Aah, the annual summer vacation. For many of us, the phrase evokes memories of car rides. Long car rides filled with laughter, tears, fast food, fights over space in the back seat and finally the arrival at a hotel or motel where we ran and ran blindly until we reached the pool, the scent of chlorine wafting up, making us nearly delirious with delight.
If you’re like most of us, the rest of the trip was a blur, but the feeling of family togetherness still lives on in your mind, no matter how many times you had to tell your sibling to stop putting his foot on your side of the picnic table at the campground that you called home for a few days.
These days, it’s all about the memories; coming home with just a sunburn doesn’t cut it anymore with most families.
We’re also still all about the fun and we’ve made sure to include plenty of information on great swimming pools, kids’ programs and places that are dog friendly, because, we say, leaving Fido home is just no fun at all anymore.
“The best way to upsell is to include the tours for your clients; they will book them with the concierge anyway,” says Daniela Harrison of Avenues of the World, based in Arizona. An advantage for families is any tour that includes “skip-the-line entrance tickets to museums and attractions,” she says. We couldn’t agree more. It may cost a bit extra but the possibility of having fidgety children on a long line could actually ruin the tone of a family outing that held huge promise in the planning phase. Do the math for the client to let them weigh the benefits of avoiding possible tears or outright rebellion from an unhappy teen.
“I also love to recommend a private guide and driver for at least one day in each city my clients visit,” says Harrison. “It makes them feel very special and gives them an amazing day with a local in the destination.” She also recommends travel insurance. “It will cover your client’s investment, give them and you peace of mind and in most cases it protects your commission as well.”
Ken Fish, president of Absolute Travel, ensures that his team customizes programs for each client, “because no one in a family is the same and the needs of every member of the group have to be recognized.” Special attention is also given when the group is visiting multiple destinations. His tip when a family is taking a big trek, say, through Europe? Be sure each hotel along the way has a swimming pool for the younger kids, that makes every difference.
The secret to making family trips a success is to communicate everything possible to clients and to get them to communicate in return.
“When clients communicate and open up, you can be creative in every aspect of what you do, it’s always like that in terms of scouting out new experiences, finding local chefs and artists and celebrities, and being able to prepare them and create an experience for their minds,” says Fish.
Alyssa Schulke, owner of Schulke Travel and an independent consultant at Brownell Travel, said that she focuses on hotels that have family accommodations with multiple bathrooms and flexible bedding configurations.
Then there’s the issue of getting the clan there comfortable. “On larger planes, sometimes premium economy or business cabins are configured with two to three rows on their own separated by bathrooms and galleys. I try to get families into those areas that are a bit more private,” she says.
Another tip? “Villas and home rentals are always a wonderful suggestion for family bonding and often quite cost-effective.”
Roger Kershaw, president of Custom Travel, an affiliate of TTI Travel in Toronto, says that with the improving economy, he is trying to move some of his clients away from the concept of a “staycation” to “more comprehensive family adventures.” He cites the following suppliers who, he feels, provide good value and good accessibility.
“Family biking vacations with Butterfield and Robinson or Backroads. And you don’t have to go far from home with destinations like Maine, Washington, Canadian or U.S. Rockies etc. You can also do Europe in a family-friendly way with these companies,” says Kershaw.
|At Westin Los Cabos, guests have direct access to the beach from the seven pools that wind through the resort.|
“Different outdoor activities but with Adventures by Disney, which offers solid Disney quality and great destinations such as Montana/Alberta, Arizona/Utah, and further afield in Europe; even the Galapagos, which is an amazing destination for families,” he adds.
And, for the client considering a close-to-home vacation? "Compare the cost with the value of an Alaskan cruise,” advises Kershaw. “That enables a switch sell quite easily, especially when using lines like Celebrity.”
David Rubin, owner of DavidTravel, likes to get his clients involved in truly authentic activities in Europe. One of his favorite experiences to offer is “Mask Making in a Private Studio in Venice.” Families get to hear firsthand from mask craftsmen who explain the stories behind traditional Carnival masks, and clients get to take their own hand-made masks back home. Rubin also offers a program in Rome where kids can go to Gladiator School, where sessions are organized and led by members of the Gruppo Storico Romano (Historic Group of Rome). A tournament takes place after lessons (relax, rubber swords are used). The winner of the tournament receives a prize and all participants get a certificate.
