Top Summer Travel Tips for 2015

The Esther Williams Swimming Pool at the Grand Hotel Mackinac Island is named for the actress whose 1947 movie, “This Time for Keeps,” was filmed at the property.
The Esther Williams Swimming Pool at the Grand Hotel Mackinac Island is named for the actress whose 1947 movie, “This Time for Keeps,” was filmed at the property.

Spring is here, which means families should be coming through your door any day now (if they haven’t already) to talk to you about their summer vacations. But don’t wait; be proactive and reach out to them — and do your homework.

If your clients are at all like those polled by MMGY Global for its 2014 Portrait of American Travelers (POAT), they’re probably going to want scenery and beaches and such, but you should also expect queries about “Places never visited before,” “Visiting a historic site,” “Guided tours with access to local experiences that would otherwise be unknown or inaccessible,” and “Participating in unique guest experiences that reflect local culture.” All of these were cited as desirable vacation attributes by more than half of the respondents. Further down, but still significant, are “Outdoor adventure” (four out of 10) and “Learning a new skill/activity” (nearly one-third).

Travel Agent considered all of the above while putting together our third annual summer travel preview, offering news, tips and ideas for upgrading the family vacation experience. For those whose trip of choice runs to beach resorts and cruises, we’ve focused on what’s new and different in these realms as well.

Upgrading doesn’t necessarily mean upselling, but for your luxury clients, or those who want to go the extra mile this summer, consider accommodations such as Preferred Residences. According to the POAT, one in five travelers stayed in a vacation rental home as an alternative to a traditional hotel or resort during the past two years, while twice that many expressed an interest in doing so. With its collection of homes, villas, lodges and condominiums — 18 properties throughout North America (including Hawaii), plus one each in Tanzania, Dominican Republic, Ireland, Italy, Spain and Switzerland — Preferred Residences fits the bill. The “Preferred Family” feature on its website provides a checklist of age groups, amenities and services to help you find a property that best suits your client’s specific needs.

A mother and daughter get a foot massage and pedicure at the JW Marriott Cancun.
A mother and daughter get a foot massage and pedicure at the JW Marriott Cancun.

One trend to consider when qualifying your family clients for their summer vacation is the importance of an “amenity spa that is part of a hotel, resort or cruise ship” — deemed desirable by well over one-third of POAT respondents. Moreover, the International Spa Association, which tracks industry trends, says that 25 percent of the country’s approximately 20,000 spas now offer services specifically for the under-13 set — up from 15 percent just four years ago. And half of all spas offer services for teenagers, up from a third over the same time period. Here are some examples:

FarmHouse Fresh introduced their products in teen- and kid-friendly spa treatments at Beaches Resorts last summer. Young spa-goers can select from packages such as a 45-minute mani-pedi and facials and one-hour body treatments, which include fruit smoothies or other non-alcoholic beverages. The treatments focus on skin hydration and rejuvenation using antioxidant-rich oils, live fruit cell technology and shea butter.

Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas offers the Generation Y Spa, where nine- to 17-year-olds can experience mother-daughter or father-son massages, as well as fruity facials, acne treatments, surfer scrubs and “fake bake” sunless tanning. At Paradisus Punta Cana, the YHI Spa’s themed treatments for kids include the Golden Flower Biomassage, scrubs, facials, manicures and pedicures.

Spa Grande at Maui’s Grand Wailea - A Waldorf Astoria Hotel includes options for children ages six to 17, allowing them to sample 25-minute versions of signature treatments such as an aromatherapy or crystal massage, a coconut and papaya polish and a tropical or acne facial, as well as honey mango pedicures, chocolate coconut manicures and hair braiding. The spa at Honolulu’s Halekulani at Waikiki Beach offers makeup lessons for teens and tweens, as well as a temporary Polynesian armband tattoo.

The Mayan-inspired spa at the JW Marriott Cancun offers treatments for kids ages six to 15, including a Peppermint Patty leg massage. Guests can also splurge on the full Mayan Princess treatment, which includes kids’ manicure and pedicure, glitter makeup, sunscreen application, hairstyling and more. The Ritz-Carlton, Cancun’s Kayanta Spa offers teen-tailored treatments such as facials; an aromatherapy massage for the hands, neck and shoulders; and a back and neck massage. The Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit’s Kids Spa provides hydrating massages, facials and beauty services for children as young as four years old. Little spa-goers can stretch with a Tarzan and Jane massage, or bask in the scent of a Flower Shower massage. There’s even a Sunrise massage for tots ages one to three.

- David Moseder

Experiential Travel in North America

With the summer travel season right around the corner, destination resorts in the U.S. and Canada are rolling out new experiential travel opportunities, along with established favorite activities, for active families. Here are some vacation options to consider.

A family plays a round on the Skamania Lodge golf course, a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary.
A family plays a round on the Skamania Lodge golf course, a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary.

