Ready to build the biggest sandcastle ever?
Maybe you'd rather jump some waves with the kids or read that novel on the beach while they're happily engaged elsewhere.
This summer, if you are willing to fly, you may find a better deal in the Caribbean or even Hawaii than in traditional beach resort towns like Newport, R.I., or Cape Cod, Mass. In fact, when Travelocity named summer's Top 10 family destinations, after Orlando, they included Cancun and Puerta Vallerta, the Hawaiian Islands, the Bahamas, Turks & Caicos and the Dominican Republic.
Travelocity spokesman Genevieve Brown says rates can be as much 50 percent less than last winter. "And that doesn't even include value adds like upgrades and resort credits," she said, noting that the Caribbean has some of the most aggressive offers.
For example, The Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas touts "Reconnect," which includes breakfast and a $100 daily resort credit, rates starting at $359 a night (at least $200 less than in winter) and even a kids' sailing and windsurfing camp.
Look for deals starting at $250 a night, plus a resort credit of up to $400 at the brand-new Grand Solmar on the beach in Cabo San Lucas with lower rates at its sister properties next door. Families will like the mini kitchens and the location that's within walking distance to everything.
Offset costs of traveling
"People need to take advantage to offset the rising cost of gas and airfare wherever they're headed," she said.
Look for deals at upscale Caribbean resorts from www.perfectescapes.com.
Travelzoo senior editor Gabe Saglie notes that Hawaii, which typically isn't known for summer deals, can be a bargain this year, as it tries to recoup from the hit it took from the drop in Japanese tourists following the earthquake and tsunami. Early predictions state that tourism to Hawaii is expected to fall by 45 percent as a result. "All of a sudden it is much more affordable than we expect," he said.
For example, the newly renovated Kauai Marriott Resort's (kids will love the pool complex) Free for All deal includes free golf for the kids, discounts on food, room upgrades and more for $259 a night. (Visit www.kauaimarriott.com and enter promotional code FLP.)
Maui's newest luxury resort, Honua Kai Resort & Spa on 38 oceanfront acres slashed 35 percent off their rates and threw in a fifth night free at the all-suite resort where families can spread out and eat some of their meals in their suites.
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There are plenty of condo deals, too, like up to 40 percent off at Aston properties, which offer resort amenities and kids programs.
Shop for packages
Saglie noted that packagers have locked in airfare to Mexico and the Caribbean before fuel prices went up, making the overall packages appealing — some under $700 a person, including air. "But," he added, "Even if you take a hit on the airfare, you'll more than make up for it."
The downside: It can be hot and humid. And you have to fly.
The upside: You can spend your vacation at a tony resort where you might spend less than at an American beach town, whether you want a big all-inclusive (Kids Stay, Play and Eat free at Barcelo's resorts in Mexico and in the Dominican Republic, plus other savings), a small all-inclusive (free nights, half off a second room and complimentary kids' tennis clinics at Curtain Bluff in Antigua, or even an upscale villa. (With Wimco's value villas program, you can stay in St. Barts, St. John or Barbados for under $200 a night.
Look for kids free deals at many all-inclusives like Palace Resorts, Divi Resorts, with nightly rates starting at just over $100 a night, and the new Villa del Palmar Cancun, in Playa Mujeres, a beach area about 35 minutes from the airport with all-inclusive rates starting at $123 a person, half that for kids up to age 12, including activities like kite-making and cooking lessons.
Entire islands are getting into the act. Take advantage of Cayman Summer Splash where kids not only stay and play free, but eat free at Cayman Islands restaurants, get free admission to attractions and half off airfare on Cayman Airways. Book a five-night stay and get a night free.
Puerto Rico touts a summer deal offering a free night, car rental discounts, tour discounts and more while Saint Lucia, known for its natural beauty, invites your gang to "Go Bananas" with special kids activities, room upgrades, restaurant discounts, complimentary excursions (ziplining maybe?) and even free babysitting one night.
Eat up on Anguilla
Foodies will love Anguilla's Prix Fixe program with menus ranging in price from $35 and $45 per person for three courses and hotel rates with savings up to 35 percent.
You can try a different kind of experience too. Go to Belize where you can visit Mayan ruins and, through the Maya Village Homestay program, also stay with a Maya family in a local village near Punta Garda. You can also take a hands-on workshop to learn how to make chocolate from cacao beans or go along with researchers studying crocodiles at the Lamanai Outpost Lodge's Crocodile Encounter.
Learn to scuba dive with the kids at Captain Don's Habitat in Bonaire. Kids up to age 16 stay and dive free here and seven-night packages start at $911 for adults.
Charter your own yacht in the Caribbean — we've had some of our best vacations that way — and get up to three free days of sailing, whether you're in the British Virgin Islands where you are rarely out of site of land, the Abacos or St. Martin. Look for deals on crewed yachts too — even more affordable when you split the charter with another family. (Just make sure it is someone you get along with.)
Wherever you decide to travel, remember the sunscreen.
© 2011 Eileen Ogintz ... Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.