Family Vacation Destinations

Dec 3rd, 2019, 06:32 AM
  #1  
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Family Vacation Destinations

I am starting to explore family (wife, two teens and myself) vacation destinations for an upcoming trip in the next year or two and am hoping to get some advice. This past year we spent a week in Maui and really enjoyed it. However, the cost was pretty steep. I didn't keep track of all expenses but I would guess we spent well over $10k ($3,900 for non-stop airfare from Chicago, $4,300 for 7 days at a 2 bedroom condo with full kitchen on beach rental including all fees). Here is what we are looking for on our next vacation in order if importance:
  1. Safety - Anywhere we go has to be safe. In Maui we always felt safe (although I was personally surprised by the amount of homelessness/poverty). I would assume this would rule out places such as Mexico and Jamaica.
  2. Beaches - We absolutely loved the beach in Maui (Kaanapali Beach) and spent over half of our time there. We all loved just wading in, walking it, playing catch in the water, body surfing etc. We assumed we would spend more time around the pool but this wasn't the case. Clean and safe beaches are a must for us.
  3. Dining - We enjoyed going to late dinners as a family to one of the various restaurants on Whalers Village. Loved the beachfront restaurants and tropical atmosphere. Kids also enjoyed the shopping but this isn't a deal-breaker.
  4. Activities - We are a pretty active family and enjoy hiking, biking etc. When in Maui we started the Road to Hana (we weren't very impressed) , did snorkeling (not super high on priority list) and did ziplining (really enjoyed the experience). Basically we will spend a lot of time on the beach but would like other activities to do for a couple of the days.
  5. Geography - Ideally we would like somewhere with lush forests and mountains/hills. My wife and I have been to Aruba before and weren't impressed by the flat desert.
  6. Cost - Obviously something cheaper would be better. Ideally I am hoping to save on airfare, possibly lodging, and definitely food.
  7. Atmosphere - Really want the tropical atmosphere. My wife and I have been to Aruba (around 15 years ago), Mexico (multiple locations 20+ years ago) and we always found the people to be friendly. I honestly didn't feel much of a difference in Maui (atmosphere and friendliness) than I did in Aruba or Mexico. From past experience we enjoy staying in a resort-type area but also like to have our own kitchen.
  8. Time/distance - Like I said earlier, we had direct flights into Maui (cost wasn't that much more than flights with stops). We also had good winds both ways, so if I remember correctly our flights were only around 8 hours. This still pretty much blew an entire day each way. A shorter direct flight into our destination would be ideal. Travel time however is not a deal-breaker and is low on our list of priorities.

We will probably be traveling either around Christmas or during the summer. We are not opposed to other locations (Central America, South America, Europe, or Asia) but I would think cost, safety and travel time would rule a lot of these out. Ideally we would like to find a vacation destination that we could travel to multiple times (maybe a family vacation every couple of years). Thanks in advance!
illinoisguy is offline  
Dec 3rd, 2019, 08:28 AM
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Can't help you with the "everywhere has to be safe" requirement, all places have crime.

Turks & Caicos - fantastic beaches, US in the Tropics kind of vibe and a Whalers Village equivalent in Salt Mills Plaza if not on a much smaller scale. Downside: Very Expensive, dry arid flat island
Grand Cayman- bit the same as T&C, Camana Bay is an area full of restaurants and nice to walk around at night, 7MB is a lovely long beach Downside: Very Expensive, dry flat arid island
St Martin - Grand Case is a lovely long beach, restaurants within walking distance, lush vegetation Downside: French speaking and a bit grittier, a real island. not packaged or artificial in a Whaler Village style, Dutch side of the island might suit you better
Anguilla- fantastic beaches, can get a condo with a kitchen on the beach, walking distance to some restaurants otherwise need a car Downside: Expensive, need a ferry from St Martin, no Whalers Village, not much shopping, no real town, very small island, very flat but not arid
St Barths: great beaches as well, great restaurants and food in general Downside: Very Expensive, French island

Europe has many beach destinations but it would only be a summer destination
Asia also has many beach destinations, but need to check the seasons for rain etc
Caribbean also has hurricane season
Odin is offline  
Dec 3rd, 2019, 08:42 AM
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First and foremost, you should know that traveling to the Caribbean (or other warm "beach" areas) during Christmas times means you will be going in HIGH SEASON and encountering the highest room rates of the year. It's also the time when airfares are traditionally at their highest. So, if cost is a major concern, you might want to pass on a Christmas vacation and go during the summer as that's when you'll find the lowest room rates and your travel dollar will go much further.

Since you weren't impressed by the aridness and flatness of Aruba that would rule out any of the other flat coral/limestone/sandstone based islands like the Bahamas, the Turks & Caicos, the Caymans, Anguilla, Bonaire and Curacao. Thus you should look at the volcanic based islands that tend to be lush & mountainous. Islands that are lush (with dense rainforests) and similar in topography to Maui are St. Lucia, Grenada, St. Kitts, Nevis, and St. Vincent so you might want to look at those first. Hilly islands, that are somewhat lush and have some wonderful beaches include the US and British Virgin Islands, Barbados, St. Martin and Antigua.

All of the islands mentioned have a number of very good restaurants so your desire for dining is covered. Likewise, you'll find some very nice beaches, plenty of opportunities for biking, hiking, and other activities on all those islands, plus they are all relatively safe destinations.

I'm not sure which of those islands, if any, can be reached non-stop from Chicago but you should be able to find that out with a little bit of easy research. Regardless, you should be able to reach most, if not all, of them on connecting flights (depending on the airline you select) via, Miami, Atlanta, Charlotte or San Juan.

