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Let’s face it: family holidays can often seem more like family hell-idays, especially for the kids.
You remember what it was like - sitting cramped between your siblings in the backseat of the car, tormenting each other as mum and dad bickered over which route to take to your cousin’s place in middle-of-Nowheresville.
Or traipsing around behind your parents, looking at church after boring church, thinking that if you hear them say “other kids would KILL to be taken around Europe at your age!” one more time, you’ll behead your Barbie.
From incredible Italian family villas complete with private chefs and nannies; to philanthropic adventures that’ll broaden both their horizons and hearts; or kids’ concierges catering to every wish and whim, we’ve rounded up the most amazing family holiday ideas that the kids will love you for – straight from the mouths of our ATAS travel experts.
Sometimes, it helps to decide what you don’t want in a family holiday first.
Travel agent of 19 years, Brandon Norton, warns against focusing on “temples, churches, pagodas, cathedrals and any other name you can come up with for a big old dusty building with zero entertainment value for kids”.
Besides avoiding boring your children to death, travel expert Julie Avery says it’s also important to think hard about the practicalities:
• Is that exclusive resort (and matching, upmarket clientele) actually going to make you feel uncomfortable?
• Are you trying to pack in too many destinations (and flight connections, and stopovers…)?
• Are there enough activities to keep them entertained?
• What’s the weather going to be like?
Travel consultant Melissa Regan says “surprises along the way” can derail a family holiday – for example, “pre-booking interconnecting rooms and not receiving them, or things not being transparent (like age limits in the kids club), or expecting activities to be included that are not.”
Suggests Regan: “It’s always great to get a separate living room for families - that way while bub sleeps, Mum and Dad can still relax.
When the kids are older, interconnecting rooms are always recommended. This is always a request, but booking with an agent means we will source hotels that normally confirm this, so there are no surprises.” Avery adds that talking to a travel agent can key you in to fantastic family-friendly hotels around the world: “where the kids’ names will be on their dressing gowns when they arrive,” alongside everything from teddy bears in their bed to special kids concierges.
And both Regan and Avery rate all-inclusive family holidays highly – all those extras can add up, especially when the kids are in tow.
Practicalities aside, we’re all searching for that perfect holiday – one that’ll fill photo albums and have us reminiscing around the dinner table for years to come. We’ve rounded up some of the hottest trends to get you inspired.
“We are finding that cruising is becoming massive for families,” says Brandon Norton. Royal Caribbean’s ‘Quantum Class’ ships, for example, “have things like bumper cars, roller skating, rock climbing, circus schools and skydiving and surfing simulators; as well as the usual movies, shows, pools and games room.”
Julie Avery also suggests the Disney Cruise Line, which offers everything from musicals like Toy Story to themed ‘Pirate Nights’ complete with Disney characters. With so much to keep everyone in the family occupied, exploring new destinations on shore days is the icing on the cake.
After something a little more laidback? “Most kids (and adults) love interacting with animals – that’s why the Galapagos Islands have also been popular,” says Norton. These ships are smaller and can be quite basic, he explains, “but it’s all about getting in amongst the animals, both on land and in the ocean.”
What makes the Galapagos really special, says Norton, is that “the animals that you see have been protected so long that they are not afraid of humans…you’re able to get right up close to them and see them in their natural environment”.
For a modern update to the family road-trip, a private safari is the perfect way to unplug and reconnect to each other – and nature.
“South Africa is good because the flight time isn’t too bad (14 hours from Sydney to Johannesburg), and you’re in a whole different world,” says Norton.
He booked a family getaway to the Madikwe Game Reserve “because of its proximity to Johannesburg, but also because it’s malaria-free”. The family enjoyed a few nights in a safari lodge, the days filled with private game drives searching for the ‘Big Five’ (“they were able to tick all five off their list!” says Norton), which “meant that they could spend quality time together”.
Next stop was Sun City Resort, just an hour away from the reserve. “They did the ‘nature thing’ and then got to combine that with resort pools, games, slides [and more] at Sun City,” explains Norton. “The parents could spend time alone, and the kids were busy having fun doing their own thing in the kids clubs.”
Love the idea of a safari but want to stick closer to home? Norton suggests Jamala Wildlife Lodge at the National Zoo and Aquarium in Canberra.
“It’s connected to the national zoo, but you can stay there in some really unique accommodation, including rooms with a shark tank... yes, a shark tank.” This immersive stay also offers experiences such as feeding friendly giraffes from your room’s balcony, or enjoying a bath while a curious lion looks on through the (thick!) glass window.
