Whether you're looking for exciting outdoor adventures, historical tours, foodie activities, Amish encounters, or just want to relax and swim at a beautiful hotel in the quiet farm-filled rolling countryside of Pennsylvania, Lancaster County is the perfect destination for your next multigenerational family vacation. Seriously, from babies to grandparents, there are endless options here for everyone!
We've been going to Lancaster PA annually for 6 years, driving just 3 hours from NYC and now from NJ (our old getaway guides are listed at the bottom of this one). We just love the area and all if has to offer! So kick back and enjoy our highlights video from this summer's trip below (we brought my parents along for the ride this year for the first time) and read on for more details and links, which we hope will be very helpful in planning your own family's visit!!
DISCLAIMER: We were not paid but were provided free tickets, accommodation and meals in exchange for inclusion in our roundup. All thoughts and opinions are my own and completely unbiased :) HUGE thank you to our partners on this trip, including Cartoon Network Hotel, Dutch Wonderland, Turkey Hill Experience, Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre, The Amish Village, Smokehouse BBQ & Brews, and Discover Lancaster - the latter which is a GREAT resource when planning your visit, definitely check out their website, request a visitor's guide, and/or stop by their visitor's center!!
WHERE TO STAY!
Cartoon Network Hotel is the ultimate in kitsch meets cool accommoddations, and you can't beat the location if planning to go to Dutch Wonderland. You can literally walk from the hotel to the theme park and save the DW $22 parking fee (not to mention they have discounted DW tickets for hotel guests and you could even go back to the hotel for a couple hours to rest or let your toddler nap in the room). They have modern and fun cartoon-themed rooms, VR / arcade / and other great activities for kids down in the lobby, indoor and (seasonal) outdoor pools & splash zone, on-site restaurant and coffee shop (the latter turns into a bar at night), gift shop, and more!
This was our 2nd time being hosted by Cartoon Network and we just love it there! Last time we stayed in the Steven Universe Dream Suite and this time we got the Ben 10 Suite (watch the room tours below). SO SO SO thoughtfully designed with great art work, fun wall paper and bedding, and they give you tremendous space with suites featuring a primary bedroom and bathroom, living room and dining area with kitchenette, and a kids' area with 2 bunk beds (each bed has its own TV which is 1,000% my kids' favorite feature in the hotel). Cartoon Network Hotel is hands down my #1 hotel recommendation for families visiting Lancaster. It's such a fun spot, both kids and adults will love it!
BOOK YOUR STAY:
You can book a 384sqft King, Double, or Family room for 2-4 people (from about $147/night) on any site including Kayak, Booking.com, Priceline, Expedia, Hotels.com, etc. But if you have more than 4 people (like my family) you'll want to book a Dream Suite (max 6 or 8 people depending on the suite, from $399/night) directly on CartoonNetwork.com.
WHAT TO DO!
We've been visiting Dutch Wonderland annually since our twins were just 2 years old (when I was first invited to join their Influencer Ambassador Program) and we always have THE BEST TIME!!! It's so fun to back year after year and see them grow taller (see the photos above!) and enjoy different rides and activities each time. Last summer, my oldest kiddo (at 9 years old) was finally tall enough to ride every big ride in the park, which was a really exciting day for him because he finally got to go on their thrilling wooden Kingdom Coaster! This year? He rode it FOUR TIMES (and we all rode my favorite coaster, Merlin's Mayhem) THREE TIMES!
Awarded the Golden Ticket for Best Family Park by Amusement Magazine in 2019, 2021, and 2022, Dutch Wonderland celebrated its 60th Birthday this year! We brought my parents along for the first time this year and they thoroughly enjoyed many of the rides, and while we were off getting soaking wet in Duke's Lagoon and water slides, they explored the gentler rides such as Sky Ride, Monorail, and Turnpike.
While they have top notch big kid/adult coasters, little kid rides, animatronic Dinosaur "island", really exciting (and hilarious) diving shows, and all that fun, they're never crazy crowded like Disney. Most rides have no wait at all. I think the Double Splash Flume was the only time we waited more than 10 minutes in a line this trip! And there were a few that we rode 2-3 times in a row because there were no lines! Can't beat that at a theme park!
