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Are We There Yet?

Finding the right cold-weather trip poses special problems. We profile five families with specific—but common—needs and locate nearby destinations to help them keep cabin fever at bay

Photography by mcarthurphotography.com
Illustrations by John Kenzie

The Blended Clan Who Want to Reconnect
Steve Leverick, 41  Kimberly Leverick, 35  Jake, 13  Alex, 10  Emilia, 6  Aiden Louise, 1  Highland Park

family vacation photo

“My interest [is] in having quality family time without electronics,” says Kimberly, stepmom to the three oldest children. On the family’s last big trip, two years ago, they rented a cabin near Mammoth Cave, Kentucky. “That was really fun,” Steve recalls. “We could cook there, so we didn’t have to eat out as much. We brought Twister and board games and had a great time doing that stuff at night.”

The family has also enjoyed trips to Civil War battle reenactments, air shows, and the beach in Traverse City, Michigan. Summer trips to the Wisconsin Dells with Steve’s extended family have been less relaxing. “It’s so crowded and touristy,” Steve says. “I would wish for something smaller, a little more quaint.”

Winter sports appeal to Jake, who loves to snowboard, and to Kimberly, who is the program director for ice skating for the Park District of Highland Park. Steve says he’s intrigued by tubing, which friends have told him can be found at nearby Wisconsin locations, a quick drive from home. “I’m a teacher, so I get the same days off as the kids,” Steve explains. “In the winter, that means a weekend or three-day weekend.”

Three More Tubing Spots

(1) Timber Ridge:
Three and a half hours away, north of Kalamazoo, Michigan, Timber Ridge offers a tubing hill with three lanes and an automatic tow rope. Children must be able to ride by themselves. $17 for a two-hour ticket.
Timber Ridge, 7500 23 1/2 St., Gobles, Michigan; 269-694-9449, www.timberridgeski.com

(2) Cascade Mountain Ski & Snowboard Area:
Located about three hours away in Portage, Wisconsin, Cascade Mountain recently upgraded its tubing area, adding indoor restrooms and installing a moving sidewalk that carries riders back up the hill. $20 for two hours.
W10441 Cascade Mountain Rd., Portage, Wisconsin; 608-742-5588, www.cascademountain.com

(3) Sunburst Ski Area:
Best for big kids or ex-tremely brave small ones, the slope covers the equivalent of a ten-story drop. $12 for two hours.
8355 Prospect Dr., Kewaskum, Wisconsin; 262-626-8404, www.skisunburst.com

The Destination
Four miles away from downtown Wisconsin Dells, Christmas Mountain Village is one of the few tubing destinations that offer sleeping accommodations, too. Surrounded by pine trees, the resort’s heated log cabins come with two bedrooms (or a bedroom plus a sleeping loft) and one bathroom, and can sleep up to six. Amenities include a fireplace, a fully equipped kitchen, and a charcoal grill on the deck ($458 for a two-night stay). Cottages overlooking the golf course or campground have less charm, but some come with an extra bathroom (around $239 a night during the peak season).

Any child over 36 inches tall can have a blast tubing down the hill, then flop with his or her tube on the automatic tow rope for a ride back up the hill ($8 for one hour, $14 for two hours; includes tube rental). A gentle upward slope at the bottom of the hill ensures that even little Emilia will have no trouble stopping. If the boys want to snowboard, they can head over to the ski hill ($30 for a seven-hour pass for anyone over 13; $24 for kids 6 to 12). Kids from ages four to eight can learn to snowboard or ski with the resort’s two-and-a-half-hour instructional session ($50). After a long day on the slopes, the family can soak in the outdoor hot tub, or trundle over to the registration building, where the resort’s indoor pool has a water park feel with a slide, seesaw, and swings.

0n Saturday, February 3rd, the resort holds its Winter Carnival, which features dogsled races, wagon and pony rides, games, music, a torchlight parade, and fireworks. February 25th is Report Card Day, which rewards good grades on a current report card with a $5 ski lift ticket for the whole day.

Christmas Mountain Village, S944 Christmas Mountain Road, Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin; 608-253-1000, www.christmasmountainvillage.com

 

The Mother and Daughter Who Want to Be Pampered
Carol Ashley, 38   Natalie Holley, 10   Hyde Park

a mother and child

When Carol Ashley and her daughter, Natalie Holley, take a vacation, they have two ironclad rules: their hotel must have room service, and the TV channels must include Disney, Nickelodeon, or Discovery. At the end of the day, Carol says of Natalie, “she just wants to put her robe on, order room service, and do nothing.”

