September 3, 2014

Family Escapes

Take your brood on a memory-making vacation

By Alexis Hilts

Vacations Magazine: Family Escapes
Jeffrey Brown/Atlantis Paradise Island
Must-see destinations, activities for all ages and opportunities to connect make these our top picks for family travel this year. They include escorted tours that wrap many sights and experiences into one itinerary, amenity-filled cruise ships that sail in the Caribbean and Europe, and beachfront resorts that keep everyone entertained from day to night. Call Vacations To Go at the numbers below for more information, or visit the featured websites.

Alaskan Adventures
The great outdoors provides a much-needed escape in our tech-centered world, and there's no greater outdoors than that of the Last Frontier. Spend eight days on a discovery of stunning glacial landscapes, majestic wildlife and intriguing culture with "Alaska: Call of the Wild" from Tauck Bridges, the family travel division of 87-year-old tour company Tauck. Traveling round trip from Anchorage, families see the region from every angle: on a jet boat ride in search of bald eagles and other animals along the riverfront; on a flightseeing tour of the tallest peak in North America, Mount McKinley; and aboard a self-propelled railcar. A meet-and-greet with some sledding huskies, a GPS-guided treasure hunt and the chance to pan for gold are fun additions for the younger crowd, while a visit to a fur trapper's cabin and a sailing of Prince William Sound past massive glaciers add depth to the experience.

Ten departures are scheduled for the summer season, starting June 9. Call (800) 680-2858 or visit www.TourVacationsToGo.com/Tauck.

Highlights of England And France
The eight-day "England and France Family Vacation" from Adventures by Disney introduces travelers to the landmarks and legends of two European countries with royal ancestry. From London and the English countryside to Paris and Versailles, families explore monarchical sites such as Westminster Abbey and its cathedral, Buckingham Palace for the changing of the guards, the Tower of London, Windsor Castle and Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette's grand Versailles.

Other activities in England include lunch at the famous Harrods department store, a ride on the 443-foot London Eye and a walk through mysterious Stonehenge. Then travel in style under the English Channel on the Eurostar train to the French capital. In Paris, adults marvel at the works in the Louvre Museum while kids get a kick out of an interactive scavenger hunt. And everyone enjoys panoramic views (and great photo ops) from the observation platform of the Eiffel Tower.

Adventures by Disney itineraries in England and France are offered from April through December. Call (800) 680-2858 or visit www.TourVacationsToGo.com/Disney.

Italian Lessons
History teachers often find it a struggle to engage their students in the cultures of the past, but a journey to the source makes ancient Italy come alive for kids and parents alike. Trafalgar Tours' 11-day "Gladiators, Gondolas and Gold" takes groups through Rome, Assisi, Florence, Pisa, Bologna and Venice with visits to iconic spots such as the Sistine Chapel -- adorned with Michelangelo's spectacular ceiling frescoes -- Pisa's leaning tower on the Square of Miracles and the ornate Doge's Palace, former residence of Venice's rulers. In addition to guided walking tours of classic sites, families take a stab at sword fighting during a gladiator tutorial, participate in a tasty pizza-making project and make traditional Venetian carnival masks.

Fourteen trips are planned from April through September. Call (800) 680-2858 or visit www.TourVacationsToGo.com/Trafalgar.

On Safari in Kenya
Bond over sightings of the "big five" on the 10-day "Kenya Family Safari" with Collette Vacations. Search for these famed creatures -- rhinos, lions, buffalo, elephants and leopards -- and other wild beasts with expert guides on game drives through the savannas.

Travelers of all ages can get close to the country's graceful, gray pachyderms at an elephant orphanage and feed the long-necked inhabitants of a giraffe sanctuary. Two other animal refuges, for black rhinos and chimpanzees, provide more encounters with endangered species. Learn to identify local plants and birds and discuss conservation efforts during a stay at Kigio Wildlife Camp, a private eco-lodge.

Collette guests also are exposed to Kenya's culture on visits to local schools and a community center, where they can try beading or basket-making, and during get-togethers with Maasai villagers. Breakfast in the bush, a picnic lunch, dinner under vast and starry skies and an optional hot-air balloon ride bring peaceful moments to a tour packed with safari excitement.

Five departures are offered from June through August. Call (800) 680-2858 or visit www.TourVacationsToGo.com/Collette.

