Considering the best winter family getaways this season? The pandemic will again require us to make choices about where to travel or if, how to travel and when.
Public health officials and family doctors are urging the unvaccinated to stay home and the vaccinated among us to travel with care. They say stay vigilant, wear masks and keep your distance indoors.
Planning and Preparation Make Winter Getaways Safer
Holiday and winter travel, with its added crowds and labor shortages, will again present more challenges this year. As will the arrival of the Omicron variant to add to pandemic woes. While airlines and hotels have been accommodating in case a COVID lockdown prevents you from traveling, you will need a robust travel insurance policy to cover medical costs, trip interruption and other unforeseen situations. Allianz Travel Insurance, for example, includes an Epidemic Coverage Endorsement on many travel insurance policies, whether you’re skiing, cruising or lounging on a tropical beach. Please see their Covid-19 benefits page for more information on covered events.
Some of you can’t wait for a winter family getaway, despite the obstacles. The recent Vacation Confidence Index from Allianz Partners indicates that nearly 70% of American families will stick to their holiday travel plans. For you, we present the very best affordable, fun and safe vacation ideas with our partners at Taking the Kids.
So, join us in exploring dozens of the top winter family getaways and trip ideas for right now, or just read on to select a dream trip for 2022.
American History, Our History
Destinations are striving to become more inclusive and acknowledging American history. The pandemic’s toll has awakened families to issues of economic injustice, racism and environmental harm, spurring a long overdue movement in meaningful travel.
This winter, strive to share stories with children about the indigenous, Black and Brown people and many immigrants who have made America what it is today. Montgomery, Alabama is one city that has embraced its painful heritage of racism and terror against African Americans. Minority stories are now highlighted at sites of national significance from the Harriet Tubman National Historic Park in New York to Philadelphia’s National Constitution Center. Over three weekends in February, world-class jazz and blues artists will perform at Fort Mose Historic State Park, the site of the first legally sanctioned, free African settlement in what is now the U.S., as well as other events throughout Black History Month.
The award-winning Odysseys Unlimited is offering five 12-day, small group Civil Rights Journey departures in fall 2022 appropriate for older kids. Count on learning more about the stops in Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee that marked the Civil Rights struggle.
Around Maine’s Lakes & Mountain Region
Finding a great ski area is like finding a secret powder stash. In Maine’s Lakes & Mountain region, there are plenty. The region hosts Maine’s Big Three resorts along with a cadre of small and medium-sized areas. These smaller resorts — often called ‘locals hills’ — draw skiers and riders from neighboring towns, both beginners and intermediates, and families and folks looking for bargains on tickets and meals. Some riders and skiers ‘graduate’ from smaller resorts to the big boys. Others, charmed by the camaraderie and fun of the smaller hills, never leave. Learn more about Maine’s Lakes & Mountain region here.
Caribbean & Tropical Resorts in Winter
Pandemic lockdowns and evolving family priorities have pushed family-together beach vacations up on everyone’s dream list. Recent surveys note that resorts and all-inclusive packages promising easy getaways are trending. All-inclusive destination weddings are hot. “Friendcations” and active eco-tourism adventures are up too. Travel insurance comparison site Squaremouth found that eight of the top 10 international destinations for this winter are in the Caribbean.
Several luxury Caribbean all-inclusive resorts opened recently, designed for these pandemic times. One particularly impressive one for multigenerational groups is the Excellence Collection’s new The Finest Punta Cana. With a separate — and romantic — adults-only wing, extensive kids’ facilities including a kids’ spa, and gourmet dining for all, this is the place for Dominican Republic destination weddings. Its strong Covid protocols earn The Finest our vote as one of the top tropical resorts for families, too. Midweek all-inclusive rates in January start at $220 per adult per night.
Aruba is another Caribbean destination that has successfully reopened to international tourists. With their strict guidelines and mask mandate, Aruba has made a Covid-free beach vacation possible for families in any budget range.
