Travel ideas while school’s out for winter

Winter Break for students is just around the corner. As this year would have it, students are off for 17 ½ days in a row for Christmas and New Year’s. While some of the time will be used for last minute shopping, decorating, and seeing family, there is still plenty left over for winter traveling (if the parents can swing the time off of work).

In the past, many families have used this time to take the big ski trip, visit the Caribbean or some other exotic location. However, with most of us still digging out from the lingering effects of the Great Recession, a more regional trip may be what the pocketbook can afford. Here are a few suggestions based on my family’s adventures.

Our favorite destination is the Emerald Coast. The stretch of coast from the Florida panhandle to Mobile, Ala. has some of the most pristine beaches anywhere. While the ocean water can feel cool to adults, this does not deter children from being knee to waist deep. Temperatures at this time of year are typically in 60s to low 70s which with a light jacket makes beach combing comfortable. Being off season, the crowds are minimal as are the condo prices. Activities abound such as dolphin cruises, pier fishing, state/national park activities, hiking, biking, outlet shopping, and local amusement parks. If you are near the Florida/Alabama state-line for New Year’s Day make sure to put on a bathing suit and head to the Flora-Bama Oyster Bar for the annual Polar Bear Dip. A crowd of hundreds make a coordinated dash into the surf at the appointed time. While chilly, unlike other places’ this Polar Bear Plunge will not subject you to hypothermia!

A bit closer trip is Nashville. The Grand Ole Opry and Opryland Hotel have plenty of holiday shows and events including millions of lights, ice sculptures, and the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. The Nashville Zoo at Grassmere is wonderful and spacious with insightful zoo keepers’ talks and a huge fort-style playground. The Parthenon, the Adventure Science Center, and Riverfront Park Ice Rink are also popular. Just south of Nashville is Franklin. Throughout the holiday season the historic downtown area hosts parades, holiday shopping, and the “Dickens of a Christmas” event featuring costumed characters from Charles Dicken’s classic A Christmas Carol.

St. Louis, Mo. is another family-friendly destination. The incredible City Museum is guaranteed fun for everyone. It features indoor and outdoor attractions. So, even if the weather is not at its best there is still plenty to do. The City Museum boasts tunnels, art classes, creative performances, swinging ropes, a train, an aquarium, a rooftop Ferris wheel, and many other artistic and architectural wonders. Other attractions include The Magic House, Museum of Westward Expansion, the Italian restaurants of The Hill, and do not forget the famous St. Louis Arch.

A fact which surprises many is that on the outskirts of St. Louis there is a fabulous ski area called Hidden Valley. Large and small slopes are perfect for the whole family plus for those so inclined, snowboarding is allowed. Hidden Valley rents the equipment, provides lessons, and even has a snack bar. Hidden Valley manufactures its own snow and the slopes usually open the day after Christmas. A great day of snow skiing is within reach without having to pay airline prices.

Hopefully some of these winter vacation ideas pique your interest enough to check them out. After the rush of the season, I know my family needs a break. The only problem we have is deciding which destination to choose!

Dr. D. Jackson Maxwell is a teacher at Downtown Elementary School and a freelance writer. If you have any questions or comments, please contact him at:

Author: LampLighter

The voice of Cooper-Young, a vibrant, diverse neighborhood to live, work and play, in the heart of Midtown Memphis, Tennessee.

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