World of Wonder-Through a Child's Eyes
By Karen Rubin

Family holidays need not be humdrum affairs; they can be opportunities for adventure, experience, discovery. To see the awe on the face of a child seeing new worlds, different cultures, nature's miracles for the first time is to see the world through new eyes. It is an experience that lives forever in memory and spirit and forges extraordinary bonds in a way that merely inhabiting the same household cannot.

The call of adventure is so strong among families-parents with children, grandparents with grandchildren, three generations or clusters of related family units traveling together-that some of the most prominent adventure and special-interest travel companies have created special family-friendly itineraries. This has happened because of sheer demand by customers, but also because the companies' founders, typically an adventurous, free-spirited lot, have become parents themselves.

The best of the programs are not just departures that coincide with school vacations and therefore have other school-age children along, or that provide a discount for children sharing their parents' room. They are distinctly different in focus, with programs that interest multiple generations; accommodations which may have charm and sense of place but which also have a swimming pool; pacing so there are more nights in one place before moving on; having special activities or leaders who engage the children; and when it comes to dining, a sense of reality about what children will eat. Just as you would in choosing a family-oriented cruise, you need to ask specific questions of the travel agent or tour operator about the ages of children the trip will likely draw, and all those other questions about food, lodging, activities, even whether there is any opportunity for a "parents night out."

If ever there was a benefit to taking a "packaged tour," this is it. Taking your kids off the beaten track (that is, not to Disney or a beach resort), can be extremely daunting. It's one thing to backpack with no care for where you will be sleeping that night when you are college-age, it's quite another when you are responsible for youngsters. And many of the most exquisite activities require a significant amount of logistical finesse and understanding of local practices which you would not have.

Activities like hiking up Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, camping in Nepal, biking through Tuscany, rafting in Bali, are not necessarily saved for when the child is a teenager (ie. young adult). If anything, it is actually easier to pack the kids up when they are younger-even six or eight years old, depending upon the program and of course, your child's maturity. But the advice here is not to put such extraordinary experiences off: before you know it, your children will be off with their own directions to go, their own paths to wander, their own mountains to climb.

A World of Adventure

There is quite literally a world of adventure:

Wineland-Thomson Adventures, which started over a generation ago as a prominent Tanzania-based safari company, has gone all out, creating a special division, Thomson Family and a special catalog, born out of the founders' own passion for continuing to travel with their children, now 11 and 13.

"Adventure travel is more than sightseeing and being entertained," Judi Wineland and Rick Thomson relate. "It's an unfiltered hands-on lesson in history, ecology, botany, geography, anthropology and much more. It's about questioning our preconceptions and expanding our awareness. We learn about ourselves as we reach out into the world, and have tons of fun doing so."

The Thomson trips are scheduled to coincide with the major school holidays and vacations, and generally run from 9 to 18 days, with pre and post trip extensions allowing for extra time to acclimate or see another side of the destination. One-week itineraries are scheduled in Egypt, Ecuador and Costa Rica for February, March and April because school breaks vary. Group departures, affording economical fares, are arranged for every destination except Alaska, but land-only rates are available as well for those who prefer to use frequent flyer miles. The groups are limited in size to 15 to 20 people. There are no rigid age requirements; parents should be the best judge of a child's readiness, but counselors can provide the information you need to make a decision.

The company offers a rich selection of exotic destinations: Tanzania, Costa Rica, Bali, Borneo, Nepal, Egypt, Alaska's wild areas and the Galapagos Islands. This season, the company is offering the opportunity to climb Kilimanjaro as an extension to the Tanzania trip, after Rick summitted Africa's highest peak with their eldest daughter.