Summer hours are generally 11am-7pm daily from beginning of June through August with weekend hours here and there throughout the year including special Halloween Haunting and Winter Wonderland events. General admission $69.99 but they seem to always have some discounts available (currently an "end of summer" 35% off online), and kiddos under 3 years old are always FREE! Check their calendar and current discounts before booking your trip!
This was our second time attending one of the children's theatre lunches at Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre and it was just as wonderful as last year's experience!! We got there around 11:30 to get our tickets, the buffet lunch opened at about 11:45. I can't speak of the dinner shows, but the lunch shows for kids has very KID FRIENDLY food i.e. things like chicken nuggets and corn dogs, cup cakes etc. There is a good salad bar, and coffee :) Staff is very quick to keep food available, clear your plates, refill drinks. Overall we enjoyed the food and it's a fun part of the experience - I definitely recommend getting the lunch + show ticket rather than just the show.
You continue sitting at your table during the show which started at around 12:45. They chairs are padded and comfortable, we simply turned them to face the stage so our necks wouldn't give us trouble. There was an intermission, which was appreciated since my kids had been drinking their pink lemonade non-stop!
The sound, the singing, the dancing, the set, the acting - was all top notch! Just terrific performances by all!! This was a summer show and I believe involved the children's theatre camp program, so had some younger actors included, as young as 11!! They all did so great, we just loved it!!
After the show, and I'm not sure if this is for every show or not, but they had a Q&A on the stage so kids (and adults) could ask questions to the cast, and after that the cast came out to the lobby and outside so you could take photos and talk to them. SO COOL! My kids, myself, my husband, and my parents all just absolutely loved this entire experience.
Can't recommend this place highly enough, whether you live in the area or just come for vacation like we do every year!! You can find their main theater 2023 schedule here (including Guys & Dolls, Escape to Margaritaville, and A Christmas Carol), 2024 schedule here (including Mousetrap, The Addams Family, Ragtime the Musical, The Full Monty, The Sound of Music, Jersey Boys, Hairspray, and White Christmas), and their children's theater schedule here (including Santa Claus the Musical, The Rainbow Fish Musical, The Sponge Bob Musical (Youth Edition), and Frozen Jr.)
You can't come to Lancaster and not do at least one Amish-centric activity or tour, but there are SO many to choose from! So, let me make it easy for you in saying The Amish Village is a GREAT one!! We're grateful to Discover Lancaster for coordinating tickets for us to showcase their Amish Village and Farmhouse Tour.
Our guide was so informative, teaching us about Amish life, culture, and religion as she guided us through an old Amish home. One thing that really stuck with me was the meaning I never realized about their women's clothing! At 16 years old, girls are given a white apron to wear to show they are of age to start dating (they encourage dating for a full 2 years before marriage since divorce is verboten). Once married, they're given a black apron to show they're married, since they don't wear any jewelry, including wedding rings or flashy buttons. So interesting!!
It was also fascinating to learn they do use some electricity, just nothing that ties them to a grid. So, utilizing propane gas and hooking up modern appliances to lawn mower motors for example, are quite popular. As are using peacocks as alarm systems, ha! Who knew, they're REALLY LOUD (watch the video!!) After the tour of the house we wandered around the property where they have some lots of animals, an Amish school house, wagons to climb into, and some yummy treats - I highly recommend getting some homemade whoopie pies!!
If you have time, you may want to get a more extensive tour such as their Premium Package Tour that includes a 90 minute narrated bus ride! See ticket and tour options here!
If you love ice cream, Turkey Hill Experience is a MUST DO. When they say that unlimited ice cream samples are included with admission, it's no joke. But they're not samples, they're FULL CUPS, and you can go back for as many as you want, of whatever flavor(s) omgggggg so good!!! Also, unlimited samples of a wide selection of teas and lemonades. Crazy thing is, the ice cream wasn't even the favorite part for my kids!!! It was all of the interactive activities like decorating their own ice cream containers, and filming their own Turkey Hill commercial using a teleprompter, microphone and green screen!!
