Travel's Best Family Adventures 2015
Our qualified panel of advisors helped us choose the hottest destinations for the best vacations for families who enjoy an adventurous getaway.
Make sure you check out our panel of advisors and see more pictures of our recommended family adventures for 2015.
Venture far from the US mainland without leaving the country. “Experience the natural splendor of America’s last frontier on a cruise ship,” says Rainer Jenss. “Book the family on a smaller ship — either with Lindblad Expeditions or Alaskan Dream Cruises — so you and the kids can get a better view of the breaching whales, foraging bears and calving glaciers throughout the Inside Passage.”
When the family gets back on land, we suggest renting an RV in Anchorage for a road trip along the Kenai Peninsula’s Seward Highway. When you reach Homer, the “halibut fishing capital of the world,” parents can let the children go out and catch their own dinner. Other fun family stops include the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward and Exit Glacier, one of several active ice flows you can hike on in the state.
From the beautiful capital of Buenos Aires to the sapphire glaciers of Patagonia, locals will not only be interested in meeting your family, but they will go out of their way to make your visit pleasant and memorable. “In South American culture, the kid is king,” says Bruce Kirkby, a writer and photographer who hosts Big Crazy Family Adventure. “More than once, chefs emerged from the kitchen to play with our infant son, leaving my wife and me alone for a blissful meal.” A bonus for parents is that the restaurants here offer some of the best affordable steak and wine meals in the world. Kids will enjoy the numerous homemade ice cream parlors, including Freddo, Un Altra Volta and Persicco, which serve various tasty flavors.
Argentina offers an array of family-friendly adventures, such as gaucho day trips at the Don Silvano Ranch, hikes in Tierra del Fuego National Park, kayaking tours from El Calafate, helicopter tours of Iguazu Falls and a unique experience to pet a tiger at the Lujan Zoo in Buenos Aires.
The Windy City’s world-class museums, art scene and diverse food culture have always been big draws for families. Shedd Aquarium and the Field Museum are worth the trip alone. Add in Navy Pier and open-air concerts in Millennium Park, and this is an urban family adventure that parents and kids alike will not soon forget.
Locals and visitors will not want to miss out on the highly anticipated June opening of the 606, Chicago’s answer to NYC’s High Line. The 606 is built on the old Bloomingdale train line running through Logan Square. “Families will have access to more bike paths and walking trails connecting some of the city’s thriving neighborhoods north of downtown, including Logan Square, Humboldt Park and Wicker Park,” says Keryn Means, a family travel writer and blogger for WalkingOnTravels.com. “Downtown Chicago is great, but its neighborhoods really are the heart of the city, offering the best food and a slower pace of life more suited for quality family time.”
Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
Everyone who visits the Galapagos Islands is amazed by the diverse wildlife, from those lazy sea lions to the giant tortoises, the blue-footed boobies to the curious penguins. The strict ecological protection of the area has meant that travelers who visit get a rare opportunity to see animals unafraid of human proximity.
“That means that even your 6-year-old can snap a photo of a passing whale, and your 10-year-old can swim above a school of sharks,” says Heather Greenwood Davis, a travel journalist and founder of GlobetrottingMama.com. “Lodging in the past was limited to staying on a boat or in clean but homely local hotels — both great options — but the addition of the area’s first 5-star hotel (the Royal Palm on Santa Cruz) means families who would prefer a more comfortable landing can visit, too.”
Glacier National Park, Montana
Take the kids to Glacier National Park to see its glaciers soon, before climate change makes them a distant memory. According to the National Park Service, there were about 150 large glaciers in Glacier National Park in 1850. Now, only about 25 remain. Based on various current predictions, all of the national park’s glaciers could be gone in just 5-15 years. “This national park is filled with stunning beauty, abundant wildlife, some of the country’s most scenic hikes and opportunities for families to explore and learn,” says Nancy Schretter.
A drive along the park’s epic Going-to-the-Sun Road can be a true adventure as it curves along mountainsides with steep drop-offs, providing jaw-dropping vistas. Glacier National Park also offers a wide array of family-friendly activities, including hiking, horseback riding, fishing, boating and backpacking. Camp out in the park or stay at the historic lakefront Many Glacier Hotel, where children can participate in the park’s Junior Ranger program to earn a certificate and a patch.
