Tag Archives: family vacation

Susan Crandell and her daughter, son-in-law, and grandson riding Icelandic horses.

Travel Experts Share their Top 6 Tips for Successful Family Travel

The best family trips are fun and deeply rewarding. Successful family travel is about minimizing stress, smoothing out logistics, and keeping everyone in the family happy, from the grandparents to the teens and toddlers. A group of people with different ages, experiences, needs, and desires all traveling together makes for challenges, but when those challenges are overcome, it creates bonding moments and lifelong memories.

Family trips are more popular now than ever before. In 2019, the average number of travelers on a trip planned via The WOW List was three. Today, our groups average seven people. So during our 2024 WOW Week, Wendy, Brook, and Hannah (all moms themselves) had a live conversation and Q&A with several WOW Listers who are experienced family-travel planners as well as parents. Also joining us, to provide the grandparent’s perspective, was Brook’s mom, Susan Crandell. Watch the video below, and scroll down for the top takeaways from our conversation.

Shape global citizens

Wendy has been traveling with her two sons for 21 years, and they’ve been to 60 countries and counting. “Traveling gives your kids a confidence that will serve them well in life,” she said. Meeting people from completely different cultures and finding out you have a lot in common is deeply impactful. It’s how we create global citizens.

“When you model that being a traveler is part of your identity, your kids will pick up on that,” Brook said. In her family’s house, they have a hallway devoted to photographs that Zeke has taken on their trips; every time he walks to his room, he sees Egypt and Iceland and Vietnam and Norway and is reminded of the memories he made in each place. “He also has two world maps on the wall in his room, with pins for all the places he’s visited, the place he’s going next, and his dream destination,” said Brook.

Make friends

When Wendy’s sons were younger, they always brought a soccer ball on their trips. It’s a great connector, as tons of kids around the world love to play—and then you can leave it behind with the kids you meet. My own kids are still quite little, so I love making parent friends in playgrounds wherever we travel. It’s an ideal way to spend time with locals in the fresh air and get intel about more fun things to do with kids.

Wendy’s younger son, Doug, plays public pianos wherever he finds them—train stations, hotel lobbies, on the street, in music stores. It’s a fantastic ice breaker and conversation starter.

Assign jobs to kids

“Get buy-in from everybody, even if you’re the one paying the bill,” Susan suggested. In Iceland, she got her family to go horseback riding with her, something they wouldn’t have necessarily chosen—and then she went out of her comfort zone to ride an ATV, at her grandson’s request. It ended up being more fun than she expected. There’s always going to be compromise when traveling with a group, so it’s vital that everyone gets a say in the itinerary.

Zach Rabinor, on The WOW List for Mexico, took an eight-month road trip to 13 countries from Tierra del Fuego to Mexico with his family: his wife and two sons who were then 10 and 13, and at times joined by his in-laws and his mom, who was 78. His advice is to “involve everyone in the planning process, not just to avoid missteps but to get everyone engaged and excited.” Assigning responsibility to his kids helped them feel invested in the trip. One of his sons loves maps and took charge of directions. His other son, an avid reader, gave historical background and figured out the right tipping protocol in different places.

Seek out hands-on activities

Think beyond museums and landmarks. Brook and her family have “explored caves built by a pre-Viking civilization in Iceland, clambered through a Vietcong hideout in Saigon, and made cheese with a farmer in Norway—that last one wasn’t just hands-on, we were literally up to our elbows in whey!” These are the sorts of adventures that stick with all of us long after we’ve returned home, and the sort of experiences our WOW List fixers are experts at creating.

Jim Berkeley, on The WOW List for Egypt, gave his then-five-year-old son his camera in Luxor and let him follow his own inspiration. WOW List travel experts can also help steer you to guides who are excellent with children, or who even have their own children who might come along and play. “Let kids’ imaginations fly,” Jim says. “That’s what travel is all about—the world is their classroom.”

Schedule smartly

Jennifer Virgilio, one of our Trusted Travel Experts for France, England, Italy, and Switzerland, said that it’s going to be an incredibly busy summer in Europe. The Paris Olympics, Taylor Swift concerts, Wimbledon, the French Open, the Champions League, and the Formula 1 races are just the beginning of events taking over European cities. “It changes the whole landscape as a destination,” Jennifer explained. “If you are going to Paris for the first time, it’s best to wait.” If your heart is set on France and you can travel only in summertime, there are many lesser-known locales outside Paris that won’t be affected by the Olympics.

But even if, like many families, you’re forced to work around school breaks, there are alternatives to going in summer. For example, Thanksgiving is not a holiday outside the U.S., so it’s a smart time to head to Europe. If you must travel in summer, think about unexpected places such as Canada’s Maritime Provinces, including Newfoundland, to escape summertime heat, or Mexico’s Riviera Maya, to swim with whale sharks. Our WOW List experts can help you around crowds and maximize value wherever you go.

Keep it simple

Meg Austin, our expert for Caribbean beach vacations and ski vacations in the U.S. Rockies, highly recommends choosing direct flights whenever possible. Anything you can do to reduce hassle and smooth out logistics is worth the expense. “Don’t overschedule,” she urged. Make sure to build downtime into your itinerary.

All-inclusives are raising the bar on quality food—some even hiring Michelin-starred chefs, Meg reported. Ski resorts are great options for families, and ski resorts in the summer offer fantastic value, with plenty to do.

Pace your itinerary properly as well. “You don’t know how jet lag is going to affect your family,” said Jennifer. Try to stay awake the day you arrive and get to sleep at the time where you are.” Skip ambitious activities for the first morning, to give your group time to decompress after a long journey. Or skip jet lag all-together by traveling to the Caribbean, Mexico, or Central or South America.

Some final words of wisdom from Meg: “Always pack your sense of humor and your patience.”


We’ve published many stories about how to make the most of family travel over the years. Here are some of our favorites—and most helpful:

Traveling with Grandkids: Tips for a Successful Three-Generation Trip

This Is One Way My Family Gets to Know Locals When We Travel

How to Make Friends With Local People When Traveling

Colombia Is for Families: It’s Close, Safe, and Fascinating

Wendy’s Family Trip to Belize: Photos from the Beach and Sea

European Cities that are Surprisingly Kid-Friendly

We’re Just Back: Brook’s Family Trip to Egypt

Do’s and Don’ts for Your Trip to London

5 Ways To Get Your Child to Try New Foods When Traveling: A 12-Year-Old’s Advice

How to Make Sophisticated Travel Destinations Fun for the Whole Family

We Had the Best Family Trip in Whistler and We Never Put on Skis

Wendy’s Trip Photos from Morocco: An Unusual Spring Break Idea

My Family’s Best Christmas Abroad

How to Find the Perfect Vacation Rental: Tips for Your First Time, or any Time

Summer Vacation at a Ski Resort? Yes, and Here’s Why

Adventurous, Exotic Travel with Young Kids: It Is Possible

Italy Vacation Ideas for Every Age

Great Inspiration for Graduation Trips

We’re Just Back: Brook’s Family Trip to Southeast Asia

This Is What Makes Namibia So Cool

How to Have a Kid-Friendly River Cruise: Advice From a 12-Year-Old

Things to Know Before Booking Your Family Cruise: Tips From a 12-Year-Old

Why My Most Relaxing Vacation Was a Disney Cruise


Be a smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. Read real travelers’ reviews, then use the black CONTACT buttons on Wendy’s WOW List to reach out to the right local fixer for your trip.

Timing your next family trip abroad

Published in our twice-weekly newsletter on 1-24-22. For travel updates straight to your inbox, subscribe here.

Smart timing is everything

For all you cooped-up families desperate for an interesting trip abroad and wondering whether to try for spring break or wait till summer, the big question to ask yourself is: Can you bear the risk (however small) of the students in the family testing positive before the flight home, needing to isolate in place, and missing a week of in-person school? Those of you choosing spring break typically have a two-week break and are traveling during the first week only, or you can live with remote schooling in isolation (been there, done that). Those of you waiting for summer should choose early summer, when a possible quarantine wouldn’t interfere with the return to school.