Cities & Neighbors Need Our Support
Plan an overnight or multi-night getaway to a great city and enjoy world-class attractions without the usual crowds. Winter is also a great time to visit gardens, aquariums and zoos if you don’t feel comfortable indoors. Several iconic hotels represented by Preferred Hotels & Resorts go above and beyond for city travelers with children. With the Preferred Hotels Last Minute Escapes offer, take 35% off on stays through Jan. 28, 2022, if booked by Dec. 28, 2021. Featured hotels are located in New York and Nashville, two of this season’s hottest urban destinations.
Nashville, Tennessee is a great family destination because of its music venues and museums. Did you know the clubs on lower Broadway, known as Honky Tonk Highway, offer live music free of charge until 7pm nightly? Kids will love the one-of-a-kind cars at the Lane Motor Museum and the Taylor Swift Education Center at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, along with this town’s great barbecue.
Take time in Denver on your way to the mountains to see the new Meow Wolf, created with the help of 300 local artists that is a hit with kids and adults alike for its immersive experiences. The Denver Art Museum (kids 18 and under are free!) has just opened its huge expansion years in the making and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science has a new exhibit would be rock stars will love — all about Guitars.
While tourism is increasing in New York City, the city is playing it safe. Museums, dining, clubs and Broadway shows are all back – but only for ages 5+ who show proof of vaccination. (Click here to learn about Big Apple Fun for the unvaccinated.) Bargains come courtesy of the NYC Winter Outing offer presented by Mastercard. From Jan. 18- Feb. 13, 2022, deals include 22% off hotel stays, 2-for-1 tickets to Broadway shows, attractions, museums and tours; and prix-fixe menus at hundreds of restaurants. One of winter’s top family attractions is “Inspiring Walt Disney: The Animation of French Decorative Arts.” It’s a stunning deconstruction of Disney animation techniques and artistry, showcased next to many 18th-century French objects that inspired set design, costumes, and concepts. It’s sure to fascinate anyone interested in art, animation, France or Disney films and is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art through Mar. 6, 2022.
Cruise Europe By Barge Or River
The kids will never tire of wearing a face mask if you take them to Venice. From Feb. 18 to Mar. 26, 2022, invite your family to make their own masks for Italy’s most famous Carnevale. From the architecture of the Middle Ages and Renaissance to a lagoon navigated by local gondolas, Venice is a captivating attraction. This five-day visit is based aboard the MS Michelangelo, a luxury river cruiser from Croisieurope. On this Carnival in Venice cruise, explore Chioggia, Murano (the island of glass) and Burano (the island of lace). Cruise through the calm waters of the Venetian Lagoon and take a side trip to Padua and a wine tasting excursion. Rates start from $1529 per person based on double occupancy; children ages 2-9 enjoy a 20% discount. Prefer another European destination or a later departure? Take advantage of Croisieurope’s early booking discounts to save 15% on all 2023 French Canal Cruises booked by Feb. 28, 10% if booked during the month of March, and 5% if booked during April, using the code EARBOOUS.
Environmentally Friendly Belize
Looking for sun, sand and adventure — all in one tiny country about the size of Massachusetts? Welcome to Belize, a country which protects its environment thanks to its tourism infrastructure. Did you know Belize’s population of 420,000 speaks English and inhabit the only country in Central America where U.S. dollars are accepted?
Belize is famous for its huge barrier reef, the second largest in the world, and the Hol Chan Marine Preserve teeming with sea life — ideal for novice snorkelers as well as experienced divers. Belize is equally famous as a birding destination — with over 600 species. It’s not uncommon to spot 50 species in one day, orange breasted falcons and keel-billed toucans among them.
Spend a week in sunny Belize splitting your time between hiking in the rainforest, canoeing and exploring ancient Mayan ruins and rejuvenating at the beach. Stay first at an eco-luxe cottage at Chaa Creek, a 400-acre nature reserve that takes a wildly civilized approach to eco-tourism. Then relax on sandy beaches at a Naia Resort studio beach house on the laidback Placencia Peninsula with the new Naia Beach & Jungle Adventure Package. Naia Resort & Spa is nestled on 19 secluded beachfront acres and features one of the top spas in the country.
Getting to Belize is easier too — and less expensive — with Frontier Airlines new, non-stop flights from Orlando and Denver to Belize City.
