GoNOMAD’s Top Ten Family Vacation Destinations

By Stephen Hartshorne
GoNOMAD Associate Editor

Forsythe Family Farms near Toronto. Photo by Cathie Arquila
Forsythe Family Farms near Toronto. Photo by Cathie Arquila

What makes the perfect family vacation? It depends on the family, of course — the ages of the kids and the kind of activities they like. Relaxation is important, but so is exploration and discovery. And what if kids and parents have different interests?

Finding the Overlap

In her story on Toronto as a family destination, Cathie Arquilla says it’s important to strike a balance:

“The trick is to create the overlap in your itinerary -– things that kids and parents will both enjoy. I believe a successful family vacation is based on the overlap being at least 50 percent. I’d say the other 25 percent is for them, the kids, and the remaining 25 percent is for us, Mom and/or Dad.”

Cathie and her son James both had a ball at Toronto’s CN Tower, the Ontario Science Centre, York Forest, the Medieval Times Jousting Tournament and Forsythe Family Farms.

“Doesn’t warm apple pie from the country store, feeding greedy goats, navigating a corn maze, cuddling baby bunnies, and visiting a storybook forest, sound like the ultimate overlap?” she asks.

Another great destination for overlap was the Royal Ontario Museum. James enjoyed the dinosaurs, the skulls and skin and other gross stuff, and, of course, the arms and armor (“Chain mail, automatic guns, and weapons of all kinds… He’s a boy. Need I say more?”) and Cathie, a fashion stylist, enjoyed the galleries on China and Greece and the Art Deco and home furnishing exhibits.

Striking a Balance

Alexandra Regan says that when she and her family were planning their vacation in Egypt, they were careful not to overschedule:

Riding a camel around the Pyramids and the Sphinx. Photo by Alexandra Regan
Riding a camel around the Pyramids and the Sphinx photo by Alexandra Regan

“In addition to sightseeing, we had a final goal — to spend quality time together as a family and not to leave the country exhausted. As it turns out, this was not too much to hope for. It is possible to have an exciting yet relaxing family vacation in Egypt as long as you keep your visits to the sights short, don’t try to see everything, and schedule some downtime every day.”

The Regans took a camel ride around the Pyramids and the Sphinx in Giza and visited the Egyptian Museum and the busy bazaars of Cairo.

“Our kids, who were seven and nine years old and already enamored with mummies and pharaohs, had recently seen the animated Asterix and Obelix Meet Cleopatra. Armed with just enough comic book history to fuel their imagination, they were ready to explore Egypt for themselves.”

“From Cairo we took a one and a half hour flight to Aswan, where we would start our Nile cruise. After clamorous and exciting Cairo, our three-night cruise was luxuriously relaxing,” she writes. “On the boat’s rooftop terrace we sunbathed, played cards, read books, and gazed at the Nile.”

A relaxing cruise on the Nile - photo by Alexandra Regan.
A relaxing cruise on the Nile – photo by Alexandra Regan.

The Regans also made memorable visits to Aswan, Luxor and Karnak to see the Valley of the Kings, the Nubian Museum and the Philae Temple Complex.

Blending a New Family

Jenny and Steve Gilbert celebrated their marriage and the blending of their families with a week-long trip to Peru.

“Since I’ve been back, friends ask me, ‘What have you been up to this summer?'” Jenny writes. “I love saying I went to Peru… There’s a bit of mystery to it. Not the same as ‘Went down to the shore for a week.'”

“I say ‘Well, I was in Peru, went to the Amazon Rainforest and stayed in a cool jungle camp with thatched huts and hammocks in front, macaws and parrots flying free, tarantulas in the trees nearby. The jungle was full of boas, anaconda, monkeys and of course lizards of all sizes.'”

Jenny particularly loved exploring the jungle with Steve and their three boys and their guide Lucy.

Hiking in the Sacred Valley of the Inca in Peru. Photo by Jenny Gilbert
Hiking in the Sacred Valley of the Inca in Peru – photo by Jenny Gilbert

“We traveled for two hours down the Amazon River in a dugout canoe, and minutes after we arrived in camp, we took a guided walk through the jungle. We were even swinging on ropes.”

“At one point I thought, ‘Wow! This is the rainforest!’ The canopy of trees above me, amazing brilliant loud birds with bright colored feathers, macaws and parrots flying around free, giant purple bougainvillea, ants that look so tiny and innocent, but watch out because they’ll cover your body in minutes and numb you permanently… ”

“There seems to be danger everywhere, and yet Lucy, our adorable big-grinned guide, seems so calm. She is one with this jungle of hers and feels safe with it all.”

The Gilberts also traveled in the mountains to Cuzco and Machu Picchu. “We hiked into the Sacred Valley of the Incas, down to these flats of salt which the Peruvians irrigate like crops, as they have done since Inca times. They water the salt and then drag it up these extreme climbs to sell it in these little shops.”

