Spring break ideas for families

The Great Clock Tower at Great Wolf Resorts

The Great Clock Tower at Great Wolf Resorts in Pennsylvania. (Credit: Great Wolf Resorts)

Are you ready to trade snow boots for flip-flops? You've never needed a little fun in the sun more than now, after a winter that's repeatedly buried us in snow and ice -- even in the South -- and given us school snow days that wreaked havoc with parents' work schedules.

Spring break these days is more for families than for college kids, as parents find it easier to grab a few days off in spring rather than summer, when the kids have jobs, summer school, camp and sports practice, and everyone at work is vying for the same vacation days. In fact, spring has become one of the most popular times for families to visit Orlando (visitorlando.com), the vacation capital of the country. (Tip: If your kids aren't in school yet, wait until after April to visit The Mouse!) No worries if you didn't plan a spring break, even though it's coming up in a couple weeks.

The good news is, it's not too late to get away for a few days, whether your gang wants to ride the latest theme park attractions in Orlando, cheer on your favorite baseball teams during spring training in Florida or Arizona, head to the beach (you don't need a passport to go to Puerto Rico, Hawaii or the U.S. Virgin Islands) or even a ski slope, where you can play in the snow rather than shovel -- or curse -- it. Spend a weekend splashing in the water slides at a Great Wolf Lodge water park resort. The Great Wolf Lodge New England is set to open later this spring (greatwolf.com).

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Great Wolf's best deal for spring break is the More Fun For Less package, which saves 15 percent on a stay of two nights or more and includes four water park passes for your entire stay, water park access from 1 p.m. the day you check in until the water park closes the day you depart and The Great Clock Tower Show and nightly Story Time in the Grand Lobby.Check out the Taking the Kids Super Spring Break Section.

Here are six guaranteed-to-please ideas that won't bust the budget:

1 Tour the nation's capital, where most museums and attractions are free, like gazing at the stars in Rock Creek Park at the only planetarium operated by the National Park Service, touring the National Mall at night and some of the Smithsonian's 19 museums. (You can download activities from "Awesome Adventures at the Smithsonian: The Official Kids Guide to the Smithsonian Institution," by Emily B. Korrell, bit.ly/1fbguthsmithsonianeducation.org/officialkidsguide). Visit the pandas at the National Zoo. The National Cherry Blossom Festival is March 20-April 13 and even includes a special Blossom Kite Festival. There are plenty of freebies (or nearly free). My "The Kids Guide to Washington, D.C." (GPP Travel) can help the kids lead the way.

2 Alternate beach time with museums and attractions like SeaWorld, the San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park and LEGOLAND. Stay in San Diego (sandiego.org) or nearby Carlsbad (visitcarlsbad.com) with its seven miles of beaches and proximity to attractions, including Disneyland, about an hour and a half north, and plenty of kid-friendly hotels.

3 Let the kids lead the way as you explore a favorite city -- Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles or San Francisco -- or one you don't know well (Portland, Ore., for your junior foodies, Indianapolis to tour the largest children's museum in the country, Philadelphia to get up close and personal with the Liberty Bell) over a long weekend when hotel rates drop at full-service business hotels. If you've got high school sophomores and juniors, include a college tour or two. Amtrak offers significant discounts for kids. Check websites like Getaroom.com and Hotels.com, or check vrbo.com or airbnb.com for apartment rentals in cities you want to visit. Official city tourism sites will have the latest deals and special family offerings. Let the teens peruse sites like Yelp and Chowhound and plan a special lunch or dinner out with you.

4 Cruise from a port near home -- you have more than two dozen to choose from. The big news for cruising this spring is more ships, bigger ships and more homeports so you might be able to save on airfare. (Kids 11 and younger cruise free on MSC Cruises, msccruisesusa.com, and teens cruise at a discount; look for deals that include discounts and shipboard credits.) Check websites like discountcruises.com for the latest deals and get custom advice from their agents. Alternatively, you can visit a travel agent near home who is a cruise expert. Just be mindful of the kids around the ship's pools. There aren't always lifeguards.

5 Play in the snow at a snow sports resort, where, hopefully, the sun will shine. Rates drop in spring, and kids 12 and younger ski free at Colorado's Keystone Resort every day of the winter season without any blackout dates. (Families must stay two or more nights in one of the numerous accommodations owned and operated by Keystone Resort.) Check out the daily Kidtopia activities and don't miss the huge ice fort at the top of the mountain. At the Aspen resorts, kids stay, rent, ski and even eat free all March and April (as long as you book in advance and purchase lodging and a three-day adult lift ticket). Go on a canopy tour above the snow in Bretton Woods, N.H., or Big Ski Montana. Channel your inner-Olympian in Park City, Utah, or Lake Placid, where you can take a bobsled ride down an Olympic track. Look for late-season deals across the country, from Vermont to Colorado to Utah.

6 Head to the sun, whether in Arizona (split time between a Scottsdale resort, experiencescottsdale.com, with a great water playground and the Grand Canyon), Florida (visitflorida.com) or the Caribbean (caribbeantravel.com). Let the deal be your guide, especially if you are flying. You'll save a lot if you book air, accommodations and rental cars together.

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