|Arches National Park, Utah, has more than 2,000 natural stone arches and other rock formations.|
National Parks Are a Natural Fit for Families
The National Park Service celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, meaning the parks will be extremely welcoming in 2016. Case in point: Through August, all fourth-grade students can visit the National Parks for free, along with the family (in one private vehicle). And don’t forget that senior citizens (age 62 plus) can get a $10 lifetime pass to the parks, which includes entrance for the family in one private vehicle. For more information, visit store.usgs.gov/pass.
Such deals serve to enhance a vacation option that is already extremely popular. In MMGY Global’s 2015 Portrait of American Travelers, National Parks topped the list of “Specific Destinations Interested in Visiting During Next Two Years” at 67 percent — that’s two out of every three respondents. The appeal is universal; when broken down by age groups, the numbers fluctuate only slightly: Millennials, 69 percent; Xers, 63 percent; Boomers, 69 percent; and Matures 61 percent.
|A National Parks Revealed guided tour of Grand Canyon|
The National Park system includes 410 areas, meaning travelers can easily travel to them from their homes. However, choosing what parks to visit may be the most difficult part of the overall visit. We’ve rounded up some of our favorite parks and itineraries to choose from — and we’ll also touch on that other immensely popular kind of park, theme parks.
Focus on Southern California
Globus is teaming up with the National Park Foundation, the official charity of America’s national parks, to create new GoParks! itineraries. When travelers book a GoParks! trip, Globus will make a donation to the National Park Foundation at no additional cost to the travelers. One of the new trips is to Southern California along with stops at Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Parks. At Joshua Tree, families will learn about the area’s geology, animals and plants. In Death Valley, the hottest place on earth, travelers will visit the Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America. Don’t let the ominous names deter, as it is a beautiful area. As a special touch, visitors will also participate in a special star-gazing opportunity, with no city lights to interfere. Along the way, clients will spend time in Long Beach, Catalina Island, San Diego and Palm Springs.
|Yellowstone is the only place in the United States where bison (Bison bison) have lived continuously since prehistoric times.|
Off to Yellowstone
We would be amiss if we didn’t mention ways to visit one of the most popular national parks, Yellowstone. Globus visits this site during its America’s National Parks trip. This trip includes a two-night stay inside the massive park; parents and kids will both be delighted. Other highlights include gazing at the Lower Falls, which is almost twice as high as Niagara Falls. Guests will also witness the famous geyser, Old Faithful, and there will be plenty of opportunities to see wildlife. The itinerary also covers Grand Teton National Park and Mount Rushmore. Note: Globus travels via motor coach and this trip includes breakfast daily, four three-course dinners and opportunities for additional excursions.
For clients looking for more offerings at Yellowstone, we suggest the Family Yellowstone & the Grand Tetons trip from Abercrombie and Kent. Travelers will head to Big Sky country for some adventure. On day three, kids go horseback riding at an authentic ranch with working cowboys. The next day it’s off to Yellowstone for a hike to Fairy Falls and a picnic lunch. The trip will then take clients to Lake Yellowstone and a hike to Storm Point for the view. There will also be an opportunity to visit Upper Geyser Basin and Hayden Valley — a prime place to spot wildlife. Rafting down class II and III rapids on the Snake River is another highlight.
|With its setting that changes hourly with the light, Sedona is a vivid and mesmerizing geological wonderland.|
Grand Canyon and Beyond
Trafalgar offers nine different National Parks trips. One of the most popular is the Scenic Parks Explorer; it has 45 departure dates from May to October — to fit every family member’s schedule. Guests will visit Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, Mesa Verde National Park and more. This is a 15-day journey and includes stays at four- and five-star properties, daily breakfast, coach transportation, airport transfers, additional services and exclusive experiences. One such activity is a chance to go behind-the-scenes at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, a complex of five western museums. There will be a chance to talk to museum directors about different topics, including what life on a ranch is like. There is also a chance to view the Grand Canyon at sunrise, not sunset with many other tourists. Guests can save 5 percent with the Early Payment Discount through April 28. This discount is combinable with past passenger discounts and Young Traveler discount for travelers ages 5-17.
