Extras — such as travel vacations — go first in tough economic times. But, tough times or not, everyone needs a break. You can downsize the vacation budget and still take a break if you stay close — and I mean really close! — to home for your summer holidays.
People come from all over the world to vacation in the Puget Sound region; why not your family, too? One advantage to being a hometown tourist is the minimal planning involved. You know what you love to do — and what you’ve always wanted to do — in your hometown. A stay-at-home vacation is the perfect time to have lunch in the Space Needle, take a ferry just for the ride, spend an entire day at the zoo, visit a new playground or museum, go to the beach or catch a live matinee performance — things you might never fit into your regular schedule.
Strategize as a family
Even though you’re in familiar territory, strategize to make sure you’re actually going to have a vacation. One successful tactic we’ve employed for stay-at-home vacations is to have each family member choose one or two activities (the number depends on how long the vacation is). On a long weekend in Seattle, we got take-out pizza, ate it watching Finding Nemo in our hotel room, attended a Mariners game and strolled through Pike Place Market.
Alternatively, you can build a getaway around an event. We went to Tacoma recently for a Puget Sound Revels holiday performance and turned it into an overnight stay that included a nice (family-friendly) dinner at Over the Moon and a visit to the Tacoma Art Museum. Breakfast came with the room, and the hotel had a pool. Oh yes, a pool: a de rigueur detail for our stay-at-home vacations.
Kid-friendly hotels in Seattle and Tacoma
Even though they are close to home, hotels are still expensive. We like Silver Cloud hotels because they are centrally located, are usually reasonably priced, and have properties in both Seattle and Tacoma.
Some hotels offer specials that you can learn about just by calling around or checking the web for bargains. Go to Expedia or another travel site to check out web specials, or visit hotwire.com. Hotwire gets last-minute deals on hotel rates — but you don’t know what hotel you’ve chosen until you agree to pay. If you make your own reservations, some hotels offer a military or auto-club discount, and many extend discounts to employees of some companies.
Play in your own backyard
In Seattle, CityPass offers a nine-day, six-attraction pass for nearly half the cost of regular admissions. You gain admittance to the Space Needle, Seattle Aquarium, an Argosy Cruise, Pacific Science Center, Woodland Park Zoo and either the Museum of Flight or EMP | SFM. Augment that with a Mariners game and a trip to the Wing Luke Asian Museum in its new location and you’ve got a pretty good vacation.
In Tacoma, check out Travel Tacoma for coupons to attractions such as the Washington State History Museum, and parentmap.com for information about events. Tacoma has two great art museums — Tacoma Art Museum (TAM) and the Museum of Glass (MOG) — that offer cool activities for kids. At TAM, the Open Art Studio stocks hands-on toolkits in various media that reflect the current museum offerings. At MOG, Family Days are the second Saturday of every month, and you can watch glass creations being made in the hot shop.
Eating: in or out?
We’ve learned that a sunset dinner on the deck of Ray’s Café in Ballard is like a mini-vacation in itself: It’s entertaining (all that marine traffic), relaxing and it offers a terrific kids’ menu. Getting a hotel room that includes breakfast and a small fridge can help defray — and justify — splurges (like Ray’s) in the food budget. A fridge also makes it easy to keep a snack stash and cut down on the $3 sodas.
Are we there yet?
Huh? Aren’t we there already? One way to help contribute to the feeling that you’re on vacation is to take a taxi to your hotel. Some downtown hotels charge for parking — as much as $25 per night! — which is probably what a cab from your house to your hotel would cost, anyway.
Or, if you just have to get away from your own city, consider hopping a train and going to Tacoma — or, if you’re a South Sound resident, take the train north to Seattle.
Some fine print
The biggest challenge of a stay-at-home vacation might be resisting the temptation to check work email, “just run in” to the office or even answer the phone. Don’t do it. Cancel lessons, practices and camps, also. To really feel as if you are on vacation, forget you’re at home. The only exception allowed? Feel free to call your regular babysitter — or the grandparents — so you can have a night out. Hey: Everyone needs a break.
Christine Johnson-Duell lives in Ballard with her husband and daughter.