Families with children young enough to not be tethered to an academic calendar can take advantage of generous off-peak travel promotions.
Suzanne Rowan Kelleher, managing editor at MiniTime.com, a website devoted to family trip planning, said that families that aren't shopping for pencils and notebooks in September should always look for low-season deals.
"Most families can't get away for an extended time during the school year," she said. "All of the off-season and dead weeks are perfect if your kid is too young to be in school."
Kelleher said many popular destinations make themselves attractive to that niche of the family market.
"What a lot of destinations are doing is coming up with destination-wide promotions during the school year," she said.
She pointed to Kidvasion in San Diego, when for the entire month of October, more than 100 resorts, attractions and theme parks are free for children, from Legoland to SeaWorld to the Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner train into the city. Orlando also offers a month of savings for children in September, while the Bahamas has "Kids Stay Free" promotions year-round.
"The key is that they make it easy," Kelleher said. "You pretty much know that if you took a vacation in October to San Diego, you could find great deals with very little research. Go on their website, and it's a smorgasbord of savings."
Kelleher encourages families with small children to look for these deals while they still can.
"Once those kids get into school, it becomes much more limiting for families to get away," she said.
Corinna Crockett of the Corinna Crockett Agency, an independent affiliate of Avoya Travel, said families with young children should always make sure that child care is appropriate for the children's ages.
"Many all-inclusives have child services starting at 4 months old, and cruise lines start their child care programs at 3 years old and up," she explained. "However, there are a few cruise lines that offer programs starting below 2 years old. If having a good vacation to the client means their young kids can be occupied with activities they enjoy and the client can have downtime with their adult friends or spouse, then finding the travel product with best age-appropriate programs may be the better value to that client than a deal on a cruise line that doesn't have the programs for their children."
She also pointed out another advantage to traveling with very young kids: Children under 2 do not need to have an airline seat, and for all children, the third and fourth passenger on a cruise are typically sold at a lower fare than the first two passengers.
Shorter trips for the holiday season
Because of the limited vacation availability for families in general, Kelleher said there is growing interest in three- and four-day getaways and long weekends from the family market.
And with Thanksgiving and Christmas around the corner, she said families are searching more for holiday-themed three- and four-day trips.
"Most families tend to do the turkey at home or with relatives, but over the years we've seen an increase in families willing to take that four-day weekend and make it a getaway," she said. "Everything's shrinking: budgets, vacation days. Families feel pressure to make use of long weekends."
Kelleher said that some resorts offer three- and four-day packages that bundle in a holiday experience, such as a visit from Santa around Christmas and festive holiday meals.
"It's very attractive for people to go away and not deal with the cooking and cleanup," she said. "They want the memories and that holiday, celebratory experience, but they are looking for someone else to put that together for them. They want to make use of their vacation time."
The MiniTime.com website has a list of resorts offering holiday packages, including Pinehurst Resort in Pinehurst, N.C.; Otesaga Resort in Cooperstown, N.Y.; and Cliffs Resort in Pismo Beach, Calif.
Over the Christmas and New Year's holidays, Kelleher said, many resorts go "all-out," including Great Wolf Resorts' Snowland event at 11 different locations and the four Gaylord Resorts' Ice extravaganzas.
Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center's current holiday package is called Christmas on the Potomac and includes one-night accommodations, $100 resort credit (to be used toward food and beverage, spa or other activities), tickets to Ice with unlimited admission throughout guests' stay and a family souvenir photo. For more information, visit www.marriott.com/gaylord-hotels/travel.mi.
Follow Johanna Jainchill on Twitter @jjainchilltw.