Carol, who is divorced, expresses similar sentiments. “If I’m on vacation, I don’t want to do anything [that’s work],” she says. Because she drives a lot in her job as a lawyer, Carol says exploring a place by car does not appeal to her. Which is why she really enjoyed a recent trip to Disney World-the Tom Joyner Family Reunion, an annual event hosted by the 102.7FM morning deejay that features organized activities and performances by popular African American entertainers. “You just pay the fee and literally get bused around,” she says.

Three Nearby Diversions

(1) Snow sculpting:
From January 31st to February 4th, Lake Geneva’s annual Winterfest hosts the National Snow Sculpting Competition. Watch as 15 teams carve ten-foot-high blocks of snow. Riviera Park, Lake Geneva, Wisconsin; 262-248-4416

(2) Horseback riding:
Fantasy Hills Ranch in nearby Delavan offers guided horseback rides through woods and meadows for anyone over age seven; younger children can take a shorter, hand-guided trail ride on a pony. If there’s enough snow on the ground, sleigh rides also are available. 4978 Town Hall Rd., Delavan, Wisconsin; 262-728-1773

(3) Ice skating:
Practice your triple salchow on frozen Geneva Lake, just across the road from the Abbey. Take your own or rent skates from Geneva Sports (270 Broad St., Lake Geneva; 262-248-1521) for $7.50 per day.

The Destination
A trip to the spa at The Abbey Resort in Fontana, Wisconsin, means Natalie and her mom can spend an entire weekend lounging in their robes if they want. If you grew up in the area, you may remember going to the Abbey as a child; it’s been around since 1963. Over time its charms became a bit worn, however, and two years ago it underwent an extensive $40 million renovation. The resort, which Spafinder.com lists as the only family friendly spa within 100 miles of Chicago, still has its signature A-frame (claimed to be the world’s tallest), as well as refurbished airy, cottagelike rooms with deluxe mattresses, high-definition flat-screen TVs, and, yes, room service. (If they feel like getting dressed, Carol and Natalie can dine at one of several restaurants in the resort, most of which offer kids’ menus.)

The $499 package provides one night’s accommodation for two. It includes $135 in room service or restaurant credit and $220 worth of services at the Abbey’s Fontana Spa-enough to cover mother-daughter manicures and pedicures. (A two-night package is $749.) If Carol wants to get a massage or enjoy other amenities in the 18-and-over area of the spa, she can reserve a spot for Natalie at the resort’s Kids’ Night Out. On Friday and Saturday evenings in the winter, the program offers organized games, crafts, dinner, and a movie for children ages 4 to 12 ($50 per child). Babysitting also is available; sitters are high-school and college students employed-and checked out-by the resort ($8 an hour for one child). The Abbey has more than 300 rooms, spread among six buildings connected by carpeted hallways. The pool and game room, as well as the restaurants, are clustered around the lobby, so to avoid having to hike through what feels like miles of hallway, Carol would be wise to request a room in building 1 or 2.

The Abbey Resort, 269 Fontana Blvd., Fontana, Wisconsin; 800-709-1323, www.theabbeyresort.com

 

Two Teens (and a Dad) Who Can’t Agree
Peter Turek, 46   Boetius, 16   Eleanor, 14   Beverly

a family vacation photo

A vacation with teenagers often becomes an exercise in bridging disparate interests. In the Turek family, Boetius (pronounced bo-shus), as well as his dad, Peter, love to visit historical sites, which hold no appeal for Eleanor. “I think that stuff is really boring,” she says. “I’ll go with them, but I won’t really follow them; I go off on my own.”

But the interests of all three family members intersect in outdoor activities. They’ve taken several driving trips to visit family in Colorado and California, where they’ve gone white-water rafting, horseback riding, and hiking in the mountains. They also make frequent trips to visit one of Peter’s sisters in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, a rural area about five hours away. “Winter’s my favorite time to go there, because I love the snow,” Eleanor says. “My cousins have a hill, and we take a hose and ice it down. We take anything we can find, like laundry baskets and garbage can lids, and slide for hours.”

Six years ago, on the way home from a sheep ranch in Wyoming, the family happened upon the annual Fur Trade Days in Chadron, Nebraska. They had such a good time that they’ve gone back four times in the past five years. “I like a break from everyday life in the city,” remarks Eleanor. “I’ve lived here all my life; city kids have no idea what it’s like to go to a rural area like Nebraska.”