On the East Coast

The Winnetu Oceanside Resort in Martha’s Vineyard, MA, aims to please guests of all ages, offering parent/toddler, children’s and teen programs. Adults can take a stroll along the beach or unwind in a complimentary yoga class, while the kids have some fun of their own. The Children’s Day program offers activities such as arts and crafts, scavenger hunts and pool relay races. For “big kids” (ages 13 to 16), the Martha’s Vineyard Adventure Camp has kayaking, mountain biking, rope course and zip-line. Guests can also take antique fire-truck tours, play on the life-size outdoor chess set, and visit the fitness center and Turtle Pond. Then there are clambakes, lighthouse trips, an All-Aboard VIP Island Queen Ferry Package, a water-taxi cruise to Edgartown and more. Winnetu Oceanside Resort offers several special price packages during the summer, including the “After July Fourth” special, where visitors can book three nights or more and get a 30 percent discount off regular rates. Reach out to General Manager Dan Scully ([email protected]) with any queries.

Just opened and ready for the summer season, following a $22 million transformation, Georgia’s Holiday Inn Resort Jekyll Island promises an immersive experience in the Golden Isles. Guests can take advantage of a quarter-mile of private beach, bike rentals, paddle boarding, skim boarding and more. For families, the hotel offers a Kids Club with daily activities (and in the winter months, guests can enjoy the Snowbird Activities Program). On scenic Jekyll Island, families can enjoy local attractions such as Summer Waves Water Park, Jekyll Island Golf Course and the Georgia Sea Turtle Center. The go-to person is General Manager Jason Smith ([email protected], 912-635-2211).

In the Midwest and South

Michigan’s Grand Hotel Mackinac Island on Lake Huron is famous for its fudge and historic downtown, complete with Victorian cottages and tour guides dressed in full period costumes. The only transportation permitted on the island is by horse and carriage or bicycle. Since opening in 1886, the Grand Hotel has been visited by U.S. presidents and featured as the set for several movies. From July through August, the hotel’s children’s program provides activities such as scavenger hunts, bike trips, horseback riding, movie nights, and visits to the island’s butterfly house. Adults can enjoy a round of golf at the 18-hole Jewel course, play tennis at the private courts or visit Astor’s Salon and Spa. The concierge can design private, personalized carriage tours of the island upon request. Special price packages, including Family Added Value Days, are offered throughout the summer, . On select nights in June and July, guests who stay two nights get the third night half off, or stay one night and get the second night 25 percent off. Direct any questions about the resort to Julie Rogers ([email protected], 517-349-4600), director of marketing.

Young guests at the Winnetu Oceanside Resort board the property’s jitney for a ride to the beach.
Young guests at the Winnetu Oceanside Resort board the property’s jitney for a ride to the beach.

Family-owned East Silent Lake Resort in Minnesota is a quiet place where adults can relax and kids can take advantage of the daily recreational activities. The resort has several different styles of lodging, including luxury lake homes, multi-bedroom cabins, and guest rooms and suites for rent. Children’s daily activities include sand castle building contests, scavenger hunts and water games. For teens, there’s waterskiing, nature hikes, fishing and tubing. East Silent Lake Resort also hosts social events such as bonfires, barbecues and morning pontoon rides. Guests are encouraged to explore the surrounding Otter Tail county communities, like Maplewood and Glendalough state parks, offering hiking, bird watching, horseback riding and fishing. The owner is Nick Leonard ([email protected], 651-308-0766); for reservations, call 218-758-2716 or mail [email protected].

Tucked away in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee is the French Broad Outpost Ranch. Guest rooms at the ranch’s Lone Star Hotel are built entirely of wood and decorated in old western themes. Guests can participate in a variety of activities, ranging from horseback riding, kids’ rodeos and square dancing, to white-water rafting and cattle drives. The ranch has several price packages, including buy-one-night/get-one-free specials and discounts for young children. For details, reach out to proprietors Shawn and Jo Ann Gannon (423-487-3120) or e-mail via the website.

This summer, Texas has a new outdoor experience: The Inn at Dos Brisas. At this intimate, all-inclusive resort, older children will enjoy the second-largest private horseback riding arena in the state. The climate-controlled arena has 12 rescued horses, with about 30 horses on the property. For the younger lot, there’s the new Camp Brisas, led by supervisors who will teach kids archery, gardening, fishing, swimming, cooking and more. The camp is open to ages four to 18, but is geared toward elementary and middle school-aged children. Managing Director Steve Shotsberger ([email protected]) or Sales Director Mike Hardtmeier ([email protected]) can handle agent queries.

The (Not Too) Wild West

For families looking for an adventurous summer vacation, there’s Colter Bay Village on Jackson Lake inside Grand Teton National Park, WY. The most popular accommodations are the 166 authentic homestead cabins that have been completely refurbished to include modern amenities. Private and semi-private, one- and two-room cabins are available, as well as RV and camp sites. Recreation includes hiking trails, canoe rentals, guided fishing trips and horseback riding. Visitors are encouraged to take part in Snake River Wild & Scenic Rafting trips for a close-up look at the local wildlife and to view a stretch of the Teton Range of the Rocky Mountains. For general property or reservation queries, e-mail [email protected] or call 307-543-2811.

This summer, Terranea Resort near Los Angeles is launching Terranea Academy, with activities for 10- to 16-year-olds. Its six weeks of themed programming, beginning second week of July, covers cooking and edible gardening classes, art and design sessions, and outdoor activities such as kayaking, surfing and horseback riding. Then there’s the Tides Pool Kids Club, designed to educate three- to-12-year-olds on Terranea’s history through activities, science experiments and locally inspired art projects.