Allure of the Seas
Royal Caribbean International's newest Oasis-class ship pulls out all the stops with at-sea attractions spread across seven onboard neighborhoods, each with its own personality: Central Park, Boardwalk, Royal Promenade, Pool and Sports Zone, Vitality at Sea Spa and Fitness Center, Entertainment Place and Youth Zone. Active cruisers can rock climb, surf on a simulator or fly on the zip line above the ship. Science experiments and art projects keep kids entertained, and young cruisers may even get to meet their favorite DreamWorks character (think Shrek or Po from "Kung Fu Panda"). Want an adult night? Try the highly rated production of the musical "Chicago."

Even the pickiest eaters will find something among 25 dining options, from Mexican cuisine to cupcakes to steak. Designed to carry up to 5,400 passengers, the vessel provides group-friendly accommodations such as a bilevel loft suite with floor-to-ceiling windows or a "royal family" suite that accommodates up to eight guests.

The Allure alternates weeklong Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries sailing round trip from Fort Lauderdale, FL, and heading to destinations like Labadee, Royal Caribbean's private beach in Haiti, as well as Cozumel on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula and St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Call (800) 338-4962 or visit www.VacationsToGo.com/Allure.

Norwegian Epic
Combine Norwegian Cruise Line's freestyle experience -- a casual dress code and unstructured dining -- with its newest and most innovative ship, the 4,100-passenger Epic, and you get one of the family-friendliest cruises on the high seas. Three waterslides, two bowling alleys, a sports court, an extensive spa and a teen hangout give everyone something to do, but it's showtime that brings down the house. Famous acts such as Blue Man Group, Howl at the Moon and The Second City comedy troupe join a lineup of celebrity impersonators, musicians, magicians and aerialists for what is arguably the most performance-packed cruise experience to date. And the ship's coveted two-bedroom villas are roomy options for families.

Through early April, the Epic sails round trip from Miami on weeklong itineraries to Caribbean ports such as St. Maarten, St. Thomas and the Bahamas. This summer the ship heads to the Mediterranean for trips that call at places like Barcelona, Spain; Marseille, France; and Naples, Italy. Call (800) 338-4962 or visit www.VacationsToGo.com/Epic.

Atlantis Paradise Island In the Bahamas
Half water wonderland, half upscale resort, Atlantis Paradise Island in the Bahamas is built to entertain. Three towers -- the Beach, Coral and Royal -- provide 2,300 comfy rooms from which families can launch their daily pursuit of fun at a range of attractions, from an aquarium teeming with more than 50,000 creatures like sharks, dolphins and sea lions to a casino for the adults.

The 141-acre Aquaventure Water Park is a highlight of this Bahamian complex, with 11 swimming pools, a water fort and "lazy river." Thrill seekers can pick from several high-speed waterslides. Try the 60-foot, nearly vertical plunge into a tunnel through a shark lagoon or the 50-foot drop into darkness.

Parents can rest easy at the spa or hit a round of golf while the little ones hang out with Atlantis Kids Adventures, where they can build with Legos, put on a circus, stage a magazine cover shoot or twist pretzels and make popcorn pops at a creative cooking session. Roughly two dozen eateries, including Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill, and a teen spot complete with Internet lounge, gaming consoles and dance floor round out this multigenerational playground. Call (800) 998-6925 or visit www.ResortVacationsTo Go.com/Atlantis.

Beaches Turks and Caicos
The 615-room Beaches Turks and Caicos Resort Villages and Spa on the island of Providenciales mixes the laid-back vibe of a tropical beach escape with European panache. Divided into Caribbean, French and Italian enclaves, this all-inclusive hideaway includes such inspired elements as lush beachside gardens, a Parisian-style bistro and a version of Rome's Trevi Fountain.

Guests are treated to elegant accommodations nestled on Grace Bay Beach and have access to a shopping plaza, pools, water sports, spa, croquet, lawn chess, tennis, billiards and Pirates Island, with waterslides and a surf simulator. As part of the resort's Sesame Street program, kiddos can bake with Cookie Monster or join story time with Elmo while their older siblings make friends in the Xbox 360 Game Garage or mix it up at Scratch DJ Academy, co-founded by Jam Master Jay from Run DMC.

For those seeking the most expansive quarters, the Italian Village family suites can accommodate up to 12. Call (800) 998-6925 or visit www.ResortVacationsToGo.com/Beaches.

The information in this story was accurate at the time it was published in January/February 2012.


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