- Asia & Africa Family Travel Forum
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How to book cheapest bus tickets in online? Where do I get best deals and offers for bus ticket booking in online?
With a super-charged topic like race relations coloring the perception of many American cities, I suggest exploring five destinations where black lives not only matter, they fuel fascinating cultural institutions too few travelers know about. Here are some highlights of African American culture in Boston, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Memphis and Washington DC to enrich your next vacation.
Thanks to a long and illustrious history, Boston’s appreciation of African American culture goes way back to pre-Revolutionary times. Start your tour on Beacon Hill at the Museum of African American History and the African Meeting House (1806), America’s oldest black church. Explore the 1.6-mile-long Black Heritage Trail, which includes more than 20 pre-Civil War homes, churches, businesses and schools (don’t miss the exhibits at the restored Abiel Smith School) owned by free blacks and abolitionists in this very posh neighborhood – before the 1% moved in.
Use the Museum’s “Black Heritage Trivia Kit” or join one of the fascinating, free 90-minute tours led by National Park Rangers. The Boston Massacre site outside the State House is where, on March 5, 1770, the free black, Crispus Attucks — credited by some as sparking the American Revolution — was the first to die in opposition to British injustice. Re-enactments of the Massacre that killed five colonists take place outside the State House on the Freedom Trail during March. Plan a weekend at the beach to tour the African American History Museum campus on Nantucket, comprised of a nine-stop Black Heritage Trail that features a ca. 1774 home owned by the freed slave, Seneca Boston.
From by-the-hour electric car rentals to extensive bike paths, Indianapolis is a socially conscious city. Even the Childrens Museum, founded in 1925, empowers all ages to question and act upon social injustice. “The Power of Children,” a permanent exhibit showcasing three kids who fought the challenges of the Holocaust, racism, and living with HIV/Aids is a thoughtful space for adults to engage children on these complex issues.
The busy Madame Walker Theatre Center is at the site of the cosmetics and hair-care empire founded by Madame CJ Walker, daughter of Louisiana slaves who relocated in 1910 to Indianapolis. Take a tour of the facility to see the stage where megastars like Nat King Cole, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, and Gladys Knight performed, and learn more about one of the country’s first female entrepreneurs and an active philanthropist for African-American causes.
The most immersive program is “Follow the North Star,” in which participants play runaway slaves on the Underground Railroad. It’s held only in April and November at the Conner Prairie Interactive History Park, a hands-on living history museum about 10 miles north of Indy. Costumed re-enactors teach you how to evade greedy slave hunters and find sympathetic locals in what is, by all accounts, an intensely affecting living history experience.
The lives and legacy of African Americans stored at the Black Archives of Mid-America are woven into the rich cultural fabric of Kansas City, one of the nation’s largest railway hubs and a Midwest melting pot. Ease into city life with a slab of barbecue ribs and burnt ends at Arthur Bryant’s, a formica and fluorescent style place feeding the hungry, presidents, and celebrities since 1940 as the scion of the “low and slow” method of grilling.
Around the corner at 18th and Vine is the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, where guides bring the story of segregation (Negro teams played for white audiences) to life. Kids love the replica baseball field inside with life-size statues of the greatest players. The adjacent American Jazz Museum is packed with memorabilia and listening booths so visitors can hear Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie and Charlie Parker, among others, before stepping into the Blue Room, a family-friendly jazz club attached to the museum.
Don’t miss the World War I Museum, the nation’s most complete collection of that era, with some mementoes from the 371st Infantry Regiment, part of the Colored Infantry that served in the war. Don’t believe that KC is committed to multi-culturalism? Check out the Heartland Tourism Ambassador Program funded by visitor taxes to provide career development opportunities to locals who champion the city.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968 in Memphis. The site of his death, the Lorraine Motel, now houses the comprehensive National Civil Rights Museum, whose collection includes a segregated bus, a lunch counter and other painful symbols of the Civil Rights movement. This must-see museum was upgraded in 2014 to include dozens of new films and interactive displays, making it even more engaging for young visitors.
Start a Memphis musical tour at the W.C. Handy Memphis Museum, home of the celebrated African American composer known as “father of The Blues.” Head past the clubs on Beale Street to see a century of music history at the Rock ‘N’ Soul Museum, and the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, named for the Stax studio where the masters of soul recorded their hits. Every beat brings you a little closer to rock ‘n’ roll, the sound popularized by the famous shaking hips of Elvis Presley, whose home at Graceland is one of the city’s top attractions.
Last in the alphabet only, is Washington DC, the first major city run by an African American mayor (Walter Washington in 1967) and one run today by arguably the most powerful African-American man in the country, President Obama. Sites that celebrate the contributions of African Americans to this country abound. The $120 million Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial with a 30-foot-tall statue of the Civil Rights leader is the first D.C. memorial dedicated to a person of color. Cultural Tourism DC’s “Civil War to Civil Rights” walking map begins at the luxurious Willard-Intercontinental Hotel, where Lincoln stayed prior to his inauguration, and Dr. King wrote his “I Have a Dream” speech – only one of many stops.
Spend an afternoon at the African American Civil War Museum to learn about how the war shaped the lives of free blacks who served in the Union Army. Pause for a hot dog at Ben’s Chili Bowl, a favorite of the president’s and site of many civil rights protests, then stop by the museum home of the famous abolitionist Frederick Douglass. View the original Emancipation Proclamation at the National Archives.
Catch a show at the Howard Theatre, built in 1910 along DC’s “Black Broadway” to showcase vaudeville stars, musicians and the Howard University Players. Newly renovated, the theatre reopened in 2012 after 32 years of neglect, attracting The Roots, Taj Mahal, Mos Def, Chuck Berry, Esperanza Spalding and others to its famous stage.
Spend a day in the countryside at Mt. Vernon, George Washington’s home, to explore the lives of his 316 slaves and their role at his estate. When the first President died in 1799, his will proclaimed that all his slaves should be freed after his wife Martha’s death.
It was a first for the Founding Fathers, and one of the first signs that black lives mattered to the new nation.
For most families, a first trip to India usually includes the Taj Mahal, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and an architectural marvel in Agra that divides the world into two kinds of people said President Bill Clinton, “Those who have seen the Taj Mahal and those who have not.”
The Taj Mahal, built over a period of 22 years by 20, 000 workers, was commissioned in 1632 by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan as a tomb for his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died giving birth to their 14th child. A glimmering white marble mausoleum reaching 240 feet into the hazy clouds, intricately carved and inlaid with semi-precious gems and stones like carnelian, jade, onyx and lapis lazuli, it is a remarkable monument to love.
There’s more to Agra than just the Taj. If you base yourselves at one of the many fine hotels in this bustling small city, you can spend a few days seeing this corner of Uttar Pradesh (U.P. to the locals), getting to know the life of north India, and slipping slowly into the meditative pace you will need for the rest of your adventurous journey.
Lesser-known than the Taj Mahal – and a must-see cultural attraction in its own right – the daily Agra Vegetable Market is an interactive thrill.
The city of 4.5 million is a distribution hub for produce grown throughout the country for domestic consumption. The main market, open 6am to 9am daily, is along VIP Road (the locals’ name for Fatehabad Road, because it’s lined with the five-star hotels that VIPs occupy.)
In Agra itself, the primary winter crops are mustard for cooking oil and potatoes. There’s also the very popular guava, served raw in India and sprinkled with masala to bring out the flavor. Fields of tomato, chilis, onions and green peppers can also be seen. During monsoon (June through August) when the rain comes — which it hasn’t the past few years due to climate change — the crop rotates to rice.
Nidhi Kapur of Global Sojourns, a luxury travel specialist based in New Delhi, had insisted on booking a guide for our family -– an excellent suggestion. When Sanjay arrived with his piercing green eyes and dapper tweed jacket, we needed convincing that he was a tourist guide and not a local celebrity. We began Sanjay’s walking tour at 8:30 a.m.
The Agra Market takes place in a scrub desert lot next to a highway where brightly painted trucks with “Please Horn” written on their tailgates rumble and roll by. Produce is arranged by type: mounds of onions in a row of 20 vendors sitting cross-legged on the ground; then 20 dried beans and lentil stalls with burlap bags out front; and another 20 vendors whose blue tarps are spread, exhibition-style, with potatoes.
Each vendor is seated on a tarp or under one, on a plot they own and would one day leave to their children and children’s children. Transient middlemen would crouch down between them over piles of blood red carrots, glittering bunches of coriander, and gnarled ginger root.
As we walk, the dudewalla are loading metal tins of fresh milk, both cow and buffalo, onto bikes to deliver it to shops and restaurants. Young boys are playing at the edges of the sellers’ tarps. Old men are shooing cows away so that restaurant buyers can decide what farm-to-table item will be on tonight’s menu.
VIP Road is busy and chai and and snack vendors are there to take advantage. Pausing to watch them, we ogle handfuls of wheat dough being patted flat, then slid into a wok of boiling oil. One at a time, the puri turn gold, fill with air, develop blisters and are flipped over to inflate some more.
Just when we’re about to shriek “Stop, enough!,” they until they are shuttled onto pages of the Hindustan Times. Happy customers are served a puri to sop up a woven-leaf bowlful of chole bhature, a chana masala or spicy chick pea breakfast curry.
Plan at least two to three days in Agra, to see the Taj Mahal in the morning before the many tour buses arrive and again at dusk, from the peaceful Mehtab Bagh gardens across the Jamuna River. Take your time. Indians love to do clicks, selfies, and selfwes of their large travel parties. With selfie sticks telescoped out to great lengths, we saw school groups pose in Bollywood dance routines, multigenerational groups positioned to “hold” the Taj Mahal in hand, and many other permutations that gave visitors the best viewing angles… and kept us waiting, totally amused, for them to pass.
The Red Fort of Agra, built near the Taj Mahal by Akbar, Emperor Shah Jahan’s grandfather, and the last place of residence for the bereaved emperor after losing Mumtal, is another monumental tribute to Mughal style.
We were enchanted by the “Baby Taj” as Sanjay called it. The Itimad Ud Daulah is a beautifully ornate, very approachable, marble shrine to the man who had been chief minister to Jahangir, son of Akbar, and whose daughter married the Mughal ruler. When her father died (a generation before Shah Jahan’s reign), she commissioned the first all-marble structure in India and its mix of Islamic and Indian styles became very influential.
In other parts of Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, families will see many Mughal monuments crafted from the region’s famous red sandstone but the mark of Emperor Shah Jahan was his affection for white marble, brought from 400 kms away to be used in every shrine he commissioned.
When in India, seeing the old towns and market sections is a must in cities where cell towers and traffic crowd out the rickshaws and cows. The Rawatpara Spice Market is a fascinating part of Old Agra, a cacophonous jumble of exposed electrical lines, ramshackle shops, Hindu temples, mosques and bicycle rickshaws competing with mopeds and cows for respect.
Sanjay led us around to Mankameshwar Mandir, one of four original temples dedicated to Lord Shiva located in the four corners of Agra City, thought to be an ancient center of Shiva worship. (The Taj Mahal is said by some to be a Shiva temple.) As the city grew around it, the temple today is roofed and walled in by a nondescript sheet metal and concrete structure that deprives passersby of any view.
It was a travel moment that only a knowledgeable insider could provide: Sanjay explained we must remove all leather before entering. He told us to buy a ghee candle as an offering so we could request three wishes -– which would be granted — so of course we did. We spent 15 minutes with the temple’s Sadhu as he chanted, put red dots on each forehead, tied marigold colored threads around our wrists, and blessed us.
Agra has a wide range of hotels. At the top stands the super luxurious Oberoi Amervilas, ranked #3 on Travel + Leisure World Best Awards in Asia. All rooms overlook the Taj Mahal, it has a celebrated spa, gourmet restaurants, cascading multi-level pools and baking classes for kids. Rooms range upwards of US$600 per night depending on season.
On the other end of the scale are more simple, convenient hotels like Clarks Shiraz, a popular contemporary hotel with high TripAdvisor ratings from US$70 per night.
With so much sold out over the Christmas holiday week, we were booked into the ITC Mughal, Agra. This Sheraton was built more than 30 years ago in the Mughal style, with several inner courtyards and pools, gurgling fountains, green lawns and red brick room blocks set around the 35 acres of manicured grounds.
A rollaway bed was tucked into one of the 233 rooms for us, rooms appointed with banks of pillows, Indian artwork, marble counter tops and garden views. The Kayla Kalp Spa, very well known in India, had won awards from Conde Nast Traveler and others. We wanted to try its wide range of Ayurveda massage and treatments so the whole family was pampered: my husband tolerated a two-handed Abhyanga Massage designed to awaken inner wisdom; I loved the Hot Herbal Poultice rejuvenating massage soothed by fragrant, warm oils; and our son relished his facial and restorative oil massage.
Our breakfast buffet included both north and south Indian dishes, a Chinese rice porridge station, baked beans and toast, and other international cuisines; comfortable rooms start at US$125 per night.
Agra is easily reached by the Express Train from New Delhi, which arrives in less than three hours. Make sure to allow enough time there to wallow in the magic.
Known for its sugary white sandy beaches and turquoise waters, Panama City has rapidly grown from a quiet beachside military town to spring break partyland and finally a family-friendly destination. You probably already knew Panama City could keep the kids entertained with activities from go-karting to boogie boarding. But there are also has plenty of indoor options for rain days like Ripley’s Believe Or Not, as well as holiday festivities. Panama City has also been working hard to turn Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years into family-friendly days with live entertainment, kid-friendly events, games and, during New Year’s; a beach ball drop.
In addition to all of the organized fun, there’s still the gorgeous, white sandy beaches. Despite the trending attractions like Gulf World Marine Park and Pier Park, this theme park style city is considered one of “America’s Most Beautiful Beaches” by Conde Nast Traveler. Why such accolades for the beach? It’s beautiful. According to the CVB website, “Panama City Beach’s legendary pure white sand resulted from quartz crystals washing down from the Appalachian Mountains centuries ago. Along their journey, the crystals were bleached, ground, smoothed and polished until the surf of the Gulf of Mexico deposited these millions of grains of sand on the shoreline.”
Planning your trip to Panama City around the weather is a wise move, but shouldn’t keep you from visiting even during cold months. Each season has its pros and cons with plenty of alternatives for fun beyond the beach. Here’s what’s going on that you won’t want to miss.
The heat soars from June until September in Panama City with temperatures hitting 90 degrees. The low is usually around 75 degrees; all beachfront properties are equipped with central air conditioning and most have their own pools.The beaches blister with heat and get crowded during summer, but summer also offers the best opportunity for watersports like paragliding.
In the winter, temperatures start dropping to the 70s in November, with December through February seeing highs of 65 and lows of 44. We found this to hold true during our trip over New Year’s Eve, with temperatures ranging in the low 60s and mid 50s. The Gulf of Mexico was chilly, but still warm enough for quick dips when it wasn’t windy and raining. If your kids are determined to dive in or go boogie boarding during Fall and winter, bring a wetsuit during colder months to combat outdoor chill. The mid 60-degree weather didn’t slow our daughter down, but the rain and wind kept us indoors having fun on chilly days.
Spring brings some of the most temperate weather, but also sees an influx of spring breakers ready to have some fun. Personally, I would skip going to Panama City in the spring with your family to avoid the “lively” college kids who drive in from local colleges and as far as Nashville and Atlanta. I much prefer the quieter months when families can spread out and enjoy a quieter vacation full of beachside fun.
During summer months, set up the family alongside 27 miles of famous, pristine shoreline and let the vacation begin. My 7-month-old was more interested in eating fistfuls of beach than really playing in it, but dipping his toes into the water kept him fascinated while we tried to release the sandy bounty from his hand. Toddlers, babies and grown-ups alike need plenty of sunblock and shading gear like umbrellas and hats. Fortunately there’s a beach supply store every few blocks along the strip, including the Alvin’s Island chain. Just look for the giant shark mouth doubling as a front door to make your way into a megaplex of beach fun.
