Best Family Getaways 2014
“On every trip, try something new; come back knowing you did something you weren’t willing to try before,” tweeted Wendy Perrin, TripAdvisor’s Travel Advocate and a mom of two.
It’s a travel motto she shared in our recent family travel Twitter chat (#TL_Chat), and it’s one that we’d wholeheartedly retweet. After all, today’s best family trips are thrill rides of adventure, immersive cultural exchanges, and transcendent bonding opportunities with furry new friends. They’re opportunities to open—and blow—the minds of your offspring, while creating memories they’ll want to recount to future generations.
If you can imagine swinging through a canopy of trees in Costa Rica, your youngest child squealing with pleasure right behind you; or seeing your bookish son mesmerized as he wanders the ancient Greek ruins he’d seen only in the pages of his history textbooks; or shearing sheep with a fourth-generation New Zealander farmer, then you’ve officially outgrown your parents’ version of a family-friendly vacation. And these trips are for you.
The following family getaways have been tested by travelers we at Travel + Leisure know and trust and who hit the road more often than most CEOs—only with a significantly younger entourage in tow.
Whether you’re 55 going on 5 or the other way around, these family vacation ideas will get the kids as pumped as the parents for some quality time together.
And if things don’t go quite as planned, we recommend adopting another parent’s family travel motto: as Amy Tara Koch tweeted, “This is not a nightmare—it is an adventure!”
Raise a Nature Lover: Costa Rica
With its rain forests and volcanic-sand beaches, butterfly farms and turtle nests, as well as family-friendly hotel openings, Costa Rica has become a top destination for adventure seekers. In the northwestern province of Guanacaste, there are miles of coastline and thick jungle to explore: a government mandate ensures that 70 percent of the region remains protected land. Check in to the Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo ($$$$); the Kids for All Seasons program is free (for ages 4 through 12) and feels more like summer camp than a drop-off babysitting program, with hermit-crab hunts, bird-watching, and outdoor games. At the new Andaz Peninsula Papagayo Resort, Costa Rica ($$$), the Cambi Kids Club includes activities such as animal rescue missions and treasure hunts. There’s also snorkeling and kayaking in the Bay of Culebra and stand-up paddleboarding lessons for the whole family. Outings can be arranged to Palo Verde National Park, home to hundreds of bird species, and for ziplining excursions with Witch’s Rock Canopy Tours, where even four-year-olds can fly 30 feet above the ground.
Bring Social Studies Class to Life: Greece
If getting in a history lesson or two is a priority, try a guided trip through mainland Greece created by T+L A-List travel advisor Mina Agnos (from $250 per person per day). Here, the ultimate driving itinerary, from Athens to Meteora and back.Day 1: Athens
After a tour of the Acropolis Museum, hike up to the centuries-old settlement to see the temples of the Parthenon, Erechtheion, and Athena Nike. Take in the view of the city, then trek down to the ancient Agora, which was the meeting place of the democratic assembly.Days 2–3: Athens to Olympia
Drive south along the Saronic Gulf and cross the Peloponnese to reach the city of Sparta, once known for its fierce warriors. Then make your way west to Mistra, a cultural center during the Byzantine Empire, and Olympia, site of the first Olympic Games, in the eighth century.Day 4: Delphi
Greek cosmology placed Delphi at the center of the universe, and it was home to the powerful Oracle at Delphi. There’s a well-preserved temple to the god Apollo, as well as a great museum that houses important artifacts. Don’t miss the nearby towns of Arachova and Galaxidi, where you’ll find locally made yogurt, honey, and wine.Day 5: Meteora to Athens
In Meteora, explore age-old monasteries filled with Byzantine art that seem to hover above monolithic granite rocks. Before heading back to Athens, stop by Thermopylae, where Spartan king Leonidas and his 300 men fought the Persians for three brutal days (and ultimately lost).
Test Your Survival Skills: The Catskills, New York
Say the name Bear Grylls to an aspiring young adventurer and he will unabashedly disclose his hero worship. The host of Discovery Channel’s Man vs. Wild has six camps across England; one each in Colorado and California; and another in the Catskills, 130 miles north of New York City. Hardy parents and up to two kids (ages 10–17) can ford rivers (holding on to a rope, of course), pick up fire-starting skills, and learn about self-rescue techniques during the 24-hour program. Expect plenty of mud, lots of smiles—and serious bragging rights. From $678 for one adult and one child.
Explore the Open Seas: Cruising
The latest ships have onboard diversions for every type of family. Below, five we love.Carnival Breeze
The Best Itinerary: Miami to the Caribbean, stopping at Grand Cayman and Cozumel, Mexico.
The Killer Amenity: The SkyCruise ropes course, which dangles kids 15 feet up in the air.
The Cost: Six-night cruises from $519 per person, double.Star Princess
The Best Itinerary: Vancouver to Alaska, with a visit to Glacier Bay National Park.
The Killer Amenity: Experiments with marine biologists,such as dissecting squid.
The Cost: Seven-night cruises from $799 per person, double.Celebrity Summit
The Best Itinerary: Bermuda, sailing out of New Jersey.
The Killer Amenity: Slumber parties on deck—no parents allowed.
