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Drive Is On for Summer Bargains

They’re vacuuming out their minivans and dusting off the maps, studying those guidebooks and hunting for air-fare deals. Families all over America are getting ready to hit the road.

“1994 is going to be a banner year for family vacations. The boomers are taking the kids with them everywhere,” said Peter Mason, who monitors family trends for Better Homes and Gardens magazine’s annual family travel survey, conducted by the U.S. Travel Data Center, a nonprofit travel research association.

At least 90 million parents and kids plan to vacation together--up 10% from last year, according to the just-released 1994 survey. Half of them say they’re heading to the beach--19% to Florida--while 40% are opting for historical sites. More than a third of those studied will also visit a theme park. Many expect to spend more than they did last year.

Still, families want to get the most bang for their hard-earned vacation buck. The hotel industry knows it, so it’s working to attract families by offering a bewildering array of discounts, giveaways, kids’ programs and promotions. Westin Hotels, in conjunction with its Westin Kids Club, is even putting its staff through sensitivity training to be sure they’re sufficiently attuned to families. So is Summerfield Suites Hotels.

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Some of the summer promotions will save considerable cash. Some are gimmicks designed to amuse. Some are designed to help take the aggravation out of family travel.

For example, if finding a vacation spot takes too much time, the first-ever Family & Travel Directory lists more than 500 resorts and hotels that have such family-friendly amenities as children’s programs, day-care and package deals, and comes with about a dozen coupons offering discounts on hotels, air fare and film. (The directory is $19.95. Call 800-96-FAMILY.)

Some of the packages being touted are truly good deals, but remember there are catches to many of the offers and supplies are often limited.

Take a four- or a three-day Premier cruise this summer or fall and get a free couple of days at Walt Disney World, including hotels and park passes (book by July 1; ask your travel agent for details).

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Opt for Club Med Huatulco, Mexico, and kids between 4 and 11 can stay free until Dec. 10. But note: There’s no special program for younger children at Huatulco, so families with kids under 4 might do better to book a kids-are-free week at one of the other family clubs; call 800-CLUB-MED for details.

Marriott’s Summer Escape deal for families offers discounts of up to 30% off standard rates and includes daily breakfast for two at participating hotels (800- 228-9290). Choose ITT Sheraton’s Summer SureSavers for similar savings. Families staying at all Hyatt hotels can book a second room at half price (800-233-1234). Stay three nights at a Hilton and qualify for up to 40% off regular rates. And check out Hilton’s Vacation Station where kids can borrow toys (800-HILTONS).

“Value is a higher consideration than just price for families now,” said Vicki Gordon, director of marketing programs for Holiday Inn Worldwide. That’s why Holiday Inn again is touting its kids-eat-free (from the children’s menu) promotion (800-HOLIDAY).

Westin Hotels Summer Getaway is also giving free meals to children at almost all of its properties in conjunction with the company’s new Kids Club. Membership in the club, which is free and automatically bestowed upon guests, will entitle children to gifts, such as sports bottles and first-aid kits, complimentary beverages at meals and a selection of children’s movies through the in-room entertainment service (800-228-3000). Borrow free videos complete with microwave popcorn at the two-bedroom Summerfield Suites Hotels (800-833-4353).

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Carole Terwilliger Meyers likes to rent condos to get the most value for her vacation dollar. “You get more space and you can eat there so you don’t always have to go out for breakfast,” she said. One resource is Condominium Travel Associates, a consortium of about 325 travel agents who specialize in the condo and villa market and offer discounts on air fares and rental cars. Ask about the two-bedroom units in Orlando for less than $100 a night (800-492-6636).

Taking the Kids appears the first and third week of every month.


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