13 Fabulous Family Vacations
If it’s August, this must be Nantucket. If it’s January, this must be Aspen or Vail. Take a walk down Main Street and you will probably run into friends from back home. But if you truly want to get away from it all, take a vacation to a place your next-door neighbor is not likely to visit. Here are some recommendations from fellow Greenwich families, or as Dominick Dunne used to say, “people like us.” Their experiences are better than the travel reviews on websites (are those people real?). These are places that are off the beaten path. You won’t find Disneyland in here. I’m guessing you already know about that.
Let’s start with places you can drive to and then go farther afield, but staying in the good ole USA.
Basin Harbor Club
“Family is the key word,” Donna Moffly remembers fondly. “Last summer on our first visit to the Basin Harbor Club, we Mofflys arrived, twelve strong with six children ages two to nine. Each family had its own cottage, and we all had a ball. I surprised myself by playing eighteen holes five days in a row, as did Jack, Jonathan and Lena. The middle generation took up water-skiing with nine-year-old Misha.”
The children loved the kids’ camp and fishing right off the dock. Four-year-old Riley was catching perch with her pink Barbie Doll fishing rod, and her big brother Oliver got a pike so big it was written up in the Basin Harbor Breeze the next morning. When Jack went to pay the hotel bill, it included $60 for worms!
The Basin Harbor Club sits on 700 acres on Lake Champlain in Vermont. “It’s well known to Greenwich families like the Bushes, Ardreys and Seels,” Donna confirms. “It’s a happy place for every generation. Get around on foot, rented bike or golf cart. Just about every other evening there’s a family cookout, complete with banjo bands, hayrides, sing-alongs, magicians, face-painting and games for the kids, and a talent night for the stagestruck.”
There are seventy-seven cottages and rooms in the main lodge. “It’s a five-hour drive from Greenwich,” Donna explains, “but if you happen to have your own plane, it has what Scotty Frantz says is the most beautifully kept-up private landing strip in New England.”
Basin Harbor Club, Vergennes, Vermont, basinharbor.com, 802-475-2311
If you have a baseball fan in your family, Cooperstown is heaven. But you will be surprised at how much more there is to do there. Chris Holbrook proudly says that it’s probably the best small town in America, seconded by travel writer Bill Bryson.
“It has the best of everything and it’s so close and such a world apart. Of course,” Chris points out, “the Baseball Hall of Fame is the touchstone for most people.”
Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr. will be inducted into the Hall of Fame on July 29 during a much-anticipated celebratory weekend. Visit the Cooperstown Dreams Park where kids come from around the world to play youth tournament baseball on six fields. If you have soccer players in tow, try the National Soccer Hall of Fame in nearby Oneonta, or there’s the Northeast Classic Car Museum in Norwich. There are events and museums for everyone, from Cooperstown Candlelight Ghost Tours to the renowned Glimmerglass Opera; the restored landmark Hyde Hall house museum; the Fenimore Art Museum with a vast collection of American, folk and Native American art; and the Farmers Museum with weavers, blacksmiths, farmers and current exhibition “Ice Cream: Our Cool Obsession.” Take your horse lover to the newly opened Fly Creek Friesans Horse Farm and Village for tours, carriage rides, roping lessons and more.
This region used to grow 70 percent of all hops in the United States. Adolphus Busch fell so in love with the area he built his vacation home there. Now Brewery Ommegang produces five award-winning Belgian-style ales and offers daily tours and tastings. The nearby water-powered Fly Creek Cider Mill presses fresh cider.
Gervais Hearn also loves Cooperstown. “You can play on the lake all day and see an opera at night or dine on the water.” The Blue Mingo Grill, overlooking the lake, is a favorite of the Holbrooks and the Hearns. Situated on nine-mile-long Otsego Lake, nicknamed Glimmerglass, the area is dotted with camps, docks and boathouses.
Though there are B&Bs, rentals and inns, the Otesaga Hotel is the place for a glamorous vacation. “With massive thirty-foot columns and wraparound porches, chandeliers and crimson carpets, it’s out of the Gatsby era,” says Gervais. The Federal-style hotel sits right on the lake and offers the 72-par Leatherstocking Golf Course.
