Where do you go when you've won a free vacation for your family and you could go anywhere?
January 6, 2010 11:12 AM   Subscribe

Great news! My family has won a $6,000 1-week vacation through my work. Unfortunately, we can’t take the trip until Christmas (2010) but I have to book and pay for the trip by the end of this month. Help! I need kid-friendly suggestions that will also provide some much needed R&R for two exhausted and stressed-out parents.

We’d love to be more flexible but circumstances (both work and personal) have made it impossible. We’re located in New England and would prefer something in the Caribbean (versus Mexico) if possible. We’re considering Disney World but I’ve heard that the holiday crowds are insane and I think my boys might be a bit young (3 & 5 now) to really appreciate it. We’re considering a cruise but I worry about the small rooms and that it might get boring. My kids are very active and the idea of being trapped in a small room with them for 5 days makes me break out into a cold sweat. We’ve also looked into all-inclusive resorts because we could easily spend all the money in one shot. I’m less excited about the all-inclusive idea because I worry that they are bland and so detached from the real world. On the plus side, they offer great kids activities and sometimes nannies, so the husband and I could get some quality alone time together.

Here’s my ideal vacation description – we’re staying in a bungalow at a small, relaxed, family-friendly resort (Costa Rica, Panama, St. Lucia, Puerto Rico, Bermuda) on or near a beach. We can walk into town which has fun stuff to see for the kids – boats, piers, movie theater, playground, library etc. The resort offers a nanny service both for day and night. At this point I’m overwhelmed with choices and I don’t have a ton of time. Would a travel agent be a good idea? Thanks!
posted by victoriab to Travel & Transportation (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
A few years ago, we stayed at the Hotel Del Coronado, off of San Diego... it was the most wonderful vacation, and there was TONS to do.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:14 AM on January 6, 2010

Call me gullible, but the new Oasis of the Seas or similar seem to have an absolute ton of supervised activities for your kids that could get them out of your stateroom.
posted by Madamina at 11:18 AM on January 6, 2010

The week between Christmas and New Year's is the busiest week of the year at Walt Disney World, but if you come earlier in the month it isn't quite so bad.
posted by Lokheed at 11:20 AM on January 6, 2010

Disney World during Christmas week was one of the worst experiences of my life. Don't do that.
posted by something something at 11:26 AM on January 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

The Disney Cruises are amazing. You can actually check your kids into the age appropriate play group and they will be kept busy the whole time. Seriously amazing. Then you and the wife can get massages or sit out on the deck and watch the ocean go by. The Disney cruises also stop at the Disney owned Caribbean Island that only the people on cruises can go to, so that will probably be less crowded.

You can do things as a family on the shore excursions and then check the kids into the clubs while you are on board. You will still eat dinner together, and there are a ton of shows and things to do on board as a family. You will only spend time in your stateroom sleeping and getting ready.

The great thing about a cruise is that you go to sleep in one place and wake up in another. In the case of the Caribbean you go to sleep on one island and wake up in another. There is no need to repack and change hotels, and you get to visit a lot of different places. All the food is included, but you will need to budget for drinks, tips, any services (like massages or the salon for your wife), and shore excursions. But the shore excursions can be paid in advance and I think you can also prepay for the massages (just don't for get that you'll need to tip the masseuse.) Also, just getting off the boat and exploring is free. The onboard entertainment, the pools, and the Activity Clubs for the kids are all included.

Honestly, if I were the one in your position a Disney Cruise is exactly what I'd do. Go to their website and do a little research.

(Disclaimer: I have been on a cruise to San Diego and Mexico, but it was not Disney. I have done a lot of research on the Disney cruises though 'cuz that is sort of my dream vacation.)
posted by TooFewShoes at 11:36 AM on January 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

I am no fan of the Mouse, and have told my daughter (who is 6 - I also have a 3-year-old son) that if she ever wants to hit up D-World/Land, she best be talking to her father or grandparents, because the thought of it makes me want to drink a bottle of vodka in one gulp. Having said that, I'd be all over a Disney cruise if someone else were paying for it, precisely for the reasons TooFewShoes outlines.

Along the same lines, I have heard tell of Sesame Street-themed cruises, and Sesame Street activities at some of the Beaches all-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean. Basically, I'd look for something that provides lots of supervised, age-appropriate entertainment for the kids and chances for the grown-ups to relax and kick back a bit in a low-stress environment. Sometimes, bland and detached might be just what you need; a week on the beach with no one begging me for goldfish crackers every five minutes is my current vision of paradise.
posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 11:47 AM on January 6, 2010 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: TooFewShoes - I AM the wife :) but the Disney cruise is definitely an option. I just wish the ports of call were more interesting. I don't really want to go to the Bahamas but I think the Caribbean trip would blow our budget.