Zion to Arches
An 11-day trip offered by Abercrombie and Kent will take clients from Las Vegas to Grand Junction, Colorado. The trip stops at Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef and Arches national parks. Highlights include a bike ride in Grand Canyon National Park, a sundowner cocktail (for Mom and Dad) among Bryce Canyon’s natural structures and rafting class I and II rapids on the Colorado River. This trip has three departures available to book in June and a fourth will begin in September. Clients can also book the custom Tailor Made Majestic Southwest and the Canyonlands itinerary. This trip can depart when the client chooses.
Crazy Horse Memorial to the Black Hills
Tauck is inviting families to join the Cowboy Country trip that is part of the Tauck family brand, Tauck Bridges. We suggest this trip for tweens, as at the end of it — after looking at glaciers in Grand Teton National Park, visiting Yellowstone and the Fountain Paint Pot, which are colorful, bubbling mud pots and more — they’ll visit an authentic ranch in the Bighorn Mountains. There, kids will ride horses, get a rope demonstration and enjoy a cookhouse lunch. This trip adds an educational twist during a visit to the Crazy Horse Memorial and the Black Hills. Other top moments include looking for eagles, beavers and elk along the Snake River.
For another adventure with Tauck Bridges, we suggest booking Majestic California: The Pacific Redwoods and Yosemite, which begins in San Francisco. The trip will take families to the Altamont Wind Farm, during the route to the Sierra Nevada. (It is a great science lesson.) The children will like the private guided tour to Glacier Point in Yosemite. The viewpoint towers 3,200 feet above the valley floor. On this day, kids can also try out a rock-wall and enjoy panning for gold. The ultimate activity in Yosemite is the two-hour tram ride along the valley floor, afterwards we suggest renting bikes or going on a hike. Kids that are interested in marine life will enjoy a stop at Monterey Bay Aquarium to round out the trip.
New England, Acadia
For families with grown children, Tauck is still accepting bookings for the Grand New England Tour. This trip (which is mostly offered in September and October) will take travelers from Boston to Bar Harbor, ME. Toward the end of the trip, guests will venture inside Acadia National Park to explore the forests coves and natural wonders. The highlight will be taking in the view from atop Cadillac Mountain, plus there will be a horse-drawn carriage rise along Acadia’s historic roads. We also think families will enjoy the schooner sailing, going aboard a working lobster boat for a hands-on experience and the views from Mount Washington.
National Parks Revealed is launching self-drive (as well as guided) trips to several national and state parks this summer.
Summer Fun for All Ages From Disney and Universal
Summer is a popular season for families to schedule a special vacation and spend some quality time together. But for parents trying to cater to both the kids and enjoy some time to themselves as well, it can be challenging to find a destination that everyone can agree on. It can also be difficult to find a spot with activities for both younger children and older teens in the same place.
For families seeking excitement this summer, Adventures by Disney is offering three new United States vacations. Set in Central Florida, Montana and Washington, D.C. & Philadelphia, the trips include weeklong experiences and activities unique to the destination.
In Central Florida, families can enjoy backstage access and VIP experiences at Walt Disney World Resort this summer. Guests will airboat through Florida marshlands, take part in a privately guided safari at Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park, and go behind the scenes of the Rivers of Light show, a brand new nighttime presentation. Adult guests will also have some fun of their own exclusive dinner at Disney’s Contemporary Resort chef’s kitchen. When it’s time for the whole family to enjoy some time together, guests can try out the resort’s zipline, take a ride on a swamp buggy or try horseback riding or kayaking.
For more adventurous outdoor fun, Adventures by Disney is offering a glamorous camping or “glamping” experience, in Montana, just near Yellowstone National Park. The trip also includes a stay at a dude ranch in Big Sky and a visit to the nation’s capital, and the United States’ first capital city. Kids and adults can explore nature while biking in the backcountry and listen to storytelling under the stars. There is also horseback riding, whitewater rafting, fly-fishing and a private riverside cookout. Note: This year marks the centennial of the National Parks Service.
Adventures by Disney is sneaking a dash of American history into its Washington, D.C. & Philadelphia summer itinerary with an immersive visit to some of America’s most iconic landmarks. Activities will include encounters with characters from the past, a scavenger hunt and storytelling, and a privately guided trolley excursion through Philadelphia to visit the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall and the Reading Terminal Market.
Theme parks are also a popular way for families traveling during the summer to spend time together. In fact, 50 percent of respondents to MMGY Global’s 2015 Portrait of American Travelers cited Theme Parks among “Vacation Attributes Considered Desirable.”
|Universal Orlando will unveil its “Skull Island Reign of Kong” attraction
Universal Orlando Resort is rolling out a new blockbuster attraction this summer; Skull Island: Reign of Kong. Guests will be transported to an “island shrouded in mystery.”
