The kids have read all their books, played every video game and watched all their favorite reruns – at least a half dozen times. They've attended camp and gone on countless play dates, running Mom and Dad ragged in the process. They've reached that point of summer break where they claim – loudly and often – to have nothing to do . . . even as the clock ticks down those last few golden weeks of freedom.
You can't buy more time. You're facing your last chance to share some quality downtime as a family, to revel in those final days of sunshine before school – and the hustle-bustle back-to-school schedule – starts up again.
Here are some getaways for time-deprived families to truly relax and play together, last-minute picks that make for long-lasting memories – and that also offer savings or a little something extra.
Splish-splash fun in Panama City Beach
The Boardwalk Beach Resort in Florida's Panhandle playground offers not only stunning Gulf views but the kinds of amenities that help make scrapbook-worthy beach vacation memories for families: a private beach that beckons the sand castle construction crew, zero-entry pool and tropical pool deck, fitness center, an activity center and two hot tubs and – especially for kids – the Splash Zone with interactive water toys and children's pool and the Kids Club.
Inside this columned Oaseas Resorts property are equipped kitchens for casual meals that won't break the budget. There's also complimentary Internet and movies on demand. Showy views of the Gulf, its emerald green waters and brilliant sunsets that melt into the sea come via the walls of windows and a balcony that has lots of elbow room. Family dining options at the resort include the seafood haven Under the Boardwalk Bar & Grille, and the Island Breeze Corner Market with everything from omelets to doughnuts and pastries.
Through the end of August 2011, Oaseas Resorts is offering a rate of $99 for a one-bedroom condo (with bunk beds) and private baths at The Boardwalk.
Families with older children will appreciate an upscale getaway to Planters Inn, a 64-room haven with sumptuous guestrooms and courtyard dining and an atmosphere of Southern graciousness that is as much in evidence as the tropical blooms. Located right in the heart of Charleston's historic City Market, not far from the beach, the inn puts visitors in the midst of antique shops, art galleries and the theatre district. A stroll or carriage ride away are Waterfront Park and statuesque antebellum mansions.
Through Sept. 14, 2011, the hotel is offering a package that lets visitors customize their experience to Palmetto City. The "Southern Sojourn" includes deluxe overnight accommodations and a private, historical guided walking tour of Charleston – tailored to each guest's interests to showcase everything from churches and Civil War history to scenic gardens and landscaping.
An included afternoon picnic features a basket filled with edibles from the inn's award-winning Peninsula Grill: pimento cheese, country ham biscuits, Cheddar cheese straws, roasted South Carolina pecans, grapes and fresh berries with whipped cream. Parents may want to nip in after their brood is tucked into bed to chill with summer heat beaters, "Sunshine Blue" and "Southern Watermelon," two new cocktails guaranteed to face down Charleston's heat. A bottle of wine and a private carriage tour may be added to the picnic for an extra cost. Rates start at $359 per night.
Easy on the piggy bank
For families traveling to or from Florida or along I-10, heading to or from Charleston or Savannah, Albany in southwest Georgia rolls out the welcome mats with lots of freebies, including Turtle Grove Play Park with Dino Dig, Tot Lot and spurting water fountain and located not far from the city's tribute to Ray Charles at RiverFront Park – a life-size sculpture of Charles seated at a baby Grand piano that plays at timed intervals.
Kids can also romp at the new Legacy Park with 18-hole disc golf, tennis courts and fishing pond – with poles available – all for free. Other freebies are the Albany Museum of Art with its kid-pleasing Amazing Space interactive play area and Thronateeska Heritage Center with hands-on Science Discovery Center, Museum of History and model train exhibit. At the Albany Welcome Center, parents will like the free movie, "From the Heart of Southwest Georgia;" the kids will prefer rummaging among souvenirs that include stuffed "Beny" turtles, the town's official mascot.
Although not a freebie, Chehaw, an animal and adventure park, is a must-see for families. It is home to African black rhinos, American bald eagles, lemurs, cheetahs and the most adorable four meerkats this side of the desert as well as a ginormous children's play structure. Two other can't-miss attractions are the Flint RiverQuarium and the All American Fun Park with arcade, go-carts, bumper boats, miniature golf and cosmic bowling.
Eek! A mouse on the loose in Alaska
Two words: Mickey. Mouse. These never fail to get the kids' attention – nor does hearing they're going to Disney or, in this case, a Disney cruise. Destination: Alaska. The summer of 2011 marks Disney Cruise Line's inaugural sailing season to Alaska. Departing from Vancouver, the Disney Wonder calls on Juneau, Ketchikan and Skagway and also sails Tracy Arm Fjord.
The scenery and spectacle inside the ship holds its own against the majesty of the Alaskan landscape. This includes big-as-Broadway shows, including "Disney Dreams," which assembles Disney's most beloved characters on stage for a extravagant finale that shimmers beneath a gazillion twinkling lights, and "Toy Story – The Musical," that brings the toy-sized world of Buzz and Woody to life in Andy's room with lots of songs, humor and costumes faithful to the animated Disney Pixar film.
It also applies to the themed dining rooms, super-sized staterooms and enclaves earmarked for adults only (spa, pool, restaurant, nightclubs) and, with coffee shop cool, Vibe, which is exclusively for teens. There's lab-like space for pint-sized explorers and Edge, the exclusive domain of 'tweens.
On sailings through Sept. 6, passengers booking their voyage online get a $25 per cabin shipboard credit. For ice burgs and ice cream – and for giving vacation dreams their staying power – Disney Cruise Line brings it like nobody's business.
Kathy Witt is a freelance writer and the author of "The Secret of the Belles," a historical novel about the late Cammie King Conlon ("Bonnie Blue Butler") called "A beautiful read, and another amazing tribute to the phenomenon that is 'Gone With the Wind.'" Visit Kathy's website at www.KathyWitt.com and her blog at www.TravelinTales.com.