We say the crowning glory in Rubin’s portfolio, however, may be The Harry Potter Castle & Quidditch program, which gives clients access to the private castle used in the Harry Potter films, The Philosopher’s Stone and The Chamber of Secrets. A special element of surprise is introduced by actors dressed as characters from the movie. The actors and kids play a simulated game of Quidditch with zip lines and specially designed brooms, just as it’s played in the films.
The National Parks
What’s more intuitive than heading to our own National Parks for a summer of fun, where you can stay in lodges and get up front with elk, bison, bald eagle and other wildlife?
Delaware North Companies is a major player in that lodge market; managing accommodations in many of the most-visited parks. In Yosemite alone, it manages Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite; The Ahwahnee Hotel; Wawona Hotel; Yosemite Lodge at the Falls; Curry Village; High Sierra Camps; Housekeeping Camp; Tuolumne Meadows Lodge and White Wolf Lodge. At Yellowstone National Park, home of Old Faithful, plus 300 active geysers, 290 waterfalls and a myriad of crystal-clear lakes, Delaware North operates the Holiday Inn in West Yellowstone, Yellowstone Park Hotel and Gray Wolf Inn & Suites.
Soon it’s set to be easier than ever to book accommodations; the company is launching a travel agent portal this year.
A Week on the Water
A summer vacation by the water is a standard for many families, but how about taking a sailing lesson or having access to your own yacht while you’re at it?
The Tides Inn in Irvington, VA, on the state’s northern neck is bordered by the Potomac River to the north, the Rappahannock River to the south, and the Chesapeake Bay to the east. This season, the resort has partnered with Norton Yachts in Deltaville, VA, just 20 minutes from the resort, for sailing and chartering yachts. In fact, resort guests can rent a yacht during their stay and keep it at their own onsite private dock or the Tides Inn’s marina. The entire family can get sailing instruction at Norton Yachts.
Disney Doings in Orlando
Disney vacations are a natural option for most families, but travel advisors can make them extra-special by contacting the Disney Event Group to arrange added perks.
Disney’s VIP Tour Services (disneyworld.disney.go.com/events-tours/vip-tour-services) offers special perks like door-to-door transportation, preferred event seating (think parades, shows and nighttime events) and expedited entry to select attractions. A dedicated guide will meet each group of up to 10 people with a private car (no buses or monorails) and bring them to each park. Tours can begin whenever the guests want and visitors can go to as many parks as they want.
Good to know: VIP tours must be booked between 90 days and 72 hours in advance, and all must take at least six hours. Parties larger than 10 will require more than one VIP tour guide, and will incur an additional fee. For more information or to make a reservation, call 407-560-4033.
On that note, larger groups may want to book their trip with the Disney Event Group Signature Dream team, who can customize just about any experience for visitors. These can range from having breakfast with a favorite Disney character to getting the first safari ride of the day at Animal Kingdom. The top-tier Signature events can be as elaborate as an all-day scavenger hunt. Best of all, clients booking these can even enter each resort from the employee entrance rather than waiting in line—a huge perk when traveling with anxious children. Snacks can be delivered to the family in a customized bag with their names embroidered, or the room can even be decorated in a particular style for the stay.
|Kids ages 7 and up are welcome on Metropolitan Touring’s cruises to the Galapagos Islands onboard the yacht La Pinta.|
Kidding Around in Las Vegas
While Vegas cast off its family-friendly marketing campaign several years ago, there are still plenty of elements that make the city a good pick for kids. For example, Caesars Palace has the Garden of the Gods, a massive complex of shallow pools that is ideal for families. (Some are reserved for adults, just in case mom and dad need to get away.) Caesars has a Go Get Wet Pool Package that includes two-night accommodations and a $25 poolside food and drink credit.
MGM Grand, meanwhile has a 6.5 acre Grand Pool complex for unwinding outdoors with 26 cabanas that can seat up to eight people (a great pick for multi-gen trips). The cabanas have a private patio, flat-screen TV, private safes, mini refrigerators and a complimentary pair of tubes. Cabana cost includes beverage and food service featured in the Private Dining Menu from the Cabana Grille up to the amount of your cabana rental fee. The complex itself has four pools, three Jacuzzis, and a lazy river.