For an educational outdoor adventure, the hiking and biking trail at Camp Helen State Park brings families together with beautiful views of the Powell Lake and the “Old Florida” terrain. The path spans 2,000 feet and is constructed from environmentally sensitive materials, giving way to benches and covered shelter for breaks. Because the park is surrounded on three sides by water, it encompasses five different habitats, and many trails are marked by educational signs to provide guidance along the way.
It’s still possible to get outdoors and have some fun even on a blustery, rainy day. At Gulf World Marine Park, professional divers flip and twirl in mid-air, finishing with an 80-foot high-dive while a magician amazes audiences with his interactive magic show. The park’s Trainer for a Day program lets guests study dolphin behavior before stepping on stage to perform during the Dolphin Show.
Kids 7-years-old and up can continue to interact with animals at ZooWorld as a part of the Keeper for a Day program. Home to more than 250 animals and set in a seven-acre lush tropical landscape, ZooWorld promotes wildlife preservation through hands-on activities and personalized animal encounters. Children will enjoy the “Going Wild!” show where they can discover unique animal facts and pose for pictures with rare mammals, reptiles and exotic birds. Your kids may be too young to become trainers, but they will definitely love bottle feeding a tiger.
When your kids hit beach fatigue, take active children to Shipwreck Island Waterpark for a wonderland to splash, run and have fun in. Little kids have their own spot at Tadpole Hole full of slides, tubes and swings. Older visitors prefer the White Knuckle River, a 660-foot family tube ride, the Great Ship Wreck and the Zoom Flume. Save time waiting in line by purchasing advance tickets with the waterpark’s online ticketing service.
My daughter was impressed by the spread at Coconut Creek Family Fun Park, home of two unique miniature golf courses with oversized animals. A life-sized elephant sprays mist and a giraffe looms over families of golfers. There’s also a human Gran Maze spanning the length of a football field and modeled after South Pacific islands. Kids will journey through Fiji, Tahiti, Samoa and Bali before completing their journey.
Whether you need a break from sun during summer or chilly afternoons in the winter, visit Ripley’s Moving Theater to watch a 4-D movie and stop by the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditorium. The theater features motion, special effects and action-packed images where kids can feel like they’re stepping into a movie themselves. Next, let the kids loose in the Marvelous Mirror Maze for a spirited game of laser tag. The Odditorium lives up to its name with over 400 exhibits like authentic shrunken heads, a real vampire killing kit and hands-on activities.
Just across the street lies the interactive WonderWorks. You’ll know you’ve arrived — it’s the only upside down house on the block. This four-story attraction features over 100 exhibits and challenges available to kids of all ages. Designated wonder zones include Natural Disasters, Physical Challenges, Light and Sound, Space Discovery, Imagination Lab and a Far Out Art Gallery. Despite the invitation for all ages, I personally wouldn’t recommend it for kids 5-and under. Our daughter was too small for most of the activities she really wanted to do and it was organized chaos on New Year’s Day.
Families looking to escape all the Thanksgiving meal and shopping drama can head to Panama City and eat at one of the many restaurants ranging from fine dining to hole in the wall fun. There are more options to choose from than you’ll have time for, but no one should leave without a visit to one of the city’s seafood restaurants. Sharky’s Beach Front Restaurant and Tiki Bar blends just the right amount of fun, foodie inspired dishes and aesthetic value. Weather permitting, ask for a table outside for a view of the water. After trying a variety of dishes from local seafood to steaks, let the kids loose on the Pirate Ship Playground.
Sharky’s also offers a traditional “Turkey at the Tiki” package with a buffet featuring traditional favorites like green bean casserole and turkey breasts along with crab legs, fried scallops and grilled mahi. The best part may be kids 4 and under eat free; perfect for picky eaters who will just push food around their plate until they can go play.
There’s more to do in Panama City during Thanksgiving than just eat. The beachside town started organizing family-friendly Christmas concerts, a tree lighting, and fireworks kicking off the Friday after Thanksgiving. If you’re organizing a Christmas family reunion, or just want to cozy up with your own little clan, Panama City delivers on beachfront condos, homes and hotels.
Whether it’s the 4th of July or New Year’s Eve, the open-air Pier Park is the place to find year-round entertainment options, events, shopping and dining. During our visit over New Year’s Eve, we headed to Miracle Strip at Pier Park featuring new and renovated rides from the original Miracle Strip Amusement Park. Much to the dismay of locals and tourists, it closed after 40 years of family fun but its spirit was revived at this new Miracle Strip. Rides include a retro carousel and Ferris Wheel, a modern Balloon Race and Red Baron rides, batting cages and ziplines.
For New Year’s Eve, Pier Park features live music, kid’s games and food before a beach ball drop at 8 p.m. Despite the rain, droves of families turned out and crowded around in anticipation of the big ball drop. My 4-year-old thought this was the most amazing thing she had ever witnessed (especially impressive since it was her 4th New Year’s Eve and she is an old pro by now). Afterwards, the kids were satisfied and ready to head back to their homes, condos and hotels to curl up. For us, it was a rented movie from our condo’s DVD kiosk and homemade popcorn. By the time our little ones were in bed, we had time to unwind before watching the New Year’s Eve fireworks from our beachfront balcony.
What makes the holidays in Panama City especially easy and magical is the wide variety of beachfront rentals. Our family stayed at the Tidewater Beach Condominium and scored a waterside condo. Ours was a spacious one-bedroom, but also had a a little nook with bunk beds and an additional private bathroom. Aside from our refusal to let her 7-month-old brother sleep up top, our daughter was delighted by her own special sleeping spot. There was also an additional pull-out couch which could sleep more family members. We had no trouble finding a spot for our travel crib in the living room, right off the kitchen stocked with pots, pans, cups and more.
The only amenity we would have needed was the beachfront balcony with two sliding doors and a patio set to sip coffee and have breakfast outdoors. Downstairs, the Waves Restaurant served up traditional breakfast right off the griddle for a satisfying start to the morning. An indoor pool and game room kept our daughter busy during the chillier parts of our stay. Despite explaining the odds of winning at those rigged claw machine games, she managed to win not one, not two, but three stuffed animals at the same time. (Apologies to the poor soul who probably spent $100 trying to win before she waltzed in.) There was also a quaint little library area with books, puzzles and a DVD machine to pick a range of movies including family-friendly titles. Our daughter loved picking out her “records” and putting them in the DVD machine upstairs for a movie at New Year’s Eve.
Families can drive down and take advantage of lodging specials, kids-eat-free deals and lots of space to lounge around in at some of the beach’s more than 300 condo communities. Here are few suggestions for fun-in-the-sun accommodations:
Tidewater Beach Resort resides on one of the area’s largest beaches with 570 luxury, gulf-front units overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. Two lagoon pools, an indoor heated pool, fitness center with Roman spa, movie and media center and onsite restaurant keep guests relaxed.
Pinnacle Port Vacation Rentals welcomes young travelers with crafts on the pool deck. Spanning 26 acres, Pinnacle Port guests can use canoes or kayaks by day and take advantage of free Wi-Fi and DVD rentals at night.
The Seahaven Beach Resorts rental community offers three different lodging options: Origin at Seahaven (a condominium), Seahaven Beach and The Reef Hotels. It’s well located near Pier Park, has a daily kids club on site, and shows outdoor movies by the pool. Their summer specials include “Kids Eat and Ride Free,” which allows children 12 and under eat for free with a paid adult at nearby Sharky’s Beachfront Restaurant and Tiki Bar. In addition, children 12 and under enjoy free wave runners and parasailing with each paid adult.
Blowin-N-The Wind Management boasts five different properties with accommodations ranging from multi-bedroom condominiums to three-bedroom cottages and more. Each property is said to include family-friendly amenities, such as boat docking areas, tennis and basketball courts, fitness centers, swimming pools, a putting green and more.
By The Sea Resorts welcomes guests to the Legacy, BeachBreak or Beachcomber Resorts, where there are Gulf-front suites and garden view rooms. Family specials often include pizza parties and free kids meals at the Barefoot Beach Club or nearby Calypso Beach Cafe.
The Sandpiper Beacon presents many family amenities and activities for its guests. Kids will love their indoor lazy river pool and slides, the outdoor and indoor pools and waterslides, six-hole minigolf course and Gulf-front playground. Accommodations range from condos with kitchens to hotel rooms and cottages. There’s tropical Polynesian entertainment throughout the summer; the sound of the drum beat while the conch shell is blowing begins the journey of song and dance with hula dancers and the exciting Samoan Fire Knife Dance. Note that in spring, you may find the college crowd a bit too loud for your family.
For more information, check out the official Web site of the Panama City Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau for more information and lodging ideas.
Time travel to Virginia City, a Nevada town that offers families the chance to experience what life was like in a 19th-century mining “boomtown” — and see how fast camels can run. Located just a 45-minute drive from the Reno-Tahoe area, you’ll step back in time as you visit historic buildings and old-fashioned saloons.
Kids of all ages should enjoy taking a mine tour and riding a real steam train.
Virginia City is entertaining anytime of year, but its biggest annual event is the International Camel and Ostrich Races. Tens of thousands of spectators gather to watch novice jockeys race on camels and ostriches. The races span three days, and will take place from Friday, September 9 through Sunday, September 11, 2016.
The festivities begin at noon each day, with spectators allowed to grab a seat as early as 10am. Not only will camels and ostriches be racing, the occasional zebra might decide to join the fun. Saturday begins with a photo-worthy camel parade.
The 57th annual edition will be the second year in a spanking new venue. The Virginia City Arena and Fairgrounds boasts more parking options, better visibility with a circular arena (versus the horseshoe previously used) and improved handicap and stroller access.
Ticket prices are fair. For 2015, general admission was $15 for Friday and Sunday and $18 on Saturday. VIP admission was $40 for Friday and Sunday and $50 on Saturday. Additionally, In Arena tickets were available for $25 for Friday and Sunday and $30 for Saturday. Toddlers and small children who sit on an adult’s lap are free.
Stay longer than a weekend. Virginia City has more to see and do than you might expect, as you can tell from our roundup of Virginia City family attractions. FTF writer Allison Tibaldi stayed at the Goldhill Hotel, built in 1861, and enjoyed it and its long history. Gold Hill has tiny rooms in the historic section priced from just $45, ranging up to free-standing cabins sleeping six to eight from $145 and up. You’ll have to book ahead anywhere during the Camel Races weekend.
And if camels are what you’ve come for, tickets for the event can be purchased online at VCCamelRaces.com.
For more information on Virginia City, go to Visit Virginia City NV.
“This is cool,” said our son quietly, as he glanced around, dropping the magazines he’d borrowed from the library of the MV Aegean Odyssey. We were sailing along the coast of Montenegro, eyeing the medieval fortress of Kotor from a chaise lounge by the pool.
It was Day 6 of our two-week family cruise vacation with a company that expertly plans such things: the two-year-old cruise line Voyages to Antiquity. Headquartered in London with Athens and Ft. Lauderdale offices, Voyages to Antiquity sails one 390-passenger ship, the MV Aegean Odyssey, with history and culture-minded guests — mostly grandparents — on board.
We all know that cruises are great for family vacations because they minimize the packing, unpacking and general stress of traveling. They can also be wallet-friendly like an all-inclusive resort, with all meals and many onboard activities included in the rates.
Voyages to Antiquity exceeded our expectations with spacious cabins, bathrooms you can turn around in; closets designed to hold two weeks’ worth of casual shipwear; and a friendly crew always at hand to serve, bring, help out or otherwise accommodate passengers of any age. There is plentiful food: non-stop snacks on the Lido deck, a substantial afternoon High Tea, cocktail hours, and elegant dinners accompanied by complimentary wine, beer and soft drinks.
Best yet for value, the shore excursions and lectures are included in the cruise price, as are staff gratuities and bottled water. On some Voyages to Antiquity itineraries, the pre- and post-cruise add-ons include free hotel, and airfare specials are available on some sailing dates.
There are single and double-bedded cabins (two beds together make a king), priced by size, view and deck. Extended families will appreciate that there are dedicated single cabins at only a 25% supplement to the double cabin passenger rate — a real plus when traveling with adult kids or grandparents who need their own single room.
Of course, any vacation that prides itself on being a “voyage to antiquity” isn’t going to appeal to every traveler. For a family with teens age 16 and older, or adult children, however, this engaging cruise experience is as much about education as context. Excellent on-board lecturers, expert local guides, cuisine, movies and fascinating shore excursions are among the many opportunities to experience a destination and its place in history.
You might call Voyages to Antiquity a retro cruise vacation — there’s a Bridge Club but no casino or disco; the satellite WiFi doesn’t always work; the cozy library is stocked with maps, historical epics, poetry and novels; and the cabin TV’s are programmed with movies and documentaries themed to each destination. So while not exactly an unplugged getaway, this cruise put technology to more enriching uses than our family usually does at home.
Our 12-day itinerary sailed south through the Adriatic and Ionian Seas and into the Aegean from Venice, Italy. We called at four ports in Croatia; Corfu, Crete, Santorini and three other historic ports in Greece, then sailed to Istanbul, Turkey. Every sailing between April and October focuses on different Mediterranean cultures and historical periods, and beginning in 2013, the company will start sailing to Southeast Asia to study the cultures of Thailand, Cambodia and Laos.
Onboard lectures by noted scholars, a signature Voyages to Antiquity feature, precede each port of call. While our son (on leave from college) shuddered at the thought of enduring another professor’s lecture, he was impressed with the elaborate powerpoints presented by Matthew Nicholls of the University of Reading and Joyce Salisbury of the University of Wisconsin, both of whom accompanied our trip. After one fun talk about Venice by a local scholar, he turned to me — obviously surprised — and said, “You know, this was actually incredibly interesting.”
The lecturers joined guests on the shore excursions and at meals, happy to talk about their studies. Since many of the senior clientele sailing with us sounded like retired professors themselves, the Q&A following presentations on how the Romans built their temples, or what gladiators represented, was often as interesting as the talk itself.
The lectures gave us a baseline for what we’d experience on shore. After disembarking, each color-coded sightseeing group wore earphones tuned to the frequency of their own guide. The wonderful QuietVox radio system, similar to museum audioguides, allowed us to move quietly through small towns, or pause longer in a chapel or a cafe (great for our son), hear the narrative, and never get lost.
This video should give you a sense of what life aboard the Aegean Odyssey and on shore is like.
We learned countless facts and figures in our seaborne tour of the Venetian Empire, the loose theme of this cruise. We learned that the fiercely proud Venetians can tell each other from tourists because they are much more fashionably dressed. That the red scarves worn by Croatian Kravats sent to fight in France became the first neckties.
Even after centuries of neglect, we heard that a home within the restored Palace of Diocletian costs triple elsewhere in Split. “The killjoys at UNESCO closed the town disco to make it a tourist attraction,” added our guide Ilene as she showed us the ancient Roman cistern.
In Pula, Zlatkes led us through the sixth largest ancient Roman colosseum in the world and talked about female gladiators. Dubrovnik was a big surprise, a gorgeous fortified Venetian city where we berthed next to Al Said, a huge private yacht owned by Sultan Qaboos bin Said of Oman.
We sailed from Corfu during a screening of “Mamma Mia!” and enjoyed Meryl Streep’s moves beng re-enacted by the Australians who got up and danced in the aisles.
And at the Minoan Palace of Knossos on Crete, Ioanna told us most scholars believe the legend of the Minotaur was pure fiction.
Some exclusive excursions, such as seeing Venice’s Church of San Rocco after hours (our own quiet, private son et lumiere in one of the world’s busiest tourist attractions), or visiting the not-yet-opened site of ancient Akrotiri, Santorini, were a bonus. Others, we passed on. The guided tour of Dubrovnik’s monasteries lost out to a casual walk along the city’s high walls. Not everyone was a devout history buff; some passengers skipped daily tours to sightsee or shop independently, and typically everyone had at least one hour after the tours to explore ports on their own.
