There are many tour operators, travel agents and clubs devoted solely to the needs of traveling family
My wife and I took our daughter to Europe when she was 2 and a half months old. As travel writers revising a book that was then called "Europe on $5 a Day," we had no other choice. In the days before Pampers, we dragged an infant from country to country for several weeks at a time, and ruefully considered changing the title to "Europe on Five Diapers a Day."
For years afterwards, when readers would write to ask whether they should travel with their young children, I would take the juiciest felt pen I could find, and scrawl "No!" across the face of their letters, which I then stuffed into a reply envelope.
So I consider myself (a) an expert on family travel, and (b) an opponent of traveling with children of too young an age. I wince when I see three and four-year-olds on an observation deck of the Eiffel Tower, or on the beach at Waikiki and grieve at the work and expense that brought them there, ruining both their own times and those of their parents. Even at a later age--say, until eight or nine--I regard children as far better off in their own milieu at home or at a day camp or in and around a summer bungalow, than on the road. Nor, during those early years, do I concede that they receive educational benefits from travel. My daughter traveled everywhere for the first ten years of her life--from Denmark to Tahiti, from Curacao to Canada--and scarcely remembers a single setting or event from those journeys, though she is an awesomely bright young woman in every other respect.
And yet families numbered in the multitudes, travel with young children to remote corners of the world. And a sizable segment of the travel industry exists to serve them--we review these family specialists just clicks of the mouse away on this website.
Tips for family travel
Here is a very brief rundown of the basics of family travel: types of vacations, top operators, child friendly resorts and hotels and resources for further investigation. You'll find a number of widely acknowledged experts on travel listed in this section. My own advice on the subject is far more succinct, less loquacious, than theirs.
The finest single facility of family travel known to me are the summer campus vacations listed in our discussion of campus vacations elsewhere in this Encyclopedia. Though not primarily designed for families, most of those programs are aware that many of their adult summer "students" are recent graduates who have now become young parents and cannot leave their children at home while they pursue a week or two of summer academic instruction.
Consequently, most of those summer campus programs operate a parallel program of recreation and learning for the children of their adult participants. If you will click on the words "campus vacations," above, you will be brought to a detailed analysis of each such program, and you'll learn whether they suit the travel needs of you and your family.
Similarly, our discussion of summer camps will alert you to another opportunity for adult learning in the vacation season, at camps maintaining parallel programs for the children of participants.
In the tropics
The finest resorts for families wishing to enjoy a tropical vacation consist of three groups of properties. First, the "family villages"of Club Med, which are clearly identified as such in the travel catalogue of the Club Med organization (phone 800/CLUB MED or 888/WEB CLUB to obtain a copy).
Children's Clubs are 18 in number, and are found year-round at the Sandpiper on the Saint Lucie river in Florida (children from four months old are accepted), at Ixtapa on the Pacific Coast of Mexico (children from four months), at Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic (children from age two), just south of Rio de Janeiro at Rio das Pedras, Brazil (children from age four), also in Itaparica, Brazil (children from age four), at Phuket in Thailand (children from age four), at Lindamen Isle off the northeast coast of Queensland in Australia (children from age two), at Crested Butte, Colorado (children from age four), and at the Caravelle in Guadeloupe (children from age four); in addition there are several winter-only ski resorts in the Alps.
I have toured those properties in several locations and have always been impressed by their facilities for children ranging from four months to the early teen-age years. Children enjoy activities of their own (from circus training to snorkeling to scuba diving--all supervised, of course), but rejoin their parents at breakfast (and at other meals if the family wishes), and everyone is able to enjoy the "privacy" of a vacation with their own age group. For more information, visit its Web site at clubmed.com.
Second, the several all-inclusive hotels maintained primarily for families on the island of Jamaica in the Caribbean. These include the Wyndham Rose Hall Beach Resort, located on an old sugar plantation and now home to the largest water park in the Caribbean: Sugar Mill Falls. The Wyndham's "Kids Klub" keeps children occupied with everything from arts and crafts to swim races. For more information call 800/WYNDHAM, or visit wyndham.com. Also, contact the Jamaican Tourist Board at 800/233-4JTB for an array of literature describing the family resorts that exist on that island to an extent not found elsewhere in the Caribbean. Try, too, the FDR Resort of Jamaica (phone 888-FDR KIDS or 800-654-1FDR), where every family gets their own Vacation Nanny when they arrive to take care of the kids. See the Web site a fdrholidays.com.