For me?? It was the Taste Lab where we were schooled about all things ice cream and Turkey Hill and made our own ice cream with a bazillion flavorings, sauces, and mix ins!!! This place was such a fun stop, I can't believe we've been to Lancaster so many times and had never been here before!! General admission is $13.50 but you should definitely get the combo ticket with Taste Lab ($22.50). And be sure to give yourself at least 2 hours to enjoy it all (and make space to get down enough ice cream LOL).
WHERE TO EAT!
Smokehouse BBQ & Brews
Located in a serene area of Lancaster County on the 10 acre Plain & Fancy Farm, Smokehouse BBQ & Brews is a must for BBQ lovers, and really convenient if taking Aaron & Jessica's Amish Buggy Rides or visiting The Amish Experience - they're all on the same property! If their menu doesn't have you drooling, I don't know what will. We were treated to the "create your own platter" and it did not disappoint. I can honestly say, the BEST BBQ OF MY LIFE. So so good! My kids are extremely picky and they were eating off my plate after devouring their kids meals. I couldn't believe it! Don't forget to save space for Shoofly Pie, a Lancaster County favorite!
Whether or not you're staying at Cartoon Network Hotel, if your kids love cartoons or Cartoon Network, this is worth a stop for dinner. Call ahead and see if you can request one of the "Dream Cube" pods, they're super fun for kids!! The dinner menu is not super extensive, but you've got the kid-friendly staples and for adults things like tangy chicken wrap and burger, and some great deserts too! Everyone leaves happy! And if you're lucky, you may get a meet & greet with Gumball or another character while you're there!
OTHER GREAT RESTAURANTS:
MORE FUN ACTIVITIES:
INDOOR ACTIVITIES (Rainy Day Backups):
See and read more in our past Lancaster family vacation guides:
The breathtaking four diamond Crystal Springs Resort in northwestern New Jersey is THE spot for the ultimate high end luxury vacation. From golfing and spa treatments to gourmet dining and tastings in a $10 million value wine cellar, you can really go all out for a destination wedding, girls getaway, or family reunion. You may be thinking Crystal Springs is out of reach for your family, but think again. I'm going to show you how Crystal Springs can be your perfect multigenerational family vacation, even on a budget!! Watch my highlights video from our summer 2023 hosted stay below, and read on for my tips and tricks for enjoying paradise, without even leaving NY/NJ!!
If your budget has no limit, go ahead and book 1-2 weeks in a huge suite (or house) and get excited to enjoy ALL the amenities without a second thought. Massages at Elements Spa, and tons of fee-based amazing activities like rock climbing, teddy bear stuffing, mixology class, 3 or 7-course Chef's Tasting menu at the adult-only Restaurant Latour, a private goat yoga class, tee time one of their 6 golf courses... sky's the limit!
If you're like the rest of us, you may need to justify vacation expenses and feel like you got as much as possible for your hard earned money. And I'm so excited to be the one to tell you, Crystal Springs has SOOOOooooo many free activities and amenities, if you plan your trip well, you will feel like you got an incredible deal, lived like the rich and famous, and come home with incredible memories (and photos)! Let's get to it!!
1. Book a Suite
I know I know, a suite doesn't exactly scream "budget friendly" but hear me out! For less than $100 extra per night you can upgrade from a standard room to a studio suite, and get yourself a full kitchen (no microwave but it has an oven, fridge, stovetop, coffee maker, and dishwasher), with dining table and sleeper sofa! If bringing kids, I highly recommend leveling up to a one or two bedroom suite - kids can watch TV or play quietly in their room while you sleep in. Now THAT'S how to vacation... so you don't get home and need a vacation after your vacation!!
2. Breakfast Credit
All rooms and suites come with $40 breakfast credit per night, and breakfast at Crystal Tavern is delicioussss!!! From french toast and fritata to acai bowls and cereal, you'll put that breakfast credit to good use!!
3. Indoor & Outdoor Pools
With 7 beautiful indoor and outdoor pools and hot tubs at Grand Cascades and Minerals, swimming is probably the favorite activity for both myself and my kids at Crystal Springs, year round, and it's included with your stay!!
