Unique, fun, and generally awesome vacations to take with an 8 year old?
February 12, 2014 1:29 PM   Subscribe

Tell me some of the coolest car-based trips you've taken with your kids! Bonus if it's east coast U.S. based, also bonus if you're a single parent without a partner to help wrangle / engage in adult conversation. Details inside!

I'm a divorced mom with a daughter who just turned eight. We love to travel together, and we've made something of a tradition of going to different cities and visiting museums during her spring break - so far we've done DC and Philly. Those have been short trips - one or two nights each. She loves running around cities and staying in "fancy" hotels (read: whatever I can get cheap on Priceline).

I'm looking for some ideas for reasonably priced longer trip options to undertake in the next couple of years. We rented a house in the Outer Banks last year, and that was ok, but a little boring and lonely. I think we need something with a higher activity level than that, while simultaneously being less of a pain in the ass (having to cook dinner and bring my own sheets on vacation was kind of sucky).

I've thought about taking her on a cruise, because she's really into the idea of going somewhere "tropical" with cool sea shells (and that's the cheapest way to do it), but I'm... not sure we'd get along with the kinds of people who take cruises. (We're pretty geeky and weird.)

We live in Maryland, so anything on the Eastern seaboard is within reach for us by car (air travel + hotel and stuff is not really in the budget).

Whatcha got, AskMeFi?
posted by missrachael to Travel & Transportation around United States (21 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Colonial Williamsburg and Jamestown were pretty awesome both as a kid and as an adult. Plus you can add in time at Busch Gardens if you like.

If you've only been in DC for a day or two I guarantee there's enough cool stuff to do another trip. There are tons of questions on here about kid friendly DC options (and lots of fancy hotels to choose from!)

I know you said that airfare isn't in the budget but if you're near a big airport like BWI then you might be able to swing a deal to a hub like Boston. I've found flights for $100 or less round trip on occasion.
posted by brilliantine at 1:36 PM on February 12, 2014 [6 favorites]

Amtrak's Auto Train.
posted by JanetLand at 1:47 PM on February 12, 2014

I agree with Williamsburg and I would add going to Charlottesville to see the University (the Lawn) and to see Mr. Jefferson's Monticello.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 1:48 PM on February 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Myrtle Beach is the polar opposite of the Outer Banks. It's tacky and cheap, and that's its special charm. Would she like wacky mini golf? Maybe the Ripley's Aquarium is sufficiently "tropical?"
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 1:48 PM on February 12, 2014

Cruises are fun for kids and adults, you don't necessarily have to mix and mingle with others, but if you go to Cruise Critic boards, you can get to know other cruisers before you go, and potentially find people with whom you are sympatico. Another option is to go on a specialized cruise. Dr. Who fans or such-like.

I like Vacations-to-Go for cruises. They have a 90-day countdown, and they have discounted prices.

Lots of cruises leave out of Port Canaveral, FL, which is an easy enough drive down 95, AND you can go down a day early and hit the Kennedy Space Center.

Cruises are a great deal, all inclusive and a great way to catch up on reading. In ports, you can tour old forts and other places that are interesting.

Maybe find another single-mom with a kid your daughter's age and double your fun!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:49 PM on February 12, 2014

I took my 8 and 11 year old to DC for a week and we had a lot of fun. We mostly did "free" (paid for by US taxpayers :)) -- e.g. Smithsonian, Lincoln Memorial, etc.. I think the only thing we paid for was the spy museum and I wouldn't do that again.

I also took the 8 year old to Disney World in Florida when he was 3, but I think you could take an older kid :). There, the hits were the water slide parks.

I think Boston would be a cool place to take a kid that age. Maybe NYC as well, although that seems spendy.
posted by elmay at 1:54 PM on February 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

The "likes fancy hotels" bit made me think of how I've always imagined it would be cool for a little kid to run around in La Ville Souterraine, Montréal's Underground City. It just goes on and on and on. Maybe you could tell her the whole thing is part of the hotel!