I say the risk of having to isolate abroad is small because, of the thousands of travelers whose trips we’ve monitored during Covid, we’ve heard of only two cases of testing positive before the flight home. Both were just before New Year’s—one in Iceland (and most of the traveler’s family members who tested negative flew home without her), and one in Belize (where the resort provided a free stay for the asymptomatic quarantine). Nobody was a minor, and nobody missed school. My own students and I (pictured above in Turkey last summer) wish you the best with your decision, and for spring-break ideas, read about the cool things that the families below did during the Christmas/New Year’s school break! —Wendy


Just back from a safari

Cheetah with babies on African safari

Photo courtesy Beth Nury

“It brought back memories of…breathtaking treetop scenes from Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. But this time, it was live and we were filming!”

“Initial discussions with Cherri and her team began in July 2021 to further investigate if 2021 would be the year to go on safari. What Covid hurdles would we encounter? How would we handle a trip cancellation if a family member tested Covid positive days prior to departure? Where is the best place to see the Big 5? She and her team answered those questions (and plenty more!) enabling us to explore Kenya for 15 days. Cherri’s team guided us from the beginning and insisted on three key items to avoid possible trip derailment and an immense financial disaster.

1. Transportation: Due to Covid country entry requirements regularly changing with little notice (the U.S. changed their entry requirements two times after we booked our trip in July), Cherri recommended a direct flight from JFK via Kenya Airways. This smart strategy limited us to only one Covid test when leaving the U.S. and avoided the possibility of additional tests for connecting international flights and airports. Cherri also recommended limiting our travel to one country, Kenya, to again avoid additional, costly Covid tests in order to enter another African country.

2. Insurance: Cherri highly recommended we purchase Trip Cancellation insurance and evaluate the optional CFAR (Cancel For Any Reason) endorsement. Granted, the policy was expensive and the CFAR endorsement only indemnified me for 75% (industry standard) of the total trip cost, but it provided peace of mind as the Delta and Omicron variants raced across the U.S. with me and my family as potential targets!

3. Health & Safety: Cherri recommended bringing paper copies of all travel documents: Covid vaccines, health insurance cards, Trip Cancellation policy, Covid test results, passports etc. and not rely on my phone as the only document location. This strategy enabled us to move through airport check-in quicker than others because Kenya Airways wanted to review paper copies and not documents on a phone. Cherri’s team also coordinated our return Covid tests at Saruni Mara with a Kenyan doctor prior to leaving. The day following the tests, results were emailed to me at Giraffe Manor, our final stop, and the staff was instrumental with printing the lab report with the QR Code which was required in order to board our flight home.

The accommodations recommended by Cherri were superb. The hospitality was warm, the bush guides were knowledgeable, the food was excellent and the facilities were immaculate and regularly wiped down to eliminate any threat of a virus. A special shout out to Sasaab and Saruni Mara for going above and beyond by arranging meaningful visits to local people! Cherri’s tip to bring some candy and small gifts for the village children as an icebreaker was all that was needed for smiles, giggles and an insider’s view of the locals’ homes and lifestyles.

I cannot forget to note the sleeper of the trip: Governors Balloon Safari. My husband and I were skeptical of this bucket list item, envisioning being stuffed in a basket with other random tourists prior to sunrise. Boy, were we wrong. An overwhelming sense of nostalgia overtook us as we rose high above the trees of Masai Mara, spotting elephants, giraffes, hippos and buffalo in their natural habitat for the hour ride. It brought back memories of our 1970s childhood: Sunday nights, the entire family parked around the vintage RCA console television, spellbound by the breathtaking treetop scenes from Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. But this time, it was live and we were filming!

How could I conclude without mentioning the game drives, the true meaning for the trip? Our guides had us up early for good reason. We regularly viewed big cats over kills every morning. Breakfast in the wild was a chance to pause and reflect. Night drives were full of excitement as we watched the drama of life and death unfold again. Africa, as revealed by Cherri’s team, is truly the ‘trip of a lifetime!’” —Beth Nury



Just back from the ancient world

Part of the Mortuary temple of the Queen Hatshepsut (Dayr el-Bahari or Dayr el-Bahri), Western Bank of the Nile

Queen Hatshepsut’s temple, Egypt. Photo: Shutterstock

“Tour leaders and Egyptologists were all awesome—helpful, knowledgeable, friendly and organized….”

“We had an epic family trip to Egypt over Christmas and NYEve break! Jim and his team set up this trip perfectly—and with very little input since we were too busy. We entrusted them to prioritize and plan our limited time in Egypt, and they did it quickly and brilliantly. The tool they use to share itinerary drafts and the final documents and suggestions were fantastic! When we faced some issues or had changes, they were quick to support us. When we had to cancel one of our group due to Covid, they tried to get as much $ back as possible. Scuba diving the Red Sea was a bucket list item for me and we pulled that off as well (even though it was a little cold). Tour leaders and Egyptologists were all awesome—helpful, knowledgeable, friendly and organized. St Regis in Cairo, Sonesta Star Nile cruise, and Savoy Sharm el Sheikh were all great choices too—especially NYEve party!” —Bernardine Wu



Just back from sun and fun

empty Beach at Caribbean sea in Playa del Carmen, Mexico with footprints

Playa del Carmen, Riviera Maya, Mexico. Photo: Shutterstock

“The staff all wore masks and we spent most of our time outside…”

“We have just returned from a trip to Playa del Carmen and enjoyed a fabulous week at the Palmaia, House of Aia. What a gorgeous resort with a beautiful beach just 45 minutes to an hour south of the Cancun airport. Our trip was planned by Zach’s team. They arranged private transportation to/from the airport and our hotel accommodations. We had two beautiful rooms for our family of five and enjoyed the ocean views from the 3rd and 4th floors. This was a trip for just relaxing, so we didn’t plan any excursions. We enjoyed the beach and pools—a perfect vacation. The staff all wore masks and we spent most of our time outside, which made it feel more comfortable. The hotel is an all-inclusive serving top-shelf drinks, and the food was mostly vegan (though you could get seafood and meat at a few restaurants). The most delicious food we have eaten on vacation. We plan to return!” —Michele and Ken Krisko




family posing on a private yacht on the ocean in Belize

A WendyPerrin.com reader and her family chartered a private boat in Belize. Photo courtesy Shelby Willets

International School-Break Trips During Covid: Safe, Easy, and Fun

Safe, easy, delightful, international school-break trips, even during Covid? These families did it. Here’s how.


Blue-footed booby, Galapagos Islands.

Choosing a Galapagos Cruise: The Most Important Things to Know

There was one small box left under the Christmas tree, addressed to my husband, my son, and me. Inside was a tiny globe from the dollar store—a symbol, my mother explained, of the trip that she and my father would take us on together. The destination: TBD.

It’s part of my job here at WendyPerrin.com to read every trip review that we receive, so I knew immediately that the Galapagos Islands were a multigenerational crowd-pleaser: The low-effort/high-payoff wildlife sightings were sure to appeal to both my 7-year-old son and my 82-year-father, who bracket our small family, as would the unpack-once ease of a cruise.

The tougher decision was which of the 77 licensed vessels to book for our voyage. Hotels are becoming more and more common on the Galapagos’ four inhabited islands, but we knew that we wanted to visit a wider range of islands than we could see on day trips from land. After all, it’s how species change from island to island that steered Darwin to his theory of evolution, and that has attracted awe-struck visitors ever since—those finches and their multitude of beaks, if you remember a little of biology class. And I’m so glad we went by sea: The moments when we, our shipmates, and a colony of bold sea lions shared an empty beach, with not a single other ship on the horizon, were my favorites of the trip by far, and the time we spent in a handful of towns I found the least enjoyable.

To aid us in narrowing down the options, I reached out to Ashton Palmer, an expedition cruise specialist on our WOW List of Trusted Travel Experts who has spent time in the Galapagos, both with and without his own family of four kids. As Ashton helped us sort through the possibilities, here are the main factors that I learned you need to weigh when picking the right Galapagos experience for your group. Many of these factors, it’s important to note, are drastically different from the considerations you want to weigh when picking an ocean cruise:

  1. Length of cruise
Bartolome Islet and Santiago Island: This is the iconic postcard view of the Galapagos Islands

Bartolome Islet and Santiago Island: This is the iconic postcard view of the Galapagos. Photo: Ryan Damm

Most Galapagos cruises are, for all intents and purposes, almost two days shorter than advertised; that’s because you arrive from mainland Ecuador on the first day and have only the afternoon to explore, and most itineraries don’t include any activities before returning to the airport on the final morning. Anything shorter than a five-day cruise—which includes three full days of excursions—doesn’t give you enough time to properly explore the archipelago. On the other hand, you needn’t look for anything longer than a week: Our cruise lasted six full days, and we saw every major species but one (the flightless cormorant, which is found on only two islands).