Yes, there were a few bleak days of sightseeing in the rain, and a cancelled port call at the tiny island of Monemvassia due to extreme winds. During one stormy leg, there was some seasickness. The Swedish captain Roland Andersson sailed on; the daily Aegean Odyssey Journal always featured some new activity. Since the gung-ho spirit of the crew and the friendly cast of characters we traveled with was infectious, each day brought unexpected discoveries.
The elegant Aegean Odyssey is a totally renovated 40-year-old vessel and, with fewer than 400 passengers aboard, we soon recognized all the other guests. Her old-world decor of fresh flowers, framed watercolors and a few classical sculptures was serene and relaxing, unlike some of the megaships we had sailed on. In the roomy cabins, the creamy colors and blond woods emphasized the sea views more than the high quality furnishings.
Her modest size meant every facility had to cater to the majority: a tiny but functional gym and spa; one stylish shop; two attractive bars; and a lecture/meeting hall.
Of the ship’s two restaurants, we preferred the more casual, Deck 6 Terrace Cafe, where tasty and plentiful lunch, dinner and even a High Tea buffet were available. Especially in nice weather, but even in a chill wind, the outdoor seating on teak and canvas director’s chairs overlooking the stern was irresistible. To meet their high service standards, the Aegean Odyssey crew was always circulating among passengers with fresh-baked croissants or the day’s pizza (the Danish captain’s recipe was a grilled tuna and olive pizza), as well as tea, coffee, wine and other beverages.
Tastefully decorated in beige and gold, the more formal Marco Polo on Deck 3 had limited views from its porthole windows. However, the flattering lighting, fresh flowers and tranquil dining made it a gracious setting for an a la carte lunch or dinner. The food, excellent overall, included fresh fish and fruits and vegetables that were loaded on at every port.
Although Callum from the Gym teased us that cruise passengers typically gain two pounds per day at sea, this lot of history buffs was quite fit and health-minded. There were even a few seniors with canes on our sailing, though I wouldn’t recommend this type of itinerary for anyone in a wheelchair — the facilities the mobility impaired would need in port were not available.
Another cultural aspect we really enjoyed at both restaurants was that the ship’s culinary team supplemented daily menus by destination, adding local appetizers, entrees and desserts at each port. There were always vegetarian and sugar-free options to accommodate diners with special needs.
In addition to these venues, there was bar service in two lounges, around the pool, and on the 8th level Observation Deck. The live music each night in the lounges ranged from the multi-talented Cafe Concerto Trio to easy listening crooners and a piano bar.
My family was invited to join a media group on this spring sailing. Our 20-year-old son was, at first, more enthusiastic about the European ports of call than about the average age of his fellow guests, a truism for many multi-generational vacations selected by family elders. But he had been on a megaship with his grandparents before, and understood what to expect.
He had his own cabin (a must to maintain family harmony), and his parents loved spending time together on excursions and at meals. The 20-something shore excursion staff and gym crew were his only peers, however, and not having anyone to share the local nightlife — even a sibling — was a negative.
However, even our son found the ship’s crew and their tall tales about life at sea to be entertaining. The overall casual ambiance, lectures and cocktail events, and the crews’ effort to seat smaller groups together at meal time encouraged passenger interaction. We Americans met many couples and singles from Great Britain, Canada and Australia, opening up what could have been a “too close” family voyage to a much broader circle of new friends from around the world. The Aegean Odyssey staff told us every cruise attracts a few younger people, especially during the summer school break, so when the cruise line advertises a “family sailing” it’s the best option to insure other young people on board.
Aaah, tour groups. The first day we disembarked in Venice and joined the 30-plus passengers in the Red Group was one of those “ah-hah” moments: We had always looked with some disdain upon group travelers and now we were them. But as the cruise went on we began to appreciate how much more we could learn from being cocooned with our headsets and eloquent guides.
It is true that an escorted tour reduces interaction with the locals, serendipitous finds and unwelcomed disasters. This aspect may dissuade the adventurous, but it certainly appealed to older passengers who appreciated the hassle-free mode of travel.
And when you’re traveling with several generations of family, what more can you ask?
For more information about upcoming itineraries, contact your travel agent or the Voyages of Antiquity agents, who are very helpful, at 877/398-1460 or via the Voyages to Antiquity site.
Winter is a great time to introduce kids to the great outdoors, whether you’re at one of North America’s top snowsports resorts, visiting Yellowstone, or snowmobiling at a dude ranch. Not only is it healthier to get kids away from the screens that consume them an average of 7 hours per day, but it’s also the season to find snow activities to do together, regardless of age or ability level, and enjoy a mug of hot chocolate.
The mountain resort industry has seen several big changes this season. Several resorts have consolidated or changed management, increasing the value of their season passes for many families. In 2015, for example, Vail Resorts took over both The Canyons and Park City Mountain Resort and put in $50 million in renovations, making the new Park City (see below), at 7,300 skiable acres, the largest resort in the country.
Season passes have evolved, becoming sophisticated smart cards and electronic wallets with RFID tags that can be read without opening your jacket. The new M.A.X. Pass has given families who seek variety a cost-efficient way to ski 22 different resorts.
Terrain Based Learning remains a popular ski instruction program. It requires contouring the bunny slope and beginner terrain into the proper curves, turns and bumps to gently force novices to experience ski moves at a controlled speed. Designed for ages 6+, many resorts have invested in snow forts, sculpted trails with banked turns, mini-pipes and rollers that introduce the excitement of advanced skiing and riding without the fear of falling.
Review this guide to the top family destinations, lay out your school calendars next to some resort calendars, and you’ll see how easy it is to book a value winter mountain vacation.
Some families want to mix snowsports with urban sightseeing, shopping or even campus visits when they travel. It’s easy to spend a few days in San Francisco, then drive to Lake Tahoe; visit New York skyscrapers and take The Northway to Lake Placid; tour Seattle before skiing at Whistler/Blackcomb; head to Maine and New Hampshire via Boston. These are only some of the 12 fun cities where all ages can save up to 50% on sightseeing (and no waiting in line) at the top attractions with a CityPASS discount ticket book. After 20 years of delighting families by saving time and money, the company also covers Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, Toronto and Southern California. Pick up CityPASS ticket booklets in advance; they are great holiday gift items.
Some families like to save at local ski hostels, the ideal budget lodging if you don’t crave a Jacuzzi for apres-ski. Another wallet saver is a cheaper base camp, and several fun cities are so close to the slopes you can sleep there (and save), and ski or ride every day.
We asked Trivago.com, a hotel metasearch engine that makes price comparison easy, to help families decide which major ski hubs were the best basecamp values. Here’s what they found.
Denver, Colorado (Arapahoe Basin, Winter Park, Steamboat Springs or Keystone), nightly rates varied from a low of $158 in December to a peak of $177 in March. In Salt Lake City, Utah (Snowbird, Alta, Park City Mountain Resort), rates varied from a low of $113 in December to a peak of $134 in February. Burlington, Vermont (Stowe, Smugglers Notch) showed rates from a low of $83 in December to a peak of $93 in March. At Reno, Nevada (Mt. Rose, Kirkwood), rates varied from a low of $79 in January to a peak of $85 in February. You can see that examining last year’s booking patterns corroborates a ski reality — early season rates are lowest because snow conditions are unpredictable.
Traveling with a mix of snowsports abilities? Avid skiers who want to pack in extra runs will prefer ski in/ski out accommodations on the mountain slopes, but this more expensive lodging won’t work well if you’re traveling with little novices who can’t conquer those slopes.
To save money and guarantee your toddlers the comforts of home — such as a kitchen, dining area, laundry, separate bedrooms, ski storage and, usually, a fireplace — rent a condo or private vacation home. For suggested brokers, check out our vacation rentals guide with tips on finding the best lodging and short stay condos for your needs, at any time of year.
Full service resorts are the ultimate in pampering. Families like the many amenities at Omni Hotels, where the Stocking Stuffer deal guarantees 15% off a two-night stay, a $10 Omni gift card, holiday turndown service and contributions to a local charity, valid till December 30.
The beautiful Omni Mt. Washington in New Hampshire actually has its own ski resort, offering a Stay Here, Ski Free package that includes two ski lift tickets each day to Bretton Woods, plus meal options.
If you’re avid skiers, you’ve probably got a season pass to your local mountain. But nomads and powder hounds can find even better deals like Vail’s Epic Pass that allows you to ski at Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, Arapahoe Basin and Eldora in Colorado; the expanded Park City Mountain Resort in Utah; Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood at Lake Tahoe; Afton Alps in Minnesota; Mt. Brighton in Michigan; several top European resorts and at Niseko, Japan.
Perhaps you want to sample some of the world-class resorts represented by the Mountain Collective. This option has become affordable thanks to the classy collaboration between some of the top independent resorts: Alta / Snowbird, Aspen /Snowmass, Jackson Hole, Mammoth, Ski Banff/Lake Louise/Sunshine, Squaw Valley / Alpine Meadows, Stowe, Sun Valley, Taos, Thredbo and Whistler / Blackcomb, where passholders get 2 free days per season. For the season fee of $409 ($99 for kids 12 and under), passholders also get 50% off on lift tickets after they’ve used their2free days, special lodging deals, as well as other savings noted on their website. Available while supplies last, typically up to late December.
If you know what type of experience you want but aren’t sure where to find it among so many options, use the new Mountain Vacation Specialist-Powered Resort Finder from Ski.com, an online agency with a large inventory of mountain accommodations and lodging and lift ticket deals. Choose “Family Vacation” or other attribute, then select the country, region or state you would like to visit and the Resort Finder will make recommendations. Ski.com staff have the know-how to match each family with the most desirable resort and lodging accommodations based on things like ski school meeting locations, off mountain activities, family-friendly dining and more. Book at Ski.com or call a Mountain Vacation Specialist at 800/672-3241.
As critical as ski and snowboard gear is, most of it can be rented. If you prefer to travel with your own (expert families usually carry boots and rent the latest model performance gear), consider Southwest Airlines, which accepts up to two checked bags free of charge. You can also pre-order rental equipment online so it’s delivered right to your accommodation and adjusted to fit on the spot.
While it’s super convenient and often comes with an overnight gear locker on-mountain, renting equipment at a mountain’s base village will cost the most. In contrast, many in-town locations offer a kids-rent-free package throughout the season for kids 12 and under. Do the math: to rent in town, you’ll also have to a rent a car, so the price may work out the same.
January is Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month (LSSM), a nationwide program that encourages snowsports with reduced price and even free lessons, lift tickets, and rental gear bundled into discount packages for novices. This risk-free program has trained more than 600,000 children since its inception in 2009 and, if you follow #firstdayfaces on social media, you can see its success (and maybe win a prize for your own photo).
One year, we sampled beginner programs at three Utah resorts, had a great time, and even learned something as you can see in our video. The LSSM website offers a quick overview of all of the resorts that participate, and you can also follow their deals on Twitter and Facebook.
Don’t forget the Bring a Friend Challenge, open to all current skiers and snowboarders (including members of the industry). The Challenge offers incentives for snowsports lovers who introduce newcomers to lessons from professional instructors this winter; you can win prizes and even a free trip. Beginners who post photos on social media of their first day on snow, tagging them #firstdayfaces, can win prizes too. Hold the photo op date of January 8, 2016 to participate in the “World’s Largest Ski and Snowboard Lesson” at a resort near you.
Several states have programs that introduce snowsports to grade school children free of charge to support that next generation of resident snowsports fans; checkout our directory of freebies.
Don’t let a family member with special needs miss out on an unforgettable winter vacation. There are many adaptive programs around the country for those with physical and mental challenges including the National Sports Center for the Disabled in Winter Park and the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center in Colorado; the National Ability Center in Park City, Utah, Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports and White Mountain Adaptive Ski School at Loon Mountain, New Hampshire.
There are lots of opportunities for moms and grandmas to learn with friends or just hone their skills at women’s ski clinics around the country, and Vail Resorts are among the many now offering special gal-pal learning programs.
Our thanks to Eileen Ogintz and TakingtheKids.com for their input on the top ski areas in North America. In alphabetical order, we recommend:
ALTA SKI AREA is adjacent to the contemporary, upscale Snowbird but its Wild West feel, retro style, and ban on snowboarding belong to Throwback Thursday. You can purchase a combined ticket to ski the best expert terrain in Utah’s Little Cottonwood Canyon and stay in an old-fashioned Alta Lodge that will entertain your kids after ski school and feed them early. Room and board is included; the great restaurant and cozy bar scene draw many repeat visitors. Lift ticket prices are less than at other major ski resorts, too, and the three base area tow ropes (Grizzly tow, Transfer tow and Alta Lodge tow) are free all day so beginners can save, too.
APPALACHIAN MOUNTAIN CLUB in the White Mountains of New Hampshire provides groomed trails for cross-country skiing and wilderness for snowshoeing, plus guided custom adventures at both AMC’s Joe Dodge Lodge and Highland Lodge. The AMC’s 100-square-mile wilderness in Maine can be toured via groomed, backcountry ski trails on day trips. Many families enjoy trying to ski between rustic lodges and private cabins, where home-cooked meals are served to overnight guests.
ASPEN has a long, rich history as a mining town, even before it struck gold with Hollywood celebrities and international athletes drawn to its pristine terrain, gourmet restaurants and shops, world-class hotels and annual X-Games glamor. This four-mountain resort offers plenty of terrain options for skiers and riders of all abilities. Aspen Mountain, with its famous black-diamond terrain for experts, promises a variety of glades, bumps and steeps; Aspen Highlands has plenty of backcountry and is the locals’ favorite. Buttermilk has the Hideout childrens center, as well as a 22-foot superpipe. To entice your family, there’s an Aspen Snowmass family deal that provides a free kids lift ticket (ages 7-12) for every day they rent gear from Four Mountain Sports. Stay seven or more days and take 30% off group lessons. Book by January 30 for arrivals from March 1 to April 17, 2016; also available at the most family-focused of resorts, Snowmass, listed separately, below.
BEAVER CREEK, Colorado is a favorite of well-heeled families because it’s smaller than Vail while offering that resort’s first-class service and terrific ski school. Families appreciate extra little touches (fresh-baked cookies served on Lift #6 daily) and pedestrian base village’s ice skating, casual dining options, and fireworks at day’s end. Moms will find terrific spas at the Beaver Creek hotels (the Hyatt and the Ritz Carlton Bachelor Gulch, as well as “me” time on the Women’s Social Ski Tour, a complimentary two-hour mountain tour followed by a sociable group hot cocoa break. There’s extra family programming during ìBeaver Creek Loves Kidsî weeks: Winterfest December 19-January 31, 2016; PrezFest February 13-15, 2016 and SpringFest March 12-April 9, 2016.
BIG SKY RESORT merged with nearby Moonlight Basin Montana to offer one of the biggest ski and ride terrains in the US and, by grooming more glades, they now offer 5,804 skiable acres and endless ways to navigate 4,350 feet of vertical drop with rarely another skier in sight. Runs up to 6 miles long, glades and bowls, seven terrain parks ranging from novice to big air, all covered in 400+ inches of annual snowfall make a day on the slopes something different for everyone. Off slope adventures suited to teens include a Giant Swing, Bungee Trampoline, climbing wall and nearby, some night tubing, guided snowshoes tours, a challenging High Ropes Course and Zipline tours. Nearby, families can snowmobile or snowcoach through Yellowstone National Park, try Nordic skiing or horse-drawn sleigh rides through Lone Mountain Ranch, and test their skills at winter fly fishing, rock and ice climbing throughout the Gallatin Valley.
BOLTON VALLEY RESORT, the only Vermont resort to offer night skiing and riding, is teen central Wednesday through Saturday nights. Its wind turbine near the top of Vista quad produces an eighth of the resort’s energy needs. You’ll run into a lot of locals from Burlington here because everything is within walking distance — lodging, lifts, pool — making it easy to navigate with kids. Powder Passes on sale till December 13 ($199/ adults and $149/ youth-college-seniors) provide five lift tickets usable on any day. Here’s what TakingtheKids.com wrote about Bolton Valley and how snow sports can change kids’ lives.
