When it comes to my children's school vacations, the only one that has always produced an overwhelming need to get away as a family is spring break. Falling in March or April, depending on the school, the week punctuates the endless stretch between January and school's end, providing a chance for rest and adventure after a long period of burrowing.
Apparently, I am not alone. "We see families desperate for that sense of renewal that you get with a spring break vacation," said Katie Bluzmanis, a travel consultant at Liberty Travel, a 60-year-old agency with offices nationwide.
Susan Tanzman, president of Martin's Travel and Tours, a Los Angeles-based agency that books trips for clients all over the world, many of them families, agrees. Yet she emphasizes the importance of accommodating diverging family goals for a spring trip. "It has to be a vacation, after all," she said. "Something that is enjoyable for every member of the family, but not so exhausting that you come home more tired than when you left." To that end, we asked three travel agencies to put together their ideal weeklong, spring vacations for a fictional family of four. We asked for three options -- one each in a city, mountain area and someplace sunny -- and told them that the children's ages were 6 and 12, young enough for a kids' club but not in need of a full-time baby sitter.
Agency 1, Liberty Travel, was assigned "budget" travel, which meant keeping the price to under $4,500 a week for each trip, not including airfare. Agency 2, Martin's Travel, was given the moderate price range of under $9,000. Then, for the fantasy factor, we asked Bill Fischer of Fischer Travel Enterprises, a high-end agency in New York City, to give us the voyeurism of three trips for which cost would not be an issue. While nearly all these trips -- with the exception of the two packaged cruises and the luxury trip to London (where private access to royal life is about connections, not cash) -- could technically be pieced together by individual families, the value in booking through travel agents is their inside knowledge, access to discounts and, of course, the fact that they do the legwork for you. In general, the prices for each trip include accommodations and most activities, a rental car when one is needed (the case for nearly all of the budget and moderate vacations) and varying stipends for meals. Some optional items, including many of the evening and "splurge" activities, were not included. To that end, we have tried to point out when an activity will cost extra.
We asked the agents not to include airfares since prices vary depending on the departure cities of our readers.
What follows are nine "wish list" trips our agents came up with, with prices ranging from a thrifty $3,649 for a family cruise to a whopping $1.06 million for the privilege of experiencing life on a private yacht.
BUDGET TRIP NO. 1:Orlando's Theme Parks for $4,115
Itinerary Four days at Disney's Magic Kingdom, three days at Universal Studio and one day at SeaWorld.
Hotel A suite with two double beds, sofa bed and kitchenette at the Quality Suites Royale Parc Suites (guests 17 and under stay free), with a poolside bar for parents, a game room and playground.
The Kickoff Head straight to Disney for the character meet and greet -- your children won't let you do anything else anyway.
If You're Feeling Sporty Jump in a 600-horsepower Nascar racecar at the Walt Disney World Speedway (the add-on price for riding as a passenger starts at around $100).
Wow Factor The Blue Horizons show at SeaWorld, where tropical birds, dolphins and acrobats perform aquatic feats.
Food Breakfast buffet at the hotel and dining each night in Downtown Disney, at places like Planet Hollywood and the Rainforest Cafe. But beware: meals are not included in the overall price, so consider cooking in your room every other night to cut back costs.
Culture Vulture Go to the Orlando Museum of Art, admiring works by John Singer Sargent, Georgia O'Keeffe, Ansel Adams and others.
Splurge Drop the children at the Never Land Club activity center and tee off at one of many golf courses in the area, including Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill Club and Lodge. Price not included in the package.
Night Owl Don't miss IllumiNations-Reflections of Earth, a 9 p.m. fireworks show at Epcot.
BUDGET TRIP NO. 2:Outdoors in Banff National Park for $4,239
Itinerary Five days of hiking, skiing and other activities in Canada's oldest national park.
Hotel One room with two queen beds at the Delta Banff Royal Canadian Lodge, with views of mountains, lakes and forests. Children 17 and under stay free, those under 6 eat free from the children's menu and those 7 through 12 eat half-price from the regular menu.
