Can we squeeze in a vacation for everyone?
July 19, 2017 6:50 AM   Subscribe

We haven't had a family vacation in years because it got harder to afford, fit it into the summer working schedules of 2 adults and 2 teens, and varied interests. Now summer is getting closer to the end (due to going back to college dates) and we still haven't planned anything. More inside.

So I am trying to plan something last minute and realize it is impossible to please everyone and make it affordable in a short time frame and am looking for some ideas. Background - need to stay in US since not likely to have enough time to get 1 kid a passport (would love to do an all inclusive somewhere but probably out of the question). Flights should be direct and not take up too much time from the Baltimore/DC/Philly areas. We have only 5-6 days due to work schedules. Things mentioned - a beach with blue water, white sand, real mountains, Harry Potter stuff in Orlando, seeing the solar eclipse, variety of casual restaurants, shops / food that you can walk to (once in a town/city), other things to do/see.

So I am looking for destination and hotel/airbnb recommendations and things to do. Are there nice beaches reasonable drive to Orlando if we try to do the HP/Universal thing for 2 days then head to a beach area (then back to airport)? Will it be packed in August (2nd week or later). What other places match some of the wishlist (I know can't do it all)? FYI - Family has spent tons of time on MD / DE beaches.
posted by maxg94 to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Clearwater/St Petersburg is 2 hours from Orlando, and that area has nice beaches.
posted by lunasol at 7:12 AM on July 19, 2017 [2 favorites]

As the summer goes on, the crowds in Florida thin out because, A, schools around the country start up again, and B, it's outrageously hot. I agree that doing an Orlando and Clearwater/St Pete combo might be a good way for everyone to get a little of what they want.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:34 AM on July 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

Would LA/Southern California be too much of a trek? There's loads of direct flights from DC and Philly (and if anyone can handle a red eye, that cuts down on the travel time.) Beaches + all the real mountains you could want, there's also a Harry Potter world at Universal, and parts of LA and its neighbors offer a panoply of casual places and yes, even walking. Bonus: respite from humidity.
posted by jetlagaddict at 8:10 AM on July 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

Summer is off-season in Puerto Rico, and as a US Territory flying there is like flying to Missouri, no passport needed. You should be able to get a house on Air BnB for around $125 a night, a 5 minute walk from the ocean. MeMail me and I can recommend the specific house we rented a couple of years ago. The location was awesome. It's got beach, great food, shopping / restaurants, and a 90 minute drive from San Juan gets you into a real rain forest.
posted by COD at 8:38 AM on July 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

I also recommend the St. Pete/Clearwater idea. There are numerous smaller towns and islands all along the coast there that are a couple hour drive to Orlando and they are filled to bursting with AirBnB/VRBO/HomeAway vacation condos and homes. I took Ask's advice last year and flew into Punta Gorda (direct flight from Pittsburgh was part of my requirement, and Allegiant flies there, if you're brave), rented a car and drove about 40 minutes to Manasota Key where my mom and I rented a 2BR beachfront condo for a couple of days. (It was October, there was a hurricane--that's another reason beaches start emptying out towards the end of the summer, as hurricane season heats up in the late Summer and early Fall--but after one rainy day the rest our time was lovely.)

Also within a hour or two drive of that area are some of Florida's famous clear springs (y'know, with manatees and such). If I go back (and I might, it was a really nice trip, though too short), I really want to visit one of those.

It is hot as all hell, though.
posted by soren_lorensen at 9:33 AM on July 19, 2017

You definitely have time to get the kid a passport. There are lots of discouraging things posted on the State department website (to scare you into handling it early!) but bottom line is it's totally doable. Passport agencies offer same-day renewals (not sure about new passports) as long as you get there before noonish, and you're obviously far short of that extreme.
posted by acidic at 9:51 AM on July 19, 2017

If you get the passport issue sorted Costa Rica is amazing with mixed ages. We usually stay on the pacific side, Montezuma has long beaches, great swimming/surfing, hikes to waterfalls and a walkable town with restaurants and nice fruity drinks.

Mountains, volcanoes and hot springs plus bonus sloths! Can be very expensive or relatively inexpensive depending on hotel/Airbnb options. Car rental is essential to get the best stuff and that can add to the cost.
posted by five_cents at 4:41 PM on July 19, 2017

I would avoid going anywhere near the path of totality for the eclipse. Here in Oregon, the state department of transportation is predicting "the biggest traffic event" in the state's history. Low budget hotels that still have rooms are charging $200+. Flights into Portland are booked solid; rental cars are unavailable or very expensive. It might be awesome. Or it might be a crowded, chaotic disaster where you'd be stuck in a car instead of where you want to be.

Do your kids back to college after September? Late August can be a great time to travel in the southern US as most kids go back to school in mid- to early-August. Tourist attractions that were super busy a few weeks earlier are often still staffed up but not very busy at all. On the other hand, Florida is super humid and gross in the summer. It's not the best time of year to enjoy it.

If you're up for cross-country travel, you can go from BWI direct to San Diego, Denver, Seattle, and Portland. From Denver, Seattle and Portland, you can definitely visit real mountains and enjoy urban wandering. You won't really have a beach vacation in the Pacific Northwest, but it can be fun (?) to experience the beach while wearing fleece in the summer. The Pacific Northwest has really lovely summers (fleece at the beach notwithstanding). You could use any of these cities as a base and rent a car for some day trips.

How about Asheville, NC? I'm not sure this ticks the "real mountains" checkbox (poor, short Appalachians), but it's a lovely town with lots to see and do and within easy reach of outdoor adventure.
posted by bluedaisy at 5:38 PM on July 19, 2017

Going with the Orlando and Clearwater Beach option this time since it covers a few of the wishlist items and seems easiest to manage last minute. Puerto Rico and Cost Rica go on the list of must do sometime with the already on the list west coast trip. Now I just need more travel time and money! Thanks for the great tips.
posted by maxg94 at 11:04 AM on July 21, 2017

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