This post is Part 2 of our Where to Travel with Kids series. Read up on Where to Travel with Babies and Toddlers, and watch for more articles about traveling with kids at every age.
Where to Travel with Young Kids and Preschoolers
Summer is here! It’s time to schedule that family vacation before the carefree summer days are gone, and it’s back to school already. In previous articles, we tackled summer destinations for babies and toddlers, where to vacation with school-age kids, and even where to vacation with teenagers. But where to travel with young children and preschoolers? Here are some things to keep in mind.
The good news: this age group has likely graduated out of diapers, cribs, and high chairs (hurray!), so packing for your vacation will no longer require a U-Haul. The bad news: their attention spans are still short, and while they may be too big for the stroller, they’re often too small to walk long distances. Here’s what to look for in vacation for preschoolers and young children.
Tips for Where to Travel with Young Kids
1. Destination resorts are still a good vacation idea. Families only need to pack and unpack once, kids can stay put (no long bus, train, or car travel once on vacation), and most resorts offer a plethora of kid-friendly activities. If your kids are potty trained, a cruise might be in the cards.
2. Theme parks are ripe for introduction. While you may want to save the “big” theme park visits for school-aged kids, now’s the time for your kids’ introduction to Mickey and the gang.
3. State parks and campgrounds are king. Hold off on the big national parks until your kids can trek with the adults, and opt instead for smaller, easier accessed natural areas.
4. Single tank of gas road trips: again, think small. Introduce your young children to the concept of road tripping without the multi-day hassle. Plan on a single night out, maybe in tandem with a campground or cabin stay. You’ll save money, too.
So where, exactly, to go? Read on for our top vacation ideas for families with preschoolers or young children.
Top 5 Vacation Ideas for Traveling with Preschoolers
1. A Disney Cruise
Cruising with kids is one of the most relaxing ways to spend a family vacation. As with an all-inclusive resort, all of your entertainment, food, and activities are at your fingertips. You only need to unpack once, and after you’ve scheduled your excursions (well before departure), there’s no stress about your itinerary. While I advocate small ship cruising for families with older kids, I recommend a Disney cruise for the younger set because of its industry-setting childcare programs. A Disney cruise kids’ club exists for every age, comes at no additional charge, and will please even the pickiest (or most uncertain) preschoolers. Disney cruise ships lead the industry in eco-cruise measures, and they know how to give young families a good time. Their entertainment programming is always nap- and bedtime-friendly. Their pools, slides, and off-shore activities are always inclusive of younger children. (Note: if your child is not potty trained, you may want to wait on a cruise. Nearly all cruise lines ban diapers of any sort in any pools, though other water play areas for toddlers do exist. Read up on Disney cruising tips.)
All-inclusive beach resorts are great for kids of any age, but their hassle-free vacation plan is especially welcome for families with young kids. In addition to our recommendations for babies and toddlers, any Dreams resort will fit the bill. Combining relaxation for parents with all-day fun for young kids, I recommend Dreams because of their high standard for quality combined with their family-friendly, no-frills atmosphere. You don’t sacrifice luxury, and you know your kids are welcome. Our pick: Dreams Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic.
3. A Disney Theme Park
You’re probably itching to introduce your preschooler or young child to Mickey Mouse and Co., and for good reason: this age is ideal for getting those precious photo ops. Young children are old enough to “get” Disney, and still young enough to enjoy all the character fun. That said, go easy on your first Disney theme park vacation! You’ll likely be back with your children as they get older (you’ll need someone to ride Space Mountain with, after all), so plan to tackle only a few parks in one preschool visit. If you’re on the West Coast, the smaller size of the Disneyland Resort is ideal. Reserve character breakfasts for stress-free facetime with everyone from princesses to Pooh. If possible, plan to stay on-site at Disneyland or DisneyWorld with preschoolers, preferably on the Monorail line in DisneyWorld. Doing so makes returning to your room for daily naps possible, increasing vacation enjoyment for everyone. If Disney doesn’t seem like the greenest destination, check out their environment and conservation initiatives.
4. Any Great Wolf Lodge
If a Disney theme park vacation is still too daunting, plan a “theme park lite” vacation at any one of the 13 (and counting!) Great Wolf Lodges across the U.S. Families will find huge indoor water parks, fun interactive treasure hunting games, art and activity play spaces, dining, and family-friendly accommodations all under one roof at Great Wolf Lodge. Though not cheap, a Great Wolf Lodge vacation costs families much less than a standard theme park trip, and can be much less stressful. Plus, Great Wolf’s green measures are industry-leading, and programs are in place throughout their resorts to teach kids about conservationism. Plan to stay 2-3 nights for time to do everything in a relaxed manner. Bring groceries for quick and easy breakfasts and lunches in your room. Spacious counter space and mini-fridges make this easy.
5. Car Camping at a State Park
For a fun, easy mini-vacation one tank of gas or less from home, check your state’s park listings (Google “Oregon state parks,” for example). Every state has affordable, beautiful state parks, and many of them offer overnight camping. If you plan to backpack or camp regularly with your kids (yes, it is possible to backpack with babies and young kids!), car camping at a local state park can make for a great introduction. Preschoolers love to camp: they seem to be immune to dirt, cold, or the irritation of bug bites. They’re (finally!) old enough to sleep (fairly) well in new environments, and can follow basic outdoor safety rules. Plus, it’s easy to hop in the car for a dinner out, check out a local activity like a children’s museum if the weather is poor, or pull up stakes and leave altogether if the going gets too tough. In our state, we can reserve state park camping sites as far advance as 9 months, but you’ll want to check your listings for varying policies. Our most recent favorite state park: Jed Smith Redwoods State Park on the Northern California coast.
The answer of where to travel with young children and preschoolers is also determined by how long you can be away; your budget; where you live; and your child’s health and disposition. Consider if your child is overwhelmed by change or too much stimulation. With the above choices, there are opportunities for everyone to have a stress-free and fun time.
Photo credit: Amy Whitley and Mike Baird.