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Top 8 Family Vacations

MK Lauren Jacob Kauai

Here are Great Getaways Travel’s Top 8 picks for family vacations. Believe it or not, we struggled to keep this list a manageable size because we have so many favorites. Here’s what we’ve decided to do: we’ll give you our Top of the Top and we will break it down into categories in future posts.

First, what is a family vacation? Our ideal is a trip planned by the parents with input from the kids, or from all generations if grandma and grandpa are coming, too. We are also bold enough to suggest you can actually have an enjoyable time, yes, all of you, when you jointly create your itinerary. You know the basics, of course: nothing goes as planned so always leave a 15 minute window when scheduling activities; don’t overschedule; allow each generation some activities geared for that age group – including some down time; build excitement by learning about the destination before you go; and don’t waste money on pricey souvenirs that will end up in the back of your child’s closet.

Ground rules set, right? Okay, let’s roll:

All Things Disney

This includes Disney World, Disneyland, Disney cruise, any Disney theme park, hotel, and Adventures by Disney. Book as far in advance as possible for best availability and value. You . Will . Be . A . Hero . Promise . You know that our own Karen Henderson (karen@greatgetaways.travel) is the Queen of Disney vacations, right?


Know which island(s) you want to visit. Maui – great beaches, resorts, some family attractions can be crowded in high season; Kauai – what we picture when we think of Hawaii – lush, tropical, natural. We recommend the South Shore for families. The North Shore is spectacular but it gets a lot of rain (a definite bummer for kids); the Big Island, Hawaii, is very family friendly and great for the active traveler ( a LIVE volcano is a serious memory maker – and fields of black lava rock suggest you’re on another planet); Oahu – home of a Disney resort and a very bustling city – think Pearl Harbor, Waikiki Beach, the famous North Shore surfer paradise, shopping, dining and crowds; Lanai – closed for renovations is Larry Ellison’s island – think Four Seasons uber luxury with a kids program; Molokai – very primitive and we don’t recommend it for most families. Not sure which is best for you? Ask our Hawaii specialist, Shelly Lynch, shelly@greatgetaways.travel.

Ranch Vacations

Think active – horseback rides, hikes, cowboy life, and nature. There are so many options for ranch vacations all over the US. Google “ranch vacations” and be prepared for a herd of options. For the ultimate in ranch vacation (think cowboy with a big helping of luxe style) we recommend The Ranch at Rock Creek in Montana. Kids  from 4 – 12 will love the Little Grizzlies Program. Mom and Dad can choose hiking, mountain biking, fly fishing, horseback riding, or schedule some pampering at the Granite Spa.


Where to begin? You have so many options in this city, where English is the native tongue (that would be the Queen’s English, not ours): the Tower of London, The London Eye, a Harry Potter tour, Sherlock Holmes tours for the mystery buff, Buckingham Palace, and Harrods, of course. Miles of parks for kids to enjoy – St. James, Green and Hyde Parks are the most well known and central. And then there was the time we took our 11 year old to London and allowed him to pick a restaurant for dinner. He picked Burger King – we’ve learned to narrow the selection process after that!


We began taking family safaris when our son was 9. I remember packing a box of Fruit Loops because I was sure this picky eater would starve. I was wrong and we ended up pitching the cereal. Both of our kids LOVE going on safari. It is a magical experience. Who wouldn’t fall in love with elephants, lions, leopards, and giraffes roaming freely across the plains? For a first time family safari we recommend South Africa, an easy combination of wildlife viewing and city life.

young elephants friends forever south africa

Our favorite safari camps for families are Londolozi (I want to live there!) and Jabulani, named after an orpaned elephant and where you get to experience an elephant back safari (not for young children). And, just when you think you’ve seen it all, take a drive from Cape Town to the coast and treat the kids to some whale watching (in season) and get up close and personal with penguins. Ask Michael King, Michael@greatgetaways.travel, about family safari vacations. He is the Wiz!

Cruising Big-Ship Style

Nothing compares to the experience a family can have aboard a big cruise ship! Our favorites are the newest Royal Caribbean ship the Quantum of the Seas ( all Royal Caribbean ships are geared to suit all ages), the new Norwegian ship, the Getaway (and we anticipate the Escape, debuting in the fall of 2015 to be equally wonderful), and a Disney cruise delights all ages, too.

National Parks

Talk about a personal decision, this is one category that is difficult to recommend a particular national park! We are all familiar with the popular ones – Yosemite, Yellowstone, Rocky Mountain, Grand Canyon, Grand Teton and Sequoia – and there are so many other choices. Are you camping or staying in a lodge? Do you want to experience glaciers (i.e. Glacier Bay National Park)? Beaches (Cape Hatteras National Seashore)? Bears (Denali, Yellowstone, Glacier)? Kids today don’t experience nature very much, so vacationing at a national park would offer a welcome change from the concrete of cities and suburbs.

Washington, DC

Need I say why? Didn’t think so! The White House, the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, Colonial Williamsburg, the National Air and Space Museum, American History Museum, Bureau of Engraving, and on and on.

Trust me, we have so many more ideas for family vacations. If I wrote all of our picks, my grandchildren will be grandparents before I finish this post!

What is your number 1 favorite family vacation? Go to our Facebook page HERE to share!


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Finally – A leaf-peeping article that is excellent!

It’s that time of year, the time when the world of nature turns orange, red, yellow and brown in our part of the world. It’s like Mother Nature strolled through the country dotting and dabbing splashes of unbelievably colorful beauty wherever she wanted. I love this time of year (although not as much as spring) because I am reminded how magical life. This time of year is also when I am inundated with articles both online and on dead trees, a/k/a paper, about where to catch the best views of fall foliage. I have come to loathe these articles, yes, loathe. Most of them are a waste of time, written to fill space and accompanied by stock photos. Local magazines seem to predictably feature such articles and I suppose there must be reader demand or they’d find something more original to feature in their October issue.

