Mind trips: Half the fun is planning

Special to The Times

GO ahead. Indulge yourself.

So what if it's going to be summer before you can get away with the kids? So what if your budget can't be stretched any further? So what if you're so swamped with work that you can't think about going out for dinner, much less going away for the weekend? All the more reason to indulge in a little armchair travel.

Judging from the e-mails you're sending, many of you are doing that -- thinking about where you'd like to take the kids and grandkids as soon as you have the time and some spare bucks. It doesn't cost anything, and just thinking about future vacations should lower your stress level. To help you along, here are answers to questions readers have asked recently:

* A San Diego grandma wants to use a $1,000 bonus she received to spoil her preteen granddaughters with a weekend getaway. "One granddaughter doesn't like boats, so a cruise is out," she writes.

A snazzy hotel with a big pool is a guaranteed-to-please option. The girls will be in heaven. Hyatt Resorts in Huntington Beach and Lake Las Vegas, Nev., are offering deals that provide the third night free. Hyatt hotels let kids order half-portions from the adult menu, so adults pay half-price for half-portions and can also book a second room at half-price in many cases. Visit www .hyatt.com.

* A Pennsylvania family wants to try a whitewater raft trip, but they don't know whether they want to risk their entire vacation budget on an adventure they've never tried. How about a day trip or an overnight trip? Many rafting outfitters offer such excursions, and many are designed for families.

That advice also applies to families who want to try camping for the first time. Visit www.americaoutdoors.org for information about adventure outfitters that cater to families.

* A Florida family is searching for the outfitter I used to plan our recent trip to Costa Rica, a terrific locale for a family getaway. Here are some you can try. Visit the Costa Rica Expeditions Web site at www.costaricaexpeditions.com. CRE helped launch Costa Rica's eco-tourism business more than 20 years ago.

Seattle-based Wildland Adventures, www.wildland.com, sends many families to Costa Rica on customized weeklong itineraries, as do Abercrombie & Kent, www.abercrombiekent.com, and Thomson Family Adventures, www.thomsonfamilyadventures.com. Or visit the Costa Rica Tourism Board at www.tourism-costarica.com.

* A Texas dad writes: "My wife and I would like to take the kids to an exciting resort or adventurous spot. Because of our medical conditions (I am a diabetic along with my two boys), medical access and food for the kids are very important."

Consider a cruise. You'll find all of the fun in the sun and excitement you seek, as well as special meals. Cruise officials note that they routinely provide special meals for passengers who request them. Kids will love being aboard a giant floating hotel that offers dawn-to-evening activities. Parents will love the chance to grab some "alone time" while the kids are happily engaged elsewhere.

Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Princess and Disney get especially high marks for their children's programs and offer the option of cruising for a few days or a week. Check www.carnival.com, www.princess.com, www.royalcaribbean.com and www.disneycruise.com for special deals, or consult a travel agent.

* A cruise would also be a good bet for the Connecticut mom who wants to know where to go when traveling with someone in a wheelchair. I learned that firsthand last spring, when my daughter Melanie cruised in an ankle-to-thigh cast, the result of a broken ankle. She navigated just fine in the wheelchair the ship provided and on her crutches. (Disney even had special sand wheelchairs on its private island.)

Walt Disney World also proved a hit for us on that trip, with attractions among the most accessible in the world and a special free guidebook for guests with disabilities. And it's worth your while to check with specialty travel agencies such as Minnesota-based Flying Wheels Travel, www.flyingwheelstravel.com.

* A harried working mom from Long Island is looking for a mom-and-me getaway to celebrate her daughter's 13th birthday. If her daughter is anything like my girls, she'd like one of the new resort spas that cater to teens and preteens with special treatments.

The Homestead Resort, www.thehomestead.com, in Hot Springs, Va., has a kid spa complete with chocolate-milk foot soaks, and the Hawks Cay Resort, www.hawkscay.com, in the Florida Keys has an entire area just for junior spa-goers. Florida's Bal Harbour Beach Resort has launched a Material Girls spa and shopping package designed for moms and their daughters. Visit www.sheratonbalharbourresort.com. Feeling more relaxed? Armchair travel really can work wonders.

Taking the Kids appears twice a month. E-mail Eileen Ogintz at Eileen@takingthekids.com.

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