2. Itinerary/combination of islands

The National Geographic Endeavour II at anchor off Espanola Island in the Galapagos Islands

The National Geographic Endeavour II at anchor off Espanola Island. This 96-passenger ship is the biggest allowed in the Galapagos, but tiny by cruise-ship standards—and perfect for our multigenerational group, which ranged in age from 7 to 82. Photo: Ryan Damm

In many parts of the world, the size of your cruise ship determines which ports you can visit; forget navigating Alaska’s Inside Passage or the hidden gems of the Caribbean on a 5,000-passenger megaship. But in the Galapagos, every vessel can access all the locations where Ecuador’s national park service allows visitors, by anchoring off the island and carrying travelers to land via pangas (small inflatable boats).

Genovesa Island in the Galapagos Islands - tourists get Up close and personal with sea lions.

Genovesa Island: Up close and personal with sea lions. Photo: Ryan Damm

boy takes photograph of frigatebirds on Genovesa Island in the Gapalagos Islands

Genovesa Island: Zeke takes aim at some frigatebirds. Photo: Ryan Damm

Furthermore, the park service dictates the itinerary of each vessel, and it does so with the marquee attractions in mind. So don’t worry that you’re going to end up on a week-long cruise and miss the giant tortoises or blue-footed boobies. Generally speaking, the longer the cruise, the greater the assortment of wildlife and landscapes you’ll see. Some islands are dusty and have only scrubby vegetation; others are covered by abrasive lava rock and bits of pioneer cactus; still others are cloaked in rain-soaked foliage. But beyond length (or the requirements of a serious birder), there’s not much to make one itinerary superior to another.

3. Size and features of the ship

tourists wade through mangroves on Genovesa Island in the Galapagos Islands

Genovesa Island: Wading through mangroves. Photo: Ryan Damm

Tourist vessels in the Galapagos range from small yachts that carry just a dozen passengers to expedition ships holding 100. That capacity dictates the number of guides on board, as visitors must be accompanied by a naturalist on every excursion, divided in groups of up to 16. So a 16-passenger catamaran will likely have just one guide and one option of activity per outing (typically hiking, snorkeling, or kayaking). The 96-passenger ship that we settled on, Lindblad Expeditions’ National Geographic Endeavour II, had seven naturalists on board, and every day offered a range of activities to suit different abilities: beach strolls, longer walks, shallow or deep-water snorkeling, and even a glass-bottom boat, which I was surprised to find nearly as rewarding as snorkeling (and with the added benefit of a guide naming each species as it wriggled below you). This proved essential for a family such as ours with varying levels of stamina. Keep in mind, though, that none of the hikes allowed by the park service are more than two to three miles in length; my young son wilted at times in the thick and steamy air, but his little legs never once gave out.

birdwatching on Genovesa Island on a Galapagos island cruise

Genovesa Island: Framing a swallow-tailed gull. Some Galapagos walking trails, such as this one, are quite flat, while others require that you boulder-hop among volcanic rocks. Photo: Ryan Damm

The larger ships also tend to have more creature comforts; our rooms had gorgeous floor-to-ceiling windows, for instance, and the kitchen staff catered to finicky eaters with ease (when the captain dined with us one evening and saw my son receive a special order of pesto pasta, he even requested a bowl for himself). Consider what you’ll actually use, though: A hot tub may sound appealing, but you’ll seldom want to jump in given the year-round humidity; and with two or even three active excursions every day, only die-hards will use a gym. Room to roam onboard can be a boon for families with young kids who might feel cooped up on a small yacht; a larger ships also brings more potential buddies for your children. By day two, my son had blown us off to eat at a kids’ table with a group of new friends.

On a smaller ship, the days unfold a bit more efficiently: You won’t have to wait in line for pangas to start each excursion, and the mandatory park and safety talks are shorter (it’s easier to succinctly convey a message—and answer questions—with a group of a dozen rather than 100). There’s also a bit more flexibility to each day’s schedule, with the opportunity to linger a few minutes longer at a fabulous snorkeling spot or on a deserted beach.

4. Quality of the naturalists

Galapagos Cruise boy spotting seabirds off coast

Espanola Island: My son enjoys a moment of silence spotting seabirds with our fabulous naturalist, Celso Mantalvo Fuentes. Photo: Ryan Damm

Some cruise operators prioritize the expertise and experience of their guides more than others; this was a factor that attracted us—and just about every other passenger I chatted with on the ship—to Lindblad. The naturalists leading our expeditions had published studies and photographs in scientific journals; started nonprofits to introduce island kids to the Galapagos’ natural wonders (which even locals can only visit with a guide); and consulted on ecotourism projects throughout Ecuador. A knowledgeable Galapagos trip-planning specialist will have cruised on most or all of the vessels they recommend and will know which attract the best-qualified naturalists (almost all of whom are from Ecuador).

5. Commitment to sustainability

hot peppers, hibiscus flowers, and herbs sourced from Galapagos farms by Lindblad cruises

Lindblad Expeditions sources much of the produce served on the ship—including these hot peppers, hibiscus flowers, and herbs—from Galapagos farms. It’s an economic win for locals, and also good practice environmentally: Invasive pests sometimes catch a ride on food shipped in from the mainland. Photo: Brook Wilkinson

Tourist vessels in the Galapagos are strictly regulated by the park service, but some cruise operators go above and beyond to be good stewards of this unique environment. Lindblad, for example, has partnered with farmers on the islands to grow much of the produce used on the ships. This not only creates employment opportunities for locals but also avoids introducing invasive pests to the islands (insects can hitch a ride with food shipped over from the mainland). Lindblad will also only serve beer and soft drinks that come in reusable glass bottles (their Ecuadorian craft beer selection is particularly impressive); they stock their gift shops with jewelry, chocolates, and hand-painted t-shirts that are handmade in the Galapagos; and traveler donations to a fund that the company has set up support island conservation and local education. Ask your cruise company what it’s doing to ensure that the Galapagos are preserved for the next generation.

6. Time of year

There’s no off-season in the Galapagos: Since the islands are sprinkled around the equator, you don’t get seasonal variations in weather. The ocean currents are a different story, though, and the normally tepid water gets downright chilly—and choppy—in September and October. If it’s animal behavior you’re after, fear not: Something is nesting, mating, and birthing just about every month of the year. While our April departure was dictated by my son’s school schedule, it meant that we saw the waved albatross returning to land on Española Island and great flocks of frigatebirds flouting their bright red neck pouches on Genovesa. Had we visited in December, we would have seen sea lion pups and bottlenose dolphins frolicking in the water. If you’d rather not deal with the chatter of kids on your cruise, avoid spring-break weeks and the summer months. (Of course, if you want playmates for your own children, those weeks are ideal.)

7. Your preference for privacy—or camaraderie

National Geographic Endeavour Galapagos Cruise ship cabin

Cabin Tip: The two Suite B cabins are the only ones on the National Geographic Endeavour II with these large windows. Photo: Ryan Damm

A smaller vessel feels more intimate, and you’ll likely be trading email addresses with your fellow passengers by the end of the trip. If you’d rather keep to yourself, you might actually prefer a larger ship—or, for the ultimate in privacy, a chartered vessel for your exclusive use. Chartering is best done with groups of ten to 20 family members or friends.

When I called Ashton for advice, he asked about our family dynamics and trip goals, and then presented three options: The Origin, a 20-passenger vessel that carries two guides for some of the smallest excursion groups available; La Pinta, a mid-sized, 40-passenger ship; and the National Geographic Endeavour II. We chose the Endeavour II for its extra onboard amenities and wider range of outings. And it was such a terrific fit for us that, within three weeks of leaving the Galapagos, we booked an Alaska cruise on a similarly sized Lindblad ship (this from a family that had never taken a cruise vacation before). Had my parents not been along, I might have preferred the more intimate feel of a smaller vessel, with less time spent waiting in line to board pangas or attending mandatory lectures. But for a multigenerational group such as ours, a larger ship was just the ticket.


boy watches a Galapagos hawk on Espanola Island in the Galapagos Islands

Espanola Island: Zeke stares down a Galapagos hawk, the islands’ apex predator.

Full Disclosure: Lindblad Expeditions provided this reporter with a reduced rate for her cruise cabin.  In keeping with WendyPerrin.com standard practice, there was no request for or expectation of editorial coverage on Lindblad Expeditions’ part, nor was anything promised on ours.

