A staycation means you’re on vacation, but staying at home and perhaps taking some day trips – but probably keeping up with your regular chores. We highly recommend the near-cation  – you’re on vacation close to home, but not staying at home. Atlanta Parent recently sent three families to nearby resorts at Stone Mountain, Callaway Gardens and Lake Lanier Islands to soak up the summer fun. The drives were a breeze, the fun was a blast and relaxing was part of the mix.


Stone Mountain: Such a Great Time… We’re Going Back!

Stone Mountain Family Escape
Evergreen Marriott Conference Resort,
4021 Lakeview Dr., Stone Mountain Park.
770-879-9900; stonemountainpark.com/offers-packages/
From Atlanta: Approx. 30 min. 

As a super-busy family of four, we knew that we needed time to recharge, relax and have fun, but we had avoided “staycations” in the past. Those times when I found myself tackling chores such as laundry both before and after a day-trip often left me feeling tired and grumpy. As a family, we were not meeting our “fun-time” goals. 
So we decided to try a “nearcation.” We settled on the Evergreen Marriott Conference Resort at Stone Mountain Park. A quick 30-minute drive did not even afford my boys time to ask, “Are we there yet?” The pleasant discovery is that our family still felt “worlds” away. The affordable rate of $199 included deluxe accommodations, “Weekend Adventure” passes to Stone Mountain Park, a breakfast buffet and lots of resort amenities. The resort itself is lovely – in a wooded area and bordering a tranquil lake – and it’s 100 percent smoke-free, a big plus because our boys have asthma. 
Within minutes of our arrival, the boys were happily splashing in the outdoor pool as my husband relaxed in the connecting whirlpool. I set out to scope out the resort. I found a gift shop, and four on-site restaurants, all kid-friendly. I came upon an arcade, a kiddie pool, an indoor pool and a whirlpool, over-sized outdoor chess and checker games, a fire pit, a fireplace in the lobby surrounded by comfy seats, a complimentary refreshment station, a fitness facility and an on-site spa.
Our room overlooked the lake, so we awoke each morning to dappled reflections  from the lake and then enjoyed the generous breakfast buffet, including made-to-order omelets. The boys loved getting their picture taken with “Splash,” the mascot from the Ride-the-Ducks attraction. Soon we headed to Stone Mountain Park for some fun via the resort’s complimentary shuttle. This amenity alone abolished the stress of loading up, driving to the park and finding a parking spot. 
We explored the newly opened Geyser Towers (where my husband and I were able to stay dry and the boys were thrilled to get drenched), the Great Barn, Mini-Golf, the Sky Hike (above-ground ropes course), and the Yogi Bear 4-D movie adventure. We then took the shuttle back to the resort for rest before heading back for fun on the scenic train ride and the Summit Skyride. We topped off the day on with the park’s laser show. If you’ve ever experienced the mass exodus at the show’s conclusion, you can appreciate the value of walking a few steps to a shuttle bus that bypasses all that traffic. We were back at the resort within minutes.
Our favorite place to dine was Stonewall’s Lounge, where my husband had a view of multiple TVs tuned to sports, and the boys were excited to play Wii. The service was brisk, the food delicious. One attentive server went out of his way to ask our kids to alert him when they finished so they could get a “clean plate award.” The kids’ menu included grilled chicken salad, chicken tenders, turkey sandwiches, grilled cheese, macaroni and cheese, hot dogs and hamburgers; all served with a side and drink for $5. Our boys got to choose a trinket-type toy and were surprised with crispy rice treat bars for dessert. 
We had so much fun that we’ve decided to go back this fall.
What parents liked the most: Complimentary shuttle bus; well-maintained resort that allowed us to truly escape; everything-you-can-imagine-for-breakfast buffet.
What kids liked the most: Splashing in the pools, ninja and pirate toy surprises from the restaurants, sitting by the lobby fireplace.   
Know before you go: Pack a towel or change of clothes if you plan to experience Geyser Towers; kids 32-40 inches must be accompanied by a chaperone age 16 or older. Purchase and pack your own glow-sticks for enjoyment before the Laser Show begins (glow toys are about $10 on site). Pack closed-toed shoes (required for Geyser Towers and Sky Hike). Sky Hike requires adult supervision for children under age 16; the minimum height is 44 inches. Resort rooms have a mini fridge, so you can save by bringing snacks or picnic fixings.
Costs: $179-$199 room rate per night (check website for packages). Valid daily 5/23-8/5; Fri.-Sun. 8/10-8/26; Sat.-Mon. 9/1-9/3. Two-day Adventure Passes allow a second day of attractions and remain valid through Dec. 31. Additional two-day Adventure Passes for guests only may be purchased at the hotel for $28 each; $10 park entrance fee not included. Visit stonemountainpark.com for attraction hours. Limited number of rooms available for this promotion; tax additional. Offer does not apply to groups of 10 or more rooms. Blackout dates may apply. Advance reservations required. 
– Dana diLorenzo