“It’s a gorgeous part of New York State that not a lot of people know about,” Chris confides. “That’s our secret, but now I guess it’s not going to be a secret anymore.”
Otesaga Resort Hotel, otesaga.com, or
800-348-6222; Central Leatherstocking region attractions, roundthebend.com
The Mohonk Mountain House in the Catskills is only an hour and a half drive from Greenwich. “You feel completely transported as you drive in,” Annie Drake says. This 265-room Victorian castle is one of America’s oldest family-owned resorts on 2,200 acres. Golf on a 110-year-old Scottish golf course, hike, horseback ride or enjoy carriage rides, lake swimming or children’s activities. Play tennis on red clay or Har-Tru courts. Skate on the 18,000-square-foot skating pavilion that boasts a thirty-nine-foot-tall stone fireplace. Or renew yourself in the spa and fitness center.
It’s Dirk Salomons’ favorite retreat. “It’s light-years away from our daily grind, a place where civility still reigns and fireplaces roar in the winter. Rocking chairs on porches — the way the past was and the present should be.” Your children will never forget evening campfires with s’mores.
Teenagers are particularly hard to please on vacations, with their iPods plugged into their ears 24/7. Include one of their cooler friends, leave your Lilly dresses at home and drive to Woodstock for a few days. Promise them they might run into Uma Thurman at the local market or David Bowie having coffee with his architect. Woodstock is home to nationally acclaimed artists, writers, musicians, film people and hedge funders who’ve escaped Wall Street for a laid-back life. There are arts festivals, recording studios and galleries amidst the gorgeous mountains and ski resorts nearby.
You will find plenty for both generations to do. “Stay at the Emerson Lodge & Spa or the Onteora Mountain House,” says Michael Lang, producer of the Woodstock festivals. Or rent a Catskills-style mountain house if you want to stay longer. The famous music festival actually took place at Max Yasgur’s Farm in nearby Bethel, but the groovy, eco-friendly town of Woodstock has managed to maintain the spirit of the era. “There is great shopping in the creative little shops on Tinker Street,” says Tina Leinbach of Greenwich, “and terrific eclectic fare in the many restaurants.” The popular Bear Café was founded by Albert Grossman, who managed Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin and Peter, Paul and Mary.
“Woodstock has a ‘magical mountain’ factor, a kind of Sedona East,” says Tina’s husband Bob Leinbach, who once was a musician in Woodstock. “The environment is conducive to creativity.”
Hike in the state parks, ride horses, fish and bike, or rent a tube for kids over twelve and go whitewater tubing and kayaking down the rushing Esopus Creek.
Rhinebeck is just across the river, with a town full of antiques, restaurants and gift shops. Crafts at Rhinebeck Fair, at the Dutchess County Fairgrounds, has over 350 artists and jewelers selling crafts and wearable art, on June 23 and 24 and September 29 and 30. The classic, old-fashioned Dutchess County Fair is there from August 21 through August 26, with more than 1,600 goats, sheep, cows, rabbits, horses and other livestock, as well as endless rides and games and all the carnival food kids love to eat.
Woodstock festivals: woodstockny.org; Crafts at Rhinebeck, 845-876-4001
The Chautauqua Institution, located in New York State, is an experience, not just a vacation. A gated, 750-acre lake community open only for nine weeks in the summer, it was founded in 1874 as an experimental vacation learning experience. A multigenerational vacation spot, it is a center for artistic, recreational, educational and spiritual activities. Ronald Reagan, FDR and Bill Clinton have addressed conferences or held think tanks here. About 7,500 people are in residence on any given day, and 8,000 students enroll in the Chautauqua summer schools, which offer courses in music, art, dance, theater, opera, music and writing skills. You can choose from dozens of daily lectures, performances and workshops.