Two More Ideas For The Tureks

(1) Marcel Biró Culinary School:
Made famous by the PBS reality series The Kitchens of Biró, chef Marcel Biró offers five-hour Saturday workshops that welcome mature teens at his instructional kitchen in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, about two hours away. Classes cost $75 to $95 per person, and include lunch with the chef.
1019 Erie Ave., Sheboygan, Wisconsin; 920-451-6940; www.birointernationale.com

(2) Shake Rag Alley:
Held in historic 19th-century buildings scattered among two and a half rustic acres of gardens, trees, and winding brick paths, winter classes at this nonprofit arts education center in Mineral Point, Wisconsin, will include making batik, building a rustic bench and end table, novel writing, and creating Celtic spiral hammered jewelry.
18 Shake Rag St., Mineral Point, Wisconsin; 608-987-3292, www.shakeragalley.com

The Destination
For a heaping helping of the outdoors, the Tureks might find it’s well worth taking a week off school and working for an Outward Bound wilderness trip to the Boundary Waters of Minnesota. In early March, Outward Bound offers a special family-focused dogsledding and skiing trip through the million-acre woods.

To acclimate to the weather and learn some basic skills, the Tureks-with other family groups that can include children ages 14 and up-will first spend a day at the winter base camp near Duluth, where each person receives two sleeping bags and helps pack up the supplies. Then it’s time to head out for five days of watching the sun rise over pristine expanses of snow, skimming across frozen lakes, and drifting off to sleep under the northern lights. This is a full-participation course, however, so in addition to appreciating the scenery, everyone learns to break a path on skis, drive the dog team, set up a winter camp, split firewood, and cook meals over an open fire.

As with all Outward Bound trips, the goal here is not simply coming face to face with nature but self-discovery, as the participants learn to rise to the challenges of survival in the wilderness. Many graduates say that the peak experience comes at the end, when each family group is sent off to spend the night at an assigned camp with just a cooking pot, matches, and a saw.

Outward Bound, 866-467-7651; www.outwardboundwilderness.org. Cost per person is $1,195 plus a nonrefundable $100 application fee and $100 transportation fee.

 

The Triplets Who Love to Ski
Brian Proctor, 43   Linda Proctor, 42   Harrison, 6   Erin, 6   Emma, 6   Old Town

family vacation photo

Planning trips around young triplets sounds like a challenge, but for the Proctors it’s actually pretty easy. Brian’s family has enjoyed ties to Gaylord, Michigan, since his great-grandparents bought a cottage there roughly 80 years ago. Now six extended family members, including the Proctors, own second homes in this village near Otsego Lake, about a six-hour drive from Chicago, so that’s where they spend most of their vacations. Summertime means entire days spent playing on the beach; in the winter, they romp in the snow and go sledding and hiking.

When the triplets were four, the Proctors rented a condo for a week near the ski resort of Snowmass Village, Colorado, just outside Aspen. The kids went to ski school and, with a return visit to the resort last year, they have become adept on the slopes. “They take the ski lift halfway up the mountain,” Linda says. “They stay on the easy runs, but they’re definitely not on the bunny hill.”

The Proctors have never tried skiing in the Midwest, but Linda says they’d love to give it a try, adding, “I can’t say that money is no object for us, but we don’t mind spending a few dollars if the trip is worth it.”

Three More Skiing Destinations

(1) Big Powderhorn Mountain:
Features 29 trails, nine lifts, ice skating, sleigh rides, and a newly renovated lodge with swimming and a sauna. N11375 Powderhorn Rd., Bessemer, Michigan; 800-501-7669, www.bigpowderhorn.net

(2) Shanty Creek Resort and Club:
Indulge in extras such as sledding parties, sleigh rides, and bonfires with s’mores. 1 Shanty Creek Rd., Bellaire, Michigan; 800-678-4111, www.shantycreek.com

(3) Mount Holiday Ski & Recreation Area:
Conceived by a grassroots group of local skiers, the nonprofit, 12-run Mount Holiday has relatively low prices. 3100 Holiday Rd., Traverse City, Michigan; 231-938-2500, www.mtholiday.com

The Destination
Just 30 minutes away from the Proctors’ cottage in Gaylord is Boyne Mountain Resort, one of the biggest ski resorts in Michigan and the Midwest. Modeled after an Alpine Village, Boyne Mountain features 61 runs, divided equally among beginner, intermediate, and expert skill levels. High-speed lifts mean that even when the place gets crowded, it’s never more than a few minutes’ wait to get back up the slopes.

