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Family vacations are synonymous with summertime (is it the whole "summer vacation" thing?), but why spend the rest of the year trapped in your hometown? You need to get out and play in the wintertime, too.
Winter is a great time to pack the family up to hit the road, and it's OK to not go for cold. Here are some top picks family-friendly winter destinations of both cold and warm whether variety:
1. Winter Olympic host cities
After the Olympic Games move out of their host cities, the infrastructure that was created for the festivities and competitions remain. This is awesome news for families who want to keep their travels interesting. Whether you visit Salt Lake City, Squaw Valley, Calgary, Lake Placid, Whistler or some other winter host city, this is your chance to ride a bobsled, luge or skeleton. There's also skating and skiing facilities, and accommodations all over the place and a different price points.
Chances are you'll have no interest in pitching a tent this time of year, but wintertime is perfect for visiting the country's most popular national parks, such as Yellowstone and Yosemite. You'll enjoy the nation's most beautiful natural spaces without the crowds and from an entirely new perspective. Parks like the Everglades and Death Valley have better weather conditions in the winter, too (fewer mosquitoes, lower humidity and milder temperatures). Services may be minimal in the winter, but many parks still have Junior Ranger programs, ranger-led walks and at least some open and maintained facilities.
Yeah, we said it, the Disney parks. What better place to escape the chill than one of the most popular family vacation locales? January is a particularly good time to check out Cinderella's castle and hop the most popular rides at one or all of the Disney parks in Florida. In January, hotel prices bottom out and crowds are minimal. Plus, the average high temperature in Orlando is 71 degrees.
4. Kids-ski-free resorts
Loads of ski resorts (especially those in the Mountain West and on the West Coast) cater to families by offering free lift tickets to kids under 12. Conditions vary to get these deals: Some reward those who book packages early in the winter, while others try to get the most out of the season by offering last-minute booking packages to fill accommodation vacancies late in the winter. Some require the purchase of an adult lift ticket for each kid's pass. Your best bet for snagging a good deal is to search online for package deals at your favorite resorts, or sign up for email alerts from travel websites like Travelzoo.
5. Northern Lights destinations
For a unique winter experience, seek out a destination known for the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis. Certainly Scandinavia and Canada offer front-row seats to this colorful natural light show, but if you want to stay in the continental U.S., head to the Great Lakes. Stake out a spot on Michigan's Upper Peninsula or northern Wisconsin on clear nights with no moonlight for the best viewing conditions.
This popular destination is exactly the place to escape to if your family just needs to let loose and have fun. The Atlantis Resort is a massive waterpark built for kids of all ages in mind, but there is also ample entertainment for adults. Though the resort offers discount packages during the winter months, look into booking a room at the nearby Comfort Suites, which offers complete access to all the amenities at Atlantis for just a fraction of the price.
Arizona's summer temperatures can feel downright oppressive, but in the winter, weather is mild, comfortable and inviting. The state offers the best of both worlds this time of the year: Beautiful natural landscapes covered in snow at the Grand Canyon and ski resorts at higher elevations in Flagstaff as well as sunshine and even temperatures warm enough to hop into the pool at popular resorts. Even in those places where snow doesn't dust the ground, expect to find holiday lights and ice skating rinks.
8. Caribbean cruise
Part floating resort, part beach vacation, a Caribbean cruise lets your family escape the snowy winter with minimal hassle and planning. This is a popular vacation option in the winter as it offers ample opportunities to do as much or as little as you want, so don't feel guilty if you spend your days simply relaxing. In the winter, there are several ships and itineraries to choose from, but look for a family friendly cruise that offers something appealing for everyone.
If your family can handle the cold, head to Alaska for an authentic winter vacation. Expect to find lots of outdoor activities such as dog mushing (come in time to watch the Iditarod sled dog race in March), and a sky lit up with the Aurora Borealis at night. Airfare to Alaska tends to be on the high side throughout most of the year, but visit in the winter and prices hit rock bottom.