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Ten Great Family Vacation Ideas for Summer

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From Hawaii to Colorado to Europe, find vacation inspirations below for those peak months for family getaways.

1. Disney's Aulani Resort, Oahu

Aulani Resort. Photo ©  Teresa Plowright.
Photo © Teresa Plowright. CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE.
Reviews for this new-in-2011 resort have been excellent, which is no surprise given Disney's commitment to quality and to imaginative family fun. For starters, the resort is beautiful, has a perfect location on a sheltered lagoon on Oahu's west coast, and is full of art by Hawaiian artists. The guest units wrap around the 7-acre Waikolohe Valley, which has a lazy river, waterslides, snorkeling lagoon, and more. Another great feature is Aunty's Beach House, a themed kids club with multiple areas for different activities; even better, Aunty's Beach House is complimentary (which is not typical at Hawaii resorts.)

More Hawaii Resorts  | Top Things to Do on Oahu

2. Santa Barbara Vacation Center

Photo courtesy of Santa Barbara Family Vacation Center.
Photo courtesy of Santa Barbara Family Vacation Center.
During the summer months, part of the campus of the University of California at Santa Barbara becomes a vacation center for families. One week sessions are offered during July and August at a reasonable price that includes meals, lodgings, housekeeping, and most activities. A lot of fun is offered, including some evening activities just for parents, plenty of fun things for families to do together, and kids programs for different age groups up to age 18. Tennis programs, kayaking, surfing... There's much to do; participate as much or as little as you like.

3. Rome on a Budget: Ice Cream Strolls

Treni Fountain, Rome. Photo ©  Teresa Plowright.
It's free to hang out at the Trevi fountain. Photo © Teresa Plowright. Click for larger image
Here's a secret recipe for having a wonderful time in Rome with minimal money, for those willing to consider budget lodging styles. Save big by staying in a "bungalow" at the Village Flaminio camping village located just a short bus ride from The Eternal City. Then enjoy the city for free: just walking around is a fabulous experience, with architectural and historical marvels at every turn. Stroll through the famous piazzas where people gather, visit the Trevi Fountain, the (free) Pantheon... Night-time is a magical (and cooler!) time to wander from one famous site to another. Fill up water bottles for free at Rome's many fountains. And the final ingredient: fuel your strolling with the best-quality Italian gelato! (Ice cream.)

Rome Sightseeing  | More Ideas in Italy  | Visiting Europe on a Budget

4. Deer Valley YMCA Family Camp, Pennsylvania

Photo courtesy of Deer Valley Family Camp.
Photo courtesy of Deer Valley Family Camp.
Family Camps make excellent summer getaways: one price includes lodging, meals, and many outdoor activities. The Deer Valley camp has 742 acres at the foot of Mount Davis, about two hours from Pittsburgh and three from DC. Families will find woods, hills, fields, a lake for watersports, a Lodge with fireplace, and a lakeside dining hall. Guests can stay in dorm-style bedrooms with private bathrooms, in cabins, cottages, or in the Lodge. Activities include many kinds of sports, horse-riding, and crafts such as pottery and leather-tooling. In summer, the Camp has kids programs for ages three and up, and teen programs as well.

YMCA of the Rockies | More Family Camps

5. Glenwood Springs, Colorado

Photo courtesy of Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association.
Photo courtesy of Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association.
This affordable town between Aspen and Vail was 2011's "Most Fun Town in America", and gets plenty of Coloradan visitors. To join the fun, fly into Denver, rent a car, and drive 2-1/2 hours on a scenic route. This town was a tourist destination back in the 1880's, thanks to its hot springs; families can still swim in the "world's largest hot springs pool" and also visit Glenwood Caverns and Historic Fairy Caves, which likewise were a draw in bygone days. The Caverns are now part of the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, which has an alpine coaster --great for little kids --and a seriously scary giant swing that swings over a canyon. More fun things to do include a Whitewater River park, a zipline across the Colorado River, and great biking.

More Fun Things to Do in Colorado in Summer

6. Mayan Riviera: Xcaret

Photo courtesy of Xcaret.
Photo courtesy of Xcaret.
Families visiting the Mayan Riviera, south of Cancun, can stay at all-inclusive resorts (with great beaches, pools, and kids programs) and can also explore outside those gilded worlds. Visit Mayan ruins, snorkel on the world's second-largest barrier reef, swim in crystal-clear "cenotes", visit eco-parks... And don't miss the unique Xcaret "eco theme" park. You'll need a full day to sample the park's various activities, live performances, and meals at excellent restaurants. Highlights include a 1590-foot underground river float, a Mayan Village, some interesting performances in the daytime, and above all the spectacular Xcaret Night Show.

More about the Mayan Riviera  | Cancun Vacations

7. Earthshine Mountain Lodge, North Carolina

Photo courtesy of Earthshine Mountain Lodge.
Photo courtesy of Earthshine Mountain Lodge.
Like two other ideas here -- the Santa Barbara Vacation Center, and Deer Valley Family Camp -- this Lodge offers basically an all-inclusive vacation experience, with lodging, meals, and activities provided, which many families appreciate. Location is south of Asheville near Brevard in the North Carolina mountains. Families can stay in an 1878 farmhouse or in luxury log suites, and can immerse themselves in the daily life of the pioneering era, helping out in the blacksmith shop, spinning wool, caring for horses... There's also just-fun stuff such as a creek waterslide, a zip line, and a high ropes course.

More Ideas in the Southeast U.S.

8. London: Boat Tour on the Thames

London - Thames boat tour. Photo ©  Teresa Plowright.
Photo © Teresa Plowright.
London has terrific sightseeing: the Tower of London, the London Eye, the outstanding (free!) British Museum and Science Museum and Museum of Natural History... Yet there's another wonderful sightseeing activity that seldom makes the "Top Ten Attractions" lists: take a boat ride on the Thames River. No need for kids to trudge along sidewalks on a hot summer day; instead, they can float along in comfort, taking in famous sights such as the Houses of Parliament or Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, all the while listening to a commentary that introduces London's history perhaps with a bit of humor thrown in.

More London Sightseeing  | More Europe Ideas

9. Southwest Utah

Cedar Breaks National Monument. Photo ©  Teresa Plowright.
Photo © Teresa Plowright.
Here's an easy way to fast-track to the stupendous scenery in southwest Utah: take one of the many direct flights that head from most cities to the glittery lights of Las Vegas. Then rent a car and leave that glitzy town in the dust as you head to the awesome scenery, fantastical rock formations, famed National Parks and canyons of southwest Utah. Bryce Canyon National Park with its other-worldly "hoo-doos", Zion National Park, Cedar Breaks National Monument... And if you like a little Shakespeare along with your hiking and horse-riding, Cedar City can oblige with its summer festival.

More Southwest U.S. Vacation Ideas

10. Orlando: the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Photo ©  Teresa Plowright.
Photo © Teresa Plowright.
It just isn't possible to do a list of great family vacation spots without including Orlando. Let's mention just the latest, and one of the greatest, attractions in this town: the theme-park-within-a-theme park that brings Harry Potter's world alive for Muggles. His Wizarding World is part of the Islands of Adventure theme park in Universal Orlando.

More Great Orlando Vacations

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