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Fly Away
Looking to venture farther afield? Try these trips, from Colonial Williamsburg to the Caribbean.

Stock boy: Locked up in Colonial Williamsburg.

6. Colonial Williamsburg
A trip to Colonial Williamsburg is a trip back in time. The historic Virginia village looks and functions much as it did before and during the American Revolution. Hundreds of buildings and homes have been rebuilt or restored to their original specifications, and “villagers,” wearing Colonial clothing and speaking the tongue of the times, go about their business as if it were 1776.

Children can rent period clothing, spend eighteenth-century money, and lock themselves in the stocks at the jail. The actors who portray George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and company remain steadfastly in character and are remarkably well versed in Colonial history (they’ll field all comers, including kids who ask about the conundrum of slave-owning). If the kids insist on contemporary excitement, the Water Country USA and Busch Gardens theme parks are just three miles from Williamsburg, and Virginia Beach’s public beaches and boardwalk are less than an hour’s drive away.

The Woodlands Hotel & Suites is a reasonably priced family-friendly lodge near the visitors center, with spacious rooms, a playground, and a miniature-golf course. For swanker accommodations, try the Williamsburg Inn, a Colonial gem with newly renovated rooms decorated in the English Regency style. The best fine dining in town is at the Williamsburg Inn Regency Room, where the menu features such traditional classics as Chateaubriand, and there are several taverns dating back to the original town, including Christiana Campbell's (a favorite of GW's) that serves updated colonial fare. If the kids want something simpler to eat, Huzzah! at the Woodlands, offers pizza, wraps, burgers, and hot dogs. Some modern conveniences are indispensible.

Details: Colonial Williamsburg (757-229-1000; colonialwilliamsburg.org) is about a 45-minute drive from Richmond International Airport. US Airways, Delta, and Continental offer flights to Richmond International from New York–area airports. Amtrak provides service from Penn Station to the Williamsburg Transportation Center (the views of the coast are surprisingly attractive; take the speedy Acela). From the transportation center, it’s a five-minute cab ride to the historic district.


7. Club Med: Punta Cana
Once known exclusively for its wild (and wildly successful) singles vacations, Club Med has grown up along with its clientele, and now offers family getaways. The Club at Punta Cana, on the Caribbean island of Hispañola, in the Dominican Republic, is set on a postcard-pretty half-mile-long stretch of white-sand beach facing the Caribbean.

Like all of Club Med’s family “villages,” Punta Cana offers supervised programs for kids. For the 2-to-3-year-old set, there’s a kids-only pool, an arts-and-crafts center, and a mini-gym activity course. For 4-to-10-year-olds, there’s tennis, in-line skating, and snorkeling. Eleven-to-17-year-olds can choose from kayaking, windsurfing, soccer, and archery. While the kids are busy, moms and dads have their pick of tennis, sailing, windsurfing, and volleyball. But the Club Med ethic is really about relaxing: For that, there’s the curvy, sexy pool.

The compound’s 500-plus rooms are decorated in the pastel palette of the Caribbean. The village’s two buffet-style restaurants feature theme nights, including “Dominican Night” for a taste of the yucca and plantains that make up the heart of the local cuisine. Of course, there’s pizza, pasta, and other choices for kids (for dessert, don’t miss the chocolate bread: a crusty loaf filled with a squirt of the sweet stuff).

After dinner, the staff puts on comedy, magic, and dance shows. It’s not the Club Med nightlife of your singles days, but, hey, you’re parents now.

Details: Club Med’s Punta Cana trips (800-CLUBMED; clubmed.com) start at $1,170 per person, airfare, accommodations, meals, open bar, and activities and entertainment included. American Airlines, US Airways, and USA 3000 Airlines fly to Punta Cana from New York–area airports. Club Med offers a free van transfer to the resort.


Smokin': Nine million people per year visit Smoky Mountains National Park.
8. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Great Smoky Mountains National Park doesn’t offer the Old Faithful thrills of Yellowstone or the Half Dome drama of Yosemite. What it does deliver is good old-fashioned Euell Gibbons woodsiness—without having to leave the East Coast.

With some 9 million annual visitors, Smoky Mountains is the country’s most popular national park. And with good reason: The vast Appalachian expanse, covering more than 800 square miles running east to west straddling the North Carolina–Tennessee border, is an unspoiled wilderness of rugged mountains, deciduous forests, cascading waterfalls, hidden coves, and clear rivers and streams. It’s also home to hundreds of species of wildlife—from black bears and elk to groundhogs and salamanders (30 kinds), and to sporting pursuits from hiking and biking to fishing and inner tubing.

The best way to see the park is to hoof it along the 800-plus miles of trails. If your kids are old enough (and you’re ambitious enough), try a backpacking trip. The 8.4–mile loop along the Little River Trail from Elkmont campground to Campsite No. 24 and back via Cucumber Gap makes a nice overnighter. The trail is relatively flat and close to the Little River—perfect for skipping rocks and fishing.

Not a camper? One of the most scenic day hikes is an out-and-back five-miler on the Abrams Falls Trail from Cades Cove. The pine-tree lined path winds through rhododendron and wildflowers and past rocky cliffs to the picturesque falls.

The park also has commercial horseback-riding concessions, and rangers lead nature hikes and campfire storytelling sessions for kids. The park’s ten campgrounds range from developed to primitive, and Holiday Inn, Ramada, and other chains offer lodging near the visitors centers in Gatlinburg and Townsend, Tennessee, and Cherokee, North Carolina. Two of the better restaurants in the area are in Gatlinburg: The Park Grill serves local specialties such as grilled rainbow trout and chicken skillet pie in a handsome log building, and the Smoky Mountain Brewery serves ribs, chicken, and steaks cooked in a wood-fired oven.

