When my Godson, Toby, came back from his holiday in California this summer, everything was “awesome”. The flight over? Definitely awesome. Driving through the desert? Really awesome. The food? Cheeseburgers were really, really awesome and so were S’mores – ie biscuits with marshmallow and chocolate that are so yummy, you always want “some more”. And the Grand Canyon? Go on, have a guess.
There’s something about a family holiday to the States. With so many American programmes on TV, your clan will probably feel like they’ve been there already before they’ve even left the sofa, but of course, nothing beats the real thing. And a great way to explore is on a small-group tour: you can make the most of your money as you’ll have pre-budgeted for most things, see as much as possibly with a knowledgeable, friendly leader, bond with like-minded families and, Brits, Aussies and Kiwis won’t have to worry about driving on the other side of the road if someone else is chauffeuring!
Once you’ve got over the flight prices – and yes, not-so-mysteriously those fares do seem to rise in school holidays – the cost of actually being in the USA is generally much less than you’d expect. Dining out, for example, is usually cheaper, even taking into account a 15 per cent tip at the end.
There are just so many family-friendly options in America, it can be overwhelming to know where to start. If you want a city break, New York can be a less overpowering place than you might at first think.
Stay clear of rush hour and the subway is an easy way of getting around, and taxis are certainly cheaper than in London. With some planning you could spend a whole day in Central Park – there’s the zoo for a start, the marble slide at the Billy Johnson playground, the Sheep Meadow for a picnic and Frisbee-throwing plus the chance to row on the lake in summer, and iceskate in winter. Elsewhere the Staten Island ferry will give them great views of the city skyline – and it’s free - and they’ll be talking about the pizza slices they had in Greenwich Village for months after you get home. Try Fiores, for example, at 165 Bleecker Street: a ‘large’ will feed you all for $20, and the family recipe came from the Italian island of Ischia.
And further south, but only a few hours away by train, Washington DC is a good bolt-on: not only will your children be the envy of classmates when they tell them they’ve seen the actual White House, but the Smithsonian Institute museums are very kid-friendly, and free! At the National Museum of American History, for example, they can see the original Muppets, including Miss Piggy and Kermit, and Dorothy’s real ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz.
But for many people, it’s the fun you can have in the great outdoors that really makes an American vacation, well, an American vacation. For example you could explore Arizona and pretend to be a cowboy on a riding holiday, based at a dude ranch for a few days, and see some of the amazing National Parks out west such as Yosemite and Monument Valley. Or grab your boogie board and ride the waves off the California or Florida coastlines.
And it’s such a big country, think outside the usual boxes too: a trip through the musical south of Kentucky and Tennessee perhaps or the heartland of South Dakota – both are real slices of Americana where you’ll be welcomed with open arms and curiosity, and you’ll bump into few, if any, other foreign tourists.
One last thing: shopping for kids’ clothes is really great value. Keeping in mind the limits up to which you can bring back clothes without having to pay tax, generally shopping in the States is cheaper for clothes and consumer durables like iPads, especially if you’re in a state like New Hampshire or Oregon where there is no sales tax. And if you sign up online with a retailer like Gap or Old Navy, you’ll often get email alerts offering up to 40 per cent off in store. It’s like all your Christmases will have come at once.