Dream Trips for Kids

April 9, 2012
Paul Kolink
If you want a brag-worthy family travel experience, you have to go big. These kids' activities include the world's largest shark, an epic food fight, all of Hogwarts, and more.


If jumping on the bed isn't cutting it for your little ones anymore,Trapeze Schoolmight be the answer. Kids will be surprised by how quickly they get the hang of it: During a two-hour beginner class, they'll pick up an arsenal of tricks, from simple knee hangs to the more advanced whips and splits. By the end, they'll be ready to throw caution-and themselves-to the wind, as they learn how to dismount, flying through the air 23 feet above the safety net into the (hopefully) waiting arms of an instructor. The school has branches in Boston, New York (above), Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and, most recently, Chicago.

WHEN TO GO: Classes are offered indoors year-round and outdoors in warmer weather.

WHAT TO PACK: Snug but comfortable clothing (such as yoga pants or tights).

WHO SHOULD GO: Ages 6 and older.

THE BOTTOM LINE: trapezeschool.com, classes from $47.


Let's face it: Even the most promising of budding ballerinas may have trouble understanding the plot of a classical ballet. That's where the New York City Ballet Children's Workshop leaps in. Before select matinees, children can take part in a 45-minute class that offers a stripped-down, kid-friendly guide to the music, themes, and techniques they're about to see onstage. Under the guidance of a corps member, dancers learn simple choreography while donning pint-size costumes, such as a black or white tutu for Swan Lake. The best part? Classes end with a performance for family members.

WHEN TO GO: May 19, 26, June 9 at 12:45 p.m., with more dates to be announced for winter 2012/2013.

WHAT TO PACK: Leotards, tights, and ballet slippers.

WHO SHOULD GO: Ages 4 to 7.

THE BOTTOM LINE: 70 Lincoln Center, 165 W. 65th St., 7th floor, nycballet.com, $12 (both kids and adults need tickets).


There's a 60-foot sea creature lurking in the waters off the Mexican island of Isla Mujeres that makes the 20-foot great white look like a guppy. But don't fret: The whale shark-the world's largest fish-dines only on plankton. In fact, the polka-dotted giant is so gentle that the minimum age for a shark swim with Ceviche  Toursis only 5 years old. Ceviche, which has  been leading half-day boat tours from this Cancun-adjacent island since 2007, touts a 97 percent shark-spotting record. That means the likelihood of your child's being disappointed is practically zero.

WHEN TO GO: The 2012 season runs May 17 to September 17.

WHAT TO PACK: A bathing suit and an underwater camera.

WHO SHOULD GO: Ages 5 and older.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Tours leave at 8 a.m. from the Isla Mujeres Gas Dock (100 yards to the left of the ferry dock), cevichetours.com, six-hour boat tour with lunch $125.


Start a food fight in the cafeteria and you'll earn a trip to the principal's office. Start one in Reno's City Plaza and you'll be helping charity. Based on the famed tomato melee in Buñol, Spain, the annual benefit La Tomatina en Reno has been bringing America's biggest food fight to the Biggest Little City in the World (less than an hour from Lake Tahoe) since 2009. Last year, the city hauled out 75,000 pounds of tomatoes-the event's size depends on the success of the year's harvest-which yielded a one-hour free-for-all. Past festivals have also featured a cherry tomato toss for littler devils.

WHEN TO GO: August, date to be announced (dependent
on the tomato crop).

WHAT TO PACK: Clothing you don't mind getting dirty.

WHO SHOULD GO: Ages 14 and older, with a parental waiver.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Reno City Plaza, Downtown Reno, visitrenotahoe.com, entry fee $10.


The books have all been published. The films have all premiered. As wizard withdrawal sets in, Warner Bros. Studio Tour London-The Making of Harry Potteris ready to fill the Hagrid-size void. The 150,000-square-foot studio (20 miles from London) where the eight movies were filmed has been converted into a self-guided playground of all things Potter. Fans can explore, photograph, and touch every nook and cranny of the Great Hall at Hogwarts, Dumbledore's office, and Diagon Alley (above). Note: Little Potterphiles may want to skip the creature-effects workshop, where Aragog the giant spider comes to animatronic life.

