Joanna Booth looks at a range of top tours for families, from tots to teens.
When it comes to family holidays, it’s easy to fixate on just one type of family. Yes, plenty of couples who enjoyed fly-and-flop breaks before will be keen for this to continue, but now with added kids’ club facilities.
But those who started out with a sense of adventure when it came to travel won’t necessarily want to stifle it just because of junior.
This is where escorted group tours specially designed for families can come in. They’ll get the tour benefits – an expert guide, organised activities and the value of group travel – but adapted to suit a family market.
With family-specific itineraries, the pace of the tour – and the activities and style of sightseeing – are designed to suit short attention spans and be more interactive than a classic itinerary.
Accommodation and restaurants are chosen on the basis of suitability for kids. And with the whole of the escorted group made up of families, there’ll be plenty of opportunities for kids – and mums and dads – to make friends, and no concerns about other guests tutting at over-excited youngsters.
For these reasons, it can be worth seeking out trips that are specifically designed for families, rather than sending them on a general group tour that visits the destination they want to see.
Several escorted tour operators, and active and adventure travel specialists, have programmes of family tours. Frequently, firms will specify a minimum age, so you’ll know that kids aren’t destined to be overwhelmed with too much or the wrong kind of activity.
And many now also offer teen-specific departures of some tours, which can reduce the chance of moody youngsters whingeing about being stuck with babies on their holiday.
Here’s a selection of 10 inspiring trips, with short and long-haul choices, and options for families with kids of different ages.
1. Wild West
Wannabe cowboys big and small can live out their fantasies with Virgin Holidays Worldwide Journeys.
Three nights on its USA Family Adventure tour are spent sleeping in cowboy wagons at the Zion Ponderosa Ranch Resort, and families can saddle up for a ride on one day of their stay.
They’ll get the flipside of their ‘cowboys and indians’ focus in Antelope Canyon, where they can take a tour with a Native American Navajo guide.
The rest of the trip is an American Dream too, camping among Yosemite’s towering sequoias, rafting on the Colorado River and visiting the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas and San Francisco.
Groups have a maximum of 14 people, and the minimum age is eight.
Book it: Virgin Holidays Worldwide Journeys’ 16-day USA Family Adventure starts at £2,745 for adults and £2,295 for children, including flights and some meals.
2. Roman Holiday
Kids who are studying Ancient Rome at school – and parents who enjoyed Russell Crowe playing Maximus – will love Trafalgar’s Gladiators, Gondolas and Gold trip, part of the operator’s Family Experience range.
They’ll get to attend ‘gladiator school’ in Rome and learn the basics of sword fighting, before moving on to Florence and then Venice, where they’ll learn about the history of the city’s carnival masks and have a go at making their own.
There’s a good amount of free time, so families can do their own thing. The food is also child-friendly, with a pizza-making demonstration, gelato in Florence and a stop for spaghetti bolognese in its birthplace, Bologna.
Parents will savour the Trafalgar Be My Guest dining experience in a Tuscan villa.
Book it: Trafalgar’s 10-day Gladiators, Gondolas and Gold tour starts at £3,650 for a family of four, excluding flights.
3. Animal Magic
Budding Dr Dolittles ahoy – Tauck’s new South Africa: Epic Family Adventure will bring them face to face with all sorts of exciting creatures.
They’ll walk with an elephant, meet a cheetah and even ride an ostrich – all in addition to traditional game drives from a safari lodge, a visit to see penguins at Boulders Beach and a whale and seal-watching cruise in Plettenberg Bay.
Extra excitement comes in the form of a zip-line trip over the Kruis River and a cable- car ride up Table Mountain. They’ll learn about Nelson Mandela, take a bicycle tour of Soweto, have a go at tribal drumming and finish up with a traditional South Africa braai barbecue.
Tauck recommends the trip for over-eights, but five is the minimum age permitted. The group size is limited to 34 guests.
Book it: Tauck’s 10-day South Africa: Epic Family Adventure starts at £15,000 for a family of four, excluding flights but including transport, activities, 24 meals and guiding.
4. Mountain High
Reaching the summit of Africa’s highest peak is a worthy challenge for an adult, so imagine the bragging rights it’ll give a teenager.
Exodus is now offering a special family departure of its Kilimanjaro Climb using the Lemosho Route, with a minimum age of 13. This route starts at a lower altitude and climbs more slowly than some others, giving walkers time to acclimatise to the altitude – 96% of Exodus customers on this route reach the summit.
Eight days of the trip are spent walking point-to-point, with an average distance of 4.4 miles covered each day. Full porterage is included, and accommodation consists of two nights in hotels and seven nights in three-man tents, with private toilet tents provided.
Book it: Exodus’ Kilimanjaro Climb/Lemosho Route starts at £2,799 for adults and £2,519 for children, including flights, most meals, transport, accommodation, guiding, park fees and activities. The first departure this year is August 3.