And when the family gets tired of pools (does anyone ever really get tired of pools?), there are plenty of other kid-friendly activities throughout Las Vegas. At Circus Circus, kids can learn about their favorite cartoon characters at the Chuck Jones museum before watching a carnival at the Midway or going on rides at the Adventuredome Theme Park. New York-New York has its popular roller-coaster, and Mandalay Bay has a Shark Reef Aquarium for burgeoning marine biologists. Downtown, suggest your clients to visit the Discovery Children’s Museum, with lots of hands-on rotating exhibits for kids to explore on one of Vegas’ rare rainy days.
Fun Under the Mexican Sun
For families looking to get away together this summer, Mexico always proves to be a top location. From great pools and beaches, to dining, golf and spas, the destination has a little something for every member of the family. Here are some of our favorite properties that continue to make families feel at home.
When booking a family getaway in Mexico, the Fairmont Acapulco Princess is a great place to start. The property has 1,011 guest rooms each with Wi-Fi, private balconies, spacious closets and more. Tip: The Pearl, a tower at the resort, recently underwent a $30 million refurbishment. It includes 310 accommodations, each with an iPod clock, 37-inch flat-screen TV and more.
The resort has its own @Play Kid’s Club for children ages six to 12, and teenagers ages 15 to 18. The club, which is open daily, provides a golf camp, spa camp and sports camp, all designed for kids. The Fairmont Fit for Kids program shows kids the basics in agility, balance, coordination and more, including an obstacle course with agility ladders, hurdles and other fun surprises.
The pool scene at the Fairmont is family-friendly, thanks to a designated kid’s pool, including a sea water pool.
The resort is home to six restaurants and bars, and children under five eat for free off the children’s menu, while kids six to 11 eat for half price off the regular menu. Fairmont recently launched its Lifestyle Cuisine program, which serves up a healthy spin on kid favorites (think chicken strips, pizza, spaghetti with meatballs and more).
Traveling with a four-legged friend? Fairmont Acapulco Princess welcomes furry friends under 20 pounds for $75 per day. Travel agents can direct any questions to Antonio Vera ([email protected], 011-52-744-469-1000), director of sales.
Heading over to Los Cabos, families will feel right at home at the Westin Resort & Spa Los Cabos. With seven swimming pools that wind through the resort, this is a great place for mom, dad and the kids. The pools have waterfalls and ocean views of the Sea of Cortez. Guests have direct access to the beach from the pools, as well.
The Westin Kids Club is a hot spot for kids ages four to 12. Whether it’s a full day or just an hour, the club provides moms and dads alone time while kids make arts and crafts, play games and take Spanish lessons. Families traveling with teenagers can ask the concierge to book more adventurous activities, from zip lining to horseback riding and ATV tours in the desert. Other activities include whale watching, glass-bottom boat rides and dolphin encounters. There is also a bevy of colorful marine life that is a huge draw for snorkelers.
Families can enjoy a round of golf together on the nine-hole Seaside Putting Challenge on the resort’s beach, or at one of the six 18-hole championship golf courses. Get in touch with Director of Sales & Marketing Rocio Sedeno (011-52-624-142-9003) with any queries.
The St. Regis Punta Mita is another resort in Mexico that is a great backdrop for families traveling together. Starting with the three pools, each member of the family can find something suited to their needs. Top Touch: The two-level Family Pool is overseen by pool butlers who provide everything from drinks and snacks to pool toys and floaties.
If mom and dad want alone time, the Adult Pool is an oasis away from the noise and splashing of the Family Pool. Eight poolside cabanas are available for rental, complete with 37-inch flat-screen TVs, DVD players, iPod stations, Wi-Fi and minibar. Pool butlers will take orders for food and beverages.
Kids will love La Tortuga Children’s Club, designed for children ages five to 12. The club includes entertainment and games, along with a Children’s Spa, sand box and nap room. Among the activities are a discovery walk, treasure hunt, pinata making, painting and board games.
As part of the Family Traditions at St. Regis program, the resort offers a variety of activities for families to experience together. With the Marietas Marine Adventure, families can spend the day exploring Las Marietas Islands, keeping a lookout for humpback whales, dolphins and sea turtles. They can also sign up for surf lessons with a qualified local surfer.