WHEN TO GO: Year-round; reservations are a must.

WHAT TO PACK: Comfy walking shoes-the studios are huge!

WHO SHOULD GO: All ages.

THE BOTTOM LINE: 20-minute train from London Euston Station (from $15 round trip), then a free shuttle, wbstudiotour.co.uk, adults $44, children ages 5-15 $33.

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Skiing in Summer in Chile

 A summer ski trip is more than a novelty. It's a self-indulgent subversion of the natural order. It's dessert before dinner, a Bloody Mary at breakfast, a weekend on Wednesday. It feels impossible, yet there it is. It's something every skier should try at least once. SEE MORE TRAVEL-INSPIRING PHOTOS! Europe's Alpine glaciers offer year-round skiing, though that's mostly a lark—a few sunny turns in the morning high above Zermatt, maybe a run or two in shorts so your spouse can take a funny picture, then back down to the usual sightseeing. No, Europe won't do. For the full experience, you need to head to South America. And for one of the ski world's few truly unique experiences, you need to visit the Ski Portillo resort in Los Andes, Chile. Los Andes is deep in the southern hemisphere, roughly in line with Cape Town and Sydney, so winter runs from June through September. There's something undeniably decadent about plumbing the depths of fresh powder while folks back home sweat through another dog day afternoon. But the Portillo resort bends time in other ways, too. With its surreally scenic—and, at more than 9,000 feet, notably lofty—perch amid the jagged Andes Mountains, it feels like the sort of place where you might stumble across a lost civilization. And, in many respects, that's exactly what Portillo is. The outrageous LEGO-yellow Hotel Portillo serves as the resort's main lodging and self-contained center of gravity. It's a delightful throwback, an uncontrived retro relic, where, if you squint, you can make out the specter of a jet-set past—just beyond that framed print of dogs playing poker. From the formal dining room, where uniformed waiters serve guests three meals daily (plus high tea in the afternoon) at assigned tables, to the dark wood, soaring ceilings, and stocking-foot ethos of the common areas, there's an appealing aura of lived-in luxury here. In a ski world dominated by endless stone-and-timber lodges, uniformed drones dispensing training-manual hospitality, and interchangeable wood-fired pizzerias and mochaccino latterias, Portillo stands out for its absence of artifice. The service is abundant and genuinely friendly. The dining is fine without being fussy—Chilean wines and fresh local seafood figure prominently. And the experience is singular. Portillo operates predominantly on the old-style ski-week model: Saturday to Saturday stays with meals and lift tickets included, yet another welcome anachronism in an age of à la carte, rush-in, rush-out recreation. Not only do package deals make Portillo surprisingly affordable, especially within the costly context of ski travel, but the weeklong stays also encourage friendships and foster a sense of shared experience among guests who see one another day after day, night after night, and, in many cases, year after year. North Americans, South Americans, Europeans; skiers and boarders young and old, nascent and world famous—everyone mixes over Pisco Sours (Chile's signature cocktail, which tastes a little like baby aspirin) and après-ski sushi in the hotel's bar or amid the late-night throb of the in-house disco (not club-disco). At its best, a week in Portillo can feel like a colossal slope-side house party. Grown-ups gab and kids run free (or partake in any number of organized activities—bread-baking class is a perennial favorite). It's probably not surprising that none of the sleek and simply appointed guest rooms contains a television—yet another nod to a more genteel past—though a communal TV room and high-speed Internet access cater to those who can't quite cut the cord. Accommodations range from twin rooms to suites to practical family apartments consisting of adjoining rooms, one equipped with a double set of bunks. Adjacent to the hotel, the resort operates two smaller, less elaborate lodges: the Octagon, which offers four-person rooms outfitted with two sets of bunk beds; and the spartan Inca Lodge, a hostel-style setup aimed at younger travelers. Octagon guests take their meals in the grand dining room at the main hotel, while those at the Inca have access to a cafeteria. Beyond that, all of Portillo's offerings are open to everyone staying at the resort. Of course, Portillo's overriding amenity is its skiing. The first folks to ski in the area were 19th-century railroad engineers, who found it easier to slide than ride as they worked to establish a link between Chile and Argentina. Today, the resort, purchased from the Chilean government by American investors in 1961 and still American-owned and -run, offers skiing suitable to all abilities on 35 trails from 12 lifts, as well as innumerable acres of off-piste terrain. Portillo's altitude results in wide-open, treeless ground blanketed by reliable annual snowfall. If you see a lift line in Portillo, take a picture. Otherwise, nobody will believe you. The slopes are largely the domain of the resort's 450 guests, supplemented by a smattering of local day skiers and perhaps a few Chilean army mountain troops engaged in "training" that looks suspiciously like R&R. You may also encounter—on the slopes or horsing around on the sundeck—members of the various national ski teams who actually do train at Portillo, or perhaps a ski-film star preparing to jump cliffs for the cameras. You probably shouldn't attempt that yourself, though experts interested in exploring beyond the resort's defined boundaries may hire an experienced guide, and anyone looking to brush up on technique will find a top-notch multilingual ski school. Portillo's underpopulated slopes have a lot to do with the resort's uncommonly relaxed atmosphere, which may require an adjustment for many American skiers, who are notorious for their harried and often competitive pursuit of maximum mountain plunder. Why rush in the morning? Why not take a break to bask in the sun? Why not spend an hour (or three) watching condors circle as you enjoy a lunch of grilled meats and chilled wine at on-mountain eatery Tio Bob's? Take a dip in the outdoor pool, soak in one of the pond-size hot tubs, grab a nap, get a massage, read a book. The snow isn't going anywhere, you're not going anywhere-and Portillo isn't changing anytime soon.   SEE MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: 10 Most Precious Places on Earth Secrets to the 10 Most Popular Cruise Ports 15 Food Etiquette Rules That Might Surprise You How to Get a Free Upgrade 15 Places Every Kid Should See Before 15

