Low cost family vacation?
February 9, 2016 7:33 PM   Subscribe

I don't really want to go to Disney again. Looking for ideas for a family vacation.

Vacation is in July and will consist of two parents and a 14 year old girl. We will be traveling from Providence, but Boston is an option. I suggested Costa Rica, but July falls in the rainy season. The Mister found Aruba to be too expensive. Our last vacations were Disney World, Washington DC, Disneyland, and Québec/Ontario. Teen Ruki does NOT like roller coasters, which negates the Mister's idea of going back to Orlando. He does not want to go to Southern East Coast beaches. Hawaii is too costly. Key West is under consideration if there's more than Hemingway to do. He would like someplace warm, while Teen and I enjoy things to see and do. Ideas?
posted by Ruki to Travel & Transportation (32 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Would one of the Mid-Atlantic beaches be too "southern east coast" for Mr. Ruki? I think Ocean City or Rehoboth might fit the intersection of beach* + "things to see and do" (boardwalk, restaurants, shops, live music). There will of course be lots of crowds in July, but if you've faced Disney in the summer then you are prepared.

*I'm sensing that perhaps Mr. Ruki specifically wants a seaside vacation, not just anywhere warm, since you mention Hawaii/Aruba/Key West? Otherwise, the whole eastern seaboard is warm in July and the world is your oyster. I went to NYC in July a couple years ago, stayed in an AirBnB for cheap, avoided Times Square as much as I could, and had a great time.
posted by capricorn at 7:58 PM on February 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

I don't know if it's too expensive considering the airfare but the Pacific Northwest in July is about the most perfect place in the world. It's not tropical but the weather is 80+ with a cool breeze and hardly any humidity.

If you stayed in Seattle you could do all kinds of day hikes and see a lot of the state, or save some money and stay in the smaller spots. It would be really cool to start in Portland, spend a day or two on the coast, see Seattle for a day or two, then hit some hikes or head up to the San Juan Islands. After heading north you could go all the way to Vancouver and spend a day or two and then head up to Whistler which, even without snow in the summer, is still mind mindbogglingly beautiful.

There is no shortage of amazing things to do around here if you like spending time outside, not to mention the awesome cultural sites in the cities.
posted by Tevin at 8:03 PM on February 9, 2016 [10 favorites]

I agree with Tevin, we've done Seattle + The Olympic Peninsula and it's a great trip. Olympic National Park is extremely diverse, and you can walk around at low tide and pick up starfish, or go up to Hurricane Ridge and gaze at the mountains and Strait of Juan deFuca. Seattle's expensive, but the peninsula is not. We've stayed here and it's a converted apartment complex that they now rent out like a hotel.

We've also piggybacked trips to Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Rainer onto our Seattle trips.
posted by Ostara at 8:32 PM on February 9, 2016

It's not suuuper warm, but I LOVED Chicago and Milwaukee (the surprise hit of the trip) last July. Really, it's an ideal time to visit.
posted by R a c h e l at 8:50 PM on February 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

What about a trip to the National Parks in Utah and Arizona? There are a ton, and once you fly in, you can camp to make it cheaper if you wanted. Arches is beautiful, and also there's Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands...they are all within about an hour or so of each other by car. You could also maybe swing down to the Grand Canyon. Anyway, just a thought! Might be a bit hot and July is definitely the season when other tourists tend to visit these parks in droves, but it would probably still be a fun trip and definitely educational in terms of the geology of the western part of our country, as well as some history.

Besides that, I will 3rd the Pacific Northwest. Seattle, Portland, the Columbia River Gorge, Mt. Rainier, Mt. St. Helens - this whole area is typically very nice in the summer and a must see!
posted by FireFountain at 8:51 PM on February 9, 2016 [3 favorites]

California --- Napa/Sonoma, Sausalito, San Francisco, Santa Cruz (beach and boardwalk with rides/games), Carmel, Monterey, Cambria (including San Simeon/Hearst Castle), San Luis Obispo, Solvang, Santa Barbara -- there are a lot of great cities along the coast, and it can be a road trip down 101. Yosemite is also truly stunning but probably too crowded in July.

Or Las Vegas! It's rather schlocky but definitely warm, and certainly unique. It's not all casinos (which would be off limits to a 14 year old) - lots of shows to see (musicals, singers, magic/Cirque du Soleil), some hotels have huge pool complexes, various spectacles like the canals in the Venetian, the fake Eiffel Tower at Paris hotel, water fountains at Bellagio, the lights on the Strip, etc. And tons of restaurants of the "famous chef empire" variety.

