Family vacation ideas
Seeing the world through the eyes of a child can enhance the wonder of any destination, and it’s worth all the extra planning, packing and schlepping of kid-friendly paraphernalia.
Thu, Dec 22 2011 at 4:15 PM
OLD TIMEY: Mackinac Island in Michigan doesn't allow vehicles on the island, leaving tourists to travel by feet, bicycle, or carriage to see the sights. (Photo: Mackinac Cowgirl/Flickr)
With the right planning, even a family trip can be adventuresome, enjoyable, and fun for everyone – mom and dad included. Here are some of our favorite family vacation ideas around the globe with something special for everyone in the family.
The Waitamo Caves are a must-see in New Zealand for kids, with thousands of shimmering glowworms that are unique to New Zealand. A 45-minute boat tour takes visitors under a stunning display of light provided by the glowworms and into the Cathedral, the largest cavern. The world-renowned acoustics in the Cathedral have drawn famous singers and choirs, and kids will relish the chance to test out their own vocal chords in this magnificent cave.
A family pass for two adults and two children is $115; additional children are $16 each. Families can also add on two more famous caves, the Aranui and Ruakuri, for a combo price of $199, and add lunch for $10 adult, $7 a child.
For a free and fun follow up activity, check out the adorable German Angora bunnies at the Shearing Shed, also in Waitomo. Daily shearing occurs from 12:45 to 2, but plan to arrive early for a chance to handle the bunnies yourselves. An onsite shop offers some amazingly soft gift ideas made from the excess fur of these super-soft bunnies.
Teens and older kids who enjoy a rugged experience will appreciate mountain biking on some incredible paths, featuring steep fjords, stunning mountain views, geysers and fascinating wildlife.
Rotorua is a regionally diverse area popular with mountain bikers, but many visitors are turned off by the naturally occurring bad smell in the area that comes from the hot springs. Queenstown can also be added to a sport-focused itinerary, as it’s considered the hub for trekking, rafting and skiing.
Amicalola Park is a perfect start for a North Georgia family adventure, featuring the tallest cascading waterfall east of the Mississippi River. The falls are lined by a winding path and hundreds of stairs, with a view of the Southern Appalachian Mountains when you reach the top. The park serves as an access point for hikers on the Appalachian Trail, so if you’re up to it, bring the appropriate gear and plan on including hiking in your North Georgia adventure.
Pick up some barbecue fixings at a nearby supermarket and plan on grilling up a hot picnic on one of the parks outdoor grills while the kids play on the playground equipment. A small gift shop and welcome center offers any of the fixings you may have forgotten, and some live and stuffed wildlife to check out while mom and dad shop.
Entrance to the park is just a few dollars, but if you want to stay at their lodge, loft rooms sleep six, are well-suited for families, and range from $95 to $145 depending on the time of year. Larger families or those looking for a more rustic experience can rent a cottage with up to three bedrooms, a fireplace and two full baths starting at $125 a night.
Other nearby attractions include gold-digging in Dahlonega ($3.50 admission), the Cabbage Patch Kids Doll Hospital (free admission) in Cleveland, and the town of Helen – a Bavarian village featuring quaint shops, restaurants and horse-drawn carriage rides. Montaluce Vineyard stands out among several local vineyards with a cluster of Italian villas, a locally-sourced gourmet restaurant and stunning scenery.
In the late summer and fall season, visit nearby Ellijay’s apple orchards for a low-priced, fun outdoor activity that’ll leave you with bags of goodies to snack on as you explore the rest of North Georgia.
Michigan is home to one of the top ten islands in the world, according to Conde Nast Traveler. Mackinac Island is unique in that no vehicles are allowed on the island, making it a truly idyllic place to vacation. To get to the island, visitors use a ferry service that costs roughly $20 per adult, $10 per child, but do look around for coupons and combination tickets. Once on the island, transportation is done by foot, carriage, bicycle, or a guided carriage tour.
The island is host to the country’s second state park, historical forts and prestigious art museums. Kid-friendly attractions include two butterfly conservatories, a haunted theater (not good for small children), old-time portraits with dress-up props at Professor Harry’s, and a full menu of water activities.
Some of the more elegant hotels on Mackinac Island have rules and regulations for dress and demeanor in their dining room. More laid back and family-friendly accommodations can be found at Mission Point Resort, including a Kids’ Club, on-site movie theater, pool and outdoor games including lawn bowling and mini-golf.
Younger kids can also be treated to a good night tuck in by Mission Point’s mascot, Mac the Moose, and parents can enjoy some free time of their own with childcare and babysitting services. Family suites are priced from $169 a night to $339 in peak season, and include unlimited access to the Kids’ Club.
May’s Famous Mackinac Fudge is a must for your Mackinac Island itinerary. Consider bringing home an extra batch for a sweet reminder of an incredible vacation.
When the budget is a bit higher, Italy is one of the most popular places for families to visit. Amie O’Shaughnessy of Ciao Bambino, a travel site dedicated to providing resources for families, says that the Italians love kids, and it’s evident in the way they are treated. The local fare is also very kid-friendly, with their focus on pizza and pasta.
Traveling the country from North to South, families will experience a diverse range of cultural and regional experiences, from seaside to mountainside, making Italy an ideal destination for exploration, education, and exciting adventures.
According to Ciao Bambino, Hotel Adler Thermae is a wonderful, family-friendly resort in Siena (San Quirico D’Orcia), close to the hilltop towns of Pienza, Montalcino and Montepulciano, that combines Tuscan charm with Zen sensibilities. The hotel boasts herbal saunas, yoga and exercise classes, and the AKI Kids’ Club where American kids can meet children from all over Europe.
For a family of four, the cost for Adler-Thermae resort is more than $700 a night.
Regardless of which locale you choose for your next family vacation adventure, research, planning and keeping your itinerary light are the keys to success. Remember to schedule some down time if you hope to prevent exhaustion from all the running around.
Of course, it’s a lot easier taking off on your own for an adult trip. But seeing the world through the eyes of a child can enhance the wonder of any destination, and it’s worth all the extra planning, packing and schlepping of kid-friendly paraphernalia.
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Got other tips for family vacation ideas? Leave us a note in the comments below.