Florida, Branson and other fun summer vacation spots

How do you plan to spend your summer vacation?

For most of my adult life, I didn’t take lavish vacations because when I had the time, I didn’t have the money and when I had the money, I didn’t have the time.

Vacations take creativity and planning.

Scheduling a summer vacation is a ritual for most families with kids. The kids are out of school which is great timing but family vacation spots are more crowded in the summer and more expensive.

One summer when our kids were little, we drove to Colorado Springs, Colorado, for a camping vacation. It was a lot of fun. We camped at Black Mesa State Park in the Oklahoma Panhandle and we drove almost to the top of Pike’s Peak in Colorado. We even drove to the top of an old volcano in northern New Mexico. Our stop in Colorado Springs included a day at the headquarters of Focus on the Family, which is a great place to visit.

It was an inexpensive trip that gave our family a lot of time together. We only camped a few nights because it started raining buckets and we got a hotel to dry out.

Florida is a great place for a summer vacation.

I would not recommend Disney World in the summer in Orlando. It is way too crowded, too expensive and too hot. They spray water mists over the long lines to keep people from overheating. We have family in Orlando and there is really no good time in the summer to visit Disney World.

(Everybody should take their kids to Disney World or Disneyland at least once – but go in the spring when they are not as busy).

Sea World in Orlando is a different story. It’s not as stressful, it’s not that expensive and it is a great time for the kids.

Surprisingly, the beaches are not that crowded in the summer in Florida. We have vacationed with the kids at Madeira Beach near Tampa Bay on the Gulf Coast. If you can go to the Florida on July 4th, you will likely see a spectacular fireworks show on some beaches.

If time and money are tight, Branson is a great place for a family to spend a week. It’s only 200 miles from Tulsa. Silver Dollar City seems like a smaller version of Disney World without the crowds. They have a built-in water park and admission won’t break the bank. In fact, a season pass at Silver Dollar City is a tremendous value even if you only go twice a year.

We love the shows in Branson and so do our kids. You will probably spend more than $100 for four tickets to a show but there are special deals all over the place. One tip is to take in an afternoon show where the prices are sometimes cut in half.

Best of all, you can trust that entertainment in Branson is clean and free from the shady stuff you see on television. Branson has more than 100 live shows plus great shopping, fishing and dining. We love to take a ride on the Showboat Branson Belle for dinner and a show. It’s a treat.

If time and money are really tight, it’s best to stay near home. Just a few years ago, I would have recommended Bell’s Amusement Park and Discoveryland’s outdoor theater. Both are closed. Discoveryland used to put on a great outdoor version of Oklahoma! every summer, complete with a chuck wagon dinner for the audience.

I would recommend the 50-mile drive to Bartlesville to Woolaroc. It has some neat history for adults and some fun activities for the kids. Sometimes, even a one-hour drive counts as vacation time.

The 3,700-acre wildlife preserve at Woolaroc has more than 30 varieties of animals and birds – including buffalo, elk and longhorn cattle.

And while you are in Bartlesville, take another short drive up to Independence, Kansas, to visit the “Little House on the Prairie.” This site is south of Highway 75, 13 miles southwest of Independence.

In 1869, the Laura Ingall’s family moved to that site and stayed there one year before moving back to Pepin, Wisconsin. The TV show was set in Walnut Grove, Minnesota, but the Kansas location is a place that fans of the books or the show should visit at least once. It’s not big and a tour is really cheap and doesn’t take long.

Finally, if you want a real relaxing vacation with great food, changing scenery and fantastic entertainment, take a cruise.

We prefer four-night cruises to Mexico and the Bahamas that we have taken out of Galveston, Texas; Canaveral, Florida; and Tampa, Florida. You might be surprised how inexpensive they are. If you plan ahead and get good airfare, you can cruise for less that the cost of some hotels in big resorts.

On a cruise, everything can be prepaid. The meals are out of this world. Nothing is more relaxing than being at sea.

And our grown kids really like to cruise, too.