Grand Canyon is also awesome.
posted by Mallenroh at 9:18 PM on February 9, 2016

Since a little of Las Vegas goes a long way, why don't you combine it with the National Parks of southern Utah. After all, Las Vegas is the nearest airport to Southern Utah.
posted by mmascolino at 9:22 PM on February 9, 2016

July is the perfect month for an Alaskan cruise. I know you said your husband wants something warm but maybe he'd consider this? Many Mefites look down on cruises but I love them. You can makes them as cheap or as expensive as you like (inside cabin? Balcony? How many extra activities on port? Etc)

I went to a Princess Cruise from Vancouver to Whittier (near Anchorage) on my honeymoon and liked it so much we returned 3 years later with my husband's side of the family. There's a bunch of options in terms of where you start and finish the cruise, and also tons of options of what to do. Whale watching, helicopter glacier tours, veeery gentle white-water rafting, etc etc.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 9:28 PM on February 9, 2016

What about Puerto Rico? July is before hurricane season, you can combine beachy and some natural and historical sites (bioluminescent bays, old San Juan). Less expensive than Aruba and Hawaii. Weather should be mild at the coast.
posted by vunder at 9:30 PM on February 9, 2016

Vegas also has the spectacular, but frequently overlooked Red Rock Canyon, as well as the Pinball Hall of Fame, Neon Museum, and the National Atomic Testing Museum. There's a lot more in Vegas than casinos.
posted by Diagonalize at 10:01 PM on February 9, 2016

Response by poster: The mister goes to Las Vegas every year with his best friend, so that is very much his thing. San Fran was discussed, but a dear friend of mine died in a motorcycle accident on the Golden Gate Bridge too recently for me to feel comfortable going there. The mister nixed the Pacific Northwest, because he's difficult. We've been to San Juan on a cruise before, but didn't have a chance to fully explore. That's a definite possibility. He mentioned an all-inclusive in the Dominican Republic as an option, although I'm going to price an Alaskan cruise.
posted by Ruki at 10:03 PM on February 9, 2016

Thought of another idea for you - what about Montana? I hear it's beautiful there, plus there's Glacier National Park. Also you are near Canada...not sure if there's cool stuff in those towns nearby, but it's just a thought. If you are into outdoorsy stuff like hiking and boating, it might be worth some googling.
posted by FireFountain at 10:28 PM on February 9, 2016

How about a science getaway?
posted by bq at 10:41 PM on February 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

Santa Fe. Temps in July can be anywhere from balmy mid-seventies to upper eighties...but it's a dry heat. Lots of private and public campgrounds in the area. Awesome food. And there's no place I'd rather be on the Fourth of July than the plaza in one of the oldest cities in the US.
posted by tully_monster at 10:43 PM on February 9, 2016

Cuba. Warm, has beaches, bound to be interesting.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 11:09 PM on February 9, 2016

Where have you been? I was going to suggest San Francisco and Napa Valley, but I see that's out. It's a shame your hubby said no to the Pacific Northwest because Vancouver is really beautiful -- I would absolutely recommend it.

In July, anywhere in the U.S. is going to be "warm" for you, so why not Chicago? It's an awesome city and a pretty affordable vacation. I don't think it's like NYC -- it's less crowded, cleaner and less expensive for starters, and it has very different architecture plus a river going straight through the downtown area. This is more of a "go do/see things" vacation than sitting on the beach, but I think there will be plenty to keep the whole family entertained to make it worth it. My favorite American city and the third largest city in the U.S.!
posted by AppleTurnover at 11:10 PM on February 9, 2016

I also came here to suggest Santa Fe. Lots of B&Bs that each have their own character. Great food, great art, accessible hikes. You can find some great live music if you look around.
posted by kamikazegopher at 12:13 AM on February 10, 2016

If you're okay with temperatures above 90° F, south Texas can be an affordable beach destination. South Padre Island and Mustang Island are close enough to Corpus Christi that you can also do activities in the city (and there's an airport). Galveston is another popular destination.
posted by neushoorn at 12:46 AM on February 10, 2016

Instead of the beach, go to the Mountains!

I feel like I should be getting a bump from the chamber of commerce, as often as I suggest it, but I recommend Gatlinburg, TN. Fly into Atlanta and drive about 4 hours (or more, depending on how slowly traffic moves through Smoky Mountain National Park. Stop at Goats on the Roof. It's not much, just a place that sells ice cream and has Goats on the Roof.

