Cheap Thrills

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Family Vacations, Summer 1998

Cheap Thrills

When bucks count (and when don't they?) you need all the dollar-stretching strategies you can find. Try these ten.
By Everett Potter

Attempting to save money on your family holiday isn't easy when it's high season and you're held hostage to school vacations. Yes, you can always jam the trusty Subaru with tents, sleeping bags, Froot Loops, and the family dog and head for a crowded KOA campground. Or, you can consider some of the following ten ways to control costs and still hit the road in style.

Camping 1920s Style
The Appalachian Mountain Club isn't just for hirsute 18-year-olds with a yen to pick up sticks. The Club's Echo Lake Camp is for families and is situated on one of the most cherished pieces of East Coast real estate, Mount Desert Island. Fortunately, you're removed from the madding crowd that regularly takes siege of surrounding Acadia National Park but still privy to the same beauty. It's a 1920s-era tent camp situated on 2.5-mile-long Echo Lake near Southwest Harbor, with a dining hall serving family-style meals and a library and rec room with fireplaces to take the chill off those breezy Maine evenings. Use the camp's rowboats, kayaks, or canoes on the no-wake lake; go hiking; climb 1,530-foot-high Cadillac Mountain. Bring bikes to explore the 57 miles of carriage roads that John D. Rockefeller built. Or just hang with the Club guides, who'll help you and your kids explore geology and marine life. Meals, activities, wooden-floored tents, and state lodging taxes are included, but you'll have to bring your own sleeping bag and towels. Membership is $65 per family; rates are $325 per week per adult, $280 for kids 11-15, $202 for kids 4-10. For more information call 603-466-2727.

Big Rig
OK, you never thought you'd look twice at an RV. But you should make an exception for the 49th state because, with 591,000 square miles, Alaska is nearly a quarter the size of the continental United States. So instead of destroying your beloved Discovery on the gravel roads, why not take someone else's vehicle? Go your own way, at your own pace, and control costs by renting a 24-foot, six-passenger Fleetwood Jamboree-then stock up on peanut butter and Oreos and hit the road for Denali or Homer. Gas mileage is predictably low, but gasoline is often cheaper than in the Lower 48, and there are no taxes on the rental. With your RV as your base, you can fish and hike and camp to your heart's content. Rates start at $150 per day, including insurance, linens, and kitchenware, plus 15 cents a mile (or unlimited mileage for an extra $25 per day). For additional information call Clippership Motorhome at 800-421-3456.

Get Tempted

Temptress Explorer, Costa Rica
Seven-night cruise, meals and activities included
$1,995 per adult x two:
One kid age 13-17:
One kid age 3-12:




Forget the Fun Ship and any ideas about casinos, black ties, and shuffleboard. Temptress Adventure Cruises welcomes kids to Costa Rica on a seven-night cruise that sails round-trip from Puntarenas on the Pacific Coast. Watch white-faced capuchin monkeys at Curu National Wildlife Refuge. Have dinner on the beach at Tortuga Island after snorkeling with the big fish. Hike among toucans and monkeys at Golfo Dulce. Go birdwatching in Corcovado National Park, and check out the squirrel monkeys at Manuel Antonio National Park. Sea kayaking, snorkeling, waterskiing, and guided nature hikes are included in the price, as are meals, alcohol, laundry, shore excursions, port charges, and taxes. The 185-foot M/V Temptress Explorer carries a maximum of 99 passengers. The cost is $1,995 for adults, $1,195 for kids 13-17, and $995 for children 3-12, based on double occupancy. Call Temptress Adventure Cruises at 800-336-8423.

Calling Mario Perillo
There are times when companies with names like Pleasant Holidays have something to offer you as well as your grandmother. If you're going to Hawaii, call these guys and book a condo. The Aston Mahana at Kaanapali may not inspire poetry, but the ocean views do. A two-bedroom oceanfront condo runs $4,073 per week for a family of four in peak summer season, including airfare from San Francisco or Los Angeles as well as a rental car, tennis, pool, sauna, and magnificent snorkeling off Kaanapali Beach. If you're willing to stay across the street from the beach, you can save another 30 percent at Maui Park Resort ($2,837 per week for a family of four). For additional information call Pleasant Holidays at 800-242-9244.

Check Out an All-Suite Hotel
Palm Beach Shores Resort, on Singer Island north of Palm Beach, is a former Embassy Suites that has kept the concept intact: a one-bedroom suite that gives you room to move, a kitchenette to lower meal costs, and a complimentary full American breakfast daily. The resort's Fat Cat Beach Club for kids three to 12 has morning, all-day, and evening programs; the all-day program costs $30, including lunch, and usually features excursions to the zoo or Lion Country Safari. If you can, time your visit to the annual turtle nesting at nearby John MacArthur Beach State Park in June. One-bedroom suites cost $149-$209 per night; two-bedrooms are $399. Call 800-328-2289.