The 10,000sqft Biosphere indoor pool complex at Grand Cascades is absolutely stunning. You feel like you're in the tropics, surrounded by palms. With a fun water slide, aquarium, waterfalls, and a little cafe with snacks, gelato, and more. Just outside you'll find a swim out heated pool, another pool, and a life size chess board. So fun!! Do note: the German Foiltec roofing material allows nearly 100% light transmission, so you'll still want to use sunblock** and/or UPF swimwear** (**as an Amazon Associate, I receive commission from purchases made after clicking those links).
At the far end of Grand Cascades, past Crystal Tavern, you'll find the gorgeous (unheated!!) Vista 180 pool complex featuring an infinity pool looking over the gorgeous Appalachian mountains, a fun swirling whirl pool, waterslide, and 180* Cafe for snacks and cocktails!
Just 3 miles from Grand Cascades you'll find Minerals Resort, and you are free to use their amazing indoor and outdoor pools as well, which includes a cliff jump outside, underwater aquarium inside, and an outdoor splash pad!
Some important things to keep in mind regarding pools at Crystal Springs:
4. Free Activities
There are SO many free activities to do at Crystal Springs during your stay, just check their event calendar here for things like petting zoo, glow golf, movie nights, marshmallow roasting, self-guided hiking, wine cellar tours, scavenger hunt, koi fish feeding, outdoor game deck (foosball, pool, and ping pong), splash yard games, and more!! And don't forget, guests can also utilize the Minerals Sports Complex gym and attend classes for free - see the gym schedule here!! We're talking aerial yoga, bungee floating, spin, barre, Zumba, you name it! There are also endless fee-based activities if budget allows, like stuffed animal building, archery, clay shooting, golf, mixology class, paint and sip, VR games, IWall Exergaming, rock climbing, etc.
5. BYO Snacks, Booze, & Food
While delicious and worth a splurge IMO, food and alcohol bills can really add up when utilizing restaurant dining exclusively. If you're on a budget, I've got a great tip for you here! Wine Country, Walmart, and ShopRite of Franklin are just 4 miles away, so you can load up on snacks, booze, and groceries! There are also several fast food options as well as a pizzeria in that one complex, in case you're looking for quick and cheap :)
And don't forget, you do get $40 breakfast credit per night, so definitely use that! And you can find relatively affordable (and quick) grab and go options like $10-$16 sandwiches and salads, as well as fruit, pastries, popcorn and more in the coffee shop on both Grand Cascades and Minerals Resorts.
If you have the budget, you should definitely have a meal at each of the restaurants at Minerals and Grand Cascades. Restaurant Latour is definitely my favorite, absolute decadence, for adults only, get a babysitter and have an unforgettable dining experience here!! I love Crystal Tavern, too, with a great variety of food and prices to choose from whether breakfast, lunch or dinner. Gorgeous views as well! Springs Bistro is also delicious, their pasta and pizza are *chef's kiss*!! Kite's Restaurant, over at Minerals, is more casual and never disappoints! We've been to Crystal Springs 4 times but still haven't had a chance to dine at Chef's Garden, an al-fresco garden to table experience, because it's not open daily (check the schedule and go if possible!!)
6. Come Early, Stay Late
I'll be honest, their 4pm check-in is painfully late, but you can come as early as noon and start enjoying all the fun on the property! Because both indoor pools have locker rooms and free lockers, you can even utilize the pools before check-in and after checkout giving you 2 FULL DAYS of fun with a 1 night stay, or 3 full days with a 2 night stay, which is our favorite bang-for-your-buck length of stay... or "staycation" if you're fairly local like we are! Ah-may-zing!!
7. Drive and Save!!
When traveling to a far away city or exciting location, you probably won't be spending much time at the hotel, so you can scrimp on accommodation and save your budget for other things such as tours, flights, and food! But when you come to Crystal Springs, the hotel IS the destination. It has EVERYTHING, with plenty of included activities to fill your entire day!