The attraction will combine a powerful storyline with a 3D experience and innovative technology, all wrapped into what will be one of the longest Universal ride experiences ever created. Guests will set out to explore a land filled with prehistoric creatures, make their way through an ancient temple and discover a lost shrine, all before meeting Kong and deciding if he is “friend or foe.”
Kids, tweens, teens and adults will all find something to enjoy at Walt Disney World with the recently opened Star Wars themed rides, attractions and activities at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Younger guests (preschool to tweens) can take a “Jedi Training” course and later test their new skills against well-known characters from the dark side. Older kids and adults can take a ride on the Starspeeder 1000, with state-of-the-art technology, including a flight simulator, digital 3D video, Audio-Animatronics characters and “in cockpit” special effects and music.
Guests can also check out movie props, play games, snap photos, and meet Star Wars heroes and villains at Launch Bay in the Animation Courtyard. Guests of all ages can also build their own light saber or droid. At the end of the day, everyone can come together to enjoy a nightly fireworks finale, complete with “Star Wars” music.
Exploring Alaska’s National Parks
Throughout 2016, National Parks in Alaska will be marking the National Parks Service’s centennial by offering new activities and initiatives; tour operators and cruise lines will also be running special itineraries.
|The Denali Star travels through Denali National Park.|
New this year, the Alaska Railroad will offer a National Parks by Rail package, an eight-day trip that includes rail travel, accommodations and excursions in Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, Denali National Park and Preserve, Lake Clark National Park and Preserve and Kenai Fjords National Park. For families with older children, the flightseeing tour of Gates of the Arctic National Park and bear viewing at Lake Clark are particularly popular.
Rail travelers can also go heli-hiking, river rafting or driving on a Jeep in Denali, as well as driving near the Arctic Circle as part of its lineup of day trip options.
Also in Denali, thrill-seekers can check out the new Denali Park Zipline, which opens this year. Participants must be at least 8 years old and weigh between 70 and 280 pounds to participate in the course, which consists of eight ziplines and six suspension bridges. Kids under the age of 18 must be accompanied by an adult. Denali will also be opening new trails at the park’s entrance, as well as a new trail from the Eielson Visitor Center.
For a bit of Gold Rush history, there’s the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, which on May 6 will open Soapy Smith’s Parlor, once the den of notorious outlaw Jefferson Randolph “Soapy” Smith. Guests can also view the “Women of the Gold Rush” exhibit.
In Glacier Bay National Park, late August will see the opening of the Huna Tribal House, which will serve as a cultural gathering place for the Alaska Native Tlingit clan and will offer guests insights into local culture. Clients can visit the tribal house by traveling overland from Gustavus. Overnight accommodations are also available at Glacier Bay Lodge.
By Land and By Air
Tour operators are celebrating the centennial too with new summer packages. John Hall’s Alaska’s land-and-sea National Parks of Alaska tour takes in six national parks: Katmai, Wrangell-St. Elias, Gates of the Arctic, Denali, Kenai Fjords and Glacier Bay. Older kids may also enjoy the Grand Slam Alaska tour, which starts with a ride on the Alaska Railroad for a narrated tour of Anchorage before continuing to Fairbanks for a chance to visit Iditarod legend Susan Butcher’s Trail Breaker Kennel. Grand Slam guests also visit Denali, Dantishna, Wonder Lake, the Hubbard Glacier and an Alaska Salmon Bake.
Alaska Heritage Tours has an eight-day land tour that explores Denali (out of Anchorage). Guests can also visit Kenai Fjords on a five-day program with an all-day guided sea kayak excursion, day cruise and guided hike.
Alaska Wildland Adventures’ 11-day Grand Journey includes a stay at the only lodge in Kenai Fjords plus visits to Denali, the Chugach National Forest and Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.
All Alaska Tours, Inc. has a rail and road package that explores Kenai Fjords, Wrangell St. Elias and Denali, plus a choice of either Katmai or Lake Clark. There is an optional extension to the Gates of the Arctic National Park, too.
For a lower-impact option, Aramark is offering a Tundra Wilderness Tour in Denali that travels eight hours and 53 miles into the park on a narrated bus tour, with a full view of Denali (formerly Mt. McKinley).
