Summer is the season when beach resorts hike their rates so high that many families get priced out. Don’t give up hope! Here are six ways to make a family beach vacation affordable:
1. Time it right.
From the last week of June through mid-August, school’s out for most U.S. families and, consequently, prices are at their peak. So travel before late June or in the last half of August—especially if you’re on the east coast, which is home to TripAdvisor travelers’ three top U.S. summer beach destinations: Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; Destin, Florida; and Ocean City, Maryland.
2. Think northeast U.S. in June and southeast U.S. in August.
Kids in the northeast stay in school through most of June, whereas schools in the southeast let out in early June—making that month a good time for southeast families to find shoulder-season rates at northeast resorts such as those on Cape Cod, in DownEast Maine, or on the Jersey Shore. In August it’s the reverse: Southeast kids are back in school by early to mid-August, making the latter half of August a good time for northeast families to find deals at southeast beaches. Don’t let fear of hurricanes keep you away. I live in the New York City area, and my family has spent the last half of August in Charleston, South Carolina; St. Simon’s Island, Georgia; and on the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia. These spots have been delightfully uncrowded and no more hot or humid than New York City in August.
3. Consider Mexico or the Caribbean.
Summer is low season there, so rates are up to 50% off, yet the weather is only a few degrees warmer than in the mainland U.S. Additionally, there are plenty of all-inclusive resorts in Mexico and the Caribbean, so you needn’t open up your wallet all day long to pay for meals, snacks, activities, and water sports. Rainy season starts in August, but keep in mind that hurricanes are rare and a few afternoon showers don’t usually spoil trips at big resorts where there’s plenty to do.
4. Seek out kids-eat-free offers.
All those meals and snacks for the kids at beach hotels can send your bill skyrocketing. All-inclusive resorts include meals in the room rate, of course. Extended-stay hotels, such as Marriott’s Residence Inn all-suite properties, have in-room kitchens, complimentary breakfast, and sometimes even complimentary dinner too. An extended-stay hotel within easy walking or driving distance of a beach can be a lifesaver for families.
5. Look at resorts with free supervised child care.
Parents need a break too and could use at least one date night, especially on vacation. Family Vacation Critic has a great list of 16 resorts with complimentary kids’ clubs; they’re mainly in the Caribbean and Mexico, although there are Florida and northeast options too.
6. Consider a vacation rental.
Renting a house gives you your own kitchen and washing machine, allowing you to save a ton on children’s meals and laundry. Rent one within walking distance of a beach and you may also save on daily beach-parking fees. Typically, the bigger the house, the less it costs per bedroom, so consider renting with another family and splitting the cost. As with hotels, beachfront rentals may be less expensive in June or after mid-August. Usually the minimum stay is a week, but in Mexico in summer, minimum-stay rules are often waived, and it may be possible to negotiate every third night free. As someone who’s rented beachfront homes from the Caribbean to Hawaii, I’ll be bringing you plenty more vacation-rental advice later this week. Stay tuned.