Colombia Is for Families: It’s Close, Safe, and Fascinating

Zeke befriends two Colombian girls at a flower farm near Medellin. Photo: Ryan Damm
Zeke tries on a silleta—an ornate arrangement of fresh flowers worn on the back in parades, and local to the region around Medellin. Photo: Ryan Damm
A coffee cherry. Photo: Ryan Damm
Our guide gives Zeke a few pointers as he plays his first round of tejo. Photo: Ryan Damm
The streets of Pijao, in Colombia's coffee country, are full of lovingly cared for Willys Jeeps from the 1940s that now haul sacks of coffee beans. Photo: Ryan Damm
Zeke uses a hand-cranked machine to remove the beans from coffee cherries. Photo: Ryan Damm
The main squares of Colombian towns such as Pijao turn into kid playlands on Saturdays. Photo: Ryan Damm
Zeke milks a cow near Hacienda Bambusa. Photo: Ryan Damm
Making fresh cheese from our milk. Photo: Ryan Damm
Every great guide has a bag of tricks for befriending the youngest clients. Photo: Ryan Damm
Hacienda Bambusa, in Colombia's coffee country. Photo: Ryan Damm
A walk in the countryside near Hacienda Bambusa. Photo: Ryan Damm
The Sofitel Santa Clara in Cartagena delivered this miniature ode to the U.S. on July 4th—the "fries" are actually mango strips, and the "burger" is a brownie! Photo: Ryan Damm
We break the ice by taking part in a dance class at the ProBoquilla Foundation, which provides after-school enrichment to children in an impoverished village near Cartagena. Photo: Ryan Damm
Demente, right on the square in Cartagena's bohemian Getsemani neighborhood, serves delicious pizzas, tapas, and cocktails. Photo: Ryan Damm
A quiet moment on the Rosario Islands off Cartagena; that's our private motorboat in the background. Photo: Ryan Damm


The way I figure it, my son is now the top-ranking junior tejo player in the United States. What’s tejo, you ask? It’s practically the national sport of Colombia; my family got to try it when we visited the country a few months ago. To be fair, though, Zeke doesn’t have much stateside competition—and it’s not simply because lead discs and gunpowder aren’t perfect ingredients for a kids’ game (confused? Read on). Rather, it’s because family travelers are late to the realization that Colombia is an excellent destination for parents and young kids. Here’s why:

No middle-of-the-night wakeups.

Jet lag can wreak havoc on young kids. When we went to Southeast Asia a few years ago, it took days for Zeke’s body to adjust—and we all suffered from lack of sleep in the interim. But that wasn’t an issue on this trip: Colombia is never more than three time zones from any part of the continental U.S., making the adjustment easy.

You won’t have to spend much once you get there.

While international-standard hotels, high-caliber guides, and private transportation cost roughly the same in Colombia as they do in more popular parts of South America, your other on-the-ground costs will be lower. A 30-minute taxi ride in Medellin cost $5, and my family of three ate out—often with drinks and dessert—for less than $50.

Yes, it’s safe.

Today’s parents might worry about bringing their kids to the country about which their strongest association is Pablo Escobar—but that era of widespread violence is over. I’ve been to countries saddled with State Department travel warnings before, but never with my son in tow. So I was extra-cautious this time, walking around with as little cash as possible and even leaving my wedding ring at home. In retrospect, I needn’t have bothered: I never once felt at risk. Colombians are optimistic about the peace accord that was recently signed with FARC (the country’s largest guerrilla group). As one expat explained to me, nowadays you really have to go looking for trouble to find it in Colombia; the same basic safety precautions you’d take in any unfamiliar place will serve you just fine there.

Coffee country isn’t just for drinking espresso.

We discovered tejo in the town of Pijao, in the heart of Colombia’s coffee country. It was a Saturday, when farmers bring their harvested coffee beans into town to sell to the regional cooperative. Many then head across the street to the tejo club, where the aim is to throw a lead disk at a board covered in clay; if you explode one of the little packets of gunpowder that’s embedded in the clay, you earn extra points. On the afternoon when we visited, the central plaza was a kids’ mecca, with a trampoline, a bouncy house, and mini electric vehicles available to take for a spin around the square. We spent that afternoon touring a coffee plantation and having lunch with the owners. But the rest of our three days in the country’s coffee-growing region were filled with kid-focused adventures: milking a cow, hiking through a forest of towering bamboo, making hot chocolate from scratch (as in raw cacao beans), and—if we hadn’t opted instead to slow ourselves down and spend an afternoon by the pool—rafting down a river. And the chef at our hotel, Hacienda Bambusa, prepared kid-friendly pizza and chicken nuggets as flawlessly as he did our five-course gourmet meals, which each night were inspired by a different region of the country.

Medellin’s fabulous public transportation network connects city and countryside.

Cities can make young kids feel cooped up, without room to run around. Medellin has a fair bit of urban green space, but it’s the ease with which you can get outside the city limits and into nature that’s most impressive. Kids will more easily tolerate a morning’s city tour when they know they’ll be spending the afternoon, say, hiking in Arvi Park, which is connected to Medellin by a public cable car. In a 30-minute drive from our hotel, we were visiting a small village where a philosophy professor showed us around his family’s flower farm one day, and hiking to a waterfall in the hills outside town on another.

There be pirates in Cartagena!

Now preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage Site full of picturesque colonial architecture, Cartagena has a history that reads like a children’s adventure book: tales of gold stashed away in basements, towers built for the express purpose of watching for pirates, a bridge that went up every night to keep out the riff-raff, ghosts who continue to haunt those homes where hidden treasures remain. Walking the old city walls, with their replica cannons pointed out to sea, and hearing the stories of the pirates who once lurked offshore, is a history lesson that will capture many a young imagination.

Flights are short and direct.

Book a nonstop from Miami/Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Atlanta, Dallas, New York, or Los Angeles, and within three to six hours you can be just about anywhere you’d want to go in Colombia: There are direct flights from the U.S. to Bogota, Cartagena, Medellin, and coffee country. Heck, it’s probably an easier trip than driving your kids to summer camp, or taking the family to the Caribbean or Hawaii.

But once you’re there, the culture feels distinctly different.

In certain parts of Mexico or the Caribbean, you might wonder why you had to go through customs and immigration just to be surrounded by American brands and American travelers. What appealed most to me about Colombia was that the short flight ended at a place that felt clearly different from what my son sees at home. Sure, there are some U.S. chains in the main cities, and plenty of English speakers. But everything from the corrugated-metal roofs to the rules of the road (or, more specifically, the lack thereof—we saw two fender-benders in our first four hours of driving) constantly reminded us that we were in a foreign land.

However, it’s not just what’s unfamiliar that was important. I like to play a game with Zeke while we’re traveling, asking him to describe what’s similar, and what’s different, from home. When he told me on our first day in Colombia, “I know something that’s similar: People are people,” every hesitation I’d felt about traveling abroad with a young child melted away. The education I hoped it would inspire was already at work.

Transparency disclosure: Some experiences described here were provided to Brook for free, or at reduced rates, by local hotels and suppliers. In keeping with our standard practice, there was no promise of editorial coverage in exchange: Complimentary or discounted travel never influences our reportage. All of these experiences are accessible to every traveler who uses Wendy’s WOW questionnaire. Thanks to Wendy’s WOW system, you’ll get marked as a VIP traveler.


Be a smarter traveler: Read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter @wendyperrin, and Instagram @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

Clue #1: We were somewhere tropical.

My Family’s Best Christmas Abroad

The Christmas-New Year’s school break is one of the few times of the year when families can carve out enough time to go far away. The location of my own family’s best Christmas abroad was remote, for sure—but we recommend it for an awesome holiday!  Can you guess where we were, based on the photo album below?

Our eclectic Christmas included:

  • Christmas morning at a local charity that feeds, clothes, and educates children living in extreme poverty. We brought gifts and supplies from home. Check out the videos (below) to see how much fun giving back when you travel can be.
  • Christmas afternoon at an estate built by the country’s most famous architect.
  • Santa Claus arriving not by sleigh but by WaveRunner. He brought gifts for all the hotel’s younger guests. No matter what the kids’ nationalities or faiths—and they came from Russia, the United Arab Emirates, France, India, Thailand, and Qatar—they were thrilled to welcome Santa.
  • Christmas dinner of fresh-caught seafood al fresco by torchlight on the beach.
  • A Christmas-cookie-decorating contest judged by the hotel’s top chef.

