Toddler Towns

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine

On the Road with Huggies and a Binkie, Summer 1998

Toddler Towns

Six prime destinations that actually welcome the preschool set
By Anne Goodwin Sides


Tips from the Trenches
Parental tips to keep you sane on the road

Toddler Towns
Six prime destinations that actually welcome the preschool set

Hot tot stuff

What's your dream vacation? Before we began procreating five years ago, I would have had a hundred different answers. Three boys later, the criteria have narrowed. Now, instead of going exotic, the goal is to keep it simple: Find a beautiful spot that's easy to get to, has plenty for a family to do, has high-quality programs for kids, and provides a sense of independence. One problem: Many resorts view kids under five as pariahs, offering no child care and programs only for older kids. But we've found six that extend a special welcoming hand to toddlers.

There's a charmingly hokey, retro feel to the Montecito-Sequoia High Sierra Family Vacation Camp (800-227-9900), midway between Kings Canyon and Sequoia national parks in Northern California. You sleep in cabins or in one of four lodges along the shores of Lake Homavalo, ride horses, hike, build a bark boat, and maybe spend the night in a tepee. Two- to six-year-olds can ride a pony, fish off the dock, and run their hearts out in a kiddie Olympics. An unsupervised infant play yard full of toys is available for tots under two. A six-night stay including meals, most activities and instruction, and evening programs runs $645-$730 per adult, $585-$680 for ages 2-12, $95 for ages 6-23 months.

South Seas Plantation Resort & Yacht Harbour on Captiva Island (800-227-8482), three miles off Florida's southwest coast, is a 330-acre country-club-style resort surrounded by mangrove forests and populated by migrating birds, sea turtles, manatees, and dolphins. There's an Explorer Kids' Club for three- to ten-year-olds where kids go on scavenger hunts, learn about wildlife, and make music videos. Parents can go birding by kayak, rent a bike, or take an onboard course in bareboat cruising or racing. Three-night family-value vacations, including Explorer Kids' Club and free meals for children 12 and under, cost $195-$335 per night (double or quad occupancy; kids 16 and under stay free in their parents' room).

At Mohonk Mountain House (800-772-6646), a sprawling Victorian castle in the Shawangunk Mountains across the Hudson River from Poughkeepsie, New York, the Tykes Program for two- and three-year-olds is a low-key camp with supervised beach play and visits to the playground. Four-year-olds graduate to the Children's Program (for ages four to 12) for frog hunting, rock scrambling, swimming, and arts and crafts. On some evenings kids eat together, then head out for a hayride or sit around the campfire telling ghost stories. Nightly rates including all meals, afternoon tea, and all children's programs are $295-$540 for two adults and $63 per child ages 4-12 staying in the parents' room.

Club Med Sandpiper (800-258-2633), one of Club Med's six Family Villages, is a luxury resort on Florida's St. Lucie River an hour north of West Palm Beach that caters to babies four months old and up. Toddlers are entertained with swings, slides, and a kiddie pool. There's a nap room with cribs, and the tyke-scale dining room serves fresh baby foods made from natural ingredients. Kids two to 11 can learn to juggle and fly on the trapeze at the Circus Workshop, and those four and up sail kid-sized boats, water-ski, and learn to scuba dive in the pool. Parents can drop off their infants at the Twilight Program from 7 to 11 p.m. In summer, a weeklong stay in a double-occupancy room with TV and refrigerator (including all meals and activities) costs $1,050 per adult, $735 for kids 6-11, $525 for kids 2-5, and $196 for kids four to 23 months old. Ask about Kids Stay Free weeks for kids 2-5 in May and June.

Beaches Turks & Caicos on the island of Providenciales (800-232-2437), just over two hours by air south of Miami, has extended the all-inclusive resort concept to embrace families. There are special snack times and entertainment facilities for kids, and babysitters are available around the clock (they're free from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.). Free daily kids programs include activities like pool Olympics and treasure hunts. A seven-night stay runs about $1,522-$1,800 per adult in a standard double room; a one-bedroom beachfront villa with kitchenette costs about $2,272-$2,550 per adult. Kids 2-15 pay $60 per night when staying with their parents; kids under two are free.

Wintergreen Resort (800-325-2200) sits on 11,000 acres above the Shenandoah Valley in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The resort caters to families as readily as to high-level conferences — you just might bump into your senator here. Accommodations range from lodge suites to condominiums with full kitchens and fireplaces to seven-bedroom private homes. Paddle across Lake Monocan or take a class in edible and medicinal plants at Wintergreen's Nature Foundation's Field Studies Institute. You can use the indoor/outdoor Wintergarden Spa or hike on 30 miles of marked trails. Camp Wintergreen has all-day ($31) and half-day ($21) programs for kids two and a half to five that include activities like butterfly walks and scavenger hunts. Babysitting rates start at $7 per hour. Lodge suites are $170 per night (double occupancy); two-bedroom condos are $275 per night for a family of four. Ask about Kids Eat Free promotions held on various dates throughout the year.

Copyright 1998, Outside magazine

©2000, Mariah Media Inc.

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