The middle of winter … the darkest, coldest, dampest, dankest, most depressingly oppressive time of the year. Honestly, the days between the start of January and Valentine’s Day seem to move at the pace of a snowplow navigating Washington streets after Snowzilla. And that goes double if you have kids.
Given that, here’s a thought: vacation.
Yeah; vacation. Yank the kids out of school (they’re not paying attention anyway), pack up the bags, and get the heck out of Dodge.
There are plenty of options, actually, some more obvious than others. Midwinter family travel has a lot of advantages: It’s relatively inexpensive, especially if you’re flying, it’s relatively uncrowded compared to the holidays before and Spring Break after, and it does wonders for your mental health, assuming you actually like being in the same room with your kids for more than a couple minutes at a clip.
Here are six very family-friendly travel options that are semi-guaranteed to give everyone the mental-health break they need without breaking the bank (too badly).
Disney parks: Start with the obvious. This is a perfect time to visit Disney theme parks. Weather’s great, crowds are down, lines are short, the new Star Wars stuff rocks, and there are deals to had, especially if you’re looking to bundle a Disney resort with a Disney theme park (which becomes much more doable at off-season prices). There are seemingly discounts everywhere, from airlines (like Southwest Vacations) to hotels to the parks themselves. Where do you start? A good starting point is MouseSavers.com, which aggregates many of the best offers and presents them in semi-chronological order. Otherwise, a good travel agent (especially one specializing in Disney vacations) can help you suss out the deals.
Disney Cruises: There is no better warm-weather, water-borne getaway for families, period. The wonder of a Disney cruise is the ship itself, which is really just a newer, glitzier Disney park with cheaper food and that ocean thing just over the rail; the itineraries, while certainly pleasant, are a distant second. Disney Cruises are not particularly cheap, and are not cheaper this time of year than others, especially for late bookers, but if you’re an advance planner, this is definitely one to put on the calendar for next year.
National parks: Yeah, I wasn’t thinking of this one either. But then a Yahoo Travel article caught my eye and got me thinking about national parks as a midwinter destination. Some of Yahoo’s recommendations really aren’t worth much – you’re probably not going to be hauling the fam to Denali this time of year – but others, like Yosemite, Yellowstone, Canyonlands, and the Everglades, are incredible in winter. Or how about the Grand Canyon, the Great Smoky Mountains, Sequoia, Carlsbad Caverns, or Mammoth Cave? It’s the 150th anniversary of the national-park system; celebrate early and often.
California: San Diego is perpetually underrated as a travel destination, and I just don’t get it. As our Stacey Zable points out, San Diego has everything you’d want in a family travel destination: Sun, beaches, one of the world’s finest zoos, a consistently delightful climate, parks, museums, and more. And if that’s not good enough for you, hop Amtrak and take an incredibly scenic ride to Los Angeles, which has all that Los Angeles stuff going on, including hot dogs – and it’s surprisingly easy to navigate without a car.
New York: I love New York this time of year – when it’s not blizzarding, of course – for some very specific reasons: the sidewalks are navigable (occasionally), the restaurants and attractions are less crowded (you can honestly have the Met or the Museum of Natural History almost to yourself on a weekday morning), you can do the rom-com thing and skate at Rockefeller Center, you have a better chance of scoring rush or last-minute theater tickets through outlets like Tkts, and the city just sets up so much better this time of year, with the grey skies and the wan light and so many more hours to be lit up so spectacularly. Find a native, wind your way around town, and see if it’s not so.
Europe: Why stop at New York? Fares to Europe are stupid low, thanks to cheap fuel and the presence of Wow Air et al., and everything that we just said about New York applies to Paris, London, Prague, Berlin, or a score of other European cities – even Stockholm. If you can wangle it, throwing the family on a plane and spending a week trundling around Europe is never going to be cheaper — and as our Lisa Bellavin pointed out, it’s a great opportunity on multiple levels. So what are you waiting for? Yank those li’l wranglers out of school and get going! And don’t forget the travel insurance!