The 13-day "Affordable Tanzania Family Safari," features bird watching, hippos and camping at Lake Manyara; visits to the great Rift Valley and Hadza people; wildlife viewing and camping at Ngorongoro Crater; wildlife viewing, nature walks and camping at Olduvai Gorge and Serengeti National Park (from $3,390; $500 discount for children 11 and under). Another offering is a nine-day trip to "Ecuador: Galapagos and Andean Highlands" is priced from $3,290 ($800 discount for children 11 and under; $100 for 12-17); the 18-day "Bali, Borneo & the Komodo Islands" trip starts at $5,890 with discounts of $800 and $200 for children; a nine-day "Wonders of Costa Rica" trip starts at $2,890 with discounts of $600 and $100 for children. Thomson Family Adventurs, 347 Broadway, Cambridge, MA 800-262-6255, www.familyadventures.com.

Backroads, which has expanded from a California-centered biking operator to offering destinations around the globe, also now has a dedicated Family Trips catalog which offers an amazing array of destinations on several continents--23 different destinations in all, including eight in Europe, 11 in North America, four during the winter in Latin America and Pacific, for a total of 170 family-oriented departures in all. There are family biking and "multisport" holidays through North America (Yellowstone, Prince Edward Island, Vermont, to list but a few); as well as Europe (Tuscany in Italy, Loire Valley in France, Netherlands, Denmark, Switzerland, Hungary, Czech Republic where there are both biking and walking holidays); Latin America (even Galapagos, Costa Rica, and Belize where there are multisport holidays).

Two different styles of trips are offered: those using inns and small luxury hotels, and those which are camping-style. The lodgings are selected for their appeal to parents and kids, with amenities like swimming pools and game rooms but luxury and charm befitting the Relais & Chateaux and Small Luxury Hotel of the World properties. The stays are designed so there is less movement between hotels so you don't spend as much time packing. There are 49 departures to eight destinations for camping-style trips are also offered, such as in the Grand Canyon and Canadian Rockies amid spectacular settings but here, too, the chores are handled by the trip leaders and you rest comfortably on air mattresses.

The six-day multisport trip to Yellowstone and the Tetons is offered as an inn trip ($1,998) or as a camping trip ($1,198) and features biking, hiking, rafting and kayaking in the Wyoming wilderness. A six-day biking trip through Tuscany ($2,698, minimum age 10) starts in picturesque San Gimignano (parents get to eat dinner in town while the leaders take the kids out for pizza) with a three night stay at the Hotel Pescille with swimming pool, solarium and tennis courts; and two nights at Castello di Spantenna in; Gaiole in Chianti, a restored 12th century monastery with a swimming pool, sauna, fitness room, tennis courts. The six-day trip through the Loire Valley visits Amboise, Chissay-en Touraine, and Rochecorbon ($2,798).

On the trips designated for families, children two and under receive a 75 percent discount; those between 3 and 6 receive 40 percent; 7-10 receive 20 percent and 11-16 are eligible for 10 percent (these discounts apply to camping trips and inn trips when sharing a room with two adults; when sharing with one adult or another child, the discount is 10 percent regardless of age). Backroads, 801 Cedar St., Berkeley, Ca, 94710, 800-GO ACTIVE, www.backroads.com.

Parents, children and grandparents alike now can explore the remote corners of the world with Lindblad Expeditions on journeys specifically designed for families. This summer, a seasoned Expedition leader and knowledgeable naturalists lead explorations to the Galapagos, Sweden & Denmark, and the American Southwest.

The essence of these Lindblad Expeditions journeys is families taking pleasure in doing things together. Whether fishing for perch in Sweden or snorkeling with sea lions in the Galapagos, learning and nature bridge generations. While each expedition features a choice of family-oriented activities, flexible itineraries allow ample time to explore with a naturalist, go kayaking or simply enjoy watching wildlife. Accommodations are in fine hotels, inns, and ranches or aboard one of Lindblad Expeditions' comfortable expedition ships.

