When it comes to making travel plans, the options can be overwhelming.
Five intrepid family travel experts add to the mix with their top picks for a memorable winter season adventure.
Go for a Greek Getaway.
"People tend to stay close to home with kids. But, I firmly believe in opening their hearts and minds early with further flung travel,” explained Becca Hensley, an Austin-based parent and travel and lifestyle writer. “That doesn't mean you shouldn't have support though. You'll manage to relax, spoil yourself and hang with the family in style if you book a villa with Greek-owned, White Key Villas.”
“They're congenial and involved--and they love kids and catering to families,” adds Hensley. “With more than 200 handpicked villas to choose from, in destinations from Paros to Patmos, the homes are all privately owned, and vary in size and orientation. Costing the same as villas in Hawaii or the Caribbean, the Greek villas come with outstanding staff support, VIP experiences, and special treats for children.” Contact: www.whitekeyvillas.com; www.BeccaHensley.com
Chill in Quebec City, Canada
“Unlike many Americans, most Canadians seem to enjoy winter — even celebrate it, “observes Rainer Jenss, founder and CEO of the Family Travel Association, an organization that advocates for
travel as an important part of every child’s education.“That’s why I have often packed up the car and driven north of the border with my kids — to take advantage of all the festivities in a frigid, but fun wintertime destination,” explained Runs, father of two and a New York resident. “Winter Carnival, held every year in early February, has what every kid loves: parades, snow sculptures, shows, skating. and plenty of hot chocolate. It’s also culturally rich, since French is the predominant language, adding another dimension to the getaway for Americans .”
Winter on the Ranch
Vista Verde, a Colorado guest ranch, is a winter wonderland for families with kids of all ages, advises Nancy Schretter, the Founder & Managing Editor of the Family Travel Network. “There are so many fun things to do there - from snow tubing and cross-country skiing to snowmobiling, snowshoeing and fat tire biking in the snow. They also have a great kids program.”
“We went horseback riding along snow-packed trails and riding in a one-horse open sleigh ... something I always wanted to do,” added Schretter, who writes about travel from her home in Virginia.
Downhill skiing and snowboarding are available at nearby Steamboat Ski Resort and one of the ranch's vehicles will take families there, notes Schretter.
Consider Costa Rica
“it’s my favorite destination for families who love nature and wildlife,” explains LiLing Pang the Co-founder and CEO of Trekaroo.com, an independent family travel community.
“This Central American country is safe and easy to negotiate even for those who do not speak Spanish. In a week, you could be bird watching and zip-lining in the Monte Verde cloud forest, surfing and boogie boarding along the white sand beaches of the Guanacaste region, and watching playful monkeys and sloths in the rainforest,” offers the California-based mom and entrepreneur. December through May is the dry season in Costa Rica, adds Pang, which makes exploring that much easier.
“Italy is a great family destination any time of the year,” suggests Susan Pohlman, a mother of two, who’s award-winning book
'Halfway to Each Other: How a Year in Italy Brought Our Family Home, chronicles her family’s adventures during an unexpected sabbatical in the small town of Nervi, near Genoa, Italy.
“Italians are all about family, so we felt welcomed at every turn,” explains Pohlman. “The food, the rich culture and history and the extraordinary landscape make for a great family experience in every season.”
I had the good fortune to join the inaugural sailing of the Carnival Magic, a vessel spawned by industry giant Carnival Cruise Lines.
Yes, that mesmerizing Italian city was the launching point for the freshly-minted, 3,690 passenger Carnival Magic.
And, no surprise, there was plenty of magic from the start. The nine-night cruise got underway with a traditional and enthusiastic naming ceremony during which Lindsey Wilkerson, a childhood cancer survivor, was bestowed the title of “godmother”. The champagne-filled event highlighted Carnival’s commitment to St. Jude’s Research Hospital.
With such formalities handled, it was time to explore the ship and find out for myself why sailing the open seas has become an increasingly popular option for travelers of all ages.
Given that I was new to this cruise ship game, I brought along a trusty companion. Colleen Horan, my long time friend and college roommate, was on board to help me solve this maritime mystery.
Sure, there were plenty of family members, friends and relatives who were eager for the assignment. But in the end, I thought I would share at least eleven reasons why collecting cruise vacation intel with your college roommate is a grand strategy:
1. Sharing is simple.
Checking into our cabin, we already knew that sharing the smaller-than-our-bedrooms-at- home space would not be a problem. Back in those college days, we shared far less fancy digs and managed just fine. And whatever we were lacking in our new sea-faring space, was more than compensated for by the cheery folks who came knocking at our door to deliver morning coffee, croissants, fresh towels, or whatever our hearts desired at any time of the day.
2. Knowing nods.
As we strolled from deck to deck with sun glasses firmly in place, we didn’t need full sentences to fully communicate about the people, places and events (like the hairy chest contest) we were observing. A knowing nod, or a slight giggle said it all.
3. The right answer.
Each night, as we dressed for dinner in our cabin, it was dining decision time. Would it be the beautiful new Italian Cucina del Capitano, the sushi bar or the trendy Red Frog Pub? Perhaps the Prime Steak house? While we pondered those culinary options, we often traded clothes and jewelry. And when we posed that all important question: “Does this look ok?" , we always got the right answer.
4. Happy sampling.
We were each happy to sample each others food or wine and innately knew the meaning of a “taste”, unlike say, a teenaged boy.
5. Spa time? YES!
There was no negotiating about spending time at the onboard spa. We were definitely making that a priority.
6. Talking in circles.
We could endlessly circle the deck-top jogging track, part of the ship’s uber-hip Sport Square activity area, and never run out of things to talk about.
7. Off duty. We could enjoy great meals or snacks at virtually every time of the day and neither of us had to cook…or clean up.
8. Water babes.
We both looked approvingly at the bright and shiny WaterWorks, a colorful water play area overlooking the main pool deck. (Reported to be one of the largest at sea.) In our youth, we were both water-friendly, swim team members. Had it been just a little bit warmer, we would have taken on the 312-foot-long Twister or the gotta-scream-as-you-circle-your- way down DrainPipe.
9. Free birds.
We could stay up late and gossip. Or sleep in. Why? No one needed a ride, extra money, an instant answer or our opinion about anything. We were free to revert to our inner teenaged selves.
10. It's all good.
When headed off the ship for shore excursions, (to great places like Dubrovnik, Rome and Vatican City, Taormina, and Cinque Terra) we could shop, explore, photograph, dine, sample, chat, hike, observe or return together….or not. Because that’s what life-long friends can do.
11. Memories old and new.
Throughout the adventure, from Venice to Barcelona, we could laugh heartily at each other’s jokes, remember the good ole days (when our stomachs were flatter) and be extraordinarily grateful for the amazing day before us.
For more information about planning your own cruise, visit www.Carnival.com or contact your travel agent.