Callaway Gardens: Families Love the Beauty and Outdoor Play

Callaway Gardens
Intersection of GA Hwys. 18/354,
Pine Mountain. 706-663-2281; callawaygardens.com 
From Atlanta: Approx. 90 min.

Callaway Gardens is a great place for a family adventure – where else can you bike, swim, go zip-lining, surround yourself with butterflies, watch birds of prey, and see a circus performance?
It’s close enough for a day trip, but offers plenty of attractions to justify a weekend or weeklong stay.
Did I say zip-lining? The TreeTop Adventure, a high-flying ropes and zip-line course ($33.10 per person; must be at least 54 inches tall), is something new for families. It’s 90 minutes of adventure, including five zips and a treetop rope agility course. Although it is not for the agoraphobic, it is for all ages and fitness levels. Our 11-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son couldn’t stop talking about how much fun it was!
Callaway Gardens, on 13,000 acres in Pine Mountain, boasts the world’s largest manmade white sand beach at Robin Lake, where families can swim and sunbathe for free, or splurge on floating obstacle courses, blaster boats or laser tag. Bicycle trails cover 10 miles of the park, taking you from one garden to another. (Bring your own bikes, or rent them at the resort.)
Two of my family’s favorite attractions are Mr. Cason’s Vegetable Garden, with more than seven acres of fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers, and the Cecil B. Day Butterfly Center, where more than 1,000 tropical butterflies from more than 50 species fly freely among exotic plants.
A summer tradition that you won’t want to miss is the Florida State University Flying High Circus, with shows on Robin Lake Beach, through Aug. 3 (daily performances except Tuesdays and Wednesdays). There is even a Flying Circus Camp offered until Aug. 4 for ages 3-17; camp meets 9 a.m.-3 p.m. daily, and kids enjoy circus skills, tennis, water skiing/tubing, golf lessons, arts and crafts, fishing, archery, jewelry/pottery-making and more. Camp sessions are offered in 4-, 5-, 6- or 7-day packages. While the kids are in camp, parents can relax in the 13,000-square-foot spa, with an array of organic treatments and services. You can also play a round of golf at one of the nation’s top-rated courses, or tennis at one of 10 lighted outdoor courts.
While there is plenty to do on the property, nearby attractions include the Wild Animal Safari Park, and Georgia’s largest state park, FDR State Park and the Little White House in Warm Springs.
What parents liked most: The grounds are gorgeous. Our family of four enjoyed riding our bicycles on the trail. The staff were friendly and helpful. After a day of bicycling and zip-lining, we were happy to come back to a welcoming, clean and spacious cottage with two bedrooms divided by a large kitchen and open living space. I would have been content to unplug the whole weekend, though my children were delighted with the three flat-panel TVs.
What the kids liked most: The TreeTop Adventure, of course. They also were mesmerized by the Birds of Prey Show and loved walking among the butterflies in the Cecil B. Day Butterfly Center.
Know Before You Go: The resort property has several dining options, from sandwiches and burgers to a Southern-style buffet to white-table-cloth dining. If you prefer to cook, kitchens in the cottages are fully stocked – all you need is the food. A small grocery store is around the corner from the resort. You can also buy fresh, locally grown produce at the Farmer’s Market at Robin Lake Beach (Fridays, 4-7 p.m.).
Costs: Mountain Creek Villas from $340/night (two bedrooms) and $540 night (four bedrooms); rooms at Mountain Creek Inn start at $99 weekdays, $139 weekends in summer; Southern Pine Cottages $310/night, with $199 a night “special” weekdays this summer; the seven-night Summer Family Adventure camp program for five people costs $2,950 and includes two-bedroom cottage accommodation. Discounts for AAA members. Park admission ($19 adults, $9 children) is waived for all overnight guests.
– Beth Balga