Just this morning when chatting with Robin Atkins, Publisher of KC Magazine, KC Business, and Good Health KC, I went on a tirade about boring fall foliage articles (and many regional magazines’ travel articles that are space fillers for ad sales, IMHO). Well, the gods of journalism have a great sense of humor because moments after Robin left our office, I opened an email from Huffington Post Travel, which has an outstanding article about fall foliage. I’d go into greater detail but it is hard to type with all the bird feathers cluttering my keyboard because I am definitely eating crow.

Here, read the article yourself and I will give you a hint: you’ll need a valid passport to see this fantastic sight!

Happy Fall, my friends (drats, a feather got stuck on my sp a ce b ar).



Here’s a way to view fall foliage that is of galactic proportions:


Alaska: What’s an Un-cruise Adventure?

Alaska Damien and Meredith
Sea lions and orcas and bears, oh my!

Meredith and I saw all these and more on the latest Great Getaway, in Alaska’s Inside Passage with Un-Cruise Adventures.

Despite a very early flight schedule that had us up at 3:15 a.m. – note to travelers, book your flights well in advance if you can — and a rainy forecast, we were in high spirits for our first visit to the nation’s largest state.

As we dropped out of the clouds, the gray-blue of the stormy ocean gave way to a speck of green on the horizon. Then suddenly everything was green. The hillsides were covered with the mighty spruces of the 17-million-acre Tongass National Forest. We knew we weren’t in Kansas anymore. This was Southeast Alaska.

When we landed in Ketchikan, it rained. And rained. And rained. We quickly discovered this was par for the course in Alaskan summer. Despite the “liquid sunshine,” we found Ketchikan a warm and inviting town. We even met a few locals who sent us to the dock with 15 pounds of fresh fish. Long story, don’t ask. But what else would you expect in the Salmon Capital of the World?

Unfortunately, the Un-Cruise crew wasn’t allowed to serve our catch — I mean, it sure seemed like a good idea to me — but they were accommodating in every other way. Our ship, the S.S. Legacy, holds 88 passengers, and there were 57 onboard for the week. A ship that size offers a lot of flexibility, as we soon discovered when the captain, Dano Quinn, announced that Petersburg, not Wrangell as scheduled, would be our first stop. The change was made because a large cruise ship was scheduled to be in Wrangell the next day, and this way we avoided having to share the small town with a boatload of people.

The detour allowed us to stop by LeConte Glacier. The rain was cold and the wind fierce, but that served only to enhance otherworldly feeling of being surrounded by gray-green water dotted with icebergs. It felt like a scene from the claymation movie “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

While, sadly, a stop by the Island of Misfit toys was not in the itinerary, there were too many wonders that were to list. Here are just a few:

— After three days of rain, the liquid sunshine gave way to, you know, actual sunshine that you don’t need a euphemism for. The weather was beautiful the rest of the trip.

— We saw a whale breach three times then slap its fins against the water, a family of orcas and enough sea otters frolicking to make me bored of sea otters frolicking — just kidding, that’s impossible — in one day.

— The White Pass & Yukon Route train in Skagway is a much better way to admire the mountain scenery than the way the Gold Rush prospects did, no matter how appealing it might sound to climb something called Dead Horse Gulch.

— You can probably skip The Hammer Museum in Haines. Unless you really like hammers. I’ll let you decide. The name is pretty self-explanatory.

But the absolute best day was on Glacier Bay. It dawned clear and warm, and we picked up a park ranger who said days like this came around maybe 5 percent of the time on Glacier Bay. We were very lucky, and the hits just kept coming. We saw a black bear in the morning and a brown bear in the afternoon. We saw mountain goats on cliff ledges that appeared impossible to reach.

But what’s Glacier Bay without glaciers? Well, we got within 2 miles of Johns Hopkins Glacier at the back of an inlet and heard the “white thunder” of new icebergs crashing into the bay. We saw rivers of silt pouring down mountainsides, giving the water its muddled turquoise color. We saw icebergs flip over and a seal lying atop one making sure it wouldn’t flip. On the way out, we passed a big cruise ship that couldn’t even make it into the inlet.

In Tarr Inlet, we saw the flowing Grand Pacific Glacier, which one filled the whole bay, and got within a quarter-mile of brilliant-white Margerie Glacier, which enthralled us by calving off two huge icebergs right before our eyes.

The show wasn’t over yet. On the way out, we stopped by South Marble Island, teeming with wildlife. There were puffins, murres and several other types of sea birds. Mostly ignoring them were large groups of sea lions, young males who haven’t gotten the chance to breed, who naturally had other concerns. As you might expect, they had too much time and energy on their hands and spent the evening fighting each other and taking breaks to go swimming. It was like a frat house, except the sea lions bathed.

As if all that weren’t enough excitement for one day, an announcement went out around 12:30 a.m. that the Northern Lights were making a rare summertime appearance. It was the perfect cap to an amazing day of natural beauty.

Which country does the most good for the world?

I love TED Talks, talks no longer than 18 minutes in which the speaker shares ideas, designs and concepts that will help make our world better, encourage us to think and to work together, and to inspire. TED originally stood for Technology, Education, and Design. Today it stands for bite-sized nuggets of gold, of out-of-the-box thoughts, or simple common sense explained in an uncommon way.

So, putting aside national pride, do you know which country does the most good for the world? The answer may surprise you. Also, I encourage you to visit www.goodcountry.org to learn more about the project. Enjoy the TED Talk.