Traveling to almost 30 countries with young kids I’ve learned a little something about crafting vacations that the kids love and remember but that are also sophisticated and fun for the adults. Here are five tips for making summer travel gratifying for the entire family:
1) Book a family-oriented walking tour.
No matter where you’re going, there’s likely a company that offers walking tours through certain neighborhoods or museums. Select one that’s geared toward the kids. Good walking tours are interactive and highly educational, without the kids even realizing how much they’re learning. And given that we parents have forgotten most of the history that we learned in school, they’re great for us too! My family has now done walking tours in Paris, Florence, Athens, Ephesus (Turkey) and Valletta (Malta). I particularly like those we’ve done with Context Travel and Paris Muse. An added benefit: By arranging museum tours in advance, you can generally skip the lines. With our guide from Paris Muse we walked right past an hour-long queue at the Louvre.
2) Consider a cooking class.
What better way to let the kids be creative, teach them life-long skills, and introduce them to local cuisine? Our kids always come home wanting to cook the things that they made abroad, and they’ve become better eaters as well. And how many kids prefer to make their own pasta instead of buying it at the grocery store? Ours do, after we learned to make pasta at Boscarecce Cooking School outside of Florence. We’ve already booked a pita-making class in Greece for this coming summer.
3) Look into day camps.
When we go on a family vacation, we generally don’t look for activities where we can drop off the kids for seven hours at a time. But there are some week-long day camps that are so cool that we’d be excited for our kids to enroll. Arte al Sole has workshops throughout Italy that incorporate art projects (think frescos and mosaics), cooking classes, walking tours, history and even movie-making for kids 6 to 12, and parents can participate in some of the activities (such as museum visits) with their kids. An added benefit is that your kids will make friends from all over the world. If a camp or workshop doesn’t fit your travel schedule, it’s worth asking if they can arrange something that does. When my nine-year-old and I were in Bali in March, we stumbled upon a three-day ceramic camp at Gaya Ceramic that looked like a lot of fun. Gaya doesn’t pre-schedule family-oriented workshops, but they can arrange group or private workshops at a very reasonable cost.
4) Find a hotel that’s both romantic and kid-friendly.
Impossible? Nope. Both Wendy and I have had great stays with our kids at Rosewood Mayakoba in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. The hotel has many romantic touches—including private plunge pools, outdoor showers, moonlit restaurants, and a sensuous spa—yet it’s also got a kids’ club, kid-friendly cooking classes, a children’s breakfast buffet, a kid-friendly pool and beach. There’s even a snow cone machine by the pool. Four Seasons resorts also tend to achieve that balance of sophistication and kid-friendliness. Our overwater bungalow at the Four Seasons Bora Bora is one of the most amazing places we’ve stayed, with a spectacular view and a definite honeymoon feel, yet the hotel staff also set up an entire inflatable water playground for our kids, and let us know that they would open up the kids club and plan activities just for us anytime we wanted.
5) Ask Wendy for the right family-friendly travel agent.
Most of the experts on Wendy’s WOW List create trips for families and can suggest (and get you into) unique places that you couldn’t access on your own. Our best vacation ever was two weeks in Florence planned by Maria Gabriella Landers of Concierge in Umbria. We made pasta, pizza, gelato, chocolate, frescoes and books. We went through the normally off-limits Vasari Corridor. We saw a private flag-throwing demonstration in the amazing Torrigiani Gardens. We did kid-friendly visits to all of the major sites and museums. It was literally a perfect trip—and it made our kids love Florence so much that we now go back annually.