Vacationing with Grandkids

America's foremost expert on family vacations explores the (usually) pricey intergenerational trip

More vigorous in their 60s and 70s than any generation before them, many of today's American grandparents increasingly want to vacation with their grandchildren. And because vast distances often separate families--the young, child-raising couple sent to corporate outposts hundreds of miles away (which was less often the case in previous generations)--such a vacation is sometimes the grandparents' only chance for a good chunk of quality time with their grandchildren.

And let's face it: grandparents also like it because it gives them a chance to play a role in their grandkids' upbringing, impart values, give them a sense of family and cherished memories of happy family times--all powerful motivators for an intergenerational trip. In 1999, one in ten family vacations--more than six million trips--were taken by grandparents with their grandchildren, according to a recent Better Homes and Gardens look at family vacations.

But--and this is a major condition--many of today's grandparents want to make those trips on a budget. Though a handful of elitist tour operators charge two, three, and even four thousand dollars per person to design an intergenerational trip (and get enormous publicity when they do), the bulk of grandparent-grandchildren holidays are modestly priced and often overlooked. Without further ado, here are ten economical options for "grand-travel."

 Elderhostel

To the surprise of many families, America's great travel institution for seniors provides scores of summer programs that are planned so that the kids have as much fun exploring new subjects and places as grandma and grandpa do. Elderhostel, which sends 200,000 seniors on inexpensive educational travel adventures around the world, now offers nearly 300 learning vacations designed for grandparents and grandkids. They can explore colonial life hands-on in Jamestown and Williamsburg, tour the Grand Canyon, or study the history of painting or sculpture at the Art Institute of Chicago. Weeklong programs in the U.S. and Canada average $500 for adults, less for children, including room, board, and activities-but not the cost of transportation to the site. Call 877/426-8056 or access elderhostel.org.

Campus vacations

Cornell University's "Adult University" in the pleasant little city of Ithaca, New York, draws a multigenerational mix to its bucolic campus for adult classes and special youth programs in summer for children as young as three. Older kids will be busy learning about animal biology, writing poetry, or horseback riding while grandma is sketching and grandpa is taking a history course. Fees include courses, lodging, most meals, and use of Cornell's facilities. Rates start at $960 per adult per week and $500 for the preschoolers, $760 for older children. If two children are registered, the younger one's fees will be cut in half. Phone 607/255-6260 or click on cau.cornell.edu.

The national parks

Because seniors 62 and older get a lifetime pass to all national parks for $10 (see the National Park Service web site at nps.gov for details), these federal treasures are top inexpensive bets for outdoor-loving grandparents and grandkids, guaranteeing lifelong memories. For both seniors and children, there are easy walks on paved trails, plenty of ranger-led programs, special activities for kids and families (like a "Yellowstone Buddies" environmental program for kids in the summer at Yellowstone National Park), and reasonable room rates at lodges within the park. Thus you can get lodging and breakfast for the whole gang for $73 a night in low season at Zion National Park. For lodges, beautiful-places-on-earth.com.

Fun in the sun

Beach resorts are popular "grand-travel" choices because, like cruise ships, they offer many organized activities for the small ones as well as the grown-ups. And you can save extra by traveling during shoulder seasons.

With rates starting as low as $85 a night, Holiday Inn SunSpree Resorts have kids' activities, meals, and great beaches in 25 Sunbelt and island locales from Clearwater, Florida, to Scottsdale, Arizona. On the Bahamas' Paradise Island, all-inclusive rates (drinks, meals, activities, even airport transfers) start at $269 per person, and ages 12 and under stay and eat free. Find out more at 800/HOLIDAY or holiday-inn.com.

Then there's Club Med (800/WEBCLUB, clubmed.com), the French-flavored resort chain now marketing not just to swinging singles but also heavily to families and seniors. Choose the week but let Club Med pick the family village you'll visit, and an all-inclusive week in the Caribbean or Mexico is yours for $899 per person, including airfare from many U.S. cities. And at certain Club Meds, kids stay for half-off.

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.
 

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