Extreme Alaska Adventures
Alaska is a land of extremes: its location, its size, its remoteness, its winters. Let this be your year to explore the Last Frontier in its most extreme season. Begin in Anchorage with a fascinating stay at the Captain Cook Hotel. The beautiful vintage hotel has lobby and lower lobby murals featuring the exploits of British naval captain and explorer James Cook, whose three 18th-century voyages revealed this magical land. Board the Alaska Railroad to ride north in comfort through Denali National Park.
If you have the Northern Lights on your bucket list, the place to be is the North Pole. Departing Fairbanks, join a tour operator such as Northern Alaska Tour Company to drive the icy Dalton Highway to the Arctic Circle. Their three-day Arctic Circle Aurora Overnight Adventure (from $799 per person) is based at the former miners’ camp at Coldfoot, where temperatures plummet to -30 Fahrenheit. Cross mining regions, mountain passes, get up close to the Alaska Pipeline, catch caribou playing in the snow-crusted fields and join expert guides to catch the remarkable Aurora Borealis at night. The company provides all the expertise and creature comforts you and your older children will need for this once-in-a-lifetime experience, through April.
Florida Beach Towns No Matter Your Style
The best gifts aren’t unwrapped, says our family, they are experienced. Doesn’t a family beach vacation sound like a fun winter experience? Florida, like most destinations, was hit hard by the pandemic last year. Now they’re promoting winter family getaways including bargains at the beach. In a partnership with Expedia, VISIT FLORIDA and select Florida hotels are giving families 20% off overnight bookings. With local deals at restaurants and savings at theme parks like Busch Gardens Tampa, Disney, LEGOLAND Florida Resort, SeaWorld Parks & Resorts Orlando and Universal Orlando Resort, you can afford to soak up some sunshine.
Alternatively, have you thought about the amazing eco-activities available in Everglades City? The original Wooten’s Airboat Tours are packaging (yes, noisy!) airboat tours and activities, priced at $13.99-$59.99 depending on age. (Take $8 off per passenger with coupon code WEBWOOT.) In 3 hours, tour the swamps and see alligators in their animal sanctuary, then head off to see the rest of our Florida Gulf Coast checklist.
Horses, Cowboys, Dude Ranches & The Great Outdoors
Whether you are looking to take a winter getaway or plan for your next family vacation, be sure to keep dude ranches at the top of your list. The Dude Ranchers’ Association and their 90+ member ranches are waiting for travelers from near and far to come experience the Western and cowboy way of life. Immerse yourself in a culture and destination that you may have never considered before. Enjoy the beauty of nature, serenity and peace dude ranches have to offer. If you are looking for a warm or cold getaway this winter, book one of the Dude Ranchers’ Association member ranches soon. Availability is limited and spots are filling daily.
Dude ranch vacations are popular for 2022 because they are nature based and offer small group numbers. Guests feel safe in individual cabins and lodge rooms with enhanced cleaning procedures. Dude ranches also offer activities for anyone at any age and rates are all-inclusive. Contact the Dude Ranchers’ Association (tel. 307-587-2339, [email protected], https://duderanch.org) — a free resource to help you find the perfect ranch for you — today.
Hot Springs & Winter Soaks
Wash away the past year in in magical healing mineral waters this winter. Hot springs occur naturally in most states (here’s a list) and many have been developed for public enjoyment. Skiers appreciate the Wild West flair of Steamboat Springs, for example, plus Steamboat’s 3,000 skiable acres of champagne powder. In our family, it’s all about the mineral springs that made this town a wellness resort more than a century ago. Shave a day off lift ticket rates and for just $20, spend the day or evening on the slides at Old Town or in the waters of Strawberry Hot Springs.
Truth or Consequences, New Mexico is another town built on the allure of mineral bathing. Here, Ted Turner’s luxury Sierra Grande hotel starts at just $160 per night including breakfast and a soak. Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort and Spa about an hour outside Santa Fe is another popular spot.
