Nine ideas for groups

Here are some suggestions for trips with friends or extended family groups.


Getting away to catch up or relax doesn’t require a well-padded travel budget. A variety of close-by destinations offer a range of affordable activities to suit a crowd.

Georgetown, S.C.

This picturesque coastal town, the third oldest in South Carolina, is as charming as its neighbor, Charleston, but at considerably lower prices. Dotted with a quaint waterfront, a harbor walk and historic homes, it’s great for getting away from the bustle of the big city. But there’s still plenty to appeal to a range of interests.

One of the main attractions is the wealth of golf courses. The public is welcome to play at several courses within 10 miles of Georgetown, including the Wedgefield Plantation Golf Club, the Heritage Club, the Founders Club at Pawleys Island, the Caledonia Golf and Fish Club and the River Club. They're just some of the elite courses along the Waccamaw Golf Trail, the name given to 11 of the local greens ranked among the top public courses in the country by Golf Digest. And, since they're public, greens fees start around $25.

The less sporting members of the group may opt for a day fishing, touring the lighthouse and exploring nearby Shell Island. The Rice Museum ($3-$7, 633 Front St.) in the old market building still functions as a market and is the repository of the town's memorabilia from its days as a rice-producing area. Located in the heart of the Low Country, Georgetown also affords a glimpse into the plantation era, and during the 68th annual Plantation Tour at the end of March, visitors are invited to explore many properties that are privately held. The Winyah Bay Heritage Festival in March, the April Blessing of the Fleet, and an annual festival devoted to shag music are other springtime draws.


Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Ala.

Sun, sand and all the activities that come with being outdoors in the warm weather abound in these coastal towns. Visitors from Atlanta can save on the cost of airfare by driving the 370 miles south and renting from a range of affordable lodgings, including beach cottages, condos, bed and breakfast inns, hotels and motels.

Once there, visitors can select from a lengthy list of free or inexpensive to-do options. The early-risers will savor a sunrise stroll on the pristine sands that snake for 32 miles along the Gulf of Mexico, most of which offer free parking, showers and picnic areas. Take off early for a day of deep-sea fishing, or climb into a canoe or kayak to explore some of the freshwater lakes and rivers in the vicinity. Diving, snorkeling and dolphin-watching are favorite pastimes.

The area is rich in history, particularly along the Battle of Mobile Bay Civil War Trail, a 90-mile stretch that tells the story of the war in the region and the climactic battle of August 1864. Stop at Historic Fort Morgan (51 Ala. 180, Gulf Shores), erected by the Spanish in the 1500s, and Fort Gaines (51 Bienville Blvd., Dauphin Island), both of which are linked by a ferry across the bay. Admission charges are inexpensive. Along the way, stop to observe the wildlife at the many bird-watching areas and trails. Plan a day at Gulf State Park (20115 Ala. 135, Gulf Shores), where beach access is free and there's a modest charge for the adventure center featuring six ziplines, four of which soar over the boaters on Lake Shelby. Shopping, dining and spa options are also part of the beach experience — as is doing nothing more strenuous than stretching out on the sand under the sun.

1-800-745-7263,, @AlabamaBeaches.

Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort

Head into the North Carolina mountains for a little bit R&R — or action, if you’re feeling the gambling bug.

This 21-story destination has just about every option within its complex. Rooms start at about $79 per night, and come with access to the round-the-clock fitness center, indoor and outdoor pools, a spa and a lounge where a DJ spins dance tunes in the evening. The 3,000-seat event hall has played host to some of the top names in entertainment and is scheduled to welcome Styx and Loretta Lynn this spring.

The dining options are as diverse as the activities, with Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, the Italian-themed Brio and the casual Johnny Rockets on the premises.

But the major attraction here is the casino, where blackjack, poker, craps, roulette, slots and video poker are just a few of the contests where guests can test their luck. Book five or more rooms and the staff will provide an array of services, from snagging VIP show seats to arranging a chef’s table dinner.

Not far from the hotel is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and it's a short drive to golf courses, hiking, rafting, canoeing and fishing. The Museum of the Cherokee Indian ($6-$10, 589 Tsali Blvd., 828-497-3481, tells the story of the Indian nation's history and culture through films and exhibits. The Valley River Casino and Hotel near Murphy, N.C., is slated to open sometime this year.

Harrah's Cherokee Casino Resort, 777 Casino Drive, Cherokee, 828-497-7777,, @HarrahsCherokee.


Book a flight and head off on an exploration vacation. No matter what interests various group members have, they’re sure to find something to suit at one of these three options.

Portland, Ore.

Looking to lose the formalities of life? This West Coast city is one of the most laid-back locations in the country.

Many attractions offer a unique glimpse into its Western history, starting at Fort Vancouver, a re-created 1800s fur-trading center. Another link to the area's past is the end of the Oregon Trail, a historic site where the visitors center tells the story of the 2,000-mile route from Missouri.

The heart of town, nestled between the banks of the Columbia and Willamette rivers, offers plenty to explore. Hike through one of the city's densely forested parks, or hop a bike and pedal over one of the eight bridges (don't miss the one-of-a-kind Steel Bridge that lifts vertically).

Portland also has a well-deserved reputation as a foodie city, so expect to indulge in local specialties at a street cart or paired with beers in one of the many brew pubs. The Portland Art Museum (1219 Southwest Park Ave.), Oregon Zoo (4001 Southwest Canyon Road), Children's Museum (4015 Southwest Canyon Road) and the streetcar are close-in attractions. And shopper alert: The city has no sales tax.