For special requests, agents should reach out to Verenise Celaya ([email protected], 310-265-2738), sales account executive.

At Terranea Resort’s cove, families can sculpt a sand castle or simply soak up the sun.
At Terranea Resort’s cove, families can sculpt a sand castle or simply soak up the sun.

In the mountains of northern Washington State, Skamania Lodge is partnering with a local firm on an experience that allows families to make their own cider. Guests take a short bike ride to the Jester & Judge Cider Company, where they can choose their own ingredients to concoct their own cider. Both alcoholic and non-alcoholic ciders are available. For more culinary fun, families can also head out for a half-day of fishing on the Columbia River and have the property’s culinary team serve up the day’s catch that evening.

Skamania will also be welcoming back its “Pirate Ships!” with two vessels docked in nearby Stevenson on July 16 and 17; tickets are available to guests. The first cruise will be a leisurely sail on the Columbia River and the second will involve a “pirate battle” complete with cannon blasts.

Leisure Sales Manager Erin Peterson ([email protected], 509-427-2516) can handle agent requests.

Also in Washington, the Woodmark Hotel offers a floatplane trip to San Juan Island. There, families can enjoy a catered picnic on a remote beach before exploring the area’s other beaches and coves on foot. Alternatively, the family can spend the afternoon whale watching. The floatplane leaves from directly in front of the hotel; on some days, the hotel can arrange transportation to the Seaport, where a ferry is available.

The agent contact at the property is Mahwish Chisti ([email protected], 425-739-6370), business travel sales manager.

Quebec, Canada

Families that want to try a new spin on zip-lining can travel to Quebec’s Manoir Hovey, about 75 minutes from Montreal. Kids will love that it sits directly on Lake Massawippi and has activities like fishing (taught by a local), paddle boarding, canoeing and 135 hiking trails for all levels. An experience families shouldn’t pass up is VeloVolant, about an hour’s drive from the hotel. VeloVolant involves a pedal-pushed cart that travels along a zip-line. Passengers are fully strapped in and pedal slowly 100 feet above the Canadian forest for a little more than a half-mile. Children must be at least 12 years of age and 55 inches tall. For details, get in touch with Manoir Hovey’s General Manager Jason Stafford ([email protected]. 819-842-2421).

—Michelle Krol, Adam Leposa and Natalie Maneval

Family Adventures in Alaska

For summer 2015, Alaska is rolling out a series of new experiential travel options that could be a good fit for families. The Alaska Railroad has launched its Curry Jetboat Adventure with Mahay’s on the line’s Hurricane Turn train. The new itinerary takes advantage of the train’s flagstop schedule, departing from Talkeetna depot with a guide to disembark in Curry. There, guests tour the historic resort location and then board a jetboat for a ride on the Susitna River, which offers views of local wildlife and Mount McKinley. There is also a guided stop at a Dena’ina Indian Encampment and a trapper’s cabin before the jetboat returns to Talkeetna.

Alaska Railroad’s Hurricane Turn train.
Alaska Railroad’s Hurricane Turn train.

Families with older teens may wish to head to Ketchikan, where the Ketchikan Kayak Co. is introducing the first e-bike (electronic assist) tour in Southeast Alaska. The tour explores the northern end of Ketchikan along the “road to nowhere,” where the town’s paved road system ends. There, guests continue on foot on a guided wilderness hike through the rainforest, followed by another bike ride to the nearby shoreline, where guests will have a smoked salmon picnic before returning to the Ketchikan Kayak Co. oceanfront facility. The tour is scaled for six people, but agents can make arrangements for private groups of up to eight with advance booking. Participants must be 16 years or older.

Finally, Seward has a new zip-line tour. Stoney Creek Canopy Adventures is a sister company to Denali Zipline Tours in Talkeetna. The Seward company offers a three-hour tour with eight zip-lines, plus three aerial skybridges and two rappels. All participants are accompanied by two guides.      

—Adam Leposa

Why You Should Book Hawaii ASAP

In what has been one of the worst winters in much of the U.S., many travelers are longing to trade in their snow shovels for mai tais in Hawaii. But instead of allowing your clients to daydream about their summer vacation to the Aloha State, you should book it now.

“Summer travel is a busy time, so booking [right after the winter holidays] is a good rule of thumb,” says Ryan Mielke, Regency Travel, Fort Lauderdale. Indeed, tour operators, including Classic Vacations and Pleasant Holidays, tell us clients have been booking their Hawaii vacations five to nine months out since the end of 2014.

Clients make the mistake of lumping Hawaii in with other warm-weather hot spots like the Caribbean and Mexico, but value in the summer is not as easy to find in Hawaii — unless you book several months ahead. “Many people think summertime in the northern hemisphere means that it is low season in all tropical areas, with lower rates and higher availability,” says Caroline Bracewell of Easy Escapes Travel in Atlanta. “This is true for some areas, though not all.”

For a look at what the Aloha State has to offer families, check out the “Hawaii Family Focus” supplement, now online at

—Joe Pike

Mexico: A Cultural Cornucopia

The Tulum archeological site, which has a swimmable beach, is a fun day trip from Cancun and Riviera Maya.
The Tulum archeological site, which has a swimmable beach, is a fun day trip from Cancun and Riviera Maya.

