Bridging Generations

Practical Traveler/ By BETSY WADE

GRANDPARENT-grandchild travel is shooting up like an adolescent.

This year, Sven-Olof Lindblad's Special Expeditions gets aboard with six new tours, three domestic and three foreign, for children ages 6 to 14 and their grandparents or parents. This 19-year-old company's venture joins others in the intergenerational field: Grandtravel, of suburban Washington, is offering its 12th season of trips; Familyhostel, now in its 8th year as a division of Interhostel's overseas trips, and Elderhostel, which has been making space for young people for 10 years.

When Grandtravel pioneered in the field, it offered only two trips. Now, many trips are available from many companies, including some not mentioned here, that tailor standard itineraries to accommodate children on certain dates.

Be aware: the prices for this sort of group travel are high, but children need the company of other children, even on an adventure, and this is what makes it worth the price. Grandparents also need to catch their breath, and kids' games, with the teacher-tour guide in charge, can open the way to a little quiet time.

These trips usually involve double rooms, for a grandparent and a child, or two grandparents and a child. When a menu is not involved, as on Elderhostel's trips, the meals will not be exotic.

What's Available

Here is brief information about notable offerings. They are sold by travel agents, or directly. SPECIAL EXPEDITIONS is offering an unusual 11-day Swedish trip twice this summer: July 10 and Aug. 14. The intended age of the children is 6 to 14. Without air fare, the price for each adult in double or triple occupancy is $2,890 and for a child, $1,445. In Sweden, travel is by private boat through islands and villages, with nights in hotels and inns ashore. There are four Zodiac rubber boats aboard the company's vessel, Swedish Islander, as well as bicycles of appropriate sizes. The trip accommodates 49 people.

The trip came about, Maria Burnesson-Lindblad said, when the company, while operating in Sweden, noticed that many families went there and that children got special consideration.

Special Expeditions' other family trips go to Baja California in March; a ranch in Big Sky, Mont., in June and August; the Galápagos in July and August, and the Everglades in Florida for Thanksgiving week. A trip to the National Parks of the Southwest in early August is sold out.

Special Expeditions: 720 Fifth Avenue, Sixth Floor, New York, N.Y. 10019; (800) 387-3345. This organization belongs to the United States Tour Operators Association, which requires its members to have a security deposit of $1 million to repay client payments if there is a default. GRANDTRAVEL, with 18 trips, all of them escorted by teachers, starts sending its catalogues out at Thanksgiving, according to its owner, Helena T. Koenig. Ms. Koenig senses that the grandchildren among her clientele are getting older. Last year, a 14-day trip to Munich, Salzburg, Vienna and Prague, entitled Fairytale Europe, moved slowly. This year, as Imperial Europe, it is already sold out and a second departure has been set up, for July 14.

Grandtravel's Grandest Canyons, a 10-day trip, starting June 22 for children 12 to 17, or July 13 for children 7 to 11, visits Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon, a rodeo, Monument Valley and the Grand Canyon. Nine breakfasts and dinners and eight lunches and hotel rooms are included. Without air fare to Las Vegas, the price per person, adult or child, is $3,450 with two in a room, $3,320 with three in a room, and $3,260 with four in a room. These trips take 20 or 25 participants.

Grandtravel has a big draw for its Awesome Manhattan trip July 11 to 19: tickets to "The Lion King" on Broadway.

Grandtravel, 6900 Wisconsin Avenue, Suite 706, Chevy Chase, Md. 20815; (800) 247-7651. Grandtravel belongs to the National Tour Association, which provides a fund to repay client deposits of up to $250,000 in the event of bankruptcy. ELDERHOSTEL'S basic programs are intended for people over 55, but spouses or adult companions of any age are welcome. The intergenerational programs are designed for people over 55 traveling with someone under 25, usually grandchildren, but it could be children. The programs provide joint classes or activities, and times when the different generations do separate things. There are no overseas Elderhostel programs open to youths or children.