Click through my clue-filled photo album, then in the comment space guess where we were.  Tell me also:  Where was your own favorite Christmas, and why?

A 130-pound Santa arrived at our hotel on Christmas Eve, thrilling young guests of all religions.
A 130-pound Santa arrived at our hotel on Christmas Eve, thrilling young guests of all religions.
Clue #2: Note the open-air design of the resort’s lobby and its batik textiles.
Clue #2: Note the open-air design of the resort’s lobby and its batik textiles.
Clue #3: When guests arrive, they’re welcomed with a dance. (For the music and movement, see the first video below.)
Clue #3: When guests arrive, they’re welcomed with a dance. (For the music and movement, see the first video below.)
Clue #4: Santa came by WaveRunner, speeding past a mosque, a church, and a stupa en route.
Clue #4: Santa came by WaveRunner, speeding past a mosque, a church, and a stupa en route.
Santa brought enough gifts for every child—and the gifts were substantial: Doug, my 13-year-old, got a radio-controlled car.
Santa brought enough gifts for every child—and the gifts were substantial: Doug, my 13-year-old, got a radio-controlled car.
The kids got to make Christmas cookies in the kids’ club.
The kids got to make Christmas cookies in the kids’ club.
Then the hotel held a Christmas-cookie-decorating contest.
Then the hotel held a Christmas-cookie-decorating contest.
The kids’ contest was deemed important enough to be judged by both the hotel’s executive chef and its pastry chef.
The kids’ contest was deemed important enough to be judged by both the hotel’s executive chef and its pastry chef.
First prize was a chocolate Christmas tree. Charlie, my 14-year-old, won!
First prize was a chocolate Christmas tree. Charlie, my 14-year-old, won!
Christmas morning began with breakfast. Every Western breakfast food was available, but I always prefer to eat like the locals.
Christmas morning began with breakfast. Every Western breakfast food was available, but I always prefer to eat like the locals.
After breakfast we visited a local charity that provides food, clothing, education, and medical support to children living in extreme poverty. A lot of homes here were wiped out by a tsunami in 2004.
After breakfast we visited a local charity that provides food, clothing, education, and medical support to children living in extreme poverty. A lot of homes here were wiped out by a tsunami in 2004.
We brought gifts and played games. This is Pin the Eye on the Elephant.
We brought gifts and played games. This is Pin the Eye on the Elephant.
This bat-and-ball game is called rounders. Watch the videos below to see what else we did and how much fun we had.
This bat-and-ball game is called rounders. Watch the videos below to see what else we did and how much fun we had.
Group portrait.
Group portrait.
In the afternoon we explored the lush estate that the country’s iconic architect built as his country home. It’s 90 minutes from the capital city (where he designed the parliament building).
In the afternoon we explored the lush estate that the country’s iconic architect built as his country home. It’s 90 minutes from the capital city (where he designed the parliament building).
The architect liked to bring the outdoors in, blending nature and design.
The architect liked to bring the outdoors in, blending nature and design.
The gardens are a tropical paradise. Check out the height of the trees next to Doug.
The gardens are a tropical paradise. Check out the height of the trees next to Doug.
Begun in 1947, the gardens were the architect’s experimental laboratory for new ideas.
Begun in 1947, the gardens were the architect’s experimental laboratory for new ideas.
We’re in a wet tropical zone where temps range from about 80 to 90 degrees.
We’re in a wet tropical zone where temps range from about 80 to 90 degrees.
Here’s another clue for you.
Here’s another clue for you.
The estate doubles as a country house hotel with five guest suites. They were serving Christmas lunch.
The estate doubles as a country house hotel with five guest suites. They were serving Christmas lunch.
Back at our hotel, note the architectural similarities. In 1995 the architect who built the estate you just saw was commissioned to design this luxury resort. He died before he could finish; years later, one of his protégés took over the project.
Back at our hotel, note the architectural similarities. In 1995 the architect who built the estate you just saw was commissioned to design this luxury resort. He died before he could finish; years later, one of his protégés took over the project.
Note how the resort’s open-air design reflects the deceased architect’s vision.
Note how the resort’s open-air design reflects the deceased architect’s vision.
The hotel’s pool
The hotel’s pool
Late-afternoon view of the beach from the pool
Late-afternoon view of the beach from the pool
One of the hotel’s signature offerings is a private dinner on the beach. This was ours.
One of the hotel’s signature offerings is a private dinner on the beach. This was ours.
Check out the canoe filled with fresh-caught seafood to be grilled.
Check out the canoe filled with fresh-caught seafood to be grilled.
In the lobby on Christmas night, a blend of East meets West.
In the lobby on Christmas night, a blend of East meets West.
They sure went to a lot of trouble with the holiday decorations.
They sure went to a lot of trouble with the holiday decorations.
More of those chocolate Christmas trees, to be delivered to each guest room. Yum.
More of those chocolate Christmas trees, to be delivered to each guest room. Yum.
The next day we left to explore other parts of the country. It’s local custom to tie a string around your wrist as a blessing, for good luck.
The next day we left to explore other parts of the country. It’s local custom to tie a string around your wrist as a blessing, for good luck.
The final farewell blessing.
The final farewell blessing.


If you’d like ideas for your own fabulous overseas Christmas, I’m happy to help over at Ask Wendy.


Qasr al Sarab hotel villa pool Abu Dhabi

Where’s Wendy: Can You Guess From These Photos?

If you’ve been following my African safari trip on Instagram, then you know that I’ve spent the past couple of weeks with my family exploring the next great safari hot spot, as well as visiting rural villages where my kids can meet other kids from a totally different culture. Yesterday we left Africa, but en route home we’ve stopped for a few days in yet another location that is both a travel destination on the rise and is introducing my kids to a totally different culture.

Can you guess where I am right now? Deduce it based on the clues below, and make your guess in the comment space!

fancy Cappucino at Emirates Palace abu dhabi


Wendy Perrin at Abaya Grand Mosque Abu Dhabi


grand mosque in Abu Dhabi with floor mosaic of a flower


child in car at Ferrari World theme park in Abu Dhabi


Qasr al Sarab hotel villa pool Abu Dhabi

Leave your guesses in the comments below!

Wendy Perrin and young girl from Chiawa School in Zambia

This Is One Way My Family Gets to Know Locals When We Travel

For me an African safari isn’t just about game viewing. It’s about meeting new people from a totally different culture. And on any trip abroad with my kids, I want them to meet local children.

So half way through our safari in Zambia, we spent a couple of days in a village in Chiawa district, visiting the school and getting to know the community. At the suggestion of Cherri Briggs, an Africa travel specialist on The WOW List who has spearheaded a number of conservation and community projects in Africa and has turned life around for many people in Chiawa, we brought with us from the U.S. a big bag full of supplies for the school and the teachers, and we gave the students a slide show about our life in the U.S. (our house, our school, our neighborhood) and the children we have met in our travels around the world.

The people of Chiawa could not have been lovelier or more welcoming. My sons Charlie, 15, and Doug, 13, had fun playing volleyball with the kids, pumping water, eating Zambian home cooking with their hands, even going to church. In the videos below, you can watch a group of young girls welcome us with lively dancing, and you can enjoy the glorious songs we heard during the church service. We made a lot of friends—some of whom I’ve already heard from on WhatsApp—and hopefully some of the kids and teachers in Chiawa will visit us in the U.S. someday.

Here are the videos:

First, a 30-second panoramic tour of the village. Charlie and Doug helped out at the water pump. “Water is life” is an expression we heard a lot in Zambia.


The Power Kittens is a girls’ club that is one of the empowerment efforts founded by Cherri Briggs. It’s a club for 20 upstanding girls in Chiawa (approx. 9 to 13 years old) who do good for the community. Watch how they introduce themselves. They sing, “We are Chiawa Kittens….Yes Yes Yes! You need to work hard. Yes, that is our motto. Kitten never fails in life….Our motto is to work hard in life!”


To help break the ice, I tried joining in this dance. I wiggled as fast as I could, eliciting a lot of laughs from the audience. Charlie shot video of it, but I’m not about to share it here!


Once the Power Kittens reach high school, they become Power Cats. Here they are, in their signature blue shirts, beating Charlie and Doug at volleyball.


Listen to the beautiful voices we heard in Chiawa’s Catholic church. The priest, Father Paul Sakala, is a lot of fun—and an avid world traveler who speaks Italian and English as well as three Zambian languages.