Family-friendly resorts offering kids’ clubs and such abound in Mexico, especially in Cancun and Riviera Maya. The new kids’ facility opening in July at Fiesta Americana Grand Coral Beach Cancun Resort and Spa is the latest example of this. But for a more immersive, fulfilling vacation experience, encourage your clients to use these properties as bases for exploring the country’s rich history and natural resources.

In Cancun, they can take a trip around Mexico without going far. Xoximilco Cancun is a replica of the iconic Xochimilco neighborhood in Mexico City. At Cancun’s version, you’ll find canal rides on authentic trajinera boats, local food and drinks, plus live music from across Mexico.

Also playing now in Cancun: a Mayan-themed culinary and theatrical experience from Cirque du Soleil. Their newest show, JOYA, takes place in a custom-designed, 600-seat theater that rests above a lagoon.

Extreme adventure lovers in every family will jump at the chance for a real bungee jump, into the Caribbean Sea that is. Adventure Bay in Cancun operates the bungee. And JetSurf Mexico offers another thrilling experience: motorized surfboards, which are not for the timid. Nor is the zip-line at Garrafon Natural Reef Park on Isla Mujeres near Cancun. It propels riders some 100 feet across the sea.

Of course, cultural excursions can be thrilling as well. Tia Stephanie Tours offers trips to the Yucatan’s Cenotes de Cuzama, reached via horse-drawn carriage. Also, venture into the abyss of the Calcehtok Cave, where a fantastical realm of stalactites and stalagmites awaits.

Mexico’s archaeological riches stretch across the country, and they sometimes lead to a sweet surprise. The Cacao Museum next to the ruins of Uxmal in the Yucatan brings the Mayan origins of chocolate to life. Kids can take part in an ancient ceremony, mix up their own chocolate drink and take home plenty of souvenirs.

In Mexico’s colonial gem, Oaxaca, the Guelaguetza festival in July is an important celebration of indigenous diversity. Locals proudly show off traditional clothing, dance and cuisine. The atmosphere also creates a colorful backdrop for cooking tours and visits to artisanal villages.

One activity kids will especially love involves alebrijes, the mythical animal-like creatures carved in wood. They’re one of Oaxaca’s signature collectables. Some local craftsmen allow visitors to paint their own alebrije, providing a lifetime keepsake.

Mexico’s Pacific Coast is known for its rugged beauty, and family adventures follow suit. The Riviera Nayarit is framed by the Sierra Madre Mountains and the sweeping Banderas Bay. The former offers jungles, orchards, waterfalls and ravines to explore by Jeep safari, while the latter has world-class surfing enclaves, tiny fishing villages and islands surrounded by giant manta rays, sea turtles and exotic tropical fish.

Sea turtles are the region’s mascot, in fact. And summer months bring the chance to participate in release programs run by local nurseries.

In Baja, the town of Loreto provides the perfect vantage point for family eco-adventures. It’s surrounded by waters of the Sea of Cortez, and is so rich in diversity that it’s both a National Marine Park and a UNESCO World Heritage site. A haven for kayaking, diving and snorkeling, some of the best adventures await on nearby islands. They’re inhabited by little other than big-horned sheep and the elusive, rare blue-footed booby.

The Sea of Cortez is an integral part of Los Cabos’ allure, as well. But its wonders aren’t limited to the sea. Cabo’s desert landscape is a backdrop for off-road safaris through the Baja Outback. Deer, foxes and other animals are on constant display. But for something a little more exotic, keep an eye out for camels. Tour operator Cabo Adventures offers beachside camel rides, with a lofty view of the ocean and desert terrain.

—Ana Figueroa

Extraordinary Experiences in the Caribbean

Kids and teens can take to the Caribbean Sea in miniature, single-hull pico boats at Beaches Sailing School.
Kids and teens can take to the Caribbean Sea in miniature, single-hull pico boats at Beaches Sailing School.

The Caribbean abounds with excellent resorts that cater to families with kids’ clubs and such. Here is a sampling of some of the newest experiences that summer travelers with children in tow can look forward to.

Baha Mar Caters to Children: The highly touted new Baha Mar resort on Nassau’s Cable Beach will offer a robust program of experiences called Chickcharnie Explorers, which will provide three- to 14-year-olds a taste of the history, life and culture of The Bahamas. Guests will be able to sign up in advance or once they are at the resort. (Fees for the experiences were still being determined at the time of publication.)

Also, Rosewood at Baha Mar, one of five hotels that will be part of Baha Mar, offers a program where the younger guests will be treated to father-son grilling classes and mother-daughter formal teas in the afternoon. Another fun activity will be a scavenger hunt for kids around the resort, where they will search for and find clues leading them to Chef Cupertino Ortiz, who will be waiting with ice cream sundaes. Children will also enjoy swimming with turtles and exploring the Baha Mar nature preserve.

The Cliff House at the Scrub Island Resort is perched above the azure waters of the Caribbean.
The Cliff House at the Scrub Island Resort is perched above the azure waters of the Caribbean.

Beaches Resorts’ New Sailing Program: As part of its Beaches Sailing School, Beaches Resorts’ new Sailing Fun Experience instructs in four two-hour sessions designed to introduce both children (ages eight and older) and adults to the sport of sailing. Conducted by an American Sailing Association-trained and certified instructor, the new program was recently launched at Beaches Resorts in Negril and Ocho Rios, Jamaica; and Providenciales, Turks and Caicos. The cost is $150 per person.