If you're in the TriState area you won't even have to worry about the cost of flights, the anxiety over delays and cancellations and whether or not they'll charge you for a carry-on, and you won't be spending half the day traveling!! Crystal Springs Resort is just a beautiful 1 hour drive from NYC, making it the perfect 1 or 2 night "staycation" getaway if you're short on time or budget, of course a week would be magical!! And... this is a "Condo Hotel" meaning you can actually buy a unit and they'll rent it out for you! I've been considering this for a while... sounds amazing!!!
8. Buy a Day Pass
A day pass won't make sense financially for a big family, but if you're coming up solo or with a few friends just for the day, it may be worthwhile to consider! Shop for Day Passes and other activity gift cards here!
Have any questions about Crystal Springs?? We've been FOUR TIMES (2019 & 2023 in summer with kids, 2021 in winter with kids, and 2020 on a "momcation") so I'm happy to answer any questions!!!
Here are some other posts we think you'll enjoy:
I put in a LOT of time researching for our spring break Arizona family vacation, and am putting even more time into publishing it so you can save time and quickly copycat for your own family trip! Where to stay, what to see, how to save money here and there, I've got it all, so let's go!!! Watch our super fun highlights videos below and keep reading for links, photos, and more details!
Here's our itinerary for 1 week in Arizona. I wanted to make sure to hit our "must see" spots but leave it very relaxed and flexible. I didn't want to be driving LONG distances daily (especially with 2 kids who get car sick), or changing hotels daily, so this worked out really well for us!!
Flying - we flew all day thanks to the 6 hour layover in Atlanta (which went super fast, we did lots of fun explorations of the airport running through the long terminals with art exhibitions and riding the Plane Train), I think it was a 19 hour travel day, arriving at PHX at 10pm and going straight to the hotel, Hyatt Place Phoenix Tempe Airport. They had free parking, free airport shuttle (check the hours), pool, and a great free hot breakfast. Our room had 2 queens and a pull out sofa, the size we always look for as a family of 5 not wanting to book 2 separate rooms.
With over 50,000 plants on 140 acres, we found Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix to be THE BEST way to kick off our Arizona vacation. I reached out and they were kind enough to provide us tickets in exchange for our review, but full honesty, we were 1,000% blown away and in love with the place!!! We just couldn't get over all the different kinds of cacti, and the volunteers were so helpful!! It got quite hot by midday so I recommend going when they first open in the morning. Also, go to the butterfly exhibit when it first opens - we waited til the end of our visit around 11am and the line was too long and sadly we gave up. They have water fountains allllll over so you don't have to bother lugging water bottles around, just stop for a few sips at each fountain. Also, it's incredibly stroller friendly, great paved paths throughout! A must-visit on your trip to Phoenix!!
Before heading out of Phoenix, we stopped by the super cute Scottsdale nabe for lunch and to walk around for about an hour (couple of photos below), then hit the road to our "long stay" hotel, Verde Ranch RV Resort located 1.5 hours north in Camp Verde. We checked in, unloaded the car, and quickly hit the nearby supermarket and CVS to buy breakfast and barbecue food, and sunblock since we packed so lightly we couldn't bring any.
After researching centrally located hotels to all the hot spots we wanted to visit, I reached out to Verde Ranch RV Resort who was gracious enough to provide us with a Deluxe Cabin for 5 nights in exchange for our review. It was an ABSOLUTELY amazing resort, and very budget-friendly, that I highly recommend!!! We loved our cabin, which had a comfy pull out sofa for Kenzo, a private primary bedroom for Ryoji and myself, and a little loft for the twins! AC, shower, full kitchen (but no oven or dishwasher), picnic table and gas grill, parking spot, it was simply perfection!! Huge bonus is that it comes with linens and towels, so if you're flying like us, no worries there!
They have a great pool with hot tubs, ping pong, corn hole, a beautiful clubhouse with pool table and shuffle board, a play ground, pickle ball, and lots of events going on! There's even a new laundry room if you need. We saved a lot of money by staying here, cooking some meals, and really enjoyed having an actual "house" where we didn't have to be as stressed about kids being loud and running around. And it's pretty conveniently located as a base for endless day trips - 90 minutes to Phoenix, 40 minutes to Sedona, 2.5hrs to Grand Canyon, 10 minutes to Montezuma's Castle! So whether you have an RV to park, or want to level up with a Cabin, a glamping tent (see my tour of one on IG here), or even a super unique Conestoga Wagon (see my tour of one on IG here), definitely check out Verde Ranch RV Resort!