Also in Montréal is the Montréal Casino and there are many other attractions; I was thinking in particular of the Insectarium and the Biodome which is basically an indoor zoo with a jungle habitat and an Arctic habitat with penguins and stuff. I think you can get combined admission to both of them and other places in the city at the same time. Also there's the Olympic Tower, if she's never been in a funicular before.

If you were to end up driving to somewhere in New England, a cool stop might be the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut, which admits kids and hence you can walk around for a few minutes for free as a pit stop - it's ridiculously opulent and fancy, if she likes fancy. Last time I was there, there was a giant aquarium with a tunnel through it and although she wouldn't be able to get into the 18+ "Casino in the Sky" which is like a planetarium, you could take the elevator all the way to the top and look out the windows over the landscape. Even the gas station is absurdly fancy - in Google Maps you can see the shadow of a tower attached to it which is made to look like a giant flaming torch.
posted by XMLicious at 2:25 PM on February 12, 2014

Ruthless Bunny: yes to the themed cruises for sure. The JoCo Cruise Crazy would be awesome, but it's in March when she's in school.
posted by missrachael at 2:43 PM on February 12, 2014

I've been banging the gong for New Bedford, MA a good deal of late.
posted by vrakatar at 2:56 PM on February 12, 2014

Take her to Chincoteague/Assateague to see the wild ponies!
posted by brujita at 3:23 PM on February 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Boston and Salem. I was 10 when I went with my parents, and it is one of our most memorable family trips. Boston is a great walkable city with amazing history, outstanding historical sites, and we had a contest to find the best calm chowdah every restaurant we went to. The aquarium is fun (and there is a seal pup you can meet as of Oct 2013) and the Boston Tea Party museum is fun and neat.

Salem was kooky, and fun for me at 10 with the witch trial museums and ghost tours at night. Lots of weird mystic witch craft shops and decidedly the best clam chowdah of our trip.
posted by Suffocating Kitty at 3:31 PM on February 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Now this ISN'T fancy hotel and museums but it's an awesome experience and EXTRA awesome for a single mom.

My husband works a lot so I decided to take my kid to "family camp"- just him and I . All we had to do is bring sleeping bags and pillow and clothes and everything was taken care of. Since camping is so labor intensive I really thought is was great for someone single - especially if they thing their kid might like to camp but they don't want to invest in equipment or work that hard on vacation. They have yurts, cabins, and tent cabins. You get up and they serve you breakfast, then you have a choice of 2 activities. You can choose to do something together, or separate. They have everything from archery, sailing, ropes course, nature walks, book binding, etc. Meet back for lunch together, then 2 more activities. Free time ans supper and then an evening activity. Campfires, etc.

It was all on a secluded lake and really terrific. The food was great and the staff was INCREDIBLE.

It's 3 nights and about 250 a person which I thought was a great rate.

It feels like a great option since if she WANTS to chill was some other kids she can, but if she isn't comfortable she got you. The staff makes you feel totally included and I felt like I knew what it was like to go to summer camp.

It's in Southern New Hampshire and called Wildwood Audubon.
posted by beccaj at 3:56 PM on February 12, 2014 [4 favorites]

This is totally different but a once in a lifetime kind of trip at least for a kid). When my son was about 11 we (we took my nephew also about the same age) went to Rose Island Lighthouse in Newport RI. It was an incredible experience - we were lighthouse keepers for the week. If she has a close to same age cousin or friend it would be such an awesome trip. It is very expensive and for the best times (summers - school vacs) you will have to plan very far ahead. But it had to be one of the most incredible vacations we ever took with my son at that age. You actually spend every night in the lighthouse in Narraganset Bay - fishing / kayaking / doing daily chores / waking up in every day on the water. We still talk about it all the time 12 years later - I mean it - it was awesome. If you have specific questions I would be glad to answer.
posted by MrsMGH at 4:10 PM on February 12, 2014 [5 favorites]

Friendly Crossways is an awesome half-century-plus old youth hostel in a humongous New England farm about an hour north-west by car from Boston. In addition to the usual barracks-type youth hostel beds you can also get tiny private rooms and when I was last there about a decade ago there was a loft room with seven or eight beds you could have to yourself for the bunk bed rate if no one else was in it. It's quite an extensive building with a common room with a fireplace and a couple of other common areas, so maybe it would count as a fancy hotel by her standards.