For example, on the wildly popular 10-day Galapagos voyage aboard the 80-passenger Polaris befriend blue-footed boobies, snorkel with marine life and observe giant tortoises chomping on vegetation; hike up volcanoes and along dramatic cliffs and discover marine iguanas sunning on lava rocks. (Summer departures are scheduled July 7, 14, 28 and August 4; prices start at $2,980 per person, double occupancy, and are $750 less for children under 17 sharing a room).

The 13-day exploration of Sweden & Denmark combines experiences that expand the understanding of Scandinavian culture and natural history with an element of fun. Departure dates are July 24 and August 17. Prices are $4,990 per person, double occupancy. For children under 16 sharing a room with 2 full paying adults, prices start at $2,495. This expedition includes Copenhagen's Tivoli Gardens, dinner in the home of a Danish family, and sailing among the islands of the Stockholm archipelago aboard the 49-passenger Swedish Islander. Evenings are spent in historic inns and hotels. Families explore Birka, an ancient Viking town with rich archaeological finds and imposing castles and fairytale-writer Hans Christian Andersen's Denmark birthplace and LEGOLAND.

Families discover the spectacular canyon country of Utah and Arizona on a 10-day American Southwest adventure. Time away from modern life is spent on a 19th century ranch in Moab, Utah and in quaint lodges scattered throughout Arizona, Colorado and Utah. This expedition is limited to 20 guests and departure dates are July 7 and August 4. Prices start at $3,290 per person, double occupancy. For children under 17 sharing a room, prices start at $2,990. Families are able to: horseback ride, river raft and hike in Canyonlands National Park and visit Native American villages to see how the Navajo and Hopi live today Lindblad Expeditions, 800-397-3348 or 212-765-7740, or visit www.expeditions.com.

Abercrombie & Kent's 2001 Family Holidays brochure is full of ideas for the "ultimate family vacation," child-friendly trips with special itineraries that appeal to all ages. Children's activity coordinators on many family departures provide organized, age-appropriate programs for the kids, offering parents time on their own. And the sightseeing planned for every tour is tailored to the interests, attention spans and abilities of the participants. A few examples: Tanzania Under Canvas: A Family Safari is in the adventurous style of old Africa, where you camp at Tarangiere and the magnificent Serengeti, with intervening lodge stays at Lake Manyara and the Ngorongoro Crater, for unforgettable game viewing includes lion, giraffe, hippo, leopard and cheetah. Majestic Canyons Family Adventure explores the canyons of Green River, a National Historic Landmark, whose hidden places once provided refuge for outlaws, trappers, and ancient tribes; at the end of each day, an A&K mobile river camp is set up and waiting for you - with tents large enough to stand up in, comfortable sleeping cots and dining tables with chairs. New Zealand Family Holiday offers various outdoor activities within a carefully-paced itinerary: day trips include a four-wheel-drive excursion into gold-mining country, a cruise through glorious Milford Sound, a jet boat ride on the Dart Driver, and a host of other surfing, rafting and riding options and ends on a magical note as you swim with the dolphins of Akaroa.

Also, London and Paris: A Family Holiday introduces the young, and the young at heart, to the wonders of Europe. This trip begins in London with the changing of the Guard and Windsor Castle, a cruise on the River Thames and a visit to mysterious Stonehenge. Then it's on to Paris - via the Channel Tunnel and the TGV train - to experience the "city of lights" and the Palace of Versailles, ending with the fairytale castles of the Loire Valley. Ireland Family Tour is a delightful and enchanting family holiday where you stay in comfortable country hotels with opportunities to fish, play tennis, swim or take leisurely walks; visit Dublin and medieval castles and enjoy the warm welcome and charm of the Irish people with meals in local, family-friendly pubs.