Day trip to Sedona (40min drive). First stop was the visitor center, they were VERY helpful with maps and suggesting the best kid-friendly hiking trails and views. Parking can be tough, go early in the day and consider utilizing their free shuttle to get around. For example, we went to Chapel of the Holy Cross and could only drive by, in heavy traffic, couldn't actually park to get out of the car. Whomp whomp. We also had trouble finding parking but eventually did at beautiful Tlaquepaque Arts & Shopping Village, where we had lunch at Oak Creek Brewery & Grill (got 10% off with a card from the visitor center) with a gorgeous view of the red rocks! Sedona is just a breathtaking area with a super cute town - I may shamefully have proclaimed "this looks like Disneyworld" LOL!!
Day trip to Grand Canyon (2.5 hr drive). We went to the south rim, as it was the closest. Parked and started at Mather Point, walked along to the next shuttle spot, took shuttle back to the car. Were there probably 2-3 hours. Some may want more time but for us, it was enough to take it all in. The paths were paved and stroller friendly, set back quite a bit from the edge with trees and what not so it felt pretty safe. Popular view points had nice rails which also helped with me so nervous about the kids falling over LOL! Though there are plenty of riskier spots, so if you have a runner, consider a stroller or leash or just never stop holding hands. It's not for the faint of heart I'll tell you that!!
On the drive home we stopped in Williams for lunch (Route 66 super kitschy town) and historic downtown Flagstaff for dinner, and caught a gorgeous sunset on the mountains!
Local day - Montezuma's Castle, Cliff Castle Casino for lunch (they have $12/hr/kid child care, bowling, Johnny Rockets and more), and hotel pool in afternoon.
This was a flex day we had nothing special planned, so we decided to go to Sedona again - we didn't get enough of it the first time! More specifically hiking at Fay Canyon and seeing the breathtaking view from Sedona Airport Overlook. Then, of course, hotel pool in the afternoon.
Checked out and headed back to Phoenix. Got early check in at Hilton Phoenix Resort at the Peak so we could use their River Ranch waterpark ALLLLLL DAYYYYYYyyyyyy. With a huge waterslide and lazy river, a couple of bathwater warm pools, it was heaven!! Dinner at on-site Hole in the Wall restaurant which was really delicious!!
Fly home! We had a 6am flight so ouch, it was a 3am wakeup and 17 hour travel day!
Noteworthy TIPS for this trip:
1. Stay on eastern time if going for a week or less, especially in warmer months. It'll help you wake early and get the most out of the cooler morning hours. We woke at 5 or 6am and were out hiking by 8 or 9am, and in bed around 7-8pm LOL! No shame!! Don't fight the jet lag, let it help you!
2. Find a balance of kid-focused and family / parent-focused activities. Our kids couldn't have cared less about hiking and all the spots that made mine and my husband's eyes go gaga over the natural beauty. They just wanted to go to the pool, or be on screens. You need to find a balance so everyone has something to look forward to, throughout the day and the trip.
3. Don't over extend yourself. Plan for down time, have a flex day or two built in in case someone gets sick, and have backups ready. Sure you could have a different national park scheduled for every day of the week, but you're going to be totally exhausted and stressed out. You can't see everything. Pick a couple of must sees and just enjoy your vacation!
4. Have a 4th grader? Print out the Every Kid Outdoors Pass and get free entrance for your whole family at all national parks!! We saved about $85 with free entrance to Grand Canyon and Montezuma's Castle!
5. Book a cabin or hotel that allows you to cook in the kitchen and grill outdoors, you can save a lot of time and money this way, not to mention it's healthier. We ate breakfast in our cabin's kitchen, had lunch out on the go, and had a combo of restaurant and home grilling dinners. Was really nice to have options!