There's an MBTA commuter rail station three miles away (and I'm noticing on the web site it says "we provide free pick-up during our check-in hours") so it might be a good base of operations for a trip to the city or elsewhere in New England, or maybe just as a less-lonely version of your Outer Banks trip. (Minus the ocean.)
posted by XMLicious at 4:25 PM on February 12, 2014

My family took several enjoyable trips to Harpers Ferry WV when I was around that age. I don't know how much of their features would be attractive during spring though.
posted by Candleman at 4:41 PM on February 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Several of these sound awesome, but beccaj, that sounds PERFECT. that's exactly the kind of odd thing I don't know how to search for.

Re: Assateague: we're about 45 minutes away, so we're there all the time. It is great.

Good to hear Harpers Ferry confirmed - I was considering that too.
posted by missrachael at 5:19 PM on February 12, 2014

If she's a reader, what about visiting some of the girliest literary landmarks in the Northeast? Specifically, my family of two girls and a single mom took two lovely, memorable trips centered around books: the first a trip to Boston that included a visit to Louisa May Alcott's Orchard House in Concord, and the other a trip up to Prince Edward Island for L.M. Montgomery-themed fun (highly recommend watching the Anne of Green Gables PBS miniseries first). In fact I think the second time we went to Orchard House was on the way up to PEI. That was an awesome, awesome road trip.
posted by kickingthecrap at 5:35 PM on February 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

When I was a little kid, I used to absolutely love trips down the Florida Atlantic coast. If she loves space stuff, visiting the Kennedy Space Center is a blast. Cocoa Beach and Flagler Beach are friendly places that aren't too expensive. St. Augustine is fun for kids who are history nerds, like I was when I was little. The water is warm and summers are great times to visit!

As a bonus, you can journey inland a bit to one of Florida's many springs, which are great for swimming, innertubing, and recreation.

And of course, Orlando's not far.

Definitely a fun, stress free place to visit with plenty of stuff to do.
posted by Old Man McKay at 5:54 PM on February 12, 2014

Definitely the literary stuff too. She's a fan of "Little Ladies."

Man, though, I'd really love to take her to England, to visit Wind in the Willows country, Alice's sweet shop in Oxford, etc.
posted by missrachael at 6:22 PM on February 12, 2014

Any so-called "walking cities" will be good at that age: wear 'em out between sights. :7)

Boston is an awesome example of this because you get to ride the T to get around, and walk as much as you can handle. And there are a million things to do that kids love including
- USS Constitution & Charlestown Navy Yard
- Children's Museum
- Museum of Science (and the Theater Of Electricity: w00t!)
- Museum of Fine Arts
- Boston Public Garden ("Make Way for Ducklings" statue) and Boston Common (tons o' history)
- The Freedom Trail
...And just walking around Back Bay or the various college campuses.

If you have your car in Boston you can drive less than an hour to go to Salem or to Battleship Cove, or venture farther afield to Mystic, CT, for their Aquarium and their AMAZING Seaport.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:49 PM on February 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

I lived in Boston when I was in first grade and my folks dragged us everywhere previously mentioned in this thread, the Boston sites, Jamestown, Williamsburg, DC museums. I would add Plymouth and Mystic Seaport in the New England stuff.

South of Jamestown and Williamsburg we also visited Savannah, the Florida space coast and Disney, and Charleston, as well as I assume other locales.

I have revisited all of these sites except for Disneyworld and Mystic Seaport as an adult. The sites that were totally mindbending to me as a kid which were not simply museums were the re-enactor sites, specifically Plimouth Plantation, James Towne, and Williamsburg. They were slightly less engaging (but only very slightly, I believe entirely due to adult resistance toward suspension of disbelief) but still utterly compelling.
posted by mwhybark at 10:10 PM on February 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

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