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Family vacations are for making memories. But it can be hard to please everyone in the family when trying to make the best decision as to where to travel. Fortunately, these destinations might just do the trick, offering something for people of all ages and types to enjoy.
What’s not to love about Costa Rica? An ideal family travel playground, the country is filled with exotic wildlife, including an abundance of colorful birds, monkeys and the incredibly adorable sloth. You’ll find gorgeous beaches and lush jungle, as well as the opportunity for scenic hikes, swimming under waterfalls, zip-lining, kayaking and more. Even kids as young as six can ride river rapids on a “safari float,” a gentle river ride over Class I and II rapids. If your timing is right, you might even be able to witness a mother turtle hauling herself up on the beach to lay her eggs, an unforgettable experience for travelers of all ages.
The Black Hills, South Dakota
Most people come to the Black Hills to see Mount Rushmore, but this beautiful region offers many other sights and attractions too. Kids, and the kid at heart, will love digging for mammoth bones, splashing in water parks and exploring Wind Cave, one of the longest in the world. At Custer State Park, there are all sorts of family-friendly activities, including taking a paddleboat out on Lake Sylvan, famously used as the backdrop for scenes in a number of films, including “National Treasure: Book of Secrets,” fishing, horseback riding and wildlife watching. By taking a scenic drive on Wildlife Loop Road, you’ll encounter the famous begging burros, along with bison, elk, deer, pronghorn, mountain goats and more. Hill City offers the chance to relive the Old West on a historic 1880 steam train, and in Rapid City, you can embark on a wildlife safari at Bear Country U.S.A., visit Cosmos Mystery Area where “the laws of nature seem to have gone completely berserk,” and take a selfie with a giant Aldabra tortoise at Reptile Gardens.
New York City, New York
Visiting New York City is the perfect opportunity to teach your kids about U.S. history in a much more fascinating way than they could ever learn by studying books. Visit the Statue of Liberty, one of the nation’s most recognized symbols of freedom, and walk in the footsteps of the millions of immigrants who came through Ellis Island in hopes of a better life. At Ground Zero, they’ll be able to link what they’ve heard about 9/11 to the actual site and read the names of the victims that are etched in the bronze panels that surround the twin reflecting pools. Of course, there are plenty of opportunities for fun too, including watching the performers in Central Park, visiting the zoo and walking through the bright lights of Times Square.
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming/Montana/Idaho
All kids should have the chance to experience Yellowstone National Park before they grow up. One of America’s most spectacular national parks, it boasts more geothermal features, including hot springs, mud spots and geysers, than anywhere else on Earth. They’ll be in awe watching Old Faithful shoot steam as high as 185 feet into the sky, and watching many other lesser-known geysers too, along with the gurgling mud pots, colorful paint pots and brilliant multi-colored hot springs. Grand Prismatic Spring, the largest hot spring in the country, was named for its striking coloration in hues that match the rainbow dispersion of white light by an optical prism of orange, yellow, red, green and blue. Stop at the Old Faithful Visitor Center to pick up an infrared-thermometer gun that takes readings of thermal pools when pointed at the water – the kids are guaranteed to love it. Of course, they’ll also love seeing all the wildlife, including elk, bison, Bighorn sheep, and perhaps even the more elusive bear or wolf.
London is a family-friendly destination for parents who want their kids to experience a major European city. While English is obviously spoken, it still feels like a foreign place, and they’re likely to be fascinated with the world they may have seen on screen in Harry Potter or other films. Teens and older kids will especially enjoy the ghoulish tales heard at the Tower of London. Europe’s first fortress, it was constructed in the 11th century at the request of William the Conqueror. Queen Anne Boleyn was beheaded there in 1536 and is rumored to still haunt the place. Princess lovers won’t want to miss Buckingham Palace, the home of a real-life Queen, Queen Elizabeth. Gather at the big iron gates for the Changing of the Guards, where soldiers march out in their trademark red coats and black hats, accompanied by music and royal horsemen.
Families who travel to Hawaii frequently know that it’s a great place for kids to not only experience striking natural beauty, but a multicultural environment and a true aloha spirit. The sun is out nearly every day of the year, and in Honolulu on the island of Oahu, older kids and teens will be able to experience the legendary scene at Waikiki and have the chance to learn to surf, boogie board, parasail or even paddle an authentic outrigger canoe. While families love the collection of Honolulu’s beachfront hotels, a highlight for many parents is the chance for kids to learn firsthand what the Aloha spirit is all about. It’s more than just an expression, but a way of living and treating people with kindness and generosity.
Grand Cayman, The Cayman Islands
Families that enjoy diving and snorkeling together can enjoy one of the most breathtaking underwater worlds on the planet by heading to Grand Cayman Island. The largest of the three Cayman Islands it’s a water lover’s paradise with a multitude of family-friendly activities and attractions. many of which are right on picture-postcard beaches or in the warm waters that are as clear as a swimming pool. At Sting Ray City, a shallow sandbar, the kids can wade out into the sea where they’ll almost instantly have hundreds of gentle stingrays all around them. They can even feed them by hand for an especially unforgettable, if ticklish, experience.
