So what if it's April and you haven't begun to plan for summer vacation.
So what if you can't figure out when you'll fit in even a long weekend between your youngest's basketball camp, your high schooler's driver-education course and your own can't-be-away-from-the-office weeks.
The good news is that however much time and money you have for vacation this summer, you've never had so many options and places to go for help in planning, whether you want to camp in the mountains or cruise the Caribbean on a megaship, swap houses with an urban family across the country or kayak with the whales in Alaska.
No matter what you decide, the memories will last forever. Grab your phone or your computer keyboard. This resource guide will get you started in planning your best family getaway yet:
By summer, more than 100 travel agents will have completed coursework to become certified family travel specialists by ASTA, the American Society of Travel Agents. Call ASTA at 703-739-2782, write to 1101 King St., Suite 200, Alexandria, VA 22314 or check the Web site at www.astanet.com to find a family travel specialist near your home.
-- RASCALS IN PARADISE (850 5th St., No. 505, San Francisco, CA 94107) sends small groups of families to slightly off-the-beaten-track destinations, from Mexico to Australia to Bali, often with a counselor for the kids. Call 800-U-RASCAL or visit www.rascalsinparadise.com.
-- GRANDTRAVEL (8900 Wisconsin Ave., No. 706, Chevy Chase, MD 20815) offers upscale grandparent-grandchild tours of Washington, D.C., the Southwest, Europe and Africa as well as vacations designed to bring together the extended families. New European tours are being offered this summer for parents and children. Call 800-247-7651 or visit www.grandtrvl.com.
-- ESCAPES UNLIMITED (17842 Irvine Blvd., Suite 232, Tustin, CA 92780) sends single parents and their kids as well as other families on affordable eco trips to Costa Rica, Bali or Peru. River raft and meet local kids in their village schools. Call 800-243-7227 or e-mail escapesltd@aol.
FINDING A HOME AWAY FROM HOME
-- RESORT QUEST (530 Oak Court Dr., No. 360, Memphis, TN 38117) offers vacation rentals throughout North America. Call 877-588-5800 or look online at www.resortquest.com for special deals.
-- PARIS SEJOUR RESERVATION (645 N. Michigan Ave., No. 638, Chicago, IL 60611) will enable you to become part of a Paris neighborhood, renting one of 600-plus privately owned apartments, from little more than $100 a night. Call 312-587-7707 or visit www.qconline.com/parispsr.
-- INTERVAC (P.O. Box 590504, San Francisco, CA 94159) is the largest and oldest home-exchange agency, allowing you to swap houses with a family across the country or the ocean. Get access to thousands of swappers for $83. Call 800-756-HOME or visit www.intervac.com.
-- AMERICAN WILDERNESS EXPERIENCE (P.O. Box 1486, Boulder, CO 80306) offers scores of family adventures in Colorado, Hawaii and Mexico, among other places. Here's your chance to ride in a rodeo or learn how to dogsled. Call 800-444-0099 or visit www.awetrips.com.
-- WILDLAND ADVENTURES (3516 NE 155th St., Seattle, WA 98155) sends families cruising in Costa Rica, hiking glaciers in Alaska, looking for wildlife in the Galapagos. Call 800-345-4453 or visit www.wildland.com.
-- BACKROADS (801 Cedar St., Berkeley CA 94710) offers eight different biking trips designed for families, in France, Lake Tahoe, Puget Sound, Maine and more. Kids' bikes are available and so are trailer cycles. Call 800-GO-ACTIVE or visit www.backroads.com.
Most are booked through travel agents. Two large cruise-only agencies offer substantial discounts and know which ships are best for kids:
(1) THE CRUISE LINE INC. (150 NW 168th St., North Miami Beach, FL 33169), call 800-777-0707 or visit www.cruiseline.com.
(2) WORLD WIDE CRUISES (8059 McNab Rd., Fort Lauderdale, FL 33321), call 800-882-9000 or visit www.wwcruises.com.
Another good bet is:
AMERICAN HAWAII CRUISES (1380 Port of New Orleans Place, New Orleans, LA 70130) are touting cruise-free deals for kids and teens (except for port charges) this summer when they're accompanied by two paying adults. For American Hawaii Cruises, call 800-765-7000 or www.cruisehawaii.com.
-- FAMILY TRAVEL FORUM (891 Amsterdam Ave., New York, NY 10025; call 212-665-6124) newsletter Web site is a place to trade tips with other traveling parents. There's a list of family-friendly travel agents and links to sites providing everything from passport information to health tips. Go to www.familytravelforum.com.
-- FAMILY TRAVEL NETWORK (7926 Jones Branch Drive Suite 570 McLean, VA 22102; call 703-905-9858) on AOL is the largest online site devoted to family travel and soon will have its own Web address. Take virtual vacations or get the skinny on bargains. Go to www.familytravelnetwork.com
-- ASSOCIATION OF SCIENCE-TECHNOLOGY CENTERS site (1025 Vermont Ave., NW, Suite 500, Washington, D.C. 20005, call 202-783-7200) offers links to science and technology museums around the country. Go to www.astc.org.
-- AMERICAN ZOO AND AQUARIUM ASSOCIATION (8403 Colesville Rd., No. 710, Silver Spring, MD 20910; call 301-562-0777) site can help you plan times to talk to the animals. Go to www.aza.org.
-- ACCESS-ABLE TRAVEL SOURCE (P.O. Box 1796, Wheat Ridge, CO 80034; call 303-232-2979) lists 35 travel agents who specialize in helping travelers with disabilities and provides reams of other information. Go to www.access-able.com.
-- GLOBAL CITIZENS NETWORK (130 N. Howell St., St. Paul, MN 55104) is a nonprofit organization that sponsors building in Central America and elsewhere. Children as young as 7 have participated. Call 800-644-9292 or www.globalcitizens.org.
-- CROW CANYON ARCHAEOLOGICAL CENTER (23390 Road K, Cortez, CO 81321) sponsors special family weeks for parents and kids 12 and older on a working archaeological dig near Mesa Verde. Call 800-422-8975 or www.crowcanyon.org.
-- EARTHWATCH INSTITUTE (680 Mt. Auburn St., Watertown, MA 02471-9104) sends parents and teens all over the world on research projects, from studying dolphins in the Bahamas to hiking to the ends of Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. Call 800-776-0188 or www.earthwatch.org.
(c) 1999, Eileen Ogintz. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate