Once kids become school age, the timeframe for family vacation becomes limited—mainly relegated to following the school calendar. Which is why at spring break, families shouldn’t waste precious time on long travel. These destinations will have you there in jiffy and in time for a late lunch: all are direct flights from Chicago with the accommodations a short trip from the airport.
Just for the weekend
Looking for a long-weekend? Try Fort Wayne, Ind., a small city with some big-time charm. We like Science Central, a hands-on science center, Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory and the Fort Wayne Museum of Art. Be sure to save lots of time for the Fort Wayne Childrens Zoo, one of the nations top 10 zoos for kids, thanks to its smaller size and the ability to get closer to the animals. Before heading back to Chicago, stop at DeBrand Chocolatier for tours of the chocolate-making kitchen and some sweet mementos.
Drive time: 3 hours
1. Puerto Morelos, Mexico: This sleepy fishing village is only 20 miles from the airport, yet seems like a lifetime away from the spring break scene. Stay at the Grand Residences Riviera Cancun, made up of suites with full kitchens, living areas and plenty of accommodation options. A short walk down the beach is Puerto Morelos’ quaint town square with authentic Mexican food and outdoor shops. The highly acclaimed on-site restaurant El Faro means “lighthouse,” and is a tribute to the leaning lighthouse, a famous local landmark. This full-service resort also has a spa, free kids club and an on-site gourmet market for those wanting to cook in the suite. For extra excitement, take an inexpensive colectivo (shared ride) down to Playa del Carmen for the day.
Flight time: 3 hours, 45 minutes; Travel to hotel: 25 minutes
2. Jamaica: Family-friendly all-inclusive resorts abound—and two are standouts. Thirty minutes from Montego Bay Airport is the Royalton White Sands where families will find some real characters: bunnies Max and Ruby and Mike the Knight star in nightly stage shows. Kids flock to the waterslides. About one hour via shuttle is the Jewel Runaway Bay Resort& Spa, home to a new water park with lazy river, waterfalls and a family raft ride. If you’re feeling fancy, go for a suite that comes with your own butler. Runaway Bay is close to Bob Marley’s childhood home and the Green Grotto Caves, which make for an adventurous excursion.
Flight time: 4 hours, 15 minutes; Travel to hotel: 30-60 minutes
3. Fort Myers Beach, Fla.: It offers three vacations in one given its proximity to Captiva and Sanibel Islands, both known for their shell-covered beaches. A good home base is the Pink Shell Beach Resort& Spa, an all-condo resort with one and two bedrooms with kitchens. Kids love the interactive resort activities like paint wars and Wii tournaments. Chartering a boat or taking a sightseeing cruise is a fun way to island-hop between the mainland and Cayo Costa, Cabbage Key and Boca Grande. Don’t miss The Edison& Ford Winter Estates offering a fascinating look at two of our country’s most brilliant minds.
Flight time: 3 hours; Travel to hotel: 30 minutes
4. Vail, Colo.: Skip the drive from Denver Airport; there are direct flights to Vail via Eagle Airport. Vail Cascade is an optimal resort choice for avid skiers—and for families who indulge in après ski festivities. The resort offers luxury rooms, and there is convenient ski-in/ski-out access. The Cascade KidVenture program hosts movie nights, hot chocolate and s’more toasting, tennis lessons and open gym time for kids 5-12. A shuttle runs back and forth to Lionshead and Vail Village, where pedestrian-friendly heated sidewalks, ice-skating and delicious dining options await.
Flight time: 2 hours, 45 minutes; Travel to hotel: 30 minutes
5. Boyne Mountain, Mich.: Can’t decide between skiing and splashing? Boyne Mountain Resort is the perfect compromise. With some of the best slopes in the Midwest, along with a highly rated ski school program for kids, it also has the Avalanche Bay Indoor Water Park, the largest in Michigan, with toddler-safe features, a surf simulator and an arcade. The Salzburg Suites in the Mountain Grand Lodge& Spa are perfect for families, with adorable castle-themed alcoves containing two sets of bunk beds. The water park is connected to the lodge, so there’s no trudging out in the cold. Nearby are fun outings like the Chocolate Haus for sampling chocolate-covered potato chips, the scenic Tunnel of Trees near Harbor Springs, and the Gaylord Alpine Village.
Drive time: 5 hours