Joining the ‘Circus’ at Club Med: In June, Club Med Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic will unveil Club Med CREACTIVE by Cirque du Soleil, in which families will be able to learn many of the exciting disciplines showcased in Cirque productions. The original CREACTIVE experience will invite vacationers to participate in a variety of recreational circus acrobatic and artistic activities ranging from high bungee, flying trapeze, aerial silk, tightrope and trampoline to juggling, percussion and dance or mask painting, amongst many others.

Turtle Time at Scrub Island Resort: In the British Virgin Islands, Scrub Island Resort, Spa & Marina has partnered with the on-island dive shop Dive BVI, Association of Reef Keepers and the Conservation & Fisheries Departments to offer a new “Turtle Researcher for A Day” program, an experience that also assists in ongoing sea turtle conservation efforts. By participating in half- and full-day turtle-tagging experiences, clients can learn about these amphibians and the local marine environment. Included is instruction on the latest techniques to safely catch a turtle and take measurements before it is carefully tagged, micro-chipped and released back into the water. Data collected during each adventure will be recorded and used to help global efforts to better understand sea turtles and their conservation.

A rendering of the circus-inspired playscape being developed at Club Med Punta Cana in collaboration with Cirque du Soleil.
A rendering of the circus-inspired playscape being developed at Club Med Punta Cana in collaboration with Cirque du Soleil.

The half-day experience starts at $3,000 and the full-day experience at $4,800 for six guests. Up to six additional guests can participate for $50 extra per additional person. The experience includes gift bags, recognition cards, flash drive with photos from the day, plus fuel, water, adult beverages, snacks, towels and snorkeling gear. The full-day experience also includes lunch and soft drinks at a nearby restaurant. For an additional $75, participating guests can name and “adopt” any tagged turtles. They’ll receive a certificate of adoption with all the details about their turtle and a locally crafted glass turtle.

Moon Palace Treats Children Royally: Just opened in February, the new Moon Palace Jamaica Grandes amenities include the Wired Teen Lounge and The Playroom kids’ club, as well as 17 acres of beach, five swimming pools, multiple restaurants and a FlowRider Double wave simulator, plus the Noir nightclub and Awe Spa. The resort’s 25,000 square feet of multifunctional meeting and event space is suitable for family reunions.

A First for Hyatt: In December, Hyatt Hotels and Resorts, in partnership with Playa Hotels & Resorts, officially entered the Caribbean all-inclusive market with the opening of the Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall and Hyatt Ziva Rose Hall in Montego Bay, Jamaica. While the former is adults-only, the latter caters to guests of all ages with an innovative children’s program offering supervised activities for three- to 12-year-olds, as well as land and water sports for teens and grown-ups. The hotel’s 387 suites include 28 premium swim-up suites with oversized terraces affording garden and ocean views. A variety of restaurants ensures that even the fussiest of young eaters will find something to their liking.

Looking Ahead to Next Summer: Azul Sensatori Jamaica, Karisma Hotels & Resorts’ first and only Caribbean property, will debut its new partnership with Nickelodeon by the end of 2015, making it an even better pitch for families. This collaboration marks the first time Nickelodeon has partnered with an international resort collection. Karisma recently concluded a very successful, seven-year partnership with Fisher-Price. The resort is currently home to the Azulitos Play House offering daily activities for children four to 12 years old and My Gym Children’s Fitness Center for ages two to 12.

More of the Stuff That ‘Dreams’ Are Made of: AMResorts recently rolled out two new family-friendly, all-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean as well as its first entry in Central America. In addition to enjoying ocean views and beach access, families at Dreams Dominicus La Romana in the Dominican Republic can visit the island of Saona, a government-protected natural reserve, located just 30 minutes away.

Dreams Sugar Bay St. Thomas’ amenities include three interconnecting pools with caves and waterfalls; land and water activities such as mini golf, a bumper-boats pool, tennis, snorkeling, non-motorized water sports, beach and water volleyball; and a fitness center. Bonus: It’s in the U.S. Virgin Islands, so there is no passport required for U.S. citizens’ entry — one less hassle for mom and dad to worry about.

Dreams Las Mareas in the northern Guanacaste region of Costa Rica has opened in close proximity to a variety of natural and cultural landmarks. The beachfront resort is close to Guanacaste and Santa Rosa national parks, which can be explored by families through tours and excursions. Younger guests can also enjoy the 44,000-square-foot pool, La Cascada water slide, and a kids pool and whirlpool, as well as other activities at the resort’s teen clubs.

—Joe Pike

Festive Times in Europe

Barbaroja’s Kids Club at Jumeirah Port Soller Hotel & Spa will keep kids busy with board games, TV screens and creative activities.
Barbaroja’s Kids Club at Jumeirah Port Soller Hotel & Spa will keep kids busy with board games, TV screens and creative activities.

The warm weather of the summer months brings a bevy of enticing attractions and festivals to Europe, making it the ideal time for a family vacation. Here’s a sampling of recommendations.

