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Just how much fun is a family vacation with small children in tow? That can depend on whether you spend more time sweating and waiting in line than enjoying a ride at an amusement park. Or, if after a morning of activities enjoyed by young and old, you are reclining at the edge of the pool with a cool drink watching the kids have a great time.

To make your vacation more fun and less stressful, planning the fight activities and place to visit are key.

"Our number one recommendation always is to be sure you choose the fight resort or location for the trip," said Ray Anne Ryan, president and owner of Travel Affiliates, which has offices in Gulfport and Ocean Springs. "Choose a place that is kid-friendly with children's program. For restaurants, you want kid-size prices and kid-size portions for the best value."

Best bet? Place with a pool

Cruise ships are a popular choice for families because there are appropriate activities for all ages of children. And no matter what the destination for a vacation, a pool can make all the difference.

"Depending on the ages of children, they just love a pool," Ryan said. "And they love other kids. You can choose a condominium environment with the beach, or head to the mountains as long as it has a pool. The children always love time in the water."

By choosing a hotel with a pool, it is possible for parents to indulge their own special interests such as visiting museums and other cultural institutions.

"It opens the door for parents to visit an area that might have special interest for them," Ryan said. "It is possible to stay away from a crowded amusement venue and still have a wonderful time for the children and the parents. It can be a little lower key, less energy expended and more relaxing. Age appropriate activities are the key. A lot of cities now have children's museums and children's activities."

Visiting a major city like Atlanta, Philadelphia and New York isn't what most people think of as a family vacation. The beach, the mountains or an amusement park are the most common choices. But cities can also be exciting places to visit.

"Our clients enjoy cities," Ryan said. "That is something many families don't think of. Some of our cities have wonderful opportunities for families. Atlanta, Philadelphia and New York, for example, are wonderful places with the museums and age appropriate activities for children. I hate that families don't always consider cities. A lot of times it can be very affordable with good air rates, and good weekend deals at hotels. It can really be a great buy. You can go to Atlanta and, instead of going to Six Flags, do things in the city area with the children's museum. You have a morning outing and then go back to the pool."

There is nothing like a lost kid to put a real kink in vacation fun. Plan ahead for good communications. A lot of families now have cell phones for the adults and kids. Walkie talkies are another option.

"We like to have contact with our children," Ryan said. "We like walkie talkies in some destinations to help you stay in touch."

Family cruisin'

Marion E. Kohut, travel consultant, Roberts Travel, Columbus, agrees that cruises are an excellent option because parents can relax for a major part of the day while kids get to be kids.

"Most of the cruise lines have activities planned at least six hours per day for the children and staff there to take care of the children," Kohut said. "They are with kids their own age. The teenagers are together. So, cruises are a really good choice for children. It keeps them busy. They won't get bored. Cruises give parents a break."

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Help along the way

Another option, particularly for large families, is bringing along a teenager to help with younger children. Kohut said often it is someone who is a regular babysitter for the children.

Just like adults, some children are better travelers than others. And it may be best to wait until kids are seven years or older to better appreciate international travel--and the very long flights sometimes necessary to get to foreign lands.

Kohut recommends planning ahead to have games, books and snacks for the kids when traveling. And don't rush it.

"Always check in early," she said. "Don't get behind schedule with kids. All in all, most children travel well these days because they are pretty well scheduled at home, as well. And when you reach a destination, plan in some down time. Don't try to do too much."

While traveling with young children can be stressful, you might want to enjoy the family vacations as long as they last.

"Teenagers often don't want to travel with their parents anymore," Kohut said. "So get in the trips when they are smaller."

A lot of resorts are now specializing in family vacations. Besides the usual theme park destinations, many Caribbean resorts offer special family packages.

"They have camps, day care, organized games and projects for children," says Saundra Lane, manager, Mainstream Travel, Greenville. "That has become a real popular thing. Some resorts you can actually get sitters or nannies to stay with your children. These people have been thoroughly checked out. We do use that option a lot when families go snow skiing and take younger children."

Thinking big

The family vacation doesn't have to be limited to the immediate family. A vacation can be a chance for extended families perhaps scattered around the country or world to come together.

"We have actually seen where entire families have reunions and do vacations," Lane said. "I'm doing a cruise now for 60 people who are doing a family reunion."

Lane has another tip. Don't think you need long periods of time off to have a family vacation. Long weekends where the family leaves on Thursday and returns on Sunday can be a great way to have some fun without spending a fortune.
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