The program specifics differ. Elderhostel's registration is through the organization, in Boston. After an applicant is accepted, the young people are registered with the school offering the course. A large number of intergenerational courses in 24 states are listed in the current domestic catalogue, covering April, May and June, with some overflow into July. The catalogue for summer was scheduled to be available last Friday.

The University of Minnesota at Duluth and the International Wolf Center are offering an Elderhostel program, "Let's Talk Wolf," from June 28 to July 3 near Ely, Minn., at the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Children in this program, who study wolves and their habitat, should be 9 to 12 years old. Most classes are for both generations. The fee for adults is $395 and for children, $340.

In its second year is "Generations Swinging Together," a golfing venture June 7 to 12 at the Cho-Yeh Center in Livingston, Tex. The center is 60 miles from Houston and near national preserves and parks. Individual and group instruction is offered for grandparents and grandchildren 8 to 12 years old. This program provides access to a driving range and 18- and 9-hole golf courses.

The adult cost is $380, children's, $300. Elderhostel's fees include meals -- whatever sort the school or conference center provides -- rooms and tuition.

Elderhostel, 75 Federal Street, Boston, Mass. 02110; (617) 426-7788. FAMILYHOSTEL runs overseas programs for 40 to 45 participants each under the sponsorship of the University of New Hampshire Department of Continuing Education. According to Linda Conti of the university, growing popularity will mean that the number of programs will soon be increased. This year Familyhostel is offering six programs for grandparents or parents over 50 and children 8 to 15, and one, in Provence, is already sold out.

A new trip this year goes to Cuernavaca and Mexico City from July 13 to 23. Offered in cooperation with the Cemanahuac Comunidad Educativa, it provides archeological trips, classes in cooking with chilies, a fiesta, painting and weaving classes, and visits with Mexican families. A performance of the Ballet Folklórico is included. Hotels in both places have swimming pools and private baths.

The cost, including air fare from Houston, is $2,225 for an adult, $2,125 for a child 12 to 15, and $2,025 for a child 8 to 11. Three meals a day, admissions, ground transportation and hotel, with two in a room, are included.

Those taking children into Mexico should be aware of a Mexican requirement affecting a child not accompanied by both parents. The rule is intended to prevent abduction of a child by a parent who may not have custody. The accompanying adult must carry a notarized letter giving permission of the absent parent, or parents, for the trip to Mexico by the child. The names in the letter should match those on the passports, and the dates of the trip should be specified.

Familyhostel, University of New Hampshire, 6 Garrison Avenue, Durham, N.H. 03824; (800) 733-9753 or (603) 862-1147.

A Word From the Wise

Good homegrown information about travel with a grandchild appears in a new book, "Have Grandchild, Will Travel," by Virginia Smith Spurlock. She says she has been to all the places she writes about: Washington, Boston, the Great Smokies, Hawaii, Yellowstone and others -- a pretty good list.

Mrs. Spurlock strongly opposes taking a child under 4 -- I would vote for 5 -- and says no single grandparent should take more than two children at once. Like me, she has heard depressing tales: One friend of mine took two adolescent girls on a costly trip to Paris, and they wanted nothing to do with museums and monuments, and the grandmother considered them rude and ungrateful.

The book advises being sure to have a notarized statement from the parents giving the grandparent the authority to get medical treatment for a child. She favors membership in the A.A.A., for its emergency assistance. And she recommends taking a cell phone along, particularly for reaching 911 or the auto club.

Mrs. Spurlock includes a chapter about traveling with a disabled child. She has a 10-year-old granddaughter, Sarah, who uses a wheelchair and has various handicaps. Although she usually tries to discourage grandparent trips to theme parks, she says Disney World was a good choice when considering a trip with a severely challenged child. "There are no waiting lines," she writes. Aides have wheelchairs waiting at the end of rides when the child must get out first.

"Have Grandchild, Will Travel," $9.95, is published by Pilot Books, Post Office Box 2102, Greenport, N.Y. 11944, (516) 477-1094, and is available in some bookstores.

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