France: Paris in the summer is particularly delightful for families traveling with children. The artificial beach, Paris Plages, is set up along the banks of the Seine, with sprinklers, dedicated play areas, and loungers overlooking the passing river boats. On the weekends in July and August, the Parc Floral hosts outdoor jazz concerts (and the nearby playgrounds even have zip-lines). To coincide with the Summer Solstice on June 21, the Fête de la Musique is a nationwide party with free concerts taking place in both famous venues and on street corners.

To get the most out of a visit to the Louvre, the world’s most popular museum, we highly recommend the treasure hunts organized by THATLou (; [email protected]), which are a fun, adrenaline-pumping way to discover this important art collection. Kids under five play for free, and a supplemental Kid Pack (for ages five to 12) includes entertaining exercises with stickers and puzzles. Philharmonie de Paris, the brand-new classical music concert hall designed by architect Jean Nouvel, hosts a variety of family concerts.

The Doudou Festival in Mons, Belgium, re-enacts the combat between Saint George and a dragon.
The Doudou Festival in Mons, Belgium, re-enacts the combat between Saint George and a dragon.

Parisian hotels, including some voted the best family-friendly properties in Europe by readers of Travel Agent, have stand-out children’s programs. Hôtel Plaza Athénée welcomes children as VIP guests with a wide range of Red Line gifts. Eighty percent of the rooms are interconnecting, and the concierge can recommend an array of personalized family outings. For bookings, reach out to Jeremy Bieuron ([email protected], 011-331-5367-6434) in the Dorchester Collection’s sales department. Four Seasons Hotel George V also has an excellent dedicated children’s program. Recreation Manager Claudia Caringi ([email protected], 011-331-4952-7004) can arrange fun activities at the hotel, including games and private “back of the house” tours.

Outside the capital, summer means festival season in France, with myriad music concerts and theatrical performances to suit every taste. Versailles has spectacular fireworks and fountain shows. The Festival d’Avignon is world-famous for its theater, while jazz takes over the French Riviera with festivals in Nice and in Juan-les-Pins. The Festival de Carcassonne takes place within the walled ramparts of the magical medieval city in southwest France. There’s also an annual Medieval Festival in Bayeux, where the famous tapestry is housed in Normandy.

Belgium: The city of Mons, just 70 miles southwest of Brussels, has been crowned European Capital of Culture in 2015 (along with the Czech city of Pilsen). A quick daytrip from Brussels, Mons has a pretty, historic city center with a UNESCO-listed belfry. Of the year’s exciting events and attractions, we’re most anticipating the Van Gogh-inspired sunflower labyrinth, which will be set up on the Grand Place in the summer. Parents can relax with cocktails in lawn chairs on the square, while their children play in a nearby retro-style amusement park.

In Brussels, we highly recommend the Hotel Amigo as a great luxury value. The special “2-Room Family Package” provides a 50 percent discount on an adjacent room for the kids, along with other benefits. For bookings, contact Senior Reservation Agent Michelle Evrard ([email protected], 011-322-547-4709).

Mallorca: There’s something for everyone on the Mediterranean isle of Mallorca, and its famous beaches are best explored in the summer months. Not to mention boat outings to discover secluded coves. Summer brings the added enticement of patron saints’ festivals (such as Nit de Sant Joan and Festa de la Verge del Carme), plus the popular Festival Chopin and Mallorca Smooth Jazz Festival. Spanish culture is family-centric, and children are adored (and hence embraced into the lifestyle of late-night meals). Star attractions in Palma include the Aquarium and historic Bellver Castle. We highly recommend the Jumeirah Port Soller Hotel & Spa for its Barbaroja’s Kids Club with a range of activities including dance competitions, T-shirt painting, botanical tours and “Art Attack Disney.” For VIP reservations, reach out to Director of Sales Maika Huertas ([email protected], 011-3497-1637-888).

Rome: Italy continues to be one of the most sought-after destinations for American travelers, and Rome boasts some excellent family-friendly hotels voted the best in Europe by readers of Travel Agent.

Hotel Eden deserves a special shout-out for its “Family Time” package, which includes milk and cookies for the kids at turn-down, and a private family lesson in crafting a mosaic masterpiece. Also included is a choice of a three-course family lunch at Il Giardino or a three-hour babysitting service. Travel agents can contact Director of Sales Laura Fiore ([email protected], 011-3933-7112-4916).

Also noteworthy is the kids program at Rome Cavalieri, Waldorf Astoria Hotel & Resorts, featuring Ferrari Kids Indoor Circuit Racing and the popular Gladiator Training, which allows families to learn ancient combat skills with authentic weaponry. Reach out to Egle Antanaityte ([email protected], 011-3906-3509-2010), sales executive.

—Mary Winston Nicklin

Family Deals on the Rails

This summer, traveling throughout Europe with children should be easier — and less expensive. Rail Europe has announced that many European rail passes will allow children to ride free.

In 2015, children ages four to 11 can travel for free when accompanied by an adult on Eurail Global, Eurail Select, Regional Eurail and One-Country Eurail passes. Eurail has 25 pass options and has unlimited rail travel in up to 28 countries.

Traveling in Switzerland with kids is simple with the Swiss Travel Pass and the Swiss Family Card, which enables children ages six to 15 to travel free when with a parent or guardian. Passengers should ask for the Swiss Family Card at the time of booking (the card is free).