BOYNE RESORTS, Boyne Highlands and Boyne Mountain, are Michigan’s largest ski areas with a combined 850 skiable acres and 115 trails. To cater to their drive-to market, they have improved the chair lifts, widened lanes on the tubing hill and added lighting to their NASTAR course. There’s Night skiing and great family deals: kids 8 and under ski and ride free if they’re a lodging guest or ski school student; kids 5 and under and grands 80+ ski/ride free every day. At Boyne Mountain’s Avalanche Bay Indoor Waterpark kids are sure to love the Extreme Body Slide, and at Boyne Highlands there’s a winter zipline. Resort lodging guests receive discounted waterpark admission but anyone can buy a ski and splash ticket providing all-day access to slope gliding and waterpark sliding.
BRECKENRIDGE SKI RESORT is celebrating more than 50 years of skiing (and was the country’s first resort to accept snowboarders.) Skiers and riders appreciate the Peak 6 expansion that includes 400 acres of lift-served terrain and 143 acres of hike-to terrain, giving Breck high-alpine, intermediate level bowl skiing. It’s set in the middle of a historic Colorado town of the same name, where heated sidewalks make it easy to stroll for hours past more than 200 restaurants, shops and apres ski hangouts. There’s plenty of off-slope activity, such as dogsledding, zip lining, larger-than-life snow sculptures and ice play on the Riverwalk Center lawn (International Snow Sculpture Championships take place January 26-30, 2016.)
BROMLEY MOUNTAIN RESORT is the only ski area in Vermont that faces totally south which means it could be warmer at your visit. Families love this top value, small mountain because it has variety: four terrain parks (one just for kids) and plenty of off-the-slopes action including outlet shopping, ice skating, sleigh riding, snowmobiling and cross-country skiing! Combine a $73 midweek/non-holiday ticket with Bromley’s fantastic Family Friday deal, where each paying adult pays just $20 per kid for up to three kids, except for holidays, and a family of four skis for just $186. Top online deal: 2-fer Tuesdays (non holiday) so you and a guest ski for less than $37.
CAMELBACK in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania is a four-season resort without steeps or moguls, that offers beginner runs serving a Terrain Based Learning program and lots of off-slope fun. Weekenders love the mountain coaster ride, Camelbeach Waterpark, and the longest tandem Zip-Flyer in North America — activities that make this a fun weekend whatever the weather.
Since Club Med Ski resorts are all-inclusive, you know everyone will have plenty to time to learn to ski or ride from the expert instructors.
CLUB MED SKI is a collection of 20 upscale, all-inclusive resorts at the top French, Swiss and Italian mountains in the Alps. Enjoy a seamless and top value experience that includes fine international cuisine and beverages, lift tickets and expert ski and snowboard instruction for ages 4+, as well as children’s clubs at many of its resorts. Your kids may even pick up a foreign language! For children who are not ready to take on the slopes, there’s babysitting, kids clubs and snowplay with snowshoeing, tobogganing and dog sledding. Couples and families have a broad variety of resorts to choose from: in France, the newest Club Med Val Thorens is very sophisticated, with an a la carte menu designed by two-Michelin starred chef Edouard Loubet. Club Med Valmorel is well set up for big families, with two bedroom family suites, luxe multi-bedroom chalets and a heated indoor pool, with easy access to winter sports and 85 ski trails. Club Med Peisey-Vallandry at Paradski has 264 miles of trails, while Club Med Chamonix boasts Mont-Blanc’s 80 slopes, which feature dazzling panoramic views. The elegant Club Med Meribel l’Antares has its own Club Med Spa by CARITA. Expert athletes like the Club Med Val d’Isere, site of the 2009 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships. In Italy, the Club Med Pragelato Vialattea is on the slopes of this huge snowsports mecca with five connecting mountains, where a Club Med Spa PAYOT awaits after skiing’s done. Checkout their website, call 1-800-ClubMed or contact your preferred travel professional to help finalize your decision.
COPPER MOUNTAIN terrain is naturally divided for all abilities and families can take advantage of fantastic bowl skiing, free Snowcat rides to Tucker Mountain, FreeRide electric car service and free snowshoe tours daily. Copper is also home to the only year-round ski and snowboard program in the state. Offering winter day camps and week-long summer camps, Woodward at Copper has the Barn, the first indoor ski and snowboard training facility with trampolines, foam pits, and jumps dedicated to terrain park and pipe progression. (It also accommodates skateboards, BMX and slopestyle mountain bikes.) Check out the Youth Four Pack from Copper Mountain’s Ski and Ride School and Woodward Freestyle at Copper.
CRESTED BUTTE MOUNTAIN RESORT is in the heart of Gunnison-Crested Butte Valley, Colorado, and both towns, founded in 1880, are known for their Victorian-era charm and friendly Western hospitality. Crested Butte combines plenty of steeps and deeps with 40 new acres of extreme terrain in Teocalli 2 that opened in 2014. Plus, lots of extreme adventures. In addition to the kids tubing hill, Camp CB for kids, and intermediate glades, there are bungee trampolines, a climbing wall, and a zip-line that you can ski to, as well as a 20-foot jump with a cushioned air bag landing. Check the Gunnison Getaways site for lodging and lift tickets packages.
DEER VALLEY in Park City, Utah (more about Park City below) does it again, winning top awards from Ski Magazine, World Ski Awards, OntheSnow.com, you name it, for their excellent service and on-mountain experience. Skiers love it: snowboards are not allowed and they limit the number of high-priced lift tickets sold each day so there aren’t any lift lines. You’ll find plenty of great terrain, ski valets, lots of service and gourmet meals. Check out their new sibling, Solitude, where the new high-speed quad Summit Express chairlift provides access to the Honeycomb Canyon backcountry. Don’t miss a visit to Park City’s Historic Main Street with its great shops and restaurants, a fun place to let teens roam around apres ski.
HEAVENLY RESORT is so big that when you’re at the peak overlooking Lake Tahoe, you can ski or ride down into California or Nevada, so be sure the kids have their cells turned on. As at other Vail owned resorts, there are kids-only learning zones like the Enchanted Forest at the California base and the Bear Cave at the top of the gondola, so little learners won’t be overwhelmed. Adventure Peak, the 500-foot-long tubing hill at an altitude of 9,100 feet, makes snow fun easy for the non-skiers in your group. Athletes love the 34 miles of wide-open, groomed cruisers; dedicated backcountry guides; inbound tree skiing off every lift, as well as sightseeing and ski bikes. The 2015 Heavenly Holidays festival features professional ice sculptors, carolers, local artists and a 16-foot interactive snow globe -ñ a huge Santa photo op -ñ followed by a New Year’s blowout. Keep up with their website for the many special winter events celebrating their 60th season.
JACKSON HOLE Wyoming not only offers stunningly scenic skiing and snowboarding, but having the authentically ìcowboyî town of Jackson, and Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks nearby can extend your family winter vacation to a week. Intermediate level first-timers will appreciate the free daily Mountain Tour, which leads guests through JHMR’s 2,500 acres (there’s 5,000 acres of backcountry) to find groomers among the deep, fresh powder. The famous red aerial tram — a signature of the 50-year-old resort — provides a stunning overview during the 10-minute uphill ride. Take advantage of their Kids Ski Free deal, available to each child 14 and under per adult, when families book 4 nights or more in a JHRL condo or home rental; there are very few restrictions. Consistent investment (a new Teton Lift rises 1,600 feet so off-piste hikers can ride) and continuous awards have brought the crowds, and it’s now easier to get to, with non-stop flights from 13 cities.
Dercum Peak, above one of Keystone’s three base villages, provides great views of the resort, night skiing, and tons of free Kidtopia activities.
KEYSTONE, just two hours’ drive from downtown Denver, is Vail Resorts’ dedicated family mountain with the largest night skiing operation in the U.S. Each of Keystone’s three mountain peaks has a base village where families can find condos, shops and restaurants. They take kids seriously here. Kids will love Keystone’s ice fort, the Adventure Point recreation area with its snowtubing, air boarding and snowbiking toys, and the free, daily Kidtopia Festival throughout the season. Keystone’s Kids Ski Free program has given out nearly 100,000 free kids tickets, in the four years the popular Colorado resort has allowed kids 12 and younger (staying at least two nights in mountain housing) to ski free with no blackout dates. Camp Keystone gets beginners of all ages out on the snow with a fun, 24-foot slide that leads outdoors, lots of game-aided learning, and three designated terrain based learning zones. Instead of a group class, you can sign everyone up for a Family private lesson in skiing or snowboarding, too.
LAKE PLACID, home to the Winter Olympics in both 1932 and 1980, has a long history as a snowsports mecca. Today, the steeps of Whiteface Mountain, standing 5,000-feet tall in the heart of the Adirondacks, attract skiers, riders and outdoors-lovers from the region. There’s great hiking, cross-country ski centers, dogsledding, snowmobiling on mountain bike trails, and ice skating on area lakes or at the indoor arena. You can join the ice fishermen and even compete in popular fishing derbies throughout the winter. This scenic region features snowshoeing at High Falls Gorge and Ausable Chasm for active families, and a bird’s-eye view of Olympic-caliber ski jumps, bobsleds, and toboggan chutes for the spectators in your group. Roam Main Street’s outdoor gear and fashion boutiques, farm-to-table foodie options, and the fun bar scene when you’re ready to come in out of the cold. Check out Lake Placid value packages online for the many inns, B&Bs, condos and hotel specials available in winter.
MAMMOTH MOUNTAIN is California’s highest resort, topping out at just over 11,000 feet, with 150 trails and 3,100 feet of vertical. Sharing the scenic beauty of nearby Yosemite National Park (hard to reach during the winter snows), Mammoth has three learning centers for kids, special clinics and myriad off-slope activities including sledding, tubing, snowmobiling, dog sledding, and snowshoeing. At Woolly’s Tube Park and Snow Play, families with young kids can build a snowman and enjoy the snow play area. Mammoth’s recent acquisition of Big Bear and Snow Summit mountains gives local families even more season pass bargains and upgrades.
MT. BACHELOR outside the very hip town of Bend, Oregon is the largest ski resort in the Cascade Range, boasting 3,683 acres and more than 370″ of dry, light powder each season. Tucked into the verdant Deschutes National Forest are two tubing lifts and two beginner carpets, five terrain parks, 56kms of groomed and tracked crosscountry trails, snowshoeing, tubing, sled dog rides and more. Kids, 12 and under, can ski free if an adult with them purchases a minimum three-day ticket. Their value “Ski or Ride in 5” program ($199 per person; available most days January to March) guarantees five lessons, five rental packages, five lift tickets and reserved parking close to the lodge. Upon completing the program, ages 6-12 earn a free season pass (all other ages get a free 12-day pass), 50% off the following season’s full time Winter Season Pass, and a 25% discount the second year after graduation.
MOUNT SNOW RESORT in southern Vermont has lined up high output fan guns and miles of new snowmaking pipe, guaranteeing ski and ride thrills every day of the season. This family-friendly mountain has a trail system that keeps the entire family together whether they’re racing down its largely intermediate terrain or exploring Carinthia, the only all-terrain-park face in the East equipped with 125 freestyle features in eight parks complete with obstacles like rock jibs and truck tires. Young riders and skiers will appreciate the beginner park and tubing park for afternoon fun. Mount Snow is also home to North America’s only six-passenger bubble lift. Check their site for specials such as the annual Youth Pay Their Age Day (January 10, 2016) for everyone age 6 to 18, and Kids Ski & Learn Free Weeks.
NIAGARA FALLS is a wonder in summer, but when its famous mist freezes — and glittering droplets gather on the grass and trees of the New York state park on its banks — it’s a magical sculptural wonderland. Take a winery tour, tour the Niagara Power Project to see its holiday lights and learn about hydroelectricity, then bundle up and return after dark for the fireworks, Fridays at 9pm from November 27 through January 29. Those who missed the Polar Vortex of last winter should keep their eyes on the weather, since there may be a chance to catch the Falls frozen into 178-foot-tall icicles once again.
NORTHSTAR CALIFORNIA RESORT, located between Truckee and Lake Tahoe, is a short drive from the Reno/Tahoe International Airport. The most family oriented among the many Lake Tahoe area resorts, Northstar has 3,170 acres of skiing and riding featuring seven award-winning progressive terrain parks and the Riperoo Riglet Park for snowboarders 4 to 6-years old. With an 18-foot superpipe and a Burton Snowboard Academy using terrain-based learning, this is the place for little shredders. The Ice Arena surrounded by cabanas and fire pits for relaxing, roasting s’mores and telling stories about mountain adventures is in the heart of the car-free Village at Northstar. Their ski and snowboard teams have adopted Vail Resort’s EpicMix photography and video capture for kids to track their progress at this resort, or any of the Vail family of mountains.
OKEMO, located in southern Vermont with easy access from Boston, New York and other East Coast points, is an upscale family-focused choice with the country’s first six-passenger high-speed lift with a retractable dome and heated seats. A second one is coming, along with RFID enabled smart cards that hold lift passes and spending money. Take advantage of free beginner’s magic carpet lifts all season long, and select kids-ski-free deals when parents buy a regular priced lift ticket in advance — up to age 18. They always offer $89 Beginner packages and allow children 6 and under to ski or ride free if you ask at the ticket window with your child present. Expanded snowmaking means Okemo can cover 98% of its trails when weather permits, but there are plenty of other fun options, such as tubing, swimming, an alpine coaster and snowmobiles, in addition to posh base camp lodging and rec facilities.
PARK CITY, Utah — the former Park City Mountain Resort and Canyons now connected by the new Quiksilver Gondola — is now the largest US ski area, one whose snowy peaks dominate the fun mountain town of the same name. Just a short shuttle ride from Salt Lake City airport, it and Deer Valley (see above) are popular with repeat visitors who love the variety of terrain, the endless powder, the town’s great nightlife, dining, and activities related to the 2002 Olympics — like a Bobsled ride. The town is also homebase to the National Ability Center, a non-profit prgram designed to help those with any kind of special physical or mental challenge enjoy all types of seasonal adaptive recreation.
PENNSYLVANIA encourages snowsports by using the Pennsylvania Ski Association to promote all 20 member resorts (Camelback is one, see above) by highlighting their bargain rates — especially in the January Learn to Ski and Snowboard month. The state welcomes 4th and 5th graders from any region to ski free all season with a paying adult, and novices of any age are open season, so to speak. Guests from toddlers to grandparents can learn to ski in Pennsylvania with the PSAA’s First-Time Ski or Snowboard Program, which gets you up to five vouchers for a beginner lesson, beginner lift ticket and all the rentals you need, at most resorts, for just $49. Age restrictions apply, but that’s what we call a bargain.
SMUGGLERS’ NOTCH in Northern Vermont, not far from Burlington and Montreal, is known for its top-notch children’s facilities (including infant care) and off-the-slope activities including a zip line canopy tour. Club Smugglers packages include lift tickets, lodging, use of the indoor pool and hot tubs, unlimited use of cross country and snowshoe trails as well as the FunZone Family Entertainment Center, tubing and more. Snow Sport University provides expert instruction for children and adults in skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing on 1,000 acres across three mountains. For young snowboarders ages 3-6, Smugglers’ Notch has the Burton Riglet Park, an on-snow play area in the center of the village with fun learning features. One of the most exciting parts of the park is the ìtreehouse,î an elevated platform with ramps that children can ride down, with a balance area inside and a lift chair that swings to help kids practice getting on and off the lift.
