If you haven't already planned your family's summer vacation, get a move on. Summer zips by, and before you know it, it will be August again and school days will make their inevitably sudden arrival.
To help you plan, we've rounded up ideas near and not too terribly far. Of our suggestions, five take you to some of our favorite destinations in Texas, two put you in the best-loved national parks and the others find you in the Caribbean. Happy travels.
Austin: Resort with a day camp
This summer, the beloved Lake Travis resort and spa Lakeway will host Champions Day Camp for kids ages 4-10, for the fifth year. The five-day sessions offer traditional outdoorsy and creative activities and friendship-building. Starting Monday, the sessions have themes, from Superhero Week to Islands of Goo. While the kids are in camp, you can play golf at one of four 18-hole courses, book tennis games, go sailing or while away the day at the resort's San Saba Spa, overlooking the water. Downtown Austin is about 20 miles away, making it easy for you to pop into town to visit the new Arthouse and enjoy lunch at La Condesa. Camp prices are $55 per child for the first session, $45 for each additional session. Lakeway's summer lodging deals start at $139 per night, midweek, with discounts on multiple-day stays. 800-525-3929 or 512-261-6600; www.lakewayresortandspa.com.
Fredericksburg: History and heritage
You can't find a better window in Texas through which to view World War II, particularly the war in the Pacific, than at a very special museum in this popular town of German heritage. Fredericksburg was the 1885 birthplace of Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, commander of the Pacific Fleet during World War II. A tribute to him and other heroes of that war is found at the National Museum of the Pacific War, now a museum of national standing after a $15.3 million expansion, called the George H.W. Bush Gallery. Pacific war education programs extend to cover the history of African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans who served. Events designed for young visitors include living history/re-enactment programs June 18-19 and July 2-3. The War Dogs program, scheduled for July 9, will demonstrate how dogs were used during World War II to attack, sniff out bombs and work rescue missions. 340 E. Main St., Fredericksburg, 830-997-8600; www.pacificwarmuseum.org.
And if you're in town June 10-11, make plans to play at Night in Old Fredericksburg. This family-friendly party offers plenty of polka and country music, history demonstrations, arts and crafts booths, food, and all the games your kids can handle. Held at the MarktPlatz in downtown Fredericksburg, 830-997-8515; www.nightinoldfredericksburg.com.
Houston: Animals and interactive history
Take your kids to feed the giraffes at the Houston Zoo's new African Forest exhibit. This $35 million wilderness habitat, part of a 55-acre park that houses more than 800 species, lets you get close to the animals. There's a new family of chimpanzees and a new group of white rhinos, as well. And by mid-June, the zoo will have completed another phase in its new elephant facility, where you can see two baby elephants, named Baylor and Tupelo, as they play with their families in an area that contains an 80,000-gallon pool. In the Museum District at 6200 Hermann Park Drive, 713-533-6500; www.houstonzoo.org.
Also in Hermann Park, the Houston Museum of Natural Science offers its new "Texas! The Exhibition" through Sept. 5. You and the kids can find out how cowboys, immigrants, farmers, ranchers and oil-field roughnecks helped complete the story of Texas from its origins as a Spanish colony. You'll meet the icons who helped shape the state, from Stephen F. Austin to Sam Houston; see artifacts from La Salle's 1686 shipwreck and the Alamo; and be overwhelmed at Texas: The Big Picture, now showing in the Wortham IMAX Theatre. 5555 Hermann Park Drive, 713-639-4629; www.hmns.org.
