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Fourteen Great Ideas for a Fall Family Vacation or Getaway

Fourteen fabulous family vacation ideas for fallJust because summer’s over, doesn’t mean the fun is over.  There’s no better time than fall to get away with a few days to savor our kids, laugh with our girlfriends and make time for romance with our mates.  As the First Lady explains in my exclusive interview, it’s great to get outdoors—and get active—with the kids whenever you can. Here’s what I wrote about all the fun you can have in fall.  We joined forced with Family Travel Forum to come up with the best fall getaways.

1. Go for a Free Fall Festival

With preschoolers, go apple picking or on a hayride. It’s easy to find a u-pick farm with Family Travel Forum’s directory of orchards and pumpkin patches near you.  Go pick pumpkins with Farmer John in Half Moon Bay, CA or Apples at Middlefield Orchard in Cooperstown, NYwhere you can also see cider pressed at the Fly Creek Cider Mill. (Here’s what I wrote about a visit learning about the history of farming here at the wonderful Farmer’s Museum.

Autumn is the time to harvest some of the many free festivals and discounted hotel rooms offered by small towns across America There’s the 50th anniversary of the National Harvest Festival in Gettysburg, PA the first two weekends in October, the chance to celebrate all things cheese at the 100th Anniversary of Cheese Days in Monroe, WI Sept. 19-21; The next weekend, the World’s Largest Cranberry Festival is held in Warrens.

When you are taking the kids out to dinner this September, you can support “Dine out for No Kid Hungry” and help end childhood hunger. All you need to do is top by any of the thousands of participating restaurants and take part—just $1 can connect a child with up to 10 healthy meals. Just plug in the city or zip code here and you can find plenty of restaurants to choose from.

With girlfriends or your partner, sample local foods and brews.  In New York state, there’s all things oyster celebrated Oct 18th and 19th on Long Island. Celebrate all things Gumbo at the Louisiana Gumbo Festival Oct. 17-19 in Chackbay, LA. The Sonoma County Harvest fair starting Oct 3rd promises plenty of wine and microbrew tastings. (Here’s what I wrote about a recent visit to Sonoma County.) Savor the San Juans lasts the entire month of October in Washington state with harvest festivals and the chance to see orcas.

Couples get the chance to get away somewhere new, stay in a romantic Bed & Breakfast and share a memorable experience. How about a weekend biking on Cape Cod in Massachusetts or Martha’s Vineyard after the crowds are gone?  Here’s what I wrote about a recent trip to Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard.

Everyone can enjoy Oktoberfest, that German ritual that dates to the 1810 wedding of Bavarian King Ludwig. In Germany, the whole month showcases local beers with community dinners where kids are always welcome. Several U.S. towns with German heritage celebrate in the US, tops among them being Oktoberfest Zinzinnati which draws 500,000 Samuel Adams fans to Cincinnati September 19th to 21st for the Running of the Weiners dachshund races. Breckenridge, CO hosts the largest Octoberfest in the Rockies the weekend of Sept. 12where local Breckenridge Brewery ales are served.(Local families come Friday and Sunday afternoons.) The New Ulm Oktoberfest Minnesota takes place in several venues over the first two weekends in October. Just an hour from New York City, Bear Mountain hosts an annual weekend Oktoberfest that runs through Oct. 27. Vail Mountain celebrates the first two weekends in October, with many family events scheduled in the base villages. Have you ever tried keg bowling?

2. Watch the Leaves Change

With kids, choose road trips within a day’s drive of home and break up your trip with plenty of fun stops.  Family Travel Forum’s  state-by state directory of leaf peeper hotlines guarantees you’ll find the peak colors. Bring zip-lock bags so you can collect different leaf species, nuts and pine cones for art projects. Bring glue to press flowers and scrapbook tourist brochures. It’s not just about looking at the leaves!  Let preschoolers jump in them and make leaf scrapbooks and acorn or pine cone sculptures for school. Have a scavenger hunt on a hike to see how many different kinds of leaves you can find.

When the aspens turn gold in Colorado, older kids can hike or ride through a literal tunnel of golden leaves on Breckenridge’s famed Aspen Alley trail or take a guided hike to historic mine sites. Also check out the leaves via ATV or horseback in Breckenridge, one of our favorite historic mountain towns.

Team up with another family with young kids, another couple or some buddies and go camping. Many of the 400 KOA campgrounds in the US and Canada also have RV space or rental cottages – so you can go as rough or as rustic as you want. Think heated pools and special activities Campgrounds like the one in Lena, Illinois with its heated pool and rental tipi; and Buckeye Lake, Ohio with its own doggy playpark; have free Halloween activities including pumpkin painting, costume parties, and trick or treating each weekend in October.