The Cost: Seven-night cruises from $569 per person, double.Oasis of the Seas
The Best Itinerary: Fort Lauderdale to the Caribbean, stopping in Haiti, Jamaica, and Cozumel.
The Killer Amenity: An all-weather ice-skating rink and a zipline.
The Cost: Seven-night cruises from $749 per person, double.Norwegian Breakaway
The Best Itinerary: New York City to the Bahamas, swinging by Orlando and Nassau, Bahamas.
The Killer Amenity: A water park with a 250-foot slide on Deck 17.
The Cost: Seven-night cruisesfrom $599 per person, double.
Talk to the Animals: South Africa Family Discovery
A great introduction to wildlife viewing, this two-week Cox & Kings custom trip is recommended for families with toddlers in tow; it takes you to the malaria-free zones of South Africa, from Madikwe in the north down to Shamwari. Spend time in Cape Town, swim with African penguins, spot breaching whales off the coast—and see the Big Five in parks a three-hour drive from Johannesburg. 14-day safaris from $7,995 per person, double.
Live the Fairy Tale: Disney World, Orlando
A trip to Disney World is a rite of passage for kids, but it can come with its fair share of headaches. The new Four Seasons Resort Orlando will provide some relief. Just a 10-minute walk from the Magic Kingdom, the 444-room property has hourly shuttles to the four parks, but special appearances by Goofy and friends at breakfast mean there’s no rush to see your favorite buddies. Bonus: a Disney concierge is on hand to get you VIP passes for rides (no lines!) and organize princess brunches for your little ladies. $$$$
Lend a Hand: Australia and China
“Many of our family trips now include a volunteer component,” says Boston-based Elevate Destinations founder Dominique Callimanopulos. “We’ve seen unprecedented interest in this area.” To mix do-good opportunities with the kind of adventure and downtime multigenerational groups crave, Callimanopulos and her team created the Family Planet series. Two popular itineraries: Australia, in which your brood will learn to shear sheep with fourth-generation farmers just outside Melbourne, and China, where families spend time with children at a Beijing elementary school and help zookeepers in Chengdu feed and tend to the country’s beloved baby pandas. 12-day Australia trips from $7,500 per adult ($5,500 per child), double; nine-day China trips from $3,500 per adult ($2,500 per child), double.
Go on an All-American Vacation: Kiawah Island, South Carolina
A 45-minute drive south of Charleston, the Sanctuary Kiawah Island Golf Resort offers more than pristine beaches, golf courses, a spa, and three pools—it also has a comprehensive kids’ program, with everything from glassmaking and tie-dyeing to guided nature hikes, fly-fishing lessons, and archery. Off property, there’s plenty to lure travelers, such as the Holy City Harbor Cruise, which takes guests into Charleston’s port to see where pirates were hanged and the first shots of the Civil War were fired. Had enough history? Just enjoy the beach and make a sandcastle before the tide comes in. $$$
Live the Fairy Tale: Efteling, Netherlands
An hour’s drive south of Amsterdam, the 62-year-old Efteling is the Dutch answer to Disney World. The blooming gardens are filled with electronic musical mushrooms and there’s a whimsical tree that tells children’s stories. Wander the 160-acre park: take a spin on a merry-go-round, watch a mechanical fire-breathing dragon, or snack on traditional Dutch poffertjes (pancakes). As for where to stay? Book a Cinderella- or Flying Dutchman–themed suite at the Efteling Hotel, on the grounds. $$$
Learn to Surf: Waikiki Beach, Oahu, Hawaii
Want to hang ten? On Waikiki Beach, the whole clan can test out their wave-riding skills at the Ty Gurney Surf School, which has an exclusive new partnership with the Trump International Hotel Waikiki Beach Walk ($$$). Individual instructors swim behind kids as young as five to help them catch the crest and stand upright, while another picks them up as they come ashore. You’re guaranteed to get up thanks to the school’s easy-to-manage longboards.
Step Out of Your Comfort Zone: Mumbai to Munnar, India
“The vast subcontinent is the perfect family destination if you’re looking to expose your kids to a completely different culture and worldview—not to mention drag them away from their devices. India counts more than 1.2 billion residents, more ethnicities than WikiAnswers can divine, and a rare ability to gently force visitors to take all that they know to be true and spin it on its head. On a recent trip there with my wife, Karin, and two sons, Jacoby (12) and Ellis (9), we traversed southwestern India on a custom trip organized by local agency Broken Compass. It began in Mumbai at Dhobi Ghats, the great public laundry where Slumdog Millionaire was filmed, followed by a tour of Mahatma Gandhi’s house. We also cruised Kerala’s backwaters, took a daylong elephant trek to search for the elusive Bengal tiger, and learned the ancient art of tea-making in Munnar. And never once did they beg to play Minecraft.” —Scott Goodson, founder of branding agency StrawberryFrog
Talk to the Animals: Kenya’s Simba Family Safari
On this Cox & Kings custom trip through Kenya, you’ll go on guided bush walks through a private reserve near the Masai Mara; take a cruise on a traditional dhow; feed giraffes at the historic hotel Giraffe Manor, near Nairobi; play with baby elephants; and ride horseback through the Lewa Conservancy. The trip ends with a visit to Diani Beach, one of the world’s prettiest stretches of sand. 14-day safaris from $10,795 per person, double.