Family vacations, reinvented
for modern families

New York Times
Article Last Updated: 05/17/2007 06:38:04 PM CDT

It seems that a one-week trip to the shore, with days spent digging for clams and nights spent camping under the stars, has long ago ceased to be enough of a diversion for families planning their summer getaways. Now, the options range from cooking lessons in Italy (with even toddlers getting some kitchen time) to marionette-making courses in Prague to "volunteer vacations" that include trips to orphanages in China.

"Family travel continues to grow as more and more parents, particularly those working full time, view vacations as a way to ‘reunite’ the family, more than an occasion for rest and relaxation," said Peter Yesawich, chief executive of Yesawich, Pepperdine, Brown Russell, a travel marketing firm. According to the 2007 National Leisure Travel Monitor, a yearly report by the company, family travel will be up this summer, as nearly 40 percent of adults plan to take a vacation with children, up from 32 percent five years ago. Here are some of the many choices available for families this summer.


Kids may be eager to escape school, but learning something new with Mom and Dad can be a great way to bond as a family. Hands-on culinary skills is what families will get at Cooking Vacations’ new Secret Garden Positano trip to Positano, Italy; 1-800-916-1152; www.cooking-vacations.com. Children as young as 2 are invited to learn to make pizza, pasta, fresh mozzarella, gelato and other Italian treats. Between classes, families will go to Advertisement Ravello to visit a pastry maker and pick lemons, go on a fishing trip and visit Pompeii for a day. The weeklong program costs $2,800 a person (half that for ages 5 to 10; younger are free).

For nature lovers, the recently completed Boatswain’s Beach marine park in Grand Cayman is a chance to see more than 11,000 turtles (the largest weighs close to 600 pounds); 1-345-949-3894; www.boatswainsbeach.ky. Families can also snorkel among 4,000 fish – 29 species – in a freshwater lagoon, see sharks up close in the predator tank and take a walk on Caymanian Heritage street, lined with artisans making crafts. Each afternoon at 1:30, families can send year-old turtles back out to sea.

Exploring dinosaur fossils by flashlight and sleeping under the big blue whale are just a couple of the highlights in the Night at the Museum program at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan; 1-212-769-5570; www.amnh.org. This giant sleepover (400 attend at a time) – designed for families with children ages 8 to 12 – costs $79 a person and includes a cot (but it’s B.Y.O. sleeping bag) and breakfast. Dates for August and the fall will be announced.

Archaeology made fun is the focus of the new family departures (June 24 and July 1) of the Other Canyonlands trip by Southwest Ed-ventures; 1-800-525-4456; www.sw-adventures. org. With the help of an archaeologist, families will explore Utah’s Canyon Country, rock art and ruins. Participants will sleep in tents large enough for a family of four. The six-night trip costs $2,775; $2,275 for ages 6 to 15.


Experiencing a new culture can be an eye-opener for all generations. Samantha McClure, owner of Small World Travel in Austin, Texas, 1-512-495-9495, which specializes in custom family outings, sees a growing interest in China for many of her clients. "Culturally, China is phenomenal, and parents are looking toward the future and want their children to get to know and understand this evolving country," McClure said.

Seeking a special way for family travelers to see the country, I-to-I Meaningful Travel has introduced a two-week family trip, the China Train Experience, with departures this summer out of Beijing on July 6 and Aug. 3; 1-800-985-4864; www.meaningfultravel.com. Families with children 8 and older will have the opportunity to visit Beijing, Xian and Shanghai, as well as to volunteer in local community projects and orphanages. The trip costs $1,425 a person; accommodations include hotels, home stays, hostels and train berths.

A marionette is a popular souvenir of Prague, so why not create your own while you’re there? The Four Seasons Hotel Prague recently began offering a marionette-making course where guests of all ages spend three hours at the studio of the marionette maker Pavel Truhlar and his wife, Caroline, making a fully functional wooden or plaster marionette; 1-800-819-5053; www.fourseasons.com. For 89 euros (about $124 at $1.39 to the euro) you can choose from 25 different types like court jester, king or witch.

Disney Cruise Line is taking to European waters this season with its first Mediterranean cruise; 1-800-951-3532; www.disneycruise.com. Beginning and ending in Barcelona, the Disney Magic will stop in Spain, Italy and France, allowing passengers to visit cities like Florence, Rome, Pisa and Cannes. The ship features nearly an entire deck devoted to children, with activities designed for different age groups. There are 10- and 11-day itineraries; the 877 family-friendly staterooms start at $1,299 a person in double occupancy.