If you’re taking a toddler, check out these tips for camping with little ones.

Opt for a spacious condo you have choices  across the country where you can  enjoy the fall colors, weather and discounts  from Northern California to  Colorado to New Englandwhere Smuggler’s Notch boasts the cheapest rates of the season with its Autumfest package and half-price day care. (ADD LINK TO FRIDAY’s TRIP DIARY)

Couples can relax with no set itinerary, lingering over a farm-to-table meal, perusing local galleries and museums.  Girlfriends can catch up during the road trip; end at a spa like in Vermont as I did recently or in Sonoma, CA.

USA Today recently named nearby highway M-37, along the Old Mission Peninsula of Michigan home to 10 microbreweries, eight area wineries, orchards, farm stands, forests and streams and a 45 minute drive from Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

3. Exercise your ski legs at Mountain Resorts

Before the snow falls, mountain resorts have lots of activities and lodging bargains, making them a great choice whether you’re with kids, gal pals, those frat buddies or a significant other. Mountain bike, hike together and leave some road trip time to watch the aspen change color.

Just be mindful of the high altitude. Many locals parents start their kids on one baby aspirin a day for the week prior to arrival to help them acclimate.

Aspen, Colorado is the place to hike, mountain bike, fly fish, golf, disc golf on the highest disc golf course in North America atop Aspen Mountain and indulge at a spa when hotel rates are as much as 50% off in one of the most spectacular times of year in Aspen. Check out the guided hikes at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, enjoy Yoga on Aspen Mountain, visit the Saturday Aspen Farmer’s Market.  Explore the spectacular Maroon Bells hiking trails or the locals’ fave — Hunter Creek Trail.  Read what I wrote about learning to fly fish recently in Aspen.

Gunnison and Crested Butte talk about the “Gold Rush” when autumn arrives because it’s the favorite season for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding on the trails of the Crested Butte ski mountain and surrounding areas. September Splendor in the Rockies is a month-long celebration for foodie couples, beginning September 20th with the Crested Butte Chili & Beer Festival, followed by the Vinotok Fall Harvest Festival. In addition to the Crested Butte Film Festival, there are First Friday of the month art walks, Sunday farmers’ markets, and weekend stargazing at the Gunnison Valley Observatory, ideal for all ages.

This fall make Sugarbush Resort in Warren, VT part of your scenic foliage getaway. Daily activities include golf at Sugarbush’s Robert Trent Jones, Sr.-designed course, lunch and après at Hogan’s Pub, and hiking along the Long Trail in the majestic Green Mountains. Weekends and holidays through Columbus Day bring scenic lift rides to the top of Gadd Peak, disc golf on two 18-hole courses and over 20 miles of lift-served mountain biking. Kids activities include ziplining and bouncing—both on the bungee trampoline and in the inflatable obstacle course. And Thursday through Monday boasts dinner at the localvore-inspired Timbers Restaurant.

Jackson, Wyoming  is the gateway to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks and fall is an ideal time to visit—after the summer crowds are gone. Unlike other snow resorts, Jackson is busier in the summer than the winter.  Explore Grand Teton National Park with an expert from the Teton Science Schools and see the wildlife in Yellowstone.  Go horseback riding and experience the authentic Wyoming ranching culture. Ride the tram up at Jackson Hole snow resort and mountain bike or hike down.

Waterville Valley Resort, in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, is in the middle of 770,000 acres of National Forest with hiking, trout fishing and mountain biking. The valley touts its own skate park, golf course, tennis courts and indoor ice arena and a White Mountain Storytelling Festival the end of September and a Fall Foliage Festival in mid-October.

 4. Find Summer Fun in the Fall in Off Season Florida

The towns throughout Florida, the most visited state in the Union recent years according to D.K. Shifflet, have many different personalities, but they all have great weather in common. Up north there’s history and Spanish style in St. Augustine and a whole Greek fishing village in Tarpon Springs.

Florida’s Space Coast stretches for 72 miles along the east coast and is home to the Kennedy Space Center, Cocoa Beach, the East Coast surfing capital, and Port Canaveral, oe of the world’s busiest cruise ports. Let’s not forget the chance to kayak, paddle board, take an airboat ride or get face-to-face with manatees, dolphins, MeerKats and more. The Kennedy Space Center Visitors Complex will celebrate World Space Week Oct 4-10 with special hands-on activities and astrounat appearances while the 10-day Arts & Algorithms digital arts festival held in Titusville starts Oct. 3 The best part: Hotel rates start at just $59.