Introducing grown kids to wine in Napa Valley this season? Their Winter in the Wineries Passport program costs just $60 per person for complimentary wine tastings at 14 participating wineries. At Calistoga Hot Springs, detox with an outdoor spa therapy treatment at Dr. Wilkinson’s Resort & Spa. Through March, the top Napa Valley hotels discount two-night stays by 30%.
Jamaican Roots & Heritage Travel
Aeon Cummings, the founder of Otaheti Travel, is on a mission. He hopes to encourage visitors — especially those with Jamaican heritage — to explore Jamaica’s local culture. Arrange an individually curated trip for your family like the one he arranged for us. You’ll explore with knowledgeable guides, whether you want to focus on food, learn more about coffee-making in the Blue Mountains, the art scene in Kingston, reggae music, or try a new adventure sport while meeting locals along the way. Cummings believes his company will give back to Jamaicans –- the artists, chefs and musicians you visit – as well as your guides and drivers.
Base your multigenerational group at the iconic Half Moon in Montego Bay, that has everything a family could want from six-bedroom staffed villas and suites to beautiful beach and pools, including an Olympic- sized lap pool, Equestrian Center (think horseback riding on the beach!) tennis, golf and water sports.
At Golden Eye, rent the villa where Ian Fleming wrote his James Bond books (it sleeps 10) or opt for one of the 40 villas, cottages and beach huts spread across 52 acres. Thank entrepreneur Chris Blackwell, most responsible for turning the world onto Bob Marley, Grace Jones and U2, for developing the property so his friends would understand his Jamaican heritage and find their roots.
Little Road Trips for Road Trippers
With AAA forecasting an increase in road travel by more than 8.4% this season, we know road trips are still very popular. In cold winter weather, weekend trips with shorter drive times may work best for your family.
If you’re focused on outdoors attractions, here are easy little road trips from the San Francisco Bay Area designed for day hikers and bikers. For a warmer winter getaway, drive and hike the top desert attractions outside Las Vegas or Phoenix and Scottsdale at the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. For an icy blast of winter driving, explore the fun touristy towns surrounding Great Smoky Mountains national park.
We are in love with the charms of Round Top, considered the Aspen of Texas. This pocket-sized village jammed with gourmet eateries, antique shops, vintage farms and music venues is a great base for a Painted Churches and barbecue road trip through central Texas.
Mountain Resorts Even Non-Skiers Will Love
Park City, Utah is one of the easiest-to-reach and best Western ski areas with several mountain resorts in close proximity. Since Vail Resorts opened the 7,300-skiable-acre wonderland, Park City Mountain, it’s got all of the terrain features — including a mountain coaster — your riders and free skiers could want. Parents love the new dedicated beginner learning area at the Canyons Village. Deer Valley is a ski-only resort that has captured the #1 ranking in Conde Nast’s Reader’s Choice Awards for 2021. And Woodward Park City is a new Woodward location, the first in Utah that offers all ages (especially adults) a place to enhance or learn skills in a range of sports including skiing, snowboarding, skateboarding and BMX among others. Go snow tubing or try an authentic Olympic bobsled run at the Utah Olympic Park. (The town will be celebrating the 20th anniversary of Utah’s 2002 Winter Games in February 2022!)
It’s also a fun Western town filled with chic shops and restaurants, plus condos, hotels and B&Bs where you might snag a lodging bargain. Many places issue a $300 Delta Gift Card if you book select nights through Apr. 12, 2022. Stroll Main Street between Thanksgiving and New Year’s to pose with a life-sized snow globe installation. Located only 25 minutes from Salt Lake City International Airport, the town offers the chance for a car-free getaway with free public buses, shuttles, taxis and ride sharing. Those with special challenges will find the National Ability Center programs in seasonal adaptive recreation. Young families will find Park City a fun and romantic destination.
Snow Fun and On the Slopes Activities
Winter, of course, is a great time to get away safely with the kids whether you want to ski or snowboard, snowmobile or snowshoe, fat tire bike or cross-country ski and see the clear night sky. Early or late season and midweek getaways are the most affordable.
