Consider a vacation center, also known as a holiday or vacation village. They are in Germany, Scandinavia, France, Netherlands, and other countries in western Europe. Although still primarily used by Europeans, they are increasingly utilized by American families looking for alternatives to hotels as well as a different sort of European experience. Usually found in resort areas away from major cities, many vacation villages are strategically placed along coasts, adjacent to lakes, and in mountain areas. Accessible by car -- which will mean an extra cost -- they may also be accessible by rail and/or motorcoach.
These self-contained resort areas may offer such accommodations as apartments, bungalows, or chalets. Some centers operate year-round, others only during the summer. Villages may include high-rise apartment buildings, marinas featuring boating and aquatic sports, indoor and outdoor pools, sports and equestrian facilities, a variety of restaurants, and auditoriums with nightly shows. In addition to a supervised playground, children may be able to take ferry rides and go on excursions to nearby museums and parks.
Accommodations are usually rented for a week or longer. However, shorter stays may be possible, especially during the off-season. The cost of a week at a vacation center is likely less than a week at most hotels used by American travelers in a major city. Moreover, accommodations are usually more spacious than at regular hotels. For example, a typical apartment might include one or more bedrooms, a living room, and a full kitchen or kitchenette. Not having to constantly eat out can be a substantial money-saver.
Guests who don't bring their own linens and towels are charged additionally for these items. A clean-up fee might also be assessed. Some accommodations, however, might include cooking utensils, tableware, and linen. Dishwashers and automatic coffee-makers may be other household amenities. Laundromats are usually available at the centers. Utilities such as heat, electricity and gas may be charged according to consumption or incorporated in the basic rates.
Foreign government tourist offices in the U.S. or tourism offices in the country itself are the best sources of information on vacation centers. However, it's a good move to make arrangements well in advance, particularly for the summer season as these holiday centers are quite popular with Europeans.
Although travel agents may not handle these bookings if the vacation center doesn't pay commissions on them, agents can still process a reservation for a service charge as well as handle other air/land arrangements. Find out if a Value Added Tax is applied to your stay, and if so, how much it is.
On the language front, English is increasingly spoken throughout Europe, and chances are quite good that a lack of proficiency with the local language won't be a barrier to having a fine vacation. Meanwhile, all members of the family are likely to gain a richer understanding of European lifestyles in a fairly economical fashion.