In Florida’s Space Coast, the 72 miles of beach that is home to Kennedy Space Center, the surfers in Cocoa Beach and cruise ships at Port Canaveral, visitors have lots of reasons to leave their beach towels. Explore the more than 250 square miles of wildlife refuge by airboat; paddleboard past bird and sea turtle nesting areas; canoe or zipline over mangrove. During the fall festival season, hotel rooms start at only $59/night. October 4-5, the Melbourne International Airport hosts the Air Force Thunderbirds and other civilian air acts, while the Arts & Algorithms digital arts fest (October 3-12) illuminates Titusville. After Thanksgiving, admire the KSC International Space Station-themed Christmas tree and start your holiday season at infinity and beyond. – See more at: http://myfamilytravels.com/fabulous-fall-getaways#sthash.TsXJcrjm.dpuf
In Florida’s Space Coast, the 72 miles of beach that is home to Kennedy Space Center, the surfers in Cocoa Beach and cruise ships at Port Canaveral, visitors have lots of reasons to leave their beach towels. Explore the more than 250 square miles of wildlife refuge by airboat; paddleboard past bird and sea turtle nesting areas; canoe or zipline over mangrove. During the fall festival season, hotel rooms start at only $59/night. October 4-5, the Melbourne International Airport hosts the Air Force Thunderbirds and other civilian air acts, while the Arts & Algorithms digital arts fest (October 3-12) illuminates Titusville. After Thanksgiving, admire the KSC International Space Station-themed Christmas tree and start your holiday season at infinity and beyond. – See more at: http://myfamilytravels.com/fabulous-fall-getaways#sthash.TsXJcrjm.dpuf
In Florida’s Space Coast, the 72 miles of beach that is home to Kennedy Space Center, the surfers in Cocoa Beach and cruise ships at Port Canaveral, visitors have lots of reasons to leave their beach towels. Explore the more than 250 square miles of wildlife refuge by airboat; paddleboard past bird and sea turtle nesting areas; canoe or zipline over mangrove. During the fall festival season, hotel rooms start at only $59/night. October 4-5, the Melbourne International Airport hosts the Air Force Thunderbirds and other civilian air acts, while the Arts & Algorithms digital arts fest (October 3-12) illuminates Titusville. After Thanksgiving, admire the KSC International Space Station-themed Christmas tree and start your holiday season at infinity and beyond. – See more at: http://myfamilytravels.com/fabulous-fall-getaways#sthash.TsXJcrjm.dpuf

During the Magical Deal month of September, more than 150 hotel, themepark, attraction and restaurant offers become available – many at up to 50% off. Find out more here.  See what’s new at #magicaldeals on twitter and read more about how to stretch your Orlando vacation buck outside the theme parks

You can save significant bucks on your theme park tickets in Orlando (as well as in San Diego and Los Angeles), having them shipped directly to your home (skip the lines!) as well as on car rentals with Undercover Tourist.

TheVisit OrlandoMagicard offers discounts on everything from attractions to accommodations and restaurants.

Adults and older kids will love the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival when the park blooms with samples, fall blossoms and a more sophisticated crowd; this year from September 19th to November 10th, 2014.

If you promised the kids a theme park vacation but didn’t have the budget this summer, make their wishes come true now. The all-suite Nick Suites Resort is offeringa Total Turtle package with 10% off best available rate on all accommodations, two retro Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle drawstring bags, two unlimited refill cups and other fun merchandise.

Kudos to the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin which gives parents free day care while they’re at the spa or having dinner at the hotel.

With preschoolers, fall is a great time of year to go—still warm enough for hotel pools and not nearly as many kids waiting to meet and great characters.  Check out my new Kid’s Guide to Orlando.

Head to the sugar white sands and beautiful waters of the Hilton Sandestin on Florida’s Panhandle Gulf coast. The Sunset to Summer Package is valid September 1-October 31. With a two-night minimum stay, families couples and girlfriends can take advantage of four championship golf courses, the resort’s seven restaurants, spa and, if you’ve got the kids, family suites. For $301/night (a $75 savings) you’ll get a daily beach setup, breakfast at their Sandcastles Restaurant (kids 5 and under eat free) and free WiFi; call 800/559-1805 and mention code “P5″ to book.

For an unforgettable ecotourism encounter, visit Homosassa Springs for the chance to swim with manatees or study them up close in a special aquarium. These “sea cows” as the enormous, gentle creates are known, live in the Springs’ unusual mix of salt and fresh water, in an area protected by the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation. They are most numerous from the late fall through February so plan a visit before the snowbirds arrive.

5. Kick Back at Resorts Off Season

You’ll find top values, music festivals on the major Caribbeanislands, and cheaper flights in the shoulder season between Labor Day and Thanksgiving.

