I'm done with winter.
No more cozy fires and hot chocolate, no postcard pictures of frost-covered trees outside of my window and not even one more blanket fort in my living room on a snowy day. It's time to get these kids out of the house, and I am counting the minutes down to spring break.
Unfortunately, getting the kids out of the house on spring break can mean coming into contact with some undesirable "wildlife," and I don’t mean the raccoons lurking about your trash cans. Out-of-control college kids can be prevalent around tourist destinations this time of year, and avoiding them can be tricky. But with a little ingenuity, savvy families with restless kids can beat the winter blues and miss the collegiate crush at the same time.
Springtime in San Diego is everything that you could hope for in a California vacation. You can take a surfing lesson, do a little whale watching or ride the ferry to Coronado Island. Old Town is a charming place to shop, and there is even a beach reserved for seal watching. I admit, the seals are a little pungent, but they are so darn cute when they loll about on the sand that nobody really cares. Other great family activities include Sea World, the Wild Animal Safari Park, the USS Midway Museum, Torrey Pines Nature Reserve and the Star of India, the world’s oldest active sailing ship.
Do you crave the sunshine but want your vacation to have a little more educational slant? Then Cape Canaveral is for you. Kennedy Space Center is an absolute delight with its Launch Pad Tour, IMAX theater and Rocket Garden (yup, a giant garden of real retired rockets that you can climb through). You can talk to a real astronaut any day of the week and play a part in a Star Trek movie too. The Saturn 5 Center will blow any kid’s mind, even if they are the grown-up variety. Plus there is the Launch Experience Simulator ride that lays you on your back and shoots you into orbit, and there is also the Angry Birds Space Encounter. Your kids will have so much fun they won’t even realize they learned a textbook's worth of information while they were there.
Cape Canaveral also boasts a wonderful manatee sanctuary and great fishing. If you have any time leftover, I will say that the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride at nearby Universal Orlando is the best amusement park ride I have ever been on.
For all of you cowboys at heart out there (you know who you are), spring break in Texas is the place to be. There are several pro rodeos that you don’t want to miss in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Stay at the Great Wolf Lodge and enjoy its indoor/outdoor waterpark and the MagiQuest scavenger hunt with magic wands and hidden treasure hidden all over the hotel. Rooms are outdoor themed and include bunk beds for the kids and game entertainment systems.
At the historic Grapevine Vintage Railroad, catch a ride aboard Puffy, the nation’s oldest working steam engine, to the Fort Worth Stock Yards, where you can see the Fort Worth Stock Show and Cattle Run or ride a mechanical bull. Head over to nearby Dallas and visit the interactive Perot Museum and see the grassy knoll. Dallas weather is unpredictable though, be prepared for anything.
Are you one of those crazy winter people hoping to fit just a little bit more of it in before it melts into the sunshine? Big Bear, Calif., in the mountains above Riverside, has ski resorts that make snow through April. Private cabins are easy to rent and outdoor activities are plentiful. You can sail in a pirate ship around the lake (in fact, it is the actual ship that was used as a prop in the 1981 kitsch movie “Time Bandits”) and careen down the hill at the Alpine Slide. Make time for Moonridge Animal Park, the Big Bear Discovery Center and the Solar Observatory. Enjoy the mountains and then drive down the hill 90 minutes to Disneyland or Knott’s Berry Farm for the day, if you are so inclined.
For the sports fans in your family, think about the Cactus League, baseball spring training in Arizona. The itinerary of games is almost as vast as Arizona’s great outdoors. When you are not watching a game, you can fill your time with Old West towns, dude ranches, mines, lakes and Native American culture. Visit the Four Corners and take part in the Junior Ranger program at the Grand Canyon. Arizona is truly nature’s amusement park.
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As for me and my family, this year we are planning to do some voluntourism. Yes, that is an actual word for a vacation that is service-oriented with some fun thrown in. Voluntourism opportunities exist all over the world and also in your own back yard. You can plant trees in Belize, count turtle eggs on the East Coast or paint an orphanage in Romania. Volunteermatch.org is a great place to find opportunities to provide service close to home, and globalvolunteers.org will take you further than you ever dreamed.
What is my best advice for a great spring break with your family? Get those kids out of the house and enjoy one another’s company. Have fun with your little ones because pretty soon they will be those college kids, off on adventures of their own.
Kim Hale is a self-proclaimed "word nerd," and when her nose is not stuck in a book, she is traveling the world with her family, which is her second great love.