The Cruise You MUST See to Believe!

The first surprise is that they're blue—startlingly blue. A glacier in Alaska doesn't look anything like an ice cube in your freezer. That's because the ice in tide-water glaciers is so densely packed that it absorbs all visible light except the short, blue spectrum. There is some white near the surface, where the ice traps air bubbles, and there are patches of brown throughout from dirt and rocks and debris. It's all a reminder of how, on its slow trek downhill, the mighty glacier's movement scrapes up everything that lies in its path, including the earth. SEE PHOTOS OF GLACIERS! We all think we know what a glacier looks like—how many times have you watched Titanic? But seeing South Sawyer Glacier in person—in one of the last wild places on the planet—is nothing like you expect. At first, the glacier looks almost like a toy. As you head out on the Disney Wonder cruise ship, you pass sparkling blue bergs bobbing like ice cubes in a punch bowl. On a few of them, you spot seals and eagles sunning themselves lazily on their icy rafts. As you get closer, however, the mood changes. You're confronted with what looks like a massive blue river of ice pouring down the mountains. The individual pieces are indeed pretty—you can see why the slang for a diamond is "ice"—but they are also threatening, with their jagged peaks and sharp crevices. Yet for all the visual drama, what's surprising about getting up close and personal with a glacier is how it hits the other senses. Listen carefully, and you'll hear low groaning and popping and maybe even a distant roar that sounds like thunder. That's the sound of an impossibly large force hauling its weight around the world. You can feel a glacier, too, even when you're not touching it. Even in the middle of the summer, you shiver in your hat and gloves, due not as much to the cold as to the chilling realization that you're witnessing a kind of raw, natural power that makes everything else feel insignificant. At no time is that sense of helplessness greater than when a glacier calves. Calving (a term that has nothing to do with cows but is related to the word cave, as in cave in) happens when massive icebergs are set loose from the motherland. You see it first: a spray, like a frozen mist or fine sleet, shimmying through the air. Then comes the violent sound of a hotel-size piece of ice falling into the water. If you're close enough, the glacier says good-bye in ripples that rock your boat, as if you'd strayed too close to a waterfall. You don't realize until afterward that you were holding your breath. And then it really hits you: The glacier is dying. Whether that's the result of global warming or the natural ebb and flow of nature is a matter of debate. But there's no question that what you've been witnessing is a piece of earth fading away. Like Luca Brasi in The Godfather, a part of South Sawyer Glacier has just gone to sleep with the fishes.