Lake Lanier Islands: A Splash-Happy Time

Lake Lanier Islands Resort
and LanierWorld
7000 Lanier Islands Pkwy., Buford.
770-945-8787; lakelanierislands.com
From Atlanta: Approx. 75 min.

WOW – I did not realize there was so much fun for my family to have this close to home! The children were excited about packing for an overnight trip, driving a short distance, and arriving at a truly fun place for everyone.
When we arrived at the Legacy Lodge at Lake Lanier Islands Resort, it felt like walking into our own lake cabin. The cabin-themed décor throughout is beautiful, serene and blends perfectly with the surrounding nature. Our room was spacious, clean, well-maintained, had everything we needed (from coffee and tea maker to cotton swabs and sewing kit). The staff were courteous, warm and welcoming; a door always swung open for us as we walked around the facility.
We started the day with a huge buffet (included in the package) that had every kind of breakfast food, even a made-to-order omelet and waffle station. After breakfast we took the hotel’s courtesy shuttle to Lanier World, a family fun park that is so big it’s hard to do everything in one day.
At “Big Beach,” you can find shade under gigantic umbrellas. There’s plenty of space for the children to play under the sun in the sand, hop into the lake for a swim or take a walk on the boardwalk. There’s even a Ferris wheel and a huge slide. A floating stage has regularly scheduled live entertainment.
One of the big draws here is LanierWorld, an amazing water park with a mini version for toddlers adjacent to its entrance. Water rains down from tall mushrooms, flows down slides and through obstacle courses, all to produce about one foot of water for tykes to splash around in. The Kiddie Lagoon is perfect for the little ones!
My kids are 9 and 7, so they go for the thrill of the water rides. They like to plop down on mats and ride down wavy slides through racing waters to make a big splash. They love the wave pool, where tall and powerful waves are created every few minutes. We could not resist water rides with names like the Typhoon, the Twister, the Intimidator, Raging River, Racing Waters, Splash Down and Blackout! Mom tip: There are so many kids and lifeguards around, you don’t have to go on every ride if you don’t want to.
We also visited Sunset Cove, another popular location within LanierWorld. The ice cream there is fantastic, the miniature golf course is great, and the fun dunker reigns supreme in my kids’ world. What’s better on a hot summer day than a gigantic bucket of water dumped on your head?
We had visited the park several times on day trips, but this was the first time we booked a couple of nights at the hotel. That alone made it feel like a true summer vacation. For the kids, the hotel has a tempered pool, billiards and ping-pong tables, and on Saturday nights there’s a movie shown on a huge inflatable screen by the pool. For a mom’s good intentions, there’s a fitness center, spa and Jacuzzi, lounge chairs, and plenty of time to read while the kids are busy playing and having a great summer. The whole family can also enjoy walking trails.
We left wanting to do more, because there’s plenty more to do, including golf, tennis, biking, horseback riding, sailing or even the zip-line adventures. We definitely need to come back! 
What parents liked the most: Our kids met and played with other kids from all over Georgia. The fact that we could go back and forth from the hotel made us enjoy the park more. We went to the park in the morning, came back to the hotel for lunch and a nap, then went back out in the afternoon. We also liked wrapping up the day at the hotel pool.
What kids liked most: Water! They loved the water park, the beach and the hotel pool. Also: the fluffy white comforters. 
Know Before You Go: Don’t forget hats, sunscreen and pool toys.
Costs: “Family Fun Package” room rates start at $209 weekdays and $219 weekends. Package includes a full breakfast plus two days of tickets to LanierWorld water park (general ticket for LanierWorld costs $34.99 per person). Basic room rates start at $189 weekdays, $199 weekends. LanierWorld is open daily through Aug. 12, and weekends only Aug. 18-Sept. 9.  c
– Lucia Urtusastegui

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