Cape Town, South Africa
Bring the kids on a trip of a lifetime by booking flights to Cape Town. You’ll find lots to explore here and throughout South Africa, including opportunities for kid-friendly safaris in renowned places like Kruger National Park. Here you’ll have the chance to spot the “Big Five” along with hippos, crocs, and giraffes, among many other creatures. Just outside Simon’s Town, a suburb of Cape Town is Boulders Beach where thousands of African penguins can be seen, with summer the peak period. Plus you can swim in the calm, clear blue waters, thanks to the granite boulders that protect it from the wind and large waves.
Queenstown, New Zealand
New Zealand is incredibly diverse, with soaring mountains, wild coastlines with beautiful beaches, sparkling lakes, waterfalls, hot springs to soak in, and much more. While the North Island offers plenty of delights for the kids and adults alike, including the Hobbiton set, if you’re an outdoor loving family and don’t have time to explore both islands, consider flying into Queenstown on the South Island. It’s the adventure capital of the country, and some say the world, not to mention some of the most breathtaking scenery for enjoying it all. There are endless opportunities for hiking along with big thrills like jet boating and whitewater rafting which even kids as young as three can enjoy along with zip lining for those six and up and even bungee jumping for older kids, 10 and up.
Ireland is for everyone as a land filled with castles and myths, rich history, and incredibly friendly people. There are countless opportunities for hiking through lush mountain scenery, beaches to play on, and medieval feasts to enjoy. Many of the pubs are kid-friendly and local families often join in music sessions to play traditional music together. In Dublin, you can wander through Phoenix Park, Europe’s largest city park and visit the zoo, and explore the ancient artifacts at the National Museum of Ireland which includes the famous bog bodies. Other highlights around the country the kids are sure to enjoy include the Blarney Stone at Blarney Castle, Bunratty Castle with its creepy dungeon and medieval banquets, and countless national parks from Wicklow and Killarney to remote Glenveagh.
The waterways of Southeast Alaska serve as the summer feeding grounds for humpback whales that feast on large schools of baitfish and krill. They’re known for their unique bubble net feeding here, an unforgettable sight that’s sure to thrill everyone in the family. This is also a great place to witness a glacier, with close-up views of Mendenhall Glacier easily reached with a short trek. If you’re really adventurous, you can take a guided walk via helicopter. Nearby at Eagle Beach, there will be countless bald eagles feasting on salmon during the summer months. Right in town, the Mount Roberts Tramway provides stunning views over it all, and you’ll also find plenty of fun shops, famous eateries like Tracy’s King Crab Shack for a mouthwatering feast, and the Alaska State Museum for discovering the city’s past.
While Newfoundland may not be on your radar, it should be. This easternmost province has so much to offer with endless activities for all ages, including some of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet, making travel with kids infinitely easier and more rewarding too. It’s one of the world’s best places to see whales, with the largest population of humpbacks that return every year to feast on the capelin. If you can visit around mid-June, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to spot lots of whales and icebergs that float in from Greenland. Moose are commonly seen throughout the province too. By traveling to the tip of the Great Northern Peninsula, you can also visit L’anse aux Meadows, the only authenticated Viking site in North America, complete with a recreated Viking village that includes guides in period dress.
The Yucatan, Mexico
The Yucatan is another great place to take the kids with a well-developed tourism infrastructure and lots of fun things to see and do. In Quintana Roo there are beautiful freshwater pools carved from the rocks called cenotes for swimming in, snorkeling opportunities, ancient ruins to visit, sandy beaches to play on and charming towns to explore. You can hit one of three theme parks, go snorkeling with the turtles and swimming with the dolphins, and in Tulum, located along cliffs overlooking the cerulean sea below, you’ll be able to explore one of the last walled cities to be built by the Maya people. The archaeological sites are incredibly well preserved and it’s easy to imagine the once-bustling community.
Iceland may not seem like a destination the kids would love, but this is a place that’s truly magical for people of all ages, from the other-worldly landscapes complemented with a backdrop of colorful, dancing northern lights to erupting geysers and hot springs like the legendary Blue Lagoon. Bathing in the warm milky turquoise waters encircled by black lava rocks with the steam rising all around is truly a surreal experience. And, as most Icelanders believe in elves, or “Huludufok,” which translates to “hidden folk,” they’ll be fascinated with the tales of these fantastical creatures that are said to be invisible to the human eye. Talk with a local, and they’re likely to have a story or two about them, in fact, many building projects have been diverted to avoid their reputed habitats.
There are many kid-friendly destinations in Japan, but for a place that offers activities the whole family will enjoy, you’ll be especially spoiled for options in Tokyo. Let the teens explore Akihabara, where every other store on its main street is either a video game shop, a toy shop or a manga retailer (a Japanese-style comic book store). You’ll find plenty of parks and interactive museums to explore together too. And, Tokyo Disney Resort is an experience not-to-be-missed. Imagine a Magic Kingdom that combines the best of Disney World and Disneyland.