In case you can’t get enough of those harmonious voices, here’s one more song for you.

Be a smarter traveler: Read real travelers’s reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter @wendyperrin, and Instagram @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

young elephant blocking the road in Zambia Africa

Where’s Wendy: Exploring the Next Great African Safari Spot

If you’re like me, you like to travel to places at that optimal moment when there’s enough touristic infrastructure for a unique adventure with all the creature comforts, but not so much yet that the tourist masses and chain hotels have arrived. Zambia is on the verge of that moment. Which is why I’m there right now, doing reconnaissance for you.

I brought along my advance team—my kids, Charlie (15) and Doug (13), and my husband, Tim. We heard from Cherri Briggs, who is one of the African safari travel specialists on my WOW List and who lives in Zambia part of the year (she has a house on the Zambezi river), that because Zambia is still under the radar, you can enjoy a high-value-for-your-dollar safari there that will have you alone amid sweeping landscapes, just you and the animals, no other Land Rovers or camera-clicking tourists in sight. It sounded like a great August vacation for the family, so Cherri designed an awesome two-week itinerary for us—which we’re now halfway through.

Most people thinking about an African safari choose between the two regions that are best known for it because they’ve been doing it the longest—southern Africa (e.g., South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe) and East Africa (e.g., Kenya, Tanzania). Zambia sits smack in between those two regions and, I’m finding, combines some of the best characteristics of each. I’ll be writing in detail about the pros and cons of Zambia soon—who should go, who shouldn’t, what’s the smartest itinerary, etc.—so stay tuned. In the meantime, here are a few snapshots from Week 1.

Pretty vegetables, eh? The ladies sell these in the village near Mfuwe Lodge. #Zambia #southluangwa

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Kids I met in the village yesterday. They’re 6, 10, 11, and 12. #Zambia #southluangwa

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Like father like son. #Zambia #SouthLuangwa

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Greetings from Chamilandu, a remote 6-guest bush camp in #Zambia. #SouthLuangwa @bushcampcompany

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Zambian roadblock. #SouthLuangwa

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Why we look forward to sundown. It’s when our car turns into a bar. @bushcampcompany

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Sundowners with a view. #Zambia #SouthLuangwa #hippos

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A parade of elephants. #Zambia #southluangwa

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Shower with a view. At Chamilandu Bush Camp, the chalets have three walls. @bushcampcompany #Zambia #southluangwa

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Lunchtime surprise in the bush: Make your own pizzas! @bushcampcompany #zambia

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Can you believe this is in the remote bush? #makeyourownpizza #middleofnowhere #Zambia

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#onthetable #inthebush #Zambia

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Bush brunch. #Zambia

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“Hold still, Doug!”

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You never know what’s around the corner in the bush.

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Inspired to start your own safari vacation?


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The Great Migration in Kenya and Tanzania

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Sonoma July 4th parade

For a Charming July 4th, Think Sonoma, California


Hi Wendy,

Can you suggest a fun family vacation on the West Coast for the 4th of July?  I’m looking for a cute town that’s not so popular.


—Elena S.



My husband won’t be happy I’m sharing this, since he wants to keep it a secret (he grew up in the next valley over), but the best July 4th we’ve found is in Sonoma, California. Independence Day parades and fairs are held throughout Sonoma County, and they ooze small-town Americana and charm.

The Old-Fashioned 4th of July Parade in Sonoma itself winds around the town’s historic plaza and ends with a celebration in the plaza park, complete with children’s activities, rides, and arts and crafts.  My own family can’t go to Sonoma without grabbing a picnic from the Sonoma Cheese Factory and an ice cream from The Chocolate Cow, riding the old-fashioned steam train at TrainTown, and stopping by Viansa Winery—a tasting room and large shop that the whole family can enjoy, what with the spacious grounds to run around in. The last time we were in Sonoma for July 4th, I even took a biplane ride at Vintage Aircraft Co.

Wendy in a biplane at Vintage Aircraft in Sonoma

Yours Truly about to take off in a biplane at Vintage Aircraft Co. in Sonoma.

Flying over Sonoma County in a 1942 biplane

Here’s the trusty pilot who sat behind me.

For an even folksier parade, head a few miles north to Kenwood, where the annual Fourth of July Kenwood Hometown Parade gives new meaning to the term “rural Americana.”  There are about as many people in the parade as there are watching it.  There’s a pancake breakfast at 7 a.m. at the Kenwood Community Church before the parade, and jazz in the park afterward, with plenty of homespun family fun as well.

The other thing my family likes to do on July 4th is the evening symphony concert and fireworks spectacular on the Sonoma State campus. Last year, sadly, the fireworks didn’t go off as planned, thanks to a computer glitch. My then-11-year-old, Charlie, was actually quoted in the local paper as saying it was “like Halloween without candy.” Given last year’s snafu, this year locals are anticipating a spectacular that truly is.

A ton happens in Sonoma County before and after July 4th too. Just check out the tourism site for a list of events and fireworks. On July 3rd there’s community fun and fireworks  in Sebastopol. Every year, Monte Rio Beach hosts the Big Rocky Games and “Water Curtain” (you’ve got to see it to believe it), as well as fireworks over Bodega Bay. And there’s the Penngrove Parade, which my kids have been in every year since they were five and three. It might not be as refined as Sonoma’s parade or as adorable as Kenwood’s, but it’s great homespun family fun nonetheless. There’s even an apple-pie contest in Penngrove Park afterward.

July 4th Parade, Penngrove, California

My kids getting ready to march in the Penngrove Parade, Penngrove, California.

Elena, one final tip: When you’re in Sonoma County with kids, don’t miss the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa. We always go ice skating next door at Snoopy’s Home Ice and grab lunch at its snack bar, The Warm Puppy, where you can get your burger in a dog bowl. Kids love it. Enjoy your holiday weekend!


This article has been updated; it was originally published June 2, 2014
Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter @wendyperrin, and Instagram @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

child playing with toy boats in the Jardin du Luxembourg, Paris France

Unexpected Spring Break Vacation Ideas

Where to take the family for spring break? It’s a question I get from countless readers every year who are desperate for an alternative to theme parks and mega-resorts. Finding an interesting, convenient and, ideally, affordable vacation is no easy task, especially when so many schools let out simultaneously and so many families crowd the same places. Airfares and hotel prices shoot up and, if you’re not careful, so does your stress level. What kind of vacation is that? To help you and your crew escape the beaten path of family-travel destinations, here are a few alternatives—including the place I’m taking my own kids this year.


It’s one of the world’s kid-friendliest cities, and not just because of the playgrounds, carousels, and crepe stands everywhere. I took the kids for spring break when they were ten and eight, and we discovered a huge number of surprisingly kid-friendly museums. Thanks to fantastic children’s audioguides, my kids were captivated everywhere from the Musée de l’Armée—where the handheld guide took them on an entertaining scavenger hunt—to the Musée de la Musique, a collection of unique, antique, and exotic musical instruments, including some that look like they’re straight out of Dr. Seuss. Rent an apartment to get more space for your money and to give your kids a glimpse of what it’s like to live as a local. My then-10-year-old, Charlie, learned how to go to the corner boulangerie and buy croissants with euros all by himself. Consider staying in the seventh arrondissement, which is center of Paris, home to many families with children and has easy access to museums and monuments. It also has many excellent bakeries—children can pick a new one every day—as well as affordable restaurants and open-air markets.  Don’t leave home without my tips for how to skip the lines at the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre.

Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia

children listen to a historical reenactor play violin at Colonial Williamsburg Virginia

Virginia’s Colonial Williamsburg is an immersive history experience that enchanted my kids.

Our spring-break getaway when the kids were seven and nine was an interactive immersion in early American history.  In Colonial WIlliamsburg the flowers were blooming, turning the grounds in front of the Governor’s Palace into a riot of color, and the village was not nearly as hot and crowded in April as it gets during the summertime. You can read more advice from me (how long we spent there, where we stayed, etc.)—and even read my then-9-year-old’s trip review—in this article I wrote for Condé Nast Traveler. Go to History.org and click on “Kids” for a slew of games and activities to get your children excited about their trip and educated about colonial villages even before you arrive.