With three locations in Turks & Caicos and Jamaica and soon a fourth in Barbados and a fifth in Antigua, Beaches Resorts is the ultimate family getaway, with waterparks, XBOX Play Lounge, the Scratch DJ Academy, exclusive Kids Camps, teen nightclubs, Certified Nannies, Butler service, and Red Lane Spas .  Beaches has also partnered with Sesame Street — little ones can spend time with their favorite friends from the Sesame Street gang with daily activities and weekly stage shows.  Guests looking to book a vacation this fall can save up to 65% off and receive up to $355 in instant air credit.

Take the whole family for a long weekend in Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands — no passports are required, saving you over $100 per person right there! Head to an outer island of the Bahamas and “Two Fly Free from Nassau.”

Just be mindful that Fall is also the height of the Caribbean hurricane season. Don’t let that ruin your family vacation plans.  Make sure to get and check what kind of hurricane plan the hotel has. Will they refund your trip? Will travel insurance protect you?

Here’s what I wrote about meeting locals in the Bahamas. Here’s what Family Travel Forum said about fall music festivals.

Puerto Vallarta is the perfect place to enjoy the beach as well as get up close to nature, learning about turtles and sea lions in their natural environment. When you are ready to leave the beachm as beautiful as it is, you can help with the Sea Trtle Release Program, sign on for a Sea lion encounter, volunteer at the SPCA Puerto Vallarta, or take on the challenge of a zip line.  Work on your Spanish along with your kids in an immersion program; Take a cooking class. The Westin Resort and Spa, Puerto Vallarta, has a year-round kids’ program and an all-inclusive SPG KIDS PASS that covers all of the children’s meals, as long as they are 12 or younger.

On September 16, join us for a #discoverPV Twitter Party and enter to win a three-night family vacation at the Costa Sur Resort & Spa.

We held our 2nd annual TMS Family Travel Summit in Phoenix, Arizona where it’s still warm in autumn and you’re guaranteed plenty of starry nights – perfect for introducing your toddler to the outdoors. We found the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort a great family choice because the resorts are all suites, there’s a four-acre water park with lazy river and , and right on site are easy hiking trails , a minigolf course and a few good restaurants. On Weekends there’s lots going on, from hoedowns to camp fires, and rates for their Fall Family Special begin at $169/night.

Closer to home, play at the indoor pools, day and night, at the dozen Great Wolf Lodge waterpark resorts, even if it’s cold outside. In addition to the daily story time, waterplay and crafts activities, the not-so-scary Howloween (October 9-31) features a Trick-or-Treat Trail, costume parades and spooky evening stories starring the mascot Wiley the Wolf. The New England Great Wolf Lodge, their newest, is the perfect place to enjoy the foliage too.

Those who like history and archeology will be fascinated by ancient Mayan towns, such as Tulum or Coba In Mexico.  Head to eco-cultural nature and water parks such as Xcaret  where you can now arrange to explore the Mayan jungle in the moonlight or dive into four different underground cenotes and Xel-Ha, where you can swim with dolphins, drift on crystal-clear underground rivers or enjoy various shows by Mayan performers. (At the Palace Resorts on Riviera Maya, if you book (by September 30th) a five to eight-night’s stay through December 15th, you can take advantage of $1,500 in resort credit.)

Adventure lovers will enjoy zip-lining, ATV driving or horseback riding in the jungle, and snorkeling or diving in the Caribbean Sea that boasts the world’s second largest coral reef. Here’s what I wrote about the Riviera Maya and Oaxaca.

6. Harvest the Tastes and Trails of Autumn

Show your family a natural wonder like Niagara Falls. Enjoy the Niagara Falls State Park at any time of the year and experience over 400 acres of protected wildlife and lush landscape. Get closer to each other at the Cave of the Winds, go face-to-face with Niagara Falls and get soaked on the Hurricane Deck where you are just feet from the thundering waters. Be sure to plan a visit at night for Illuminations over the Falls; some nights there are fireworks, too. Their autumn Wine and Wonders Packageprovides a Vino Visa Passport so you can enjoy wine tastings at the many local, award-winning wineries, souvenir wine glass, discounts at popular local restaurants, and additional hotel discounts if you stay two nights or more. Fit in lots of sightseeing with the Niagara Falls Discovery Pass, which includes tickets on the Maid of the Mist boat, visit to the base of Bridal Veil Falls, the Observation Tower, Aquarium of Niagara, Niagara Adventure Theatre, Niagara Gorge Discovery Center and a day of unlimited rides on the Scenic Trolley. Kids’ rates are available too. The Niagara region has many other free attractions from a Senecca Indian Reservation to a Jello Museum, working farms and more.