Had enough of the backwoods theme? Visit kitschy-cool Dollywood or Splash Country (the country diva’s water park) in nearby Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

Details: Great Smoky Mountains National Park (865-436-1200; nps.gov/grsm) is open year-round. Delta, American, and Continental Airlines fly to Knoxville’s McGee Tyson Airport from New York–area airports. From there, it’s about a half-hour drive to the park’s Townsend entrance.


Swimming in it: Cooling off in the Mickey Pool aboard the Disney Wonder.
9. Disney Cruise
If your kids clamor for yet another trip to Disney World, but the idea makes the grown-ups in your house goofy, consider a Disney cruise.

Leaving from Port Canaveral, Florida (about an hour’s drive from Orlando), you’ll have your choice of several itineraries. A three- or four-day trip aboard the Disney Wonder makes stops in Nassau or Grand Bahama Island as well as Castaway Cay, Disney’s private Bahamian island; a seven-day cruise on the Disney Magic makes port in St. Maarten, St. Thomas, and Castaway Cay; and there’s a seven-day excursion on the Magic that covers the western Caribbean: Key West, Grand Cayman, Cozumel, and Castaway Cay.

Mickey, Minnie, and the rest of the Disney gang are all onboard, eager as ever to shake hands, pose for a photo-op, or sign an autograph, and the Disney staff runs a kids’ camp where you can drop off children any time from 9 a.m. until 1 a.m. Preschoolers might take part in the Aladdin’s Adventure treasure hunt; school-age kids might make faux-Flubber; teen girls may get a trip to the spa, while the boys may spend time on the upper deck shooting hoops.

While the kids are being entertained, parents can relax at the adults-only pool, spa, restaurant, and bar—or take off-ship shopping and sightseeing excursions (beepers are provided so you can stay in touch). On Castaway Cay, just about everyone disembarks for some classic Caribbean sun, sea, and sand. There’s an adults-only beach (with cabanas for massages), a teen beach (volleyball, sea kayaking), and a family beach (snorkeling, sandcastle building, good old-fashioned sunbathing).

The ships’ accommodations range from comfortable to ultra-deluxe: Most rooms have a full bath and a half-bath, a queen-size bed, a pull-out couch, and a Murphy bed; the swank Walt Disney stateroom includes a dining room, wet bar, hot tub, private veranda, and baby grand piano. The ships’ dining rooms serve everything from gourmet meals, like Cuban-style grilled rib-eye and seafood Creole, to kids’ fare, like pizza and ravioli. True to Disney form, each dinner features a different theme (in Animator’s Palette, the dining room, from the décor to the waiters’ uniforms, morphs during the evening from black-and-white to color).

Evening entertainment runs from first-run films and live musical stage shows to trivia contests and fireworks displays. Parents who want to venture out on their own (remember, the kids’ camp is open until one) can visit the live jazz club, dance club, or piano bar. Or, if the sky is clear, grab the kids and head to the deck. The moon over the open water is as magical as anything Walt Disney ever cooked up.

Details: Three-day Disney cruises (888-325-2500; disneycruise.com) start at $439 per person. Seven-day trips start at $829. All major airlines, as well as discount carriers like Air Tran Airways and Frontier Airlines, fly from New York–area airports to Orlando International Airport. Disney offers a motorcoach ($20 each way) between the airport and Port Canaveral.


10. Tanque Verde Ranch
Craving a City Slickers moment? Try the Tanque Verde Ranch. No, you won’t actually drive cattle across the open desert (or tangle with Jack Palance), but the 640-acre working ranch, founded in 1868 and located on the outskirts of Tucson, Arizona, offers plenty of authentic cowboy action.

Start your day with an early-morning horseback ride through the rugged Sonoran desert. As you clip-clop past the Palo Verde and mesquite trees, take in the hundred-mile vistas of the adobe-colored landscape, and keep your eyes peeled for rattlers, coyotes, and wild pigs, most of whom (thankfully) keep their distance. Along the way, you’ll sit down to a cowboy breakfast—say, spicy Southwestern chili eggs with bacon.

Families who want to explore the desert further can hike on their own or ride mountain bikes. Anglers can cast for bass and catfish at the ranch’s private lake, Lake Gambusi, and tennis and golf are also available (the nearby Arizona National Golf Club was designed by famed architect Robert Trent Jones Jr.). The kids’ program includes horseback lessons, guided nature hikes, and Southwest arts-and-crafts workshops. Desert temperatures can reach 110 degrees; hence, Tanque Verde’s three pools—one indoor, one outdoor, and one (outdoor) children’s wading pool.

Tanque Verde refers to its pretty Southwestern-decorated rooms as casitas, or “little houses” (they’re scattered throughout eighteen single-level adobe buildings). Breakfast and lunch are served buffet style in the main dining room; dinner (dishes like venison chops, shrimp scampi, and veal Gruyère with mushroom sauce) is more formal, with waiter service. Twice a week, the ranch hosts an outdoor barbecue with all the Western fixings—mesquite-grilled steaks with baked beans and corn on the cob—and a cowboy singer warbles while you eat your fruit cobbler for dessert. Evening entertainment hews to the ranch theme, with exhibitions in the horse ring and line dancing. Listen for the coyotes when you turn in. Their lonesome howling beats the heck out of ambulances and fire trucks.

Details: Doubles at the Tanque Verde Ranch (800-234-DUDE; tanqueverderanch.com) start at $280 per night, meals included. All major airlines offer flights to Tucson International Airport from New York–area airports. The ranch is 30 minutes away and will provide a van transfer for $25 each way.

 
     
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From the Fall 2003 edition of the New York Family Guide
 
     
     
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