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Taking the kids: How to have a safe and sane family vacation this winter

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Is a family vacation worth it this winter? For once, I’m not talking about how much it would cost or the hassle factor.

I’m thinking — as I’m sure you are – whether with the Omicron variant surging across the country and around the world whether it is safe to travel at all. Public health experts suggest staying home if your kids are too young to be vaccinated (under 5) or are immune compromised.

They urge that eligible kids get vaccinated; the FDA has just authorized the COVID-19 booster shot for those 12 and older, which is said to better protect against Omicron.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending against cruising right now, regardless of vaccination status, citing some 5,000 cases on dozens of cruise ships operating in U.S. waters the second half of December, though the Cruise Lines International Association, the cruise industry trade association, disagrees “as cases identified on cruise ships consistently make up a very slim minority of the total population on board…”

The combination of inevitable winter weather delays and unprecedented number of airline and airport staff out sick continue to wreak havoc with air travel.

You also may not want to risk getting sick away from home, especially when COVID-19 tests can be hard to find.

Still, a getaway — even for a few days — has never been more appealing. And there certainly are plenty of places where you can get away safely this winter without busting the budget. Just check out our new section, Best Family Getaways to Light Up Your Winter put together with our friends at Family Travel Forum.

Be prepared to wear masks and social distance, wherever you go. And remember if you leave the country, you now must show a negative COVID-19 test taken no more than 24 hours before returning to the U.S.

If you’re looking at a road trip focused on outdoors attractions, drive and hike the top desert attractions outside Las Vegas or Phoenix and Scottsdale, including the McDowell Sonoran Preserve or explore the fun, touristy towns surrounding Great Smoky Mountains national park, including Pigeon Forge where the popular Winterfest lasts until mid-February.

Let someone else do all the driving — and organizing. Adventures by Disney has a four-night Winter in Wyoming Escape, including dog sledding, a snowshoe trek around Old Faithful and a hot springs soak. Backroads, the leader in outdoor travel, has trips for families whether your kids are in elementary school, high school, college or 20-something. There are trips in U.S. national parks, as well as Canada for 2022. Both companies also offer options for private trips.

Nashville, Tennessee, is a great family destination because of its music venues and museums. Did you know the clubs on lower Broadway, known as Honky Tonk Highway, offer live music free of charge until 7 p.m. nightly? Kids will love the one-of-a-kind cars at the Lane Motor Museum and the Taylor Swift Education Center at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, along with this town’s great barbecue.

Take time in Denver on your way to the mountains to see the new Meow Wolf, created with the help of 300 local artists, that is a hit for its immersive experiences. The Denver Art Museum (kids 18 and under are free) has just opened its huge expansion, years in the making, and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science has a new exhibit would-be rock stars will love — all about guitars.

Celebrate Black History Month in February with a visit to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, and other historic sites and museums devoted to Black history, including the African American Museum in Philadelphia, the first built by a major U.S. city to interpret the life and work of African Americans, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.

The National Park Service Network to Freedom program includes more than 650 sites that have a connection to the Underground Railroad. Remember that many museums continue to require reservation to manage crowd size.

Now that there’s been snow, families are flocking to snow resorts not only to ski and ride but tube, cross-country ski, snowshoe, ice skate and more. Outdoor activities have a lower risk of COVID transmission, and you have plenty of condos to choose from where you can social distance.

January, incidentally, is National Safety Month for the ski industry, so in addition to virus transmission precautions, it’s a good time to remind the kids of general slope safety.

Look for kids-ski-free packages like at Keystone Resort in Colorado where kids 12 and under ski free (book two nights and get a day of free skiing for the kids; get an additional day free for each additional night booked). Have you tried night skiing? Stay a Thursday night and get a free First Tracks experience Friday morning.

Explore the outdoors on horseback at a dude ranch — popular for 2022 because they are nature based and offer small group numbers. Guests feel safe in individual cabins and lodge rooms that have undergone enhanced cleaning procedures. Rates are all-inclusive which means parents don’t need to worry about shopping, cooking or hauling tired kids to restaurants. Consider the family-owned White Stallion Ranch in Tucson, which we visited last year.

If you prefer sun and sand, you can’t beat Florida with 825 miles of beaches. Visit Florida, in partnership with Expedia and select Florida hotels, are touting 20 percent-off deals with more discounts at restaurants and theme parks, including Bush Gardens Tampa, Disney, LEGOLAND Florida, SeaWorld (where the new Ice Breaker Coaster debuts in February, culminating in a reverse launch into the steepest beyond vertical drop in Florida – a 93-foot-tall spike with 100-degree angle)

Happy (safe) travel in 2022!

(For more Taking the Kids, visit www.takingthekids.com and also follow TakingTheKids on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram where Eileen Ogintz welcomes your questions and comments. The Kid’s Guide to Philadelphia, the 13th in the kid’s guide series, was published in 2020, with The Kid’s Guide to Camping coming in 2021.)

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