Something Something - The husband is pushing for Disney (I agree with you) but the Disney Cruise might be a good compromise

Roomthreeseventeen - Just checked out the Hotel Del Coronado and it looks amazing.

Madamina - A friend of mine just won a trip on Oasis of the Sea through her work so I'm going to let her be the guinea pig. I get a little freaked out by crowds and huge things. My fantasy is a 9-day barge trip through the canals of Europe. Slow, quiet and lazy.
posted by victoriab at 12:14 PM on January 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Is it possible for you to rent a beachfront cottage from vrbo.com or a similar site and use the money you would have spent on your vacation to bring along a nanny/babysitter? That would give you much more flexibility in your location, and you'd presumably have more confidence in the person watching your kids. If you set times that the nanny would be responsible for the kids (or a set # of hours per day), it's cheaper than an open-ended arrangement.
posted by melissasaurus at 12:36 PM on January 6, 2010

Best answer: Sorry Victoria, I didn't mean to read you as male!

The thing about the ports of call not being interesting may be a plus in your case. Your kids are really young enough that just playing on the beach is going to thrill them (giant sandbox!) and you can just sit in the shade and sip a cold drink and read. Or you can just stay on the boat. When I went on my cruise I found that I was perfectly happy just chilling on the boat. There was enough to do to keep me busy if I wanted, but more than enough reason to just chill out. Although your kids might get a kick out of snorkling, especially if you teach them this summer in your local pool. Surfing lessons and body boarding are options if you don't want to just sit still. And if you are into shopping there will be shops on the ship.

San Diego is one of my favorite vacation spots. It's also a great place for kids, the San Diego Zoo is awesome, Sea World is right there, and Lego Land is not too far away. Your kids are the perfect ages for those places. December will be too cold for the beach though. The Pacific is colder than the Atlantic. I don't recommend the Hotel Del Coronado just because it is sooo expensive, there are a lot of really nice hotels that don't cost quite so much. (I'm spoiled though, we always stayed on Coronado Island at the Navy Lodge!)

I still recommend the cruise, even if you don't go Disney. The other cruise lines have children's groups too, Disney just seems to be the best. Also, check the ages for the kids clubs. Disney starts younger than the rest IIRC. The point is that you will be able to spend exactly how much time together as you want and will still have the opportunity for adult time.
posted by TooFewShoes at 12:43 PM on January 6, 2010

As a native San Diegan, I think my city is a lovely place to visit, especially over Christmas. You can take the kids to Sea World, Legoland, and the San Diego Zoo. December is a perfect time to visit the tide pools and walk along the beaches without any crowds. You can stay at one of many nice hotels (the Hotel Del is basically the cream of the San Diego crop). And, as a data point, it was around 75* and sunny on Christmas a couple of weeks ago.
posted by booknerd at 12:52 PM on January 6, 2010

I can highly recommend a Disney Cruise if that's what you're interested in. I worked for several years for a corporate travel agency. As an incentive to sell their cruises, they let us travel for $35.00 a night! I did not have kids at the time so I took my husband, brother and sister-in-law. We were a bit apprehensive about kids being everywhere but seriously, you hardly ever see them! They have great kids camps, and the kids are kept very busy so the adults can have free time. We were upgraded at the dock to a balcony room when we arrived...best thing ever. Even though you're not in your room a lot, the ability to open a door and get fresh air is awesome and the views unbelievable.

The dining rooms were really cool, too. I remember in one of them that the pictures on the walls would change every few minutes. It was so cool and I'm sure would keep kids entertained.

I'm not a huge Disney nut by any means, and I have been on other cruise lines, but Disney was by far, the nicest.

Have fun deciding....one last thing...there's a great website called www.mousesavers.com. Tons of great information, tips and secrets to getting a good deal.
posted by fresh-rn at 12:57 PM on January 6, 2010

Note that Disney World has all sorts of combination theme park + cruise packages. I don't recommend going with young children during the Dec 23 - Jan 2 period, but if you can fix it that you go on the cruise during that period and the theme park before or after, you could miss the really enormous crowds.
posted by jeather at 12:57 PM on January 6, 2010

FYI, there have been a lot of posts about Caribbean holidays in the last while - checking out the other posts tagged Caribbean might help.
posted by nicoleincanada at 1:17 PM on January 6, 2010

Oh, and on the Disney front - I can't speak for the time of year, but I did go to Disneyland for the first time as a five-year-old with my then three-year-old sister. We both had a good time, according to our parents, but I have only fuzzy memories (the hotel room had a Murphy bed!! Mom wouldn't let me spin the wheel in the teacup ride, boo!!) and my sister remembers pretty much nothing. Might be good to wait a couple of years.
posted by nicoleincanada at 1:21 PM on January 6, 2010

A few years ago, we stayed at the Hotel Del Coronado, off of San Diego... it was the most wonderful vacation, and there was TONS to do.