6. Don't try to be frugal skipping a night at a hotel by doing a red eye flight with kids. If going to Asia you can't avoid it, but cross country?? Just. Say. No. Spend a whole day flying if budget doesn't allow for a direct flight, but get a good night sleep in a real bed!! Everyone will be in better moods. Trust me!!
7. Packing is difficult... it's desert which means DRASTIC change in evening and daytime temperatures. And while Phoenix could be warm, Grand Canyon could be snowing. We were there mid April and it was 40's over night and 80's during the day. By 10am we didn't need jackets or cardigans and it was mostly shorts and t-shirt weather. I will go on a limb and say spring is the BEST time of year to go. They had more snow and rain than typical this winter so we are told the flowers were blooming more than usual and they were absolutely spectacular!
8. Utilize these sites and apps to research trips & save money (* denotes affiliate link - I earn commission through purchases made):
Nearby spots we didn't have time for but you may want to consider:
Further away if you have time...
How to Save Money on Flights
If you have tons of miles, or a huge budget, you can just skip over this section. If you are trying to save money on flights, it may take some time and effort but it will pay off (pun intended). I was seeing crazy high prices, over $500 per person. But after playing around with dates extensively, I found this random combination through Frontier that gave us a really good price. I literally had to search every combination of days until it popped up, by chance, so try this yourself, or get a great travel agent!!
We ended up paying about $1300 (including the $99 annual discount club fee and 1 checked bag fee) round trip for our family of 5 from NYC to Phoenix, though we did have 1 stopover with a 6 hour layover, each way, it was worth the money saved!! There are some risks flying with budget airliners like Frontier and Spirit. The biggest concern is they have a limited schedule and no alliance with other carriers, so if you miss a flight or the flight gets canceled, you are just out of luck because it's going to be difficult to get another flight that day, or even the next day, especially if you have a big family like ours. Still, when you look at getting tickets for half the price as other carriers, sometimes it's just worth the risk, and usually it all ends up just fine (our trip was 100% smooth this time with Frontier, as well as last year with Spirit).
To save money with baggage fees, we packed very lightly, paying for 1 checked bag for the family (has to be under 40 pounds) and no "carry ons". We each carried a small backpack "personal item" with just the essentials (kids' Mifold booster seats, water bottles, snacks, tablet, book, change of clothes) - be careful here they are VERY strict with the size of your "personal item" and will charge a HUGE fee if it doesn't fit into the little box to test the size at the gate. We did not pay for assigned seats but got lucky with them assigning us in sets of 2 and 3 so no kids were seated without adults (but we did see flight attendants moving people around to get other families together, so they will try to help you but there's only so much they can do if passengers refuse to move around). If you have young children, you may want to splurge here. For us, we risked it and lucked out. We DID buy Allianz travel insurance, I think about $125 for the whole trip, worth it IMO to cover cancellations, interruptions, lost baggage, etc etc.
MORE TRAVEL IDEAS HERE!!!
Disclaimer: We were provided our stay free in exchange for sharing our experience with you. However, below are our honest experiences and unbiased opinions - we TRULY love love love Crystal Springs!!
Crystal Springs Resort in New Jersey is one of my all time favorite family-friendly vacation spots in the Tri-State area! I've been there twice before: as a family in the summer of 2019 and as a #momcation with one of my best mom friends in February 2020 (just before Covid came to town). Put simply, this place NEVER disappoints. From the tropical indoor Biosphere pool to the delicious dining options to unique activities like puppy and goat yoga!!
So, when we were invited back recently for a hosted stay in exchange for sharing with you all what it's like to vacation at Crystal Springs during the pandemic, I jumped at the chance! Well, I put on my mask and jumped from a socially safe distance, that is! Ha!
Check out our highlights videos from our 1-night mini getaway at Crystal Springs, including our outing to nearby Mountain Creek for Snow Tubing, and keep reading for more details and photos of our time at Crystal Springs and what you can expect regarding pandemic safety!!