Third, the several Holiday Inns known as "SunSpree" resorts, where special check-in facilities and dining areas are maintained for children, supervised children's activities programs are ongoing; and children twelve and under eat free. Some of these properties have now even developed "kidsuites" ("a comfortable, home-like environment that gives kids their own space, their own entertainment, and their own beds in a themed, fun hotel room within a room designed especially for them"). SunSprees are now operated all over the world, with more added each year. The first "SunSpree" was the Holiday Inn SunSpree Resort in Lake Buena Vista (800/366-6299 or sunspree.com), and you can ascertain the addresses and numbers of the others by phoning 800/HOLIDAY.
For grandparents and grandchildren only, look into the "intergenerational" programs of the famed senior citizen "learning vacation" specialist, Elderhostel. The majority of its programs are geared towards grandparents over the age of 55 and grandchildren between the ages of 8 and 15, and they cover a wide range of activities from wilderness survival courses to in-depth visits to museums and historical sites to arts and craft seminars. Call Elderhostel at 877/426-8056. Or visit its Web site for an online brochure at elderhostel.org. You may also want to read our lengthier article on Elderhostel and its programs.
Of note as well, but much pricier are the tours of GrandTravel, featuring trips to such destinations as the gameparks of Kenya, and the South of France. Prices range from $3,500 to $8,000 per person (and that sometimes doesn't cover airfare). If you can afford to splurge at this level, contact the company at 800/247-7651 or grandtrvl.com.
Those pioneering educators who created "Elderhostel" some 25 years ago, have now developed another, low-cost, study tour program of similar or even greater potential. In "Family Hostel," brainchild of the University of New Hampshire's Division of Continuing Education, parents or grandparents travel with their children or grandchildren (ages 8 through 16) to universities domestic and abroad, and there jointly explore the culture and history of the destination. They stay together in three, four, and five star hotels, attend separate lectures (one for adults, one for children), and then travel together on afternoon or daylong excursions to key sites.
To various European locations, prices for ten-day trips (round-trip airfare, lodgings, meals, tuition, sightseeing) average $4,100 for adults, $4,000 for children 12 to 15 years of age, $3,900 for children 8 through 11; and for the newly inaugurate Oklahoma program (native American crafts and culture) prices run $695, $795 and $895. A recent schedule of Familyhostel trips featured Germany, France, Switzerland and Austria (Salzburg, historic castles, the stone-age village of Uhldingen and a chance to participate in the Munich Children's Olympics), England and Wales (The World of Harry Potter), Ireland, Italy (Rome and Sorrento), Costa Rica, Mexico, Canada, Arizona, California, Oregon and Washington, New York City, Hawaii and Alaska. The trips run from the end of June through the middle of August. Contact Family Hostel: University of New Hampshire, 6 Garrison Ave., Durham, NH 03824. Tel: 800/733-9753. Visit its Web site at learn.unh.edu/familyhostel/.
Tour operators that specialize in family travel
There are a vast number of travel agencies and tour operators that specialize in family travel. Among the masses, we would recommend VacationKids, (610) 681-7360; Web: vacationkids.com a consistently excellent source for low cost vacation packages to the Caribbean, especially of the all-inclusive and last minute variety. A pricier Carib expert, Rascals in Paradise, 415/921-7000, Web: rascalsinparadise.computs together scuba diving holidays, dude ranch vacations and barging tours of Europe along with standard beach holidays. For something more adventurous (albeit expensive), the family division of adventure tour operator Journeys International offers ecologically friendly, enjoyably educational tours of such far-flung destinations as Costa Rica, China and Bhutan. Itineraries are challenging, to put it gently. On one tour, days are spent exploring underground caves and the culture of the Mayan people in Belize; another visits the Serengeti during the wildebeast migrations on a big game safari; still another takes families hiking and camping in Nepal (children under 50 pounds are carried in special porter baskets). Contact Journeys, (800) 255-8735; Web: http://www.journeysforfamilies.com/ or http://www.journeys-intl.com/.
Hotels and resorts have special family-oriented programs
A number of hotels and resorts have special family-oriented programs. Thus, Hyatt Resorts was the first of the major hotel chains to commit itself wholeheartedly to servicing the needs and desires of the family market, and it is still the only major hotel company to maintain a consistent, system-wide children's activity program known as "Camp Hyatt." For detailed information, phone (800) 591-1234 or consult Hyatt's Web site at: hyatt.com/corporate/resorts/camp.html.
