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Take the kids, curb the cost

Consider packaged deals and all the options -- land, sea and air -- for a sure way to de-stress the crew and not strain the wallet.

October 26, 2008|Catharine Hamm | Hamm is a Times staff writer.

It may look like forced family fun to some, but getting away can do wonders for overstressed, overcommitted, overwhelmed kids and maybe their parents.

The issue with family travel, of course, is that more isn't always merrier, but it's usually much more expensive. Still, the savvy planner can find a way to escape the uh-oh of daily life and find an oh-wow moment or two on the road.

Here are some of the avenues for doing just that. These deals were available when researched the week of Oct. 15 but may have disappeared. Not to worry; the economy may be insane, but so is the number of deals. So grab the phone or log on and let the hunt begin.

Consider a package: You can find hundreds of package tours that will save you a bundle by bundling the costs of air and hotel. Pleasant Holidays, for instance, is offering a three-night trip to Honolulu, with accommodations at the Hyatt Regency Waikiki, from about $567 a person, including air and hotel. I tested a Nov. 19 to 22 stay, two adults and two children, and it returned a total package price of $2,269.

I also tested this package online for the Aqua Palms Resort & Spa, a pleasant if compact hotel closer to the Ala Moana Center, and the Pleasant Holidays website offered a deluxe junior suite plus air for $2,420, or about $605 a person. The major drawback to both: The return flight doesn't leave until 9:40 p.m., meaning you will have checked out of your hotel long before you leave. The flight arrives at LAX at 5 a.m., so either the kids will sleep all the way back or they'll be so falling apart by 9:40 that you'll want to leave them behind.

Look to an online travel agency for packages as well. "That's really what Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity are good for," said Rudy Maxa, host of the PBS travel series "Rudy Maxa's World." "They can take a rental car, hotel and airfare and bury the discounts . . . to protect the provider," he said.

Orbitz came up with a trip from Nov. 26 to 30 -- the Thanksgiving holiday weekend -- to Los Cabos, Mexico, for $969 per person, which includes airfare and four people for four nights at the Fiesta Americana Grand Los Cabos.

Look south: Prices skyrocket around the holidays, which means you may want to forget the cost of transportation and focus just on the accommodations, making San Diego a natural. We looked for accommodations for Dec. 27 to Jan. 1 on, asking for four-star and above properties. This hotel comparison site returned the recently renovated Hilton San Diego Resort & Spa for a total of $898.43 for five days, or about $180 a day.

Of the property, which sits on 18 acres, a recent L.A. Times review said, "This resort fits the definition of the word, with two pools, two hot tubs, five tennis courts, a spa, a new Kids Kamp, Ping-Pong, volleyball, an outdoor bar and a private dock where guests can rent kayaks, speedboats, paddle boats and bicycles." shows the Hyatt Regency Mission Bay Spa & Marina for Dec. 27 to Jan. 2 for $758.74, total, an average of $111 a night. The third night is free, so if you stay five nights, you might as well stay the sixth for free. Otherwise, you'll pay $133 a day.

Look even farther south: When it's winter here, it's summer in the Southern Hemisphere. So if you suffer seasonal affective disorder (or just too-much-money-deducted-from-checking-account disorder), consider this Australia deal, found through This six-night trip to Sydney and Melbourne includes airfare, hotels and hotel transfers for prices beginning at $1,999 per person. This must be booked by Friday for travel though March 31.

Take to the high seas: "The [cruise] deals are unbelievable right now," said Tom Baker, president and owner of CruiseCenter, an agency that focuses on ship trips.

The discounts, coupled with the lull before the holidays, means you can find a $310.42 rate for four in an inside cabin ($345.42 for an ocean view) per person, based on two adults and two kids in a cabin, on a five-night Baja cruise on Carnival's Elation. It leaves from San Diego and docks in Cabo San Lucas and Ensenada, Mexico.

A 14-day cruise on Celebrity's Summit, leaving Nov. 29 from Barcelona, Spain, and stopping in Portugal and the Netherlands Antilles, costs $609 per person. That's the good news. The bad news: airfare to Barcelona and home from Puerto Rico. (Maybe you have some flier miles?) The worse news: Lots of schools take a dim view of yanking kids out for vacation.

Or take a land cruise: Amy Graff and her husband, Anthony, followed the Mother (and Father) Road and drove Route 66 this summer with their two children, Dante, then 3, and Paris, 5. They left from the Bay Area, drove to Southern California and hopped on the iconic highway, ending up in Chicago.

Cost of the 15-day trip (made, it should be noted, in a rental car [$50 a day] and when gasoline topped $4 a gallon): $3,659.52, including accommodations, meals and attractions. They traveled in a Ford Focus because it got better mileage than their own car; ate at diners where the portions were so large that adults could split an entree; and tried to spend less than $100 a night for a motel and usually found one with a free breakfast. Read more at

They were together, she said, pretty much 24/7, but Graff liked it so much she wants to do it again next year. You don't have to do the whole trip. Indeed, consider the 400-mile trip to Flagstaff when summer's at its zenith. If your car gets 25 miles per gallon and gas stays around $3.40 a gallon, you'll spend about $108 on gas. A few nights in a motel and some meals and you're bound to be called a budget brainiac.


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