Go to Farm Stay U.S. for a directory with over 975 working farms and ranches in all 50 states and U.S. Territories.  Here’s what I wrote about learning sustainability and eating healthy at the Inn at Valley Farms in Walpole, NH.

Fall is the ideal time of year to tour the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas.  With trails that are easily accessible to the very young and the less fit, and even some that accommodate wheelchairs, it’s a great place to explore with three generations. Be sure to pack a flashlight for your peek into Cobb Cave.

Leave the tent behind and hike hut to hut on the Appalachian Mountain Trail where the Appalachian Mountain Club staff serve you dinner and breakfast or opt for one of their kid-friendly lodges where you can borrow all the gear you need.Here’s what I wrote about our stay.

Head to a dude ranch in fall for a few days of riding, good meals and relaxing in spectacular country whether in Arizona, Texas or Colorado. It’s a good bet for a couples’ getaway and fun way to challenge friends, especially when you can practice your cattle-penning skills.

Rent the gear you need from REI or borrow what you need and take off on foot or mountain bikes.

7. City Getaway

Tampa, Florida is one of those cities with so many family attractions that it feels more like a resort destination than a big city where you can introduce kids to the concept of farm (and sea) to table. In fact at one of our favorite restaurants, Elevage in the Epicurean Hotel, kids can see lettuce and tomatoes grow on the lobby greenwall.

Discover the Tampa Bay area’s best attractions with CityPASS a pass that saves up to 38 percent off regular combined admission to to Busch Gardens® Tampa, the bay area’s ultimate family adventure, and four other attractions, including the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, home to Winter, star of the Dolphin Tale and Dolphin Tale 2 movies and the Chihuly Collection presented by the Morean Arts Center OR Museum of Science & Industry (MOSI) (A Tip: Also check out CityPASS when visiting other major citieslike New York, San Francisco, Boston and Chicago! )

With preschoolers, check out San Diegoand nearby Carlsbad, which boasts LEGOLAND, the San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park and SeaWorld as well as many wonderful museums in. Here’s what I wrote about all the museums in Balboa Park and the Legoland Hotel. Come in October when San Diego celebrates Kidvasion-– kids stay and play free throughout San Diego at 100 participating partners.

Take a weekend to visit a city near your home — Chicago, Los Angeles or Miami — and explore like a tourist. Go to a museum, a festival, a theatrical performance, a locally run restaurant. Here’s what I wrote about the wonderful Space Shuttle exhibit at the California Science Center.

The world’s top hotel price comparison site, trivago, searches more than 200 sites to find the best rates at over 700,000 hotels around the world. These big data nerds have a great online Hotel Price Index (tHPI) that shows the average overnight accommodation prices for the most popular American and foreign cities – for each month of the year – giving vacation planners a reliable indicator of rates for an upcoming trip

Omni is as interested in encouraging kids to expand their palates when they are on vacation as in feeding their parents. As part of its Sensational Kids program, the redesigned Omni Kitchen Kids backpack that kids get when they check in comes with fun, health and nutrition themed games (Apple A Day Maze; Food word search puzzle) and jokes all to promote healthier eating on family vacations. Save up to 30% at one of Omni’s nearly 60 properties that offer anything but the ordinary escape. Retreat to the mountains, walk along the beach or wander amid the city lights—ignite your inner adventurer.

Many people only think of Hollywood and Universal Studios when they think of Los Angeles. But there are also many unique and wonderful museums.  Kids love the La Brea Tar Pits, where bones from nearly 2,000 saber-toothed cats have been found . The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)  offers the nation’s only free youth membership program! NexGen offers free general admission to anyone 17 and under as well as one accompanying adult. At the Petersen Automotive Museum , there not only are all kinds of vehicles but a Discovery area just for kids while the Getty Center and the Getty Villa in Malibu offer special family events and  activities.

If your kids are studying American History or need a bit of college-aspiration-inspiration, there’s no better city to explore than Boston where you can literally walk in the footsteps of the Revolutionary War Patriots on the Freedom Trail, re-enact the Boston Tea Party at the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum or tour the oldest warship afloat—the USS Constitution.  Eat clam chowder at historic Faneuil Hall Marketplace where street entertainers perform outside where Patriots rallied the citizens of Boston to their cause.  No matter what your kids’ ages or interests, you’ll find activities for them in Boston. Visit Harvard, the oldest college in the country and the Boston Children’s Museum.  Here’s what I wrote about the children’s museum.  Go Whale watching with the New England Aquarium.

Use my Kids Guide to Los Angeles and Boston to empower kids to lead the way!

