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A grand time for less than a grand: three fun family vacations for less than $1,000.

Whisking the family off for a fall break is a very affordable notion. For many winter and summer destinations, the fall months up to the third week of December are considered value or off-peak season. The key to finding an affordable trip is to plan and be flexible in making arrangements.

To get the most mileage from your vacation dollar, consider a destination within a day's drive from your home. Then, shop for a land package that includes family-style lodging, meals and admission to or coupons for attractions.

Check into bus and train accessibility to your destination. Amtrak, Greyhound/Trailways and other tour-bus companies can often arrange family packages to major destinations around the country. Determine whether you'll need a rental car once you arrive. In some resort areas where there are many attractions, a rental car can be included in the package price.

Most resorts are chock-full of activities or are within walking distance of other attractions and may offer free round-trip shuttle service, eliminating the need for a car. And there's always public transportation, usually cheap and efficient in most U.S. cites.

In the interest of time, you may just have to fly, in which case you should purchase airline tickets at least 21 days in advance to get the lowest price. Be sure to ask about specials on popular routes or air/land packages offered by the airline or resort.

The other major expense for family travel is lodging. Families can stretch their budget by choosing accommodations that have kitchen facilities or all-suite hotels that offer microwaves or free breakfast to cut the cost of meals.

Lastly, check with church and social organizations that may offer getaways over the Thanksgiving weekend. These offerings are likely to be affordable, since they take advantage of group rates. You may even want to get your own small group of 15 or 120 people - four to five families - together and get a travel agent to make the arrangements. Even air fares quality for group rates at that number.

Below are three popular destinations and packages that cost about $1,000 for a family of four (two adults and two children).

Capital Splendor

Autumn, when the crowds are thin and the weather fair, is a splendid season to visit the nation's capital. Since the city does most of its business during the week, many people drive to Washington, D.C., on the weekend to take advantage of very attractive rates offered by even the most opulent city hotels. Washington makes a great family vacation, too, because admission to the country's most celebrated monuments and museums - located within walking distance or a short Metro ride from one another - is free.

Before heading to D.C. write your representative or senator (representative or senator's name, c/o U.S. House of Representatives or U.S. Senate, Washington, DC 20510) at least six weeks in advance of your trip to request VIP passes to the most popular attractions. Each lawmaker receives a weekly allotment of passes for visiting constituents to take special VIP tours of the White House, the U.S. Capitol, the Supreme Court, Federal Bureau of Investigation, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Library of Congress and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing where U.S. currency originates. There's no guarantee that your request will be granted, but ifs worth a shot not to stand in those long lines and to be privy to tours not open to the general public. When you pick up the VIP passes at the White House or Senate Office Buildings on Capitol Hill, you can also request gallery passes to attend sessions of Congress. Be sure to include the Bethune Museum Archives, Howard University and the National Museum of African Art in your sightings, as well as the Anacostia Museum and Frederick A. Douglass National Historic Site across the Anacostia River. For more information, contact the Washington, D.C., Conventions and Visitor's Bureau at 202-789-7000.

Hyatt Regency Washington on Capitol Hill puts guests the seat of power and at an attractive price. Nightly weekend rates at this property are $89 per room, and children 18 and younger can stay in their parents room free, or get their own room at half-price. If you arrive on Thursday and stay Saturday night you can still take advantage of the $89 weekend rate.

Hyatt also offers a "See DC" weekend sightseeing package for $99 per room, per night that includes Old Town Trolley Tour tickets for two adults and two children, but not free parking, which can be a real hassle and big expense in D.C. Hyatt has five other hotels in and around Washington, with rates as low as $69 per room. For Hyatt reservations, which should be made as early as possible, and to find out about other fall and winter specials this season, call 800-233-1234.

Dancing At Disney

This year marks the 20th birthday of Walt Disney World in Florida, and Mickey and the gang are celebrating with big-time events, guest "star" appearances and five new championship golf courses within the Disney World Resort (P.O. Box 10040, Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830-0040; 407-824-4321).

Less than an hour away are Cypress Gardens, Sea World and Busch Gardens, an African-theme zoo and family entertainment park. The newest attraction is the Myombe Reserve, a gorilla and chimpanzee habitat native to Central and West Africa. Admission to Disney is $35.90 for visitors age 10 and older and $28.50 for kids 3 to 9.

Accommodations abound inside the Disney World Resort, including more than 5,000 "moderately" priced resort rooms. The surrounding environs offer even better rates. Contact your travel agent or an airline for further details.

Delta Air Lines, the official carrier to Walt Disney World, has a "See Orlando" city package. A family of four gets three nights accommodations at the Holiday Inn Main Gate East complimentary transportation to all Walt Disney theme parks just three miles away, and bonus features such as two-for-one admission and discounted tickets for Sea World, Busch Gardens and Cypress Gardens. Kids eat all meals free when parents eat at any one of the hotel's six restaurants, and everyone can swim in the hotel's three pools. Free child care and a rental car complete the package. A midweek departure from Atlanta costs $1,079, or $1,199 for a Friday or Saturday departure for a family of four. Disney offers a four-day, three-park admission pass that costs $140 for visitors age 10 and older, and a children's pass for $115. Both are good until all four days are used, even it ifs on a subsequent trip. Call Delta's "Dream Vacation" desk (800-872-7786) or a travel agent for more details.

Head For The Slopes

Skiers can rack up on "value season" rates offered by most of the 25 participating ski resorts in Colorado Ski Country (303-837-0793). Almost all cater to families. In general, children 12 and older are charged adult rates for lift tickets but not for accommodations.

At Winter Park Resort, just an hour-and-a-half drive from Denver, families can enjoy alpine and cross-country skiing, and snowboarding and ice skating nearby. Value season runs Nov. 18 through Dec. 13 and April 5-18 (P.O. Box 36, Winter Park, CO 80402; 800-453-2525). Accommodations run the gamut from mountain inns and beds-and-breakfast to condominiums, chalets and cabins. A family of four, including two adults and two children ages 11 through 15, can get a five-night ski package for $870 at Beaver Village Condominiums (800-824-8438). The one-bedroom condo has one queen-sized bed and a queen-sized pull-out couch, dining area and a fully equipped kitchen. The complex also features an indoor pool, sauna and clubhouse, plus a complimentary shuttle to Winter Park ski area and to town. Although transportation is not included in the package price, Amtrak travels directly to Winter Park; children ages 2-15 can travel for half-price when accompanied by an adult

Whatever you spend, a fall family getaway is just the ticket to spending quality time with the people you cherish the most. And those memories are priceless!
COPYRIGHT 1992 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.
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Author:Giles, Dari
Publication:Black Enterprise
Date:Nov 1, 1992
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