Be sure to look into the SPG Kids Pass program. This all-inclusive program offers a daily rate for children ages 12 and below, who are with Starwood Preferred Guests. Reach out to Andrea Carniero ([email protected], +011-52-3-222-915-830), director of sales and marketing, with questions.
Caribbean Island Getaways
There are so many places in the Caribbean where clients can upgrade from their usual summer vacation experience. Here is just a small sampling.
Clients heading to the Caribbean should keep St. Lucia on their radar, as the island is offering a bevy of discounted promotions and unique offerings, including some value deals at St. Lucia’s most luxurious resorts. Stonefield Estate Resort, for example, offers luxury villas that each have its own private pool and is equipped with either a full kitchen or kitchenette. Suggest the former to your family clients as the latter do not have a stove or other cooking facilities. Clients can take advantage of Stonefield’s Summer Special and save 30 percent on a garden view villa and 40 percent on all other villas, including two- and three-bedroom units suitable for multigenerational clients. For information on the resorts’ Caribbean Family Getaway Special or other inquiries, contact General Manager Fazl Khan ([email protected], +758-457-1983).
Of course, you can’t have a great family vacation without some pool time. In the Caribbean, some of the best pools, particularly children’s, can be found in Turks and Caicos. Beaches Turks & Caicos is home to seven pools, so they can enjoy a different setting every day of the week. The dominant pool (with a swim-up bar for mom and dad) is a great place for guests to enjoy the sun. The main swimming pool also offers a variety of amenities that allow clients to enjoy the whole day at the pool without getting bored. There is also a whirlpool for less active guests who just want a relaxing soak. Reach out to General Manager Don Dagenais (011-649-946-8000) with any queries.
Speaking of cool pools, Atlantis Paradise Island, Bahamas offers 11 swimming areas staffed by lifeguards including two for kids only. Other family-friendly fare includes a theater that shows three recently released movies daily at no charge and offers popcorn; 35 restaurants, most with kids’ menus; and 23 nonsmoking floors. Plus there’s a kids club and an 11-acre swim-with-the-dolphins habitat.
Club Med has a number of family resorts that offer Children’s Clubs divided into four age groups to ensure age-appropriate activities for kids from four months to seventeen years. Some, such as Club Med Caravelle in Guadeloupe and Club Med Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, have the added, unique attraction of a Circus School for kids where they can take trapeze classes as well as instruction in juggling, trampoline and tightrope walking. For more information contact Katie Riguzzi ([email protected]), Club Med North America.
Young Pirates in the Galapagos
Clients heading to Latin America can do something a little different this summer. Metropolitan Touring, a Quito, Ecuador-based travel operator, is celebrating its 60th anniversary with a great cruising opportunity to the Galapagos Islands, which is considered by many as a once-in-a-lifetime trip. Guests can sail to the Galapagos Islands aboard one of the archipelago’s most exclusive yachts, La Pinta, and savor complimentary soft drinks, wet suit rental, and onboard Internet connections on the house.
|Adventure Zone is a family entertainment area at Shangri-la Golden Sands Resort in Penang, Malaysia.|
There is also an excellent children’s program, “Young Pirates” for 7-to-13-year-old guests. The program has children living the pirate life while exploring the coolest islands in the Pacific aboard the La Pinta.
The yacht stretches 207 feet and has accommodations for 48 guests in 24 outside cabins with floor-to-ceiling windows in each. Social areas offer clear views of the islands through panoramic windows, while outside deck areas unfold as havens for observation and relaxation. La Pinta’ s many connecting cabins make it a good match for family travelers. These cruises start at $2,427 per person.
Keeping Cool in Hawaii
In Hawaii, look no further than the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa for cool pool action. This resort is home to two free-form swimming pools set on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, offering some impressive views. The two-pool experience continues to be the favorite attraction for clients with its Grotto Bar set beneath two waterfalls. Lahaina Pool is the place to relax and take a leisurely swim. More energetic guests can join one of the water aerobics or Hydro-Fit classes held daily at Lahaina.