SNOWMASS, by far the largest of the four mountains in Aspen, is family snow sports central with its Treehouse Kids’ Adventure Center featuring a climbing gym, themed rooms, and teen activities. We love their Kids Mountain Guide that steers learners to special themed trails. They’re encouraging repeat visits this season with a great family deal: Rent your kids equipment (ages 7-12) from Four Mountain Sports, and they’ll get a free lift ticket for each day rented. Additionally, kids receive 30% off group lessons at the Ski & Snowboard School when purchasing 7 or more days; book by January 30 for arrivals from March 1 to April 17, 2016. (Some blackout dates apply.) When you tire of the slopes, catch a free sighting of the resident Golden Eagle at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies and the prehistoric mastodons at the Snowmass Ice Age Discovery Center.
SQUAW VALLEY ALPINE MEADOWS is one of the largest Lake Tahoe resorts, but it’s great for beginners because they rule the mountaintop at their own Belmont Terrain Park complete with kid-friendly jumps, mini cross-course and more. Kids 4 and under ski free, and have mini snowmobiles and snow tubing to play at the resort’s base area. Families have tons of other activities, including yoga, sky jumping and climbing walls if you don’t want to remain on the slopes, open until 8pm weekends and holidays. The nearly 450î of annual snowfall makes it possible to guarantee great spring skiing, with warm temperatures, fresh powder and a mountaintop pool that opens in March. Spring 2016 will bring the return of the US Alpine Championships to Squaw Valley, where guests can watch their favorite skiers and snowboarders on the runs.
A Wyndham Vacation Rentals-managed rental property at the Stonewood Townhomes community in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.
STEAMBOAT, Colorado is recognized as a top family ski resort thanks to its Wild West themed play area and well-trained children’s staff at the Kids Vacation Center. There are five kids-only lifts and two beginner teaching areas with special Magic Carpet lifts. More advanced kids access the entire mountain, including kids-only terrain at Rough Rider Basin, complete with dedicated lift plus teepees, a frontier-style fort and the Beehive terrain park. The STARS adaptive program serves youth and adults with autism, cognitive and physical disabilities, Wounded Warriors and their families, providing instruction to all ages, abilities and skill levels. Since Steamboat has the ambiance of an authentic Western town and the Old Town Hot Springs pool and slides, there’s just as much to do off the mountain as on, making it a good choice for the family with mixed interests. Check out the vast selection of properties by Wyndham Vacation Rentals, the largest manager of vacation rental homes. Wyndham Vacation Rentals has over 800 units in Steamboat alone, each one different, with hotel services including a local concierge, plus the extra space, full kitchens, laundry facilities, and communal hangout room that we love at home.
STOWE is home to Vermont’s highest Peak, Mt. Mansfield and one of New England’s prettiest towns. Mt. Mansfield, infamous for its Famous Front Four trails (double-blacks), also has some of the longest intermediate cruisers in the East and a group of beginner trails in the Toll House area. As part of its multi-million dollar transformation into a contemporary, luxury ski destination, Stowe is adding a Stowe Mountain Club, an outdoor ice rink, climbing gym, state-of-the-art children’s Adventure Center with ski / ride school, year-round daycare facilities, shops, restaurants, and food markets. Spruce Peak, an area for beginner and intermediate skiers and riders, is undergoing enhancements in services and family amenities. While you’re there, make time to visit the Ski Museum, and take a tour of the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream factory nearby. There are many fancy resorts, and current lodging deals at ski in/ski out condos, but many families like to snowshoe or cross-country ski at the Von Trapp Family Lodge of “Sound of Music” fame.
STRATTON in southern Vermont is a favorite for East Coast families for its calm, well-groomed, tree-lined slopes and pedestrian village base area. Parents love the 45-acre Learning Park, the Mountain Safety Officers who keep everyone in check, a Learning Zone with a 580-foot covered Magic Carpet, and EZ Street, a 3-mile green run from the summit that all ability levels can take together. There’s childcare for ages 6 weeks+, a tubing hill and mini snowmobiles for kids, and fat tire bikes and a club for teens. When the family is not learning to ski or snowboard, try the indoor salt water pool, snowshoe tours, snowtubing, fireside yoga and more. Featured packages include Kids Ski and Stay Free (ages 12 and under) available during select periods — it’s perfect for the weeks before Christmas. As we go to press, full season passes (no blackout dates) for ages 7-29 are still available for $349.
SUGARBUSH There’s nothing prettier than winter to show off the privately owned Sugarbush resort because of its scenic, small town base in the Mad River Valley of Vermont. You can expect lots of snow, naturally, and from the more than 400 new snowguns that guarantee great conditions over 70% of the terrain. Sugarbush is a big proponent of terrain-based learning, with programs at Schoolhouse starting at age 3 that draw repeat family guests each season. This resort also has nice family apartments, and a new “Pillow Four Pack” deal which offers a discounted rate of $379 for any four nights stayed — whether or not they are consecutive; purchase by Dec. 17.
SUNDAY RIVER in Maine boasts eight interconnected peaks, 12 hours of skiing and riding on Fridays, Saturdays and select holidays, a White Cap Fun Center with a tubing park, and a Sugaring House so you get an up close and personal look of exactly how maple syrup is made. Many families come to Sunday River (celebrating its 56th year) because of the Perfect Turn Ski and Ride School manned by friendly local staff. Children’s Festival Week (January 11-15 in 2016) fills the calendar with PJ parties, scavenger hunts, live entertainment, movies and teen events, and themed Perfect Turn kid’s lessons.
TELLURIDE is a tiny, safe southwestern Colorado mountain town with century-old downtown architecture and mountain views in every direction. It’s also an easy ski resort to navigate, since the ski school is right next to the town gondola in the middle of the Mountain Village, and each lift has at least one intermediate run down to the base if you get off track. Repeat guests appreciate that the vast majority of instructors are veterans who remember their kids from previous visits, as you can read in Eileen Ogintz’s account of her visit to Telluride. Backcountry fans love Black Iron Bowl, a hike-to playground which encompasses eight runs, European-style faces, open glades and steep chutes.
TAOS SKI VALLEY is near the artsy, northern New Mexico pueblo of the same name, and not far from Albuquerque or Santa Fe. Long an alpine favorite and adored by expert skiers, Taos now accepts snowboarders on its pristine terrain. The resort is at the start of a projected $350 million makeover which promises to upgrade its poorly designed base village. Families will find a well-run children’s center, tubing, and other apres ski fun. Culture vultures will love the opportunity to explore Native American dwellings nearby at the Taos Pueblo, the only living Native American community designated both as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and a National Historic Landmark.
VAIL thinks big; the flagship mountain resort of this snowsports empire has more than 5,200 skiable acres including 7 miles of Back Bowls. Add high-touch service to a terrific ski school, intermediate and expert moguls, tree skiing, and great grooming and you’ll understand why their prices are high. Vail has a zip line and multi-lane tubing hill at Adventure Ridge above the base village of Lionshead, as well as kids snowmobiling and ski biking. On mountain, kids love Coyote’s Escape, a 50-foot-long wooden ski-through feature, and the teepee in Sherwood Forest. Also, check out the Nature Discovery Center at Eagle’s Nest; scheduled nature walks and programs are led by naturalists.
Go for a ride along trails blanketed in snow, then warm up over S’mores and cocoa at the Vista Verde campfire.
VISTA VERDE DUDE RANCH is just 25 miles north of Steamboat Springs in Colorado — the airport where ranch wranglers greet flights to herd families out to 600 acres of tranquil winter wonderland. Relax with an all-inclusive snowsports vacation, and take advantage of the surrounding Routt National Forest for endless guided outdoor adventures, such as backcountry skiing, horseback riding, snowshoeing, tubing (with a snowmobile ride back up the hill), and sleigh rides. Kids can join Vista Verde’s kids program while parents enjoy a massage or snow play, or families participate in activities together. Multigenerational groups will appreciate the variety of non-skill and skill levels required, whether snowshoeing, yoga, Pilates, indoor horsemanship clinics, cooking classes or wine tastings are of interest. Meals are the time to linger and catch up, as everything is included as well as beer and wine for the adults. The ranch is open until March 24, 2016 for those looking for a snowy Spring Break getaway, too.
WATERVILLE VALLEY RESORT in New Hampshire offers 220 acres to ski or ride, a big Nordic Center that is groomed daily and a Town Square just a short walk from most of the resort accommodations. There’s even an indoor ice rink to guarantee fun no matter what the weather. Look for seasonal programs like the Junior Instruction Programs given 13 weekends this season, plus the Christmas holiday week, designed for ages 4-12 and 13-16 who enjoy skiing or snowboarding. The resort also offers special programs on the fundamentals of competitive racing and freestyle skiing. Guests 5 and under or 80+ get in free every day, and childcare is available for ages 6 months to 4 years. Look for weekly Town Square events that include music and fireworks.
WHISTLER BLACKCOMB, a few hours north of Vancouver, towers over British Columbia with two side-by-side mountains traversed by the long, scenic Peak2Peak Gondola. Known as the official alpine skiing venue for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympics Winter Games, this resort has 200 marked runs, 8,171 acres of terrain, 16 alpine bowls, and three glaciers that enable late spring visitors to ski in the morning and golf in the afternoon. Spring is a great time to find vacation packages, including discounted airfare from certain cities and lodging deals — though the slopes can be foggy on top. Look for special events this season to mark Whistler’s 50th anniversary. Families will find plenty to see and do beyond the slopes at the tubing park, at the wide variety of clubs and restaurants, and in this beautiful region.
WINTER PARK RESORT is only an hour from Denver and has the state’s longest continuously operated professional ski school. The Private Lesson Center allows your family to learn together, and prepare to tackle the 3,000 skiable areas. Real snowsports fans like this mountain’s seven unique regions: steeps can be found on The Cirque, huge bumps over at Mary Jane, and groomers on Winter Park Mountain where the beginner terrain is centered. Freestylers will find a superpipe and six terrain parks, including the limited access park, Dark Territory. Look for packages that include free nights and free lift tickets. The Resort is also home to the National Sports Center for the Disabled, which offers a variety of programs for all ages with disabilities.
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Special thanks to Emily Sheehy for her research assistance on this story.
Kids are everywhere — on cruise ships anyway — whether you are in the Caribbean, Europe, Alaska or far-flung destinations like the Galapagos Islands and even the Arctic. The trade organization Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) found, in a 2014 survey of the North American market, that one quarter of past cruisers traveled with children under 18. Some megaships already carry more than 1,000 young sailors on school holiday departures and, with a projected 24 million passengers in 2016, kids will indeed be everywhere.
Cruise lines have never done more for them, from featuring hip teen and tween hangouts with the latest music, video games and WiFi to stay in touch via social networks, to centers for the littlest cruisers — often better equipped than many preschools and with skillfully supervised nurseries at sea. Carnival’s new Fathom line even provides opportunities for family to volunteer together at Caribbean ports of call.
Worldwide, expansion continues, with 27 new ships due to launch this year and many operating at new ports of call in Asia and elsewhere. Advances in technology at sea and the addition of ultra-luxury facilities are among the biggest trends.
Parents love cruising because they get a lot of bang for their vacation buck: activities, meals and lodging all for one price, including supervised morning-till-night programming for kids, at considerably less than many resorts charge. Grandparents are fans because cruises can prove an easy way to get the whole gang on vacation, especially in Alaska and Europe. (Remember, travel insurance is key to protecting a big-ticket non-refundable vacation purchase.) Kids, especially tweens and teens, give ships a thumbs-up because they love the freedom they have onboard and the chance to make new friends. Kids with special needs and severe allergies routinely are accommodated in organized programming, too. Everyone enjoys being able to visit new places without the hassles of packing, unpacking and getting lost. The new International Cruise Passenger Bill of Rights, spelling out the “what ifs” in case something goes wrong on your cruise, has also encouraged more novice cruisers to give this top value, easy-to-plan vacation option a try.
Another cruise plus: there are nearly two dozen U.S. home ports, from Boston to Seattle, eliminating the need for many families to fly to the port of embarkation. Take advantage to plan a pre- or post-cruise urban adventure with CityPASS, which offers discounted prepaid admission to top attractions. Port cities with the CityPASS program include Boston, Chicago (seasonal cruising between Chicago and Canada), Houston, New York City, Philadelphia, Seattle, San Francisco and Tampa. In New York, homeport for Cunard and Norwegian ships among others, a CityPASS ticket booklet saves travelers 42% off admission to such attractions as the Empire State Building, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 9/11 Memorial and Museum and the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum. In Houston, whose Bayport Terminal serves Princess and Norwegian, visitors save 48% on admission to the top local attractions, while in Seattle, where Holland America ships are undergoing a brandwide makeover, CityPASS holders can use their 48% discount on tickets to add a long weekend of family fun to an Alaska itinerary.
Begin your planning here or visit Cruising.org, which provides U.S. cruise planners with basic information about major cruise lines’ cruising style. To determine where they leave from, do an online search for the nearest port to see which cruise lines are serviced there. If you’re exploring farther afield and set on visiting certain destinations, check out the global guide, What’s in Port? to read about 1,200 different ports of call.
Itineraries are as varied as the passengers: you can cruise for just a few days or more than a week, checking out beaches or historic sites. Of course, weather at the destination is a big factor to take into consideration, too.
While the Caribbean remains the most popular cruise destination for Americans (perhaps because most itineraries head east), adventure-lovers should keep Pacific routes in mind. From the west coast, major lines are making calls at ports like Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, famous from “The Loveboat” TV series, or transiting the Panama Canal. Use online cruise guides like Family Travel Forum’s or the comprehensive reviews of Cruise Critic for more ideas.
And if you don’t want to go on a large ship, charter your own boat (with a crew or without). Eileen Ogintz has cruised with her family around the world, from the Caribbean to Europe to Greece to Alaska. She’s written The Kid’s Guide to Cruising Alaska (Kid’s Guides Series), and discovered along the way that the key is to choose the right cruise for your family and kids.
So what are you waiting for? We’re featuring some of our favorite cruise lines plus great information from the 2016 Taking the Kids Cruise Guide to help you plan an adventure at sea, so set your sails.
Here are some great options to consider:
AdventureSmith Explorations facilitates family travel on small capacity, adventure-oriented ships around the world. Sail aboard intimate yachts and smaller expedition vessels in Alaska, British Columbia and Oregon, or choose more far-flung locales like Baja, Costa Rica, Australia and the Galapagos Islands. They can steer you to special family sailings, deals and travel resources. Company founder Todd Smith helped pioneer the concept of wilderness cruising that combines the comforts of a small cruise ship with the adventure of sea kayaking, hiking and exploring remote wilderness areas seldom associated with more mainstream cruise itineraries. Smith frequently travels with his two young sons, and has published numerous resources on the AdventureSmith website to assist in planning travel with a family focus. The company also has launched a carbon-free cruising initiative and offers dedicated family itineraries as well as substantial savings, including $100 off per person on select land-and-sea combo trips and special youth rates.
What’s New: AdventureSmith has launched new adventure cruises for 2016 including a new, active family friendly option in Costa Rica aboard the 64-guest Safari Voyager. Other highlights include the new Galapagos vessel Santa Cruz II, a small ship cruise route in the Adriatic Sea along Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast and ways to explore Tahiti, Cuba, the Amazon and New Zealand.
The 24 ships in the Carnival family cruises fleet expect to carry more than 700,000 children in 2016, the most in company history. Dining options got a reboot with the launch of American Table menus and serving styles inspired by guest feedback. Fun Ships also offer family favorites like 24-hour pizza, poolside restaurants, Guy’s Burger Joint (created by the Food Network’s Guy Fieri), and a new confections and gift shop called Cherry on Top, and the Green Eggs and Ham Breakfast with Dr. Seuss characters for a nominal fee.
What’s New: Setting sail on May 1, 2016 is the new addition to its fleet, Carnival Vista. Offering 6 to 11-day Caribbean itineraries to Antigua, Jamaica and the Bahamas, and 8 to 12-day journeys to European cities like Trieste, Italy; Athens, Greece; and Barcelona, Spain, the newest Fun Ship features family suites with access to a family lounge, Camp Ocean and Seuss at Sea, and the first IMAX and multiplex at sea among other cool features.
