SHIP OFF TO ALASKA
Glide past glaciers and pan for gold on a shore excursion. Early- or late-season Alaskan cruise departures can save you hundreds of dollars over midsummer sailings. Royal Caribbean (800/327-6700; www.royalcaribbean.com) has a seven-night Alaska cruise for two adults and two children starting May 31 on its Legend of the Seas that costs $700 less than the same trip on August 9. Ditto for the Amsterdam, a ship on the Holland America Line (800/426-0327; www.hollandamerica.com), where the saving is $1,106 for a Category H stateroom on a May 18 versus a July 27 sailing.
YOUR OWN CALIFORNIA SURF PAD
Ride the southern California waves, explore Catalina Island, hit Legoland. Through May, families can stay at Marriott's Newport Coast Villas, between Newport and Laguna beaches, at bargain rates (800/845-5279; www.vacationvillas.com). Before June 1, the nightly rate is $225 for a two-bedroom, two-bath unit with a full kitchen and washer/dryer. The complex has a fitness center and spa, three pools, and access to the adjacent Marriott resort's beach and tennis courts.
HOME BASE: JACKSON HOLE
For exhilarating mountain scenery and great hiking, head to Grand Teton National Park. This spring, you'll find off-season rates on spacious family accommodations in nearby Jackson Hole, Wyoming, just south of the park (and a short drive from Yellowstone). Through June 20, Jackson Hole Resort Lodging (307/733-3990; www.jhresortlodging.com) offers two-bedroom Teton Village condos for as low as $100 a night.
COLORADO SADDLES UP
What kid wouldn't love a ranch vacation?There are plenty to choose from in Colorado, and many have early-season discounts. At the King Mountain Ranch in Granby (800/476-5464; www.dude-ranch.com), a four-night stay for a family of four costs $3,720 in midsummer, but only $2,240 from May 19 through June 15. Rates include meals and horsing around.
UP THE LAZY RIVER
How's about a Tom Sawyer—style slice of Americana (with modern comforts)?Try a houseboat vacation on the Mississippi—you can save up to 35 percent if you go by early June. At Huck's Houseboat Rentals (800/359-3035; www.hucks.com) in La Crosse, Wisconsin, seven-day rentals that start at $3,466 in peak season (June 17—September 2) are available from $2,230 between May 1 and June 9, or $2,848 from June 10 through 16. An additional $200 upgrades you to an ultra-luxurious model with its own hot tub.
A TENNESSEE HILLS CABIN
For family explorations of eastern Tennessee attractions—Gatlinburg, Dollywood, Great Smoky Mountains National Park—consider renting your own fully furnished log cabin. This summer, rates for Heartland Cabin Rentals (800/836-9541; www.heartlandrentals.com) start at $110 a night for a one-bedroom, $150 for two bedrooms. The good news: the third night is half price, and the fourth night is free.
CHARLESTON WITH ME
Wild Dunes Resort (888/845-8926; www.wilddunes.com), a family retreat on a South Carolina barrier island, is 20 minutes by car from Charleston (and its great new aquarium). Wild Dunes has 17 tennis courts, two golf courses, and two miles of beach—and spring rates hold sway through June 7. Two-bedroom villa rentals start at $172; on June 8, a minimum rate of $234 kicks in, as does a seven-night minimum stay.
STILL A HELLUVA TOWN
Experience Manhattan like a real New Yorker: Rent your own place. A firm called A Hospitality Company (800/987-1235; www.hospitalityco.com) represents hundreds of apartments—many in doorman buildings—that are fully furnished and supplied with linens and towels. Rates start at $125 a night/$875 a week for a one-bedroom unit, $175 a night/$1,225 a week for two bedrooms.
AMERICA, TOOT TOOT
Amtrak (800/872-7245; www.amtrak.com) has a generous fare policy for families: one or two kids ages 2 to 15 can go for half price when traveling with an adult paying regular fare. Amtrak's Web site has even better limited-time-only deals on specific routes: we found a one-way price of $14.40 between Seattle and Portland, and $40.40 between Chicago and St. Paul.
Join the tin-can tourists. Cruise America (800/327-7799; www.cruiseamerica.com) rents RV's in four sizes, and prices are best before June 17. For instance, an intermediate vehicle—which sleeps up to six people—costs about $900 for a seven-night rental in the spring, or $1,200 in the summer, including 1,000 free miles. Pickup and drop-off is at one of the more than 200 Cruise America outposts.