Just beyond the city limits are other not-to-be-missed options, starting with a bustling wine district about 30 minutes out of town. Travel another hour to Mount Hood, the state's tallest peak and home to cold-weather sports, from skiing to snow tubing. The scenic Columbia River gorge and the rugged shores of the Pacific Ocean are also about a 90-minute drive. Round-trip flights on Southwest can range from $400 to $1,000, depending on the season and time of day.

1-877-678-5263,, @travelportland.

The Bahamas

Crystal-clear, blue water and pink sands make this chain of islands southeast of Florida a magnet for anyone craving a beach escape.

While there’s a range of activities, from snorkeling and swimming to just kicking back on a blanket, one of the main reasons the Bahamas are a destination is the wealth of deep-sea fishing experiences. A number of local outfitters will provide everything — including rods and bait — for a full or half-day excursion beyond the shallow waters, so all guests need to do is grin and hold up their catch for the camera.

Chubasco Charters (561-503-4114, has air-conditioned boats that hold up to eight and often can be spotted on the Nassau fishing reef. The company also can arrange with a local restaurant to cook and serve the catch lucky fishermen bring in. Born Free Fishing (Brown's Boat Basin, East Bay Street, Nassau; 786-219-0515, will arrange four-, six- and eight-hour deep-sea excursions that not only include fishing but can entertain everyone in the group with snorkeling and picnicking in secluded coves.

Other boats take visitors on water tours of the harbor for up-close views of the enormous cruise ships in port. Fishing trips start around $600 for a half-day outing for six, but prices vary by length of time, activities, the number of participants and the time of year. Direct flights on Delta are about $1,000, depending on the time of day and season.

1-800-224-2627,, @VisitTheBahamas.

Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival

For two weekends in April, the small desert town of Indio, Calif., is transformed into a music and arts mecca. The Coachella festival attracts some of the biggest recording stars to the Empire Polo Club about two hours east of Los Angeles. The performers, representing genres ranging from electronic dance and hip-hop to classic rock, perform on the festival’s seven stages. With the sheer number of musicians on hand, it’s no wonder this festival is one of the largest of its kind, drawing almost 600,000 people.

Besides the music, other highlights include artworks, sculptures and paintings by local and national artists. An area of old-fashioned, family-friendly games gets everyone involved in three-legged races, water balloon tossing, dodgeball and pie-eating contests.

Accommodations in the area vary, from motels and hotels to on-site camping. Passes to the event are available in advance online and start at $375.

81-800 Avenue 51, Indio, Calif., 1-888-512-7469,, @coachella.


Seeing the Alaskan scenery, sipping beer in Rome or being decadently pampered at a desert spa — what more luxurious ways are there to blow that big tax refund?

Spa resorts in Sedona, Ariz.

Just 90 minutes north of Phoenix, Sedona was considered by ancients to be the center of the universe, where red rock cliffs, dusty desert stretches and bright blue skies formed captivating vistas. It’s still an area of tranquility and calm and, appropriately, home to several spa resorts that capitalize on that centering calm by offering some of the most lavish and luxurious retreat experiences.

The Enchantment Resort (525 Boynton Canyon Road, 1-888-250-1699, caters to those 16 and older who want to combine spa treatments with more than 100 activities every week. Bocce, swimming, hiking and mountain biking are on the list, along with classes in art, photography and gardening. Gourmet cuisine will sate the taste buds, while the Mii Amo staff will massage the knots out of necks and shoulders. The Hilton Sedona Golf Resort and Spa (90 Ridge Trail Drive, 928-284-4040,, @hiltonsedona) boasts its own golf course, spa packages and an array of personalized tour options to take visitors into the desert or to the Grand Canyon. L'Auberge de Sedona (301 Little Lane, 1-800-905-5745, is a French-inspired property of rustic log buildings that house the L'Apothecary Spa. Guests are invited to concoct their own blends of scents with salts and sugars for body treatments and to enjoy the spa and breakfast packages. Rates at most resorts start at $500 per night.

Italian beer tour

Beer in Italy? Yes, along with some of the world’s best wines, Italy is home to some exceptional beer makers who are creating memorable brews to pair with the culinary flavors of their home regions. It’s become such a booming industry that in 2003 the Italian Brewing Research Center was established in Perugia, just north of Rome.

Rome, the capital city, is home to two of the country's top breweries: the Birra Del Borgo (68/70 Via dei Latini) a leader in IPA offerings, and the Birradamare (8 Via Falzarego, 06-65-82-021, In the northwest, several local breweries have popped up in the Piedmont and Lombardy region towns of Torino, Genoa and Milan. In the Liguria area, the town of La Spezia stages an annual beer festival in the fall that celebrates German brews and foods, from sausages to strudels. And for group members who may not go in for beer, there's no shortage of the country's other leading gastronomic delights: pasta and gelato.

Round-trip airfare to Rome runs about $1,500 per person, but may vary by season and day of the week.

Italian National Tourism Board, 686 Park Ave., New York, 212-245-5618,

Alaskan cruises

The majestic scenery of Alaska shines when the ice thaws and the waters are clear enough for the giant cruise liners to give passengers a close-up look.

Five major cruise lines — Norwegian, Disney, Princess, Carnival and Royal Caribbean — lead the list of companies that sail ships into the waters of the 49th state. Most of the seven-day trips depart from either Vancouver or Seattle and head north to take in the stunning glaciers, sea life and natural beauty of Glacier Bay and the Gulf of Alaska. While on board, passengers are pampered with swimming pools, movie theaters, casinos, spa services, gourmet dining and entertainment.

Most cruises also offer options to extend the excursion with trips that take visitors onto glaciers, through wildlife preserve areas and through Denali National Park and Preserve, home of Mount McKinley. Cruises depart May through September.

Some 7-day excursions start at $500, without airfare. Information is available from the individual cruise lines.