Looking to venture farther afield? Try these
trips, from Colonial Williamsburg to the Caribbean.
|Stock boy: Locked up in Colonial
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
8. Great Smoky Mountains National
|Smokin': Nine million people
per year visit 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
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.
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
9. Disney Cruise
|Swimming in it: Cooling off
in the Mickey Pool aboard the Disney Wonder.
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.
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.
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.