WINTER VACATION BEST BETS

It’s that time of year again! Time to “get out of Dodge” (as they say) with the family for a vacation. But with top resorts inundating every platform of media with commericals, where on Earth shall you go? Here are our top picks and best bets for family travel during winter 2011.

1. Domestic Pick #1: Anything Orlando. From the many attractions there, and cruises embarking from there, you can’t go wrong vacationing in the Sunshine State, with all of the amusement parks (Universal, Disney, SeaWorld) and attractions (NASCAR, Cape Canaveral), and don’t forget the Atlantic Ocean is less than an hour away. The catch? There is so much to do, and so many big parks jockeying for your dollars, it can be both overwhelming and expensive, so be sure to plan, plan, plan before you go. Your biggest decisions are likely to come while you’re sitting at home in your pajamas: Where will you stay? When will you go? Which parks will you visit, and what will you skip? Search my other posts for more tips on the best times to book travel to Florida, and to avoid the crowds (best airfare, hotels rates, etc.).

2. Caribbean Pick: Atlantis. The first time this Travel Examiner visited Atlantis, she was more than a little impressed. Yes, it is very commerical, but most people will enjoy the conveniences the property has to offer, and there is no denying there is  something for everyone in Atlantis. From gambling to some of the coolest nightclubs and restaurants outside of Manhattan and Vegas, Atlantis is it. Families will find water parks for all, and some pools declared for families only. A-list concerts come to the property regularly. Miley Cyrus was there the last time we went, and the conceirge does have a connection to purchase tickets at the last minute (though you’ll be paying a premium for them). Still, Atlantis is great. Parents with little ones will want to know they have a nanny program with really great ladies who adhere to high security standards put forth from management. In fact, we tested this — we actually wanted our nanny to take our little one for a stroll to get some fresh air outside, and we were flatly refused, due to high security measures. In hindsight, it was quite impressive. Atlantis is one of those resorts that will be advertising a lot in the winter months, so be sure to look out for deals.

3. Domestic Pick #2: Colonial Williamsburg. Virginia may not be Florida-warm, but it ain’t Michigan in the winter either! You may still need to pack a jacket or two, but chances are you’ll likely be able to wander around the streets of one of the oldest cities in the U.S. for an eye-opening history lesson. See it for yourself, and inspire your children.

4. South Pacific Pick: Hawaii for the family. We choose Hawaii for obvious reasons: It’s the fastest tropical American island (read: no passport required) to get to from the West Coast: less than 6 hours from California. If you’re considering Hawaii, check out our our posts about Disney’s upsoming Hawaiian resort. We suggest Maui as your island of choice for your family destination, thanks to the many many options and competitive rates. Two that stand out are: The Grand Wailea Resort Hotel & Spa, or Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa for families, with plenty to see and do for all ages. Both are just a short trip down the road to one of our favorite historic spots, Lahaina (a former whaling village). Honalulu is also fun, but can get quite overcrowded, being the only major city in the 50th state. Put Honolulu on your to-do list, but if the name of your holiday game is R-n-R, we say skip it for now.

5. European Pick: Skiing in the Alps. A number of resorts in the shadow of the Matterhorn have become family destinations, due to theirchild-friendly activities and family pricing. Among them, a number of hotels in the ski town of Val Gardena, Italy offer free ski passes and free accomodations for children. If you have kids of varying ages, we suggest Zermatt, Switzerland. Here, little ones can go tobogganing or ice skating. What’s more, Zermatt had the distinction of being voted “one of the best family-friendly ski resorts in Europe” by the Associated Press in a 2006 article. And when your tots are ready to hit the slopes, Zermatt offers a children’s area called “Wolli’s Park” that will help them get off on the right foot, er-um ski.

Top 10 Things to do When its Freezing Out

With most of the United States in a freeze, what can you and your family do that doesn’t require being outside? Well, lots actually. Here are our Top Ten things to do when the weather outside if frightful.

Visit a local museum, like an aquarium, to have indoor fun during the winter.