For Kids: Carnival Cruise Lines offers complimentary programming and facilities for kids in three age groups – Camp Ocean (2-11), Circle “C” (12-14) and Club O2 (15-17). Camp Carnival is designed for younger cruisers and features indoor play areas stocked with games and toys along with indoor climbing mazes, computer labs and video walls. Kids can also eat with their counselors so parents can enjoy a night to themselves.
For Tweens: Circle “C” provides 12 to 14-year olds with a place of their own to dance, watch movies outdoors, play games and get together with new friends.
For Teens: Club O2 includes a dance floor with a DJ, soda bar, movies, video games, and pool parties.
Around the Ship: Outdoor games and activities, along with children’s wading pools, and main Lido deck pools offering the line’s signature water slides. Outdoor play areas with mini basketball hoops, jungle gyms and other playground equipment, mini golf, as well as game rooms offering the latest video and arcade games, are available fleet-wide. The line also offers nightly babysitting and Carnival Night Owls featuring a full schedule of activities running as late as 3AM (fees apply for babysitting and the Night Owls program).
These 10 ships are known for their sophisticated cuisine, upscale ambience, destination-focused itineraries and themed cruises focusing on art, food and wine. Still, families cruise Celebrity because it’s more low-key than its sister Royal Caribbean ships, and the line offers popular kids’ programming.
What’s New: Celebrity Infinity and Celebrity Summit will undergo a $16 million refresh while in drydock in Freeport, Bahamas. The first cruise line to offer a spacious lawn of real, growing grass on the top decks of its ships, Celebrity will expand its lineup of modern, luxurious outdoor spaces when Celebrity Infinity receives a new “Rooftop Terrace” venue. The drydock work also will broaden Celebrity’s commitment to its Suite Class, with significant upscale renovations to the ships’ Penthouse and Royal Suites, and conversion of both ships’ specialty restaurant to one of Celebrity’s signature venues, Tuscan Grille. They will also receive a refresh of the Solarium with new furniture, new floors, and refinished pool tops.
For Kids: Celebrity Fun Factory programs are available for kids ages 3-11 from 9AM-10PM every day. The programs feature crafts, treasure hunts, theme parties, the latest gaming and more. There are late-evening activities ($6/hour per child). In associate with Autism on the Seas, Celebrity Cruises has earned Autism Friendly Cruise Line Status for accessible inclusion of autistic and developmentally delayed children. Ships are outfitted with Xbox stations for players of all ages. Free play time is also available during certain times for Xbox 360 and Kinect for Xbox 360.
For Teens: Cruisers ages 12-17 have their own X-Club with gaming consoles, late-night dance parties, and sports. There’s also a special Teen Bliss spa menu at the onboard Canyon Ranch Spa featuring massages, mani/pedis, styling sessions and more. Celebrity has introduced the free iTake program, where aspiring young directors learn to shoot and edit video using the latest technology. iTake is available on all ships with a Celebrity iLounge.
Around the Ship: Kid’s pools and slides, as well as basketball courts, are available almost fleet-wide. In-room sitting is $19 per hour for up to three children. On shore days, some programming is available for an extra fee.
Europe’s top cruise line will give your family a chance to get to know European families and offers a youth program fleet-wide. There are reduced Costa family rates for kids under 17 sharing a cabin with parents, periodic “Kids Sail Free” deals in off peak seasons, and children’s prices on some shore excursions.
What’s New: Peppa Pig World, a new kid’s fun area offering activities and games, opens in April, 2016. Cruisers will experience a menu created by Bruno Barbieri, the Michelin-starred chef and “Pepper” the first robot that can read human emotions will be onboard to improve guest experience and provide help and entertainment.
For Kids: Youth programs begin at age 3, and youth counselors will take kids to dinner. They might interview the captain, stage junior Olympics, take dancing lessons, go on treasure hunts, and more.
For Teens: Dance lessons, sports and games tournaments, pool and beach parties, talent shows, and a international karaoke keep teens busy and offers a chance to make new friends.
Around the Ship: Kids’ pools, water slides, volleyball, basketball, football, tennis, table tennis, table football, waterpolo, water basketball, water volleyball, darts, hoops, bowling, shuffleboard, and video games on giant screens. In-room sitting is not available, but there is free late night group sitting until 1:30AM for kids ages 3 and up. All of the newest ships have an enclosable pool deck – great for the occasional rainy day- and more than 3,000 square feet of space reserved for kids, including the Squok Lido for little ones and a Teen Club for older kids. The Favolosa has its own waterpark too.
The all-inclusive cruise line, Crystal reports that growing numbers of families and multigenerational groups are opting for the line’s six-star service and designated spaces for kids and teens—rare at this level. The ships carry between 900 and 1,100 passengers with all of the amenities you’d expect on a cruise line touting luxury, service, space and enrichment programs. Kids ages 11 and under are charged 50% of the minimum cruise-only fare when accompanied by two full-paying adults. The line is also expanding opportunities for family travel with the return of its “Kids Sail Free” offers on select cruises.
What’s New: Expanding it’s offerings, as of December, 2015, Crystal Esprit, Crystal’s newest ultra-luxury ocean liner was christened and is ready for sail. Additionally, new to Crystal, five luxury river yachts will sail the European rivers beginning in 2016 as their innovative and super luxe river cruise program is introduced. Offering longer and overnight stays, and less-traveled routes, the vessels will feature six-star service. Crystal Cruises is also expanding their luxury air service with the addition of two ultra-long-range-aircrafts which will service private charters and transport guests to their destinations from any point in the United States to the Mediterranean, Indian Ocean and the Pacific.
For Babies: The Library offers more than 2,000 titles, including a selection of children’s books and children’s DVDs for use in the cabins. In-room sitting is available ($10/hour for 1 child, $15/hour for 2 children, $20/hour for 3 children).
For Kids: The Junior Activities Program welcomes kids ages 3-12. Activities include arts and crafts, roving reporter, scavenger hunts, fort building, and more.
For Teens: Waves, for ages 13-17 is a separate teen club and video arcade with Xbox 360s and Playstations, late night pool parties, movies and more.
Around the Ship: Digital filmmaking, Tai Chi instruction, wellness seminars, wine tasting, and art workshops are among dozens of classes offered through Crystal Cruises’ Creative Learning Institute (CLI). Golf clinics and lessons from pros are available on most sailings.
Cunard continues the tradition of luxury cruising that began in 1840, complete with fencing (Queen Victoria), dance classes (Queen Elizabeth), and the only ship offering regularly scheduled transatlantic service between New York and Southampton, England (flagship Queen Mary 2).
What’s New: The Queen Mary 2 will dry dock in Hamburg, Germany, returning to the sea at the end of June, 2016 with upgraded suites and staterooms, new restaurants and innovative entertainment. Key upgrades include 30 additional Britannia Club Balcony Staterooms whose guests can dine any time in the dedicated Britannia Club restaurant, the addition of 15 single staterooms to accommodate multi-generational groups, and the addition of 10 kennels (beyond the existing 12) to welcome Fido and Fluffy aboard on the only cruise liner to do so. Special event cruises focusing on fashion, food, music and dance include Transatlantic Fashion Week on the Queen Mary 2, British Isles Culinary Discovery on the Queen Elizabeth and Big Band Balls at Sea on the Queen Elizabeth, Queen Mary 2 and Queen Victoria.
For Kids: Kids ages 2-7 are invited to the Play Zone, an area stocked with books, toys, puzzles, computer games, and more. Tots ages 6 months to 2 years are welcome with a parent in the Play Zone. The Kids Zone is for 8-12 year olds and features videogame consoles, sports competitions, and scavenger hunts.
For Teens: Teen Zone offers team games and deck sports by day, while evenings bring pizza and dance parties. Game consoles are available. All kid’s and teen programs are free-of-charge.
DISNEY CRUISE LINE
Disney has raised the bar for creative kids’ programming and shore excursions, and a ship design that enables every member of the family—from infants (there is a stand-out nursery) to seniors – to have a real vacation, complete with fireworks at sea. “Dine and Play” means kids are served dinner in an expedited fashion so youth counselors can escort them to organized activities while parents linger. Special shore excursions are designed so parents get a break part of the time.
What’s New: In 2016, Disney Cruise Line joins “Star Wars” fever with Star Wars Day at Sea, featuring a brand-new celebration aboard eight special sailings of Disney Fantasy. Guests will be transported to a “galaxy far, far away” to meet favorite characters and participate in themed activities. Screenings of Star Wars movies and the new XD animated series “Star Wars Rebels” will be presented onboard.
Summer, 2016 brings several exciting itineraries to Disney Cruise Line passengers. Completely new to Disney are cruises to the British Isles, and other destinations for 2016 include a return to Norway and Iceland. Sailing on it’s maiden voyage from Dover, England in June, 2016, the 12-night Disney Magic will make stops in England, Scotland, Ireland, Le Havre and Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands. Later in June and in July, two new 12-night Disney Magic cruises, one departing from Dover and one from Copenhagen will include stops in Reykjavik and Akureyri Iceland; Stavanger, Oslo and Kristiansand, Norway; Newcastle, England, and Invergordon, Scotland. A first time (7-night) cruise to the Norwegian fjords will depart in May from Dover.
Favorite other destinations offered are in 2016 are northern Europe, the Greek Isles and the Mediterranean. Disney Wonder will return to Alaska sailing from Vancouver and Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy will sail from Port Canaveral to the Bahamas and to the Caribbean, with stops on Castaway Cay.
For Babies: Children ages 6 months to 3 years are welcome at the It’s a Small World and Flounder’s Reef nurseries where they’ll be cared for by trained counselors ($9/hour for first child, $8/hour for second child from same family). In partnership with online retailer Babies Travel Lite, Disney Cruise Line guests can also pre-order baby supplies for delivery to their staterooms. Reservations at the nurseries are strongly recommended.
For Kids:Open to kids ages 3-12, the Oceaneer Club is the ultimate destination for creativity and fun. At Marvel’s Avengers Academy, kids join Marvel characters in their latest crime-fighting missions. In Andy’s Room, the stars of Toy Story come to life in a multi-level space stocked with Andy’s favorite toys. Kids will also enjoy making crafts and playing games in the Mickey Mouse Club, or exploring the world of Tinker Bell and friends at Pixie Hollow. And don’t forget the Oceaneer Lab. This pirate-themed, interactive space features an animator’s studio, Navigator Simulators, and more. The Oceaneer Lab is space-themed on the Disney Wonder.
For Tweens: The 11 to 14-year-olds have their own Edge club with flat-screen TVs, the latest videogames, theme nights, and karaoke.
For Teens: Teens 14-17 have their own Vibe club and, on the Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy, their own sundeck. Open all day (and half of the night), the areas are the perfect chill-out spots with comfy couches and flat-screen TVs. Club hours of operation are typically from 11am to 2am, except on day of embarkation. There are special teen shore excursions like the Wild Side at Castaway Cay, where teens explore, snorkel, and go boating around the island.
Around the Ship: Everything from character meals and meet-and-greets, to first-run movies and Broadway caliber entertainment to adult-only restaurants and deck areas. Families love Disney’s private island Castaway Cay with its snorkeling lagoon and kayaking, as well as chances to swim with the stingrays, play in the water park, or head to separate adult and teen beaches.
A new Carnival brand designed for “social impact travel,” it offers families the chance to work alongside locals and give back. Sustainable tourism programs for the Dominican Republic inlcude helping a local women’s cooperative produce artisan chocolates, working in a classroom, or helping with a building project. The 700-passenger trips, designed to offer parents and kids as young as 8 opportunities for voluntourism, hope to attract up to 50% families and many who have never cruised. Activities on board include conversational Spanish and the chance to choose programs focused on education, the environment and economic development. Besides volunteer options in the Dominican Republic, there will be time for scuba lessons, snorkeling, zip lining and relaxation on the beach.
There also will be what you’d expect on board any cruise ship — a games deck, spa, pool, fitness center, musical performances and in this case, regionally inspired foods. The idea is while on board, the programming will prepare and inspire cruisers for what they can expect on shore.
Cuba itineraries from Miami will be more focused on immersive activities visiting particular neighborhoods, an organic farm, and meeting artists. On board programs will focus on Cuban history, culture and more.
This line once was considered a haven for seniors cruising to Alaska but now carries more than 25,000 kids and their families aboard its 15 mid-size ships every year—including so many multi-generational groups that they have designed a special Family Reunion Program (for groups booking eight or more rooms) featuring a complimentary room upgrade, $50 beverage card per room, and more. The junior foodies in your gang will love the kids and teen Culinary Arts Center with complimentary cooking lessons. All the kids will like the Cartoon Network offerings that air on the in-cabin television.
What’s New: In April, 2016, Holland America Line’s newest ship, ms Koningsdam will sail its maiden voyage from Rome, and add a series of northern Europe and Baltic cruises to HAL’s itineraries. With a $300-million investment, HAL is planning exciting enhancements to its top staterooms with new furnishings, décor, amenities and upgrades for all suites on the line’s Signature, Vista and R-Class ships.
For Kids: The Club HAL program provides supervised activities for kids ages 3-12, including PJ parties, arts and crafts, kids Olympics, videogame tournaments, and more.
For Tweens: The 8-12 year olds have their own special area featuring arcade games, air hockey, foosball, Karaoke, family-safe Internet access (for a minimal fee), videogames, deck sports, and pool parties. They may participate in the National Park Service Junior Ranger program on Alaska cruises.
For Teens: The Loft is an adult-free lounge where teens ages 13-17 can hang out and enjoy movies, games, and music. Oasis, a teen-only sundeck with a wading pool and juice bar, is also available on select ships.
Around the Ship: Swimming pools, basketball, volleyball and tennis. Families love the private island Half Moon Cay with its array of activities like snorkeling, bicycle tours, watersports, and adventure areas. Limited babysitting is available for kids ages 5 and under through the Front Desk. Club HAL is open from 10pm to 2am for After Hours Care for $5/hour per child. Babysitting is not available when the ship is in port.
MSC Cruises offer innovative itineraries, great family deals and some luxury perks to an audience that’s more than 50% foreign. Kids 12 and under Sail Free on select sailings on MSC Cruises when traveling as the third and/or fourth guests in a stateroom with two adults, and receive discounts on shore excursions as well. Guests of the MSC Yacht Club also enjoy a luxury lounge with a special concierge and butler service, private dining, and more on all Fantasia-class ships (MSC Fantasia, MSC Splendida, MSC Divina and MSC Preziosa).
What’s New: During the 2016-2017 season, MSC will increase its presence in Cuba. Joining the MSC Opera in Havana will be the MSC Armonia which will sail two 8 day itineraries in the region. Beginning in 2016, with a scheduled open in 2017 are plans for an ambitious project for MSC, the creation of a marine reserve island experience in the Bahamas. Working with the Bahamanian government and a team of ecologists, the project will support conservation and offer a new experience to guests of MSC.
For Babies: A Special Baby Laundry service is available for 0-6 year-olds. Their clothing is picked up from your cabin, washed separately in a specialized machine with gentle detergents, and delivered back the next day. While at sea, toddlers ages 1-3 years are welcome at the Mini Club, under the care of a trained staff from 1pm to 2pm and from 6pm to 7pm. Advanced reservations are required. The Mini Club is also open on both Port Days and Sea Days at specified times so that mom or dad can play with baby and meet other families. The Mini Club is stocked with toys chosen by Chicco, a baby research center.
For Kids: Organized activities are available for kids at DOREMILAND which is divided into two age groups (3-6 and 7-11). Open 9am to 11pm while in port and at certain hours while at sea, fun activities include dance classes, sports, PlayStation, Xbox and Wii and group games under the supervision of a professional staff. Children are also able to dine together with the staff and enjoy a special menu designed for them. Or, they can have a quick dinner with mom and dad as they enjoy their first course, and then return to the club for a fun evening. There is no private babysitting offered, but supervised late-night play and napping is offered for a small fee. In association with LEGO, the 3 to 11 year-olds have a huge selection of bricks and accessories to create with, and LEGO Experience On Board, a full day dedicated to LEGO activities, is held one day on every cruise. A full roster of family-fun activities is available through the onboard DOREMI Club.
