With Labor Day weekend upon us, summer may be winding down, but that doesn’t mean families aren’t still looking for getaway opportunities. In recent years, many parents have been increasingly willing to let their children miss a few days of school for a family travel. The reasons may be to coincide with mom or dad’s work vacation or to take advantage of shoulder-season prices. A survey conducted by the Family Travel Association identified “timing of school breaks” as the second biggest challenge to family vacationers, after affordability.
Families can also take advantage of fall school holidays; in many cities schools are closed for Rosh Hashanah (September 21-22, a Thursday and Friday, this year), Columbus Day (always a Monday) and Election Day. The latter can be incorporated into a four-day getaway with the children missing only one day of classes.
In the U.S., theme parks in particular are a perennially popular choice for a family getaway and every year there’s something new for visitors to experience. Some resorts have also launched new attractions and packages designed to appeal to kids and grownups alike.
On May 25, Universal Orlando Resort debuted its new Volcano Bay water park, the third theme park in the resort. Spanning 30 acres and four themed areas, it is built around Krakatau, a 200-foot volcano that holds a body plunge slide which plummets 70 degrees and 125 feet through the center, two intertwining 124-foot water slides, and the Krakatau Aqua Coaster, a combination water slide / roller coaster that uses linear induction motors to propel guests along a water-filled track up, down and around the volcano. For guests less interested in thrill rides, there is also a multi-directional wave pool with sandy beaches, a winding river, and plenty of spots to lounge and relax.
“Ash vs. Evil Dead,” a haunted maze inspired by the Starz TV series of the same name, will debut September 15 as part of Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Orlando Resort. It will transport your clients to the town of Elk Grove, MI, where they will encounter Deadites — people or objects possessed by evil demons — that have been unwittingly unleashed by Ash Williams. Throughout the maze, guests will come face-to-face with disturbing characters and iconic comedic and gory scenes from seasons one and two as they desperately try to escape all things evil — before it’s too late.
There will also be mazes inspired by “American Horror Story,” “The Shining” and “The Walking Dead,” among others. Universal warns that these maze experiences may be too intense for young children and they are not recommended for those under the age of 13. Also, patrons are not allowed to wear costumes or masks.
Throughout the park, the new TapuTapu wristband, included with admission, allows guests to virtually wait in line for attractions. The device summons them from wherever they are when it is time to ride. It also enables guests to activate various interactive experiences at each attraction with a tap of the device.
Travel agents can join the recently launched Universal Orlando Travel Professionals Facebook group to receive the latest news, updates and more.
At Walt Disney World, the 22nd Annual Epcot International Food & Wine Festival debuts on August 31 and runs daily through November 13. A collection of 35 global marketplace booths will offer diverse eats for foodies. Don’t let the word “wine” fool you — kid-friendly fun can be found all over the festival. Children receive a passport that can be stamped at each marketplace booth. For $9.95, little ones may also take part in Remy’s Ratatouille Hide & Squeak, a scavenger hunt appropriate for all ages.
Krakatau Aqua Coaster at Universal Orlando Resort’s new Volcano Bay
Undercover Tourist, which has a free, time-saving, downloadable app for all things Disney, Universal and SeaWorld in Orlando, recommends that clients go left when entering the World Showcase, noting that most people naturally turn right toward the Canada pavilion, so going against the crowd — toward the Mexico pavilion — could save them time in line.
Earlier this summer, “Pandora – the World of Avatar” debuted at Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park. Avatar Flight of Passage launches each guest on a wind-in-your-face experience on a winged mountain banshee over the awe-inspiring world of Pandora, while Na’vi River Journey takes guests down a sacred river deep into a bioluminescent rainforest and Valley of Mo’ara provides a visually spectacular location on the moon of Pandora — home to unique, native flora and fauna.
In June, City Sightseeing Worldwide inaugurated its newest operation, City Sightseeing Orlando, in conjunction with Florida Dolphin Tour. The hop-on / hop-off double-decker bus tours connect main attractions of the city, including Disney Springs, Universal Orlando Resort and SeaWorld. One-day to 14-day combo tickets will be available. The 22-stop tour includes live commentary in English; audio commentary in other languages will be introduced later this year. City Sightseeing Orlando will also provide a daily “Theme Park Shuttle Express” to Disney and Universal theme parks. Additionally, a shopping route will stop at Premium Outlets, the Florida Mall and Gatorland. Orlando is the 11th city for the 20-year-old sightseeing operator.
Grande Lakes Orlando, comprising The Ritz-Carlton Orlando and the JW Marriott Orlando, has unveiled a new hub for all things adventure on the property: Grande Lakes Sports. The program now comprises all of the 500-acre resort’s outdoor activities, from kayak eco-tours and safaris to the recently launched mountain bike trail and seaplane expeditions.
The Hidden Lake Trail, for guests 13 and older, is a two-mile mountain bike adventure on the property’s new Scott bicycles. Guests can venture on the trail at their own pace or embark on a guided ride led by the hotels’ resident “Trail Boss,” who will also point out the best places to catch a glimpse of wildlife along the way.
