Top Cheap Reunion Getaway: Crystal Coast, North Carolina - My Family Travels

The Crystal Coast of North Carolina is a winner of FTF’s Top 10 (Cheap) Getaways For Family Travelers 2008 award.The Crystal Coast of North Carolina is a winner of FTF’s Top 10 (Cheap) Getaways For Family Travelers 2008 award.

According to a national study, more than 200,000 family reunions are organized every year in the United States.  Planning a gathering while minding your wallet may not seem possible as thoughts of transportation, multiple hotel rooms, expensive dinners and large scale activities float through your head.  But, with FTF’s two very different picks for the Top (Cheap) Reunion Getaway, all can enjoy a multigenerational family beach vacation either East, on the Crystal Coast of North Carolina, or on the West coast at Asilomar in Monterrey, California — and without going broke. Here’s a look at what Crystal Coast offers for a cheap family vacation.

The Crystal Coast, North Carolina

Imagine a four-story sprawling oceanfront house, with multiple bedrooms, a huge kitchen, plenty of space for relaxing and, in more cases than not, a private pool and maybe even a hot tub.  Sounds extravagant, but also sounds perfect for a multigenerational trip with the entire family in tow.  And in North Carolina’s dreamy southern Outer Banks it is possible, because renting a Crystal Coast reunion beach house sleeping 15 costs 50% less than a comparable rental in the northern Outer Banks.

Aside from the price and convenience of accommodations, Emerald Isle, Atlantic Beach, Morehead City, Beaufort and Cape Lookout (the towns that comprise the Crystal Coast) are not big tourist destinations.  The 85 miles of shore span six undeveloped beaches, and crowds are not common. 

Now don’t let the figure of $7,000 per week scare you away; instead, keep in mind that this number breaks down to $1,000 per night for the entire family and if you are sharing an oceanfront home with lots of relatives, it becomes even less than that!  On my recent trip to the Crystal Coast, I stayed in the six-bedroom, 4,000-square-foot “A Life of Rilee” house, which could sleep up to 15 people.  That works out to be only $66 per person per person.   

Not only does a family vacationing south get double the savings along the Crystal Coast but, in general, renting a house is the economical choice.  Christine Karpinski, author of “How to Rent Vacation Properties by Owner,” believes that renting a home is not only the best value, but you get more for your money.  “It offers so much more, especially when you have children,” she says. 

A home rental not only gives a reunion group more personal space, but also a communal gathering place.  The homes are usually equipped with games, books and DVD players, and some even have pool tables that families can enjoy at nighttime.  In addition, with a full kitchen there are tons of money-savings opportunities as each family involved in the reunion can take turns cooking meals.  And sampling local fare is still a possibility even though families might avoid restaurants to save; go to the fish market and get the catch of the day or head to local grocery store. 

Details, Details

The Crystal Coast has a bunch of free and budget-friendly activities suited to all ages and dispositions.  Head to Fort Macon, North Carolina’s most visited State Park and home to a 19th Century Civil War Fort.  Families can tour the grounds and enjoy nature, the beach and history… for free. And for families looking to continue their budget-friendly history lesson, head into Beaufort, a coastal town that was founded in 1709. 

The Beaufort Historical Association offers a Double-Decker Bus tour that visits historic homes, the old jail, courthouse and apothecary while telling tales of pirates (Blackbeard’s treasure is rumored to be buried in the town) and Confederate spies.  Or depending on the time of your visit, families can opt to visit the Old Burying Grounds.  Tours (check website for schedule) are $8 for adults and $4 for children, but discounted group rates are also available.

Budget island-hopping is even possible with $10 round-trip ferry trips to both Cape Lookout and the Shackleford Banks.  Pristine, undeveloped beaches await families on Cape Lookout, where kids and grandparents can visit the historic lighthouse and Portsmouth Village.  Animal lovers will enjoy a trip out to Shackleford where genetically unique horses with lineage dating back 400 years roam freely.  Plus at both locations, families can even save money by packing a picnic lunch.

Other money-saving ideas in the Crystal Coast include the North Carolina Maritime Museum (suggested donation is $5) and the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores ($8).  But remember, with that beautiful beach house to call your home during this family reunion, all the budget-conscious family really needs at the Crystal Coast is a towel and some sunscreen.

Ready to rent? To find specific house rates through the area’s top realtors, visit the well illustrated websites of Cape Lookout Realty Company, Atlantic Beach Realty, and Emerald Isle Realty. The closest airport is in New Bern, North Carolina, about 30 minutes away by car. For lodging options for the smaller family and other savings tips, contact the Crystal Coast Tourist Office.

A final note: since it this is an Atlantic Oceanfront beach destination, summer is probably the best time for a visit, but also the most expensive. Consider June or September, just after Labor Day (when the oean is warmest), for your value reunion experience.

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