For families, we suggest Napili Pool, which includes a 150-foot, enclosed, lava tube water slide. The interactive children’s pool, “Keiki Lagoon,” is also a must for younger guests. It has a 3,000-square-foot sandy beach play area, including a 25-foot children’s water slide, as well as two turtles and a floating dolphin. There’s also Camp Hyatt, offering fun and interactive programs for kids to explore local flora, fauna and culture, plus games and activities such as lei making and hula lessons.
For a destination that relies mostly on multigenerational travel, the summer is perhaps the friendliest season to Hawaii tourism. If you have big groups or multigenerational clients heading to the Aloha State, check out these condominium discounts.
Condominium Connection, a Hawaii wholesaler for more than four decades, is offering every fifth night free at Maui’s Sugar Beach Resort, Maui Kamaole, Kihei Akahi, Hale Kamaole and Island Sands for travel now through December 20.
As an added incentive, Condominium Connection will provide clients with a further 10-percent discount for stays of 28 nights or more. All savings can be combined with the fifth night free offer at the five properties. For some examples, nightly rates for seven night stays begin at $120 for Kihei Akahi, $145 for Hale Kamaole, $145 for Island Sands, $150 for Sugar Beach Resort and $170 for Maui Kamaole. Rates are per room and taxes and fees are additional.
Sugar Beach Resort is a very popular one- and two-bedroom hotel on a prime, sandy swimming beach in North Kihei. It has full kitchens with an onsite mini-mart and deli, so families can save money on meals.
Across the street from Kamaole Beach in Kihei are the Maui Kamaole, with one- and two-bedroom condominiums on sculptured grounds; the value-priced Kihei Akahi with studio, one- and two-bedroom units, and Hale Kamaole, which has two swimming pools along with spacious one- and two-bedroom accommodations. All three have full kitchens in each unit.
Island Sands is a mid-range condominium in Maalaea with one- and two-bedroom units with full kitchens, plus an oceanfront pool.
South Pacific: Family Fun in Fiji
In Fiji, Outrigger on the Lagoon has plenty for it to be recommended to families: The resort has free meals and activities for kids, one of the largest lagoon swimming pools in the South Pacific, the Little Riggers and Beach Riggers kids clubs and Meimei nanny service. While there, families can explore the 40 acres of beachfront property on Fiji’s main island of Viti Levu along the Coral Coast, wrapped by one of the biggest fringing reef systems in the world.
The resort’s Little Riggers (for children aged three to seven) and Beach Riggers (aged eight to 12) clubs offer activities such as Fijian language lessons, treasure hunts, pool and beach activities, storytelling, coconut weaving and more. Teenagers, meanwhile, can take part in cultural excursions like the Sigatoka Sand Dunes adventure at Fiji’s first National Park, a walking tour of Tavuni Hill Fort, a restored ancient Fijian Fort, and a scenic hike on Bebe Hill.
|A visit to London’s iconic toy store Hamley’s is a must for families visiting England’s capital.|
Parents seeking alone time during their Fiji holiday can use the Meimei nanny service for children 12 years and under. While the kids are otherwise occupied, parents can unwind in the Bebe Spa or dine at IVI Restaurant, the adults-only restaurant.
The Kids-Eat-Free program offers free meals for children 12 years and younger from the children’s menu at Vale Ni Kana Restaurant (with a four nights or longer stay). The promotion is valid through December 2013 and can be booked by e-mailing [email protected]. For additional information, visit www.outriggerfiji.com or www.bebespafiji.com.
Although a bit of a far journey, there are those families who dare to travel together on the adventurous side and may be looking for a summer vacation in Asia. The Shangri-La Golden Sands Resort in Penang, Malaysia, will pamper family travelers in luxury style.
The resort has two lagoon-shaped swimming pools that are tucked within tropical gardens. The pools are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. each day. There is a designated children’s pool, complete with a waterslide, as well. The resort is also directly on the beach in Penang, and has a beach walk designated for guests of the resort.
The resort’s Adventure Zone is a family entertainment center for kids and adults. The 10,300-square-foot space is home to family-style activities, like an indoor playground with slides and plenty of things to climb. The resort also features kids activities for every day of the week, like pool games, movies, traditional Malaysian games and arts and crafts. Dining options at the resort include Garden Café, the new Sigi’s Bar and Grill, which we hear is a great family-style restaurant, and the Lobby Lounge.