All family events, such as outdoor movies, concerts and plays, are presented most evenings in the open-air amphitheater in the center of town. This summer Clay Aiken, Third Day, LeAnn Rimes, Michael Bolton and the Celtic Tenors are some of the bigger names slated to perform. Play golf or tennis, or go boating, fishing or indulge in any other lake sport. The beaches have lifeguards, and children are free to bike everywhere.
The Seaton children are fifth-generation Chautauquans. “We like Chautauqua,” says Diane Seaton, “because it is a casual, intellectual and friendly environment. We have heard lectures from Madeline Albright to Bud MacFarlane, attended popular and big- band musical nights, the symphony and the ballet. This year Sandra Day O’Connor is scheduled to speak, and Al Gore spoke last year. Carmen is one of the operas being performed, and plays such as Ah, Wilderness by Eugene O’Neill and Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing are scheduled. Another highlight this summer is the Cirque Sublime from Toronto, Canada, with aerial skills and acrobatics. Plus, there are two golf courses and a new sports complex. The tennis facilities and pool are excellent.”
Children can enroll in camp that includes many sports and lake activities. Rent a Victorian or lake home or stay at one of the many B&Bs or the grand dame Atheneum Hotel. Alcohol is not allowed in the restaurants or public places but can be consumed on private property; so people grill in their backyards, inviting other families and making it even more friendly and casual. There is a small airport fifteen miles away, or fly into Buffalo and rent a family van.
The Balsams Grand Resort
Matthew and Hilary Bernard love the all-inclusive Balsams Grand Resort Hotel in northern New Hampshire, set on 15,000 breathtaking acres. It was named in the 2007 Condé Nast Gold List, receiving a perfect score of 100 percent for food, and service rated as outstanding. In summer, golf, bike, hike and enjoy lake sports. In winter months, Hilary loves the exclusionary aspect of it. “They own the whole mountain so you can ski, snowboard or cross-country a lot because there are no lines and no crowds. You have to dress for dinner, but the kids love it.”
The Cole family enjoyed Colonial Williamsburg, the restored eighteenth-century capital. “It’s a great family trip and an easy drive,” says Ashley Cole. Witness the beginnings of our United States. Meet George and Martha Washington and Thomas Jefferson. “It is truly like stepping back in time. It’s educational and fascinating for kids and adults,” says Ashley.
Hundreds of restored and historically furnished buildings stand on 301 acres, and costumed actors tell the stories of the black, white and Native American men and women who once lived here. “Historic Jamestown is also not too far away,” says Ashley. “It’s the first English settlement in America. The original town is still being unearthed, and you can witness an actual archeological dig.” And to round out the trip for your kids, take them to nearby Busch Gardens. “My kids liked Busch Gardens better than Disney,” says Ashley. “They also have wonderful animal shows. Accommodations are plentiful and varied. You can find a stylish B&B or a nice budget hotel with a pool.”
Also in Williamsburg is the Great Wolf Lodge, “a find for families with young children,” according to Cecily Scheinfeld. Enjoy a 55,000-square-foot indoor water park, arcade, activities and restaurants — and an Aveda spa and fitness room for parents. There’s a four-story tree-house water fort, eight water slides, six pools and sixty lifeguards on duty at all times. Water wings and life jackets are allowed. “We had a ball with our children, ages four and seven, and the arcade was a big hit with my kids,” recalls Cecily. “Twenty dollars bought us over an hour of playtime.
“The rooms are family friendly. They have wolf dens and camp tents complete with bunk beds. The food is fair, with a family buffet or Pizza Hut on site.”
No matter how many times you’ve seen photos of Yellowstone National Park, the real thing will just blow you away. With breathtaking wildlife, canyons, clear lakes, thundering waterfalls, steaming geysers and panoramic vistas, the park is a natural wonder your children will remember for a lifetime. Petria and Scott Fossel recommend that you go into the Old Faithful Lodge to check out the architecture built in the WPA era. “It is magnificent,” Petria enthusiastically says. “Get an ice cream and watch the geyser from the balcony.”
Peggy Berenblum booked a family biking trip through Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. “It was spectacular,” Peggy remembers. “The entire trip was organized and executed down to the last detail by Backroads. We didn’t have to rent bikes, worry about equipment, plan routes, procure lodging, gain entrance to the parks or make reservations for dining. Backroads takes care of everything and pays attention to the safety and needs of our children.”
