Shake Up Your Spring Break

There's no better cure for cabin fever than getting a head start on planning a spring break getaway. There are many nearby options that offer a total change of scenery, nonstop adventure, art and culture or beautiful white sand and relaxation.

By Dwain Hebda, Photography Courtesy of Vendors

Destin
 

With spring break looming, Central Arkansas families are planning their traditional trips to shake off the winter doldrums and indulge their bouts of spring fever. Many families return to the same location year after year, some for generations. But if this is your first time planning a spring break getaway—or you’re just looking to break from routine—we’ve collected a few family-friendly destinations to consider.

Gulf Coast/Florida

 One of the most popular destinations for Central Arkansas families is the seashore of the Gulf Coast and Florida panhandle. Destin and Pensacola Beach, Florida, as well as Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama, are all popular destinations within a day’s drive of Little Rock,or a 108-minute flight on GLO Airlines.

For entertainment, the beach generally takes center stage on any spring break trip to the coast, and they are beautiful in this part of the world—when they say sugar-white beaches and clear emerald water, they mean it. Most Arkansas spring break periods fall in March, however, making the air and water temps still on the cool side. But if you just want to hear the soothing sounds of the surf and dig your toes into the sand, any one of the area’s many public beaches is the ticket.

These communities also feature plenty of non-beach entertainment options for families, from zipline parks to miniature golf to go-karts along with various community events and local festivals. Dining options include seafood fresher than anything you can get farther inland, and while most beach communities feature kid-friendly restaurants specifically targeting the tourist dollar (Lulu’s, Pink Pony and McGuire’s Irish Pub among them) ask around for an off-the-beaten-path spot—you won’t be disappointed and your vacation budget will go further.

RUSSELL CARLTON, KEYSTONE RESORT

RUSSELL CARLTON, KEYSTONE RESORT

Colorado

 The ski slopes of Colorado rival the Gulf Coast in terms of popularity among Arkansas spring breakers. Kathy Primm of Sue Smith Vacations in North Little Rock recommends Steamboat and Keystone ski resorts for families, both of which offer special packages that allow you to customize your vacation.

Jetsetter named Steamboat "Premier Family Ski Resort" while Ski magazine and Forbes magazine ranked it in the top 10 family ski resorts for the past three years. The resort offers a wide variety of terrain to accommodate all ages and skill levels, including some runs that are for kids only. There’s also an on-premises ski and snowboard school for beginners. You can also tube down the mountain, take a snowshoe hike or ride horses through the breathtaking scenery.

Keystone’s Kidtopia offers a variety of kid-friendly activities, including the Kidtopia Headquarters, where families can bond with their children over a variety of board games and craft activities. Or, pick up a Kidtopia Scavanger Hunt Map and spend the day collecting stamps to complete the hunt. On the slopes, skiing, snowboarding and tubing are all available for family fun. The resort’s signature sleigh ride (with or without dinner) is a treat they’re sure to remember.

Peabody Memphis duck march

Memphis

Memphis bills itself the “Home of the Blues and Birthplace of Rock ‘n’ Roll” and it’s got the musical pedigree to back it up. Tour Sun Studios, Stax Museum of American Soul Music, Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum or the ultimate, Elvis’ Graceland Mansion, to discover the role Memphis played in these American musical art forms.

Families will also want to check out Overton Park, home to the Memphis Zoo and the Brooks Museum of Art, surrounded by the huge relaxing greenspace growing in the center of the midtown historic district.

The Pink Palace is a wonderfully eccentric collection of exhibits and artifacts including a replica Piggly Wiggly grocery store and a T-rex under the same roof. Other museums of note include the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel, the site of Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination, the Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum and Center for Southern Folklore.

Springtime is also baseball season for the Memphis Redbirds, Triple-A affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals. Take in a game in downtown’s beautiful AutoZone Park, just a short walk from the original Peabody Hotel, where you can see the famous Peabody ducks make their nightly march from the lobby fountain.

City Museum

City Museum

St. Louis

The St. Louis Cardinals baseball team is a headliner attraction for many Little Rock families, but St. Louis provides a range of other attractions for a relaxing and fun spring break.

Check out City Museum, a must-see experience for kids and families. Occupying 600,000 square feet in the former home of the International Shoe Company, City Museum is part playground, part funhouse and part surrealistic work of art. With its maze of stairs, ladders, slides and other oddities, the award-winning structure never disappoints.

A more traditional architectural experience is the Gateway Arch, part of downtown’s Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. At 630 feet, it’s the largest man-made monument in the nation. A tram ride takes visitors to the top of the Arch; however, it’s recently been closed due to improvements, so be sure to check the status at gatewayarch.com.

Other recommended attractions include the Fabulous Fox Theatre, St. Louis Science Center and Sophia M. Sachs Butterfly House.

If you don’t want to make the 6-hour drive to St. Louis, check out Amtrak’s direct service and ride the rails to the Gateway City.

Audubon Nature Institute Zoo

Audubon Nature Institute Zoo

New Orleans

People don’t generally think of New Orleans for family vacations, which is a shame because nowhere in the United States can you find the blend of art, food, culture and history that you can here.

Take a ride on the St. Charles line, the world’s oldest continuously operating street railway, to get a view of the Garden District and Audubon Park. The Audubon Nature Institute, comprised of an aquarium, 2,000-animal zoo and butterfly and insectarium, provides hours of entertainment for children and families. Or, take in the attractions of the 30,000-square-foot Louisiana Children’s Museum.

If the French Quarter’s reputation gives you pause, check out the convention and visitors bureau’s family-friendly tour of the famous neighborhood. For older kids, consider a tour of the city’s fascinating and historically significant above-ground cemeteries—you might even experience a traditional New Orleans jazz funeral proceeding by.

At night, music fills the air, as do the aromas from the city’s many restaurants and cafes. The muffaletta was invented here (at Central Grocery), the po’boy sandwich was perfected here (excellent options abound throughout the city) and Café du Monde has been cranking out delicious beignets for 155 years.

New Orleans is an easy seven-hour drive from Little Rock, or you can take advantage of the affordable 94-minute direct flight by Little Rock’s newest air carrier, GLO Airlines.