Are your kids too young to be packing No. 2 pencils and three-ring binders? Then get packing for a family getaway instead. For families with pre-kindergartners, this is the best time of year to grab a fantastic travel deal.
At many resorts and destinations, current prices are as low as they go -- and they'll remain low in many places until Thanksgiving and beyond.
Now that families with school-age kids have cleared out of popular destinations, many hotels and resorts have put their very best deals on the table. What's more, some resorts now promote autumn as a prime time for preschoolers -- not only with lower prices, but with special events and activities created just for wee ones.
Here are seven kid-friendly destinations offering terrific deals this autumn:
Disney World, Lake Buena Vista, Florida: Disney's lowest-priced window -- called "value" season -- includes most nights from Sept. 30 to Nov. 16 and from Nov. 24 to Dec. 22, when rates at Disney Resort hotels are 30% below peak periods. Bonus: You can look forward to cooler temperatures, smaller crowds, and shorter lines
Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain near Tucson, Arizona: This retreat offers three swimming pools, a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course, and expansive views of the Sonoran Desert. Through Nov. 30, the Autumn Break package starts at $259 per night for midweek stays. More Info: You also get a $100 nightly credit to spend on meals, spa treatments, or whatever you like at the property.
Beaches Resorts, four locations in the Caribbean: This chain of kid-friendly all-inclusive resorts is heaven for the preschool set, thanks to its partnership with Sesame Street, a super daycamp, and terrific waterplay areas scaled for tots. Through the end of October, the "Wonderfall" season delivers a line-up of special events, including live stage shows with Elmo, Big Bird, Gordon, and Abby Cadabby. More Info: You'll also save up to 65% on stays of three or more nights.
Mountain Lodge at Telluride, Colo.: Is hiking, biking, and rafting your idea of vacation bliss? One of Telluride's best hotels has rolled out a sliding scale of discounts for fall, so the longer you stay, the more you save. Stay two nights and save 15%; stay three to five nights and save 20%; stay six or more nights and save 30%. Use promo code STAY15.
Nickelodeon Suites Resort, Orlando, Fla.: The popular Nick Hotel is offering the Dora and Diego Adventure package for a rate of $155 per night, which includes Dora and Diego adventure backpacks and other goodies. More Info: Kids under 5 eat free, and adults receive two tickets to the 4-D Dora and Diego Experience.
Winnetu Resort, Martha's Vineyard, Mass.: Rates at this kid-friendly beach resort plummet in mid-September, letting families save more than 50% compared to peak summer prices. A great list of complimentary perks, from help-yourself bike rentals to yoga classes, makes this resort a stand-out. More Info: Through Oct. 20, book a suite or cottage for two nights and get a third night free.
Club Med: This family-friendly chain of all-inclusive resorts has locations in Florida, Mexico, and the Caribbean, and it caters especially well to families with young children. Right now you can jump on the exceptional Great Getaways Sale, which delivers seven nights for the price of three. You have until Oct. 29 to book, and the deal is valid for travel dates through April 2013. More Info: All-inclusive packages start at $888 per adult with a 50% discount for kids 2 to 15 years.
Suzanne Rowan Kelleher is the co-founder and editor of WeJustGotBack.com, an award-winning family travel site featuring reviews of kid-friendly hotels and resorts, expert planning advice, readers' travel tips, and more. The author and her daughter were guests of Adventures by Disney.