In Germany, the German Rail Pass will give two kids ages six to 11 a free ride when accompanied by an adult.

There are several British rail passes to help with travel in England. The BritRail Family Pass lets two children (ages six to 11) to ride free with an adult. On other BritRail products, one child from five to 15 years of age can ride with an adult for free, and additional children, in the same age range, can get a reduced rate. This applies when using a BritRail Pass, a BritRail England Pass and a BritRail South West Pass.

For more information, visit

Ramping Up the Family Cruise

When it comes to summer family travel, “Europe is hot this year,” says Alicia Geiger, a CruiseOne franchise owner, Sinking Spring, PA. “Many families are taking advantage of a stronger dollar to explore Europe and like the ease of doing it by ship,” given that they can see multiple countries or destinations without constant packing and unpacking.

Geiger also sees much more potential for agents in selling multigenerational European travel. “Many grandparents are traveling with their children and grandchildren in order to introduce them to the family’s heritage and ‘homeland,’” she stresses. From May through August, for example, families can sail on Princess Cruises’ 12-day “British Isles” itinerary onboard Royal Princess roundtrip from Southampton, U.K., with calls in England, Scotland, Ireland, Northern Ireland and France.

Back onboard, many lines are also upping the entertainment quotient for kids of all ages. The amenities go way beyond supervised kids’ clubs, but mentioning to clients that family cruises come with those programs may help close the deal — particularly if the client would have to pay for a similar kids’ club experience at a land-based resort.

MSC Cruises now offers children’s areas (and a life-size mascot, Sailor Walkabout) created in partnership with the Lego Group.
MSC Cruises now offers children’s areas (and a life-size mascot, Sailor Walkabout) created in partnership with the Lego Group.

In addition, Norwegian Cruise Line has a robust Nickelodeon partnership that includes such events as character activities and meet-and-greets on Norwegian Jewel, Norwegian Gem, Norwegian Epic, Norwegian Breakaway and Norwegian Getaway. For those desiring a family vacation this fall, the new Norwegian Escape will have those characters too, plus an expanded three-story ropes courses and the largest Aqua Park at sea. The ship’s supervised kids’ program will offer such spaces as a brightly colored Guppies club.

Carnival Cruise Lines fields Dr. Seuss-related activities in Seuss at Sea with a special onboard character parade, interactive story time, arts and crafts activities and a character breakfast. Royal Caribbean International offers the DreamWorks Experience with characters and much more; the newly renovated Freedom of the Seas is among the Royal Caribbean ships that have these playful features.

Starting this summer, Disney Cruise Line guests on select Disney Magic and Disney Wonder sailings to Europe and Alaska also can tap into new “Frozen” experiences inspired by the popular film. Among them are a new deck party, a three-song stage show production (on Disney Magic), new character meet-and-greets and storybook adventures ashore.

Many regions are selling well for summer. “Right now, it is evident that Alaska is doing very well, the Caribbean is doing much better than last year and it is also a great year to go to Europe because of the strength of the dollar,” believes Jeffrey Anderson, executive vice president, Avoya Travel. He says many Europeans haven’t yet booked their summer vacations (which often drives up prices) so now is a good time to book a summer cruise and take advantage of Wave Season pricing.

Norwegian Escape’s Guppies program will include a nursery with an active area for play time and age-appropriate activities.
Norwegian Escape’s Guppies program will include a nursery with an active area for play time and age-appropriate activities.

Another strong trend? Geiger says more families are opting for pre- and post-cruise tour packages. Suggesting this option to clients is a good way to help them delve more deeply into a particular culture, yet not feel like they’re completely on their own. Celebrity Cruises recently added new pre-cruise “Celebrity City Stay” vacation packages in 16 cities, including Athens, Abu Dhabi, Barcelona, Hong Kong, London, Singapore and Sydney. These include hotel accommodations with breakfasts, transfers, two tours, a farewell dinner, hospitality desk and onboard cruise inclusions too.

Costa Cruises and Central Holidays also have inked a new partnership: Central Holidays is now operating Costa Cruise Tours vacations that include air, land and Costa Cruises’ cruise arrangements to destinations throughout Europe. The new packages are available for cruises departing from Civitavecchia (Rome) and Savona, Italy; Marseille, France; and Barcelona, Spain. The two groups said Europe-bound cruisers and families are requesting a more full-bodied experience in Europe.

What if your clients aren’t sure they’ll like cruising as a family? Agents might suggest they pick a short cruise to try it out. Short cruises are offered from many cities. Carnival will expand capacity on its four- and five-day short cruise program from New Orleans by 34 percent when Carnival Triumph replaces Carnival Elation operating these voyages in spring 2016.

Short cruises also offer affordability, as does booking an inside stateroom. In a recent survey, Carnival was selected as the best cruise line for inside cabins, with Royal Caribbean second and Celebrity third. One woman who took the survey told that she was taking her four granddaughters on their first cruise, but couldn’t get two adjoining cabins. “I took a deep breath and trusted our cruise agent’s advice that five of us could fit in one cabin,” the customer wrote. She said that with a queen bed, two flip-down upper bunks and a trundle, it worked fine, and with a little bathroom scheduling, “I couldn’t have been happier with our four day ‘slumber party.’”

