lifetime family vacations
9 once-in-a-lifetime family vacationsUriel Sinai / Getty Images
The Aurora Borealis glows in the sky, September 03, 2007, in the Greenland town of Kangerlussuaq. The Northern Lights most often occurs from September to October and from March to April and are a popular tourist attraction.
By Lissa Poirot, Family Vacation Critic
We all have that dream trip in the back of our minds. Perhaps they have even registered on a Bucket List of places to visit before we die? While dream trips are in our dreams because they are harder for us to take — budget and kids seem to put a stop to those dreams — there are certainly some once-in-a-lifetime experiences that the entire family can enjoy. When saving up for that big vacation, consider saving for one that will leave a lifetime of memories.
1. Go on an African safari
Who hasn’t thought of someday taking on an African safari and bonding during a technology-free exploration of the African plains filled with wild zebra, giraffe and lions? These days, tour companies are making it easier for families to enjoy safaris together in settings as simple as mobile tents to “glamping” excursions to thatched-roof lodges. Most safaris will not allow children younger than 6, which is OK, you want your child to be able to appreciate what they will see and have the patience and ability to stay silent when it comes to animal sightings. Get closer to making it a reality with a look at our 10 Best African Safari Lodges for Families.
2. See the Northern Lights
The aurora borealis is a natural phenomenon where light dances across the sky. And it only occurs closer to the North Pole. (The South Pole gets a harder-to-spot version.) The best time to witness the occurrences is between April and October. Alaska may get you a glimpse of this natural wonder, and it’s easier than ever to tour Alaska when you enjoy an Alaskan cruise. For a more exotic adventure, northern Canadian provinces and Scandinavian countries also provide excellent views. Or perhaps a trip to Iceland, where you can also swim in the Blue Lagoon’s hot springs?
3. Take a barefoot cruise
While cruising may not be a once-in-a-lifetime endeavor, chartering a sailboat and enjoying a barefoot cruise is certainly something that may cost a little more but is guaranteed to provide some bonding time with the family. Instead of numerous dining rooms, arcades, waterslides, shows, and activities found on the larger cruises, a charter is simply your family with a captain and small crew (maybe just a skipper/cook) and nothing but open seas in which to swim, snorkel and diving in. For meals, you will gather in the galley or on deck in your bare feet and swimsuits. For entertainment, you’ll hike a deserted island or wander around a small port. It’s one-on-one time in a gorgeous setting, most likely the Caribbean. A great area for barefoot cruising is the British Virgin Islands, which offers more than 60 islands to hop and the beautiful Baths? Nicholson Yacht Charters set me up for a fantastic barefoot cruise I have yet to forget.
4. Work a dude ranch
The Wild West is truly America’s last frontier and a visit to a dude ranch is a vacation like no other for your kids. Joining a dude ranch for a week or weekend will ensure a technology-free vacation where you and your kids will sit around a camp fire and just be together. Of course there is some work before that point: trail rides, fishing, hiking and more. Sure, you can turn City Slicker and try your hand at a working dude ranch, but these days family dude ranches provide both roughing it and luxury options (think spas). Even if you are not the outdoors type, someone will be on hand to help you saddle up, bait up, and call out the do-si-dos on the evening square dances. Check out our list of our 10 Best Dude Ranches to help you plan.
5. Go to the Olympics
This one is easiest to do when the Olympics are held on American soil, such as the 1996 Atlanta games, so even if you do not want to fly overseas to witness the entire world come together in a competition that dates back to Ancient Greece, you can save for the day they return. However, if you want to enjoy the spectacle with the kids, you’ll have to pick one of the upcoming games: London 2012, Sochi, Russia 2014 and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil 2016. Me? I am hoping to make it to the London summer games because London is a great place for kids and my children will be 8 and 7.
6. Ride a mule to the bottom of the grand canyon
Perhaps it’s my outdated vision of the Brady Bunch episode where the Bradys ride down to camp in the Grand Canyon, but the idea of doing something that has been done in these parts for more than a century just screams “try it before it’s too late!” The Grand Canyon is something every person should see in person once in their life, for its scope cannot be imagined until seeing it first hand. Letting a mule do all the work going down and up the canyon also lets you take in the vistas from your changing point of view.
7. Catch a sunrise from the top of a volcano
Well, maybe a sunset so you don’t have to wake the kids too early, but catching one or the other standing at the top of a volcano looking down into its crater is definite a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Luckily, the Hawaiian Islands are littered with volcanoes, and happen to be exotic, warm-weather, family-friendly destinations that are dream vacations in themselves. Tour groups offer rides up to the tops of volcanoes so you don’t have to hike it, but if you feel adventurous, some tour groups let you hike back down, or even bring bikes for you to bike back down. (Save both for the older kids.) If you really want to splurge, take a helicopter ride to the top.
8. Sleep in a castle
Any child bewitched by Harry Potter (or adult, for that matter), will get a kick out of spending an evening in a bona fide castle. Something about arriving at a castle and being inside its stone walls with woven rugs and armor making up the decor is magical to all ages. Thankfully, this dream isn’t too hard to come by if you head to Europe, where centuries-old castles are being converted into family-friendly resorts. You’ll find castle resorts in places like Germany, Scotland, England, France and Ireland, particularly Dromoland, where old and new are combined to create a luxurious experience.
9. Climb to the top of a man-made wonder
For me, the dream trip would be flying to Sydney, Australia (business class, of course) and climbing the Sydney Harbor Bridge. I’ve heard so much about the daily climbs up and down the bridge, particularly starting the late afternoon to walk up as the sun begins to set, and back down as day turns to night over the Harbor. Considering the length and price of flights to Australia, all is not lost for anyone wanting to stand atop an iconic man-made structure. The easiest way to check this one off the list is a trip to New York City to climb the hundreds of stairs to the crown of the Statue of Liberty. Or fly to Paris to ride the elevator up to the top of the Eiffel Tower. Both cities are easy to get to with airfare deals always in the works, and both cities have an array of things to see and do with the kids. Of course, if you really want to aim for a destination further afield, Sydney calls, as does China’s Great Wall.