For Teens: Teens are also divided into two age groups (12-14 and 15-17) and meet a different times. Activities include Wii/Xbox/PS3 games, social network games, dance contests, sports and karaoke. Teens are also able to enjoy the shops onboard by purchasing a teen card designed for nominal onboard purchases. Weekly teen events can include a Teen’s Talent Show, Twisted Scavenger Hunt, MSC Flashmob, and more.
Around the Ship: Miniature golf, tennis, basketball, football, dodgeball, mini-bowling, shuffleboard and table soccer. Each ship has kids and family pools, an Aqua Park and Water Slide, 4D Cinema and a racing car simulator.
NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE
Norwegian enables you to cruise with your kids from Miami, New York, Boston, Houston, Tampa, New Orleans, Los Angeles, Seattle, Honolulu, Vancouver, Quebec, Barcelona, Copenhagen, Rome (Civitavecchia) or Venice. The line is famous for “Freestyle” Cruising, which means you eat when and where you want. The newer ships have space dedicated to craft brews and famous desserts. The line’s newest Breakaway class ships even have an outdoor Waterfront promenade with outdoor cafes for the most popular eateries; just be prepared to pay extra to sample some of the specialty restaurants.
What’s New: The line’s newest ship is Norwegian Escape, the largest in Norwegian’s fleet, sailing weekly 7-day cruises from Miami to the Eastern Caribbean. In addition to the largest ship-within-a-ship private suite complex The Haven, Studios for solo travelers, and multi-generational group cabin configurations, Norwegian Escape features 28 dining options, two Tony-Award winning Broadway musicals, a three-story sports complex that includes a multi-story ropes course with five zip tracks, and the biggest Aqua park yet for the family-welcoming cruise line. For 2016, Norwegian Cruise Line is introducing a new global brand campaign – “Feel Free” – to help guests experience their promise that “guests should be free to vacation on their own terms.” In conjunction with this, Norwegian’s Free at Sea program offers a choice of four opportunities to cruisers – free unlimited beverages, free specialty dining, free shore excursions or free wifi.
For Babies: Moms and dads can bring children ages 6-months to 3-years to Guppies Nursery for playtime. This areas is not supervised by staff. Private babysitting is not available. Group sitting services are available nightly and on port days for a small fee.
For Kids: Activities for kids ages 3 through 12 are centered at Splash Academy, and include arts’n’crafts, sports, video games and treasure hunts. Kids can also attend Circus School and learn juggling, plate spinning and walking on stilts.
For Teens: Entourage is Norwegian’s exclusive teen area for ages 13 through 17. Teens spend time in the Hang Out Zone, the Dance Zone, the Game Zone and the Party Zone.
Around the Ship: Look for onboard bowling alleys and basketball courts, pub crawls and wine tastings for the over-21 crowd, Behind the Scenes tours, and live entertainment.
PAUL GAUGUIN CRUISES
The line operates the longest continually-sailing luxury cruise ship in the South Pacific, the Paul Gauguin. No other ship has offered such single-destination focus year-round. Since 2012, the 88-guest Tere Moana has sailed the Caribbean, Latin America, and Europe.
What’s New: A new itinerary, with sailings on February 6, 2016 (7 nights) and December 3, 2016 (11 nights) is “Tahiti, the Society Islands & Tuamotus,” a unique route with visits to two Polynesian archipelagos. Round trip from Papeete, Tahiti, ports of call include Huahine, Society Islands; Fakarava, Tuamotus; Rangroa, Tuamotus and Taha’a (Motu Mahan), Bora Bora, and Moorea in the Society Islands. Fares include roundtrip airfare from Los Angeles.
For Kids: Ambassadors of the Environment Youth Program was created by explorer and environmentalist Jean-Michel Cousteau and his Oceans Futures Society. It is a program designed to introduce cruisers ages 9-17 to the natural wonders of French Polynesia with hands-on experiences like hiking, exploring coral reefs and rainforest trails, and visiting marae (ancient Polynesian temples). They’ll learn how black pearls and vanilla are cultivated, how volcanic islands become coral atolls, and how to paddle an outrigger canoe. Parents are encouraged to join children on eco-excursions and other activities aboard and ashore. This program is available on 2015 holiday cruises, and on 2015 summer cruises for an extra fee.
There is music; and even yoga for kids and teens along with the regular activities. Families love the private island and family-friendly shore excursions. Be forewarned that the line’s smaller vessels (Pacific Princess & Ocean Princess) don’t have dedicated youth spaces, but children’s programs operate when 20 or more children ages 3 to 17 are on board.
What’s New: The new Regal Princess, sister ship to Royal Princess, is a spectacular example of the next generation of innovative Princess ships. The breathtaking Atrium & Piazza, now over 50 percent larger than our other ships’; Atriums, features exciting new eateries and signature features like The SeaWalk®;a dramatic glass-bottom walkway which USA TODAY calls one of the “Top Gee-Whiz Features at Sea.”
For sailings from Summer, 2016 though Spring, 2017, Princess is offering a “Twice is Nice” promotion on 700 voyages. Included is up to $1,000 off 6-day or longer cruises, plus $300 or $600 (depending on stateroom) onboard spending money.
For Kids: Princess Youth Programs start at age 3; younger children are welcome to use the youth center facilities as long as they are accompanied by an adult. There are three age-specific programs, starting with Princess Pelicans for ages 3-7. Staffed by experience counselors, activities include art projects, parties, movies and cartoons. Some special group dinners and activities such as pizza and ice cream parties are offered, but generally the kids centers are closed during meal hours when at sea.
For Tweens: Shockwaves offers talent shows, backstage tours, PJ parties and a Jr.CHEF@Sea program for 8- to 12-year-olds. There is also “Science on the Seas,” an award-winning program developed in conjunction with the California Science Center, as well as the regular programming
For Teens: Teen Lounge offers 13- to 17-year-olds teen-only deck parties, hip-hop dance classes with the ship’s professional dancers, DJ workshops, hot tub parties, video games, movies and more.
Around the Ship: Families love the giant outdoor movie screens, swimming pools, the line’s private island Princess Cay, arcades, basketball court and more. Afternoon tea is a time-honored tradition on Princess ships offered on the Promenade Deck from 3:30 to 4:30pm daily. Guests can now get moving with Zumba Fitness at sea, the exhilarating dance-fitness program that blends red-hot international music and contagious choreography. Discovery at Sea brings some favorite TV shows and hosts on board with programs like Shark Week. Additionally, there are Discovery and Animal Planet Shore Excursions and Stargazing with Discovery at Sea. In-room babysitting is not available, but there is late night group sitting for $5 per child. On shore days, youth programs are offered.
REGENT SEVEN SEAS
Upscale families love that the classy cabins are all suites, the cruise is all-inclusive (including free shore excursions) and there is special pricing for kids on select voyages. Because the ships are smaller—just 700 guests -– there may just be 50 youngsters on board.
What’s New: Free WiFi will be available on all Regent Seven Seas Cruises. Using a laptop, tablet or smartphone, unlimited WiFi will be available in all categories and from any location onboard. Eleven sailings in Asia and Africa will offer 3-night land tours in Cape Town, Angkor Wat, Hong Kong or Beijing with experiences such as an African safari, a Thai elephant camp and a visit to the Great Wall of China.
For Kids: Programming starts at age 5 in three groups (ages 5-9, 9-12, and 13-17), but the Club Mariner youth program is only available on certain voyages. Ages 1 and up are welcome to sail, but there are no programs for ages 1-3, or separate facilities for teens and tweens, though separate activities are offered through the Club Mariner Youth program whose counselors host a variety of activities, including games, craft projects, movies, and “food fun” to make sure each child has a memorable experience. Activities are customized for each group. In-room babysitting is expensive and officially not available, but staff members sometimes will babysit upon request.
Think family vacation –- on steroids. Think every kind of food and entertainment you could want aboard some of the world’s biggest ships (Oasis and Allure of the Seas) and on its most innovative, (Quantum and Anthem of the Seas). There is a skydiving simulator, a 300-foot-tall observation pod craning above the deck, bumper cars and basketball, rock walls, indoor lap pools, remarkable digital and live entertainment, teen spa treatments, Nickelodeon character breakfasts, a casino, live shows and performances, and a huge selection of restaurants plus room service. And that’s only the beginning — this is not the cruise line for couch potato relaxation.
What’s New: Anthem of the Seas is currently cruising from its homeport in Cape Liberty, New Jersey. Coming in 2016 are two new vessels: In May, Royal Caribbean will launch Harmony of the Seas, which, with 5,497 guests will become the largest ship in the world and will feature Ultimate Abyss, a pair of side-by-side slides becoming the tallest at sea. Ovation of the Seas, which will homeport in Sydney, is due to launch in autumn 2016.
For Babies: Aboard select ships, the Royal Babies and Tots Nursery for toddlers 6-36 months old offers parents childcare drop-off options in the daytime ($6/hour) and evening ($8/hour). All caregivers have four-year degrees in education, recreation or a related field and extensive experience. On all ships, free-time play for this age group is also offered daily, and parents and children can share unique age-appropriate learning and fun activities. The Babies 2 Go program also allows parents to order Gerber organic baby food and diapers, wipes and creams by Huggies for delivery to their staterooms upon arrival. In-room sitters are available ($19/hour for up to 3 kids) and come equipped with books and toys. There is also late-night group babysitting until 2AM ($6/hour per child).
For Kids: The Adventure Ocean programs are available for kids ages 3-11. Activities vary by age (3-5, 6-8 and 9-11) and range from art workshops, parades and ice cream parties to scavenger hunts, theater games, and sports tournaments. Led by the trained staff, kids participate in science and arts projects, sports tournaments and talent show. Royal Caribbean is proud to announce their designation as an “autism-friendly ship” where staff has been trained to accept, work with, and facilitate the cruise experience for passengers on the spectrum.
For Teens: Tweens and Teens (12-14 and 15-17) have their own separate activities, including everything from DJ training to movie nights, karaoke, pool parties, video and arcade games. There is a teens-only lounge, nightclub, and spa offering facials, hair treatments, pedicures, and more on each ship.
Around the Ship: Families love to splash around the H2O Zone waterpark with pools, waterfalls, geysers, a Flowrider surfing simulator and more. The DreamWorks Experience features parades, themed activities and character breakfasts with DreamWorks Animation’s popular feature-film characters, including Po of “Kung Fu Panda;” Shrek, Fiona and Puss In Boots of “Shrek;” plus Alex and the Penguins, and King Julien from “Madagascar.” For entertainment lovers, on select cruises there are Broadway style performances of Mamma Mia!, Cats and We Will Rock You, an ice-skating spectacular, movie theater, and AquaTheater dive shows, as well as live jazz.
Also look for zip lines, mini-golf, and pool scuba diving (select cruises), plus several “firsts” at sea – a skysimulator, Ripcord by iIFLY; NorthStar, a capsule offering 360-degree views; and SeaPlex with bumper cars, a roller skating rink and much more. On shore days, children’s activities are ongoing.
TAUCK RIVER CRUISES
Tauck has offered river cruises for a number of years, and now have three (one on the Danube, one on the Rhine, and one on the Rhone) designed specifically for families.
What’s New: “Blue Danube: Family Riverboat Adventure” was selected as one of the “10 Best River Cruises” by Fodors Travel and a two time winner of “Top River Cruise Line: For Families” by the readers of Travel + Leisure.
For Kids: Tauck is including a number of kid-friendly activities for families throughout the itinerary, including a scavenger hunt in Paris’ Louvre, a lesson in petanque (a ball game similar to bocce) in Viviers, a hayride in the Camargue, bicycling in Avignon, and a French cooking demonstration at a Michelin-starred culinary school in Valence. A second Tauck Bridges family river cruise, “Blue Danube: Family Riverboat Adventure,” offers a fun exploration of history and culture in Germany, Austria and Hungary along the scenic Danube River. And the third family river cruise, “Castles on the Rhine: Family Riverboat Adventures,” takes the family along the Rhine River, between Basel and Amsterdam, to explore all the historic castles.
Un-Cruise adventures are unmatched, hands-on small boat explorations with a focus on outdoor activities. Kayaks and whales, snorkels and paddle boards, mountains and desert, service and wine — all combine to help you uncover an adventure of interest. Then just pack your bags and venture into some of nature’s most exciting playgrounds and historic ports for exploration, eye-to-eye wildlife encounters, and living history. Discover something special in Alaska, Mexico’s Sea of Cortés, Columbia & Snake Rivers, Hawaiian Islands, and Coastal Washington & British Columbia. Expect a new line of itineraries focused on the Galapagos and Costa Rica/Panama for 2016. Read about the Ogintz family cruise on the Wilderness Discoverer in Southeast Alaska in summer 2012.
For Kids: Kids ages 8 and older are welcome on most departures. A Family Discoveries program invites families aboard all ships and itineraries except for the 22-guest Safari Quest (charter only). Kids 13 and younger save $500 on regular fare.
UNIWORLD RIVER CRUISES
With less than 200 people aboard, Uniworld is a different kind of experience for those seeking five-star yet family-welcoming luxury and the chance to explore new places without the hassle of moving from place to place. The cruise line’s multigenerational family-friendly river cruises feature special pricing which includes all meals and entertainment onboard, exciting shore excursions, complimentary use of bicycles, and transfers on arrival and departure dates.
What’s New: Uniworld offers 17 departures of their multigenerational cruises with 10 itineraries including “Grand European Discover,” “Gems of Vanice and Northern Italy,’ “Portrait of Majestic France,” and “Classic Christmas Markets.” Contact them for a special brchure about family-friendly cruising. In January 2016, the ship is launching their “India’s Golden Triangle & Sacred Ganges” tour through New Delhi to Kolkata. The 12-night tour aboard a 56-passenger, all suite river boat sails the venerated river Ganges, making must-see calls near Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur where guests stay in the famous Oberoi hotels. India complements the line’s other luxury Asia river cruises in China, Vietnam and Cambodia.
For Kids: While there are no separate facilities, children’s programs start at age 4. Kids will enjoy playing together and watching movies in the Playstation 2 or Wii-equipped game room. There’s also a special menu with kid-friendly food options and complimentary soft drinks during lunch and dinner onboard.
Yes, you read this right. Virgin Cruises is the latest adventure for the indomitable Sir Richard Branson, whose Virgin Galactic near-space mission suffered a terrible loss in October 31, 2014 when one its test spacecraft blew up, killing an elite pilot, injuring a second, and delaying its first commercial flight indefinitely.
We know very little about the new cruise line, except that Virgin is planning to build three ships and has selected Miami as its home port. The first ship will set sail in 2020, followed by one in 2021 and 2022 with 7-day itineraries in the Caribbean. Virgin Cruises CEO Tom McAlpin said, “We are committed to making waves in the cruise industry and partnering with Fincantieri (the ship builders), and Port Miami sets Virgin Cruises up to do just that.”
VOYAGES TO ANTIQUITY
Voyages to Antiquity is a special cruise company devoted to exploring ancient cultures via a select group of ports of call. Two-week to three-week itineraries follow a theme; our family sailed from Venice to Istanbul on a fascinating jaunt “In the Footsteps of the Venetian Empire”. While we were among the youngest passengers aboard, it’s a wonderful choice for a multigenerational cruise with older teens and adult kids because the expert lectures at sea, complimentary shore excursions and unusual ports allow each cruiser to pursue his own passion.
What’s New: In 2016, the UK-based company is adding two itineraries in and out of England’s capital city: London to Lisbon and Seville to London.
For Kids: While there are no particular facilities for young children, the ship is cozy, safe and intimate. Anyone with an interest in history and geography will appreciate the informal talks, culture evenings, and stocked library featuring books about the destination.
Around the Ship: Cabins range from suites to singles. In addition to using the small gym, pool, bar, and a few restaurants whose excellent cuisine varies each day to match the port of call, the best thing to do is explore the unusual ports easily accessed by this small cruise ship.
