Travel trends come and go, but according to Dave Blew with Oklahoma City’s Bayless Travel, spring break choices for Oklahomans are pretty consistent. “The top four destinations are Cancun and Playa del Carmen, Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta and Disney World.” Spring break planning, however, is all over the map.
Blew says, on the one hand, “People will start calling in April for spring break the next year … and then we get the latecomers who call in January for March travel.”
If you fall into the former category, tear out these pages for future fun fodder. If you fall into the latter category, tear out these pages for future fun fodder and don’t dillydally next time. Or use some of our last-minute travel advice and become your family’s spring break superhero.
Family Fun in Foreign Lands
Lezel Cunningham Safi is a busy mom, future law student, yogi and expert spring break planner. She’s got three active kids – two boys and a girl – and an equally high-energy husband, Richard, who’s a dentist with a busy practice as well as an Iron Man triathlete. Suffice it to say that logistics and Lezel Safi go together like peas and carrots. This year, she’s taking her brood to the United Kingdom – an ambitious trip for sure, but Safi knows how to do her homework, making for smooth travel experiences.
For the past three years, the Safi Tribe, as she affectionately calls them, has embarked on a spring break trip that’s part relaxation, part education and lots of fun. “For Christmas, instead of just giving the kids a lot of junk they don’t need, we put two or three smaller gifts under the tree and then we give them a trip for spring break. We give them ornaments that are clues about where we will be going, and guidebooks about the location, which is a fun way to get them excited.”
Year one was Paris, last year was Hawaii, and 2016 will see Safi carting her tribe from London to Edinburgh, to the Cotswolds and back. “Wherever we go, we try to include educational activities. When we went to France, I arranged a private tour of the D-Day beaches and historical sites in Normandy, and we spent a full day exploring the Louvre.”
Her family veers away from the touristy and toward the “real life” of a place. “Ask around before you go someplace. Ask friends who’ve been where you’re going. Another family we know suggested the tour company we used when we were in France, and it was perfect. I also ask concierges and use Google to find new restaurants or things to do.”
She keeps lists in her phone for the different cities she’s planning to visit, and when she knows the family will be using public transportation, she buys passes in advance and has them in-hand when they step off the plane, thus eliminating that jet-lagged, luggage-dragging, stressful interaction with the ticket machine.
Lezel Safi’s Tips for Semi-Sane Travel with Children
• Try to stay in lodgings with a washer and dryer. This means packing less and not arriving home and having to immediately scale Dirty Laundry Mountain. “And when you can, opt for adjoining rooms. In Europe those are much less common, so we look for hotels with ‘family suites.’ There are five of us, and the kids are too young to have their own rooms, so we’re often in pretty close quarters, but togetherness is part of our vacations,” says Safi.
• For air travel, pack a backpack for each child. Inside it place his or her iPad, books, a journal, healthy snacks, a sweater or scarf, a Ziploc baggie with daily medications such as Flonase or Claritin and maybe a fun surprise, like their favorite candy.
• Pack a large Ziploc with medicines you think you might need: Benadryl, Tylenol, antacid, Band-Aids, Neosporin and sunscreen. “I also travel with at least one round of amoxicillin and one Z-Pac, especially on overseas trips.”
• Mix up daily activities so that some are low-key and child-friendly, and some require indoor voices and sitting still. “We may spend a day in a museum, but then pick up McDonald’s and have a picnic on the floor of our hotel room for dinner. Or we might play in a park in the afternoon and then go for a fancier, sit-down dinner.”
• Stock your room or suite. Local grocery stores in new places are fun and a good way to see a snippet of people’s day-to-day lives. “We pick up yogurt, fruit, cheese and crackers and snacks and a couple of bottles of wine. We aren’t big eaters in the mornings and this saves us the hassle of going out, and helps our budget.”
• Use online activity resources before you travel. “There are great websites for our national parks and even for other countries that have kids’ activity sheets that you can download and print to take with you. They’re fun and they really add to their experiences.”
Say “Hakuna Matata” … in 2017
Once 2016 is in the bag, the savvy early bird will be well served to follow Blew’s advice and get crackin’. “We recommend booking sooner rather than later. There isn’t an exact recommended time frame,” says Jennifer Haile Tinn, manager of marketing and sales strategy at Disney Cruise Line.
For many families, the trip most likely to blow the kids’ minds is a Disney Cruise. The company has four ships in its stable, which can accommodate between 2,700 and 4,000 Mouseketeers per ship and offer plenty of fun, adventure, sunshine and, ahem, babysitting for all.
“Whether you’re 9 or 92, there really is something for everyone aboard a Disney cruise. Kids unleash their imaginations in the youth clubs, adults relax at the spa and indulge at our upscale, adults-only restaurants and families come together for shared experiences like only Disney can provide,” Tinn says.
This just in: Select Disney cruises will feature a special addition beginning in 2017: Star Wars Day. The company calls it “Force-Filled Fun for Everyone,” which means exclusive, at-sea screenings of all of the Star Wars movies, meet and greet events with characters (no, moms, not young Harrison Ford, Disney can’t time travel yet), themed activities for the kiddos and even special menu offerings.
Staycation Close to Home
Jenifer Reynolds knows a thing or two about Oklahoma destinations. She’s been the host of the popular television show “Discover Oklahoma” for 14 years, and, over the course of her tenure, she’s crisscrossed our state’s 77 counties multiple times. When asked about spring break, Oklahoma style, you can see the database start to percolate. She takes the question seriously.