5. Flipper Fun
Kids might remember the 1990s film and parents the 1960s TV series, but both will adore the chance to find their own. Flipper as they swim with wild dolphins in the Azores, the archipelago of volcanic islands set out in the Atlantic 850 miles west of Portugal, famed for its marine life.
The Family Adventure Company has a new itinerary in the destination, which, in addition to a swim with wild dolphins, features activities that make the most of the islands’ geological vitality.
These include canoeing at the bottom of a volcanic crater, visiting a lava tunnel and enjoying a lunch cooked solely with geothermal steam. The minimum age for passengers on this trip is five.
Book it: The Family Adventure Company’s eight-day Azores Family Holiday starts at £1,704 for adults and £1,534 for children, including flights, accommodation, most meals, transport, activities and guiding.
6. Sumo Stays
Adventurous families will be able to write their own version of Memoirs of a Geisha if they take InsideJapan’s Hands On Japan tour. It’s packed full of quintessentially Japanese experiences, from a tea ceremony with a trainee geisha in Kyoto to stadium tickets for a sumo wrestling tournament in Tokyo.
Customers will have a traditional Taiko drumming lesson and learn how to make soba noodles, ride the Shinkansen bullet train, and stay in both a capsule hotel and in a typical ryokan inn in the mountains, where they’ll dress in kimono-like yukata robes and sleep on tatami mats on the floor.
This isn’t a family-only itinerary, but with so many activities included, it is particularly popular with those travelling with kids. The minimum age is six, and the maximum group size is 14 people.
Book it: InsideJapan’s 13-night Hands On Japan tour starts at £12,893 for a family of four travelling in May, including international flights, accommodation with breakfast, some other meals, transport, activities and guiding.
7. Indiana Clones
A whip and a fedora aren’t compulsory on G Adventures’ Amazon to the Andes trip, but with the focus on ancient civilisations and jungle adventures, families on this tour in Peru will feel like Indiana Jones all the same.
After hiking the Inca Trail to the ancient city of Machu Picchu, all-action options include horseback riding around archaeological sites, white-water rafting and mountain biking, before heading off to the Amazon jungle to spend two nights in a rainforest lodge, where they will explore the waterways by motorised canoe.
This is one of the operator’s new Teen Adventures, where the minimum age is 12 and groups are no larger than 20 people.
Book it: G Adventures’ 12-day Amazon to the Andes Teenage Adventure starts at £1,399 for adults and £1,299 for children, including accommodation, activities, guiding, internal flights and transport, but excluding international flights.
8. Ice Ages
Anyone who has yawned at the back of a geography class will know the part glaciers play in forming a landscape, but a trip to western Canada will bring the lesson alive. Not just because of the stunning mountain scenery created by these vast ice sheets, but because families can set foot on the real thing.
A walk on Alberta’s Athabasca Glacier is included in Grand American Adventures’ Canadian Family Discovery Tour. The trip showcases the best of the Rocky Mountains, with plenty of optional action, from mountain biking and horseriding to zip-lining and white-water rafting (some activities cost extra).
Accommodation is mostly camping, with a one-night ranch stay. The minimum age for this tour is eight.
Book it: Grand American Adventures offers the 10-day Canadian Family Discovery Tour from £2,208 for adults, £1,971 for children between 12 and 16, and £1,901 under-12s. The price includes flights, accommodation, many meals, some activities, transport and guiding.
9. Star Shores
There’s no need to go to a galaxy far, far away – Star Wars fans and their families need only fly as far as Tunisia, where many scenes were filmed in the underground houses of Matmata and the surrounding desert.
A day of Explore’s new Family Tunisian Adventure tour is spent visiting locations including Hotel Sidi Driss, which doubled as Luke Skywalker’s home, and the ‘Star Wars canyon’ at Sidi Bouhlel, which featured in numerous scenes.
Other highlights include learning to cook a Bedouin meal, taking on an aerial adventure rope course, snorkelling among brightly coloured reef fish and a visit to the country’s biggest water park. The minimum age for kids on this trip is five, with the group size usually between 14 and 20 people.
Book it: Explore’s nine-day Family Tunisian Adventure starts at £995 for adults and £906 for children, including flights, B&B accommodation, most meals, transport, guiding and activities.
10. Farther Xmas
Image credit: Newmarket Holidays
Usually a day trip wouldn’t really count as an escorted tour, but when one involves flying to Arctic Sweden and meeting Santa, exceptions can be made.
Newmarket Holidays’ Lapland Santa Experience Day trip packs a lot in, including a private family meeting with the man in red, a snowmobile adventure, a reindeer sleigh ride, a husky-dog experience, tobogganing and time to play in the snow.
A two-course lunch, hot drinks and thermal clothing are provided, plus inflight catering on the specially chartered plane – the operator has trips from 10 UK airports on dates this December.
Book it: Newmarket Holidays’ Lapland Santa Experience Day starts at £499 for adults and £449 for children between the ages of two and 15.
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