Anza-Borrego Desert, California

You can always find inexpensive airfares to Los Angeles (LAX), where it’s easy to rent a car, drive south along I-5 to Oceanside, then turn east toward Borrego Springs and the spectacular badlands of the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. The wildflowers here usually explode into bloom in March, and that bloom continues for weeks afterward in different parts of the Desert (check for wildflower updates here). California’s largest state park is a tranquil wonderland of geological phenomena including canyons, mesas, buttes, badlands, dunes, washes, palm groves, cacti, and sweeping vistas that give new meaning to the phrase “purple mountain majesties.” Family fun includes checking out Split Mountain, ruptured and contorted by earthquakes and flash floods; squeezing into The Slot, a narrow sandstone canyon; finding prehistoric fossils and ancient pictographs in sacred rocks; and looking for shooting stars after sundown.

Washington, D.C.

National Cherry Blossom Festival, Washington, D.C.

National Cherry Blossom Festival, Washington, D.C. Photo: National Cherry Blossom Festival

When cherry-blossom season coincides with spring break (the peak bloom is forecast for March 19–22 this year), Washington, D.C., is a super destination for families. The Smithsonian Museums have free admission (as does the National Zoo), and several fun family-friendly events take place in early April, including the National Cherry Blossom Festival’s Blossom Kite Festival (April 1) and Parade (April 8) and Opening Day for the Washington Nationals (April 3). There’s also the Smithsonian Craft Show (April 27–30) and the Wine and Food Fest just down the Potomac River in National Harbor, Maryland (April 29–30).

Andalusia, Spain

children look at crates of oranges during the orange harves in Andalusia Spain

Our trip to Andalusia when the boys were five and seven coincided with the orange harvest.

For spring break when the kids were 5 and 7, we rented a villa in the rolling countryside outside Granada, in southern Spain. Temps were in the 60s, it was orange harvest time so the aroma of oranges wafted through the air, and there were fiestas around the region. We explored everything from the ancient white villages of the Alpujarra mountains to the Moorish palaces and gardens of the Alhambra. Just keep in mind, when your spring break coincides with Easter, that Holy Week in Andalusia can be crowded, with processions day and night.

Yosemite National Park, California

mountain view in Yosemite National Park, california

Yosemite National Park, California. Photo: tpsdave/Pixabay

Too many families consider national parks only for summertime trips. If your kid’s spring break falls in April, Yosemite is a great option. As you know from Your National Parks Calendar: Which Parks To Visit Each Month, its sparkling waterfalls are at their peak flow in springtime. Whether you’re looking for easy day hikes or technical rock climbing, a bicycle ride along paved paths or an overnight trek into the backcountry, you’ll find it in Yosemite, along with massive granite walls and a lush valley full of wildlife.


young tourist boy feeds pigeons in Cartagena, Colombia

Here’s Charlie feeding pigeons in the Old Town of Cartagena, Colombia, during spring break last year.

There’s a lot of new airline service to Colombia, and in March and April you’ll find sunny days, clear skies, a fresh breeze that keeps the temperature comfortable, and reasonable prices, since the low season is about to start. More and more families are visiting Colombia nowadays—and exploring well beyond the beaches and colonial Old Town of Cartagena. They’re visiting Bogota too—for its art, architecture, and food—and Colombia’s coffee country, which abounds with outdoor and cultural activities.

Big Bend National Park, Texas

Yes, it takes time to get to—it’s in a remote part of southwestern Texas, a three-hour drive from Midland/Odessa airport—but temps are in the 70s in March and April, and it’s the best time to see the cactus and wildflower blooms. As we know from Your National Parks Calendar: Which Parks to Visit Each Month, Big Bend has three strikingly different landscapes containing canyons, rivers, desert, and mountains:  You can navigate the Rio Grande by raft or canoe, soak in hot springs, climb the Chisos Mountains for a view into Mexico, or search for rare ocelots, jaguarundis, and jaguars.

A cruise leaving from a port that’s cheap to fly to

kids snuba diving underwater

The boys have tried SNUBA (a combo of snorkeling and scuba) in Caribbean cruise ports during spring break.

Here’s one of my tricks for avoiding those sky-high spring-break airfares: Instead of flying my family to a destination that’s in peak season, I fly us to a city that’s in low or shoulder season and has a cruise port where we can board a ship and sail to a place that’s in peak season. For example, we’ve flown to ports such as New Orleans and Los Angeles, where we’ve then boarded ships for the Caribbean or Mexico. Last year we flew to Panama (there were cheap airfares on United because Panama City is a hub) for a Panama Canal cruise. The Panama Canal fits the bill when you’ve got kids for whom a cruise is nirvana but you want to avoid the same old overbuilt Caribbean ports.

Where I’m going this year: Morocco

camel in the desert in Morocco

To avoid high prices and crowds, I looked for a country that doesn’t celebrate Easter. We’re going to Morocco!

Since the kids are now 15 and 13, they’re old enough to appreciate more exotic spring breaks. This year, eager to avoid the crowds and high prices that accompany Easter in many countries, I decided to look for a country that doesn’t celebrate Easter. And, since my goal is to raise global citizens, I wanted them to experience a completely different culture. So I chose Morocco, which is close enough—it’s a seven-hour flight from New York City (JFK)—yet otherworldly.  And the five-hour time difference (which is the same as the time difference between NYC and England) won’t mean too much jet lag. (Here’s a full report from when we got back from our trip.)

Busy parents, if you wish you could snap your fingers and find the perfect travel agent to design and deliver the best trip possible to any of these places, click over to Ask Wendy.  Because family travel memories are too precious to jeopardize with bad logistics.


Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

pink flowers and green plants blooming along a road with a mountain in the distance in Denali National Park Alaska

Your National Parks Calendar: Which Park to Visit Each Month

National parks are not just for summertime. The United States national park system offers so much diversity—climates range from tropical to subarctic, and from arid deserts to lush rainforests—that in every month of the year you can find a park worth visiting.



January: Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho

snowy scene of hot spring steaming in winter in Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park in winter. Photo: tpsdave/Pixabay

This usually crowded park is almost deserted in winter, so services are quite limited, but the wildlife viewing is amazing, and the steam and ice create stunning scenes. You can go cross-country skiing, showshoeing, and riding in snowmobiles or heated snow coaches. If you don’t score a room at the one hotel inside Yellowstone that’ll be open this winter, you can visit on a day trip from Jackson, Wyoming.

Related: Insider’s Guide to Yellowstone

February: Saguaro National Park, Arizona

Saguaro cacti, desert national park Arizona

Saguaro cacti, Arizona. Photo: samuriah/Pixabay

This park’s two sections—the Tucson Mountain District and the Rincon Mountain District—lie in the Sonoran Desert to the west and east, respectively, of the city of Tucson. The weather there is not as extreme in winter, when daytime temperatures range from the low 50s to the high 70s (it can get up to triple digits in summer). Explore its trails by foot or horse to see the continent’s largest cacti, the namesake of the park.

March: Big Bend National Park, Texas

Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend National Park Texas

Big Bend National Park, Texas. Photo: NPS Photo/Ann Wildermuth

With three strikingly different landscapes containing canyons, rivers, desert, and mountains, this remote area has much to offer: Navigate the Rio Grande by raft or canoe, soak in hot springs, climb the Chisos Mountains for a view into Mexico, or search for rare ocelots, jaguarundis, and jaguars. The park is a mecca for birders too, with more species observed here—over 400 at last count—than in any other U.S. national park. March and April are the best times to see the cactus and wildflower blooms.

April: Yosemite National Park, California

mountain view in Yosemite National Park, california

Yosemite National Park, California. Photo: tpsdave/Pixabay

Sparkling waterfalls (which are at peak flow in springtime), massive granite walls, and a lush valley full of wildlife make Yosemite a great option for your family’s spring-break adventure. Whether you’re looking for easy day hikes or technical rock climbing, a bicycle ride along paved paths or an overnight trek into the backcountry, Yosemite fits the bill—and you can easily combine a visit there with a few days in San Francisco.

Related: Watch: How to Make Family Trips Fun

May: Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks, Utah

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah.

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah. Photo: Marty Behr

It’s natural to visit these two nearly adjacent parks in a single trip: In Zion, you look up at stunning vertical peaks, while in Bryce you look down from the plateau’s rim onto hoodoos and other mystical rock formations. And they’re readily accessible, just a half-day’s drive from Las Vegas. In spring, wildflowers burst into bloom, providing a gorgeous contrast to the red, orange, and yellow stone. At this time of year, the temperatures are generally moderate and the crowds thin.

June: Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Grand Canyon view of the watchtower.