The Berenblums chose a trip with families who had children of similar ages so their children could make new friends and have more fun. “There were degrees of difficulty of the bike trips, hikes and kayak tours. You could go at your own pace, quit or take a break. Plus, there was always a ‘kids option,’ so they could hike or bike a shorter distance and then be transported in a van to a kid-fun activity, while most of the parents continued the day’s sport. There are other activities during the off day, with families choosing to fish, raft, hike or just relax.”
Bald Head Island
The only way to reach Bald Head Island off North Carolina is by boat. With only 2,000 of its 12,000 acres slated for development, it is a quiet refuge. Amy and Patrick Mooney fell in love with the island the first moment they got off the ferry. “The island is small and there are no cars, only bikes and golf carts,” Amy explains. “The biggest decision you’ll have to make is whether or not to play tennis or golf in the morning before hitting the beach in the afternoon. Like Nantucket, almost all houses are shingled or clapboard. There are two clubs on the island, the Bald Head Island Golf Club and the Shoals Club, and most rental houses come with temporary memberships to both.”
One look at the clubs and you’ll understand Amy’s enthusiasm. Completed in 2004, the Shoals, at Cape Fear Point, is a stunning 10,000-square-foot shingled clubhouse with a great restaurant and 20,000 square feet of porches, pools and decks.
Amy enjoys the beaches. “Each is a little different,” she says. “West beach is known as Toddler Beach, and most young families go there. At low tide, you can dig up sand dollars the size of salad plates.” The Bald Head Island Conservancy sponsors nightly walks to observe turtles nesting during the summer months. There are kayaks to rent and great fishing in the marshes.
Amy and Patrick enjoy golfing. “The golf course is challenging but wide open. Lots of water hazards and nice fast greens, so we love it. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot a lazy alligator sunning on the ninth hole.
“There are tons of things for kids to do. There’s a daily exploring conservancy camp, golf or tennis clinics, and nighttime drop-off movies. Kids can bike everywhere since the island is only about five miles around. The island was a favorite of Black- beard the pirate, and there are lots of pirate references around. There are only two B&Bs on the island, but most people rent houses, townhouses, cottages or condos.” One last great bonus? Cell service is good on the island.
“One of the most relaxing vacations our family ever had was our houseboat trip on Lake Shasta [about three hours north of San Francisco], says Debby Clark. “We had ten in our party, including kids and grandparents, and rented the Genesis from Antler’s Resort and Marina. It has five staterooms, full kitchen, living room with a surround-sound system, a BBQ on each deck, Jacuzzi and a water slide off the back. We also towed a ski boat. We cruised in the houseboat and water-skied and tubed along the lake. There were no phones to distract us, just good, old-fashioned time spent together as a family, playing cards, swimming and sharing stories.”
“The houseboat was awesome, especially the water slide,” says Debby’s son Kenner.
Tony Daddino and Susan Bevan also experienced Lake Shasta with extended family all piled together. “It is one of our most frequently recurring happy memories,” Susan recalls. “We dragged our mattresses up onto the roof and slept under a sky filled with brilliant constellations of stars and the Milky Way. When we got back to Greenwich, we compared notes with friends who’d chartered yachts in the Caribbean with professional cooks and crew. It sounded idyllic; however, I don’t think any of them could have had the family experience that we did with my father as captain. The memories are matchless.
We wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Antler’s Resort and Marina, shastalake vacations.com, 800-239-3924
Ali Coopersmith didn’t hesitate to call out when his mom, Andrea Jovine, asked where he’d like to go when flights to Colorado were cancelled due to snow. “Greenwich Library has the most amazing travel section. We gathered a dozen books on San Francisco and off we went,” Andrea explained. “We loved the city! Naturally we did all the standards — Fisherman’s Wharf, Chinatown, the Presidio, Golden Gate Bridge, Little Italy and a day in Sausalito. We visited Safari West with a wildlife preserve, hopped on Jeeps and got close to zebras, giraffes, ostriches and buffalo. We stayed overnight in luxury safari-tented cabins with hardwood floors. We had a BBQ dinner and roasted marshmallows at the campfire. It’s about as camping as I get,” Andrea admits. “It was great.”