Windstar will operates six sailing yachts and is known for their ability to visit harbors and ports larger ships can’t reach. The ships carry fewer than 300 guests and call on ports throughout Europe, the Caribbean and the Americas with a complimentary water sports platform available when the ship is in anchor — subject to weather of course — featuring water skiing, kayaking, and sail-boarding. The ambiance is relaxed (no jackets or ties needed) but upscale; this line was recently rated the #1 small ship cruise line in the world by Conde Nast Traveler. While these yachts aren’t meant for kids, they’re ideal for parents who want a getaway without the kids or a special trip with grown kids.
What’s New: Windstar is debuting two new services on board. The Premium Beverage Package provides unlimited cocktails, sparkling wines, wines by the glass, beer, mini-bar selections and room service beverages for flat fee per day. The Windstar’s Cruises Laundry Service takes care of washing and pressing your clothing.
AND A FEW LAST WORDS
Given the number of young children drowning or experiencing critical injuries in cruise ship pools, we’d like to see the industry accept responsibility for the onboard safety of all passengers and provide lifeguards and life jackets at each pool. Until then, Disney Cruise Line is the only we’re aware of that is monitoring deck pools on a scheduled basis.
And given irrefutable evidence of climate change, we hope 2016 will bring more proactive environmental stewardship within the cruise industry, both onboard and with sustainable development projects at each port of call.
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When most people think of a relaxing family vacation, a cross-country adventure through nine western states plus a Canadian province doesn’t automatically come to mind. However, my parents weren’t looking for relaxing as they organized our summer vacation this year. My dad seemed to have taken it upon himself to plan the modern teenager’s worst nightmare: the ultimate family bonding trip. “Not enough people do this anymore!” was the line he and my mother spouted in the weeks leading up to our vacation as my twin brother and I shot each other horrified glances that screamed, “Well, there are probably good reasons why!”
Mid-June arrived. We crammed our SUV full of suitcases, coolers, and a wild assortment of clothing to combat whatever Mother Nature threw at us. Though I was thrilled, I was sure going to miss my privacy for the next two weeks. With barely enough room left for us inside the car, we set off on “The White Family Great American Road Trip”. As we left behind our spacious home in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in favor of more “cozy” accommodations for the next five thousand miles, I wasn’t the only one in the car wondering what we were getting ourselves into…
We shot straight west, out through the Oklahoma panhandle. Though still close to home, we were not without our fair share of adventures. My family finally stopped for the night near Black Mesa, Oklahoma, under the darkest star-filled skies in the nation, but only after nearly being blown off the highway in a dust storm. We quickly learned the rule of the road: livestock gets the right-of-way! The next day, we were up at dawn and moving again. I sensed a pattern forming.
Desert gave way to mountains. The days began to blend together, but each adventure was still distinct. We left our footprints in the Great Sand Dunes, where a reenactment of The Mummy was necessary before moving on to Pagosa Springs, Colorado. The heavy smell of sulfur in that friendly tourist town gave us a taste of what we were going to experience down the road in Yellowstone. Clinging to the mountainside near Ouray, Colorado, we learned that Jeep roads are best left to Jeeps. The fusion of ancient and modern could be seen everywhere we stopped. Dodging construction traffic became routine. Disappointment turned to laughter as we posed by the enormous “CLOSED” signs in front of the Four CornersMonument. We passed countless wind farms on our way to watch the setting sun cast its shadows over ArchesNational Park near Moab, Utah. “Bear jams” were simply expected while driving through Yellowstone, and a close encounter with a bison (and an anxious park ranger) left us with some unforgettable memories. As we drove, life back home faded away. The Many Glacier Hotel in Glacier National Park, Montana, is a creaky ninety-five years old and has no internet or cell phone service. However, in exchange for these trappings, I got to experience the most magnificent place I have ever seen.
But all good dreams must come to an end. After watching a rainstorm blow through from a cozy perch in the Prince of Wales Hotel in Waterton, Alberta, my family and I made our free-fall south. It was bittersweet to be home, but I hadn’t killed my brother in our one hundred hours on the road! Three thousand photos chronicling our crazy journey waited to be sifted through and rediscovered. My parents had been right. You don’t have to escape to some exotic foreign land to discover something remarkable– it’s right here in America.
Montego Bay, the second largest city in Jamaica, is a popular location for a family Caribbean holiday. With history dating to the mid-17th century when it was a sugar port, “MoBay”, now a tourist destination, is home to many resorts — some located on former sugar cane plantation property. Vacationers come for the beaches, golf courses, a cruise line terminal, restaurants, shopping opportunities, and several cultural and historical attractions.
Visitors to Montego Bay fly into Sir Donald Sangster International Airport, the Caribbean’s largest, and a short distance to the area’s resorts. Frequent flights from the US, Europe and South America make travel to Sangster simple, and Club MoBay offers a great array of amenities. Upon arrival and before take-off, for a fee of $30/adult and $15/child, travelers can enjoy VIP Meet and Greet and assistance with your luggage, fast-track customs and immigration, and a comfortable lounge with WiFi, snacks and beverages while waiting for ground transportation. When leaving Jamaica, you can enjoy fast-track through security, a sunny, comfortable lounge with a kid’s play area, a shower, WiFi, electronic games, plus food and beverages.
For some history of the region, check out Greenwood Great House, a preserved example of a master’s home from the days of slavery at sugar plantations. The Barrett family (related to English poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning) owned this home and used it for entertaining other plantation owners. You will see furnished rooms, Jamaican antiques and musical instruments. For an eerier visit, take a tour of Rose Hall Great House and Garden situated on a 6,600 acre plantation. You will be treated to the legend of Annee Palmer, the mistress of Rose Hall known locally as the White Witch, and perhaps see her ghost.
Water lovers will enjoy two local public beaches, Doctor’s Cove Beach and especially Walter Fletcher Beach, where there are calm waters perfect for children to play in. This is also home to the Aquasol Theme Park which offers chairs and umbrellas for rent, and activities such as volleyball, a children’s playground, water trampoline, kayaks, pedal boats and a glass bottom boat.
The local river, named after Martha Brae, offers lots of activities such as bamboo rafting. Contact River Bumpkin Farms Adventure Tours for kayaking and tubing tours of the river.
The Rockland Bird Sanctuary is a fun place to observe, engage with and feed hundreds of birds such as ground-doves, Jamaican mango hummingbirds, northern mockingbirds, shiny cowbirds and more.
If you are looking for souvenirs or gifts to bring home, you will meet nearly 200 vendors, licensed by the Jamaica Tourism Board, at the Old Fort Craft and Heritage Park and Market where they sell handicrafts, wood carvings, jewelry and more. The Gallery of West Indian Art features fine art by artists from Jamaica, Cuba and Haiti.
A bit of film trivia: Several scenes from the 1973 James Bond movie “Live and Let Die” starring Roger Moore in his first appearance as Bond, were filmed around Montego Bay.
Here are our suggestions for places to stay and play near MoBay:
Montego Bay, Jamaica
Graciously spread over 400 acres of Montego Bay beachfront, the classic Half Moon ranks tops in the Caribbean by Conde Nast Traveler readers. Now under the management of RockResorts, it maintains the highest luxury standards for guests of all ages.
With its quiet location on a two-mile-long, gold sand beach and several large and small private pools, there are endless possibilities for watersports including waterskiing, paddle boating, kayaking, sailing, parasailing, and rides on a glass-bottom boat, as well as a SASY (Supplied Air Snorkeling for Youth) program for kids aged 5 to 10, and scuba education for older kids.
Tennis is played on one of the 13 lit tennis courts, or try squash, or croquet. Most of the villas, a bit far from the main lodge, come with bikes, also used for cycling around the property. There is golf on the Robert Trent Jones Sr. course, and even horseback riding. Fitness enthusiasts can take yoga, spinning and pilates classes. The popular Dolphin Lagoon with “swim” and “touch” programs for Half Moon guests only is a special feature that should be booked ahead.
Families will particularly enjoy Half Moon’s elegance and leisured pace, and have a large variety of lodging choices from guest rooms to truly deluxe suites and villas. Restaurants range from beachfront options to casual spots, fine dining restaurants, room service and private dining. Half Moon’s restaurants, shops and great facilities, including the Fern Tree Spa with Jamaican-inspired products and treatments (fees apply) make it a very appealing package for a classy family getaway.
The Anancy Children’s Village welcomes potty-trained children ages 3 to 12 daily from 9am-5pm. Half and full-days are available – visit the website for rates. Babies may be brought into the center by a private babysitter hired from the resort’s well-trained staff, or by the family nanny. The air-conditioned mini-playhouse is filled with craft supplies; a supervised outdoor play area with wading pool, sand box, and toddler-appropriate playground equipment is adjacent. Additionally, “Very Important Little Persons Services” include a welcome drink and gift. For a fee, little ones can enjoy a special turn down service with milk and cookies and a bedtime story.
The Hype Zone, open daily from 11am to 10pm is a 5,000-square-foot facility for teens ages 13 to 19. It features a games room, a cyber lounge, disco, movie theatre and spa area offering teen service such as mani-pedis, facials and massages.
Holiday Inn Resort Montego Bay
Montego Bay, Jamaica
Front Desk: 876/953-2485
Though the Holiday Inn brand may not jibe with your image of a tropical resort, at their Montego Bay property, families will find a great beachfront setting, a casual ambience, bountiful buffets, strains of reggae and an easy-going no problem staff.
Resort-wide games and shows center around the bustling, winding, lagoon-style pool where, it seems, most parents prefer to splash around with their kids rather than send them off to camp. However, there is a complimentary drop-in Kidspree Vacation Club from 9am to 9pm and you can easily get away from other peoples’ children at the long stretch of gold sand beach. Granny’s Nursery supervises children 6 months-3 years and the main facility accepts Adventurers (ages 4-7) and The Wonder Years (ages 8-12) where scheduled indoor activities include face painting, board games and movies. There is an indoor area with an adjacent fenced playground on the beach where kids climb and slide, build sand castles and enjoy water activities. The Teen Scene Game Room is where teens gather and play pool, basketball and more, plus Xbox games (for an extra fee). Evening babysitting is available.
Room categories include standard, superior and deluxe options. There are junior suites that accommodate parties of 5 and one-bedroom suites with whirlpool baths. In addition, Holiday Inn has recently introduced creatively decorated KidSuites with private spaces for kids and parents. The main area has a king size bed, TV and refrigerator. Kids get sleep and play areas with bunk beds, their own TV, and a play table or desk. In all accommodations, two children <12-years-old stay and eat for free. A guest Laundry Room is available to all and internet access is free throughout the resort.
Meals are served at a buffet and at four specialty restaurants. Activities include sailing, snorkeling, kayaking, tennis and more, and motorized watersports are available for an extra fee. For adults there is a Health and Fitness Center for exercise and the Sol Mer Spa (fees apply) for pampering, as well as a casino.
No kids? Holiday Inn Resort Montego Bay welcomes singles and couples to the new RoseHall Club accommodations adjacent to the adult-only pool which features a swim-up bar and whirlpool. RoseHall Club guests receive a discount on spa services.
Over 60? Register for GoldenSpree at check-in and avail yourselves of dance classes, games, Jazzxercise, cocktail parties and more. Note that there are seven handicap-accessible rooms, the lagoon pool has wheelchair access, and there is a ramp down to the beach.
Online reviews give the staff gets high marks for professional, courteous and friendly service.
Iberostar’s Rose Hall Complex
Montego Bay, Jamaica
Guests at the stunning Iberostar Rose Hall complex located on Montego Bay have a menu of lodging choices from which to choose. Comprised of Iberostar Rose Hall Beach, Iberostar Rose Hall Suites and the Iberostar Grand Hotel Rose Hall, families have options based on the size and composition of their group as well as their budget. The Rose Hall properties offer all-inclusive vacations where all speciality restaurants are part of the package, and luxuries not often associated with large one-price-fits-all resorts. Iberostar surely understands the concept of “keeping the customers happy” as the brand overall reports that 30% of their business is from return customers.
Iberostar Grand Hotel Rose Hall
For a honeymoon, babymoon, anniversary, parent’s getaway, or even a siblings getaway, Iberostar Grand Hotel Rose Hall, a AAA Four Diamond adults-only resort is the perfect choice. With concierge service and a butler to unpack, press, and pack your clothes as well as draw your rose-petal whirlpool bath, ocean-view rooms, 24-hour room service, pillow menu and fully-stocked minibar, luxurious accommodations are your home base. Five restaurants (the best food I’ve had at an all-inclusive – served by a gracious staff) and four bars, plus access to the facilities and restaurants at the two other properties, provide meals and drinks.
Look forward to endless activities and relaxation at four pools with a pool concierge, water and land activities including yoga and zumba classes, golf, wine-tasting, a gaming lounge, nightly entertainment and an on-site Spa Sensations (fees apply) and you are bound to go home feeling pampered and, with lots of memories. Speaking of pampering, treat yourself to a signature Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee and Sugar Scrub and Hot Stone Massage – heavenly.
Providing excellent service is the mission for Iberostar properties, and their resorts in Jamaica certainly accomplish this. A luxury all-inclusive? Why not?
Iberostar Rose Hall Beach and Iberostar Rose Hall Suites
Families with children can choose either the Iberostar Rose Hall Beach (with spacious room accommodations) or Iberostar Rose Hall Suites, both of which have their own pools, bars and specialty restaurants with the same beach-front location as the Grand. Guests at both locations have access to the complimentary Kids Club, a supervised program for 4 to 12-year-olds from 10:15am to 5pm. Kids build sand castles, go on jungle walks, do arts’n’crafts, enjoy the water and an outdoor play area. Younger children can attend with a babysitter (available for hire) or a parent.
Both resorts offer access to the Spa Sensations, several bars (including a swim-up bar), a full array of land and water sports including windsurfing, evening entertainment, a casino, and room service.
Additionally, Iberostar Rose Hall Suites offers complimentary WiFi throughout the resort, concierge service, and a lazy river and splash park.
Round Hill Hotel and Villas
John Pringle Drive
Montego Bay, Jamaica
Situated on Montego Bay, Round Hill Hotel and Villas is a classic in its own right that evolved from a cluster of private homes built by superstar entertainers (such as Oscar Hammerstein and Noel Coward) back in the 1950s. Now, celebrities such as Demi Moore and Paul McCartney take their families to relax at this world-class Jamaican resort.
In an haute timeshare concept, Round Hill manages 27 super-luxe two- to five-bedroom, freestanding villas and rents out individual suites when available. Each is unique, tended by its own housekeeper, gardener and cook. Many villas, all within a few minutes’ walk of the gold sand beach, have their own plunge pools as well. Additionally, there are spacious rooms in the Pineapple House, a two-story stucco hotel. Here, there are 36 oceanfront rooms and a grand suite featuring the influence of Round Hill homeowners Ralph and Ricky Lauren.
In its secluded cove near busy Montego Bay, Round Hill offers gracious service and a cozy atmosphere. A full range of watersports, an infinity pool, 5 tennis courts and easy access to golf and island sightseeing keeps guest busy. There is a Fitness Center and Yoga Pavilion, and the Spa at Round Hill (fees apply) offer the full gamut of activities, treatments and relaxation facilities for parents while the kids are busy with their peers.
The complimentary Pineapple Kids caters to the 3 to 6-year old set and the 7-Up Club focuses on 7-year-olds on up to active teens. Both are available from 9am to 5pm and activities and crafts projects are organized by the trained staff. After hours care is available for a modest fee from trained and CPR/First Aid certified nannies.
The gourmet menus range from a torch-lit beachside grill to Jamaican cuisine with dancing and music. All dishes are imaginatively presented using the freshest ingredients; the vegetables and herbs are grown on-site in the organic garden, and the kids menu gets high praise. Meals are also presented in the indoor restaurant or on the broad, beachview terrace, with early dinners available to younger children. Meal plans are available.