The Kickoff Take the Banff Gondola to the top of Sulphur Mountain for a first view of the Canadian Rockies -- at an extra cost of roughly $120, for four.
If You're Feeling Sporty Hike through the park and take a dip in the Banff Upper Hot Springs. Snowboarding and skiing are spring activities, as is catching a Calgary Flames ice hockey game at the Saddledome (tickets start at around $110 per person).
Wow Factor An Alpine Helicopters tour of the Three Sisters Peaks that takes you over Goat Range, the Spray Valley Lakes and the Bow River.
Food Alberta elk, Quebec quail and British Columbian sable fish at the lodge's Evergreen Restaurant for a treat, but go offsite for brunch at Coyotes Southwestern Grill, which serves pizza for the children and Alberta beef tenderloin for the parents. Prices for all meals not included, though reduced children's rates in the hotel should offset costs.
Culture Vulture The Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, which celebrates the mountains with photographs, artworks and various artifacts.
Splurge Let the kids bundle up with a movie in the room while you hit the hotel's mineral pool at the Grotto Spa.
Night Owl A horse-drawn sleigh ride along the shores of Lake Louise ($28 per adult, $24 per child), courtesy of Brewster Adventures.
BUDGET TRIP NO. 3:New York to the Bahamas for $3,649
Itinerary A week on the Norwegian Jewel, including one day in the Orlando area and Port Canaveral, and two days in the Bahamas -- one in Great Stirrup Cay, the other in Nassau.
Cabin A stateroom with two beds that convert into a queen-size bed and two pull-down beds.
The Kickoff Waving goodbye to the New York skyline, a glass of Champagne in hand for the parents while the children hit the water slides.
If You're Feeling Sporty Volleyball, tennis, basketball and driving golf balls into a net.
Wow Factor Exploring all 15 decks of this ship, which takes on more than 2,300 passengers.
Food With more than a dozen restaurants you can find everything from the formal Tsar's Palace to Mama's Italian Kitchen. (Six complimentary dining options but cover charges of up to $25 a person can apply depending on the restaurant choice.)
Culture Vulture The Kennedy Space Center Up Close excursion in Port Canaveral ($50 for each adult; $40 for ages 3 to 11; add $25 for guided tours for adults and $19 for children).
Splurge While the youngsters are at the Splashdown Kid's Club, relax in one of six hot tubs.
Night Owl The Stardust Theater features Broadway and Vegas-style shows, or dance the night away at the Spinnaker Lounge.
MODERATE TRIP NO. 1:Urban Adventure in San Diego for $5,560
Itinerary Sightseeing and activities that range from excursions to a zoo to visits to a naval museum and grand hotel.
Hotel An ocean view suite at the Hyatt Regency Mission Bay Spa and Marina, with three water slides and water sports from Jet Skiing to sport fishing.
The Kickoff A water taxi ride to the V.I.P. entrance of SeaWorld to see otters, sea lions, orcas, seals, dolphins and sea turtles.
If You're Feeling Sporty Head to the Cabrillo National Monument to hike past tide pools, a lighthouse and views of the San Diego Bay and beyond.
Wow Factor The San Diego Zoo, one of the country's top nature sanctuaries with over 3,700 animals, including a giant panda.
Food The Corvette Diner, with a 1956 Corvette and waitresses in poodle skirts serving burgers and shakes; Croce's Restaurant and Jazz Bar, a tribute from Ingrid Croce to her late husband, Jim, with music memorabilia, nightly jazz and a menu that serves dishes like sea bass and sirloins.
Culture Vulture At the U.S.S. Midway Museum, on an aircraft carrier, exhibitions include 25 restored planes, two flight simulators and a self-guided audio tour narrated by Midway sailors.
Splurge Take the ferry to Coronado and spend the day on the grounds of the Hotel del Coronado, with red turrets and beachfront boardwalks where "Some Like it Hot" with Marilyn Monroe was filmed.