“Oklahoma in the spring can be unpredictable in terms of weather,” Reynolds says. True. “So I think for spring break I’d stick to going south rather than north, with an exception if you’re going someplace west and want something to stop and do on the way.”
Her favorite stay-and-play springtime spot combines hiking, history, bison and burgers, not necessarily in that order. “If I just wanted to get out of town and make an overnight trip, I’d go to Lawton. I’d start at the Ft. Sill National Landmark and Museum. It’s wonderful; so full of history. Geronimo is buried there, and staff will escort you to see his grave, as well as other Native American tribal leaders. People still leave trinkets there for him. Mementos, photos, and I’ve even seen packs of cigarettes.”
She also recommends the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge and Visitors Center. “It’s lovely, really beautifully done, and it gives you a much better appreciation for the refuge and what you’ll see as you drive through, and the meaning of it all.”
For lunch, or dinner for that matter, Meers Store and Restaurant is the go-to. That’s just a given. Steaks, barbeque, house-baked bread, scratch-made ice cream and desserts plus large, colorfully named burgers: The Cowboy (mustard, dill pickles, tomatoes, lettuce, purple onions and American cheese because they’re American burgers, so sayeth the website) or The Sissy (mayo instead), and ketchup burger eaters are relegated to the damned Yankee Burger.
Reynolds suggests a hike on one of the well-marked trails on Mt. Scott. “The Elk Mountain Trail will give you a good workout and a great view. Well worth it!” She offers a great tip: Plan your hike toward the end of the day and catch a beautiful Oklahoma sunset from atop the mountain. Well-fed, exhausted and ready for bed? “I love Quartz Mountain Lodge. It’s beautiful, friendly and economical,” she says.
The Blow-by-Blow from Dave Blew
“We stress flexibility. If you are planning on a Wednesday through Sunday, be flexible. Be open to going Tuesday through Saturday or Thursday through Monday and you could be able to save a lot of money.”
Word to the wise: “A lot of the resorts in Mexico will not take anyone under 18 for the spring break period, which could rule this out as far as family travel.”
Great family destinations are Hawaii, Florida and other domestic U.S. locations.
A cruise is also a wonderful option for families because all meals, accommodations and entertainment are already paid for, and most cruise lines have awesome kids’ programs onboard. “Our family has done five family cruises and had a blast. The kids were so preoccupied with their kids’ programs that we only saw them at dinner, and they loved it.”
Always take out travel insurance. Insurance is usually at a minimal price and gives you the peace of mind that if something should happen you can get your money back. There are different rules and circumstances, but this is usually the case.
“I always let my neighbors know I will be gone, and it doesn’t hurt to call your police department and let them know the same thing. Stop your papers and mail and leave lights on when gone.”
Hit the Slopes
Pack up the car, hop on I-40 West in the morning, and before nightfall you’ll be in the mountains, ready to ski in any number of excellent spots in New Mexico (think Taos or Red River) and Colorado (think Crested Butte or Durango).
On your way, if you’re going through the Panhandle, Reynolds loves Black Mesa and the “country stay” options at local ranches owned by the Apple and Roberts families. “After a stay at the Apple Ranch, the Black Mesa B&B or the Hitching Post, you’ll leave feeling like you’ve got family in Black Mesa.” This region of our state is also a rock hound’s paradise, with ancient petroglyphs and sites where dinosaur bones have been found, including the huge specimen on display at Norman’s Sam Noble Museum.
Skiing in New Mexico is a generations-old tradition for many Oklahoma families, and one town that offers lots of fun for a great price is Red River. “Red River has an interesting story,” says Red River Tourism Director Megan Gallagher. “The ski mountain actually opened the day before Pearl Harbor was bombed, and it closed back down a few days later. It finally reopened about a decade later, in December of 1959.”
With 38 hotels and plenty of Airbnb options, Gallagher assures us that you have not waited too long for a spring break ski trip, and one that works for the whole family. “Red River is known for its ski school. Our instructors are wonderful, and several of them have been teaching here for 20 or 30 years.”
Another plus is the lift ticket price. “Our lift tickets are $68 a day, and if you use a site like liftopia.com, you can get them for even less, more like $60. And our mountain is small enough that it’s easy to keep track of your friends. Our visitors tell us it just feels like home here.”
Hey, Teacher, Leave Those Kids Alone
Sure, parents and students need a little R&R in the spring, but so do their teachers. Probably more so. Day in and day out with the little darlings can take its toll, as can living on the average teacher’s salary. Choices along Cancun’s hotel zone range from the extravagant to the think-twice; we evaluated them and narrowed the choices down to those that do not allow children, and are beautiful and moderately priced, with our teacher friends in mind. The Hyatt Zilara is a great mid-range option with upscale style, beautifully appointed and located on the Caribbean Sea. The beach is bright white, the water is impossibly blue, the food is great and the service is as warm as the beautiful sunshine.
Fine dining options, including restaurants featuring tapas and sushi, make the hardest part of the day deciding when and where to eat. Fortunately, you won’t make a bad choice. Again, we did the heavy lifting for you and sampled them all.
You don’t have to move a muscle to enjoy a cocktail on the beach or in the infinity pool, but if for some crazy reason you want to move a muscle or two, the gym is state of the art, and there are a variety of fitness classes offered each day, along with bike rides and beach walks.
Wherever you wind up, have a ball and make some memories – there’s plenty of enjoyment to be had out there before you have to get back to the daily grind.