Half term’s here and (whisper it quietly) summer’s on the horizon. If you’ve yet to book your next trip, we’re here to help. So whether you seek the adventure of a lifetime or somewhere simply perfect for a staycation, we have all the answers
My family and I love wildlife and an African safari has always been on my bucket list. However, I’ve always thought of it as an adult-only adventure. Are there any safari lodges that cater to young kids?
Lewa House, Kenya
Lewa House is a family home, and you’ll feel that by staying in one of its beautiful thatched-roof family cottages. There’s also plenty to occupy aside from game drives, like freshwater crab hunts and visits to a maasai village.
Samara Private Game Reserve, South Africa
Children of all ages are warmly welcomed here and are exceptionally well-catered to. Tailored for under 12s, the Samara Kids’ Programme features ‘outdoor classroom’ bush excursions, indigenous rock painting and story-telling by the fire.
Singita Ebony Lodge, South Africa
Singita Ebony Lodge is a jaw-droppingly beautiful colonial style lodge that leaves no stone unturned when it comes to spoiling families. Custom activities for young guests include astronomy, animal tracking and mountain biking, while Singita’s socially responsible ethos will keep them grounded with a visit to the Justicia community village.
My kids are pre-school age. Which European cities are best enjoyed out of school holidays to avoid the crowds?
- Venice: Summer in Venice can be downright unpleasant but the first half of May has fewer tourists and less traffic on the canals. After a wallet-emptying gondola ride, climb to the balcony of St Mark’s Basilica, then let ’em loose to chase pigeons in the piazza below.
- Dubrovnik: Cruise ships descend on Dubrovnik in peak season, which peters off around the end of September. Beat the crowds by checking the cruise ship arrival schedule (portdubrovnik.hr) and explore the walled city by entering via the Ulica Svetog Dominika gate.
- Barcelona: February is chilly, but the Santa Eulàlia festival in Barcelona is terrific for mini travellers, with street parades featuring fantasy characters like gegants (the giants), and toddler-friendly fun aplenty, from human-tower building through to puppetry.
My kids are in secondary school and I’d like to take them somewhere that proves educational. Which destinations do you suggest?
Snowmobiling, glacier hiking, volcanoes – Iceland has all the big-ticket adventures for outdoorsy teens and they’ll learn a thing or two about the might of Mother Nature, in particular, Iceland’s geothermal energy (fun fact: it actually powers the city of Reykjavik). There’s the monumental landscapes, steaming geysers and thundering waterfalls of the Golden Circle, and Krísuvík’s famous Blue Lagoon, but elsewhere, Hveragerði’s geothermal park is a hoot. They’ll never forget bathing in natural outdoor hot springs.
Pizza and gelato aside, Italy overflows with culture, especially in Rome, but immersing the kids in history doesn’t have to be dull. Brandishing swords and shields, and donning helmets and armour, the two-hour Roman Gladiator School sessions run by Gruppo Storico Romano are wildly fun (even for the grumpiest of teens) and include a guided tour of the Colosseum arena and Museum of Gladiators.
Mexico is another enriching destination to expand young minds. Touch down in Mexico City to take in museums, eat tostadas and watch a Lucha Libre wrestling match. On your way to the Caribbean shores of the Yucatan Peninsula, stop at Palenque. Staying in the jungle and exploring ancient Mayan temples by day, listening to howler monkeys call from the treetops at night – you’ll need to bribe your kids to leave.
We always head to our home country for the summer holidays but this year we want a big family adventure. What do you recommend?
WHY NOT… HIT THE ROAD ACROSS CALIFORNIA
Pacific Coast Highway 1 is the stuff of legend for a reason. With rugged beaches, frolicking sea lions, epic views and equally epic sights (like the iconic Bixby Bridge), driving the Pacific coastline – the kids blasting the stereo and singing at the top of their lungs – will be a road-trip your kids will talk about for years to come, particularly if you’ve driven it in a classic Airstream.
WHY NOT… TAKE TO THE HIGH SEAS FOR A CRUISE
Kids will go mad for the floating playgrounds operated by Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Disney, with ginormous slides, ice skating rinks and fun-filled youth programmes aplenty, but for something more intrepid, try a Lindblad Expedition. In partnership with National Geographic, these expedition-style voyages venture to wild destinations like the Galápagos islands or Alaska, with kids’ programmes overseen by certified educators and naturalists.
WHY NOT.. GO ISLAND HOPPING IN FANTASTIC FIJI
With 330 islands, crazy-clear water and unspoilt white-sand beaches, not to mention wonderful resorts with award-winning kids’ clubs, Fiji is outstanding for island-hopping and there’s an added bonus: Fijians are among the friendliest people on earth. In between swimming and gallivanting on beaches searching for starfish, your babes will become best friends with local kids before you have the chance to say “Bula”.
I fancy a family staycation for half term but want a room that also offers privacy for my husband and I. Where should I book?
Recently reopened after a substantial refurbishment, Jumeirah Beach Hotel‘s polished rooms can accommodate two adults and two children aged under 12 in one king size and one twin bed respectively. But if it’s privacy you seek then each of the ‘Ocean’ rooms can be booked with an interconnecting room next door. With complimentary access to Wild Wadi for the duration of your stay thrown in, chances are you won’t be seeing much of your children, regardless. At JW Marriott Marquis Hotel Dubai – the world’s tallest five-star hotel, an accolade your kids will love – two Deluxe rooms can be booked to interconnect, or one attached to a more spacious suite. Staying next to Ski Dubai is also likely to rack up the brownie points, and Kempinski Hotel Mall of the Emirates offers two Deluxe room types that can interconnect.