San Antonio: Head for the Hill Country
Kicking back at the 300-acre, 500-room Hyatt Hill Country Resort can be as relaxing or as action-packed as you choose. The new Family Express Course lets you and the kids play golf together, teeing off from a shorter distance on the three club courses; the package for tee time and rentals starts at $99 for a family of four. The resort has four swimming pools, one with the 950-foot-long Ramblin' River, and new poolside cabanas equipped with Wi-Fi access, a 32-inch flat-screen television, a stocked refrigerator and a small safe; families can book a cabana for $150. Find programs for tweens in the Wildflower spa, as well at the Underground, a gathering place for teenagers. On July 4th weekend, the resort takes on a patriotic theme, with a character breakfast staffed by Uncle Sam, Lady Liberty, Abraham Lincoln and George Washington; a storytime hosted by Betsy Ross; and a musket-firing demonstration by the Sons of the American Revolution. Other weekend fun includes a barbecue with a dance band, a parade and fireworks. Packages include the Stay More, Play More deal, which gives you from $100 in resort credit for a two-night stay and up to $500 for a five-night stay. Find the resort in northwest San Antonio near Six Flags and SeaWorld. 210-647-1234; www.hillcountry.hyatt.com.
Graham: Ranch life
It's barely a 90-minute drive northwest from Fort Worth to Wildcatter, a cool guest ranch that spreads over 1,500 acres along the Brazos River. This escape destination puts you in the company of rugged hills covered with juniper, oak and mesquite trees, and a whole lot of cactus, to boot. Stay in one of 16 cabin suites, or one of the separate guesthouses. You'll spend days riding horses, canoeing, fishing, learning to handle a bow and arrow, hiking, looking for fossils, playing cow- pasture golf or just lounging by the pool. Nearby, there's Fort Belknap, one of the famous old frontier cavalry posts. Dinner at the Wildcatter Steakhouse is always a treat, as Bob the Cook produces a killer steak to go with a bottle from the restaurant's impressive wine list. Ask about the Man's Best Friend package, which lets you bring your pooch along on the family vacation; it's $499 for a two-night stay that includes breakfast and a discount on dinner for four, and a donation to the SPCA of Texas. 6062 Texas 16 S., Graham, 940-549-3500; www.wildcatterranch.com.
First-time visitors to this classic should consider either the Summer Adventure or the Lodging & Learning package, which give you a guide for exploring the 2.2-million-acre spread of geological and thermal features, human history and wildlife. But if you want to spend just one day in the park, go for the Circle of Fire overview tour. Yellowstone options include fly-fishing, kayaking and canoeing, as well as hiking. Lodges and cabins throughout the park offer plenty of choices for overnight stays, including Old Faithful Snow Lodge & Cabins, $96-$205 per night; Old Faithful Inn, $96-$499; Old Faithful Lodge Cabins, $67-$110; and Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel & Cabins, $81-$449. 866-439-7375; www.yellowstonenationalparklodges.com.
Traffic can be heavy in summer, when a smarter option may be to take a motor-coach tour, on which drivers stop at pullouts for you to take photos and learn more about geology and natural history. New this year is a bicycle rental option, which lets visitors explore Hermit Road on the canyon's West Rim, an area with excellent views not clouded by private car traffic during peak season. The list of activities is nearly as long as the canyon itself, but you can pick among diversions that include fishing, ranger-led walks, mule rides, rafting, stargazing and backpacking. You can also take a ride on the Grand Canyon Railway, which runs on clean-burning waste vegetable oil. Lodging includes the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel, with rooms from $169; El Tovar Hotel, from $178; Bright Angel Lodge, $81 and up; and Phantom Ranch, a dorm with lodging starting at about $44 per person. 928-638-2631; www.grandcanyonlodges.com.
CheapCaribbean.com offers savings of 40 percent to 60 percent compared with the cost of booking nonpackage vacations. Prices at these all-inclusive resorts cover round-trip airfare from D/FW, transfers to your resort, taxes, meals, lodging and beverages.
At the recently refurbished Hilton Rose Hall Resort in Jamaica, your beachfront retreat has a lazy river pool, water slides, kayaking and sailing, along with tennis, water aerobics classes and a gym. And you can add golf and spa options. The package for traveling Aug. 7-11, for a family of four, is $4,162.72. And at Jamaica's restored Holiday Inn SunSpree, a beachfront escape for a family of four, Aug. 17-21, is $3,524.69.
Down in the Yucatan, the Sapphire resort in Cancun, Mexico, offers a five-night special between July 1 and Aug. 19 for $779 per person, including an introductory scuba lesson and free day care for little ones. Find more packages at www.cheapcaribbean.com.