Summer used to be a bittersweet thing for me. I LOVED having more time with my kids (and of course less homework/ practice & projects) but I also felt like I was going to lose my mind! Then I tapped into the amazing world of family travel. And, guess what? You don't have to be super rich to do it. Turns out being a tourist even in your own town can be epic!
Here are the 5 BEST Summer Vacations we have had:
What is better than a hotel in Hawaii with included daycare from a brand you can trust- Disney? Nothing. Seriously, the munchkin crew is all about Aulani. We have visited 7 times in the past 5 years if that says anything.
Why will you LOVE Aulani?
- The resort is absolutely gorgeous (it's not all Mickey Mouse fyi... think authentic Hawaiian)
- Auntie's Beach House is a FREE drop in kids club for ages 3-12. And, my munchkins beg to be taken there. They love making Stitch's Space Goo, learning to hula with their favorite characters and playing games with the awesome counselors. And, I love some quiet time for cocktails poolside with my husband.
- FREE activities- this resort has a ton of included activities. Besides Auntie's beach House there are several amazing pools, waterslides, splash parks, family beach games & crafts, the Menehune Adventure Trail (like a scavenger hunt with an ipad type device for the kids), storytelling by the fire, guided walking tours and our favorite the Starlit Hui (basically a luau type show minus the food).
- The lagoon is perfect for little ones as there are no big waves and it is very shallow.
How to SAVE $$$ at Aulani:
- Book with DVC points. If you are not a member you can rent them from sites like: http://dvcrentalstore.com/, https://www.dvcrequest.com/ or http://www.mouseowners.com/forums/forumdisplay.php...
- Go during shoulder seasons (before or right after summer is perfect!)
- Stock up at Target or Costco both are located one exit away from Aulani. If you get a Vacation Club Villa you will have at minimum a fridge, microwave and toaster. Larger villas come with full kitchens! We eat most breakfasts, snacks and lunches in and have even grilled some dinners on property.
- Hit up the Olelo Room happy hour. They have some great prices on pupus (Hawaiian for appetizers) and cocktails. Plus, you can't beat the atmosphere with outdoor seating and live music.
Located in gorgeous Puerto Rico (US citizens don't even need a passport to enter) this massive Waldorf Astoria resort is a family paradise & their service is top notch!
Why will you LOVE the El Con Resort?
- Palomino Island- the resort has its own gorgeous private island. They have a ferry that runs about every 20 minutes during the day and its included in your stay.
- on Palomino you can horseback, kayak, jet ski, lounge beachside or enjoy a cocktail and lunch at Iguana's Cafe. Your kids will also love all the games like gaga ball, ping pong, mini golf etc... located on the island.
- Coqui Water Park- there is an on site water park with awesome slides, a lazy river, pools and toddler area that families will love. There is a small admission fee but many packages include entrance.
- Scout About- the hotel has a fantastic scavenger hunt all around the property and even on Palomino Island ( and, it's included with your stay). Kids collect wristbands at each Scout About location and once they collect them all they can put their name on the Wall of Fame located in the hotel lobby.
- Ki' Kids Spa- one of my absolute favorite things I did this summer was enjoy an Organic Coconut Scrub and Scalp Massage at the Ki' Kids Spa. This mommy and me session with my 8 year old was like pure heaven. I know it is a memory we will both cherish forever!!
- Foot Golf- this is my kind of sport. You get to enjoy the stunning Arthur Hills Championship Golf Course but instead of playing golf you kick a soccer ball into giant holes. Its awesome. And, a great family activity.
How to SAVE $$$ at the El Con Resort:
- Watch their Specials & Packages page
- Watch for cheap flights to Puerto Rico by following @SecretFlying and @TheFlightDeal on twitter.
- Check out their new all inclusive packages too!
Hard Rock Hotel (Cancun):
I know... Hard Rock & Family you wouldn't think the two were synonymous right? That is exactly what I thought UNTIL we visited this past May. I was blown away by all the incredible amenities & unique experiences this resort has to offer families.
Why will you LOVE the Hard Rock Hotel Cancun?
- The most gorgeous beach I think I have ever seen. And, you get to view it right from their infinity edge pool- woot! woot!
