January Family Travel Guide

Children In Water
Wet in Wisconsin: With over 12 football fields of indoor and outdoor water parks, welcome to Orlando’s unlikely January competitor (Photodisc)

Wisconsin Water Parks
Seems a little strange to be heading to Wisconsin in winter, but you'll be relieved to know that most of the action takes place indoors...in a swimsuit. Wisconsin Dells is the premier water park destination in America, with 20 indoor parks littered across the region—and they're not exactly small mom and pop operations. Kalahari Waterpark Resort Convention Center has a 110,000-square-foot indoor amusement park, and Wilderness Hotel's Wild Water Dome offers a combined 12 football fields of indoor and outdoor water fun. Not to mention an ultraviolet roof that lets you tan indoors. Who needs Florida?

Playa del Carmen, Mexico
An hour’s drive south of Cancun, the once sleepy seaport of Playa del Carmen now includes a bustling, upscale resort community called Playacar with a growing number of all-inclusive hotels. Head to the nearby Mayan ruins of Tulum, where the impressive pyramid, El Castillo, dating from the 13th century, sits on a seaside cliff. There’s also excellent snorkeling at Xel-Ha. But, more than likely, you’ll want to hang out on the exquisite white sand beach.

Molokai, HI
One of the least-traveled Hawaiian islands, with no high-rises or deluxe resorts, Molokai requires visitors to enjoy a slower pace of life. But that doesn't mean there's a lack of things to do. Start your day on the ocean, either snorkeling among green sea turtles, sea kayaking, outrigger canoeing, or deep-sea fishing. Then head up-country to hike, horseback, and mountain bike ride on 30 miles of trails. Don't miss the incredible views on the island's north shore, where 3,250-foot emerald green sea cliffs (the world's tallest) plunge into the turquoise surf below.

The Nick Hotel in Orlando, FL
Consider yourself fortunate enough to make it outside Holiday Inn’s Nickelodeon Family Suites hotel to play at Universal Orlando. The Nick Hotel boasts an enticing water park, arcade, Nickelodeon-themed games (be prepared to be SLIMED!), character breakfasts with SpongeBob SquarePants and Dora the Explorer, even a kid's spa offering manis and pedis. If you can break away, head over to Universal to take a ride into Dr. Seuss’s imagination on the High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Ride.

Atlanta, GA
What better way to celebrate the great Martin Luther King, Jr. on his birthday than to visit his two-story boyhood home in Atlanta. Afterwards, take the kids on a tour of World of Coca-Cola, where they can see a fully functional bottling line and taste products from all over the world, and then admire the sea creatures at the largest aquarium in the world, The Georgia Aquarium.

Eco-Barbados
Barbados entices with its silky white sand and aquamarine sea. But it’s the ecological wonders in the eastern half of the island, namely the Barbados Wildlife Refuge, Andromeda Botanic Gardens, and Harrison’s Cave, a crystallized limestone cavern, that differentiate this country from its neighbors. At the Wildlife Refuge you can look up and see green monkeys jumping from mahogany tree to mahogany tree. There are so many tortoises moseying about that it’s hard not to step on one. Thankfully, the massive python is not free to roam. He sleeps peacefully inside a large glass enclosure.

Kartchner Caverns State Park, AZ
About an hour southeast of Tucson, the limestone ridges of the Whetstone Mountains and the desolate desert hide countless holes for cavers to crawl through. Randy Tufts and Gary Tenen had squeezed into many of these Arizona orifices, only to come to a dead end in a matter of minutes. That was until they dropped down into a large sinkhole and kept going and going. They discovered three massive rooms, long spires including a 58-foot column where a stalagmite had merged with a stalactite, and moonmilk, a soft, creamy waterfall that spills over the rock. The duo enlisted the help of the state government and in 1988, Kartchner Caverns became an Arizona state park—a great warm subterranean escape for the mid-winter months.

Sandpoint, ID
With a fireworks, a torchlight parade, a ski and snowboard freestyle rail jam, and a food tasting event, you quickly understand why Idaho's Sandpoint Winter Carnival is still going strong after 35 years. Like a fine wine, it just gets better with time.

International Snow Sculpture Championships in Breckenridge, CO
It’s amazing what a talented sculptor can do with a 12-foot tall block of snow. Head to Breckenridge, Colorado, in late January and you’ll find dozens of artists using their bare hands and several permitted tools to carve flowers, people, and abstract sculptures out of snow in the International Snow Sculpture Championships. So much for Frosty the Snowman.

Okemo Mountain, Vermont
Known for their exceptional grooming and excellent on-mountain food (think Deer Valley of the East), Ludlow, Vermont’s Okemo Mountain also reaches out to the kids. Its family pool and skating rink will keep families happy après-ski. Then wander over to Coleman Brook Tavern for a tabletop campfire that includes skewers of grilled meat and, of course, s’mores.


Boston-based writer Stephen Jermanok has authored or contributed to 11 books on the outdoors, including Outside Magazine's Adventure Guide to New England , Discovery Channel's Backcountry Treks , Discovery Channel's Paddlesports , Outside Magazine's Guide to Family Vacations and Men's Journal's The Great Life . His latest book is New England Seacoast Adventures . His many adventures appear in National Geographic Adventure , Outside , Men's Journal , Forbes FYI , Travel + Leisure , Hooked on the Outdoors , and Backpacker . He can be reached at farandaway@comcast.net.

Published: 9 Jan 2007 | Last Updated: 30 Jul 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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