Snorkeling Australia's Great Barrier Reef

Luke Mairs's 4 p.m. departure time seems, at first, like a mistake. When his 47-foot white catamaran, On Ice, is finally prepped and putters out of Airlie Beach for a two-night sailing trip in Australia's Coral Sea, it's far too late to go beneath the waves and get face-to-snorkel with the trip's star attraction, the Great Barrier Reef. But as On Ice slips farther away from the east coast of Queensland the light starts to fade, and you suddenly appreciate the method to Mairs's mad schedule. The sun sinks behind the boat and sets the scene ahead of us on fire, with a spectrum of oozing reds and pinks cast across the water. A string of islands, the Whitsundays, comes into focus, only to fade from a rich hunter green into an inky black silhouette. It's like someone just turned on an IMAX nature film and projected it in front of your face. "If it's your first time to the Whitsundays," Mairs says, "then this is the perfect introduction." SEE PHOTOS OF AUSTRALIA! There are countless access points to the Great Barrier Reef. Americans tend to set off from Cairns, a mid-reef port that's also a major cruise-ship hub. The Whitsundays are where the Australians go, and not just because they're less crowded. They're also arguably the only spot along the 1,400-mile Reef that offers attractions above the waterline that rival what's below. There are 74 Whitsundays in all, and aside from a few given over to posh resorts, 66 of them are undeveloped, with a fragrant mix of hoop pines and lowland rain forest at their hearts and postcard-worthy beaches on their edges. You have all the thrills of the Reef—the sherbet-colored coral, tropical fish, giant turtles and rays—with the added bonus of a tropical-island chain. Plenty of companies offer sailing trips out of Airlie Beach, but for years they fell into two categories: upscale charters that can run $1,000 or more per day, or shoestring party boats where the beer-guzzling passengers easily out-drink the fish. In 2007, Luke and his younger brother, Tristram, moved to town from Melbourne and started offering affordably civilized overnights aboard On Ice and another vessel called Iceberg. Each boat sleeps 10—there are four surprisingly roomy cabins along with three bathrooms, a galley, and a dining area. Luke's girlfriend, Isabelle, serves as first mate and cooks all the meals, and all of them are delicious (though after a full day in the water even a piece of salty driftwood would go down easy). Each morning, Luke heads to sheltered coves perfect for beginners like us. Squeezing into our full-body wet suits, we novices are about as quiet as a pack of elephants, and I'm convinced that we've scared away any fish within 50 nautical miles. Yet within seconds of dipping in, I'm surrounded by such a variety of colorful sea life, it's hard to identify what's what—a bright orange-and-white clown fish darts behind a purple brain-shaped coral just as a turtle, as big as I am, glides right next to me. I spend a good half hour following in its wake along the coral ledge. "The fact that Luke is a local is pretty rare—most of the tour leaders just come into town for seasonal work, so they're not as familiar with the islands," says Daniel Fisher, a Perth native who signed on for an On Ice trip with two friends. "Luke has contingency plans if the snorkeling scene is too crowded or the waves are too rough at one place." He even has toys lashed to his boat in case you'd rather not snorkel at all. There's a collection of stand-up paddleboards, which are wider, more manageable versions of surfboards that let you balance on top and use an oar to navigate to shallow waters. You can easily see the Reef just beneath the surface. There's also a clear-bottomed kayak, made of translucent plastic, which gives the illusion of sitting on an aquarium. There's no way anything on land could live up to that kind of show, right? That's what we skeptics are thinking when Luke suggests heading ashore. Our first stop is Betty's Beach, which looks like a slice of the New England coast, plopped into the Caribbean. Thick stands of pine collide with milky white sand and aquamarine water so clear that when we hike up to a scenic overlook a half hour later, we can spy the outline of a manta ray cruising in the bay below. It's nearly perfect—aside from the presence of a dozen other sailing groups. "This is where everyone comes," Luke says later, as he's steering us away from Betty's. "You kind of have to see it—but it shouldn't be the only beach you see."  We anchor next at Whitehaven Beach, a few miles south. Whitehaven turns out to be just as gorgeous as Betty's, only we have the place to ourselves, save for a few pieces of coral and a lone starfish. Some folks take off their shoes and stroll along the waterline, but the rest of us simply lay out and relax in the sun. The sand is so fine, soft, and startlingly white that it seems like baby powder. A few hours later, when Luke offers to take us to another snorkeling spot or let us stay put, a few people say they'd rather hang at Whitehaven. Everyone ultimately agrees to go snorkeling—I, for one, want to find my turtle buddy again. But the fact that we've found a piece of dry land nearly as tempting as the magical maze of the Great Barrier Reef makes one thing clear: We've just had the surf-and-turf vacation of a lifetime.  