Balboa Bay Club & Resort
The Desrosier family enjoys staying at the stunning Balboa Bay Club & Resort, at Newport Beach in the heart of the California Riviera, halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego. It’s only six miles from John Wayne airport, for private planes. “It’s fabulous, especially with young kids. It’s very contained,” says Diane Desrosier. Water sports, spa and kids’ activities are available.
The easiest vacation is one for which you only pack a carry-on with bathing suits and flip-flops and fly south. The Florida Keys are a Caribbean-like experience in our own backyard. You’ll be in Miami in as much time as it takes to get to East Hampton in summer traffic. Rent a family van and it’s an easy straight shot down to the northern-most key, Key Largo.
The Ocean Reef Club in Key Largo is a secluded, family-oriented, gated community on the water, with a small fishing village, two lush eighteen-hole golf courses, beaches, pools, restaurants, tennis, playgrounds, spa, health club and boat rentals. Some of the finest fishing in America is here — former President George Bush is a frequent visitor for tarpon and bone fishing.
“The favorite part of an older kid’s day is commuting in golf carts,” says Even Johansen. “They can busy themselves — without you being the tour guide — with sports and swimming all day in this safe community. Freedom for you and freedom for them.” Sounds like an ideal vacation.
For younger kids, Reef Club Kids offers a daily camp with weekly fun themes, or they can sign up for lessons, court or tee times. Throughout the year, there are arts festivals, rock climbing, face-painting and cart-decorating parades, sometimes with 200 carts winding through the village. Although it is a private club, rental properties, inns and condos are available, and the private, 4,000-foot airstrip makes it easy access. The club membership team will find a sponsor member for you to have a relaxing, gorgeous vacation.
Snorkeling is fantastic at the John Pennekamp underwater Coral Reef State Park in the northern Keys, boasting 100 square miles of coral reef. The underwater park is accessible by charter boat from the club. Mounted signs identify the coral, and the sea is full of colorful fish, protected in these waters.
Forty minutes south, in Islamorada, the worn Florida houses are giving way to beautiful beachfront homes surrounded by palm trees. Three Manhattan women who used to work for hotelier Ian Schrager have converted an old beach hotel into the luxury sixteen-room Casa Morada, injecting boutique cool into the Florida Keys.
Across the road, the tropical Cheeca Lodge, winner of the prestigious AAA Four Diamond Award, is a beautifully designed beachfront spa and resort that caters to families. It boasts golf, six tennis courts, spas, a 525-foot-long fishing pier and boats. The Drennans have been there twice. “Who needs the Caribbean?” they ask. “The weather is fantastic.” Greg remembers the thrill of seeing his eight-year-old catching his first fish off the dock.
Gracious guest rooms and suites are lavishly outfitted with West Indies–style furniture. Greg thinks it’s ideal. “The two-bedroom suites have a sitting room so everyone can watch TV together. And there’s a kitchenette, so we can have a simple breakfast in the room.”
It is also one of the Chadwicks’ favorite places. “It’s so easy to get to, with everything one needs right there,” says Patricia Chadwick. “You can let the children ride around on their bikes and not worry about their safety. There are two pools — one is an adults-only lap pool, with private cabanas; massages and pedicures are available. The staff is plentiful.”
Jim Chadwick remarks, “The best thing about Cheeca is the fishing. There are so many, you can spend hours with other kids, catching fish and throwing them back.” Jim’s sister Caroline loves activities like parasailing. “It’s easy to be friends with the other kids. And we can get a massage or facial if we’re with a parent.”
cheeca.com; 800-327-2888; vacation email@example.com; 888-422-9944
So that’s our roundup of a baker’s dozen of family vacation destinations. Remember, if you bring another family along, it makes for lots of fun and less stress on everyone.
And bring disposable cameras. The memories are priceless.