Whatever accommodations families book, now’s the time to lock up summer accommodations as “we continue to see strength in every category of the market and booking windows continue to trend further out, especially in the upper end of the market,” says Anderson.

Many lines are updating their ships with new features that should interest families. To make it easier for parents to identify healthy menu options for their children, Disney Cruise Line is now offering Mickey Check meals in rotational dining restaurants aboard all four Disney ships; these meals must meet Disney Nutrition Guidelines for calories, saturated fat, sodium and sugar.

Hardware too is being updated for summer. As part of a two-year, multimillion-dollar “Renaissance Program,” MSC Armonia, MSC Sinfonia and two Lirica-class MSC Cruises’ ships were just enlarged and renovated. In fact, the ships were cut in half and a new, pre-built 78-foot mid-section was added. Also planned for MSC Opera by July 5 and MSC Lirica by November 3, these updates include 193 more cabins, improved buffet space, an enlarged spa and a new outdoor water spray park. Families also will find new areas for children created in partnership with Chicco and Lego, and a new Baby Club, Mini Club, Young Club and Teens Club.

Royal Caribbean’s new Oasis-class ship, Harmony of the Seas, launches in 2016. Within the Boardwalk area, families can ride on a hand-crafted carousel and enjoy a new classic games arcade. Adults also can grab a latte at the Boardwalk’s relocated Starbucks, while kids frolic in a new climbing play area.

Also, Holland America Line will launch its new Pinnacle-class ship, Koningsdam, early next year; families will discover a more family-friendly Lido Market experience with themed stations — such as fresh-made sandwiches, salads, international fare, comfort-style dishes and desserts. The casual dining area will have daily specials highlighted on menu boards.

More travelers seem to be making plans earlier than in the past to secure the best ships and itineraries, so with an improving economy, they want to assure they can use their vacation time for their first choice of vacation. Now is the time to book 2015 summer cruise travel and a great time to book 2016 voyages for the best availability. “Nobody likes gift shopping the day before Christmas, when shelves are empty,” says Anderson.

—By Susan J. Young

Agent Advice on Summer Family Travel

Senior Editor Joe Pike reached out to a number of travel advisors for their thoughts on planning and booking summer family travel. Here are some of the key tips they had to offer.

Know the Whole Family

Just because mom and dad are calling the shots, it doesn’t mean a child’s interests when planning a summer vacation should be ignored. After all, an unhappy child could be an unhappy vacation.

“As far as summer travel [is concerned], we really try to get the whole family involved,” says Jill Taylor of Jet Set World Travel in Chicago. “We send out personal profile forms for each family member to fill out and it is a lot of fun to see what the kids share about their preferences. It allows for everyone to be included in the planning process and it helps us to get to know them better so we can customize the touring.”

Be sure to include the kids in the planning process. A happy child is key to a happy vacation.
Be sure to include the kids in the planning process. A happy child is key to a happy vacation.

Time Is Money

Book your clients’ summer travel now. In fact, it’s not even too early to start booking summer travel for 2016. The bottom line is that it is never too early, but the deals become scarce as the summer approaches.

“When it comes to planning a summer vacation, time is money. I get a reminder of this from Club Med. They send an e-mail showing how much money people save by planning their vacations in advance,” says Andrey Zakharenko of Always Travel in San Francisco, CA. “When planning ahead, the client will save on airfare and will have a larger number of hotels to pick from for their vacation and those hotels will have more room categories to select from.”

What If Clients Are Planning a Last-Minute Getaway?

“For a last-minute family vacation, I’d recommend looking at private villa rentals to accommodate larger families,” says Daniela Harrison of Avenues of the World Travel in Flagstaff, AZ.

"If you’re looking at a family that needs three separate rooms or more, a private villa will often times give you better rates, more privacy and more freedom to be together when you want to be. It can easily be customized with a private chef, housekeepers, chauffeurs and more.”

Find Out How Much Families Can Spend Now

It’s not always possible to get summer bookings nailed down months in advance, but agents should at least get the clients’ travel budget ironed out as soon as they inquire about a summer holiday.

“Summer is a busy time with kids out of school, so [ask your clients to] make a realistic budget to present to you. It will help a lot to know how much they can/cannot spend on a vacation,” says Ryan Mielke of Regency Travel in Fort Lauderdale. “Summer travel is a busy time, so booking now [after the winter holidays] is a good rule of thumb. That way you don’t have to worry about pinching pennies around the holidays, and if you’re unfortunate enough to be stuck in the cold and snow, you’ll have something to look forward to in the summer.”

Suggest They Buy Travel Insurance

Trip insurance is always crucial, especially when traveling out of the country where your U.S. medical insurance is unlikely to cover any illnesses or injuries. But it takes on another layer of importance when you book a summer vacation to the Caribbean, Mexico, and other tropical areas where hurricanes can form, says Caroline Bracewell of Easy Escapes Travel in Atlanta.

“Not only will a good insurance plan cover you if you have to cancel your vacation due to a damaging storm, but it will also protect you if a storm causes you to be stranded at your destination,” says Bracewell. “Without insurance, you will be out of pocket for extra nights in your hotel as necessary, meals and other expenses. Trip insurance premiums are a small price to pay for peace of mind and protection if things go wrong.”