Mountain sports have proven to be safe. With strict COVID-19 protocols, last year’s ski season was the fifth best season on record — the second best in the Rocky Mountain region. Skier visits were up in all six geographic regions, the National Ski Areas Association has reported. This year, Vail‘s 34 North American resorts will limit lift ticket sales to pass holders during three holiday periods (Dec. 25-Jan. 2, Jan.14-17, and Feb.18-27) to better manage crowds and lift lines.
Many states, including Colorado, Utah, Maine and New York, have reinstated kids’ ski free deals. Typically, valid for visiting or local 4th and 5th grade students, each program has a nominal processing fee and allows kids to ski or ride the mountains at no cost.
Smaller, less expensive resorts — those in the Midwest and Pennsylvania, for example — attract many families who prefer to stay closer to home. Smaller resorts in the West also are popular. The Colorado Gems program highlights 11 smaller Colorado snow resorts that are less expensive and less crowded than the big resorts and, for younger families, easier to navigate. Just $39, the GEMS Card provides your choice of either two 2-for-1 lift tickets or two 30% off lift tickets. It can be used twice at each ski area for 22 total uses and pays for itself after one use. (Consider that at major resorts, lift tickets can be well over $100.)
Theme Park Deals & Steals
Theme parks are open and operating safely under strict – yet different — COVID-19 protocols around the country. At Walt Disney World, currently celebrating its 50th anniversary, families will appreciate the many long-stay specials available for hotels and park tickets. Book the 50th Anniversary Disney World Package by Mar. 30, 2022 and get up to two free nights at any of 20 hotels on a two-week stay. There’s plenty of time to enjoy Orlando, see the spectacular “Disney Enchantment” and “Harmonious” shows and ride the new attraction Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure. The package is valid for arrival May 15-Sep. 10. Early booking also guarantees discounts on entry tickets and access to the Disney Genie+ service to smooth your visit.
Over at Universal Orlando, buy Universal Orlando ‘Create Your Own Vacation‘ package before May 5, 2022 and pay $105 per person per day including park passes based on a five night stay (valid select nights through December.)
Universal Studios Hollywood is extending their holiday attractions through Jan. 9, 2022.. Keep in mind that LA County public health guidelines mandate face masks at all times, and that everyone ages 12 and older present proof of vaccination or a negative Covid test taken within 72 hours of visiting for entry. At Disneyland in Anaheim, the resort has fully reopened and is featuring holiday attractions through Jan. 9. We are excited for the reimagining of Mickey’s Toontown at Disneyland park. It’s set to debut in early 2023 with more play and interactivity for young families.
Regardless of winter weather, head indoors to play at American Dream in East Rutherford, New Jersey, now the largest indoor theme park in the Western Hemisphere. Look for day and blacklight minigolf, plus an indoor water park, rides and skating rink. For a real chill, enjoy indoor skiing at Big SNOW. No need to lug in ski gear or equipment — you can rent absolutely everything you need and have complimentary access to helpful and knowledgeable ski instructors!
Thrill of Traveling Without Going Anywhere
Longing to get away but afraid of flying? The TWA Hotel at New York’s Kennedy Airport brings the friendly skies to your hotel and your hotel bed to the runway. Crafted from the vintage Eero Saarinen-designed TWA Flight Center opened in 1962, the Jet Age hotel debuted in 2019. Anyone hungry for a taste of travel will relish its museum of TWA stewardess (yes, their title before the term flight attendant became popular) and pilot uniforms. Savor the lower lobby collection of vintage Trans World Airline posters and sales materials. Out on the runway with its own airstair, a Lockheed Constellation has been turned into a tubular bar named Connie. Guest rooms, a heated rooftop pool and lounge and the sculpted gullwing lobby all overlook the busy JetBlue runway. Need a fix but can’t stay overnight? Book a table at sculptural Paris Café, whose noted chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten has a delicious menu available three mails a day.
Another remarkable journey to nowhere can be had on a train idling at the Crowne Plaza Indianapolis Downtown Union Station. In the heart of this fun city, 13 restored 1920s Pullman sleepers sit on the tracks of Union Station’s historic train shed. Check in and feel Lincoln’s cortege as it motored through. Imagine texting your relatives with the help of the station’s 17-year-old telegraph operator, Thomas Edison. When Amtrak trains rumble through, both bedrooms built into each sleeper car are guaranteed to shake you awake.
