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Anyone up for the mosquito fest?

With special room rates and declining gas prices, consider taking a classic family road trip this summer.

June 01, 2003|Eileen Ogintz | Special to The Times

The school year is nearly over. A collective sigh of relief can be heard from Long Island kitchen tables to Orange County patios as we count down to the last day of school after an exhausting year of juggling work, budgets, after-school jobs, homework, soccer practices and violin lessons.

We want to grab some fun in the sun with the kids this summer -- whether or not they want to spend time with Mom and Dad. According to the new Travel Industry Assn. summer forecast, more than 43% of travelers plan to travel with kids this summer -- up more than 10% from last year. That means more than 100 million trips including kids.

But we're still worried about terrorism and the economy. That's probably why even well-heeled travelers are seeking different kinds of trips closer to home this summer. "The classic family road trip is a novelty for them," said Kyle McCarthy of Family Travel Forum,, which caters to affluent travelers.

Maybe we'll hit a mosquito festival in Clute, Texas, or a zucchini celebration in Hayward, Calif. Maybe we'll watch Union and Confederate "soldiers" in Gettysburg, Pa.

Hampton Inn has put together a deal celebrating its Year of 1,000 Weekends. Room rates start at $59 a night and include continental breakfast. Search the calendar by date and region at

Gas prices are dropping, and we don't have to pay big bucks for hotel rooms.

"People expect deals, and they're out there," said Sandra Hughes, AAA's travel vice president. "There's a concerted effort being made across the travel industry to cut prices and get people to travel."

Room rates over the Memorial Day holiday, Hughes noted, were 13% lower than last year. And AAA travel managers report that airfares are down 9%. "You bet this is good news for consumers," Hughes said.

That's why you shouldn't be bashful about asking for a better room, a better deal, a better price. Put the teens to work searching the Internet. But if you're set on a specific hotel, call directly to see if it will top what the competition is offering. Look for deals that throw in breakfast, activities or a free night's stay.

Hilton, for example, has Easy Escapes coupons that give you $100 in food and beverage credits. Visit

Travelers visiting San Diego should consider stopping at the Bahia Resort Hotel,, on Mission Bay. The hotel is celebrating its 50th anniversary with Hula-Hoops, malts served by poodle-skirted waitresses, sock hops and old movies -- all at rates starting at $139 a night. is touting Summer on Sale weekend getaways that let users plan their own packages. Four-star hotels in Boston or San Diego for Fourth of July weekend can be had for just over $80 a night.

If you plan smart, you should be able to do pretty much what you want, when you want, without denting the budget too badly -- even in Orlando, Fla. If the kids are begging to visit Mickey in Florida, check out the packages from United Vacations and U.S. Airways Vacations that give you seven days at Disney World for the price of four. Vacations include air, Disney World hotel and Park Hopper tickets. Book by June 29 for travel through October. Visit or

Members of the military who served in Iraq can get into Disney World or Disneyland free until mid-December, and they can take their families and friends at bargain rates too. There are also special deals on Disney Cruise Lines. For information, visit or

Don't worry about booking at the last minute. Everyone is -- especially when there's a bargain to be had that's as good as Aloha Airlines' last-minute deals to Hawaii from West Coast cities. Book three to 10 days from the departure date and snag round-trip fares that begin at $318. Check out other deals at

Because there are fewer international and business travelers, you can still find room aboard flights and in hotels at popular summer destinations that typically are full months ahead.

Seize the opportunity to try something different, whether it's close to home or clear across the country. For instance, if you're going to see Old Faithful, sign on for a unique four-day family learning adventure designed for kids 8 to 12. Yellowstone National Park naturalists take families animal tracking, exploring geysers, hiking and looking for wildlife. In the process, the kids will earn their Junior Ranger badges. Rates for a family of four, including activities, two meals and lodging, are less than $1,800. Call (307) 344-5566 or visit

Explore Chesapeake Bay or Tampa Bay from the helm of your own power catamaran. These cats sleep six and come equipped with everything from TVs to microwaves. Weekend charters average $1,600. Book before June 15 for extra savings. Visit

Taking the Kids appears twice a month. E-mail Eileen Ogintz at

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