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Don't shrink from your kids on family vacations

Email|Print| Text size + By Richard P. Carpenter
Globe Staff / April 18, 2004

Don't sweat your family vacations, cherish them. Put those little irritations -- backseat squabbles, cries of favoritism, never-ending pleas to buy things -- in perspective. You and your children will be carving out memories of special times together, and after the youngsters have taken a journey of their own to adulthood, you will find yourself wishing you could travel back in time for just one more family trip. Take it from one who has seen those family-vacation years fly by faster than a supersonic jet.

Here are some family-friendly ideas:

Deadly curses, powerful forces of nature, and vengeful creatures are all part of what is sure to be this year's most talked about theme park attraction: Revenge of the Mummy at Universal Studios in Orlando, Fla. The multimillion-dollar ride, which officially opens May 21, is based on the ''Mummy" movies and is said to combine the thrills of a roller coaster with a generous helping of psychological terror. If that sounds like fun to you, Universal Orlando has a Revenge of the Mummy package, from $129 per adult, per night. It includes four nights at a Universal Orlando on-site hotel; length-of-stay admission to Universal Studios and Universal's Islands of Adventure; access to Universal Express, which gets you on the rides more quickly; length-of-stay CityWalk Party Passes, which admit you into all the entertainment district's attractions; and early admission to Revenge of the Mummy. The package is good for travel through Dec. 22.

Visit www.univacations.com or call 800-407-4275.

Elsewhere in Florida, Greater Fort Lauderdale has launched a ''Ride Our Waters Free" program, valid May 15-Sept. 30. Visitors who spend at least two nights at a discounted rate ($45-$159) in one of 21 participating hotels will receive a $50 voucher toward their choice of seven water attractions. That should help families navigate the Everglades by airboat, take a riverboat sightseeing tour, or explore the Intracoastal Waterway via the Water Taxi system.

Call 800-22-SUNNY (800-227-8669) or log onto www.sunny.org.

At Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, familes can learn a bit of history while having fun. What's more, a new ticket structure means a family of four can spend under $100 by buying the Colonial Sampler ticket, which is $33 for adults and $16 for youngsters ages 6-17. The ticket admits you to up to 40 Historic Area exhibition sites, all of Colonial Williamsburg's original 18th-century structures, all trade shops, and includes an orientation walk and complimentary shuttle service. Children under 6 are admitted free, and there is no charge for parking at the visitors center.

Call 800-HISTORY or visit www.colonialwilliamsburg.com.

Old Sturbridge Village, a re-created New England community of the 1830s, has lowered its admission for ages 3-17 to $5. That is half the former rate, and it now applies to a wider age group. Adult admission is $20, and seniors 65 and older pay $18. Each admission ticket includes a free second visit within 10 days of the original.

Call 800-SEE-1830 or visit www.osv.org.

Teenagers are often hard to please on family trips (or anywhere else), so the four Coral by Hilton all-inclusive resorts in the Dominican Republic have special programs just for them, including times when only they are allowed on the miniature golf courses or in the disco. There are also activities for younger children and adults. A Family Fling sale, available June 1-Aug. 31 (also known as the off season), starts at $89 per person, per night, double occupancy. Rates for youngsters 13-18 are $30 a person, and those 12 and under stay and eat free when sharing a room with parents.

Family Fling stays must be booked by a travel agent. For more information, visit www.coralbyhilton.com.

You don't have to go a great distance for family fun. New Jersey has plenty of attractions: beaches, historical sites, theme parks such as Six Flags Great Adventure & Wild Safari, America's longest-running rodeo, the biggest IMAX Dome theater in the nation, even hermit crab races. For a free 2004 guide to the Garden State that includes a section called 101 Fun Things to Do, call 800-VISIT-NJ (800-847-4865) or go to www.visitnj.org. Likewise, Long Island has miles of beaches, Gold Coast Mansions, museums, sports venues, and (for the grown-ups) world-class wineries. For a free 2004 travel guide published by the Long Island Convention & Visitors Bureau and Sports Commission, call 877-FUN-ON-LI (877-386-6654) or visit www.funonli.com.

It's National Parks week, a good time to note that enjoying nature as a family can be rewarding indeed. For $50, a National Parks Pass admits you and those traveling with you into any national park with a per-vehicle fee. (If the fee is per visitor, then spouse, parents, and children will be covered.) The pass is good for a year, and more than 80 percent of the money goes into national parks projects. The passes can be bought online at www.nationalparks.org or by calling 888-GO-PARKS (888-467-2757). If you are 62 or older, a one-time fee of $10 will get you a parks pass, but you must apply in person at a federal area such as a national park, historic site, or wildlife refuge, where an entrance fee is charged.

Single parents sometimes find it difficult to get deals, and while this package isn't cheap, it does sound nice. The Single Parent Package at the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek Resort and Spa in Colorado provides a room for one night for one adult and one child, one adult 50-minute massage, milk and cookies upon arrival, three hours of Camp Hyatt per child, and room service breakfast for both. The cost is $404 per night May 21-Dec. 16. Additional children in the same room are $55 per child per night. Extra nights and adjoining rooms are available at additional cost.

Call 970-827-6658.

Then there are grandparent and grandchild trips. Grandtravel, which specializes in such trips, has an educational package called Dinosaur Discovery Colorado. The weeklong exploration of the Grand Valley -- an area rich in dinosaur bones -- begins July 31. In addition to digging for bones, the group will make rubbings of dinosaur tracks, hike a boneyard, learn to tell bones from rocks, see robotic dinosaurs, go to a rodeo, float on rafts, and see magnificent scenery. The program includes all breakfasts and lunches and four dinners, as well as accommodations, transportation to the sites, admissions, services of two study leaders and an escort, and all service charges and hotel taxes. Air fare is not included. Rates are $2,780 for adults; $2,280 for a child sharing a room with one adult or child; and $1,890 for a child in a triple.

Call 800-247-7651 or visit www.grandtrvl.com.

Children 12 and under ride free when accompanied by a paying adult on Old Town Trolley tours of Boston, which allow you to hop off or on the trolley at 17 sites. The price of $26 (or $23.40 on the Web) includes admission to the ''Whites of Their Eyes" exhibit in Charlestown or a Boston Harbor Cruise; a second day on the trolley is $10 more.

Call 617-269-7010 or visit www.historictours.com/boston.

The Equinox resort Resort & Spa in Manchester Village, Vt., has a has Junior Country Pursuits program in which youngsters can drive off road, handle falcons, and learn archery techniques. Lessons are $75 each, and room rates start at $239.

Visit www.rockresorts.com or call 888-FOR-ROCK.

Vegas deals Vegas.com lists the following starting prices for air from Boston and a two-night hotel stay in Las Vegas: Circus, Circus, $273 a person; New York-New York, $341; Bellagio, $437. (Prices do not include airport fees that could add $50 or more, and availability may be limited.)

Liberty Travel, meanwhile, has a $475 package from Boston for New York-New York that includes round-trip midweek air, three nights' hotel, transportation to and from the hotel, a Fun-Pak of discounts, a couple of tours with buffet lunches included, and two-for-one admission to the Rick Thomas magic show. Other hotels are available as well. (Again, airport fees are extra.)

Call 888-271-1586 or visit www.libertytravel.com.

And the Vacation Outlet has two-night air and hotel packages beginning at $299 for Circus Circus, $315 for Excalibur, and $428 for the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino.

Visit www.vacationoutlet.com or call 800-690-2210.

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