Where you tuck your kids in at night depends entirely on your family's traveling style and budget and, of course, on what's available in the area to which you're traveling. There are so many options hotels, motels, inns, cottages, cabins, condominiums, resorts, time-shares, campgrounds it can be hard to know where to start.
Lists of local accommodations can be found through tourism boards, the Web, travel books, and the 800 numbers or published directories of major franchises. However, finding the places that really go the extra mile for families isn't easy. This book and other family travel publications will be your best bets, as will the time-tested recommendations of friends and acquaintances. Always, always ask your own questions as well: see our checklist on page 25 for some basics.
Hotels, Motels & Lodges
From generic chains, to mom-and-pop operations bursting with character, to ritzy palaces, this category really runs the gamut. If you don't have a dependable recommendation (from a friend, trusted travel agent, or guidebook like this one), you may wish to place your trust in the major chains (budget or no) where you at least know what you're getting.
How to find them: Most major chains can be found in the 800 directory (as well as on the Web) and can provide a list of property locations. Alternatively, you can contact regional travel bureaus or consult a national rating system, such as those in Mobil Travel Guides (available in bookstores or the on-line store at www.mobil.com) or the Automobile Association of America (call your local AAA office to order regional TourBook guides).
Inns, B&Bs, and Farm Stays
These have traditionally been the domain of honeymooning couples and retirees. Increasingly, though, they are accommodating a growing family travel market. There are certainly gems out there for your discovery but do your research rigorously (speak with the owner, if possible) to find out whether kids are truly welcome at the destination of your choice. The last thing you want to be doing on vacation is shushing your kids and shooing them away from pricey antiques. Look for inns and B&Bs attached to a working farm these tend to be more kid-friendly, with animals to watch and feed and plenty of outdoor play space.
How to find them: Try travel magazines, regional chambers of commerce, and two excellent Websites, www.bedandbreakfast.com and www.bbgetaways.com.
Condos and Cottages
These are ideal if your group is staying put for the length of your vacation, since they offer room to spread out and cook your own meals. When you book, ask about amenities: does the condo come with linens, pots and pans, a television, phone, dishwasher, and washer/dryer? Are there extra tax and/or booking fees? If you rent directly from the owner, be even more rigorous in your questioning. Is there a cancellation policy if the place is not up to your standards?
How to find them: The Internet has made it easy to connect potential renters with homeowners and rental brokers. Unfortunately, that means there are literally thousands of sites to sift through. Luckily, most sites offer very detailed information on properties, so you can actually make an informed decision on-line to pursue a place.
For starters, here are the Website addresses for a number of national and international vacation rental clearinghouses: www.eLeisureLink.com (888-801-8808); Barclay International Group (800-845-6636; www.barclayweb.com); and 10,000 Vacation Rentals, Inc. (888-369-7245; www.10kvacationrentals.com).
To rent directly from a property owner, try Vacation Rentals by Owner at www.vrbo.com You also can locate condos and cottages by inquiring at local tourism bureaus, local realtors (especially for seaside properties), and major resorts, which often keep lists of rentals on property or nearby.
These range from the extremely rustic grassy knolls with fabulous views to the luxurious complexes with video games, sports areas, and fax and modem hookups.
Depending on where and how you prefer to camp, you'll have your pick of sites in state or national parks, national forests, or private campgrounds. (See "Happy Campers".)
When you book a site, inquire: What are the nightly fees? Does the campground accept reservations? If no, how early should you arrive in order to claim a site? Is there a pool or lake? Lifeguards? Equipment rentals? Laundry facilities, rest rooms, and hot showers? A grocery store nearby? Remember that campgrounds near major tourist attractions fill up early, so make reser- vations in advance (choice spots in some national parks, for example, fill up months ahead).
How to find them: In addition to the campgrounds recommended in this book, you can find lists of campgrounds on the Internet: check out About.com's camping section at www.camping.about.com, www.camping-usa.com, and the National Association of RV Parks & Campgrounds at www.gocampingamerica.com. For campgrounds in national parks, visit www.nps.gov and state. For a national directory of KOA campgrounds, visit www.koakampgrounds.com.
A resort vacation is a big investment, and up-front research is essential to ensure you get your money's worth. When you are making inquiries, don't be shy about taking up the resort staff's time with questions. Be sure to grill them with the entire housing quiz on page 25. Ask, too, about programming for kids and families. If there is a children's program, what days and times does it run? Is it canceled if not enough kids sign up? What is the ratio of counselors to children? What are the age divisions? What activities does the program offer? What are the facilities? What, if any, is the additional cost? Are there games, programs, or organized recreation especially for families? Baby-sitting services? Assistance for kids who get sick? What are the terms for these? If the resort is "all-inclusive," find out exactly what is covered. If you will be taking advantage of the services included in the price, it may mean a good deal for your family; if not, you might be better off elsewhere.
How to find them: Travel magazines, travel agents, and family travel Websites will all be able to offer recommendations on family resorts. Also, the Globe Pequot Press (www.globepequot.com) has two good resource books: 100 Best Family Resorts in North America and 100 Best All-Inclusive Resorts of the World.
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