Top spring break value destinations for families

The 3 Best Spring Break Destinations on a Budget
The 3 Best Spring Break Destinations on a Budget

A family spring break should be the easiest and best value vacation of the year whether you're looking for an affordable snowy, sandy or urban retreat. Here are great trip ideas for groups of all ages, interests and budgets.

Indoor Waterpark Escapes and Theme Parks

While southern beaches will attract an estimated 55 percent of college students this year, smart families don't have to travel far or worry about the weather if they know where to go. For example, if you're willing to ride the waves indoors, the dozen indoor waterpark resorts in the Great Wolf Lodge chain have rooms sleeping from two to eight and million-gallon water play areas with rides and pools. And though short stays at Great Wolf Lodge outposts tend to come attached to a hefty price tag, with the current 20 percent off promotion for two-night stays through mid-March, it's easy to secure a bargain. Indoor waterparks are also popping up at ski resorts where you get two vacations for the price of one. Consider Camelback Mountain Resort in the Poconos; Cranmore Mountain Resort in New Hampshire; Mont-Tremblant Ski Resort in Canada; or The Mountain Top at Grand Geneva Resort in Wisconsin for last-minute deals, and keep in mind mid-week stays are the most economical option.

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The new deal at theme parks is ticket pricing with meal plans combined. At Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, for example, the $99 entry fee includes parking, first in line access, lunch and dinner, and is valid for use until May 15. And at SeaWorld San Diego, a theme park ticket costs $89 including all meals. Meanwhile, in Orlando, which gets about 2.5 million family spring breakers each year, there's a new $109 three-visit ticket valid at SeaWorld Orlando, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay Florida, Aquatica, SeaWorld's Waterpark Orlando and Adventure Island Tampa.

Warm-Weather Adventure Vacations

If you're traveling with school-aged kids, spring break is a great time to learn something new. The Divi Flamingo Beach Resort & Casino on the island of Bonaire has its own PADI and SSI dive facility whose professional staff teach all levels and certify beginners. In April and May, they're offering a seventh-night free package with a two-tank boat dive starting from $891 per person; other Divi Resorts offer all-inclusive pricing, where kids stay and dine free, and each has a complimentary kids club for ages 4 to 12.

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Florida's Panhandle boasts sandy beaches on the calm Gulf of Mexico, an ideal place to try your hand at stand-up paddle boarding. Served by the Pensacola International and Northwest Florida Beaches International airports, the Emerald Coast is lined with hotels and home and Airbnb vacation rentals. Plus, large family groups can save on meals by renting a condo through Wyndham Vacation Rentals or Flipkey. For hotel amenities and plenty of free organized kids' activities, the 2,400-acre Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort is taking 25 to 30 percent off three-night stays through mid-April.

Ski Retreats

After a dry winter, snow is falling in New England. With 400 acres in Vermont's Green Mountains, solid grooming and snowshoe, snowmobile and dog sledding excursions, Vermont's Stratton Mountain Ski Resort is a good bet for all ages. Three-day weekday lift tickets in March start at only $129. And every weekend in March and April, one Vermont ski resort from Mount Snow in Dover, Vermont to Jay Peak in Northern Vermont also runs a pond skimming contest to see who can ski or snowboard across a thawing pond without falling in.

Plus, Lake Tahoe, California's many ski resorts offer affordable rates, and with 23 feet of snow this season, ski conditions are priceless. Kirkwood, about 35 miles south of Lake Tahoe and Heavenly Mountain Ski Resort, situated on the Nevada-California border, discount their lodging by 20 percent through spring; two-bedroom condos at Heavenly start from $205 per night. And at Squaw Valley-Alpine Meadows in North Lake Tahoe, beginner lift tickets with limited chairlift access are only $39, and two-day advance purchase tickets are 15 percent cheaper through April 24.

Meanwhile, just outside the budget mountain town of Ogden, Utah, a $159 Ski3 Pass gives you three lift tickets to use any time at the gorgeous Snowbasin Resort, Powder Mountain or Nordic Valley. If it's too much to sort through, let travel agents at help you find last-minute deals, maybe closer to home.

Outdoor Family Adventures

You don't have to fly to Asia to learn about Japan's fascinating culture. The National Cherry Blossom Festival which runs from March 20 to April 17 in Washington D.C. has free cultural programs, a Blossom Kite Festival for kids and a pink National Cherry Blossom Parade on April 17. And best of all, shows nightly rates at Georgetown Suites starting at $105.

If you're traveling with thrill seekers, camping is a cheap and fun vacation option; commemorate the National Park Service's 100th anniversary from April 16 to April 24, when all 409 parks and monuments are free and less crowded than the summer months. And if you have fourth graders at home, ask them to take you to any of the parks free all year so you can participate in ranger-led hikes and nature walks.

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Before You Go

In cities where you'll have to budget for major attractions, CityPASS ticket booklets that include no-wait admission cost about half the individual entry fees. Companies such as Target sponsor free museum and theater days each month in 21 different cities. Pick a destination with nearby colleges and universities, and double your vacation value by combining a cultural vacation with campus visits. You can also save by traveling on weekends after business travelers have left; Omni Hotels & Resorts, for instance, will take 15 percent off a stay of two nights or more.

Also, keep in mind that many areas affected by the Zika virus, including Caribbean islands and Central America, will generate last-minute discounts. Keep an eye on travel websites and social media, consult with a physician before booking – and you may just find the deal of a lifetime.

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