Adventure continues to be a growing trend for family travel. In July, International Expeditions will dedicate three of its 10-day Amazon voyages for families; 1-800-633-4734; www.ietravel.com. After two nights in Lima, Peru, travelers sail aboard a riverboat, with small boats taking guests on daily explorations into the rain forest to look at the rich flora and fauna. Children will visit with a local shaman, fish for piranhas and play with kids from river villages while visiting their school. The trip is $2,898; $2,748 for ages 7 to 16.

For families with children 12 and older, Echo River Trips is launching a new six-day duckie expedition (using inflatable kayaks) down the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho, and a four-day trip down the Rogue River in Oregon; 1-800-652-3246; www.echotrips.com. Guests paddle their own kayaks for the entire stretch. Other activities include hiking in canyons and visiting archeological sites. Nights are spent camping. Rates for the Salmon River trip (Aug. 12 departure) are $1,545 a person, and for the Rogue River trip (June 26 departure), $665.

Ciclismo Classico now offers multisport trips with an added dose of Italian culture; 1-800-866-7314; www.ciclismoclassico.com. This summer, its new trip to the Apulia region in southern Italy, Once Upon a Time in Triulli Land, will send families on cycling adventures, to cooking classes, on a boat tour along the Adriatic coast and on a grotto exploration. Travelers rest each of the seven nights in a renovated 16th-century farmhouse. Prices, including breakfasts, six dinners and two picnic lunches, airport transfers and activities are $3,395, $2,880 for ages 8 to 16, $2,680 for ages 4 to 7 and $500 for children younger than 4.

For some families, being out in the wilderness together – no computer, no TV – is what it’s all about. This summer, Austin-Lehman Adventures is taking guests (ages 10 and older, with some flexibility) to the Whistler Sky Camp, about 100 miles north of Vancouver in British Columbia; 1-800-575-1540; www.austinlehman.com. Accessible only by floatplane and set on a lake bordered by mountains, the camp offers guests a chance to swim, bike, hike, kayak, canoe, fish and watch wild moose feed. Bedtime is in a luxury safari tent. The five-night adventure costs $2,148 a person, plus $550 for the round-trip floatplane out of Whistler.

Many families are combining their vacation with community service. Thompson Family Adventures’ 360 Degrees, a 14-day trip to Tanzania, includes three days of community service; 1-800-262-6255; www.familyadventures.com. In addition to the wildlife viewing in Tarangire National Park and in the Serengeti, participants will spend time in the Ngorongoro Highlands, where they may paint school buildings, help build desks or a playground or read to children. Guests stay in nyumbas, canvas structures with beds and private bathrooms. The trip costs $4,990-$5,490 per person.


There is still something to be said for taking a family trip and simply relaxing. At the 89-room Solage Calistoga, opening in July in the Napa Valley in California, guests will have the use of bikes, and families can swim in the children’s pool, choose from the in-room game menu (choices will include Chutes and Ladders, Sorry and Monopoly) or play on the hopscotch court; 1-866-942-7442; www.solagecalistoga.com. Room rates will start at $325.

At Twin Farms, a luxury resort in Barnard, Vt., there will be a Family Experience weekend Aug. 6 to 8, when, for the first time, children under 18 will be invited to stay at the resort; 1-800-894-6327, www. twinfarms.com. Families can bike, hike, canoe and sit around a campfire making s’mores. Cottage and room rates are $1,100 to $2,750 a night and include meals, wine, liquor and on-site activities; $339 per child per night will include meals and activities.

New water attractions adorn resorts looking for ways to entertain families. At the Atlantis resort in the Bahamas, the new 63-acre Aquaventure water park has water slides, river rapids and waterfalls; 1-888-528-7155, www.atlantis.com. Next to the water park is Dolphin Cay, where guests can interact with 20 dolphins and see two newborns. Summer rates (July 8 to Sept. 2) start at $325 for a double room.

A "lazy river" surrounds the new Oasis family complex – 21 casita rooms and two suites – at the Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita, near Puerto Vallarta, Mexico; 1-800-819-5053; www.fourseasons.com. Guests can drift around on inner tubes, float boards or noodles. Family rates, July through September, are $375 per room per night.