Family Getaways: Here’s how to plan and go like a pro
These days Olivia Daniel asks one important question before planning a trip for her family: What is the goal?
This mindset may seem more business than pleasure, but it’s kept the Daniel Island mom from stuffing too much into one week. Of course, she learned this lesson the hard way, after a trip that included stops to Walt Disney World, the beach and St. Augustine. By the time they came home, they needed a vacation from the vacation.
Now, Daniel determines the purpose of the trip first: Is it all about activities for the kids? Or is it about relaxing and not cramming the days with tours and sightseeing?
Daniel and her husband, Reese, recently took 7-year-old Jacob to Dallas so they could visit Six Flags Over Texas and watch the Cowboys play.
“We knew this wasn’t a trip where we were going to lounge around and get a massage,” Daniel said. “We went there with that mindset and it made it so much easier.”
Ask the experts
Daniel also relies on local travel agent Kristin Fry of The Shady Umbrella to handle the logistics of the trip and steer her family in the right direction when it comes to selecting hotels and attractions.
Fry often recommends all-inclusive resorts for families, because shelling out more up front means you’re not nickel-and-dimed along the way. Of course, it’s a spendy option: A five-night stay at an all-inclusive resort, including flights from Charleston, for a family of four will cost about $4,500.
If you’re looking to stick to a tighter budget, Fry suggests doing plenty of research before clicking “buy” on what seems like a good deal.
Checking reviews on sites such as Trip Advisor can provide insight to what your amazing getaway will look like in the light of day, and what other travelers’ thought about the accommodations. You might save $100, but if the hotel is out of the way or in disrepair, is it really worth it?
Cruises are fun, easy
Kathy Bustos of Bustos Travel Service in Mount Pleasant said vacation destinations and cruise lines are doing even more to attract families as they recognize the shift in family travel. Different generations of families are traveling together – parents, children and grandparents, Bustos said. Plus, blended families often have children of varying ages and, therefore, varying interests.
“Cruises seem to be the best all-around place for those families to go because there is something for everyone and you can go at your own speed,” she said. “It’s a nice way for different generations to travel together and all the work doesn’t fall on one person.”
When 8-year-old Robert Pagenkopf his 3-year-old sister Callie searched their stockings this past Christmas they found stuffed dolphins and a note directing them to the playroom for another surprise. There they discovered inflatable cruise ships and an announcement from their parents they would be boarding a real ship in May for a seven-day cruise, sailing from New York to the Bahamas.
“The kids are thrilled because they have all spring to look forward to it and we have the opportunity to teach them about where we’re going,” said Daniel Island mom Cullan Pagenkopf. The family has cruised together before, and she likes that everything is taken care of aboard the vessel.
“When you have a limited amount of vacation time that adds to the quality,” Pagenkopf said. Cullan’s husband, Randy, runs a busy pediatric dental practice in Mount Pleasant so when the family can get away, they want to make the most of their precious minutes together.
The idea of cruises as one-stop shopping for family getaways is growing. Joyce Oliva with Carnival Cruise Lines said families are among the fastest growing markets in the cruise industry. Less than a decade ago, Carnival carried about 350,000 kids a year and, in 2013, the line expects to carry a record 725,000 children aboard its 24 “Fun Ships.”
And living in the Lowcountry means getting down to the Caribbean is a cinch: Carnival’s Fantasy departs from downtown, which means the getaway starts soon after starting the car, without the hassle or cost of wrangling everyone to an airport. Families cruising out of the Holy City can opt for five- and seven-day voyages to the Bahamas and Grand Turk. Even if your 5-year-old hasn’t quite mastered the geography of the ports of call, the ship is kid-friendly with camps on board and a water park complete with a 300-foot spiral slide. The fun isn’t just for the little ones—spa treatments, evening shows and frozen drinks mean the parents will get in some R&R time, too.
Even more options
Tour companies also are adding more family friendly options. Bustos often uses Colette Family Vacations, which offers family trips to such places as Yellowstone National Park and Costa Rica. These trips are specifically for families and the other people on the trip have children so no one is bothered by a grumpy 2-year-old. Even Disney World – the ultimate in a family vacation destination – recently expanded its Fantasyland, Bustos said, in part to offer more for younger children.
Whether it’s a cruise, Disney or a Yellowstone tour, Bustos stresses the importance of planning ahead. A majority of families are trying to plan vacations around school schedules so spring break, summer and the Christmas holiday are busy times. The earlier you can make arrangements the better, she said. Cruise lines, tour companies and hotels often have early booking deals and discounts. Plus, you have a better chance of getting the activities, tour or even the size of ship cabin you want.
Close to home
Not every expedition requires months of planning and your entire rainy-day fund. Living in or near Charleston – called the best city in the world to visit -- has its perks, like easy access to gorgeous resorts and waterways. Charleston’s also a jumping-off point for plenty of daytrips.
Greenville’s funky arts district downtown and river walk are fun for kids and adults alike to romp through. Kids have their own mini scavenger hunt while in visiting: throughout the city, there are nine statues of bronze mice. Download the clues for “Mice on Main” before you go on miceonmain.gov.
Riverbanks Zoo and Garden in Columbia appeals to both sets, as well, with an array of plants to ooh and ahh at, in addition to the animals from around the globe. The capital is also home to the South’s biggest children’s museum, EdVenture. There’s a 40-foot sculpture of a child that your kids can climb on, hands-on projects for the under-12 crowd and special educational exhibits throughout the year.
Myrtle Beach, with its boardwalk and water parks, feels worlds away from Sullivan’s Island, even though it’s less than 100 miles up the road. Round out the jaunt with a visit to Ripley’s Aquarium of Myrtle Beach, which will give the kids a chance to glimpse coral reefs and all the other aquatic wildlife that was “hiding” at the beach.
And Savannah’s Spanish moss-covered squares and artsy influence will appeal to any tiny creative types. The Jepson Center’s for the ArtZeum has two floors dedicated to help little ones discover art in their own way, and the Savannah Safari is a walking tour designed with families in mind: All of the “animals” are actually part of the city’s famous architecture.
But some well-heeled types might be looking for a staycation, and Olivia Daniel and her family discovered a real treat at The Sanctuary on Kiawah Island last Fourth of July. There were plenty of other children, swimming pools and babysitting, so Daniel and her husband could enjoy some true peace and quiet.
Guests of Kiawah Island Golf Resort have access to a number of recreational activities, many of which are geared specifically to children and teens. Kamp Kiawah is a supervised activity program for ages 3 to 11. The resort’s teen program offers late-night movies, basketball and volleyball tournaments and dance contests. Daniel and her family were so happy on Kiawah, they’ve already booked this year’s Independence Day trip. As she put it, “You don’t ever want to leave.”
— Holly Fisher is a freelance writer and editor in Mount Pleasant.