Essential Sources on Traveling With Kids

When it comes to vacations, each member of the family--even the 5-year-old--has a different take on getaway perfection. The preteens and teens want a beach, while your husband is eyeing his L.L. Bean catalog with that let's-go-camping gleam in his eye. Meanwhile, you want a picturesque spot where you won't have to do the cooking or serve as activities director for a few days.

Admittedly it's tough to please everyone, but it's not impossible, especially if you hook up with some good sources for family travel ideas and trip arrangements. I'm not talking about a travel agent who says she loves kids but hasn't taken one on a trip in 10 years. I'm talking people who really know their stuff.

Below are my best sources after years of traveling with children, now 14, 12 and 7, and writing a syndicated newspaper column based on our family travel experiences.

TRAVEL AGENTS

* The Assn. of Family Travel Specialists, 2306 Country Club, Woodstock, IL 60098-8010; telephone (800) 247-0157. Can refer you to a family-savvy travel agent near home.

* Travelling With Children, 2313 Valley St., Berkeley, CA 94702; tel. (800) 499-0929 in California or (510) 848-0929; e-mail twc87@aol.com. Specializes in Hawaii, Mexico and Europe and will arrange affordable condo or villa rentals.

* Rascals in Paradise, 650 5th St., Suite 505, San Francisco, CA 94107; tel. (800) U-RASCAL or Internet http://www.rascalsinparadise.com. Was started by two San Francisco moms more than a decade ago and can send you slightly off the beaten family track on affordable junkets to Mexico or Colorado, and once-in-a-lifetime trips to Australia or Africa, among other places. Some group trips include a nanny.

* Grandtravel, 6900 Wisconsin Ave., No. 706, Chevy Chase, MD 20815; tel. (800) 247-7651. Internet http://www.grandtravl.com. Company was started by veteran travel agent Helena Koenig after she became a grandmother. It offers upscale grandparent-grandchild tours around the world. Koenig also arranges family reunions and other multigenerational vacations for special occasions.

INFORMATION

* The Family Travel Network, P.O. Box 641, Great Falls, VA 22066; tel. (703) 759-4900. Internet kidtravel@aol.com. This is the largest online site devoted to family travel. Trade tips with traveling parents, get the latest family travel bargains, take virtual vacations and link to dozens of travel Web sites.

* The Family Travel Forum, 891 Amsterdam Ave., New York, NY 10025; tel. (212) 665-6124, Internet http://familytravelforum.com. This was designated by Yahoo as a top new family travel site: Come here to post questions for other parents to answer, scope out offbeat destinations like Morocco or Tibet or get the savvy family traveler's guide to kid-friendly French cha^teaux. There's a list of family friendly travel agents and links to sites providing everything from passport information to health tips.

* The Assn. of Science and Technology Centers, 1025 Vermont Ave. N.W., Suite 500, Washington, DC 20005-3516; tel. (202) 783-7200, Internet http://www.astc.org. They offer links to science and children's museums all over, in some cases enabling you to take a virtual tour before you get there.

* Disney's family Web site, 19 E. 34th St., 6th Floor, New York, NY 10016; tel. (212) 448-4800, Internet http://family.com offers a substantial travel area including "road-tested vacations" from parents who have been there, travel tips from Family Fun magazine and calendars of family-oriented events from more than 100 local parenting publications.

OUTDOORS

* American Wilderness Experience, P.O. Box 1486, Boulder, CO 80306; tel. (800) 444-DUDE, Internet http://www.gorp.com/oldwest. Has been booking family adventure trips for 25 years, represents 65-plus Western ranches and sends families on raft trips and cattle drives as well as to swim with the dolphins in Honduras, camp in Hawaii or hike the Sierra.

* The American River Touring Assn., 24000 Casa Loma Road, Groveland, CA 95321; tel. (800) 323-2782, Internet http://www.arta.org. Has been offering river trips since 1963 and returns a portion of its profits to environmental groups every year. Discounted family trips are offered on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho, the Green River in Utah and the Rogue River in Oregon.

The Sierra Club, 85 2nd St., 2nd Floor, San Francisco, CA 94105; tel. (415) 977-5522, Internet http://www.sierraclub.org/outings. It offers a variety of camping trips from Hawaii to Maine especially designed for families, including trips for those with young children and grandparents.

* Backroads, 801 Cedar St., Berkeley, CA 94710; tel. (800) GOACTIVE, Internet http://www.backroads.com. offers bike and hiking trips in the Canadian Rockies, Northern California and France with relaxed kid-oriented schedules and activities.

CRUISES

Most cruises are booked through travel agents. Look for deals for late summer and fall in which kids cruise for $99. If traveling with extended family, ask about group discounts.

Two large cruise-only agencies that offer substantial discounts and know which ships are best for kids:

The Cruise Line Inc., 150 N.W. 168th St., North Miami Beach, FL 33169; tel. (800) 777-0707, Internet http://www.cruiseline.com.

World Wide Cruises, 8059 W. McNab Road, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33321; tel. (800) 882-9000, Internet http://www.wwcruises.com.

Disney Cruise Line, 210 Celebration Place, Suite 400, Celebration, FL 34747-4600; tel. (407) 566-7000, Internet http://www.disney.com. It will offer a lot of bang for your vacation buck and the best children's facilities on the sea when the Disney Magic finally sails this summer. Seven-day cruise and Disney World packages start at under $5,000 for a family of four, including air.

Eco-Tour Wildland Adventures, 3516 N.E. 155th St., Seattle, WA 98155; tel. (800) 345-4453, Internet http://www.wildland.com. Offers international family trips to explore Mayan ruins in Mexico, go to "Dolphin Discovery Camp" in Honduras or trek the Himalayas.

Escapes Unlimited, 626 E. Chapman Ave., Orange, CA 92866; tel. (800) 243-7227 or e-mail at escapesltd@aol.com. It sends single parents and their kids on eco adventures to the Galapagos Islands, Costa Rica and Bali. Swim with sea lions, visit Indian villages.

Abercrombie & Kent, 1520 Kensington Road, Oak Brook, IL 60523; tel. (800) 323-7308. Internet http://www.abercrombiekent.com. For those who like luxury with their adventure, it has expanded its family trips to include a holiday in Egypt, an Alaska adventure complete with a visit to a dog musher, an eco-tour of Costa Rica and a barge cruise in France. Trips cost upward of $8,000 for a family of four.

DO-GOOD VACATIONS

Global Citizens Network. 1931 Iglehart Ave., St. Paul, MN 55104; tel. (800) 644-9292, Internet http://www.globalcitizens.org. A nonprofit group committed to cross-cultural understanding, and sponsors building projects in Belize, Guatemala, Kenya and St. Vincent. Children as young as 7 have participated.

The New Hampshire-based Appalachian Mountain Club, P.O. Box 298 Gorham, NH 03581; tel. (603) 466-2721, Internet http://www.outdoors.org. It has volunteer trail building and maintenance efforts in the White Mountains. There are specific crews composed of teens. Families also may adopt a trail for which they commit to provide basic maintenance, from picking up litter to cutting brush. Food and lodging typically is provided.

The Crow Canyon Archeological Center, 23390 Road K, Cortez, CO 81321; tel. (800) 422-8975, Ext. 142, Internet http://www.crowcanyon.org. It sponsors special family weeks for parents and older children (minimum seventh grade) on a working archeological dig of the ancient Anasazi communities near Mesa Verde National Park. Cost is $795 for adults, $595 for teens.

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