Over four years of researching and writing, I've tried with my family a lot of vacation spots and styles: camping in Maine, hiking in Yellowstone, skiing in Vail and sightseeing in England and San Francisco. We've toured new museums and old castles, primitive pueblos and glitzy shopping malls.
We've spent too many hours in the car and in airports and too few building sand castles on the beach. But we've had some great times along the way.
My favorite places have nothing to do with how much we spent (I pay just as you do) and everything to do with how we were treated and what we did. Were the kids happy? Could the adults relax? Did we get our money's worth? Most important to me, did we build some good memories? If we did, I usually felt my money was well spent.
But the key question is: Would I take the kids back?
So here are a few of I'd-go-back-in-a-minute favorites. (In return, I hope you'll send me the names of places that gave your family their best vacations.)
Glacier National Park in West Glacier, Mont. It is part of the enormous Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park that straddles the U.S.-Canadian border. Never mind the truly awesome scenery, jagged mountain peaks and acres of wildflowers along the trails. The kids were mesmerized by the animals -- mountain goats, bighorn sheep and even bear cubs. We picked huckleberries, touched a glacier (after an arduous five-mile hike) and came home to the sprawling Many Glacier Hotel that made us feel we were at a Swiss chalet. An added bonus: the rousing musical cabaret performed by the students who staff the hotel in the summer. For information about visiting the park, call Glacier National Park at (406) 888-7800 or Waterton Lakes National Park at (403) 859-2224.
Akumal ("place of the turtle" in Mayan) is 50 miles south of Cancun, Mexico, right in the middle of the fast-developing Yucatan coast. Long a favorite spot for serious scuba divers, it has been gaining popularity among families who want balmy weather, good snorkeling and a calm beach. We found that and more at the unpretentious Akumal Club Caribe. Our trip was organized by the San Francisco-based travel agency Rascals in Paradise, which specializes in providing family-friendly adventures to less-traditional destinations with a minimum of fuss for the parents. There was a Rascals counselor to organize activities for our small group of American families. Parents could go off on their own, confident that their kids were in good hands.
In our week at Akumal, we were able to explore Mayan ruins, visit a tortilla factory and snorkel in quiet inlets teeming with tropical fish. We ate dinner every night in the thatched-roof hotel restaurant and played on the white-sand beach alongside Mexican families. We were careful what we ate and drank, and none of us got sick.
Call Rascals at (800) U-RASCAL and ask about other trips to destinations from Akumal to Colorado and Australia.
The skiing at Snowbird in the Wasatch-Cache National Forest in Utah wasn't easy, but the kids loved it.
We loved the fact that they skied free, not to mention the superb snow and the clean air and the craggy mountain peaks. Yet, Salt Lake City is just 25 miles away.
This is a place people come to show off how well they ski or snowboard, not their fancy gear. If you like to ski in powder, more than 500 inches of snow falls here a year. For beginners, a new area, Baby Thunder, opened last season, and the children's ski program is first-rate. An added plus: Alta Ski Lifts is just a mile the canyon road and offers a pleasant step back in time, before ski areas went for the glitz.
Call Snowbird at (800) 453-3000. Call Alta at (801) 742-3333.
No one wanted to hear my American history lesson about Revolutionary days. The kids were too busy eating and shopping their way through Boston's Faneuil (pronounced "fannel") Hall Marketplace. The lively complex -- the Revolutionary War patriots met upstairs -- now has more than 125 shops, pushcarts and food stalls and draws millions of tourists annually. My kids could have stayed there all day looking at lobster key rings, stuffed animals and wooden toys. Everyone was in a good mood.
I love Boston because, wherever you turn, history collides with the '90s in a kid-friendly way. Visit first-rate children's and science museums and then follow the historic Freedom Trail. Ride the swan boats summers in the Public Garden. They've been around since 1877. This is one city kids will enjoy as much as you do.
Call the Greater Boston Convention Bureau at (800) 888-5515 and ask for a list of hotels with family packages. Pick one with a pool. Eat some clam chowder for me.
Send your questions and comments about family travel to Los Angeles Times Syndicate, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, Calif. 90053 or e-mail to eogintzol.com.
Pub Date: 12/29/96