Girlfriends and couples should check out Santa Fe with its wonderful galleries, history (it’s 400 years old) and over 20 spas to choose from, and San Francisco with its museums, restaurants, spectacular coast  and  one of the best Farmer’s Markets in the country. Here’s what I said about it.

8. London in the Fall

This fall, London’s most famous museums, theaters and cultural institutions are all coming together to showcase blockbuster exhibitions and events that you can’t see anywhere else. Fodor’s reports that London’s top cultural attractions are investing in new galleries and expansions. You may not have realized that London’s state museums and galleries—including the biggies like the British Museum, the National Gallery, Tale Britain and Tate Modern and the V&A are all free. IF YOU:

–WANT TO LEARN ABOUT CHINA — The British Museum: Ming: 50 years that changed China tells the story of the first half of the 15th century when China became a global superpower with some of the most beautiful objects and paintings ever created in China.
–ARE A SHERLOCK FAN — The Museum of London: Sherlock Holmes will be London’s first major exhibition since 1951 on the famous detective.
–LOVE ART– The National Gallery: Rembrandt: The Late Works promises a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to explore Rembrandt’s influential late works, starting in mid October ; the Tate Britain’s Late Turner: Painting Set Free is the first exhibition devoted to the artist’s late-period work, helping us to better understand his art while theV&A: Constable: The Making of a Masteroffers a new interpretation of John Constable, Britain’s best-loved artist.
LIVE FOR THEATER—take your pick of new musicals like The Scottsboro Boys and Sunny Afternoon based on the music of The Kinks or plays like King Charles III the new wildly popular play imagining what would happen if a paranoid Charles took over after the death of Queen Elizabeth. The website London Box Office  is one way to book seats ahead.

You’ll find the Thames River busy with crews preparing for the 21-mile-long Great River Race held September 27th.  We love the London Restaurant Festival throughout October, because prices are kept in check with sampling menus.

November 5th is Guy Fawkes’ Night, and bonfires and fireworks light up the skies to commemorate Guy Fawkes’ foiled attempt 400 years ago to blow up the Houses of Parliament. Keep the kids awake and you can teach them a bit of history during the many free festivities; Visit London keeps track of many other seasonal festivals.

Harry Potter fans of any age will get a big bang out of the new Warner Bros. Studio Tour, The Making of Harry Potter in Leavenden outside of London. Buy the best value Oyster Card to get around buses and trains,  the London Pass with discounted admission to major attractions, and don’t miss a visit to Kings Cross Station. This London tube stop was featured in the “Harry Potter” series as Platform 9-3/4, the portal to the wizarding world.

9. Cruise from a Home Port near your home

You have some 30 ports to choose from and you can go for a long weekend or a week, whether you want to head to Bermuda from New Jersey, up to Canada from Boston or New York, the Caribbean from Galveston or Florida or Mexico from California.  Check out our family cruise guide to decide what ship is best for your family. Shoulder season deals are everywhere and you might still be able to snare a deal for Thanksgiving or Christmas.

And whether your kids aren’t in school yet or you’re looking for an adult getaway, opt for a cruise on a luxury liner instead of a driving trip to see the best of the fall foliage.  Many of the major cruise lines sail special New England to Canada itineraries at this of year:  Here’s what Family Travel Forum said about these cruises.

Norwegian Cruise Line‘s Breakaway sails from New York to Bermuda and then the rest of the year to the Caribbean. It’s got the largest water park at sea complete with a splash zone for the littlest cruisers, huge sports complex, Broadway productions, Nickelodeon Characters and over two dozen different dining options. Here’s what I wrote about being aboard Breakway.

Disney Cruise Line sails from Galveston as well as Florida and the West Coast some times of the year. You’ll find a nursery at sea, all of the characters and princesses your kids want to see and first-rate kids and teen facilities and programming, including for Halloween this year.  Everyone loves Disney’s private island.

Alternatively, sail off aboard a Windjammer and enjoy the coast of Maine at its finest, as leaves change and rates fall in local B&Bs.  Rockford, Maine, with its charming old B&Bs and fine farm-or-sea-to-table restaurants is a great choice for a girlfriends or couples’ weekend away.

10. Adventure Out and Make New Friends

Maybe you’ve sent your last child to college. Maybe you are celebrating a special birthday or anniversary.  If you can get away in fall, you’ll have your pick of unique experiences.

We like Adventure Smith Explorations the portfolio at because they focus on small ships heading to places you have always wanted to visit. During the fall shoulder season – if you book early — you can save up to 25% on end of year Antarctica routes, Galapagos discoveries, and a variety of itineraries in the Amazon, Sea of Cortez, Hawaii, Mekong and Pacific Northwest. Best yet for last minute planners, they keep an eye on cancellations for Christmas-New Year holiday cruises and may have space for your family—perhaps even a private charter for a special celebration.

