Contact: (239) 283-3999; www.tarponlodge.com.
Diving boards and the deep end have been replaced by slippery slides, raging waterfalls and lazy rivers.
Today’s resort pools and water parks offer enough excitement to keep the kids engaged for a weekend or longer.
Here are a few cool pools worth the plunge:
Grand Wailea Resort, Maui, Hawaii.
This island haven may be most famous for its beaches, but don’t pass up the chance to explore what this resort has to offer. The whole family will be eager to check out the 25,700 square foot area that includes nine free form pools. Travel via a “river” to check out the slides, waterfalls, caves, water elevator, swim up bar, rope swing and more that are part of this water wonderland. The tropical 40 acre resort also includes an infant pool.
Fairmont Scottsdale. Scottsdale, AZ.
With the magnificent McDowell Mountains as a backdrop, families relish this oasis in the desert. By day, keep cool within the 6000 square foot Sonoran Splash complex, featuring a zero deck area for the youngest set. Kids wade right into the water, just like at the beach. Nearby a large sandbox with Tonka trucks and a bounty of beach toys beckon, keeping the kids entertained. Have fun slipping down two of Arizona’s largest slides. Come nightfall, enjoy dive-in movies from deck chairs or while floating on your raft.
Atlantis Resort. Paradise Island, Bahamas.
With more than 141 acres of water rides and pools, who has time to hit the beach? From the Mayan Temple to the ominous Power Tower to fun-filled Splashers Island, water play lovers will find 18 adrenaline-pulsing slides for kids of all ages. Ride the waves and rapids in the Current. Lounge around your choice of 11 different pools. Twist and turn through tunnels and emerge in an acrylic tube deep within a shark-filled lagoon. The thrills never end in this water-filled fantasy park.
Marriott World Center, Orlando, FL.
Think 1,000,000 gallons of cool water. That’s what you’ll find at this Orlando resort where indoor pools, outdoor pools, whirlpools, waterfalls and a 106 foot slide make for an enticing recreation area. Pool side fun includes sidewalk chalk, ping pong and pool tables, limbo contests and scavenger hunts. Lounge on deck or join in a game of water volleyball.
Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort, San Antonio, TX.
Float through the resort’s beautifully landscaped grounds aboard a trusty inner tube, making your way 950 feet along the Ramblin’ River. Stop by the activity pool and join in a game of water volley ball or basketball. Or make it a beach day and settle on the private, sandy man-made beach. Lounge on the sundeck before heading to the golf course or an afternoon at the spa. Grown-ups can enjoy the Texas-shaped adults only pool, while the kids take advantage of Camp Hyatt activities or teen-focused Underground events.
Take a break from work, school and routine. Add a healthy dose of sunshine or snow, or better yet, both, as a quick-fix remedy for those eager to explore. Here are eight great ways to recharge.
Road Trip. If you’d like to cover some country with your kids consider teaming up with the folks at Tracks & Trails. They create custom, self-drive RV vacation packages that take the guess work out of an adventure-