Night Owl The Gaslamp Quarter is a 16-square-block historic district with more than 100 restaurants, nightclubs and shops. Get back to your hotel in time for the nightly fireworks across the water at SeaWorld.
MODERATE TRIP NO. 2:City and Country in British Columbia for $6,262
Itinerary Three days in Vancouver, followed by three in Whistler.
Hotel A room with two queen beds at the Fairmont Pacific Rim Hotel in downtown Vancouver. In Whistler, a room with two beds at the Pacific Whistler Village Center.
The Kickoff A private tour of Vancouver, from Gastown (the historic area) to Robson Street for shopping.
If You're Feeling Sporty Head to Stanley Park in Vancouver, one of North America's largest urban parks, with an aquarium, children's farmyard and 22 miles of hiking trails. In Whistler, hit the ski slopes.
Wow Factor A seaplane flight from Vancouver to the island of Victoria, and a three-hour train ride from Vancouver to Whistler through the Howe Sound, the Cheakamus Canyon and the Tantalus Mountains.
Food Tent-style dining and Middle Eastern and Indian food at East is East in Vancouver. In Whistler, go to the Mexican Corner Restaurant, with Mexican street food.
Culture Vulture Browse galleries and artists' studios on Granville Island in Vancouver.
Splurge Treat yourself to an alpenglow cocktail (Grand Marnier, vodka, grenadine, pineapple and orange juice) on the patio of the Garibaldi Lift Co. Bar & Grill while you enjoy the perfect après ski. Let the children make a snowman nearby and join you later at this kid-friendly lounge for a hot chocolate set above the Whistler gondola buildings. The views will not disappoint.
Night Owl Wander around Whistler Village, a pedestrian-only-village with a Swiss Alps feel. If the ice is still there, hit the outdoor Whistler Olympic Plaza skating rink, which stays open until 9 or 10 p.m.
MODERATE TRIP NO. 3:Two Hawaiian Islands for $8,875
Hotel Deluxe ocean-view room at the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa with two queen beds. A partial ocean-view suite with two bathrooms, a bedroom and sofa bed at the Kahala Hotel and Resort in Oahu. Both hotels have pools, slides and lagoons.
Itinerary Four days in Kauai, followed by three in Oahu.
The Kickoff A Kauai helicopter tour over the Na Pali Coast, Waimea Canyon and North Shore, landing at the Manawaiopuna Falls, where scenes from "Jurassic Park" were filmed.
If You're Feeling Sporty In Kauai, family surf lessons at Poipu Bay, exploring caves around Hanalei Bay and hiking around Opaekaa Falls. In Oahu, kayaking and snorkeling.
Wow Factor Swimming with dolphins during a three-hour catamaran ride off Oahu.
Food Go to Bubba's Burgers in Kauai. In Oahu, try the Little Village Noodle House in Chinatown, malasadas (doughnuts filled with custard, chocolate or jam) at Leonard's Bakery, and dinner of fish tacos and ribs at Duke's, named after Duke Paoa Kahanamoku, said to be the father of surfing. Lunches and dinners not included in overall price.
Culture Vulture In Kauai, glass artistry is demonstrated at Kela's Glass Gallery. In Oahu, tour the U.S.S. Missouri, a World War II battleship docked at Pearl Harbor.
Splurge Youngsters hit Camp Hyatt, with arts and crafts, movies and beach activities, while the parents hit Merriman's, an elegant restaurant on an old Kauai plantation featuring farm to table food.
Night Owl In Kauai experience a garden luau at Smith's.
IN YOUR DREAMS TRIP NO. 1:A Week in London for $90,000
Itinerary Private tours and dinners at historic palaces and residences.
Hotel A two-bedroom penthouse with a butler and terrace at Claridge's, a 19th-century Art Deco hotel in the heart of Mayfair.
The Kickoff A private viewing of the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace on the steps of the forecourt. A senior member of the palace household will accompany you and talk about life in the royal household.