Coming in March 2022: Halcyon. At Walt Disney World, currently celebrating its 50th anniversary, the buzz is about Halcyon, the “Star Wars” themed, two-night hotel and activity experience. Pricing begins in atmospherically sealed cabins begins in the $5,000+ range for this otherworldly family travel thrill.
If you have a favorite travel without traveling happy place, please share it in the Comments section.
Tiny House Living & Cabin Life
Have the past 20 months cooped up at home taught you to appreciate tiny living? The trending tiny house movement is for families who choose to live simpler lives with less and preserve the natural environment. Brands such as Escape Vacations feature tiny houses for rent in California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas, Washington State and Wisconsin. Try tucking your family of four into a 388-square-foot cabin such as Tonga near Woodstock, New York. Two tiny bedrooms don’t come cheap – rates begin at $281 per night – but sampling minimalism with the kids is priceless.
Looking for other outdoor activities with tiny houses to stay in? Plan your adventure in nature with a cozy cabin as your home base. The easy-to-book Recreation.gov site sorts rustic accommodations (often $50 or less per night) on Federal lands and waterways by location. Choose a warm weather destination during winter or plan now for a spring getaway; these book quickly.
Tropical Winter Getaways At Sea
Despite pandemic news, cruising remains a top value and very desirable family vacation. Use your winter down time to plan a cruise vacation for 2022 with the special offers available now through Wave Season (month of January.) For example:
Princess Cruises’ Best. Sale. Ever runs through Mar. 2, 2022, offering five big Princess perks on cruises to Caribbean, Alaska, Europe, the Mexican Riviera and more for a savings of at least $695 on a seven-day cruise. Get a Premier Beverage package for guests over age 21, unlimited WiFi for up to four devices per stateroom, crew gratuities, stateroom location upgrades when available and a voucher for specialty dining. Families love Princess’ private island in the Caribbean and family-friendly shore excursions. (Princess cruises are for vaccinated kids only.)
Mardi Gras, Carnival’s newest and most innovative ship, is the first ship to feature an onboard roller coaster and boasts a host of kid-friendly favorites. Families love the suspended ropes course, massive water park with three slides and a spray area. In addition to 11 room categories, there are family suites with access to a family lounge, Camp Ocean, Seuss at Sea and more. Carnival typically offers organized programming for children starting at age 2 but at the moment, organized activities are limited to those who are fully vaccinated ages 5 and older. Seven-day Extra Value Carnival cruises to Cozumel and the Western Caribbean aboard Mardi Gras start from $449 per person based on double occupancy.
Holland America Line has an elegant new ship, MS Rotterdam, cruising the Caribbean from Fort Lauderdale. It promises world-class dining (menus created by celebrity chefs), innovative entertainment (BBC Earth in Concert and B.B. King’s Blues Club and Lincoln Center Stage among them) and more. Grandparents love HAL’s emphasis on programs and activities that bring aboard the culture and cuisine of the region where the ship is sailing with cooking demonstrations, port-to-table dishes in the dining room and cultural ambassadors. HAL is celebrating with “The Ultimate Upgrade Event” valid for bookings made until Feb. 28, 2022. Book select cruises departing summer 2022 through spring 2023 cruise for a free stateroom upgrade, $75 fares for kids on Alaska cruises and 50% reduced deposits — plus shore excursions, beverages, specialty dining and Wi-Fi with the “Have It All” premium package. As a bonus, cruisers who book by Jan. 20, 2022, also receive up to $200 per stateroom onboard credit, depending on the length of the cruise.
Hurtigruten, a Norway-based ferry operator that has become a force in adventure travel, has kids up to 50% off deals on many of their expeditions. For their new Galapagos Islands trips, beginning in Jan. 2022, guests will experience the upgraded, 50-cabin MS Santa Cruz II, custom built for small-ship exploration. It features dedicated family and single cabins and more diverse dining options to suit multigenerational travelers. Watch out for the new Young Explorers program.
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