The hotel is gorgeous, and it was a great vacation (we also went over winter) but the water's not really warm enough to swim in (though I did take surfing lessons with a wet suit)
posted by kylej at 2:00 PM on January 6, 2010

The hotel is gorgeous, and it was a great vacation (we also went over winter) but the water's not really warm enough to swim in (though I did take surfing lessons with a wet suit)

Ah, I didn't think of that... we went in August.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:02 PM on January 6, 2010

Response by poster: Okay, this is great input...including the props for the Disney cruise. I feel more confident that WDW isn't a good choice but that a Disney Cruise or a Beaches all-inclusive (Lulu's Pink Converse makes an excellent point) might work.

So, for a final question :) The grandparents have expressed an interest in going. Any ideas on which of those options above (Disney Cruise or Beaches all-inclusive) would be more appealing to grandparents (mid-70's) that are pretty active and in good health?.

Nicoleincanada - thanks for the search suggestion...I'll definitely follow-up on that

Again, I really appreciate the feedback.
posted by victoriab at 4:17 PM on January 6, 2010

This is a great Web site for what you are looking for. On it parents share trips that they have just taken with their children and how child/parent friendly it was.
Hope you have a great time!
posted by srbrunson at 4:49 PM on January 6, 2010

Best answer: Cruises are great and you are definitely not stuck in a room the whole time. Almost all cruises have dedicated kid's programs, which will keep your children awesomely occupied while you relax in the spa or out on the deck by the pool. Once you get somewhere there are a whole range of shore excursions, and you can always just wander around every place on your own. I wouldn't worry about trying to go specifically for a Disney Cruise, although I did go on one and it was a good time!

Cruises are probably my mother's favorite vacation activity, and I also love them for the fact that there is a good amount of rest time built in as you go from one place to another (otherwise on vacations with my mother my feet start to really hurt!). However, that rest time does not mean you need to stay in your room, as cruise ships have many lounge areas inside and out, as well as sports activities and other things to keep you occupied. I most recently went on a Celebrity cruise (on the Solstice), and they even had exhibitions of glass blowing (on board at sea!). I have been going on cruises for as long as I remember, and probably even from before then. My grandparents also came with us, and I remember my grandmother always being happy to go. There are probably even activities geared towards their age group if they wanted to participate. Ships nowadays are even huge enough to be not very seasick-y.
posted by that girl at 6:42 PM on January 6, 2010

I nth the Disney Cruise/Hotel combo idea. But I'm biased. I'd also suggest you buy Vacation insurance since you have to pay so far in advance. Do your research and make sure you're buying from a trustworthy company and that the coverage is what you want. (Job loss, injury, illness, weather, partial cancellation, etc)
posted by IndigoSkye at 7:24 PM on January 6, 2010

We went to Club Med Ixtapa with a 3-year-old and everyone had a great time. Club Med is all-inclusive, has great programs for kids (Petit Club for the 3-year-old, and Kid's Club for the 5-year-old), and is wonderful for adults as well - there are lots of activities and excursions available, but there is no pressure to do anything if you'd rather relax. You can see the different Family Club Med locations here. I've heard good things about Punta Cana as well.
posted by mogget at 9:00 PM on January 6, 2010

Response by poster: Hi everyone. Thought I'd post a quick update to my travel dilemma and thank you all again for the great suggestions.

We ended up deciding against Disney because we just figured that the boys are too young and Christmas is a tough time to go visit with the crowds. We finally settled on a short cruise to the Bahamas on Norwegian Cruise Lines. They have freestyle dining (which I really liked), larger cabins than the other ships I checked and and seem to have very good kids programs.

Then, we rethought taking the kids. I took some of your comments about the "total relaxation" thing to heart and decided to still consider all-inclusives. So, we're going to spend a week in December at Sandals Halcyon on St. Lucia. I did get trip insurance (thanks IndigoSkye) that will allow us a full refund if we cancel for any reason, so booking this early shouldn't cause any problems and it definitely saved us money.

Thanks again for the help and I'll let you know how it goes!
posted by victoriab at 1:22 PM on February 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

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