Spring is a good time to make a break for it Tourism: The travel industry is having a boom season, as families embark on getaways now, rather than waiting for summer.

Get ready, get packed, GO!

That's exactly what at least 68 million families are doing this spring, the Travel Industry Association says in its new research report. They'll be building sand castles at beaches, standing in line at theme parks and trying to keep warm in their tents at lakeside campgrounds.


"People feel good about their personal finances and about the economy," explains Shawn Flaherty, a spokesman for the Travel Industry Association, the research arm of the tourism industry. "We're anticipating more kids out there," she says.

But parents packing for spring breaks tell me it's often more a matter of schedules than money in the bank. For many families, it's simply easier to plan a spring break than a summer one, when more activities must be coordinated.


Other travel experts attribute the especially strong travel season to the aftermath of the harsh winter of 1996: Many booked 1997 spring getaways in anticipation of more blizzards. They didn't cancel when the snow failed to materialize.

"This has been the wildest year for Florida I've ever seen," said Boston travel agent Carol Hannum, who suggested that families still wanting a place in the sun ought to book a charter package because other flights were booked weeks ago.

Cruise spokesmen advised giving up altogether, until summer or fall. "I hate to say it, but it would be very difficult to get a family on a ship now if they hadn't booked months ago," said Princess Cruises spokeswoman Julie Benson. How about Alaska this summer, instead? There's still space, she said.

But, you're thinking, that's not going to help if you need the break now. Whether you leave home or not, when the kids are off from school for spring break you'll have to take vacation or hire an extra baby sitter. Here's how you can spend the time and money having fun instead of cleaning out the attic. You might even find a deal, if you look hard enough. A tip for parents of the not-yet-in-school crowd: Vacation in late April, May or before the end of June to save even more money.

For the rest of you seeking fun in the sun instead of a week washing winter clothes, changing the oil or painting the garage, consider: The springtime special at the deluxe Cheeca Lodge, known for its eco-smart children's activities, water sports and fishing in the Florida Keys. It's one of George Bush's favorite spots. For the entire month of April, room rates start at $125 instead of $240. Ask about the "Family Fun" package that includes unlimited tennis and golf and Camp Cheeca for 6- to 12-year-olds for $7 a half-day. Call 800-327-2888 and ask about swimming with the dolphins.

Families also can check out dolphins at the Hawk's Cay Marina on-site Marine Mammal Center, take a tennis clinic or explore the Florida Keys in a kayak. After April 6, a five-night stay (starting Sunday or midweek) for a family of four, including breakfast, can be had for under $600. This includes the supervised Pirate's Club program for the 5- to 12-year-olds for $10 a child. Call 800-432-2242 and ask about extending the family package for $50 a night.

The all-suite Pointe Hilton Resort in Phoenix where, thanks to business no-shows, prices have just been slashed by nearly a third to $199 a night (Sunday-Wednesday). Rates on weekends are a third higher. The kids will love the 137-foot flume ride at the new Pointe Hilton Resort at Tapatio Cliffs and 130-foot water slide and Coyote Camp at its resort at Squaw Peak. Ask about the $89 introductory summer rates at Tapatio Resort. Call 800-747-7111.

In Mexico and the Dominican Republic, the all-inclusive Allegro Resorts "Kiddie Kraze" begins April 15 and allows, for each paying adult, one child age 12 or under to stay, play (in organized activities) and eat free. Cost for a week: Under $1,900, plus airfare. Call 800-858-2258. Ask your travel agent about available charters.


Starting April 1 on St. Croix, the 150-room Buccaneer offers a two-bedroom family cottage for less than $1,400 weekly plus airfare, including full breakfast for a family of four, snorkeling gear, beach toys and supervised children's activities for those out of diapers to preteens. Call 800- 255-3881 and ask about charter flights.

Ninety minutes from New York, Rocking Horse Ranch offers urbanites an all-inclusive getaway with horseback riding, hiking, fishing and swimming in heated pools. Four-day, three-night packages average less than $1,000 for a family of four. Ask about spring-break specials. Call 800-647-2624.

It won't be swimming weather, but the beaches are pristine and crowds nowhere to be found on Massachusetts' famed Martha's Vineyard. The beaches are open all year, and hotel rooms can be had for as little as $45 a night. Try the Tisbury Inn, 800-332-4112, or the Harbor View Hotel, 800-225-6005.

Yosemite National Park lovers will be pleased to know that despite the winter's floods, there's still space at the Curry Village Canvas Cabins for $40 a night. There's no heat, so dress warmly. For reservations, call 209- 252-4848.

If roughing it isn't your style and there's no room at Yosemite's famed Ahwahnee Hotel, consider the decidedly upscale but affordable Tenaya Lodge in the Sierra National Forest, just two miles from the park's south entrance. There's an indoor heated pool, mountain biking and "flashlight" hikes at night. The kids can pan for gold and learn to rock-climb. Evening children's activities are offered. Rates for a three-night stay mid-week now are $109 a room. Call 800-635-5807.

Send your questions and comments about family travel to Los Angeles Times Syndicate, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, Calif. 90053, or e-mail to eogintol .com.


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Pub Date: 3/30/97