While their Brooklyn neighbors shoveled snow and sat in airports over Christmas, the Belfreys lathered on the SPF. Unfazed by the news that 49 of 50 states had snow, the family contentedly spent their December vacation on their paddleboards, cruising the 71-degree water in Duck Key, FL.
Winter 2010–2011 has not been kind to the United States. Record snowfalls have pummeled several snow-hearty cities like Boston and New York. And U.S. airports cancelled more than 10,000 flights in December. The worst part? It’s only six weeks into winter. Who doesn’t want to escape the tundra for a sunny adventure?
The Belfreys chose their vacation spot wisely. The one state not touched by Snowpocalypse was Florida. The Sunshine State’s image as a theme park mecca and God’s Waiting Room is slowly yielding way to a wallet-and-eco-friendly adventure destination that’s easy to access. But the Keys aren’t the only warm spot in Florida. With 228 days of annual sunshine and average winter temps in the mid 70s, Central Florida ranks highly among family adventure travelers seeking an out-of-the-ordinary experience. Surprisingly, Central Florida is home to the world’s largest concentration of freshwater springs, not to mention opportunities for diving with dolphins, kayaking over gators, snorkeling among manatees, and more.
“Adventure travel has been growing in popularity because it appeals to all ages and is something families can do together,” says Tom Armstrong from Tauck Operators, whose family-adventure-oriented Bridges Trips are the fastest growing in its portfolio. “Everyone feels a real sense of shared accomplishment and bonding.”
While families have begun acting more like teams (some even taking advantage of hotels’ corporate team-building activities), local tour operators have upped the ante and increased the adrenaline factor for family travel, a genre that no longer suggests a sanitized encounter.
California and Arizona desert jeep tours have become full-fledged safaris that involve robust hikes with opportunities to identify native animals and study ancient petroglyphs. And canopy ziplines are being installed at family-friendly destinations from Yeehaw Junction, FL, to Mendocino County, CA. Off-roading, rock climbing, snorkeling, and eco-touring have also become great ways for families to discover a new dimension of destinations they might have overlooked years ago.
Finally, the family vacation is cool. And you don’t need to be the Swiss Family Robinson to make an adventure out of it.