If you want to stay in a cabin, I have the hook up. It's close to town, and across the street from the community pool. There's a grocery store down the street, and the cabin key has a loyalty card on it, so you can get the in-town prices.

Gatlinburg on the main strip is tacky as hell! Nothing but candles, fudge and souvenirs. Perfect for a thirteen year old. I would even recommend allowing Teen Ruki to bring a friend along.

What's to do?

Dollywood, the park and the Water Park. I especially enjoy the water park. Dollywood itself does a lot to show what Appalachian life was like, it shows the skills used and needed, there's music and a Dolly Parton museum.
Hike and explore in Smoky Mountain Park. Cades Cove is really interesting.
Drive through the park to Cherokee for the day. There's a museum, a show, a village, a river to play in and picnic near.
Mini golf, Rippley's Believe it or Not, Aquarium, etc.

It's different from going to the beach. It's pretty southern but not as Rednecky as Panama City (if that's a recommendation.)

We go because we have friends who live there. But even if we didn't, it's nice to get away into nature.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:48 AM on February 10, 2016

Belize: the rainy season, which means quick intense showers mainly at night time. Caye Ambergris or Caye Caulker (smaller); lot of small hotels, private rentals, etc. Both small enough to let teenager wander around (maybe even with a golf cart), lots do to, relaxed atmosphere. Tickets from Boston to Belize City below $500 (need another hop to the islands) and accommodation has low and high end options.
posted by zeikka at 6:15 AM on February 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Don't write off Costa Rica. As zeikka said, Rainy season is usually short intense rains. We've gone to Central America many times during July/August. The trick is to get out early in the day and do your thing before it rains. Prices are also cheaper
posted by Hash at 7:13 AM on February 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

It's not suuuper warm, but I LOVED Chicago and Milwaukee (the surprise hit of the trip) last July. Really, it's an ideal time to visit.

Chicago is actually really hot in July. I lived there for a few years and we'd regularly get temperatures in the 90s. There are some great beaches; you can swim in the lake and have cookouts. The only thing is that hotel accommodations aren't always cheap if you want to stay in a part of town that is near things to do. I recommend all the stuff on this list.
posted by capricorn at 7:18 AM on February 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

I vote for the American Southwest. Fly out, rent a car, drive around the desert and the mountains. See the Grand Canyon. Stay overnight at The View and watch the sun come up over Monument Valley from your hotel room. Visit the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde, gaze upon the awesome mountains of Southwestern Colorado and stand in four states at once at Four Corners.
posted by Mothlight at 7:23 AM on February 10, 2016

My family has a beach house for rent on the Alabama coast, on a bay behind the Gulf. I sleeps 12, has a large porch, and is peaceful. There are watercraft to paddle, and places to paddle to. Not far away are the soft white beaches of the Gulf, and tourist attractions for those who want them. The rent is about $3,000 per week.

Let me know if you want details.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 7:31 AM on February 10, 2016

Ocean city, NJ, is near Atlantic City. It's a resort town with a boardwalk. The really NICE thing about it for family vacations is that it's in a dry county. That means there's a very different vibe from your typical Jersey beach town and there are families with kids and groups of teenagers roaming the Boardwalk safely all evening - without groups of drunken college students, I mean.
posted by bq at 9:15 AM on February 10, 2016

So how about camping? Every kid should go camping, right?
You would save 1500-3000 on lodging and 1500-2000 on flights and you can do Hawaii with that money next year!

I have a favorite camping place in Vermont. Button Bay state park. State run park with zero entry pool with water slide, nature center, boat rental, in what I have determined after thousands of miles on New England roads might be the prettiest corner of all New England.

It is just south of Burlington enough to be out of the messy traffic but close enough to get there in forty minutes.

It's right on Lake Champlain but some how the lake is always empty. Smack dab in the middle of the summer and it's only us out there - without a house in sight (some trick of Vermont's terrific building rules).

There is a wonderful walk through a huge pine forest to the perfect place to watch the sunset or go in for a dip.

Things to do:
Go to Vergennes for meals. 10 minutes Great restaurants. There are at least 4 really outstanding places.

Go to the Shelburne Museum I think the best museum I have ever been to and the only one that all the kids and adults like to go to. Incredible grounds and literally something for everyone.

Go swimming in a Vermont swimming hole! You can go to Swimminghole.org to find one close. Here's one near by - here.

