By Georgina Cruz
As each December rolls around and the year starts drawing to a close, many families begin planning their vacations for spring and summer –sometimes envisioning a reunion or get-together with extended family members and/or friends. As you plan, to find the most family-friendly accommodations, think “home-like.” You could say that in many ways, there is no place like “home” for family travel as the best accommodations are those that provide home-like comforts such as villas or condos that can be rented short term. With this type of accommodations, families can enjoy more space and do not have to give up the conveniences of home while on vacation –things like a washer and dryer that come in handy when junior needs three changes of clothes in one day and a kitchen or kitchenette for quick-out-the-door breakfasts that can be fixed and enjoyed before setting out, have an occasional meal in, and keep milk and snacks fresh in the fridge for young and old.
Another important consideration when you plan: select accommodations with amenities and activities for all members of the family (particularly when you travel in three-generational groups). That way, nobody gets bored.
Finally, villa and condo types of accommodations are a good fit for many budgets as they are often priced at about the same rate as two hotel rooms so they make special sense for families who need (or want) more space and conveniences.
Here are two options to consider –one right here in the Treasure Coast for families who would like a “staycation” and one in Hawaii for those who want to travel farther afield to a beautiful and exotic destination, but without leaving the U.S. And here is a bonus: these two resorts have recently undergone major refurbishments that have left them refreshed and with new facilities.
· Disney’s Vero Beach Resort & Spa.
In addition to accommodations that offer the conveniences of home, this resort features something for every age group, so it is ideal for family get-togethers and reunions. It has a spa for some pampering by the sea for adults and many family-friendly amenities including a swimming pool with slide, mini-golf and organized activities including campfire programs.
During our family’s stay here recently, we spent mornings at the resort’s peaceful, un-crowded beach where our cares and worries were left behind as discarded bundles on the sand. We lounged by the pool while our grandsons enjoyed the slide, and indulged in such pastimes as croquet and bean bag toss on its grounds.
Our family is planning a second stay at the Disney Vero Beach Resort & Spa next year as this Disney Vacation Club property with studios and one-, two-and three-bedroom villas and cottages and inn rooms, is available to non-Disney Vacation Club members like us for short term rentals when the members are not using the accommodations. The resort has undergone an ambitious refurbishment that has refreshed accommodations with new soft and hard furnishings and has reconfigured its dining options. Among the latter, the space formerly occupied by the Shutters restaurant is now the Wind and Waves Grill, a table service dining location with an open kitchen serving breakfast and dinner. Its menu focuses on sustainable cuisine including local seafood such as Atlantic flounder and grouper, not to mention brick over roasted clams caught in Sebastian. Other popular dishes on the menu include gourmet flatbreads and grilled pork tenderloin with chimichurri sauce.
The space formerly occupied by Sonya’s restaurant has been transformed into the Wind and Waves Market, a quick service dining location with freshly prepared dishes, pre-packaged items and groceries. The all-day menu here includes breakfast sandwiches, hot and cold cereals, pastries, deli sandwiches, hamburgers and hot dogs. Meals can be enjoyed on the adjacent pool deck or on a “grab and go” basis.
Also new at the resort is the Wind and Waves Bar, featuring signature cocktails, craft beers and bar-side snacks with convenient access from the pool. Visit www.disneybeachresorts.com.
· Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa in Ko Olina, Hawaii
Aulani, on the island of Oahu, 17 miles from the airport in Honolulu, is another beautiful Disney Vacation Club property built on 21 oceanfront acres on a crystalline blue lagoon with mountain views. The resort’s two towers offer 359 hotel rooms and 481 two-bedroom-equivalent Disney Vacation Club villas with kitchen, washer/dryer and other comforts of home –and angled rooms for sweeping views of the sea, mountains and the resort’s grounds. Non-Disney Vacation Club members can rent the villas when members are not using them.
Aulani boasts amenities for all age groups including a lovely sandy beach; a fun-in-the-water area of activities with snorkel lagoon, pools and tube slides; an 18,000-sq. ft. spa; several restaurants; a wedding lawn; kids’ club with organized activities and Disney characters.
Some days, after enjoying the beach, our family would set out on excursions to explore the island and enjoy the excitement of Honolulu and Waikiki, 30 minutes away from Aulani. Afterwards, upon our return to Aulani, cultural activities awaited at the resort including Hawaiian outrigger canoe racing, hula performances, and island tales at an authentic Hawaiian fire pit. The resort draws on the rich traditions of Hawaii to create magical and insightful vacations. Our family was enchanted with the work of local architects and artisans who wove Hawaiian stories into the buildings, interiors and gardens –down to the statues of “Menehune,” the legendary Hawaiian little people hidden throughout the resort.
Aulani has completed a major expansion program with enhancements
including more fun experiences and dining options in the Waikolohe Valley pool area –among these is the Ka Maka Grotto, a themed family pool with an infinity edge, a misty grotto with sunset views and after-dark experiences with glittering lights. The Keiki Cove is a new kids’ splash zone resembling a tidal pool with images of tidal pool creatures on the pool floor, rainbow water jets and hidden Menehune. Additional deck space, chairs, chaises and cabanas surround the new water features.
Ulu Café is a new poolside dining venue serving breakfast, lunch and dinner and featuring an outdoor patio with ocean views. In addition to the Ulu Café, Little ‘Opihi’s is another dining novelty: a beachside, quick-service eatery with grab-and-go selections. And yet another new resort feature is the Hale Manu boutique featuring souvenirs and gifts including jewelry, watches and island-inspired items.