Family vacations are a great way to spend time together and unwind without the distractions and responsibilities of life at home. But the cost of taking the family on vacation can be a deterrent, especially when hotel rates and airfare can be more expensive around holidays and during the summer when kids are out of school.
Luckily there are several vacation destinations where kids and parents can have fun without breaking the bank. Here are the best family vacation destinations for $2,000 or less.
1. Colonial Williamsburg, VA
Visitors can walk though Colonial Williamsburg and wander its historic streets at no cost (there are admission prices for tours and certain buildings), and Jamestown Settlement is free for kids under age 6. There are also numerous family-friendly hike and bike trails, such as Colonial Parkway and the Virginia Capital Trail. Looking for the most bang for your buck at a local resort? The Great Wolf Lodge Williamsburg was recently renovated and access to the indoor water park is included in your room rate, along with other amenities for kids.
Recommended Hotel: Great Wolf Lodge Williamsburg
2. Yellowstone National Park, WY
From biking to rafting to fly fishing, family members both young and old will delight in a visit to Yellowstone National Park. The park encompasses 2.2 million acres and enters three states (the northwest corner of Wyoming and the edges of Idaho and Montana), so there is a lot to see for a small entrance fee of $25 per vehicle (which is good for seven days and will get you into both Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks). Don’t be surprised to see buffalo, elk and bears roaming free on your drive through the park, as well as erupting geysers like Old Faithful. The Cody Hotel in Cody, Wyoming is an ideal base camp and is conveniently located near the Cody Nite Rodeo, Buffalo Bill Historical Center, The Cody Cattle Company and Old Trail Town.
Recommended Hotel: The Cody Hotel
3. Washington, D.C.
The Washington D.C. area features many free-admission museums and attractions, including all 17 of the Smithsonian museums. Young sports fans may also enjoy seeing a Nationals or Capitols game if either team is playing in town. The Hyatt Regency Washington on Capitol Hill is conveniently located within walking distance from the U.S. Capitol and within 2 miles of the White House, Lincoln Monument and the Washington Monument. When families can walk to nearby attractions, it makes visiting a major metropolitan city a bit more affordable. The hotel also has an indoor pool, perfect for an afternoon break from sightseeing.
Recommended Hotel: Hyatt Regency Washington on Capitol Hill
4. Phoenix, AZ
Phoenix has a lot to offer families, including the Phoenix Zoo (with 30 endangered or threatened species from around the world), OdySea Aquarium and the Arizona Science Center. For a list of free places and weekly events to take kids during your stay, check out Kids Out and About.com. Sedona, famous for its stunning red rocks and pink jeep tours, is a great day trip from Phoenix, with great hiking for all skill levels. When deciding where to stay, be sure to check out the recently renovated Arizona Grand Resort and Spa, located near America’s largest wilderness preserve. The resort hosts the Oasis Water Park, which has an eight-story thrill slide for adventurous family members and a lazy river for those who prefer to take their vacation on the chiller side.
Recommended: Arizona Grand Resort and Spa
5. Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Attention, mini-golf fans! Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, has more than three dozen places to play mini-golf, as well as numerous golf courses to satisfy any level of golf play. The beaches are pristine and if you do find yourself with a rainy day, Ripley’s Aquarium of Myrtle Beach is sure to entertain your kids for more than a few hours. Young baseball fans may enjoy watching the Pelicans on the diamond, Myrtle Beach’s Minor League team. There are many wonderful family-friendly hotels in the area, many of which offer affordable rates, especially in the fall. Summer runs well into October in Myrtle Beach so families can enjoy the weather, fewer crowds and affordable rates for a family vacation under $2,000. Check out The Breakers Resort, where kids can enjoy five waterslides, several pools and a lazy river, or Dunes Village Resort, which offers an indoor water park as well as tennis and basketball courts.
Recommended Hotel: Dunes Village Resort
6. San Diego, CA
The only problem with San Diego is finding enough time to enjoy everything in a place where it’s almost always sunny and 70 degrees! There are so many beautiful beaches, including Mission, Coronado and Pacific Beach, where kids can play in the sand for free or take surf lessons. Or spend the day at Balboa Park, where entrance is free! For accommodations, consider staying at the Loews Coronado Bay Resort. The resort has family activities including onsite water sports, bicycles, a marina and the beach across the street. If your children want to spend time with other kids their own age, consider enrolling them in the Kids Club (ages 4 to 12), which has a wide range of activities and a flexible schedule (they can stay all day or just for an hour or two). There is also a teen lounge for older kids who want a little autonomy and a chance to meet up with other kids their age.
Recommended Hotel: Loews Coronado Bay Resort
7. Stowe, VT
Vermont is fun for families all year, and it’s super affordable, too. In the summer, go bike riding, hiking, or canoeing; for a winter vacation, go skiing, snowboarding and tubing. To offset the sometimes high cost of skiing and to encourage young athletes, Ski Vermont offers fifth graders up to 88 days of skiing for just a $20 processing fee. Families who are looking to satisfy a sweet tooth can take a tour of the Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream Factory, which is free for children under 12 years old. For affordable accommodations, we recommend Green Mountain Inn, which has cozy rooms, a year-round heated outdoor pool and kid-friendly activities, including afternoon tea and cookies.
Recommended Hotel: Green Mountain Inn
8. Chincoteague Island, VA
Little ornithologists in training will love this rustic beach town, which is home to more than 320 species of birds and numerous wild ponies. Chincoteague Island, off the Virginia coast, is an ideal and affordable vacation spot for families. The Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge includes more than 14,000 acres of beach, dunes, marsh and maritime forest. And did we mention wild ponies? More than 100 wild ponies swim from the uninhabited Assateague Island across the Assateague Channel to Chincoteague Island every year in July. Tens of thousands of people flock to Chincoteague to see this free event each year. The rooms at the Waterside Inn are priced well and the inn has a heated outdoor pool and its own marina and pier for fishing and crabbing.
Recommended Hotel: Waterside Inn
9. Branson, MO
Located near the Ozark Mountains, Branson, Missouri, offers a lot of kid-friendly attractions, including the Silver Dollar City amusement park, where guests feel transported to a 1880’s mining town while enjoying thrill rides galore. Table Rock Lake offers families an opportunity to swim, fish and boat. Located next door to the lake is Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery, where visitors can hike four different trails (one of which provides fishing access to Lake Tanycomo). In the evening, check out Branson Landing, an outdoor shopping, dining and entertainment center. The Hotel Grand Victorian has year-round swimming, complimentary full breakfast, a game room and free afternoon cookies. It’s hard to say no to free cookies!
Recommended Hotel: Hotel Grand Victorian
Randi Mazzella is a journalist and personal essayist who writes extensively about parenting, teen issues, family life, wellness and mid-life issues. A married New Jersey based mother of three, Randi likes to travel as much as her schedule will allow and especially loves beach vacations. She has trouble “packing lightly” and frequently goes over the airline weight limit. Follow her at @RandiMazzella.