Many families find Canal and River Cruising in Europe the perfect opportunity to relax in each other's company. Charter barges such as 'Alouette,' 'Hirondelle,' ' Marjorie,' 'Marjorie II' and 'Actief' accommodating from six to 20 guests can be reserved for the exclusive use of one family or a group of friends. Larger, less expensive hotel barges such as 'L'Abercrombie,' 'Lafayette,' 'Chanterelle,' 'Mirabelle' and 'Actief' let you travel in the company of other families on special departures. Self-skippered cruising also lends itself extremely well to family travel, allowing you to travel at your own pace and stop where and when it suits you. New for 2001 is the introduction of "Barging on Land" at the historic Chateau de Cazenac in the Perigord region of France. This 14th-century castle serves as your base for days spent exploring the picturesque countryside, while nights are spent cocooned in comfort at this magnificent chateau. Abercrombie & Kent, 800-323-7308, www.abercrombiekent.com.

AsiaTranspacific Journeys, a Boulder Co. operator, is pitching a few of its summer programs to families. The Wild Indonesia program begins in Bali on a side of the island tourists seldom see, with hikes along terraced rice paddles, white water rafting in a spectacular gorge, visits with villagers, artists and craftspeople and a dance performance. There is a sail through the Komodo Island group, stopping to search for the legendary Komodo dragon, as well as water buffalo, wild horses and the unusual Timor barking deer. There is also time to snorkel among coral reefs. On Java, families experience the beauty of Borobudur, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, and explore the cultural cente,r Yogyakarta. Heading to Kalimantan at the southern end of Borneo, they travel up river to Camp Leakey to see orangutans in the wild and (Departures are July 13 and Aug. 3, $3,995 land). Wilds of Borneo explores the island's national parks including Gunung, Mt. Kinabalu, Tunku Abdul Rahman, Turtle Island and Sepilok Orangutan sanctuary. This vast island has more than 3,500 types of plants and 20,000 animal species. Highlights include rainforest hikes and a guided canopy walk, cave explorations, swimming, snorkeling, hot spring, wildlife excursions in search of orangutans, monkeys, bearded pigs and Green and Hawkbill turtles which can be seen laying ping pong-sized eggs on the shores of Turtle Island (16 days, departs Aug. 24, $3,295. Asia Transpacific Journeys, 800-642-2742, www.southeastasia.com).

Journeys, which has specialized in expert guided worldwide nature and culture trips since 1978, this year has introduced a special website for family travel, www.journeysforfamilies.com. Family adventures are offered to Belize, Costa Rica, Galapagos, Peru, East Africa, Nepal, Australia, Samoa, and Greece, and are scheduled during summer and school holiday periods. Journeys International, 107 Aprill Drive, Suite 3, Ann Arbor, MI 48103, 800-255-8735, www.journeys-intl.com.

National Geographic Expeditions offers a few family-oriented trips during in each catalog, such as a Swiss Alpine Famikly Adventure; Four Corners Family Adventure in the Southwest; Family Dinosaur Discovery; Costa Rica. National Geographic Expeditions, 800-966-8687, www.nationalgeographic.com/ngexpeditions.

Grandtravel is about the only company that specializes exclusively in trips where grandparents escort their grandchildren. The itineraries are designed to appeal to both generations and give special emphasis to natural attractions (glaciers, jungles, mountains, canyons), historical sites (Native villages, ancient cities, medieval castles), and places of current interest (museums, industries, cultural attractions and beaches). Lodgings are deluxe, first-class or best-available hotels near attractions and recreational facilities. Trips are arranged with some peer activities when grandchildren enjoy activities together and the grandparents do stuff with other grandparents. Grandchildren of any age are welcome but kids 7 to 17 generally enjoy the trips the most; trips are scheduled to accommodate children of similar ages (7-11 and 12-17) when3ever possible). Itineraries include domestic tours (Southwest U.S.A., the Pacific Northwest, Western Parks and Alaska), and a growing number of international destinations: London and Paris; England, Scotland and Ireland; Holland and Belgium; Scandinavia; Imperial Europe; France; Spain; Italy; Greece; Israel and Jordan; Kenya; Australia; and China). Grandtravel, 800-247-7651, www.grandtrvl.com.

2001 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. E-mail questions or comments to FamTravLtr@aol.com.

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