Secrets of Hawaii's Big Island!

It's two hours before sunrise in Hawaii's Volcanoes National Park (808/985-6000, nps.gov/havo, entrance fee $10 per vehicle). The winds are gusting, and stars fill a rare cloudless sky. For a place that's all about heat and fire, Kilauea Volcano is surprisingly cold—and nobody comes to Hawaii for the cold. But the blackness of the night is the best time to experience one of the world's most active volcanoes. A column of gas, steam, and ash pours out of Halemaumau, the caldera's largest crater. The red-and-orange glow from Halemaumau's lava lake reflects off the plume, and, as the wind ebbs, you can hear the moan of molten lava and boulders roiling inside the crater. According to Hawaiian legend, Pele, the volcano goddess, lives in Halemaumau. Alone in the darkness—half-awake and caught somewhere between dreams and the plume's hypnotizing dance—it's easy to feel her power. She seems a bit restless, too.s Kilauea doesn't really look much like a world-class volcano, either. At a mere 4,000 or so feet above sea level, it is less than a third the size of the Big Island's fraternal twin volcanoes, Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. It comes off as a bit wan compared with the stately, conical profiles of Mt. Fuji and Vesuvius. But for sheer drama, Kilauea stands above all other volcanoes. "There's a sense of the unknown: It could shut off tomorrow, or something much more dramatic could happen," says Andrea Kaawaloa-Okita, a Hawaii Volcanoes National Park ranger for the past 17 years. "It's this open book, and the story has yet to be written. Tutu Pele is saying, 'I'm still here. This is your little reminder. But I'm going to leave you hanging.'" Tutu is a Hawaiian term of endearment, which might seem odd considering Kaawaloa-Okita's experience. Her family has lived in Kalapana, a nearby historic village, for five generations. As a young girl, she woke up to the sound of Pele's fire fountains and was lulled to sleep by them at night. But the 1983 eruption was a slow-motion disaster. The flows kept coming, closer and closer. There were evacuations, and many of Kaawaloa-Okita's relatives lost their homes. For her, the grief for the loss of ohana ("family") and the scattering of her kin was greater than the sadness she felt as the lava buried her home. "We always knew that Tutu Pele could reclaim what is hers," she says. Looking back, Kaawaloa-Okita sees a certain inevitability in her decision to work at the park (she's the third generation to do so in her family) and become a geologist. She speaks of fate and the curiosity that came with growing up with lava all around her. What is more surprising is that she has moved back to Kalapana, even as lava continues to flow from Pu'u 'O'o. "It's what I know to be home," she says. In a way, Kaawaloa-Okita's journey gets at the heart of Kilauea's essence. The volcano is more about renewal than devastation. Life finds a way here, whether in the rain forests filled with crimson 'apapane and 'i'iwi birds or along the lava itself, where nene, the world's rarest goose (2,000 exist), find 'ohelo berries to feed on. Kilauea has been called the Drive-In Volcano because of its easy access, and the park itself is suffused with trails. But when Halemaumau began erupting full force in 2008—its first significant, ongoing eruption since 1924—the Park Service closed the trail across the caldera. Just to the east, however, you can still hike across the floor of a crater at Kilauea Iki, where a 1959 eruption sent fountains of lava 1,900 feet into the sky. The trail begins high above the crater and descends through native rain forest, a sliver of ancient Hawaii. Purple shoots of uluhe ferns, their unfurled fronds coiled in tight spirals, poke up from the understory, and the 'apapane birds harmonize in a sweet chorus heard nowhere outside Hawaii. The forest evolved largely in isolation from the rest of the world, and its lack of major predators (and surprisingly few bugs) gives it an Eden-like feel—only without the snakes. The transition from paradise to Hades is abrupt as the trail drops into the crater. It feels like something out of myth: A cracked, barren landscape of black lava made even creepier by a veil of fog. Steam rises from vents and fissures