Crystal Springs is definitely making safety a priority, while still providing top notch service, activities, and dining experiences! If you've been before, you'll notice subtle changes related to pandemic safety, which are outlined in their COVID-19 Statement, and I'll go over the ones that stood out to me below:
Watch the highlights videos from our previous two vacations at Crystal Springs, pre-pandemic:
Living carless in Brooklyn has its perks. We save tons on gas and parking, and I get great exercise pushing 3 kids in a stroller 4 miles a day! But sometimes, it's nice to have a car. Really really nice!!
While planning our recent family vacation (stay tuned for my Lancaster Getaway Guide!), I reached out to DriveShop to borrow a car for our road trip. I told them I needed a car that could fit our family of 5 (including 3 kids in car seats) as well as our luggage and a double stroller. Their recommendation? The Mazda CX-9. And after spending the better part of the last week with it, I can say in full honesty that it is an AWESOME car and I can't recommend it highly enough for large families such as ours. Keep reading for some of the features we fell in love with!!
7 SEATER SUV & LARGE TRUNK
The 2017 Mazda CX-9 is a seven passenger SUV: driver and passenger in the front row bucket seats, 3 seats across in the second row, and 2 seats in the third back row - all 7 seats have 3-point seat belts. The back row doesn't have as much leg room, so I really wouldn't recommend using it on a regular basis for adults, but it would be a good spot for 1 or 2 car seats or older kids. We chose instead to fold the back row down (really quick and easy - you can fold down one or both seats!!) to create a huge trunk space that had no problem fitting our large suitcase, double wide stroller, and tons of other "necessities" for our trip.
Related Article: The BEST Double Umbrella Stroller - Joovy TwinGroove Ultralight
FITS 3 CAR SEATS ACROSS
In the second row, we were able to fit 3 kids across using two Combi Coccoro car seats on each side for our toddler twins (using the easy LATCH system), and our 4 year old in the middle in his RideSafer Travel Vest. Specs say 57.4" hip room in the second row, so if you have car seats that are under 19" wide each, you should be able to fit 3 across. For example, 3 Clek Foonfs or Diono Radians or Combi Coccoros should be an easy fit.
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INFOTAINMENT SCREEN & 2 USB INPUTS
There are 2 USB inputs in the middle front arm rest console - we found these really handy for charging our phones on the go! It even worked to have a phone plugged in while sitting up on the dash so we could use our phone's GPS!
There's also a large screen in the center of the dash you can control via touch screen or with dials between the driver and passenger. We mainly used it for XM radio and the backup assist video camera.
3 ZONE CLIMAGE CONTROL
This was great as we could control left, right, and back to be different temperatures. However, my son quickly found out he could control his temperature with his foot by kicking in front of him... he kept turning the heat up to the 80s and then screaming out "HOT HOT HOT!!!!!!" hahahaha. There's probably a way to lock it, but we never took the time to figure it out... definitely something you'll want to figure out if you'll have a child in the middle seat!
KEYLESS ENTRY & START
When you're carrying a sleeping child and a diaper bag, the last thing you want to do is dig through your bag to find your car keys. I can now speak from experience. If you have the key in your bag, you simply open the door - it unlocks for you. So freaking amazing!!! Once you have everyone in the car and buckled in, just start the car with the push of the button, leave the keys lost in the bottom of your diaper bag!!
So, a pretty amazing car!! A fabulous seven passenger SUV and a great option for families of 4 - 7!! MSRP starts at $31,520 and it averages around 24 miles per gallon. You can read more about the CX-9 on Mazda's website.
Suffice it to say, we are in love. We were not planning on buying a car, and it won't be happening in the near future, but driving this puppy around really got us talking about it. Having a car that easily fits the whole family and all of your, ahem, stuff, sure can make life easier!!
Do you have a Mazda CX-9 or have you taken one for a spin? Do you have a car you recommend for large families?? Leave a comment below, I'd love to hear your thoughts and advice!!
Disclaimer: I'm no sellout guys! Though I was provided this car by DriveShop for a week in exchange for my honest review, all thoughts and opinions are my own and completely unbiased.
I'm a NYC metro area mom blogger living in NJ with my Japanese husband & our 3 kids (twins plus 1), focusing on fun and honest product and travel reviews, saving moms time finding the best for their families! Find what you need in the menu bar or search section above!