Online sites offer a wealth of information about planning a trip with the grandchildren, but they are also sometimes overwhelming. There are thousands of travel websites, including giant trip-booking engines that corporate entities back, and single-author travel blogs.
Here are useful travel sites to visit when you're planning a trip.
This site focuses solely on family travel with firsthand resort reviews, listings of vacation promotions and discounts, and loads of solid travel advice in articles such as "How to Save on a Ski Trip" or "How to Book a Cruise."
Pros: The navigation of the site is first-rate; you can get to destination articles via region of the country (e.g., Northeast, Midwest) or via trip type (e.g., theme park or beach).
Cons: The focus is definitely on the United States, with a few Canadian, Caribbean, and Mexican resorts thrown in; there is no European coverage.
Founder Amie O'Shaughnessy is meticulous about the vacation accommodations she profiles on this site to ensure that each property is appropriate for families (e.g., room configurations for at least four people). Incredibly detailed reviews follow a particular format, so readers can compare apples to apples. Most properties are upscale.
Pros: Reviewer’s Favorite Features highlights the most appealing aspects of a property; Things Families Should Know points out any drawbacks.
Cons: Although the site includes information on North America, Central America, and the South Pacific, most of the reviews center on Europe.
I don’t book a hotel without going directly to TripAdvisor to find out its user reviews and ratings. Candid firsthand reports give me an idea of whether or not a hotel is appropriate for kids, the service is up to snuff, and the location works for my travel plans. Restaurants and attractions are reviewed here, too.
Pros: Each hotel is ranked in its city, so you can tell at a glance how it compares with others in the area.
Cons: Take strangers' opinions with a grain of salt; just because a hotel bed is "too hard" for one person, doesn’t mean it won’t work for another person.
This website is chock-full of deals and discounts on airfare, hotels, cruises, and vacation packages. Information is arranged according to destination, location, or travel type. For cream-of-the-crop travel deals, subscribe to the Top 20 Travel & Entertainment Deals newsletter, delivered via e-mail.
Pros: The staff's Test Booking Center confirms accuracy of any deal before it goes live online; Deals Near You show hotel discounts within driving distance.
Cons: Once a deal is published on Travelzoo, availability can go quickly (especially the Top 20), so if you see something you like, act fast.
This site is helpful when you're researching airfares; it allows you to track particular flights or itineraries, and get e-mail alerts when the price drops. If you've already purchased a ticket, register your flight number, dates of travel, and the price you paid; when the fare drops, you may be able to get a refund from the airline. New features now track frequent-flier-award seat availability, and hotel prices, too.
Pros: Since most airlines charge re-booking fees to reissue a ticket under a new price, Yapta calculates these fees and only alerts you when the decrease in fare exceeds the re-booking fee.
Cons: I received an $80 credit from United via Yapta, but I had to apply for a paper voucher by mail, which I could redeem only through a travel agent or at a United ticket counter. Some airlines, such as Frontier, don’t give credits.
Several mothers and fathers moderate this forum. The panelists have unusually detailed knowledge of Walt Disney World simply because they visit often with their children and love it. While Disney has "hired" them to answer questions on the forum; the only payment they receive is a free family trip to Disney World.
Pros: Each panelist has a detailed profile, so you can direct your question to a particular one, if you have children of a similar age or the like. The search-function and topics-listing help you find what you're looking for fast, including hotel info, ride details, and how to best celebrate a special occasion at the parks.
Cons: These panelists are not the official voice of Disney, instead, they offer only their opinions on vacation planning. For factually correct information and the party line, visit the official Disney website.
Under Cruise Styles, click on Family Cruises to find a vast amount of information about taking a cruise with kids. Read tips on traveling with teens, ideas for the most family-friendly shore excursions, and reports on vacations from members.
Pros: Sections on First-Time Cruisers are full of articles for people who are clueless about this mode of travel.
Cons: The Members' Forum is extremely active, but rife with varying opinions. Remember that cruising is subjective; you might hate toga parties and buffet lines, while others love them. Be gentle if you participate in the online bulletin boards.
Here are a few more of my favorite sites and blogs:
How well do you get along with your grandchild and other family members? Want to know if your personalities mesh?Find out here.