You can also go to SHelburne farms.

Burlington is a lot of fun. Church street has great people watching, restaurants and shops, and plenty of things a 14 year olf might like.

Montpelier is just over an hour away but a wonderful drive and a good way to spend a day. Shops, restaurants and fun events.

You can do Vermont Teddy Bear (super close) or Ben and Jerry tours but I am not big on either, but some people like them.

On the drive up you can go to St Gaudens National Park. Incredible grounds, gardens, art and history.

On our way up (and home) we drop about 15 bucks on the most incredible raspberries you've ever tasted.

You'll hear owls, see turtles, watch the farmers harvest the hay (There are hay fields and farms all around the park)

The drive up through Vermont is a dream compared to well, most of New England vacation driving. It's a pretty pretty drive and on the way and while you are there, there are tons of great little towns to visit with shops, museums, restaurants, and nature, too.
posted by beccaj at 9:22 AM on February 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

Go to the Midwest: a few days in wonderful Chicago and then a few days in the Twin Cities would keep you all busy, and I think your Mister can loll next to lake as well as he can next to an ocean. :7)

Chicago is chock-full of cool stuff and good beer; others can describe its particulars better than I can. Personally, I think that Minnesota is even better: lakes, shopping, walking, canoeing, county fairs, the Mall of America, the new zoo (tigers and giraffe-feeding and a million critters to see), the old Como Zoo (polar bears!) & McNeely Conservatory, really excellent beers, the awesome Minnesota History Center, and tons more.

If you rent a car and drive north to Duluth, you can see giant freighters on the biggest lake in the world, Lake Superior, and climb Split Rock Lighthouse and stand astride the Laurentian Divide and see some of the prettiest scenery in the country.

There's great minor league baseball in downtown St. Paul, or pro ball in Minneapolis. Take your daughter dancing at First Avenue where Prince & Bob Mould played. The University has a Raptor Center where they nurse injured birds of prey back to health. Really amazing food, in a ton of different styles.

Man, there's so much there, you'd find tons to do…and that's not even counting Chicago!!

I also hear Williamsburg is a good family vacation, or Gettysburg if you want to read up on the battle and feel emotionally swamped.
posted by wenestvedt at 10:31 AM on February 10, 2016

I'd advise against Key West in July, and anytime with a teen. In July, it's going to be 100 degrees and 99% humidity. There is little to do there outside of college spring break type stuff. The "beaches" are artificial (no waves) and really bad for swimming, the reef is useless for snorkeling (it's mostly dead), and everything "fun" is going to be more expensive than you expect. There are a few fun things, like the butterfly conservatory, hemingway house (which I'm sure a teen would be super excited about), a pirate museum, and an aquarium.
posted by Mr. Big Business at 11:37 AM on February 10, 2016

I'm a Bostonian parent, here are some of our favorite vacations with beaches:

The Cape, specifically North Truro. You can get an oceanside cottage on either the bay or ocean side for no more than $1500 a week and there's a great biking trail, excellent kayaking and boating and Ptown itself is a blast. And oh, the oysters. There's mini golf and a genuine drive in movie theater. Or Martha's Vineyard or Nantucket; equally awesome, not as much to do as on the Cape.

A house on Lake Champlain in Vermont. Day trips to Montreal, hiking, biking, boating. Not ocean beaches but the lake itself is gigantic and beautiful.

an all-inclusive in the Dominican Republic as an option

For the love of all that is good and holy, DO NOT DO THIS.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 11:48 AM on February 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

San Diego? You've got a whole city's worth of things to do, and some glorious beaches.
posted by yarntheory at 7:21 PM on February 10, 2016

Is camp and outdoors an option? The point of family camps is kind of like going to summer camp as a kid but there are ones meant for families. There are activities at the camp that are intended for the whole family, activities intended just for kids and exclude the parents, and activities just for adults and exclude their children (the ones that exclude parents coincide with the ones that exclude children). The camps range from sparse to deluxe. The activities are led by "camp couselors". It could also be compared to a resort but focuses on summer camp-type stuff instead of Apple Vacations resort stuff.
posted by dlwr300 at 7:53 AM on February 11, 2016

Response by poster: There are so many great suggestions here, thank you! The mister is unbelievably picky, but Teen Ruki and I travel well together, so I'm thinking of starting a tradition of girls' vacations during her spring break so we can do things/visit places her father would dismiss.
posted by Ruki at 2:26 PM on February 11, 2016

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