The right vacation for the money Options: There's no way to guarantee that your family trip is going to be perfect. But, with careful planning, you can avoid most disasters.

Taking the Kids

November 16, 1997|By Eileen Ogintz | Eileen Ogintz,LOS ANGELES TIMES SYNDICATE

Let's talk turkey. It's the season.

Everyone wants their family vacation to be a rip-roaring success, the best time they've ever had with their kids. It's costing enough, after all. But like Thanksgiving family gatherings, the trip, no matter how well-planned or how expensive, probably isn't going to be one Kodak moment after another. Real life is never that perfect, especially with kids. It wouldn't be nearly so interesting if it were.

No one, though, wants to return home feeling they've wasted their time and money on a vacation gone wrong: rain when they expected sun, squabbling kids when they counted on togetherness. That's why I hear from so many anxious family travelers. Let's hope some of their questions -- and my answers -- will help tip your holiday trip toward more Kodak moments.

Mother and daughter

Take the newly single mom. The Christmas trip will be her first solo vacation with her daughter, and she wants it to be an especially good one. Her travel agent recommended a busy Cancun resort hotel, one without any organized children's activities. What did I suggest?

Get a new travel agent, I told her. At a huge resort, she could feel lost and lonely amid a sea of vacationing couples. I would. If she wants an environment that guarantees some R&R for her and pals for her 11-year-old, she needs a place that offers some kids' programs.

A cruise would be a good bet. There'd be plenty of on-board and shore excursions for both mother and daughter to choose from without the hassle of organizing outings on her own. And since several families typically are seated together, she'd be guaranteed some adult dinner conversation. The best part: It would be a new experience the two could share. She called a travel agent who specializes in booking cruises. The two sail the weekend before Christmas.

Another family planning a cruise asked if motion-sickness medicine is appropriate for a 2-year-old.

San Antonio pediatrician Brian Bates, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Drug Committee, notes that Dramamine liquid can be given to 2-year-olds. He warns, however, that you should check with your pediatrician.

Have I got any other advice for sailing with a 2-year-old? Or a 5-year-old?

Check before sailing to make sure that there will be baby sitters. Norwegian Cruise Lines, for example, guarantees available sitters.

The Maryland grandmother who e-mailed me is still looking for a place to meet her daughter's family for a Christmas getaway. She surmised, correctly, that plane tickets at a decent price might be hard to come by at this late date. How could they find a place not too far from home?

For a novel experience, try a working Christmas-tree or llama farm, or one where the farmers raise cattle, suggests Pat Dickerman, author of "Farm, Ranch & Country Vacations." (Order before Christmas, and you get the book for half price, $10 plus $3 shipping. Call 800-252-7899.)

An old-fashioned resort also would offer plenty of holiday ambience and activities for everyone in the group. Martha Shirk and Nancy Klepper's "Super Family Vacations" (HarperCollins, $16) suggests 150 different resort options around the country.

But that wouldn't necessarily do the trick for the New Jersey dad who sent me a list of places he'd tried that offer no activities or day care for his 2-year-old. Most resort children's programs don't accept children before age 3 or 4. If you're interested in organized activities, make sure to ask the age requirements before booking. That goes for ski areas, too.

Snowmass in Colorado (800-598-2005; www.aspen.com), Deer Valley in Utah (800-424-3337; www.deervalley.com) and Mount Snow in Vermont (800-245-7669; www.mountsnow.com) have good programs for young children.

Beaches Turks & Caicos, a new, all-inclusive family resort in the Sandals chain, is one warm-weather resort that welcomes the tiniest travelers in its children's center. Call 800-BEACHES and ask about the kids-free deal valid until mid-December. Scuba-loving parents can dive daily at no extra charge.

Windjammer's Landing in St. Lucia provides both your own nanny for the under-4 crowd and daily activities for those aged 4-12 at no extra charge. Even better, the accommodations are all in villas. Call 800-958-7376 and ask about the Bring the Family package.

Rent a villa

But for some families, a resort at any price is too expensive. One woman wrote asking where her extended family could rent villas or condos for their 1998 reunion. She guessed what savvy travelers know: Cooking in can save big bucks. Perhaps together the family can afford to rent a staffed villa, complete with cook and housekeeper, in Jamaica or Barbados.

Hideaways International Travel Club is one reputable company. You can get a four-month trial membership for $39 in the club, which includes help finding an overseas rental. Call 800-843-4433 or visit their Web site at http: //www.hideaways.com.

Another even more economical option is to trade houses with another family across the country -- or the ocean. The two largest home exchange agencies are San Francisco-based INTERVAC (call 800-756-4663; www.intervac.com) and Florida-based HomeLink International (call 800-638-3841; www.swapnow.com).

For a fee, typically less than $100, your house will be listed in their directories along with more than 10,000 others. You use the directories to pinpoint where you want to go and to arrange the match yourself.

Send your questions and comments about family travel to Los Angeles Times Syndicate, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, Calif. 90053, or e-mail to eogintol .com. While every letter cannot be answered, some of your stories may be used in future columns.

Pub Date: 11/16/97

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