In Panama, the Gamboa Rainforest Resort is popular and luxurious; in Nicaragua, we loved Jicaro Ecolodge on Lake Nicaragua that takes sustainability seriously. At the the Iguana Lodge on the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica, where guests can participate in the great work in turtle conservation. Hopkins Bay Resort, a beach property in Southern Belize. Is the place where kids can catching and cooking their own fish, explore the village by kayak and try local food of the Garifuna people

If your children have chosen a gap year in their education, or if you’ve got willing pals, a special companion or want to go it alone, there’s no better opportunity for a volunteer vacation. Opportunities range from wildlife tracking to guided archeological digs, to house building in every corner of the world or right near home.  You can clear hiking trails, ride the sloop Clearwater to test the water quality in the Hudson River, or volunteer to children in South Africa or Thailand or Cambodia learn to read.

11. Back to School with Campus Visits and College Touring

Ready to hit the town?  The college town, that is. Leave the other kids in the family behind and opt for some one-on-one time with your high school junior or senior.

There are lots of fun things to do along with the college touring whether you are heading to Boston — college central with nearly 60 universities and colleges — a small college town or a thriving intellectual community like Ann Arbor or Madison, Wisconsin.

In fact, Ann Arbor, home to the University of Michigan, is a great town to visit at any time of year. If your family is drawn to arts and culture, Ann Arbor is home to several terrific museums (two on the university campus are excellent and free of charge), dozens of galleries plus a rich offering of performing arts. If you are a sports enthusiast, you can watch a football game at “the Big House,” the largest college stadium in the country.  Not to mention dining at Blimpy Burger or touring the Jiffy Mix plant in Chelsea, nearby.  Be sure to mix some local sightseeing in with an admissions office visit so the whole family can get a sense of what the town offers outside the classroom.

See if you can get coffee or lunch on campus; browse the shops nearby.  Allow enough time to have some fun — whether going to the top of the Prudential Center in Boston, on a hike in New England, or to a museum in Chicago.  Hit a farmers market or a pumpkin stand as well as the campus.

In Northampton, MA, home to Smith College and the Five College Consortium (Mt. Holyoke, University of Massachusetts, Amherst and Hampshire Colleges), the café scene is one of the best around. Peruse the many shops on Main Street and on the second Friday of the month; check out the free family events at the Smith College Museum of Art. In this quiet corner of the Pioneer Valley where maple and oak line the shores of the Connecticut River, there is great hiking and canoeing when you’re done with the campus tours. There are also many motels, hotels and posh New England B&Bs, but UMass housing is one of the best values around and their hotel it serves as a training site for students in the hospitality and tourism management department in the Isenberg School of Management.

Don’t try to cram too many schools in to one visit — and certainly no more than two a day. Ask your teen to keep notes or shoot some video on their phone; otherwise, they all start to look the same! Here’s what I wrote about Boston college touring.

12. Support our National Parks off Season

Whether your kids aren’t in school yet, you have a mid-fall break or are looking for a getaway with girlfriends or your significant other, fall is a great time to visit our national parks, after the crowds are gone.  You have 401 areas in the National Park System, including 58 national parks and lakeshores, seashores, recreation areas, scenic rivers and trails and historic sites to choose from. ,.

In the Pacific Northwest, Olympic National Park  has got tide pools, some of the largest remnants of ancient forests left in the country and mountain vistas, three major ecosystems to explore.

Bryce and Zion are favorite national parks in southern Utah. A great choice for road trips, especially for adults planning a Las Vegas getaway, they are easy to access from several neighboring states, and the stunning views and unusual rock formations are guaranteed to silence even the most squirmy backseat passengers.  Hoodoos, finger canyons and challenging bike trails greet visitors as soon as you park the car. The Zion Ponderosa is a 400-acre campground – families can actually bunk down in a covered wagon if they don’t have their own tent or RV — and an activity center featuring ATV and horseback rides.

In Colorado, visit Mesa Verde National Park where you can climb up into ancient cliff dwellings and imagine what life was like here thousands of years ago.  Here’s what I wrote about Mesa Verde.

Kids love the sand dunes at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in Indiana which hugs 15 miles of Lake Michigan Shoreline and offers 45 miles of trails and those amazing tall dunes. Hike up Mount Baldy— at 126 feet high, the tallest moving sand dune in the national lakeshore.  Whitefish Dunes State Park in Wisconsin, also on Lake Michigan, has its own boardwalk circling the smaller Clark Lake.  For lesser known park areas closer to home, consider the other Great Lakes:  Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, which have beautiful parkland at the water’s edge with natural wonders to explore and great fishing.