Travel agents can contact Director of Sales and Marketing Aida Rashid ([email protected]; +011- 60-4-888-8610).
Educational Europe Vacations
While one can go to Europe to just relax and unwind, the massive amount of history all around makes it easy to combine education and fun with some themed guided tours.
Context Travel recently announced the expansion of its family program in Istanbul, Turkey, with two new walking tours designed specifically for kids 12 and under, by museum educators and teachers.
The “Sultan’s Way” walk takes children into Topkapi Palace with a trained Ottoman historian for a hands-on learning experience. Using the figure of the sultan and his life as the narrative thread, museum educators with Context have designed a series of activities for kids that introduce basic ideas of Ottoman history and reveal the extent and power of the Ottoman Empire, at one time the largest empire in the world.
“Young Archaeologists of the Ancient Orient,” meanwhile, focuses on Istanbul’s famed Archaeological Museum, home of one of the world’s best collections of antiquities. Designed for families with children between primary and middle school, this kid-friendly walking tour uses objects from Mesopotamia to the Ottoman period to tell a tale of ancient empires. Sultans Way tours last three hours. Young Archaeologists of the Ancient Orient takes 2.5 hours.
In addition to those two walks in Istanbul, Context has launched a family-friendly walk on Roman engineering in Rome called How Rome Works, which explains how ancient Romans built the Colosseum, erected aqueducts and created a city of two million people more than 2,000 years ago. Other Context walks in Europe cover London, Paris, Barcelona, Madrid, Venice, Florence and Athens.
(Good to know: For domestic vacations, Context offers a similar walk in New York called Building the City, and a new walk for kids in Washington, DC, called Where Sheep Grazed and Laws Were Made, which covers the National Mall both physically and historically.)
For another option, Learning Journeys—part of the Perillo Tours network—has partnered with Ensemble Travel Group for some education-themed tours of Europe, like a 13-Day Italian Family Journey that includes a language lesson, art class, visit to Guggenheim Museum, cooking class, guided tour to the Vatican and pizza making. The 12-Day Greek Family Yacht Adventure that includes a language lesson, city tours, visit to archeological sites such as Panathenaic Stadium and the Acropolis while sailing through Greece learning about its rich historical past. (There are also tours to Costa Rica, the Middle East and Africa.)
In London, parents and their children will want to stop by iconic toy store Hamley’s, and should spend a day at the ZSL London Zoo, which will open Tiger Territory next summer. London is also home to the first purpose-built professional theater for children, The Unicorn Theatre, which entertains over 100,000 children every year.
The EDF Energy London Eye and the SeaLife London Aquarium are great for pushchairs with plenty to keep children and adults of all ages engaged. The V&A Museum of Childhood is a treasure trove of children’s toys through the ages, and the museum also offers workshops every week. The majority of London’s museums are baby-friendly, and of course, many are free. (Bonus: Children under five years old also travel free on London transport, including the Tube, Docklands Light Railway (DLR), buses, trams and London Overground as long as they are accompanied by an adult with a valid ticket.)
Gwen Kozlowski, general manager of Exeter International, says her company is seeing an increased interest in request for family and multigenerational activities for Eastern and Central Europe. As such, Exeter International has taken on the challenge of creating sightseeing programs that appeal to a variety of age groups. Best part? The team has even vetted the experiences using their own children. “Vetting all this ourselves helps us to find out what’s really cool and unique versus touristy and hokey. We’re constantly visiting our destinations to discover new unique experiences to offer our guests.”
“In many cities, we can combine traditional sightseeing with something active to keep the kids engaged, like biking or sightseeing via private boat,” says Kozlowski.
“Other cities have very specific activities that appeal across many age groups. I was just able to do a VIP tour of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna. It was an amazing behind-the-scenes peek at these magnificent stallions getting ready for a performance. This will definitely be a recommendation on my family programs this year.
“In Budapest, guests can learn how to make strudel at the world famous Gundel Restaurant. In Poland, guests step into an artist studio to learn how to paint the famous Polish glass Christmas ornaments and paint their own. In Prague, guests can have a backstage tour of the marionette theater and then create their own as a souvenir. In Moscow and St. Petersburg, workshops to help guests create their own matryoshka [nesting] doll are always popular,” Kozlowski adds.