What kind of vacation can a family of four plan for just a grand? We tackled the $1,000 question and discovered that families on a limited budget can, in fact, embark on fun and fantastic vacations without shelling out thousands of dollars and delving into the kids' college fund. Below are five budget- and kid-friendly resorts where families can enjoy affordable weekend getaways or weeklong summer escapes.
We factored in meals, accommodations and activities to reach that $1,000 limit, however, transportation is up to you. But don't worry - each resort is within reasonable driving distance of several major metropolitan areas, so getting there should be a cinch.
In the Midwest: A Long Weekend at Great Wolf Lodge, Wisconsin Dells
What's There: Great Wolf Lodge is a family-friendly resort set in Wisconsin Dells, the famed "Water Park Capital of the World," where onsite activities are wonderfully abundant. There are five restaurants on the property, plus an indoor water park, a kids' spa, a MagiQuest play area, a kids' day camp, an arcade and an ever-changing schedule of daily organized activities. And since the lodge offers affordable packages that bundle breakfast, digs and activities for one flat discounted price, a family can easily wile away a long weekend at the resort without breaking the bank.
Getting There: Wisconsin Dells is roughly a four-hour drive from Chicago, a four-hour drive from Cedar Rapids, and a four-hour drive from the Minneapolis/St. Paul area.
The Bottom Line: Great Wolf Lodge offers a meal-inclusive plan, which saves families 40 percent on meals at onsite restaurants. Prices for a double queen suite, which sleeps four, along with breakfast, currently start at $217 per night for summer, 2013. Rates are cheapest during colder months, but, as Great Wolf Lodge's water park is indoors, it's a fantastic year-round destination. Rates include free water park passes, story time, a Clock Tower Show, the Wolf Walk and some additional activities.
In New England: A Long Weekend at The Tyler Place Family Resort, Vermont
What's There: The Tyler Place Family Resort is a Family Vacation Critic Favorite, which means we've stayed there and determined that the property is an excellent choice for traveling kids and parents. The resort is nestled within 165 acres of lush woods in Highgate Springs, Vermont. The family-friendly amenities offered here are impressive. Affordable all-inclusive rates cover everything from kids' clubs to activities.
Getting There: From Boston, the Tyler Place Family Resort is about a four-hour drive, and it's about a six-and-a-half-hour drive from New York City. Closer cities include Portland, Maine (a five-hour drive) and Montreal (about an hour away).
The Bottom Line: You can take advantage of the lowest rates by traveling in the spring, from mid-May to mid-June, and in September. Prices are all-inclusive. What's covered? Let's see -- there's three meals a day, a private cottage with separate bedrooms for children, kids' programs, activities (everything from yoga to arts and crafts to ice cream socials) and evening entertainments (think dance parties!). Rates start at $124 per adult, per night and $84 per child, ages 2.5 to 10th grade, bringing a three-night stay to just over $1,000.
In the Pacific Northwest: Four Nights at Pelican Shores Inn on the Oregon Coast
What's There: Pelican Shores Inn is an intimate oceanfront property that features spacious multi-room suites for affordable prices. All-inclusive rates aren't available here, and you won't find an array of organized family activities onsite. But for families seeking a quiet beach vacation, the inn is an excellent choice, offering private access to the ocean, kitchens where parents can cook up budget-friendly meals and free breakfast.
Getting There: The resort is about a five-hour drive from Seattle and a two-hour drive from Portland, Oregon.
The Bottom Line: Rates vary based on season, but we found nightly rates starting at $129 per night for a Fireplace Suite with Two Queen Beds at the end of April, 2013. The suite sleeps four comfortably, and has separate bedroom and living spaces and a small kitchen. Your cost for a four-night stay in the spring comes to about $470 after taxes, leaving about $250 for meals and activities (free breakfasts are included in the nightly rate). Stop at the grocery store to stock up and cook your own lunches and dinners in the suite's kitchen to save money. And there will be plenty of free things to do during your stay. Your family can enjoy free, direct access to the beach and an onsite heated pool.
In the Southeast: A Week at Big Pine Key Fishing Lodge, Florida
What's There: Big Pine Key Fishing Lodge is our pick for an affordable Florida Keys family vacation. Completely free activities abound: There's a playground, shuffleboard courts, a game room and miles of hiking trails. Spend your mornings fishing or snorkeling in the ocean, and enjoy free evening movies in the property's rec room. Camping sites and RV hook-ups are available, but affordable lodge accommodations are available here as well.
Getting There: Big Pine Key is about a 40-minute drive from Key West, and a three-hour drive from Fort Lauderdale.
The Bottom Line: A family of four can stay for $149 per night in a roomy loft suite, which has a kitchen with a two burner stove, a loft with a bed, a trundle bed and a day bed, and an additional downstairs bed (the loft room sleeps up to six). Stay for six nights and your total comes to about $900. Your food costs will probably bring your total to slightly more than a grand, but there's no need to spend much money on activities at Big Pine. Save even more by packing a cooler and bringing groceries from home.
In California: Four Nights at Residence Inn San Diego La Jolla
What's There: San Diego is a family vacation hotspot, offering proximity to Sea World, LEGOLAND, the San Diego Zoo and heaps of beautiful beaches in one easy trip. Our pick for budget- and kid-friendly accommodations in the San Diego area? Head to Residence Inn San Diego La Jolla, which is located just two miles from La Jolla Shores Beach. The property has spacious suites featuring full kitchens and separate bedrooms, which are perfect for families of four or more.
Getting There: Residence Inn San Diego La Jolla is about two hours south of Los Angeles.
The Bottom Line: For $209 per night in the spring, you can snag a pretty spacious suite in which a family of four will feel quite comfortable. The $209-a-night penthouse suite includes two bedrooms (one with a king bed and one with a queen bed), a sofabed and a full kitchen with a dishwasher. A three-night stay, plus the cost of parking ($12 per day), comes to roughly $745, leaving a few hundred dollars for a trip to the grocery store -- so you can use that kitchen, naturally. A free daily breakfast is included in the rates.
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