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The Family That Vacations Together Stays Together

Travel can build connections and memories across generations


Part of the Summer Travel for The Whole Family Special Report

Fun as the idea of a family staycation may sound — now — the reality of your adult children, their children and possibly your octogenarian mother-in-law all descending on your home for 10 days this summer is a nervous breakdown waiting to happen. So why not opt for what more and more families are doing: take a multigenerational vacation. One of the hottest travel trends in the United States and abroad, these trips are not only wonderfully enriching experiences, but they create powerful bonds that money can’t buy.

“More than ever, people are looking to create memories with their families,” says Kathy Stewart, a spokesperson for the adventure-travel outfit Butterfield & Robinson. Part of the reason is that families are farther-flung than they used to be. Another factor is that grandparents are living longer and staying more vital, and they want to do active things with their grandchildren. Add to the mix the fact that people are working harder and getting less vacation, and it makes sense that so many are combining quality family time and vacations.

There’s something even more powerful about a vacation than just a family get-together. “The joy of buying a new car or home entertainment center will fade over time,” says Dan Austin, director of Austin-Lehman Adventures, a leading travel outfit. “But the satisfaction and benefits of a great vacation experience delivers a lifetime of great memories and keeps you coming back for more. Our own experiences tell us that travel and the fond memories you bank in your mind is one investment that always appreciates over time.”

Top travel companies report that multigenerational family trips now account for more than 10 percent of their business. Austin-Lehman has seen the greatest spike in custom trips — “a tenfold increase,” Austin says. “Groups range in size from as few as four or as many as 24.”

And we’re not talking cookie-cutter cruises or Disney World outings. Families are scaling new heights in adventure travel (some literally), and there are exciting new options for groups of all sizes, abilities, interests and budgets. As a travel professional for the past 25 years, I’ve seen the best and the worst, and have picked up some insider tips along the way. The key to a successful multiage vacation, whether designed by a company or your family, is crafting an itinerary with enough of a variety of activities — and pacing — to satisfy all ages, and allowing enough space to provide everyone with some privacy.

I’ve divided family travel into four basic categories, selecting a handful of the newest destinations and off-the-beaten-path ways to travel. Much more is out there, but this may inspire you to do your own research and find a trip that will please everyone in your family — even Uncle Cranky and Aunt Fussypants.

Float Your Own Boat

Cruising delivers the excitement of a new place to visit each day plus the unbeatable bonus of moonlit nights at sea. But for those who don’t want to shuffle shoulder to shoulder with busloads of fellow passengers at museums and trinket shops, downsize your thinking and consider a gulet (small yacht) voyage along Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, a barge cruise in French wine country or a more budget-friendly self-drive boat rental elsewhere in Europe.

A gulet cruise, complete with captain and cook, covers the scenic 100-mile stretch of Turkey’s Turquoise coast from Marmaris to Olympos, a journey that follows the paths of Roman warriors, impassioned crusaders and bejeweled sultans. The trip (late May through October) balances explorations of ruins and moderate hikes with plenty of time to visit seaside villages and swim and sun, an appealing mix for all ages. At night the gulet docks at small marinas or anchors in sequestered coves.

With six to eight cabins, gulets are small enough to be chartered by one multigenerational family. If no one needs to return to school in the fall, stay for September, with lovely weather and fewer crowds. Row Adventures: 11 days, $4,450 per person; Wildland Adventures, 13 days, $4,895 per person.

The satisfaction and benefits of a great vacation experience delivers a lifetime of great memories and keeps you coming back for more.

— Dan Austin, director of Austin-Lehman Adventures

Barges tour Europe’s rivers and canals at a leisurely pace, winding through farmlands and medieval villages, past terraced vineyards and historic castles. A full-board boat comes with a captain and crew, including a chef, so you float in Cleopatra-like luxury without having to worry about maneuvering through locks on inland waterways. Just sit back, sip your Pinot Grigio and savor the scenery.

The captain can point you to the blooming gardens, local markets and ancient cathedrals along the way. Most barges carry bicycles, so you can pedal along the towpath. With a full charter, you can arrange longer stops at destinations of your choosing. Depending on the cost, the food ranges from good to gourmet.

Barge Lady Cruises: upmarket voyages with crew in France, Ireland, England, Holland, Belgium, Germany, Scotland and Italy, $3,500 to $6,500 per person per week. The Barge Company: barges with full crews and half-board cruises with some meals taken on shore. Budget-stretching tip: Skip the skipper and play captain and crew, purchase and cook your own food, and manage the water tank and bilge pump. Le Boat.com: bare-boat rentals for eight, 1,500 to $4,900 per week (July, August).

Big-Animal Encounters of the Newest Kind

An African safari tops most travel wish lists, and for good reason. There’s an indescribable joy in watching elephants lumber across grassy plains and giraffes graze from treetops. But ever since the U.S. State Department placed Kenya on a warning list in November 2011, it has been getting overshadowed by Tanzania, which made the New York Times’ list of the top 52 places to go in 2015. Tanzania offers an abundance of wildlife and friendly people and is home to such magnificent wonders as Mount Kilimanjaro and the game-rich Ngorongoro Crater, the largest intact caldera in the world.