and a lake of magma bubbles just a few hundred feet beneath the crater floor. Get down on your knees to take a photo and the lava's jagged edges feel as sharp as glass. But like Kaawaloa-Okita returning to her ancestral village, the rain forest is slowly reclaiming the crater. Scrubby 'ohi'a, a fraction of the size of their tree-size rain-forest brethren, are pioneering the rock. Colonizing ferns trace zigzag patterns of green along cracks where enough soil and nutrients have settled for them to take root. Fifty years ago, temperatures in the crater reached 2,200 degrees. But someday, the 'apapane may sing here, too. Because visitors spendan average of only six hours in the park, it's difficult for them to imagine living on an active volcano. Of course, Hawaiians have been doing just that for centuries. Not far from the end of Chain of Craters Road, a trail leads to the Pu'u Loa Petroglyphs, which feature more than 20,000 carvings of human forms and boats, and, most unusually, piko holes, once used to hold the freshly cut umbilical cords of newborns. Today's population is centered on Volcano Village, the park's gateway community. Houses and cottages are tucked so deeply among the trees that residents sometimes see one another only at the Sunday Farmers' Market—a tropical cornucopia of mango, papaya, and dragon fruit (19-4030 Wright Rd., thecoopercenter.org, Thai chicken soup $5 a bowl, Sundays 6:30–10 A.M.). Idyllic, perhaps, but with more than 100 inches of rain a year, periodic warnings about volcanic smog (known as "vog"), frequent small earthquakes, and an erupting volcano down the road, it's a town that comes with more than the usual homeowner headaches. The village's demographics reflect its unique circumstances. There are scientists, park workers, New Agers, and an intrepid community of artists: painters, woodworkers, and printmakers. Many artists display works at the Volcano Art Center Gallery, located in an 1877 structure built as the successor to the thatch inn where Twain stayed (Crater Rim Dr., Volcano, volcanoartcenter.org, woodblock prints by printmaker-painter Dietrich Varez starting at $5). When ceramist and Memphis native Tim Freeman visited the volcano in 1991, the clouds parted just in time for a solar eclipse over Halemaumau. The crater's steam plumes suddenly stopped drifting sideways and rose in columns straight into the sky. "This is a magical place," he says. "It has moved me deeply for years." Freeman settled in Volcano Village in 2001 and now teaches philosophy at the University of Hawaii-Hilo. His vase-like works evoke the volcano itself. The rims mimic the volcano's contours, and he colors the round interior base a lava-like reddish orange. He fires his pieces in underground pits, using wood from faya trees and other invasive species he's cleared from the forest. "I'm trying to express my appreciation for living here and the almost pristine character of the area," he says. "It gives a sense of the fragility of nature. I'm blown away by the beauty of this place." The notion of a fragile beauty is at the heart of the Kilauea experience. Even a single overnight can reveal its ephemeral ways. As darkness comes to Volcano Rainforest Retreat a few miles from the park, drizzle brushes the canopy of ferns and mist drifts through the trees. Buddha statues and the ceramic masks of Volcano Village artist Ira Ono add to an aura of the sacred and whimsical. Around midnight, thunder rocks the forest as a storm slams into Kilauea, then just as abruptly ends an hour before sunrise. Along the rim of Kilauea Caldera, Halemaumau puffs away as two nene suddenly wing overhead. Thirty miles in the distance and 10,000 feet above Kilauea, Mauna Kea rises over the rain forest. Free of clouds, its summit is covered with snow washed by the pinks and golds of dawn. "The face of Kilauea is always changing," Kaawaloa-Okita says. "There are moments in time that cannot be re-created. That's part of the marvel. And you want to give yourself every opportunity to experience those marvels."   SEE MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: 10 Natural Phenomena You Have to See to Believe 13 Most Beautiful Temples How to Get a Free Upgrade 10 Most Precious Places on Earth 30 Hotel Chains Every Traveler Should Know