- Little Big Club- you'll catch a theme here. I LOVE vacations where I can steal my hubby for an hour or two ALONE. Especially, when the kids clubs are INCLUDED! I love my kids but this is the only way I come home feeling like I had a vacation #TRUTH. The little big club is for kids 4-12 years old. Younger ones are welcome to play with parent supervision. Here they have their own little water park, themed rooms, character appearances (Barney, Bob the Builder, Angelina Ballerina and Thomas the Train), crafts and more. My kids are picky when it comes to clubs and this is one of 3 we have found that they loved!!!
- All Inclusive- we had so much fun being able to enjoy all of our meals & cocktails on property and without ever having to pull out our wallets. All inclusive resorts are great for peace of mind. You have already paid and now you just get to enjoy!!
- Kid sized robes and slippers (adults ones provided too), an in room jacuzzi tub and included 24 hour room service have the whole family feeling like ROCK STARS!
- The restaurants are also amazing!!! There is food and buffet tables everywhere. And, the best part is the food is DELICIOUS!!!
- Nightly shows- it felt like we were on a cruise when each night we would head down to watch a show together as a family at the outdoor theater on property. The kids loved the Michael Jackson Show and the Magic Show. I loved that these shows were also included and they were really good too!
- MUSIC LAB- being a travel writer my kids have experienced A LOT already. It is quite rare when we find a new activity. But, at Hard Rock they offer this thing called Music Lab where older kids can learn to mix music, make a music video and more! My boys were even able to perform as DJ's before the Foam Party after their lesson. A memory they thought was pretty EPIC!!!
How to SAVE $$$ at the Hard Rock Hotel (Cancun):
- Right NOW HR Cancun is offering some incredible promotions (45% OFF) for travel from mid Aug. through next May. Check their website for details.
As my kids have gotten older (they are 2, 8, 10, 11 & 13) cruises have become one of our favorite modes of travel and right now Norwegian is their favorite cruise line. We cruised with NCL around the Mediterranean last May and this summer through Mexico and the Caribbean and between their amazing restaurants and activities we can't think of a better boat to travel on.
Why will you LOVE Cruising with NCL?
- Pools & Waterslides- in our opinion NCL has the BEST pool areas. Their slides are fantastic (the Getaway had 4 awesome slides plus a slower one for younger kids)
- Babies & Toddlers will love the splash area and wading pool plus the play room located on board.
- The food is delicious and Freestyle dining makes it super easy for families to dine how and when they want to each night.
- On Board Activities- we couldn't get enough of the ropes course, waterslides, sports complex or the mini golf.
- Splash Academy and Entourage are kids clubs on board and our kids loved them. I was shocked especially by how much our 13 year old loved hanging out at Entourage. Besides Disney this is the only other cruise line where my kids beg to go to the kids clubs.
How to SAVE $$$ on NCL:
- Book during shoulder seasons (fall and spring usually has the best offers)
- Sign up for the E-Newsletters- they offer special deals and last minute deals
- Save on your flights by following @SecretFlying and @TheFlightDeal on Twitter
- Book when they offer 3rd and 4th passengers FREE, FREE Dining & FREE Drinks (this is being offered NOW)
Don't have tons of cash... no worries! Exploring your own city and the local areas around you as a tourist can be a blast! This summer we decided to check out what our own city had to offer as well as the city of Anaheim which is just a short 1 hour car drive away and we were shocked by all the incredible things available for families.
Why will you LOVE Exploring Locally?
- Ummm... it's hecka cheap!
- By searching Tripadvisor and Yelp you will find things you never knew existed.
- We found : SwingIt Trapeze Lessons, a Camel Dairy, Berry Farms, Outdoor Movies, Vans Skatepark Lessons, kayaking, hiking trails & much more!
- You can invite friends to join in on the fun!
- You are helping to support local businesses
It is crazy how when you plan a staycation you can feel like you went on vacation without ever actually leaving.
How to SAVE $$$ on when Exploring Locally:
- Check for family free days and times
- many local museums offer family days for free once a month
- Check with your credit cards and banks
- many are affiliated with programs that allow admission on certain days to museums and more. Bank of America has a program like this.
- Watch for daily deals from companies like: www.Groupon.com, www.LivingSocial.com and www.DealPalooza.com
- Check with local tourism boards
- Pack lunches and snacks
- Take public transportation- you would be surprised what your own city has to offer. Ours has a beach bus for 25 cents per person that I had no idea existed and it was so fun!!
- Check Amtrak there are lots of train routes that will save you money as well.