1. Visit a Museum. Just admit it– there is at least one museum in your city that you have never been to. Believe me, this is more common than you know. Even I, Dear Readers, had never been to Alcatraz in my native Bay Area until after my 30th birthday… and yes, it was freezing that day.

Is it the price of a ticket keeping you back? Or maybe you’re afraid of all that culture? Check your local listings for museums and then check the museum’s site directly. Most museums have a “locals” day once per month where admission is either free or discounted.

2. Make crafts. There are a million ideas for at-home craft projects, and All Get Out isn’t the place to get those. Instead, may we suggest that you find ideas at DLTK’s, Craftbits, or All Free Crafts.

3. Read a book together. Better yet, write a book together. Ask the kids if they want to be the author, or the illustrator and together come up with a story of your own.

4. Hit the gym. You might be surprised by how many gyms have child care these days. In fact, your kids might have more fun playing on toys and with other children than you will be sweating it away. Prices for child care are usually low too. We spotted childcare in a brand new state-of-the-art gymnasium in Washington DC for just $3 an hour.

5. Go shopping. Is there a store in your town where they encourage children to “test-out” some of their products? Google your local toy store to find out. We found a variety store in Atlanta where little ones are encouraged to play with a Thomas table. It’s a great way to do “market research” on what they might get for their next birthday or holiday.

6. Wreak havoc in the kitchen. Grab those cook books and play! Try creating a sandwich assembly line, or, of your tykes are ready to bake, try making pop-overs or muffins. Mom & Dad do the heavy lifting with any knives, and the oven, but kids love to measure, stir and especially break eggs (just watch for stray shells)! Our favorite kids recipe ideas can be found here.

7. Find an indoor jumping playground near you. Have you seen these? Basically, it’s a warehouse loaded with those giant “jumpy castles” for kids to burn off some energy in. You’re not likely to simply drive-by one of these establishments, since they’re most often found in industrial parks. Admission is usually about $5 per child (most times parents pay nothing) for as long as you wish to stay, and some stores will allow you to bring your own food too. Of course these places also sell snack, but they’re usually pre-packaged stuff like chips and juice. Some of the top names in the business are Monkey Joes, Bounce U, and Jump Zone.

8.  Play “indoor sports”. Have you ever done this? Clear a large room of all breakables (don’t just put them in a corner- physically remove them). Leave the couch and any cushioned stuff, naturally. Grab that Nerf football and … go for it. Be mindful of lighting, and windows, but if you play gently enough, this can be very fun.

9. Go to the mall. Not to be confused with #5 on our list, and spending money is really only up to you. What we’re getting at is that many malls have indoor areas for kids to jump and play. Google your nearest mall to see what they have to offer.

10. Good old-fashion board games. C’mon- when was the last time you played one? Get it out, dust it off and teach a new generation some old tricks (and cultural classics).

TRAVEL ALERT: 2011

First the good news. With more and more people getting upset about TSAs

PD Photo

increased body scans, fewer people have anything to complain about this year. That’s because fewer people will be flying in 2010, but opting for getting to Grandma’s house “over the river and through the woods” by car. And, by the way, that is also the bad news.

According to the AAA, an estimated 94% of those traveling anywhere this weekend will be doing it by car. That’s more than 37 million people on the road between Wednesday (tomorrow) and Sunday.Part of this is due to the well-publicized increase in holiday security, together with a still-recovering economy. Regardless of the reason, if you plan to drive this weekend, be prepared. We will be posting some of our TOP TRAVEL TIPS shortly.

AAA estimates that 94 percent of the people going at least 50 miles between Wednesday and Sunday will be on the roads.

Drivers can expect traffic to be worse this year, too — the group predicts an 11.4 percent increase from 2009.

Before you go, check your tires, wiper blades and battery
AAA suggests giving yourself a week to check tire pressure and tread depth, to replace wiper blades, to fill the windshield washer reservoir and to test the battery. Even if you’re already behind on your to-do list, now is the time to take care of it. Don’t leave home without an oil change or brake check, too, if you’ve been putting those off.