Hope this helps.
RoamsAround is offline  
Dec 3rd, 2019, 12:07 PM
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I would assume this would rule out places such as Mexico and Jamaica.

That is not necessarily a correct assumption.
suze is offline  
Dec 3rd, 2019, 12:20 PM
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Puerto Vallarta Mexico - nonstop tickets to PVR on United and American starting under $500 and less than 5 hours. Of the 8 things you mention specifically, it checks off every one of them.

I would only recommend PV for a fall/winter/spring trip though. It's too hot and humid if you decide to do this in the summer-time. But that would also be true for much of the Caribbean.
suze is offline  
Dec 3rd, 2019, 12:22 PM
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Puerto Vallarta Mexico sounds like it would be a good fit for you. I think it ticks off each of your criteria. I've been to Puerto Vallarta five times and it seems pretty safe to me. I never felt unsafe. It's got mountains and ocean. Its lush. Lots of good restaurants. A number of activities to choose from. Lots cheaper than Maui (we were in Maui in September and, although we love it, we spent twice as much as we would have in a similar property in Puerto Vallarta). Nonstop flights from Chicago.
tom42 is offline  
Dec 3rd, 2019, 01:24 PM
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suze and I were thinking the same thing. The only difference for me is that I'd go in the summer too. In fact, I have. Yes, it's hot and humid but that doesn't stop me from going on a tropical trip.
tom42 is offline  
Dec 3rd, 2019, 02:49 PM
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That's fine for you. Just saying, I wouldn't. It's not only the heat and humidity, although certainly those are something most people have some trouble dealing with so you want to make them aware of those facts, it's rainy (and bug) season. Most people prefer clear sunny days on their tropical vacations, not a monsoon or a bunch of bug bites
suze is offline  
Dec 4th, 2019, 06:05 AM
  #9  
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Thanks for all the responses! I really appreciate all the suggestions.

I did vacation in Puerto Vallarta approximately 20 years ago. I remember it being a beautiful area. However, I wasn't very impressed by the beaches at the time. I remember a lot of debris washed up on them. I also remember that most people hung out at the pools. They definitely didn't compare to Ka'anapali Beach in Maui. Has that changed since I was there?

I would not be worried about safety if we stayed in the main hotel area in Puerto Vallarta. I remember feeling very safe in that area when I visited. Rather, I would be concerned if we stayed at a condo outside this area and/pr when we did activities/excursions, went out to eat, and shopped outside the main hotel area.
illinoisguy is offline  
Dec 4th, 2019, 07:07 AM
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Originally Posted by suze View Post
That's fine for you. Just saying, I wouldn't. It's not only the heat and humidity, although certainly those are something most people have some trouble dealing with so you want to make them aware of those facts, it's rainy (and bug) season. Most people prefer clear sunny days on their tropical vacations, not a monsoon or a bunch of bug bites
Guess I was lucky - no monsoons or bug bites when I visited in the summer.
tom42 is offline  
Dec 4th, 2019, 07:17 AM
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Originally Posted by illinoisguy View Post
Thanks for all the responses! I really appreciate all the suggestions.

I did vacation in Puerto Vallarta approximately 20 years ago. I remember it being a beautiful area. However, I wasn't very impressed by the beaches at the time. I remember a lot of debris washed up on them. I also remember that most people hung out at the pools. They definitely didn't compare to Ka'anapali Beach in Maui. Has that changed since I was there?

I would not be worried about safety if we stayed in the main hotel area in Puerto Vallarta. I remember feeling very safe in that area when I visited. Rather, I would be concerned if we stayed at a condo outside this area and/pr when we did activities/excursions, went out to eat, and shopped outside the main hotel area.
I haven't experienced debris washed up on any beach I've been on in Puerto Vallarta and I've stayed in different areas - the Marina District, the hotel district, and on the South Shore (at Garza Blanca). That being said, the beaches do vary and I probably would prefer the beaches in Ka' anapali to the ones I've seen in Puerto Vallarta. Although the beach at Garza Blanca is very good. Very clean and clear water. Great for kayaking and standup paddleboarding.

I am not sure what you mean about staying outside the main hotel area, but going out to eat or shopping in Old Town is safe. I don't do many excusrsions so I can't speak to that.
tom42 is offline  
Dec 4th, 2019, 07:56 AM
  #12  
 
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I've been to Puerto Vallarta 30+ times since the early '90s. I am most often traveling solo (female) and I rent an apartment in the downtown/old town area. I go all over the city by myself, shopping, eating, etc. Correct that the beaches in PV are not as picture perfect as in Hawaii. That is about the only part of your concerns that I find true. It also costs about half as much for similar things (just got back from 9 days on Oahu).
suze is offline  
Dec 12th, 2019, 03:19 AM
  #13  
 
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Hi Illinoisguy, I'm Giuli.
That's the list of destinations I would recommend considering your preferences and standards:
- Thailand (especially considering that you would join the trip during the winter).
- Seychelles (you can land directly in Mahe);
- Most of the Caribbean Islands (i would suggest Grenadines and BVIs if there's still on your bucket list).

As you are a family with kids, why you don't consider a catamaran? Or maybe a sailboat charter?
This option is great because you truly explore the nature and enjoy your time with all the family members, relaxing and having fun.
It's a new and unique experience and you can discover both the areas by land and by sea.
travelwithgiuli is offline  
Dec 12th, 2019, 03:51 AM
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I don't agree that the Seychelles is a good option. A) the beaches in Mahe are not all that eg Beau Vallon, it's fine but nothing like Grace Bay or 7MB B) food is very expensive C) Christmas is rainy season and it certainly rains and rains D) seaweed can be a problem depending on time of year E) journey time from ORD
Odin is offline  
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