Trips are like series of Father's Days Vacations: Single dads and their children find they can relax, have fun and enhance their relationship when they travel together. Resorts are now offering them package deals.

Taking the Kids

June 16, 1996|By Eileen Ogintz | Eileen Ogintz,LOS ANGELES TIMES SYNDICATE

Sixteen-year-old Chloe Liederman may not agree with her fortysomething father about many things, but there's one subject on which they're totally in sync: their annual just-the-two-of-us vacation.

"The truth is I never get bored with my dad," says Chloe, who has vacationed with him at Club Meds and toured England and Italy.

"It's the most important week of the year for me," adds Bill Liederman, a New York restaurateur who is divorced from Chloe's mother and who has traveled solo with his daughter since she was 3.

"To have one week a year when you spend the time focused on each other makes it really special," he's found.

Father's Day arrives at the same time as the summer family travel season. For hundreds of thousands of divorced dads, many of whom live far from their children, vacations together become the time each year they count on to reconnect with their kids and strengthen their relationship.

Even for those single dads who live with their children or see them often -- according to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are more than 2 million single fathers raising their kids in their homes -- trips together take on an aura of their own.

"When you're working and you're a single parent, most of your time with the kids is spent with the minutiae of parenting: baths, homework, meals. Vacation is the chance for the relaxed time with the children that you never get enough of," says Andy Howorth, an Oxford, Miss., lawyer who has custody of his 4-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter.

The good news is that the travel industry has begun to recognize the needs of the growing number of single parents. According to federal statistics, there are more than 1 million divorces each year, many involving children.

Here are a few places that are putting out the welcome mat for single-parent families this summer:

Holiday Inn SunSpree Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (close to Disney World), offers four-day, three-night packages that include accommodations, souvenir photo, fun bag for each child and kids' meals for all children when accompanied by one parent. Packages begin at $329 per room. Call (800) FON-MAXX.

Club Med has introduced a Single Parent Program at Eleuthera in the Bahamas and Ixtapa, Mexico. It offers an opening cocktail party and a sign-up board to find tennis, sailing or golf partners. Children between 1 and 11 who have a birthday in July or August go free at these resorts in their birthday months. Call (800) CLUB-MED.

Cruise lovers might like Premier Cruise Lines' Big Red Boats single-parent deal that doesn't require dads to pay adult freight for their children, though they pay slightly more individually than a couple would. A dad and one child could get an ocean-view cabin and cruise for three nights for roughly $1,400. Call (800) 726-5678 for a free brochure, and ask your travel agent to check the availability of other deals.

Mountain lovers could head to the Hyatt Regency Beaver Creek, Colo. It offers a two-night single-parent package for $499 that includes a room for one adult and one child, three hours of Camp Hyatt, spa passes and one day's room-service breakfast. Call (800) 233-1234.

For the adventure-minded parent whose children are at least 7, the California-based Escapes Unlimited offers group trips for single-parent families to locales from Bali to Costa Rica to Puerto Vallarta. A summer Costa Rica tour is $1,399 for adults and $1,199 for kids, including air fare from several gateway cities including Los Angeles, Houston and Washington. Call (800) 243-7227.

Northern California advertising consultant David Ripley had so much fun with his 8-year-old daughter, Chelsey, on the two-week trip to Bali that he's considering taking her on another.

"The biggest plus was the other kids," Ripley explained. "We have a good time together, but any 8-year-old will have more fun with kids their own age." The five single parents, meanwhile, got to enjoy some adult time, too, without feeling like third wheels at a couple-oriented resort.

Charles Flexner, assistant professor of clinical pharmacology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, has a different solution to that predicament: He spent a week with his three boys at a rented house on the California coast.

"I recommend staying in one place," he offered, to make things as simple as possible. "As a dad, it's nice to set the pace and the schedule and not have to involve another adult in the decision making. You get to call your own shots."

At the same time, some single dads go overboard with activities and treats on vacation, especially when they are trying hard to make the trip a success. Remember that children need limits or else they become over-stimulated and fall apart, notes UCLA child psychologist Jill Waterman, who counsels many divorced families.

Waterman's advice: Make sure to learn about your child's daily routine, likes and dislikes -- anything you don't know -- before the trip. And don't forget to include the children in the planning. Your idea of fun may be their worst nightmare.

They may get carsick or homesick. "Definitely it's normal to miss the other parent. It doesn't mean they don't love you or aren't having a good time," Waterman continues. Let them call home. Resist the temptation to criticize their mother.

"Leave all of those issues at home," urges Waterman. "The kids should be able to go on vacation from all of that."

Dads, too. "As soon as the kids were in bed, I'd jump in the Jacuzzi and smoke a cigar," said Flexner.

"It was an amazingly stress-free vacation."

Happy Father's Day.

Pub Date: 6/16/96

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