Eco Tours, led by professionally certified Florida Master Naturalists, take place on Shingle Creek, the official headwaters of the Florida Everglades. Participants will paddle on a kayak or canoe through the scenic Old Florida while observing some of the Sunshine State’s natural wildlife.
Also available are the seaplane and fishing excursions, and the Sunrise Safari. The latter, also led by Florida Master Naturalists, affords opportunities for guests to spot white-tailed deer, bobcat, North American river otter, fox, raccoons, alligators and a host of birds, ranging from great horned owls to roseate spoonbills. Safari-goers will also stop at the property’s 18,000-sqaure-foot Whisper Creek Farm, which has a chicken coop and a vegetable and fruit garden that provides fresh ingredients used in culinary offerings throughout the resort.
The resort’s new Whisper Creek Fables is a series of farm-inspired foodie experiences such as “Farm to Family,” which comprises a tour, guided farming lesson and picnic lunch made of ingredients from Whisper Creek Farm.
Expedia Local Experts’ onsite concierge desks at JW Marriott and The Ritz-Carlton can book activities, tours and other services, including shuttle transportation to Walt Disney World Resort, Universal and SeaWorld theme parks.
Just a little north of Florida, Georgia Tourism announced earlier this month, the launch of its new program, “Georgia Film Selfie Spot Tour.” The self-guided tour aims to highlight Georgia’s rapidly growing film tourism sites across the state. Through the end of the year, visitors can follow in the footsteps of some of their favorite movie and TV personalities.
Social media buffs are encouraged to share their Instagram-worthy selfies on the tour using #GeorgiaFilm. The tour includes 33 sites across the state and each will have a decal on the ground indicating the best spot for film fans to take a selfie. Sites with built-in appeal to younger visitors include the “Captain America: Civil War,” Porsche Experience Center, Atlanta, where families can test drive a Porsche and take a selfie at the Avengers’ headquarters, and “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” Cartersville Depot, in Cartersville, the town that served in the film as the backdrop for the home planet of Peter Quill (Star-Lord) — namely, Earth.
Among other film sites is the I-95 South Visitor Information Center in Port Wentworth, where guests can sit next to Forrest Gump on a replica of the famous bench like those once found in Chippewa Square and ponder the important questions of life — or just enjoy a box of Savannah-made chocolates.
Electra Room at the Little River Inn’s Mallory House property
California, Here We Come
On the other side of the country, Little River Inn, a three-hour drive north of San Francisco, has created a new “Family Adventure Package.” Mom, dad and the kids can get up close and personal with gentle goats at the Pennyroyal Dairy while tasting handcrafted cheeses (and wine for the grownups); ride the heritage Skunk Train along rivers and through redwoods; and take a guided kayaking tour of nearby sea caves. The resort also has tennis courts, a golf course and a full-service spa and salon that pampers guests of all ages.
Available through October 31, the two-night package is priced at $945, based on two adults and two children under 12, and includes tickets to the above-named attractions and one breakfast for four. Additional accommodations and tickets are available for larger families. Bonus: The Little River Inn is also pet-friendly.
Of course, California has its share of theme park thrills too.
Disney California Adventure at Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, CA has launched “Guardians of the Galaxy — Mission: Breakout!” based on the popular movie and comic book. The new ride gives guests the chance to aid Rocket Raccoon in helping to break the other Guardians out of the fortress of villain Taneleer Tivan, aka The Collector. The attraction showcases all-new special effects, appearances by popular characters, music inspired by the soundtracks from the films, and a thrilling drop sequence with a free-fall sensation.
Universal Hollywood, like its Orlando counterpart, will also welcome visitors to experience “Ash vs. Evil Dead” and other scary TV- and movie-inspired Halloween Horror Nights mazes.
Selling Family Travel: Tools and Resources
The Family Travel Association SUMMIT is an annual trade-only, conference-style event that brings together family travel experts, industry leaders, travel agents and media for three full days of inspiring presentations, interactive workshops, enlightening research and an array of networking opportunities. This year’s edition will run October 23-27 onboard Royal Caribbean International’s Majesty of the Seas, sailing roundtrip from Port Canaveral, FL to Nassau and Coco Cay, the Bahamas.
Breakout sessions will cover such topics as “How to Diversify Your Audience,” “Including Kids in Family Planning,” “Travel for Families With Special Needs,” “How To Develop Family Travel Product,” “How to Inform and Inspire Families,” “How to Please Multisport Families,” “Inclusive Multigenerational Travel” and “The Pitfalls of Family Travel – and How Your Company Can Avoid Them.”
Our “Focus Series“ section includes three separate planners on family travel in the Caribbean, Hawaii and Mexico, as well as a Multigenerational Travel Focus. Also on the site you can search for articles in Eileen Ogintz’s informative “Taking the Kids” series.