For once, be glad you're toting a stroller and safety seat.
When everyone else has headed back to school, you can head off on vacation with your toddlers and preschoolers. Congratulate yourselves for avoiding the summer crowds and grabbing a great deal in the process. Invite grandma and grandpa along. Just don't expect them to baby sit every night! Invite friends or family with kids of a similar age and you can split child-care chores -- and expenses.
Wherever you go, support "Dine Out for No Kid Hungry" and help end childhood hunger. Just $1 can connect a child with up to 10 healthy meals. All you need to do is stop by any of the thousands of participating restaurants and take part. (Plug in the city or ZIP code and you can find plenty of restaurants to choose from.)
Whether you want to head to a city, a theme park, the beach or the mountains this fall, You'll find lots of ideas in the new Taking the Kids Fall Getaways section. Here are some guaranteed winners for young families:
DOWN ON THE FARM where you can stay and the kids can help gather eggs, feed the goats and possibly pick veggies. Search by state at Farm Stay U.S. At the very least, head to an orchard or pumpkin patch where you can pick apples, pumpkins and go on a hayride. Find one nearby at PickYourOwn.org. Going to get your own jack-o'-lanterns will become an annual tradition -- it was in my family. Make applesauce with the kids when you get home with all those apples!
GET OUT AND PLAY IN THE LEAVES! Head to a state park or campground for a weekend. (Many, like those from KOA have cabin rentals and family activities.) Consider a YMCA resort, like the popular YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park, Colorado, where you can get a third night free and there are plenty of activities. Bring zipper storage bags so you can collect different leaf species, nuts and pine cones for art projects. Bring glue to press flowers and scrapbook tourist brochures. It's not just about looking at the leaves! Have a scavenger hunt on a hike to see how many different kinds of leaves you can find, end the day with a campfire and s'mores.
ORLANDO BOUND: During the Magical Deal month of September, more than 150 hotel, theme park, attraction and restaurant offers become available -- many at up to 50 percent off. (See what's new at #magicaldeals on Twitter) You might also be surprised at how much each theme park has for the littlest park-goers -- family coasters and other rides, interactive play spaces (ready to get sprayed with water), shows that invite the kids to participate. With preschoolers, fall is a great time to go -- it's still warm enough for hotel pools and not nearly as many kids are waiting to meet and greet theme park characters. (Check out my new Kid’s Guide to Orlando.)
Save significant bucks on your theme park tickets in Orlando having them shipped directly to your home (skip the lines), as well as on car rentals with Undercover Tourist. The Visit Orlando Magicard offers discounts on everything from attractions to accommodations and restaurants. Kudos to the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin for giving parents two hours of free day care for kids four and older while they're at the spa or having dinner at the hotel.
SAN DIEGO KIDVASION means kids are free in San Diego all October -- at the world-famous San Diego Zoo, at SeaWorld, LEGOLAND and SEA LIFE Aquarium and at San Diego's museums, restaurants and hotels. With more than 100 kids-free offerings, you'll have more than enough to keep yourselves and your preschoolers busy and happy. Take the train: Kids ride free on Amtrak Pacific Surfliner to San Diego in October.
CRUISE AWAY. Carnival Cruise Lines has children's programming from age two, with paid baby-sitting for younger kids and its Carnival Freedom features the new Dr. Seuss Bookville reading area -- part of Seuss at Sea, a fleet-wide family entertainment experience inspired by Dr. Seuss. (Are you ready for a green eggs and ham breakfast?) There's also a new marine-themed Camp Ocean program (kids 2 to 4 are Penguins) and five-day cruises start at just $259 per person, less for kids who are third and fourth in a cabin. Disney Cruise Line, which has organized programming for kids starting at age three and offers paid day care for babies and toddlers, is celebrating Halloween on the High Seas on most voyages this September and October, including Mickey's Mouse-querade Party, treats and more. Rates for three-night cruises start at $450 per person, less for kids who are third or fourth passengers in a cabin. Look for cruises from a port near your home. Just be mindful that fall is hurricane season, though ships can typically change their itineraries.
LOOK AT A CITY from a preschooler's perspective, spending time in a first-rate children's museum The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis is the largest in the country with its upcoming Creepy Carnival Haunted House and live bat encounters next month; the Boston Children’s Museum is the second oldest in the country, recently celebrating its 100th anniversary. Kids love the new immersive My Sky astronomy exhibit. The Chicago Children’s Museum at Navy Pier has long been one of my favorites, complete with a comedy club for kids and kid-sized "city." Opt for family programs and discovery rooms at art and science museums. The Denver Art Museum, for example, has interactive programs in every exhibit and backbacks kid can borrow with age-appropriate activities inside. Here's what I wrote about a visit there. Opt for a weekend stay and you can probably get a good deal on a hotel.
OPT FOR AN ALL-INCLUSIVE, like Beaches with its infant-and-up day care, "Sesame Street" program, Palladium and Raggs characters. There's even programming for 1-year-olds, and the largest mini club in the Caribbean at the Grand Palladium Bavaro Suites in Punta Cana. Beaches is also offering airfare credits and free nights. (Palladium 35 percent discounts.)
Time to get packed?
Eileen Ogintz is the creator of the syndicated column and website Taking the Kids. She is also the author of the ten-book Kid’s Guide series to major American cities and the Great Smoky Mountains. The third-edition of the Kid’s Guide to NYC has just been released.