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Video: Back-to-nature vacations

By
TODAY contributor
updated 2/5/2008 9:18:45 AM ET 2008-02-05T14:18:45

Just about every family resort claims it's family friendly. After all, it stands to reason the claim would be an expected part of their marketing program. But in the end, it all comes down to determining a mutually agreeable definition of terms. What really constitutes family friendly?

For starters, it must be accessible, affordable, with opportunities for parents to participate with their kids, as well as opportunities for parents and their children to have independent experiences as well. Throw in the concept of doing this all outdoors, and the challenge is on.

Still a number of resorts and tour operators do things right in this arena, and here are my current favorites:


Skytop Lodge, Skytop, Pennsylvania, Poconos Mountains
Skytop is a 5,500-acre family resort in the Poconos with outdoor activities that include biking, hiking and nature programs. There's also boating and kayaking, an 18-hole golf course, mini-golf, ice skating, skiing, snowshoeing, tennis and swimming. And for the parents: a spa, Skytop Fishing & Shooting Center and nightly entertainment.

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Parents have the option of participating with their kids in many activities, as well as something called a kids’ Camp-in-the-Clouds (for kids ages 4-10), which has been around since 1928. There are also kayaking, swimming and golf lessons for children.

One very attractive option is called “cooking in the clouds,” which happens twice a year. It’s lessons for kids 4-12 to create a dinner party. Younger kids go with activities director and staff to create invitations and menus, help set the table; older kids help kitchen chefs prepare the meal. They seat parents at the table and serve meals. And yes, there's even a dining etiquette class.

The upcoming Skytop's Summer Family Fun Package is $318 per person, per night for a two-night package. Children under 16 sharing a room are just $45 a night. If you don’t participate in the Family Fun Package, the Camp-in-the-Clouds program is $32 per child full day. Sample rates for February are $399-$499.


Jekyll Island Club Hotel, Jekyll Island, Georgia
This resort benefits from its location near the water. Jekyll Island Sea Turtle Center is for children, who get to help out with work in the center and participate in nighttime turtle walks.

Club Juniors is open to the public and resort guests in the summer, from May 28 through August 10, Monday through Saturday, and packs in activities for kids ages 5-12. A full day costs $33-$46, depending on the schedule of activities, and includes lunch (half-day options are also available). Club Juniors activities may include mini-golf, crabbing, water park, treasure hunts and swimming.

In addition, Jekyll Island has a great number of on-site and nearby activities for kids and families: complimentary shuttle to Summer Waves Water Park, Tidelands Nature Center, bike rentals, beach walks, bird watching, carriage rides, fishing, kayaking and canoeing, horseback riding, mini-golf, swimming and tennis.

Room rates range from just $139.

Rancho de los Caballeros, Wickenburg, Arizona
Amazingly, the family and children's program has been around at this Arizona resort since 1947. And the Caballeros Kid's Program is open for guests ages 5-12 at no charge.

Counselors lead kids on daily trail rides (ages 8 and up, and there is a charge). Kids ages 7 and under can ring-ride in the corral. Then it’s off to swimming, tennis clinics, hiking, scavenger hunts or crafts followed by lunch.   

After lunch, the children are returned to their families for “family time” from 2-6 p.m. Activities include family horseback ride or Jeep tour, mountain biking, or swimming. The counselors meet the kids again at 6 p.m. for dinner. Kids can join evening games, line dancing, or a marshmallow roast around a campfire while adults eat dinner.

The ranch is open between October and May. Room rates include three meals daily per person and use of facilities; children 4 and under stay free. Rates range from $400 (early Oct.-mid-Dec. and late April-early May) up to $616 (biggest room, Dec 20–Apr 20).

And  overseas, there's a great multi-sport family experience in France. It's offered by the folks at Backroads. It's a little pricey, but worth mentioning.

Backroads, France
Family trips are specifically designed to deal with kids’ abilities and often limited attention spans. There are trip leaders and a kid coordinator to plan family-friendly activities — kids walk and bike fewer miles a day than their parents, and may be taken on different activities (e.g., hiking and baking biscotti while the grown-ups go shopping). The recommended minimum age is 9.

Then, there's a special program of Family Biking & Walking: Off the Beaten Path and Back in Time, a 6-day, 5-night trip (you can extend your stay for a weekend in Paris). Kayak down the Dordogne River in France with ancient castles as your scenery, shoot down the zip-line through the ropes course at the Foret des Ecureuils (Squirrel Forest) near Sarlat, hike and bike through the French countryside. Prices start at about $3,598.

In the U.S., there are some less expensive destinations that lend themselves to being family friendly. One in particular is ...

Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Families can take a horse-drawn sleigh ride into the National Elk Refuge — adults for $16, children 5-12 for $12, kids under 5 are free. Parents and their children can also go hiking at the Grand Teton National Park (about 12 miles from Jackson Hole Mountain resort).

And, of course, if your family loves to ski, Jackson Hole is ready for you. If your family doesn't ski, then there's Pioneers Ski Lessons for 3 to 4 years of age; Rough Rider Ski Lessons for 3 to 6 years; Little Ripper Snowboard Lessons, 5 to 6 years and Explorer Ski & Snowboard Lessons for 7 to 14 years.


   

Peter Greenberg is TODAY’s Travel editor. His column appears weekly on TODAYshow.com. Visit his Web site at PeterGreenberg.com. 

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