Grandparents who've had the pleasure of taking their grandchildren on vacation know just how rewarding it can be to get to know a little person in an environment removed from their home routine, and without their parents around (a “skip-gen” trip).
It also can be challenging, especially when you're traveling with high-energy younger children. When choosing where to go with kids 11 and under, think of scenic places with lots of outdoor activities for affordable fun, as well as a few child-focused highlights (interactive museums, theme parks) for a special treat.
These destinations, some of my favorites, are ideal for smaller children and their grands.
1. Vero Beach, Florida
When to go: winter or spring
How to get there: Drive about 90 minutes southeast from Orlando International Airport along Florida's storied Treasure Coast (named for the many Spanish galleons that wrecked here during 18th-century hurricanes). It's also about 90 minutes north of Palm Beach.
What to do: The Vero Beach area is a nature lovers’ delight. Active grandparents can take children, if they're old enough, on self-guided kayaking trips ($40 for two hours in a double kayak) through the mangroves along the Indian River Lagoon at the Environmental Learning Center, home to an interactive touch tank exhibit and aquariums ($7 for adults; $5 for children). Relaxing two-hour pontoon cruises ($35 for adults; $15 for children) to the nearby Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge are also offered from the center. Even the littlest kids will enjoy the boardwalk trails; they'll also want to check out a cool nature-inspired playground.
The Vero Beach Museum of Art, where kids under 17 get free admission ($12 for adults; $11 for adults 65 and up), has a dedicated Art Zone for kids with multisensory exhibits that include an interactive sketch aquarium where they can draw sea creatures and watch them move through a virtual aquarium.
Plan your visit for late December through March and it'll coincide with strawberry season in these parts. At Countryside Citrus, you can fill your baskets at the you-pick fields and treat the kids to one of the famous orange slushies to reward their hard work.
Where to stay: Fronting the ocean and a lovely beach, the Driftwood Resort is a collection of buildings with various room types made largely from driftwood that's listed on the National Register of Historic Places. You'll pay about $145 per night for two adults and two children in a non-oceanfront studio unit.
2. Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean, Quebec
When to go: summer or fall
How to get there: There's an airport in Bagotville, but opt to fly into Quebec City for far more affordable flights to the region. You'll have a 2.5-hour scenic drive north from there to reach Alma, one of the main towns on Lac Saint-Jean and a perfect base for exploring.