The "Loew's Loves Kids" program, at the hotel chain of the same name, attempts to attract families by allowing children under 18 to stay for free in their parents rooms, with a special discount on a second adjoining room, and providing the kids with a complimentary gift bag upon arrival for children under ten. All Loew's have a "Kids Kloset" filled with borrowable items such as games, books, car seats and strollers, and certain Loew's offer day camps. For parents with children under four, the chain lends cribs free of charge and will also dispense "child-proofing kits on request. For information on the amenities offered at each hotel, call its reservations line at 800/LOEWS. You can visit loewshotels.com, as well. Simply click on the destination that interests you to view children's amenities at that property.
For summer travels, consider checking into a Hilton (if you can afford it). From Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day, this chain offers the "Hilton Vacation Station" at participating hotels throughout the US, Canada, South America and the Caribbean. At all these hotels (there are 59 in total) children receive a welcome gift and unlimited use of a "toy-lending desk" which is filled with interactive games and toys for toddlers through tweens. At selected hotels and resorts, there are full-scale activity programs for the kids, some of which are even educational. To learn which Hilton's participate in these programs, call 800/HILTONS or visit hilton.com.
At Holiday Inns, children 19 and under not only stay free in their parent's room, kids under 12 eat free at all of the chain's properties. At 40 Holiday Inns, "kid suites" have been deliberately "themed" to appeal to the younger set, with part of the room done up to look like a pirate's den, or a jungle, or a big-top circus. At these special family Inns, kids can borrow board games, electronic games and videos free of charge. The number for more info is 800/HOLIDAY or go to holiday-inn.com.
For price conscious yet privacy-seeking families, Embassy Suites offers a good value. As the name implies, all rooms are suites, meaning that the children can bunk in the living room (either on a pool-out couch or a cot) and the parents shut the door to the bedroom. Suites come with two TV's (living room and bedroom), often have microwaves and mini-fridges and usually cost between $100 and $150 per night (children under 18 stay free in their parents room). At a number of participating properties, families receive a "Family Fun Pack" which may include swim toys, coupons for free in-room movies and pizza, even tickets to the local amusement park or zoo. A hot breakfast is included in the nightly rate. For more information, call 800/EMBASSY or visit embassysuites.com.
The swank Four Seasons chain of hotels is doing its best to appeal to wealthier families with its complimentary kids program at all resorts (it should be complimentary with the price you're going to pay for the room!). These can range from hula classes in Hawaii, to tennis lessons in California, with site-specific activities for children five to 12, and teens. Some resorts have game rooms; some ply the tots with loaner teddy bears, books and sand toys; all have extensive outdoor sports facilities (golf courses, water slides, tennis courts, etc). The Four Seasons will even pamper (spoil?) your child with "champagne milk service"---order milk and it arrives in its own ice bucket with fancy glasses. The chain also provides extensive child-proofing kits with bumpers to soften coffee table edges, baby bath seats and socket plugs. Call 800/819-5053 or go to fourseasons.com to learn more.
Family travel experts and resources
For further information, Eileen Ogintz is the family travel guru. Her column "Taking the Kids" appears in numerous print publications as well as free on the Web at a slew of different sites (including smarterliving.com, where they are archived). She is the writer we turn to at Budget Travel Magazine when we're looking for a family-oriented article from an expert. A prolific writer, Eileen has touched on almost all facets of family travel in her long and distinguished career.
The Family Travel Network (familytravelnetwork.com is another exhaustive look at everything kiddie. It features Eileen Ogintz's column (see above) as well as articles on factory tours, multigenerational trips, family resorts and cruises. Its "current bargains" section does not usually contain anything we'd consider a real find, but despite this the site has much valuable general travel info for families. A rival, the Family Travel Forum (familytravelforum.com) has a similar breadth of information, but with more emphasis on ecologically sound travel practices.
There is just one important Web site for single parent families, singleparenttravel.net. With meticulous detail the author of the site, Brenda Elwell goes over the regulations for taking a child across the border, how and when parents can get around paying a singles supplement fee, packing, entertainment, and on and on. Her comments are supplemented by her readers' insights, which are posted at the bottom of each article.
While not extensive in its travel section, the Web site child.com has a handful of terrifically in-depth and well-researched articles on family travel. All give current prices for hotels, entrance fees and restaurants on such topics as New Orleans, the top 10 National Parks for children (you'll be surprised at the choices), Caribbean vacations and kid-friendly Florida. Child.com is the Web site for Child magazine.