With more US families traveling internationally than ever before, Ben Lerwill puts the spotlight on where to go and why
The words ‘family travel’ mean different things to different people. One family’s fly-and-flop break to the Caribbean is another’s educational jaunt around Europe. But whether you’re on a cruise ship, a package vacation or a national park campsite, one basic truth prevails: family travel is big business.
Long-established family spots are performing strongly. For 2014, Orlando announced annual visitor numbers of 62 million, an all-time record. The likes of Hawaii have also recorded year-on-year increases of arrivals from both US West and US East. At the same time, however, family travelers are increasingly looking further afield.
“Domestic travel dominates the family travel marketplace for Americans,” says Emily Kaufman, a leisure travel expert and regular TV spokesperson who works under the name The Travel Mom. “However, there are more people choosing to visit international destinations than ever before.”
Staci Blunt, owner of Vacation Visions, shares this view. “The families I book are branching out internationally,” she says. “Specifically to destinations that are usually deemed safe. US family travelers want a safe vacation above all. Once that factor is met, they’re seeking destinations that aren’t outrageously expensive, have cultural options where they can teach their children something, and also give the chance to let their hair down.” As examples, she mentions everywhere from Western Europe and Mexico to the Dominican Republic and Australia.
Multi-generational travel is also on the rise. A survey into 2015 travel trends by AARP — a membership organization for over-50s — showed that for baby boomers, multi-generational trips were the single most anticipated form of vacation for the year ahead. On a similar note, this year’s Virtuoso Luxe Report has both multi-generational travel and family travel in its top five trends.
The crucial question is whether the use of agents is higher with family travelers? “Yes, I feel so,” says Vacation Visions’ Blunt. “They often seek reinforcement from an expert that their vacation choice for their family is a good one, and want help with booking it to make sure all goes well. They want someone who will be looking out for their family’s best travel interests at all times.”
Here’s a rundown of eight of the world’s top family travel destinations…
There’s nowhere in the country (and probably the world) quite as synonymous with family vacations as Orlando. Walt Disney World and Universal Studios are the big hitters, of course — the former welcomes a major Frozen Ever After attraction in 2016, while Universal recently unveiled a new Fast & Furious: Supercharged ride — but it’s worth remembering just how much the wider region offers for all ages. From indoor skydiving, hiking trails and airboat tours to day spas, art museums and outlet malls, there’s plenty to cater for all tastes. Upcoming events to note include the Orlando Film Festival (October 22-26) and the Epcot Food & Wine Festival (until November 10), while the Amway Center welcomes everyone from Janet Jackson to Ricky Martin this fall. And for those in search of an opportunity to tee off, there are also more than 175 golf courses. visitorlando.com
From Paddington Bear to Harry Potter, there’s a long list of classic children’s characters with links to London. Aside from this magic-sprinkled literary heritage, there are few world cities that offer so much for families. There’s a variety of free attractions, including the dinosaur-filled Natural History Museum and the interactive Science Museum, as well as child-friendly parks, restaurants and historical sites. Shows currently on in London theaters include The Lion King, Charlie & The Chocolate Factory, Matilda and Billy Elliot: The Musical. Try a trip along the Thames on an inflatable RIB boat, explore the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park on rented bikes or head up The Shard, the tallest building in Europe. visitlondon.com
Anywhere boasting the world’s largest collection of geysers will appeal to wide-eyed young travelers, and America’s first national park has long been popular with families. Last year was a near record for Yellowstone, with 3.51 million visitors. The usual day-trip approach ticks off Old Faithful and the canyon, but to make the most of the park’s size and scenery, it’s worth a longer visit. Whitewater rafting, horseback riding and valley hiking are popular, while accommodation ranges from log cabins to campgrounds. By staying in the park, there;s the chance to head to the Lamar Valley at sunrise — the best place and time to spot Yellowstone’s famous wildlife. yellowstonepark.com
With kid-friendly beaches, volcano-studded scenery and a goodtime feel, Hawaii is a timeless destination that makes the mainland feel a long way away. Hawaii’s mid-Pacific location marks it out as a place apart, and its potential for family groups is superb. Oahu is a strong option, thanks to its long sands, snorkeling and water parks, and there’s even the chance to step inside a submarine at Pearl Harbor. Maui has the excellent Maui Ocean Center, as well as the prospect of hula lessons, while Kauai gives the chance to ride the old-time railroad train at Kilohana Estate. Hawaiian Airlines has plans to increase the number of Christmas and New Year flights between LA and both Maui and Kauai. gohawaii.com
With some 700 tropical islands to shout about, pink-sand beaches and a rich pirate heritage, the Bahamas are an exciting proposition for young vacationers. Nassau draws plenty of headlines for its high-energy entertainment, and Travel + Leisure has named Paradise Island’s famous Atlantis Resort as one of the Top Family Resorts in the Caribbean for four of the past five years. The archipelago as a whole is alluring: the Abacos, the Exumas and Grand Bahama Island offer nature reserves, camping safaris, catamaran cruises and drift snorkeling. The destination is easy to reach too, sitting just off the Florida coast. Back in Nassau, the on-off saga behind Baha Mar resort should boost family numbers when the facility eventually opens. The five-star project is reportedly more than 95% complete, though an opening date remains elusive. bahamas.com
The appeal of the City By The Bay needs little explanation — just being here feels special. As home to an iconic cable car system, a choice of kid-focused museums and the buzz of Fisherman’s Wharf, it’s a destination well suited to families. The obligatory trip to Alcatraz Island is an educational insight into the past, while the Golden Gate Bridge provides an only-in-Frisco backdrop. Try one of the city’s famous fire engine tours to get a different take on the place, or seek out the Fortune Cookie Factory in the largest Chinatown outside of Asia. The city doesn’t stand still: the past year or so has seen the arrival of the gloriously gory San Francisco Dungeon (unsuitable for under-10s) and a Madame Tussauds waxwork museum. All this, and there’s Yosemite National Park and the Muir Woods National Monument within easy reach. sanfrancisco.travel
Few European countries are as well set up for a family vacation as Spain, where its mix of sunshine, Iberian culture and well-priced packages have long made it popular among continental holidaymakers. The standout city for families is Barcelona, where you’ll find beaches, museums and a laid-back vibe, while both Madrid and Seville are perfect for indulging in tapas, bike rental and historical exploration. Outside the big urban centers, the country’s appeal is arguably even greater, with the southern Costas offering resorts, watersports, whitewashed villages and outdoor activities. Pick from horse-riding, cookery courses and mountain-biking, or delve into the calendar of fiestas and festivals. Looking further afield, both the Balearic Islands and the Canary Islands — sunny outposts of mainland Spain — have plenty to offer. spain.info
It takes some time to reach Australia, but a family trip Down Under makes for an unforgettable vacation. Its two showpiece cities, Sydney and Melbourne, are well stocked with teen-friendly attractions (ever scaled a 46ft-high bridge or learned the flying trapeze?), while the country as a whole offers some of the most celebrated outdoor adventures in the world. Snorkel the Great Barrier Reef, catch waves off Bondi Beach or get up close to the kangaroos, koalas and wombats that make Australia such a renowned wildlife destination. For Americans, the destination’s size and location make it an adventurous choice, but there are ample rewards — not least the fact the US dollar exchange rate is markedly better than it’s been in recent years. In aviation news, Qantas is starting direct flights from San Francisco to Sydney in December. australia.com