Our family vacation issue hits stands next Thursday, June 19—until then, read up on our favorite places for some R&R and tell us yours in the comment section!
OK, technically not a “spot,” but I could cruise every single summer and love it; I wouldn’t even care to leave the ship, making it kind of qualify. As long as I’m out on the water (and in the Caribbean), I’m good. They just so happen to have the added bonus of bringing me to a handful of tropical islands in the span of one week. Next summer will mark my 7th time cruising and I cannot wait. My first was when I was only four and a half; we boarded The Big Red Boat, back when it was still owned and operated by Disney (1985-1993). In 2000, we boarded the then two-year-old Disney Magic—best cruise of our lives, to this day; Disney Cruise Line is just on a whole other level, plus it’s an unforgettable combo of numbers 1 and 2 here—and we have since been on three Carnival ships and what we affectionately refer to as the “tugboat cruise” (long story). Next year we’ll finally try out Royal Caribbean, the cruise line that has long been touted as the best by anyone we ask. I’m not sure what it is about these giant vessels that I love so much, but I do know that some of the best times of my life have been spent singing “Celebration” and “Hot Hot Hot,” enjoying a delicious meal (and a show!) in a crowded dining room, and feeling the wind in my hair while walking on deck at night.
2. WALT DISNEY WORLD
Because I am eternally eight years old, I love Disney movies perhaps even more now than when I first saw them years ago. And so it should come as no surprise that when the music swells and the rope drops and I find myself once again walking down Main St. USA bright and early on a summer morning, I get so giddy that I practically cry when Mickey welcomes me back to the Magic Kingdom. It’s my favorite park; one glimpse at that castle and I’m just another little girl dreaming of being a Disney princess someday. The Disney generation gets it. My sister and I both start bawling when we re-watch our home videos of our 2012 trip and Peter Pan proclaims during the WISHES fireworks show, “I wish … we never had to grow up!” I was 24 on that trip, but it felt like the first time 20 years prior. It always feels like the first time. And that’s the magical thing about Disney.
3. DAYTONA BEACH
My second favorite place in Florida. We’ve stayed in Daytona three times now and we’ve fallen in love with it. Our resort is the tallest on the strip and within walking distance to shops, restaurants, a movie theater, boardwalk rides, a bandshell amphitheater, you name it. The beach is just beyond the pool, so you can flip back and forth as you please. It’s probably the most relaxing (without being boring) place we’ve stayed. And the views are spectacular: Like clockwork, a storm usually rolls in late afternoon and we’ve captured some amazing weather photos from our balcony. We’ve also spotted a few dolphins and we have the best seats around for fireworks and sunsets.
Hawai’i probably would’ve went here if I hadn’t already discussed it in our Meet the Staff feature (check it out next week). And all those islands mentioned in #1 don’t really count since they were part of a cruise experience. Soooo … let’s take a bit of a left turn here. Vacation, after all, doesn’t have to mean a week near a beach. And as much as I love beaches (I’m still a shore kid, after all), I also can’t live without cities. Well, one city. I’ve been living in what qualifies as country for almost 12 years and it only took one or two to realize I’d always prefer urban to rural. My parents took me to New York City for the first time for my eighth birthday; we saw “Beauty & the Beast” on Broadway. I. Fell. In. Love … with the twinkling lights and the honking cabs and the aroma of pretzel carts and every New York cliché you can think of. I’ve been there countless times since—I even worked there for a few months—and I’m not the least bit jaded by it yet. Every time I ride the escalator up from Penn Station and Seventh Avenue slowly rises into view, it feels damn near close to coming home. A day spent roaming the concrete jungle always feels like a vacation to me. It’s escapism … but instead of slowing down, you speed the hell up or get trampled on the sidewalk!
5. LAKE GEORGE
If I were to return to this secluded and peaceful area of upstate NY, I would probably get pretty bored pretty fast. I’ve seen too many other beautiful places and done too many new and exciting things for this lake to even hold a candle to what I consider a “vacation” these days (yep, my parents have spoiled my sister and I rotten with amazing summer experiences). But that doesn’t mean that Lake George doesn’t hold a treasure trove of childhood memories for me, because it does and likely always will. I was barely a toddler my first time and 12 our last time. Every single summer was spent at good ol’ Depe Dene resort and we somehow never tired of our rustic little cabin in the woods. We lounged by the lake, barbecued on our porch, went horseback riding, played Around the World mini golf (which is still there!), got ice cream and listened to the Minne-Ha-Ha chugging its way across the water, and played board games by lantern light outside at night. Over the years, we made friends with the people staying in the cabins around us (we all went the exact same week every year, so they eventually became familiar faces), and it’s safe to say that our final year was our best ever. We accumulated quite an impressive group of friends—at least a dozen kids—and we’d all sit around the bonfire at night making s'mores while my father told scary stories, throwing bang snaps in an attempt to make each other jump or scream. We went parasailing that year with our next-door neighbors, the family we were friendliest with who had a daughter close to my age—it was an experience that was ridiculously picture-perfect. It was bittersweet to say goodbye to Lake George, but we were beginning to outgrow it and looking forward to bigger and better vacations … I hope to take my kids there someday.
1. Disney World | Florida
It’s odd, but I wasn’t impressed with Disney when I was a kid. My parents took me to Disney World back in the day, but at that time, I’d rather be spending my vacation swimming in the ocean or sitting around a campfire deep in the woods. Amusement parks just weren’t my thing, with the exception of Knoebels (my all-time favorite park). I didn’t fully appreciate Disney until my fiancée wanted to go back to one of her favorite childhood vacation spots when we were both well into our 20s. Something just clicked—good dining at Disney resorts and being completely immersed in a relaxing fantasyland of fun probably has something to do with it. We go back almost every year.
2. Outer Banks | North Carolina
I love the Outer Banks—from the upscale boardwalk of Duck to the towering sand dunes of Jockey’s Ridge—it has always been a favorite vacation spot. I especially like camping near the beach, even if the mosquitoes are killer. There is nothing like falling asleep in a tent listening to the sounds of the ocean with a belly full of crab that you caught earlier in the day.
3. Ocean City | Maryland
Another one of my favorite beach spots, even if a lot of my fondness is due to nostalgia. I still enjoy walking the boardwalk with all the cheesy T-shirt shops and arcades, but I especially like heading down during their late May restaurant week. You can find tons of great deals and basically live on scallops and Maryland Blue Crab day in and day out. It’s awesome. To get away from the grind, hiking Assateague National Park is also a really good time.
4. San Juan | Puerto Rico
When my fiancée finished grad school, we decided to head to the Caribbean to de-stress. Puerto Rico is an awesome vacation destination with pristine beaches, jungle waterfalls to swim in, and enough history to keep the geek in me happy. We wanted to stay away from “touristy” things, so we rented a car and went exploring. I highly recommend this approach to travel. The only thing I missed is the bioluminescent bay in Vieques, which just gives me an excuse to go back.
5. Hickory Run State Park | Pennsylvania
Hickory Run State Park in Carbon County is more of a day trip than a vacation spot, but I’ve spent many sunny summer days swimming and exploring there. It’s a wonderful getaway from the grind and a nice spot to camp overnight—even if it is a little heavy on the black bears.