Family Fun in Europe

As an agent, part of your role is to make overseas travel easier for clients. The amount of fun and relaxation they have depends on the arrangements and accommodations set up by you, but that equation changes drastically when children are involved. For some people, traveling to Europe can be intimidating, and traveling to Europe with young family members in tow can be even more so. Still, children are clearly common travel companions, as 170.1 million trips taken by U.S.-based families in 2004 included youth under the age of 18, according to the most recent data available from the Travel Industry Association. A family stops at Notre Dame on an Adventures By Disney tour

Suppliers are certainly taking notice of this growing trend. Perhaps the best and most recent example of this is Adventures By Disney, a family-oriented tour operator launched in 2004 that now offers 12 packages to destinations across the United States and Europe. When Adventures By Disney announced new itineraries for 2007, offerings included popular destinations in Europe, such as "Cities of Knights and Lights," where guests spend eight days and seven nights in London and Paris.

Further evidence of the economic rule of supply reflecting demand: At a press event in January, Adventures By Disney executives said that trips are already close to capacity, the mark of a banner year for the company now entering its third year. Executives also said new and expanded itineraries will be announced by Labor Day and that Adventures By Disney is looking for ways to tie U.S. and European tours together with the itinerary of Disney Cruise Line and the benefits of Disney Vacation Club. Agent Info

Take the Kids on a Cruise

Disney isn't the only tour operator meeting the needs of families looking to cross the pond. Cruise lines, which always have catered to roaming relations, are also placing special emphasis on their packages and amenities geared toward families. "With both parents working now, there's less quality time spent with the kids, so when they take vacations, they really want the family to be involved together," says Vicki Freed, senior vice president of marketing and sales for Carnival Cruises. "Europe is great because it's educational, unique and interesting and it's fun. It's such a neat destination to share as a family experience."

Miltenburg, Germany, as seen on a Uniworld River Cruise

Uniworld River Cruises recently debuted a nine-day "Castles Along the Rhine Grand River Cruise," which sails the RhineRiver between Amsterdam and Basel. The cruise company says the "fairytale castles, combined with the breathtaking landscape, old-world towns and legendary myths" are the perfect backdrop for family vacations because there is something to entertain everyone. "When you look at all the trends and market research, everything you read is that multigenerational travel is on the rise," says Guy Young, president of Uniworld. "Specifically for children is a tour of the ship where they get to meet the captain and we also have some special excursions for the family with their own guides." Uniworld is currently offering 50 percent off cruise-only prices for children between the ages of 8 and 18, when accompanied by an adult.

From a value perspective, Carnival's Freed believes cruising is the way to go on a family vacation, given that food, entertainment, activities and onboard accommodations are all included. "Many times, families have to look at the dollars," Freed says. "We have very attractive rates for triples and quads, and we have very large cabins on our ship. The size of the stateroom plays an important role."

Child-Friendly Accommodations

Finding the right hotel to accommodate a family also can be a hurdle, one Amie O'Shaughnessy knows about firsthand. An avid international traveler, O'Shaughnessy says she had a hard time finding appropriate accommodations after she had her first child. "I was so experienced I thought I could figure it out," she says, "but it's challenging to find child-friendly hotels online."

That challenge gave birth to the idea for Ciao Bambino!, an online collection of family-friendly properties in Italy and France. The list of properties used to be exclusively for travel agents, but O'Shaughnessy recently opened it up to the public and instead employs three home-based agents around the country to help families seeking more help in booking vacations to Italy or France. She also works with other outside agents to help them find properties that cater to children.

Amie O'Shaughnessy, founder of Ciao Bambino!, with her son in Florence, Italy

"In terms of categories, we don't just look at hotels, we look at villas, resorts and apartments," O'Shaughnessy says. "Within that, it sometimes drives what you look for in a property. 'Baby-ready' is really about the parents."

Categories run the gamut from tiny tots to teens and include such requirements as a crib, a high chair and a room configuration that has two components, because "not everybody goes to sleep at 7 p.m.," O'Shaughnessy says. Plus, whereas "a toddler can be amused by a flat patch of grass, as they get older it's not that simple," she says, so Ciao Bambino! also rates hotels based on their proximity to attractions and well-known teen hang-outs.

Age-Appropriate Activities

Whether your client is looking to cruise or tour with their family, what's most important is to ensure that the trip is age-appropriate. To do this, Freed advises looking at the activities offered. Most trips, she says, are appropriate for children ages 8 and over. "They're learning a lot about Europe in school at that point and it reinforces what they're learning," she says.

Clients can do a European trip with toddlers, so long as the operator offers a kids program. "Our children's program starts at age 2," Freed says of Carnival. "The older teens, ages 15 through 17, are in their own group, and they really find that to be so cool. It makes a big difference."

Two kids on an Adventures By Disney tour take in a view of London's Tower Bridge

Though Freed cautions that parents shouldn't expect 3- or 4-year-olds to be able to handle a lot of heavy-duty touring, that doesn't mean such trips should automatically be ruled out.

"It's your enjoyment to have your children with you," says Chris Lytle, a travel consultant with Ciao Bambino! "You shouldn't consider the trip as an educational experience for them. They start becoming aware when they are three, four and five, and then the old cliché about seeing things through the eyes of your children comes to life."

Though it may seem that planning a family vacation takes a lot of customization, the key, O'Shaughnessy says, is to keep in mind that most families face the same challenges. "It doesn't matter if you're from Australia or England, the challenge is the same," she says. "Toddlers everywhere need snacks. Parents need sleep. The problems are universal, even though culturally everyone is different."

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