The Cave of the Sibyl. Photo by Barbara Zaragoza.
The Cave of the Sibyl – photo by Barbara Zaragoza

“But the walks and talks with our guide Omar were wonderful, the views and watching my three boys walk along laughing and hiking — actually hiking. I usually can’t get my 13-year-old to do this, so this was a unique experience and it was well worth it.”

The Gates of Hell

If you’re looking for a family vacation that’s a bit out of the ordinary, you might want to take your kids to an area near Naples that was known in the ancient world as the entrance to Hades because of all the volcanic activity.

Barbara Zaragoza explains in her story, A Family Excursion to the Gates of Hell: “The Sibyl [a Roman oracle] uttered her trance-induced predictions, Charon ferried souls across the swampy Styx, and Romans bathed in hydrothermal spas, all within an eight square mile area west of Naples, Italy, known as the Phlegraean Fields.”

“For my three girls (ages 3, 7, and 10) the wonders here include exploring active volcanoes, the Sibyl’s cave, the entrance to Hades, and ancient Roman villas.”

The Flavian Amphitheater
The Flavian Amphitheater

“The Phlegraean Fields encompass a caldera or cauldron-like region of twenty-four volcanoes and craters, many still bubbling with seismic activity. Escaping the bustle of downtown Naples and the crowds of Pompeii, this region has fewer tourists and more eye-popping sites.”

“Here the kids can wander a mars-like terrain of the still active Solfatara volcano that the Romans once called the ‘Forum Vulcani’ or ‘The House of the God of Fire.’ Against one slope, two vents named ‘La Bocca Grande’ or ‘The Large Mouth’ endlessly belch sulfuric steam. In the middle, mud lakes sizzle at temperatures of up to 250 degrees Celsius.”

Barbara and the girls also visited Baia Castle, which was once the summer home of Julius Caesar. “Inside the castle, the kids dash through thick stone passages, up wide stairs, and reach an opulent dining hall. They say they’ve turned into princesses as they stroll regally on the blue tinted floor and bow to the Greek marble statues in alcoves.”

Riding at Brooks Lake Lodge
Riding at Brooks Lake Lodge in Dubois, Wyoming

She says the girls had lots of fun and gained a valuable new perspective on human history. “If it’s true that we come to know by experience, then the Phlegraean Fields are where adults and kids can touch and climb mythology and history.”

“Here we make our own decisions about what these structures once were or decide not to puzzle over what’s history and what’s fiction.”

“Certainly, pretending to be goddesses, princesses and gladiators among the stones of the ancient world provides a kind of learning unmatched by textbooks, homework, and classrooms.”

‘Duding’ in Wyoming

“Every summer, my scattered family gathers at the Brooks Lake Lodge near Dubois, Wyoming, for a few days of riding, fishing, canoeing, hiking and star-gazing,” writes Annie Montgomery in her story Duding With Dad.

Trail ride at Brooks Lake Lodge
Trail ride at Brooks Lake Lodge

“Participating in these activities together gives us all a chance to enjoy each other’s company and reconnect, and also gives Dad a chance to share his passion for the American West with everyone – including the newest generation.”

“More than that, it’s just plain old family fun. Some days, we rise early and hit the trails together for a full day of riding and fishing in mountain lakes. On the way, we pass moose and hawk, prairie dog and deer, and joke with each other about the way in which we sit on — or fall off of — our saddles.”

“Other days, we go our separate ways. My brother takes a full-day fishing trip on the Wind River; my son tests his skills on the bow-hunting trail; my husband and I ride up to Sublet Meadow for a picnic; and Dad kicks back on the cabin porch with a book. We reconvene in the lodge at dinnertime for a filling meal of bison or wild boar, fish stories and cowboy poetry.”

Annie says the Brooks Lake Lodge is “a perfect setting for a family vacation.”

A statue of Brigitte Bardot in Buzios, Brazil - photo by Andrea Baile
A statue of Brigitte Bardot in Buzios, Brazil – photo by Andrea Baile

“In the summer, activities include horseback riding, fishing, hiking, and canoeing, while in winter, families can indulge in snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, ice fishing and snowmobiling.”

But she says, these vacations go beyond just having fun. She says they help pass along “the spirit of the American West” to the next generation.

“I think that’s why Dad likes it, and brings us along for the ride: he grew up in Texas and remembers when the West was America, and the values and ideals that were embodied in the myth of the cowboy were still important.

“Now that we are all urban cowboys – focused on the Internet frontier and the best restaurants in town – he doesn’t want us to lose touch with what that means. It’s a valuable lesson to learn on vacation: Sure, we all like to ride and fish, but I honestly believe there’s more to it than just a great time. I think it’s about re-learning that vital connection to family and to land.”

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