Family Summer Camps, a Cheaper Way to Vacation
Parents (and grandparents) return to summer camp with the kids for an affordable family vacation.
Playing on the water at Camp Nah-Jee-Wah in Milford, PA.
Many parents relive their childhoods, create new family traditions, discover the thrill of new challenges, rekindle long-distance friendships, and become part of a family camp community when they join their kids for a week or a weekend at summer camp. And it’s not just for parents.
“We often get new families ask if grandma and grandpa can come along,” says Marc Koch, senior director of Fairview Lake YMCA Camps, in Newton, NJ. “A 67-year-old would enjoy the thrill of a 40-foot swing over the lake as much as a 7-year-old.”
Families that opt for an unplugged, fun alternative to traditional vacations choose to get back to nature, says Susie Lupert, executive director of the American Camp Association, NY and NJ, “because they look for less expensive, more inclusive ways to spend time together.”
To find a camp that is a good fit for your family, look for activities that meet every age and stage, from youngster to adult, says Lupert.
Affordable family fun
Maureen D., of Pearl River, NY, mother of three daughters, Amanda, 15, Kimmy, 13, Kayla, 12, along with her husband Eric, 46, have returned to Camp Nah-Jee-Wah, in Milford, PA, for two family weekends every summer for the past seven years. “That’s how much fun we’ve had,” says Maureen. “During the day, the kids have their little adventure with their age group and they get to do whatever they want, from canoeing to paddle boarding, which my kids love.”
The camp has an inflatable trampoline and an igloo waterslide. “I think I’ve done every activity at least once,” says Maureen, a 45-year-old expert camper.
Its cost is reasonable for a family vacation, with room, board and all the entertainment amenities included, she says. “If you stay in a hotel, you’re roughing it a bit but it would cost you a fortune. So, I’m thinking, ‘Where could we zip line and jet ski and all this fun stuff for this price?’”
Typically, Fairview opens every activity — climbing walls, giant swing, riflery, candle making, and more — to allow families to come and go as they please, says Koch. For the early-rising moms, there’s Zumba classes and Mommy & Me yoga.
They also offer specialty camps so families can backpack along the Appalachian Trail or canoe at Delaware Water Gap.
Balance family, kid, parent time
Many programs provide a balance between family time and kid time, says Daniel Hosiassohn, director of Family Camp at Nah-Jee-Wah.
“Every day, children ages 3–12 have a day-camp program where they will meet with counselors and break into three age groups that cater to their needs,” he says. These include a ropes course, jet skis, arts and crafts, and sports. Then families have lunch and spend the rest of the day together.
At night there is a magic show, daredevil act, or other entertainment. “That will lead into a bonfire by a lake, s’mores and marshmallows, so you’re getting that summer-camp experience with a resorts-styled itinerary,” Hosiassohn says.
Inclusive camps for all families
Numerous camps also cater to different types of families — single parents, intergenerational, same gender, dietary restrictive.
“Sometimes people fly in for our gluten-free weekend, with topical speakers and food served in our certified gluten-free kitchen, where you can pick up any food and feel completely safe,” says Hosiassohn.
Maureen has attended the gluten-free weekend because her eldest daughter, Amanda, has celiac disease. In their “dedicated gluten-free kitchens, everything is made separately, so there’s no cross contamination with wheat products or flour, so it’s the same meal everyone else is getting but cooked in a separate kitchen,” Maureen notes.
“There have been families coming to us for many, many years,” Hosiassohn says, “and then they bring their kids, and now their grandkids, so it’s very rewarding to watch them return to where the magic first began.”
Lynda Dell is a freelance writer.