Make an emergency road kit
According to AAA, a winter emergency kit should include an ice scraper and snow brush; sand, cat litter or traction mats; a small shovel; gloves, hats and blankets; flashlights with fresh batteries; shop rags or paper towels; jumper cables; warning flares or triangles; drinking water; non-perishable snack bars; warm clothes; first aid kit; basic hand tools; mobile phones and car chargers with important numbers preprogrammed.

Check the weather
Know what kind of conditions you might be driving through, not just the weather at your home and your destination. In Minnesota, snow and ice are getting heavier; in Seattle, Washington, there’s a rare snowfall.

Have you spotted some winter weather? Share a photo on iReport!

Brush up on your winter driving technique
Increase your regular following distance. Rather than three to four seconds, make it eight to 10. Avoid skids by applying the gas slowly to accelerate. Above all, said AAA National spokesman Troy Green, be patient and don’t let yourself get distracted. See more winter driving tips from AAA.

Know where to use your cell phone
Thirty states and the District of Columbia have recently banned texting while driving. Some cities and states now have laws against distracted driving or using hand-held cell phones at all while driving. But AAA warns that even if it’s legal, it’s risky to use any cell phone, even a hands-free device, while driving. Check out AAA’s list of distracted driving laws.

Keep the kids busy
Use books, games, DVDs — whatever will keep the kids comfortable and stop them from distracting the driver. Remember, they will need snacks, and will need to make stops, so be prepared to spend more time on the road if you’re traveling with children.

See a quirky roadside attraction? Cross a “Welcome to…” sign? Share on CNN iReport’s holiday travel scavenger hunt.

Take a break every two hours or 100 miles
Adults need to stop, too. Breaking up the drive periodically will keep you more alert while you’re on the road, Green said, which will help you arrive for Thanksgiving dinner in one piece.

FREE Admission

We here at All Get Out get lots of people asking if Disney will offer the FREE ADMISSION special again. The answer is: we’ll have to wait to see if the overwhelmingly popular promotion makes a come-back again in 2011 (its expired in 2010 after it hit its max).

In the meantime, there are a number of other amusement parks that ARE offering freebees. Among them-

Knott’s Berry Farm: Now through November 25, its Knott’s 21st annual Military Tribute. That’s free admission to  active military and U.S. veterans, plus one guest. Valid ID is required. If you’re “”Knott” familiar with this park, its 160-acres, featuring 165 rides, an authentic Old West Ghost Town, roller coasters, restaurants, and Camp Snoopy’s children’s area. Right now, the all-new “Everybody Loves Snoopy” live ice-skating show is running for the holidays.

Knott’s is located at 8039 Beach Blvd. in Buena Park, California. Admission for non-military: $53.99, adults ($44.99 for Southern California residents); $23.99, seniors (62+) & kids 3 to 11 and FREE for children 2 and under; knotts.com.

Last Minute Stayation Ideas (for THIS weekend!)

Fall is a fantastic time for an impromptu vacation, or stay-cation. Here now, a few of our favorite ideas for family togetherness, that will not break the bank.

1. Visit your local Zoo. Many public libraries have a Zoo pass that will accommodate a family of 4 for
FREE. They go fast, so be sure to check with your local branch.

2. Apple Picking. Nearly every major, or medium sized city has an apple farm within an hours drive.
Some will let you pick your own apples, while others may just have a cute shop and a great cup of
fresh apple cider. This is THE BEST time of year to go.

3. Pumpkin Farm! What better way to pick your pumpkin than from the vine? A classic family outing.

4. Flag football. Another “duh” idea, but when was the last time you actually did this? Its free: try
different colored napkins in your jeans pockets to use as flags.

“Cheap” last minute vacations: Don’t forget, the time between Labor Day and Thanksgiving yields some of the cheapest airline tickets during the year. Check carriers for last minute deals. TIP: look for tickets on Tuesday, when airlines announce their specials, and give yourself a couple of weeks for the best results. At the time of this post you have more than that before the Turkey Day prices skyrocket.