This isn’t just a downhill ski resort, however. There are plenty of entertainment options to keep the triplets occupied for an extended visit. Linda and Brian can introduce them to cross-country skiing at Boyne’s 20-plus miles of groomed trails, which meander through pine-scented woods and over picturesque streams. Before they set out, they can take a two-hour lesson, where all participants over age seven are guaranteed to be able to cross-country ski at the end or receive a second lesson free. (Cost is $45 per person, which includes all-day equipment rental and the $15 trail fee.) Other outdoor diversions include a mountainside ice-skating rink, snowshoeing, a tubing hill, and, now in its second year, dogsled rides driven by a professional musher at Boyne Mountain’s sister ski resort, Boyne Highlands, located about 45 minutes away in Harbor Springs.

The Boyne Mountain village includes ten restaurants, and the spectrum of accommodations ranges from basic hotel rooms at the Edelweiss Lodge to upscale condos with kitchenettes at the Mountain Grand Lodge and Spa ($156 to $552 per night). Some of the buildings even include “ski in” accommodations, where a ski lift is mere feet from your door. Best of all, children under eight stay-and ski-for free.

Boyne Mountain Resort, 1 Boyne Mountain Road, Boyne Falls, Michigan; 800-GO-BOYNE, www.boyne.com

 

The Family That Naps Together, Swims Together
Jesus Garcia, 36   Gloria Quiñones-Garcia, 33   Mireya, 6   Diego, 3   Mateo, 8 months   Oak Park

family vacation photo

The Garcia family have just one requirement when they travel: a place to swim. “We’re not doing hikes or sports,” says Gloria. “As long as there’s a swimming pool and maybe some sand, that’s all [the kids] want to do.” Since the oldest child, Mireya, was born, the family has traveled to beaches as far away as Puerto Rico and Cancún. Both Gloria and Jesus grew up in large families in Chicago, and on several occasions have taken trips with extended family. Last Thanksgiving, for instance, members of Jesus’s family rented villas at Galena’s Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa, where the kids could swim under the night sky in the atrium’s covered pool.

Even when the children aren’t along, Jesus and Gloria prefer water vacations; during her pregnancy last year, the couple left the kids behind to celebrate their tenth anniversary on a Hawaiian beach. Now that baby Mateo has come along, they’re less mobile once again. They need to be able to stick close to their accommodations so that one parent can take the baby back to the room for naps while the other parent entertains the two older children.

Three More Water Parks

(1) CoCo Key:
The spanking new CoCo Key brings the tropics to a suburban Sheraton, with slides, play structures, water cannons, and a movie screen in the pool. 3400 W. Euclid Ave., Arlington Heights; 847-394-2000, www.cocokeywaterresort.com

(2) Grizzly Jack’s Grand Bear Resort & Indoor Waterpark:
Videogame-meets-waterslide-choose your adventure, then experience images and sounds as you slip down the tunnel. 2643 N. Illinois Route 178, Utica; 866-399-3866, www.grandbearlodge.com

(3) Raintree Resort:
Geared for kids ten and under, RainTree features spraying fountains and smaller log slides. 1435 Wisconsin Dells Parkway, Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin; 877-254-7400, www.dellsraintree.com

The Destination
Just over the Wisconsin border, about 90 minutes north of Chicago, the Timber Ridge Lodge & Waterpark in Lake Geneva is a water park attached to an all-suites hotel, an ideal combination for a family that needs at least one separate bedroom for daytime napping. The two-bedroom, two-bath suite ($229 to $349 per night; ask for the quieter “country view") adds a lofted second bedroom to the hotel’s basic floor plan, which includes a fireplace, full kitchen (sans oven), whirlpool tub, and thoughtful touches like babyproofed electrical outlets and portable cribs on request.

Once inside the compound, families can flip-flop down to the hotel’s 50,000-square-foot water park, which is contained in one big warm and humid room. An area of the pool has a sloping entry for babies and early walkers (the surface is pebbly, so take water-friendly leg coverings for babies who are still crawling); older kids can play basketball and get rowdy on the deeper side, supervised by roaming lifeguards. But the main attraction is a 35-foot tower that houses two twisty, turny water slides-one is a body flume, the other a tunnel wide enough to fit a parent with a small child on a large inflated raft. The one in-hotel sit-down restaurant is a minor sour note. The spot, a smallish affair called Smokey’s Bar-b-que House, serves adequately tasty ribs and other meats, but the side dishes disappoint. Cobble together a better meal by carrying out a couple of orders of ribs from Smokey’s and cooking your own vegetables in the comfort of your room. Or order a pizza from room service. Flip on the television and turn the kids loose. For parents with small children, a weekend getaway at Timber Ridge may be as close to relaxing as it comes.

Timber Ridge Lodge & Waterpark at Grand Geneva, 7020 Grand Geneva Way, Lake Geneva, Wisconsin; 866-636-4502, www.timberridgeresort.com

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