For an essentially Australian experience with a (hefty) dash of luxury, not much beats One & Only Emirates Wolgan Valley, nestled into the Greater Blue Mountains. “Wolgan Valley is incredible for families,” says third-generation travel professional, David Goldman. Kids can fully immerse themselves in the stunning natural surroundings, partaking in ‘Junior Rangers’ activities, such as 4WD tours around the property spotting kangaroos, wallaroos and wombats, while mum and dad relax in the spa. The family can enjoy an all-terrain vehicle drive to the fringe of the enormous property, enjoy a fire by the river, rustled up some damper and boil billy tea as the kangaroos roam nearby.
Stay in a Jungle Bungalow or Giraffe Treehouse at Jamala Wildlife Lodge: Credit, Jamala Wildlife Lodge
Goldman not only arranges other family’s holidays – he travels regularly with his own, scoping out new destinations and experiences all around the world.
One of his favourite recollections is one of his many trips to Hua Hin, a beachside destination south of Bangkok in Thailand, where he and his children took a trip up into the nearby hills and taught English at a local school for the day, also distributing books, pens and paper. “My kids still talk about it,” says Goldman, who says it was also “a really nice bonding experience, rather than just sitting by the pool.” As well as the chance to give back, says Goldman, travel offers an exciting way for kids to learn new skills and to interact with different cultures.
His kids have learned how to make traditional stir-fries at cooking school in Bangkok; and also attended a purification ceremony in Bali, where they were blessed by a Hindu priest. Experiences like this are about “absorbing the culture, which is why we travel, right?” he asks. “There’s nothing worse than going to a hotel in some city or country and not knowing you’re really there.” Other highlights from his family travels include making gelato in Florence, a treasure hunt through the Louvre, and a kids’ tour of the Gothic quarter in Barcelona. “Seeing Europe through the eyes of [the] kids was a totally different experience,” Goldman enthuses.
With an ever-expanding range of baby travel gear and equipment on offer to make travel with little ones easier (ok, less painful) than days gone by, new parents are no longer limited to the ‘flop and drop’ holiday (unless, of course, that’s what they’re after!). Says Melissa Regan: “Younger clients now seem to want more interaction with their children, so times are definitely changing.”
She cites the case of a long-term client (she booked his first holiday with his girlfriend; the trip where he proposed; his honeymoon and now his first family holiday) who recently called with his next trip in mind: “They don’t want to be lying by a pool in Fiji, they want to go around the world with their baby daughter strapped to their chest or back and visit as many waterfalls, and national parks as they can,” says Regan. “His words were: ‘We kind of want to do it all in reverse! We have had the baby and now we want to go on an adventure!’ ”.
Julie Avery recalls one of the more extravagant family adventures she’s arranged, which went well into six-figures.
The holiday coincided with the daughters 21st birthday, says Avery, so for part of the holiday, “the parents arranged for the daughter’s best girlfriend to arrive on the boat to celebrate with her and the family.” The family toured the Amalfi Coast and Sicily: “Each day the kids told the chef on board what they would like cooked for dinner, and where they would like to cruise to each day.”
Next stop was a villa in Tuscany, complete with enormous grounds, tennis court, mini soccer pitch and another chef on hand – who also taught the kids about the local produce and took them to the markets. “They also spent time in Venice and Rome for some history and culture,” adds Avery. “The parents loved it because it brought the whole family of seven kids together in an intimate environment - something which rarely happens at home,” says Avery.
For these kinds of holidays, a travel agent can prove invaluable: putting in hours of research on your behalf, utilising industry contacts, creating a seamless itinerary, and even changing arrangements once you’re already on your way. “We know our clients and we know the suppliers and are in the best position to match both,” said Avery.
There’s no better time to indulge your child’s imagination than on a special holiday.
Melissa Regan recalls the case of a family who had never been on any holidays, but came into some money when the mum started a new business. They chose the US as their destination, with the highlight being a trip to Disneyland for the daughter’s birthday. “I called Disneyland and booked breakfast with a fairy princess (every little girls dream!),” says Regan. An agent can add something special to your dream holiday: “I always like to find out what the children like to do so I can make sure it is the perfect holiday for all,” says Regan.
David Goldman says the Plaza Hotel in New York is another place to make dreams come true: the hotel’s Eloise suite brings the adventures of the famous fictional little girl who lived at the hotel to life, with everything from a luxurious, pink-saturated, custom-decorated suite to high teas, an Eloise fashion room and reading room.
Make a Fairy tale dream come true at Disneyland: Credit Oh My Disney.com
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