Families Get a Break During Spring

The Danielsons would rather give up summer vacation than cancel spring break. Just thinking about their annual trip to an Arizona ranch helps the Rochester, Minn., family get through the cold, confining winter.

"We budget for White Stallion Ranch all year," said Karen Danielson, a teacher. "The pace between Christmas and spring break is unrelenting. Our family needs this trip . . . for our mental health."

Spring break clearly isn't just for college kids anymore. All over the country, families are increasingly using the time between the end of March and Easter as a vacation opportunity.

For many families, it may be easier to organize a spring getaway than a summer trip, when kids' camps and sports schedules frequently interfere. The trips may be a weekend or a week--as long and as far as wallets and work schedules allow.

"When you're both working, you either have to take off work or get more sitters if the kids are off school. It makes sense to go on vacation," said Dave Wiggins of Boulder, Colo., who is the father of two and whose company, American Wilderness Experience, books Western ranch and adventure vacations. (For information on limited 1995 availability, call 800-444-0099.) "You've got to grab that family time when you can," he said.

Families report that they're planning visits to grandparents, Mickey Mouse or Mexico. They'll take a long weekend to tour some city sites or enjoy the outdoors near home. Many Californians, for example, traditionally head to Yosemite National Park for Easter weekend, enjoying the same hikes, year after year. In the East, many families head to Washington.

"When we were kids, we never went anywhere except for a week in the summer," said Deborah Lerner Duane, a New Jersey business owner. But this spring break, she and her husband will be packing up their three school-age kids for a visit to her parents in Los Angeles. She sees her neighbors doing the same thing. "When the kids were young, we'd take vacation when it was convenient. Now I plan my workload to take off when the kids are off school."

Some families are splurging at resorts. Club Med reports bookings at some of its family facilities are up more than 20% for this spring break. Cruise lines are increasing activities for children.

"Spring break is getting to be as popular as summer," said Susan Lloyd Davies of the Los Angeles-based CruiseMasters travel agency that books about 500 families a year on cruises (call 800-242-9000).

"People are tired. They don't want to wait until summer," said Lloyd Davies, a single mother who understands the feeling all too well, so she has scheduled a cruise with her 9-year-old daughter this spring. "When she has homework, I have homework too," Lloyd Davies said. "I look forward to spring break as much as she does."

So do those on a tight budget who can still manage to get away. The Schade family of Milwaukee, Wis., will drive to northern Florida for a weeklong stay at an inexpensive condo (under $500 per week) across the street from a beach. They'll listen to books-on-tape on the drive down, stopping at budget motels along the way and thoroughly enjoying every minute.

"We go with five other families," said Lynne Schade, a sales assistant and the mother of two teen-age boys. "There's a pool, the beach and a municipal golf course. The kids never even fight."

"That two-week summer vacation is a dinosaur. With two people in the family working, it's nearly impossible to coordinate the schedules," said Gary Stogner, a spokesman for the Florida Division of Tourism. A decade ago, winter was considered prime tourist season in Florida but March and April have overtaken it as Florida's busiest tourist months, bringing 8 million visitors to the state during those two months last year, Stogner said.

"At Christmas you go with family. By spring break, even in a warm-weather state, everyone needs a change of scenery," said Stogner's colleague Dee Ann Smith. She lives in Tallahassee, Fla., but she can't wait to get to the beach with her husband and two kids.

Taking the Kids appears weekly.

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