THE MAGIC MOMENT
Meeting Mickey and Co at Walt Disney World Resort
With four theme parks and two water parks, the wish-list topping Walt Disney World Resort is purpose built for enrapturing children. No matter their age, the wonderful world of Disney has undoubtedly waved its magical wand over your kids at some point, and there’s plenty of reasons to plan a trip this year – not least for the hotly anticipated late 2019 opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Meanwhile, the outstanding Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World Resort is ready to roll out its magic carpet for guests from May through September. As part of special packages timed to coincide with the cinema release of the live-action Aladdin, the resort will also offer Arabia-inspired drinks, dishes and spa treatments. Better still, its spectacular Royal Suite can be expanded to fit nine bedrooms, so no family member misses out.
My kids have (very) healthy appetites and I’m worried about running up a huge hotel bill. Where are some all-inclusive options?
Top billing here would have to go to the wonderful Furaveri Island Resort & Spa in the Maldives. Food and drink prices in the Maldives can test any budget, which is what makes Furaveri’s all-inclusive option so attractive if you’re travelling here with kids. All meals and non-alcoholic drinks (as well as selected alcoholic) are offered, with the choice of cuisines equally generous – everything from Italian through to Thai. A trip to Dubai’s two-hotel JA The Resort may take you no time at all, but its secluded spot by the sea makes it feel every bit like a mini holiday. Book a minimum three-night stay and you can go all-inclusive, which covers the day’s three main meals as well as snacks and drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic). What’s more, kids aged under 12 are free.
I like the idea of our family travelling by train (it sounds less stressful than a road trip). What are some of the best railway journeys?
If your kids are spellbound by all things Harry Potter, you’ll earn a bucket-load of brownie points by boarding The Jacobite, a steam train which operates across Scotland’s scenic Highlands. That’s because the Jacobite is best known as the Hogwarts Express, the role it played in the film series.
An adventure of a different kind can be had onboard the day-train Belmond Hiram Bingham, which snakes its way up Peru’s Machu Picchu. Catering well to families, there’s live music in the observation car and the three-course menu you’ll enjoy can be adapted to please any fussy little eater. Once at Machu Picchu, a private guide will whisk you to
the best spots of the Citadel for a truly memorable experience.
THE MAGIC MOMENT
Seeing natural wonders
It’s not just parents who need a break. Kids too, can get overloaded with the excessive ‘noise’ from modern life, whether it’s pressure from exams or overexposure to technology, which is why whisking them away to nature is always a good idea. But why not take it even further, and take them to see one of the world’s big-ticket natural wonders? Whether it’s watching the sun rise over enormous dunes in the Liwa Oasis, listening to their voices echo across the Grand Canyon, or feeling the spray from Niagara Falls on their skin, witnessing such tremendous natural beauty up close will thrill them in a way an iPad never will.
As a family I’d like to make our travels more meaningful. In what ways can we give back on our travels?
Eat at local restaurants
Dining at a local eatery is a win-win: it helps to support community business and it gives children an insight into a destination’s culture and traditions. They won’t get a plastic toy with their meal, but they probably won’t ever forget that time they ate rice with their hands!
Purchase souvenirs from artists at local markets
Market hauls may never replace the Lego, but buying that handmade ukulele, the beaded necklace threaded by a local tribeswoman, or the animal shaped from discarded flip-flops found on the beach not only helps support artisans whose livelihoods depend on tourism, it will create a lasting memory of the trip to take home.
Hire a local tour guide
Whether it’s tracking down the best gelateria or the nearest bathroom, a guide’s expertise and knowledge can prove invaluable. The job supports them financially, though many are just as interested in learning about your family and your culture – so say yes if they invite you over to meet their family.
My kids like nothing more than a hotel kids’ club, but which ones go above and beyond to really engage them?
Famous for golf it may be, but Scotland’s Gleneagles is swiftly making a name for itself as an idyllic family retreat. Dating to 1924, this historic hotel is forward thinking when it comes to planning kids’ activities. Working on the premise that ‘whatever an adult can do, a child can do too’, kids can drive a mini Land Rover, train a gundog, try their hand at fishing and falconry or even own a pony for a day (just hope that all that mucking out will put them off making the deal permanent). The great outdoors also provides a fitting playground at Constance Ephelia in Seychelles, where budding Tarzans can swing from tree to tree on a zip line. Culinary skills can also be sharpened through cooking classes, alongside a programme of other fun workshops. That’s also very much the case at LUX* Belle Mare in Mauritius, home to an outdoor culinary school, tennis coaching, adventure trips around the island and local language and dance classes. In the unlikely event of having time to fill, the resort’s unique cake-decorating bar summons sticky fingers.
THE MAGIC MOMENT
Stepping into snow in Lapland
The magical Santa Claus Village in Rovaniemi, Finland (near the Arctic Circle), is like stepping into the pages of a storybook. Besides meeting the big man himself, your wide-eyed kids can attend elf school or visit the post office where elves sift through a reported half a million letters sent to Santa each year. If you’re lucky, your family might even get the chance to witness the spectacular light show (perhaps through the roof of a glass igloo), the Aurora Borealis, the natural phenomenon colouring the sky approximately 200 nights a year. Add to that reindeer sleigh rides, a snowmobiling adventure, and meeting adorable Siberian huskies, and you can safely notch it up as one of those extraordinary once-in-a-lifetime experiences they’ll probably tell their grandkids about one day.
Words by: Michelle Wranik-Hicks