If you’re thinking about planning a spring break vacation with your family, the first destinations that come to mind may be the most crowded.
Both Disney locations, Universal Orlando Resort, Miami Beach, Virginia Beach, Cancun, the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and Yosemite will likely be mobbed.
Here are a few alternative destinations that will keep everyone happy while avoiding long lines and overcrowded hotels.
1. Visit a relative or friend
Think about whether you have any relatives or close friends living in places that are not tourist traps, are scenic or have enough fun activities to keep the kids entertained. If your great aunt or college roommate lives near terrific horseback riding, a lake with paddle boat rentals, farms, amusement parks, zoos, aquariums or other fun attractions, this could be an opportunity for the family to get a change of scenery and for you to catch up with someone you’ve been meaning to visit for years. (Learn the best small towns to visit in each state.)
2. Try an island off Florida instead of Disney
Amelia Island, just off the coast of northeast Florida, has 13 miles of beach, which can be explored on horseback, with abundant native wildlife, pristine waters and restaurants boasting fresh, locally caught seafood. Sanibel and Captiva islands off the Gulf Coast boast much of the same, along with a variety of eco cruises.
3. Visit the Florida Keys, but not that one
While Key West is the most well known Key, it’s also the one most likely to be packed. Your best bet is to stop at one of the Keys farther north. Marathon, for example, offers beaches, fishing and boating, as well as educational tours at The Turtle Hospital, where you can see turtles being nursed back to health (you’ll need a reservation). You can also check out the Dolphin Research Center on Grassy Key, where you can gently grab a fin and get the ride of your life.
4. San Diego
San Diego is home to a world-famous zoo and its affiliated safari park in nearby Escondido. In addition to scenic beaches, it also boasts Balboa Park with gardens, museums, theaters, shopping and restaurants.
5. Great Wolf Lodge
This giant, indoor water park has 16 locations throughout the U.S. and one at Niagara Falls in Canada. The best part about a vacation at any of them is they’re not weather dependent. The lodges have pajama parties, character appearances, arts and crafts, a bowling alley for kids, a ropes course, games, and a firepit for roasting s’mores. (Policygenius can help you compare travel insurance prices to protect your trip.)
6. South Carolina
The Charleston Museum has family programs for toddlers and a Kidstory exhibit focusing on Charleston history, including a kid-sized replica of a historic Charleston home.
Charleston and Myrtle Beach have aquariums, while Myrtle Beach also has a boardwalk, rides, games and a zoo.
In Tucson, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum offers hiking through desert trails full of local flora and fauna, a zoo, an aquarium and a raptor show.
Other Tucson attractions include The Flandrau Science Center & Planetarium and Reid Park with its zoo, pool, park and playgrounds. Its spectacular Asian Lantern Festival runs through March 23, for those with earlier spring breaks.
Phoenix has a plethora of food and art festivals planned for spring, as well as Major League Baseball spring training in March and a pride festival and film festival scheduled for April. Hike through the desert to see the flowers in bloom. Visit the zoo and the Heard Museum where the tradition, culture and history of 22 regional Native American tribes are depicted in immersive exhibits and an authentic art shop.
Scottsdale offers a number of high-end resorts, including the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, which 750 guest rooms and a wide variety of children’s activities on its 65 acres. The resort also has a lagoon where fishing derbies are held, “hawk talks,” where children can learn about birds of prey, and a nature walk. There are six pools, including one with dual water slides and a separate pool for young kids, complete with sandbox and beach toys. And Scottsdale is another location for baseball spring training.
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Image: Aaron Burden