Enjoy a Vacation Without Travel Costs
During holiday weekends and school breaks, Lisa Chappell's family often uses the time and money they would have spent on traveling to explore local attractions in the Triangle area. With the current economy, families may want to stay close to home this summer either to save money or because the parents are unable to take the time off work required for a larger vacation. A staycation is not simply staying home, but doing things that you might not normally make the time for or spend the money on.
Chappell, the mom of four girls, has found that since they save money on hotel and gas, they are able to have experiences during their staycations that they would not have been able to enjoy if they had traveled, such as going horseback riding.
Here are some ideas for a spending a few days in or near the Triangle based on typical family summer vacations.
Get wet with a beach staycation
Since swimming is a must for every beach vacation, head out to Jordan Lake or Falls Lake for an afternoon of swimming. At Falls Lake Recreation Area you can swim at Sandling Beach, Rolling View and Beaverdam. Other great options for swimming are the Ebenezer Church, Seaforth, Parker's Creek and White Oak Recreation Areas at Jordan Lake. There is a $6 fee per carload for each of these swimming areas. For more information and park hours, visit www.ncparks.gov and select the park you are interested in visiting.
To add some fun to your beach day, have a sand castle-building contest with your family and give out silly prizes to each person. For younger kids, pack some shells from a previous beach trip or buy shells at a craft store to put on the beach so they can collect shells. When you get home, make a picture frame to display photos of your day. Have your kids paint an unfinished wooden picture frame and then glue the shells onto the frame.
You can also watch fish and other sea creatures by heading to a pet store that carries fish or local fish store. At the Catch the Wind exhibit at the Museum of Life and Science in Durham, your kids can sail a miniature boat and learn how the wind affects sailing.
If you have just an hour or two and want to cool off, head to one of the play fountains in the area. Susan Furr likes to take her 4-year-old and 1-year-old to play in the fountains on the outside patio of the Triangle Town Center Mall Food Court in Raleigh. "They have a fun sprinkler area for children to run in and cool off," says Furr, who lives in Raleigh. There is also a play fountain located outside the N.C. Museum of Art in Raleigh.
Buy or borrow some yard water toys, like a Slip 'n' Slide or a small pool, to have a beach day in your own yard. Turn on the sprinkler and join your kids in the water. When everyone is water-logged, break out some water balloons or squirt guns. Set up a volleyball net and have play balloon volleyball instead of beach volleyball.
For a cool treat, make popsicles by pouring juice into small paper cups and putting them in the freezer. When the juice is slightly frozen, put popsicle sticks into the juice to make the popsicle and then tear off the paper when the popsicles are frozen.
Explore city life
Instead of heading to New York or Chicago for a taste of a big city, spend some time exploring city life in the Triangle. Since most city vacations start with a plane ride, head to the Observation Deck at the RDU Airport where you can watch planes land and take off while listening to pilots communicate with the control tower. There is small playground next to the deck, tables for a picnic and restrooms.
Since a favorite summer city activity is to take in a baseball game, watch one of the local minor league teams play during your city staycation. The Durham Bulls (www.durhambulls.com) play at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park and the Carolina Mudcats (www.gomudcats.com) play at Five County Stadium in Zebulon. Before you go to the ballpark, check out famous ballparks online, such as Camden Yards or Wrigley Field.
Since many cities offer unique transportation options, take a trolley ride of downtown Raleigh on a Saturday. The trolley ride lasts an hour and provides a narrated tour of areas such as Mordecai Historic Park, Glenwood South and City Market. Tickets for adults are $8, and kids age 7 through 17 are $4. There is no charge for kids 6 and younger.
If your kids are over 14 years old, take a Segway tour to explore downtown Raleigh. Triangle Segway (www.trianglesegway.com) offers tours from one to two hours long that range in price from $40 to $65 per person. Note that ages 14 to 17 must be accompanied by an adult.
Let loose with theme park fun
While there aren't any roller coasters in the Triangle, there are several theme parks within a few hours that could be a day trip or one-night trip, such as Carowinds in Charlotte and Kings Dominion north of Richmond, Va. Sonya Critzer, Cary mom of two teen boys, says that one of her family's favorite trips is to head to Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Va.
Jodi Woolard, branch sales manager at AAA Vacation in Raleigh, recommends families visit Wet 'n Wild Emerald Pointe in Greensboro to ride the water slides and relax on the Lazee River. Visit www.emeraldpointe.com for prices and hours. Emerald Pointe offers two children's areas with rides and pools for little ones that are not tall enough to ride the slides.
Closer to home, you can fill an afternoon theme-park style at Frankie's Fun Park in the Brier Creek area of Raleigh, centrally located for many Triangle families. In addition to mini golf and laser tag, kids can drive go-carts, ride bumper boats and go on the Drop Zone or try batting in the cages and climbing on play structures. Other play centers in the area offer activities ranging from skating to mini golf, batting cages and more.
No matter how you decide to spend your staycation this summer, make sure you take lots of pictures to document your fun and enjoy your time together as a family.
Jennifer Gregory lives in the Triangle with her husband, two kids and three dogs. They often have a staycation over holiday weekends where they go hiking at Umstead Park and canoeing on Falls Lake.
Quick Tips for Successful Staycations
* Have a family meeting to brainstorm activities or places your kids want to go and how you can modify them for close-to-home fun.
* Try to get in a vacation mindset during your staycation. Turn off your cell phone and refrain from checking e-mail as much as possible. Limit the chores you do and consider hiring a housecleaning service before your staycation so you won't feel compelled to clean.
* Consider checking into a hotel for the evening as a change of pace. Many area hotels offer an evening reception with snacks and breakfast in the morning.
* Think about splurging on something for the family that you can use during your staycation and in the future, such as beach chairs or a new board game that you have wanted to try.