Kids Sea Camp in St. Lucia
Families from around the world who share a love for the ocean should head to St. Lucia for an unforgettable vacation at Kids Sea Camp. Family Dive Adventures offers this 6-day/7-night itinerary, hosted by top-ranked resort Anse Chastanet, which provides the best accommodations, fine dining and activities on the island.
“Children as young as 10 years old can acquire certification to scuba dive. Four-year-olds can get in the water for the Professional Association of Scuba Instructors’ (PADI) sanctioned training program,” says Rainer Jenss, president and founder of the Family Travel Association. “That’s great news for parents who thought they’d have to give up diving when the kids were born.” In between dives, guests can hike through an 18th-century ruin of an old sugar plantation or take a ride on a mountain bike through the rain forest.
Panama City, Panama
Skip the crowds of Costa Rica and visit Panama instead. It’s quickly becoming a popular family destination. In addition to the Panama Canal’s Miraflores Locks, we recommend exploring Panama City’s colonial history, architecture and culture. “Casco Viejo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a great spot to pick up trinkets to take home, grab an ice cream and enjoy a stroll through the old Spanish architecture of Panama,” says Keryn Means. The Amador Causeway has great panoramic views, and don’t forget to check out other must-see sights, such as the Metropolitan Natural Park and Museum of Biodiversity.
Looking for a more adventure? Head outside the city for family-friendly eco-tours and activities in nearby rain forests, such as Soberania National Park. See wildlife on Gatun Lake, take a tour of the Barro Colorado (one of the world’s oldest nature reserves), visit an Embera Indian village, go white-water rafting on the Chagres River, or spend a day on one of Isla Contadora’s beautiful beaches.
Peru is one of the top adventure destinations for 2015, and it's a great choice for an amazing family expedition. While Peru is best known for mystical Machu Picchu, this richly diverse country offers even more to explore. In its Sacred Valley, families can go white-water rafting on the Urubamba River, ride Peruvian Paso Fino horses through small communities, and mountain bike along dirt roads to visit ancient salt mines and Incan archaeological sites.
“Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is popular for families with teens and older children, but family-friendly tour operators such as Austin Adventures offer multiple options for reaching this iconic site,” says Nancy Schretter, a family and multigenerational travel expert. “For a true bucket-list experience, families can combine this exciting Andean adventure with a visit to the Peruvian Amazon, a region rich in Amazonian wildlife, natural wonders and unique cultural experiences.”
Tofino, British Columbia
On Canada's west coast, Tofino has it all: endless beaches, camping, luxury lodges, surfing, kayaking and self-guided hikes in the rain forest. “Take a boat tour to go whale-watching and visit natural hot springs,” says Bruce Kirkby. “But for kids, nothing will beat the beaches. There are miles and miles of sand to explore, and in some cases, there’s not a soul in sight.” We suggest Tofino's family-friendly beaches such as MacKenzie Beach, Tonquin Beach and Chesterman Beach. For a more adventurous trip, families can hike the Rainforest Trail at Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. Bear-watching, bird-watching, kayaking, fishing and surfing make Tofino the perfect location for a family getaway.
Bruce also recommends Tofino’s excellent restaurants, such as SoBo. This award-winning seafood restaurant — which uses fresh, locally grown ingredients — started in a truck, but it now occupies space in the upscale Conradi Building in downtown Tofino. The polenta fries are his favorite on the menu, and they’re sure to be a favorite of the entire family.
Tokyo is the kind of city where kids’ dreams can come true. “Hello Kitty cafes and anime museums mean you’ll be hard-pressed to find something here that your kids won’t want to see,” says Heather Greenwood Davis. “Between the cartoons they watch at home (think Avatar: The Last Airbender and Beyblade), the pop culture they’re exposed to (Gwen Stefani’s Harajuku Girls) and the video games they swoon for (Nintendo and Sega have Japanese ties), this city is where families will find plenty to keep them busy."
Despite the modernity, Tokyo also manages to offer more serene adventures. Rent a bike to take in the Imperial Palace grounds, or take a local course in the art of origami or tai chi for a bit of culture. Then, go further. Tokyo’s newest attraction takes visitors on an adventure out of the city. Hop on the new bullet train — which travels from Tokyo through the Hokuriku region — and watch your child’s eyes light up as you approach speeds of up to 300 mph. All aboard! The new train route is open to the public starting March 14, 2015.
It’s time to plan your next cruise with our annual list of some of the best ships to set sail this year. Get detailed info on why each cruise ship made our list.