Go with an Outfitter

The Canadian Rockies
Six-day trip, all inclusive
$798 per adult x two:
One kid age 7-12:
One kid age six or under:




The Canadian Rockies are the setting for a family bike trip offered by Backroads, the world's largest bicycling, hiking, and multisport company. Banff, Lake Louise, the Columbia Icefield, and a rafting trip on the Athabasca River are the highlights of this six-day camping trip. While this is no endurance ride, you can push the daily 13- to 31-mile envelope up to as much as 63 miles. Or you can take "Big Red," the accompanying van. Backroads will schlep your luggage. The price is $798 for adults, 10 percent off for kids 13-17, 20 percent off for kids 7-12, and 40 percent off for ages six and under; rates include all meals. Bike rental is $110 extra. Call Backroads at 800-462-2848.

Camping in the Caribbean

St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands
One-week stay
$60 per night for two adults x 7 nights:
Two kids @ $10 per night x 7 nights:
Meals for four x 7 days:






There may be more luxurious ways to do the Caribbean than a stay at Maho Bay Camps, but they're certainly not as much fun. These 16-by-16-square-foot tents on a wooden platform offer everyone a chance to expose their kids to the Caribbean at Motel 6 prices. What makes them really special is the hillside location overlooking the beach on the island of St. John. The snorkeling is world class, and each tent comes with two twin beds (extra mattresses available to accommodate up to four or five people), a couch, a dining room table and chairs, a Coleman cookstove, and a cooler. There's also electricity and a fan. There's no running water, but the communal bathhouses are a few steps away-this is supposed to be camping, after all. Rates in summer are 40 percent lower than in January: $60 per night, based on single or double occupancy, and each child is $10 per night. For more information call Maho Bay Camps at 800-392-9004.

C'est Si Bon
Bringing your kids to Europe needn't cost a fortune. Not when there are companies around like The French Experience, which rents g"tes, the classic French vacation home. They usually come with at least two bedrooms and range from charming stone farmhouses to concrete pillboxes. But they all have modern kitchens and bathrooms and are incredibly affordable. Their standards are established and properties inspected by the Gites Ruraux de France, and there are literally thousands of them around France. Rates average $500-$550 per week for a two-bedroom property during July and August; a three-bedroom gite runs an extra $200 or so. For example, a three-bedroom gite in the Provencal village of Bedoin runs $750 per week. Built in 1900 and restored in 1990, it sleeps up to six people and has an enclosed courtyard, a terrace, a barbecue grill, garden furniture, and mountain views. All of the gites are categorized, so avoid those concrete pillboxes by requesting a "gite of character." Call The French Experience at 212-986-1115.

Fly Right

Mount Desert Island, Maine
One-week stay, all-inclusive
AMC membership fee per family:
$325 per adult x two:
One kid age 11-15:
One kid age 4-10:




When traveling to or from a major city like New York, you may find lower fares by departing from or flying into airports like Newark or LaGuardia instead of JFK. The same holds true for other large cities served by several airports, such as Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. For example, when the July fare from Chicago to San Francisco is $410 on American Airlines, consider making the 90-minute drive to Milwaukee, where the fare to San Francisco is only $276; a family of four can save $536, which will buy a lot of cable-car coasters and Golden Gate key rings.

Another way to lower your airfare is to grab a consolidator fare to Europe. Consolidators are middlemen, buying unsold airline tickets at a bargain rate, adding a markup, and then reselling them. In summer, when the airlines are charging big bucks, you can save upwards of 50 percent with consolidator tickets, which are sold via those fine-print ads in the travel section of your Sunday paper.

For example, JFK to Paris will cost you about $698 with a consolidator versus $1,050 on United Airlines; JFK to Rome costs about $678 versus $1,432; Madrid runs $599 as opposed to $1,215-savings of between 34 and 53 percent. These tickets are usually nonrefundable so you'll need to plan carefully, but a family can save hundreds — maybe thousands — of dollars this way. Call Council Travel at 800-226-8624 or STA Travel at 800-777-0112.

Double Up
Togetherness takes on a whole new meaning when two families of four get together in a four-bedroom condo. As a rule of thumb, the difference between booking one four-bedroom condo versus a pair of two-bedroom units is between 10 and 40 percent. For example, at Smugglers' Notch Resort in Vermont, a five-night stay in two two-bedroom condos, including kids' camp and family activities, costs $2,635; book a four-bedroom condo, however, and the price drops to $1,570, a savings of $1,065. Call the resort at 800-451-8752 for additional information. (See page 21 for more information on Smugglers' Notch family programs.)

Illustration by Adam McCauley

More at Outside

Elsewhere on the Web