HOW SINGLE PARENTS CAN ACTUALLY RELAX ON FAMILY TRIPS
STORY BY Michele Wojciechowski
Family vacations are meant to be fun — but that means fun for the whole family, including mom. For a single mother, it may be tough to find exactly what will please the whole family while not breaking her budget or causing stress. Before you begin worrying about questions like “Will there be activities for the kids?” “What if I want to do something on my own?” or “How can I take a vacation when money is so tight?” Relax. Here are some places to go and things to do that will cover all your family’s needs.
“Cruises are great for single parents since most cruise lines — with the exception of most luxury lines — have programs available for children,” says Renee Gerber, owner and vacation specialist of CruiseOne — Gerber & Associates in Woodstock. “The two cruise lines that I recommend most for children are Royal Caribbean and Disney. They offer age-specific programming for children from 6 months to 18 years of age.” Gerber says that with Royal Caribbean specifically, all the staff in the children’s area have college degrees. The programs are typically open from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. (Disney until midnight). During the day, the kids can be dropped off by the parent and picked up as often as they like. Their day is packed with art projects, science activities, free time, ball games, drawing and more — so they get involved in educational programs while having fun (Best of both worlds, but don’t tell the kids. Let them keep thinking that it’s just fun!). Pagers are available to the parents so that the staff can reach them in any kind of emergency. This way, the mom can have alone time while knowing the kids are safe and being entertained. Gerber’s daughter, 10, has been on 16 cruises since she was 2 years old. “She loves the time she has in the kids’ programs,” Gerber adds. Renée Phillips, owner of Family Fun Destinations in Perry Hall, agrees that cruises may be just what the family needs. “There are always activities such as scavenger hunts, bingo, swimming, basketball, ping pong, etc., that moms can do together with the children.” Most cruise lines offer kids’ programs, with breaks for meals so families can dine together. Cruise lines often offer after hours care for a nominal fee. “While the children are in their programs,” Phillips says, “there are an abundance of activities for parents ranging from bingo to wine tasting to art auctions.”
Resort to Resorts
Resorts are designed to be fun for everyone, and many give mothers the alone time they crave. According to Phillips, the resort company Beaches has all-inclusive destinations that offer activities parents and children can do together or separately. The resorts, in Turks and Caicos and Jamaica offer water parks and water sports included in the price, along with such extras as horseback riding on the beach, catamaran cruises and dolphin swims. Beaches resorts also have Single Parents Fun Months which require a three night minimum stay. They also offer exclusive bonding activities and events for single parents and their kids such as special guest participation in Beaches Caribbean Adventure with Sesame Street Parades, Kinect for Xbox 360 Family Game Night, Family Beach Bonfire, Dive-In Movie Nights and Beach Olympics on select nights. “Beaches has probably the top resorts in the Caribbean for families,” says Karen Gurley, president of Athena Travel, Inc., in Laurel. The staff, she says, is trained and certified so parents can feel comfortable Phillips also recommends Fern Resort in Ontario, where programs are offered for all ages – from infants to age 18. Along with such extreme activities as a rock wall, there are paddle boats, fishing and water skiing. Entertainment includes magicians, The Sensational Science Guy and a Pool Party. Best of all, while the kids are busy, mothers can hike, take yoga classes and more. John Frenaye, owner and chief single dad of Single Parent Travel in Annapolis recommends the FDR Resort in Trelawny, Jamaica, which provides trained nannies at no additional cost. Stateside, Frenaye recommends Rocking Horse Ranch in Highland, New York. “A sort of a dude ranch meets ‘Dirty Dancing’ resort,” he says. They have horses, mini-golf, lake activities, hiking, crafts and more. “Their kids’ programs are great, and I have never had a complaint.” Frenaye’s company also organizes group trips that he describes as “three-inone.” With time for supervised activities just for the kids, adults with adults, and, of course, family time, he says.
Ivy Allen, a single mom in Columbia, likes to take her 11-year-old daughter on day or quick overnight trips. She says that it’s sometimes difficult to coordinate her schedule with her single mother friends, so she and her daughter go by themselves. “We like to go to the beach (at Rehoboth). We’ll take a long drive, and I pick a place with a pool. We stay overnight and come home the next day.” She says that her daughter often meets other kids she can play with, while Allen chats with the parents. She’s been known to combine a beach excursion with school shopping at Delaware outlets – a way to save money. Allen and her daughter also take frequent day trips to Washington, D.C. Her daughter, she says, “loves to ride the subway, which we don’t do a lot,” while mother appreciates the educational offerings of these trips. “Day trips are low cost. The museums are free.”
Combining Vacations with Work Travel
Marny Helfrich of Columbia occasionally travels for work and sometimes takes her 4-year-old daughter along to make vacation time. On a trip to San Antonio, Texas, Helfrich also invited her sister-in-law to look after the little girl during the day. They also had plenty of free time to explore the zoo, museums and the area around the River Walk. “We swam in the hotel pool and would eat out at restaurants,” Helfrich says. “We were able to get in some fun, and I was able to get in the travel that I needed to do for work.”
Hitting the Slopes
If you love skiing, check out the Columbia Ski Club. According to Ellicott City resident and co-chair of the club’s marketing and publicity committee, Kat Rhee, a ski trip is a great way for single moms and their kids to spend some time together and on their own. While many of the club’s ski trips are weeklong excursions to the Rockies or California resorts, they do have a couple of shorter trips in January and March to New York and Maine that are more affordable. The club also does much more than ski. They offer local day trips like hiking and biking. A mom can join as a single member, and her children are also eligible to go on ski trips and are still charged at the member rate. “All ski resorts have day care and ski schools for kids,” says Rhee. “When they go skiing, children can be exposed to things that they haven’t experienced before.”
Tips to Remember
Renée Phillips of Family Fun Destinations reminds single moms to keep the following in mind: If you are planning a cruise or a trip out of the U.S., make sure you have a notarized parental permission form signed by the other parent. Many international immigration bureaus and airlines ask for such letters to safeguard against kidnappings. It’s also a good idea to have a medical treatment authorization letter. In addition, foreign governments require travelers younger than 18 years of age to present a letter from parents/ guardians permitting them to travel outside the U.S. Foreign immigration takes this matter very seriously. If these guidelines are not followed, you may be denied entry into the country and returned to the U.S. at your own expense. Karen Gurley of Athena Travel adds some additional tips: n From the beginning, think about what you want to do. Really get organized. Think about what kind of experience you want to have, depending on what your budget is. Go to destinations that have the activities you want. n Look into kid friendly hotels n Arrive at the airport early. Think about what you need to do and be organized. If you stay calm, your children will and they will relax during the travel part of it. n Talk with your kids about the security screening at the airport. Make it so that it’s nothing to be afraid of. If you tell them about it ahead of time, they won’t be nervous. *