13. Families with Special Challenges have Special Options in Fall

If you thought you couldn’t travel because someone in your family has special challenges, think again.  Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports , New England Disabled Sports at Loon Mountain, New Hampshire; The National Ability Center in Park City, Utah and Challenge Aspen,  Breckenridge Outdoor Education and the National Sports Center for the Disabled all in Colorado, offer many different outdoors programs for children with special challenges and their families. Summer programs such as kayaking and hiking continue through fall, and thanks to the work of so many volunteers, fees are usually on a sliding scale to accommodate a family’s budget.

Autism on the Seas helps arrange vacations on land and sea for families with Autism, Aspergers Syndrome and other Developmental Disabilities. Los Cabos Adventures runs deep sea fishing charters and boating excursions in Baja California on a fully accessible boat designed for those in wheelchairs.

Walt Disney World and Disneyland get high marks from visitors with disabilities, because there are special park maps and handheld devices for those with visual and hearing disabilities.  If you’re coping with dietary needs or food allergies, Family Travel Forum’s guide to Dining at Theme Parks shows you the healthy alternatives.

14. Halloween Fun

Neighborhood trick-or-treating is so Old School.  These days, of course you aren’t limited to one afternoon or evening whether you want an evening of fright at a theme park, trick or treating at your zoo, or a stay at a haunted bed and breakfast. You aren’t even limited to the month of October.

Here’s what I wrote about some of the Halloween options across the country.  Many family attractions near you, like the great for toddlers “Boo at the Zoo” in Kansas City, MO and the adult geek-chic “Spirits & Skeletons” party at the Houston Museum of Natural Science use the holiday to raise funds for their year-round educational missions.

And there’s no greater Halloween action than at theme parks whether you’re four or fourteen:

Both Disney parks kick off the fun on September 12th when Hollywood Studios in Orlando and Disneyland in Anaheim get into the spooky spirit for one long day. Devilishly themed parties hosted by the most evil characters take place from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. making it a fun night out for couples, girlfriends and independent teens.

Disney World’s immensely popular Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party (between Sept 01- Oct 31Nov. 1) and Mickey’s Halloween Party at Disneyland (between Sept 12-Oct.31) are both bigger than ever before. The lovable Mickey’s Boo-To-You Halloween Parade runs twice each night in Orlando, and a Monsters U Dance Party takes over Anaheim, in addition to plenty of opportunities to get up close and personal with your favorite Disney villains. (The Halloween parties require extra admission.)

SeaWorld’s Spooktacular in Orlando and San Diego, provides special Halloween shows and the chance for your younger kids to strut their stuff, showing off their costumes while dancing with life-sized, but not-too-scary, sea creatures. It’s all in the regular admission price.

Buy special tickets for Knott’s Berry Farm’s “Snoopy’s Costume Party” in Southern California, where your little witches, princesses and ghosts can sing and dance along with the Peanuts gang in Camp Snoopy. At night, of course, there’s the “Scary Farm Haunt;” five of its 11 cornfield mazes will be brand new for 24 nights of fright in 2014. Not recommended for children under 13. In addition to hotel packages, you can get a Fright Pass and Skeleton Key to bypass the lines and “unlock” additional interactive frights!

Weekend nights through October, The 13 Howl-O-Scream transforms three Busch Gardens theme parks – in Tampa Bay, Williamsburg and SeaWorld San Antonio — into the ultimate scare adult zone with 13 evils out to ruin your night.  More haunted houses, the Pain Lane, Cut Throat Cove, and other psychotic surprises promise thrills after 6pm; before then the parks host a costumed array of very family friendly fare.

Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights begin September 19th and they promise to deliver more sophisticated and scary Halloween frights based on “American Werewolf in London,” “The Walking Dead” and other horror movies than ever before.  The masters of cinematic special effects use both the Orlando and Hollywood theme parks to house bloodthirsty beasts, entertain haunted souls, and allow special ticket guests into way-too-scary haunted houses. Not recommended for anyone under 13 and maybe not even then.

The 18 Six Flags parks put on a Fright Fest like no other. During the day, come in costume for the Spooky Kooky Magic Show and the Monster Maze. At night, send your bravest teens to conquer the ghoulish scare zones, walk the terror trails and haunted mazes or fend off the 200 zombies who are trying out to play. Fright Fest September 27th and runs weekends through November 1st.

And don’t forget to share your favorite fall adventures so I can include them in next year’s Fall Getaways roundup.


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4 Responses to Fourteen Great Ideas for a Fall Family Vacation or Getaway

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