10 Things You Absolutely Must Do With Your Kids Before They Turn 18

There are only so many years that your children will be under your care before you set them off on their own. Some even say that we have just 18 summers with our kids, so it’s a must to make the most of the time we’ve been given. Here are 10 things you absolutely must do with your kids before they turn 18 and head out into the world.

1: Go on a Multi-Generational Family Cruise

Whether you set sail for the Caribbean on a large ship, like Royal Caribbean’s new Anthem of the Seas, or explore Alaska’s Inner Passage on-board a small ship, like the Admiralty Dream with Alaska Dream Cruises, it’s a must to cruise as a family. Enjoy on-ship activities together, like waterslides and hands-on programs, then disembark at each port for horseback riding, kayaking and exploration. A cruise is ideal for a multi-generational vacation, so invite grandparents along for the fun.

2: Visit the Most Famous Mouse in the World

Every family should visit Walt Disney World at least once for the rides, character meet-and-greets, parades and magic that is uniquely Disney. Spend time at each of the four parks, including Animal Kingdom, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Magic Kingdom, as well as Disney Springs. Seeing Cinderella’s castle in-person is truly indescribable. Stay on-property for Extra Magic Hours, which allow guests to arrive early or stay late at a different park each day.

3: Take a National Park Vacation

The National Park Service celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2016, so there’s no better time to introduce your children to our national parks. Peer into the Grand Canyon or watch Old Faithful erupt at Yellowstone. Pick up a Junior Ranger activity booklet at visitors centers so your kids can earn a badge at each national park. Kick the experience up a notch by booking with an outfitter like Tracks & Trails, which sets you up in an RV, arranges your camp sites and provides a personalized itinerary.

4: Explore Our Nation’s Capital

Every child should visit Washington, D.C., to see our government in action. Take a tour of the U.S. Capitol and spend time in the House or Senate Gallery, peering down on legislators as they craft our nation’s laws. Head to the National Archives to see the Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights, then take a public tour of the White House (you’ll need to submit a tour request ahead of time through your Member of Congress).

5: Take a Family Road Trip

There’s nothing like piling into the minivan and taking a family road trip. It’s family bonding at its finest. Spend at least a week or two on the road and make stops at Instagram-worthy roadside attractions, like Wall Drug in South Dakota and Foamhenge in Virginia. Travel up the scenic coastline of California from Los Angeles to the Redwoods. Opt for a historical road trip from Boston to Washington, D.C., making stops along the way in Mystic, Connecticut, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and Philadelphia.

6: See the Big Apple and Lady Liberty

From watching a Broadway show to taking in the views from the top of the Empire State Building to marveling at Times Square all lit up a night, the New York City is a place that every child should visit. Take the ferry to Ellis Island and climb all 354 steps to the crown of the Statue of Liberty. Once back on the ground, take a ranger tour at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum for a look at what it was like coming to America and seeing Lady Liberty for the first time.

7: Take a Family Heritage Trip

Before your kids spread their wings and go out into the world, they should learn about and visit where they’re from. Do some research (a site similar to Ancestry.com can help) and plan a trip to the place where your family first lay down its roots. Beyond countries and villages, dig deeper to seek out the farms where family once lived and the cemeteries where they are buried today. Family Tree Tours offers private and group genealogy tours to see how and where your ancestors lived.

8: Do Volunteer Work Abroad

Take your kids to see a part of the world where children are less privileged – without cell phones, iPads, even regular access to clean water – to put their own lives in perspective. Projects Abroad organizes short-term volunteer programs overseas for students as young as 16 to travel and work during school breaks. Or give back as a family during a cruise through a non-profit like Together for Good, which lists opportunities with schools, orphanages and shelters in the Caribbean and Mexico.

9: Try an Adventure by Train

There’s something magical about traveling by train, experiencing the landscape of America through the big windows of a railcar. Vacations by Rail offers one- and two-week rail trips that enable families to experience national parks and urban destinations such as Boston and Chicago. Or head up to Alaska and board a train with the Alaska Railroad, which pairs train travel with stops for dog sledding, day cruises, even iceberg hikes and river floats.

10: Go Camping

Get your kids out into the great outdoors for tent camping, foil recipes, s’mores and hiking. Start out at a campground, not at a backcountry site, and keep the adventure gadget-free (as best as you can). Many campgrounds, particularly KOA and Jellystone Park sites, have swimming pools and playgrounds, even mini golf courses. However, you may want to have some activities in your back pocket, like these 10 Fun Camping Games for Kids (scavenger hunts, obstacle courses, etc.).

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