Flightseeing is also a popular way to explore Alaska. Rust’s Flying Service offers fly-in hike or rafting excursions in Denali and Lake Clark. Arctic Circle Air offers the chance to fly over the Arctic Circle on a daytrip, as well as flightseeing above Gates of the Arctic National Park.
Small ship cruise lines are also launching numerous ways to explore Alaska’s National Parks this summer.
Alaskan Dream Cruises has three trips ranging from eight to 11 days that include stops in Glacier Bay National Park. The eight-day Alaska’s Glacier Bay & Island Adventure has an August 7 departure that caters to families with children ages seven and up. This sailing has a youth expedition leader and activities geared toward children, including a visit to the Sitka Sound Science Center for an up-close encounter with marine animals, an opportunity to discover Alaska Native history through dance, carving and storytelling, and (if weather permits) the chance to join the “Killer Whale Club” by jumping into the waters of a wilderness bay. Children 15 and under get 15 percent off cruise fare.
Un-Cruise Adventures offers guests the chance to visit Glacier Bay during the week of August 25, which is the actual anniversary day. Guests will get a commemorative gift and the chance to take part in a special onboard celebration. The Family Discoveries program takes $500 off the regular rate for children ages eight to 13.
Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic offers two Alaska itineraries this season: the eight-day Exploring Alaska’s Coastal Wilderness and the 15-day A Remarkable Journey to Alaska, British Columbia & Haida Gwaii sailings. Kids can take part in hands-on science using a video microscope, learn about conservation and get lessons with the line’s naturalists.
|Ponant will offer seven Alaska cruises this summer.|
Ponant’s seven Alaska cruises itineraries aboard Le Soléal this summer will range from eight to 15 days with stops at such destinations as Point Adolphus, Skagway, Tracy Arm, Haines and the Katmai Peninsula. Departure points include Seward, Vancouver, Juneau, Nome and Anchorage.
Hawaii for Grown-ups and ‘Keiki’
Here are just a few new or upgraded experiences for all generations in The Aloha State. For a more in-depth look at things for keiki (kids) and their guardians to do in the islands, check out “Hawaii Family Travel” in the Focus Series section at www.travelagentcentral.com.
Families who enjoy camping can head for Hawaii Island’s Namakanipaio Campground, operated by Hawaii Volcanoes Lodge Company, within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The campground is home to 10 recently refurbished cabins with upgraded community facilities. Outdoor sites are also available for those who prefer a more traditional camping experience.
|KapohoKine Adventures offers zip-lining on Hawaii Island.|
The increasingly popular thrill of zip-lining can be experienced on dual lines with KapohoKine Adventures at Honolii Outpost. (Note: The minimum weight for children is 30 pounds.) A walking path off to the side of the lines is great for family members who may not want to zip, but still want to be part of the experience.
For the grown-ups, KapohoKine, whose Wilderness First Aid and First Responder certified guides conduct expeditions in the surrounding areas of Kona, Hilo and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (HVNP), has announced an exclusive partnership with Volcano Winery. Guests visiting HVNP will receive a private group vineyard tour, wine tasting and catered dinner. KapohoKine’s most popular tours that will now incorporate Volcano Winery include “Kilauea Hike ‘n Glow,” which includes a four-mile hike across the crater floor; the HVNP-focused “Evening Volcano Explorer” and “Zippin’ Volcano.”
Following a multimillion-dollar transformation, Four Seasons Resort Lanai has officially reopened and now offers families and other guests guided hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding and adrenaline-filled UTV adventures in the green upcountry lands. Or they can go off-roading across red dirt roads, colored from volcanic rock, or golf at the Jack Nicklaus Signature Manele Golf Course.
In addition, clients can snorkel in a marine sanctuary or dive into The Cathedrals, where lattices of lava rock resemble stained glass when light hits. They can also immerse themselves in Hawaiian culture through activities with kupuna (elders) or simply relax on a deserted beach.
Children in particular may enjoy Four Seasons Resort Lanai’s feathered residents. KeO KeO, Ola, Uliuli and Hauoli are part of the Rescue Bird Program. Guests can “talk” with the birds or learn how to make a bird from a coconut leaf from the resort’s aviarist, Bruno Amby — a true Lanai kapuna who loves sharing his knowledge of island culture.