At andBeyond’s Klein’s Camp, travel off-road and go on night safaris to spot stalking lions and leopards. &Beyond’s kid-friendly lodges provide youngsters with wildlife packs and special activities, like learning to identify critters by their droppings and paw prints, and actually making a fire by rubbing two sticks together: $650 to $1,095 per person per night depending on the season.

Budget stretcher: Not all the big animals are in Africa. In the Gulf of Mexico, swim or snorkel with the largest fish on earth, the incredible —  and incredibly docile — whale sharks, which can be up to 45 feet long. From mid-June to early September, sightings are guaranteed at Isla Holbox, north of Cancun on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and are safe for people of all ages. Holbox Whale Shark Tours: $125 per person. Groups of two to 8 may charter a boat for $1,100; additional charge of $100 per person for the ninth and 10th passengers.

Urban Trawl: Don’t Forget Cities

A different kind of adventure awaits the urban explorer. While world capitals have enduring appeal, smaller cities, often rising stars, try harder, luring vacationers with great rates and easy accessibility to attractions. The best way to get to know a city is by choosing a centrally located hotel within walking distance to main attractions or one near public transportation. Since you’re booking several rooms, don’t be shy about negotiating a good deal, and maybe free breakfast and reduced-price admission coupons (especially if you’re going off-peak).

Cities offer multigenerational travelers flexibility. On an urban exploration, family members can split up to pursue their interests. Grandma, Mom and the college student can visit the art museum then go on a shopping blitz through boutiques and craft stores. Grandpa, Dad and junior can hunt for the dinosaurs at the natural history museum. Everyone can come together for a park picnic or lunch at a café. Those who crave afternoon naps or tea and cookies can head back to the hotel early.

One destination that’s recently put itself on the map, thanks to increased international investment, is Panama City, Panama. This longtime haven for U.S. expatriates combines a mild climate with city sizzle and — within an hour’s drive — real rain forest adventures. Nightlife is booming. You and the twentysomethings can club-hop in the vibrant Panama Viejo, or Old City, where an increasing number of 17th- and 18th-century buildings are reincarnating as bars and clubs. Visit the restaurants and cafés along the Amador Causeway, a road that connects four islands that jut into the Pacific.

By day visit the world-famous canal and hike nearby Soberania National Park’s rain forest in search of toucans and wild parakeets. Stay at the towering, 70-story Trump Ocean Club or the posh Waldorf Astoria Panama hotel that debuted in June 2012. The Gamboa Rainforest Resort, a moderately priced resort located within Soberania National Park, is situated on the banks of the scenic Chagres River and the Panama Canal.

Closer to home, surprising urban charmers include St. Louis, whose central location makes it easy for the clan to gather. Don’t miss Forest Park, one of the largest U.S. parks, home to an art museum, extraordinary science center and zoo. Cooperstown, N.Y., rewards you with not only the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum but 10-mile-long Ostego Lake, better known as the “Glimmer-glass” of native son James Fenimore Cooper’s work. Roanoke, the largest city in Virginia’s southwest, is alive with trendy restaurants (including the new First and Sixth, serving sophisticated takes on Southern fare), contemporary art (notably at the renovated Taubman Museum of Art) and the scenic views of the nearby Blue Ridge Parkway.

The outermost Hawaiian island of Kaua‘i isn’t technically a city, but it has some lovely towns rights on the ocean. Kaua‘i offers great golf courses and upmarket hotels with noteworthy spas. The young and the young-at-heart can take surfing or scuba lessons, hike rain forests and sight-see in helicopters over the fluted green cliffs. Everyone can snorkel, swim and watch some of the world’s most impressive sunsets.

High-end beachfront properties include the Kaua‘i Marriott Resort and Beach Club and the Grand Hyatt Kaua‘i. Budget stretcher: Rent a condo at the Westin Princeville Ocean Resort Villas, perched above Anini Beach.

Guided Adventure Vacations

Experienced adventure travel outfitters take the dangers out, leave the excitement in — and do all the planning, booking and schlepping of luggage and equipment. The knowledgeable guides can arrange special outings that please everyone from your college juniors to the family seniors. “There can be biking, walking, horseback riding and snorkeling scaled to the groups’ abilities,” Kathy Stewart says. “For members who don’t want to do that, there are always other options, like cooking classes, guided tours or just down-time by the pool.”

Summer and winter in Iceland, the land of fire and ice, offer totally different but equally thrilling experiences. Hike glaciers, ride horses, go caving and rafting, or simply soak in the hotel’s plunge pool (Butterfield and Robinson: seven days, $7,495 per person). On a family Holland trip, experience the country like a local: by bike. Pedal along dikes, past fields of tulips and windmills (the Barge Company: six days, $2,898 per adult). And high-end Abercrombie & Kent offers custom family trips in Europe, India, Latin America and North America.

If you can imagine it, you can do it. So follow your heart wherever it may lead you — and bring the rest of the family with you. (Prices and websites were correct when this story was published. Please check before you book.)

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