Food Get a window table overlooking Hyde Park at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, named after a British "laboratory chef" famous for his modern concoctions like "meat fruit" (a mandarin orange, chicken liver and foie gras parfait); for Asian, try Hakkasan; for French, Le Gavroche; and for seafood, Scotts.
Wow Factor A private tour of Clarence House, the London residence of Prince Charles and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, or a tour of Kensington Palace with one of Princess Diana's former bodyguards, and a tour of Althorp Castle, home of Diana's brother, the Earl Spencer.
If You're Feeling Sporty A speedboat ride on the Thames, taking in Big Ben, the Tate and the Houses of Parliament.
Culture Vulture Tour the House of Lords with a member. Tea or lunch with the lord may be included.
Splurge While the kids go with your driver and a nanny to check out Harrods toy department, the parents can attend a private dinner with a senior member of the royal household for no more than 10 couples at Buckingham Palace.
Night Owl Skip dinner and have late afternoon tea at Fortnum & Mason complete with sandwiches, scones and pastries before heading to the theater in the West End.
IN YOUR DREAMS TRIP NO. 2:Skiing the French Alps for $70,200
Itinerary A 35-minute helicopter ride from Geneva to Courchevel, a French ski resort in Les Trois Vallées, one of the largest linked ski areas in the world.
Hotel A private apartment at the Hôtel de Charme Les Airelles, a ski-in, ski-out inn with a pool, three restaurants (one run by Pierre Gagnaire whose restaurant here has two Michelin stars), a spa and "themed" evenings for the family.
The Kickoff A dog sled ride through the forest.
Food Le Mangeoire, for French cuisine and fondue. For a sunny lunch head to L'Aventure for hearty ski fare.
Wow Factor A helicopter ride over the glaciers to an off-piste ski area.
If You're Feeling Sporty If 93 miles of Courchevel ski runs is not enough, there is always hang-gliding, para-gliding and ice skating.
Culture Vulture A driving tour of the Savoie with running historical commentary from your personal guide.
Splurge Let the children relax in the hotel's playroom while you try out the "SwissCellSpa Experience" at Les Airelles Spa. The treatment involves cellular revitalization -- in other words, high-end lotions and potions.
Night Owl There is nothing like night skiing and a snowmobile ride through a forest, particularly when dinner is waiting for you in a heated yurt.
IN YOUR DREAMS TRIP NO. 3:Cruising the Caribbean for $1.06 million
Itinerary Seven days, seven islands. Departing from St. Bart's, stops include St. Kitts and Nevis, Antigua, Barbuda, St. Martin and Anguilla.
Boat A private yacht, like the 290-foot Nirvana, which has six cabins, a staff of 27, a pool, a gym, a helipad, a massage room and a lounge.
The Kickoff Boarding the boat, where the children will probably immediately explore its gadgets, from the smoke machines and laser lighting in the disco, to the home cinema with Apple TV and Airplay, while parents sip Champagne and look at the twinkling lights on St. Bart's.
Food With your personal chef serving whatever you desire -- from chateaubriand to chicken nuggets -- why eat anywhere else, except maybe on the beach when the chef hands you a picnic hamper.
Wow Factor Barbuda's pale pink beaches and bird sanctuary.
If You're Feeling Sporty Given that the yacht has four motorboats, Jet Skis, kite boarding and windsurfing equipment, wave runners and snorkeling gear, it shouldn't be hard to wear yourself out.
Culture Vulture In Antigua visit Nelson's Dockyard, a cultural heritage site and marina in English Harbour named after Admiral Horatio Nelson. In St. Kitts visit Brimstone Hill Fortress, a Unesco World Heritage site, one of the best preserved historic fortifications in the Americas.
Splurge Take advantage of the full-time masseuse on board.
Night Owl Beyond stargazing with the kids on the yacht, every island port has its beach bars and restaurants. In St. Bart's try Le Ti, though best to leave the children on the boat as showgirls take to the tabletops when the sun goes down.
JENNIFER CONLIN is a frequent contributor to the Travel section.travel
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.