The watchtower in Grand Canyon. Photo: Mike Buchheit

The peak of summer sees crowds almost as huge as the Grand Canyon itself, which is up to a mile deep and 18 miles wide; go in June and you’ll have much more breathing room, as well as access to the far less visited North Rim (which is open only from mid-May to mid-October). Ask Wendy about who can arrange helicopter flights over the canyon, mule rides down to where the rocks are 1.8 billion years old, float trips along the Colorado River, and behind-the-scenes tours of sites not accessible to ordinary travelers.

July: Glacier National Park, Montana

Going-to-the-Sun Road, Glacier National Park, Montana

Going-to-the-Sun Road, Glacier National Park, Montana. Photo: NPS/Tim Rains

High up on the Canadian border, Glacier has a very short season: The entire Going-to-the-Sun Road (the park’s star attraction, cut into an immense, craggy cliff with amazing vistas) is only open for a few months, typically from late June to October. In July, there will still be snow, but the weather is pleasant. These days, sadly, you’ll find only a few dozen glaciers left from the 150 that were here back in 1850. There are more than 700 miles of hiking trails to choose from, some of which skirt waterfalls and glacial lakes.

August: Denali National Park, Alaska

pink flowers and green plants blooming along a road with a mountain in the distance in Denali National Park Alaska

Denali National Park, Alaska. Photo: Shutterstock

Denali is mainly a summer destination, and August sees less rain than June and July; you’ll also benefit from the long days, with up to 21 hours of light. Here you’ll find some of the greatest wildlife on earth—grizzly bears, Dall sheep, caribou, golden eagles—as well as the highest peak in North America, for which the park is named. Make one of the area’s remote wilderness lodges your base, and you can explore the park by helicopter, foot, and kayak.

Related: Insider’s Guide to Alaska

September: Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Grand Teton National Park in fall, Wyoming.

Grand Teton National Park in fall, Wyoming. Photo: NPS

Autumnal foliage, warm days, cool nights, and fewer crowds make early fall a lovely time to visit Grand Teton, its jagged peaks rising straight up from the plains with no warning. Hear what sounds like the rusted hinges of a screen door in the middle of the wilderness? It’s the bugle of a male elk, its mating call during this rutting time. Don’t make Grand Teton an afterthought tacked onto your trip to Yellowstone; whether you’re interested in summiting the Grand or fly-fishing on the Snake River, there’s plenty here to keep you busy for a few days.

October: Olympic National Park, Washington

Sunset from Mt. Olympus, Olympic National Park in Washington

Sunset from Mt. Olympus, Olympic National Park, Washington. Photo: NPS

In October, the weather is usually pleasant across all three of the park’s environments: the Olympic Mountains, the temperate Hoh Rain Forest, and the rugged Pacific coastline. There may be snow at the high elevations and some rain lower down, but the waterfalls will be flowing, and the area is very lush. Sunsets also tend to be spectacular at this time of year.

November: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii

volcano erupting in Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii

Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii. Photo: skeeze/Pixabay

November is shoulder season on the Big Island, so both crowds and prices are down. While it’s a bit rainier on the side of the island where Hilo and the national park are located, it’s typically dry and sunny on the Kona side. When you’re done exploring the park’s two active volcanoes, there’s plenty else to do: hiking, kayaking, scuba diving, snorkeling with manta rays at night, zip-lining, sampling Kona coffee, and visiting one of the world’s premier astrological observatories, atop Mauna Kea.

Related: Insider’s Guide to Big Island, Hawaii

December: Joshua Tree National Park, California

Joshua Tree National Park

Southern California is full of adventures, including a trip to Joshua Tree National Park. Photo: Visit California/Myles McGuinness

It can get cold at night in December, but the days in Joshua Tree are sunny with temperatures in the 60s (versus 110 or more in summer), making it ideal for hiking, with no crowds in sight. The park has two very distinct ecosystems: the low desert of the Colorado and the high desert of the Mojave, each with its own flora and fauna. The Mojave section also has some impressive granite monoliths and rock piles. Palm Springs is less than an hour away, so you won’t have to rough it while exploring the park—unless you want to.



Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

Family Getaway Tips for Labor Day Weekend

I can’t believe it’s nearly Labor Day Weekend. My kids go back to school soon, as do most kids in the Northeast—though in other places around the country, school has already started. Either way, we all have one last gasp of summer left. Wherever you might be headed with your family this Labor Day weekend to savor it—even if it’s just a day trip to an award-winning aquarium—I’ve got hard-earned advice to save you money and headaches. Over at TripAdvisor, I’ve often shared such family trip tips, and I’ve gathered some for you in the links below. Happy Labor Day weekend!


Georgia Aquarium

Charlie and Doug at the Georgia Aquarium Photograph by Timothy Baker

Tips for Trips to Zoos and Aquariums

If a stellar zoo or aquarium is within your reach this weekend, this advice will help you make the most of your visit, including turning it into a scavenger hunt….


Tips for Trips to Amusement Parks

The cost of spending a day (or two) at these places adds up very quickly: admission, parking, food, souvenirs. Here are ways to keep costs under control, including checking the right social-media feeds for deals and making your child C.F.O. of the family trip.

Jelly Belly jellybean flavors of toothpaste rotten egg and skunk spray

Jelly Belly flavors of toothpaste, rotten egg, and skunk spray. Photograph: Timothy Baker

Tips for Family Road Trips

If you’re hitting the road this weekend, avoid traffic jams by taking America’s backroads. Here’s advice for finding quirky roadside attractions, embracing the kitsch, and keeping the kids content without having to stop at any wacky food factories.

What tips and tricks do you use on your own family vacations?

Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

people canoeing in British Columbia Canada

Summer Vacation Idea: British Columbia for Every Type of Traveler

The skiing in British Columbia may be world-class, but if that’s all you know of the westernmost Canadian province, you’re missing out on one of the smartest summer vacation ideas for U.S. travelers right now. As Wendy discovered when she took her family there last summer, British Columbia has it all: Spectacular unspoiled scenery, first-rate farm-to-table food, one-of-a-kind activities, high culture, pristine wilderness, hip city neighborhoods, indigenous cultural communities, colorful festivals, charming inns, characterful lodges….Plus it’s nearby, it’s Zika-free, and the exchange rate is a relief. Whatever type of traveler you are, there’s more for you in B.C. than you realize. So we asked Marc Telio, who lives in Vancouver and is Wendy’s Trusted Travel Expert for Western Canada, to detail some of the lesser-known opportunities for five different types of traveler. Here’s what he recommends.

horseback riding in british columbia at clayoquot wilderness resort

British Columbia’s wilderness lodges put you right in the middle of the great outdoors. Photo: Clayoquot Resort

Outdoor Adventurers:

British Columbia is a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts. Just pick your adrenaline-boosting preference: sea kayaking, fishing, horseback riding, glacier hiking, helicopter hiking, river rafting, jet boating, rock climbing, kayaking on lakes, rivers or oceans—the possibilities are vast, like the wilderness here. And you can set your vacation right in the middle of it all at any number of wilderness lodges, inns, and resorts where Marc negotiates special benefits for his travelers. When you need a minute to rest from all the excitement, just enjoy a relaxing picnic—on a glacier, a clifftop, or an uninhabited island,

Cultural Explorers:

British Columbia is about the indigenous culture and people too. First Nations communities in B.C. have started to step up their tourism game, and an insider like Marc can arrange for visitors to experience these indigenous people’s culture and traditions in the most authentic way. For example, he can arrange for you to tour the islands and villages of the Haida Gwaii archipelago with a Haida guide, and for you to stay overnight at a locally owned and operated lodge. Or stay at the Spirit Bear Lodge in B.C.’s Great Bear Rainforest, where the lodge gives you access to a local aboriginal village and authentic culture, and you enjoy bear-viewing while learning about local conservation efforts.

grizzly bears in river in atlin british columbia

Summer is a great time for bear viewing in British Columbia: grizzlies, black bears, and more. Photo: Phil Timpany

Wildlife Junkies:

 Marc shares a secret: “My favorite part of B.C. is the northern coast because that’s where you’ll find grizzlies, black bears, spirit bears, and all of the species of whales, seals, and sea otters.” You can cruise the region’s waterways looking for humpbacks in the water and grizzlies along the shores, or head into the Great Bear Rainforest to spot spirit bears—rare black bears with white fur—plus eagles, and more. August, September, and October are the best months for all of the above.

Family Trippers:

Want to sneak a few life lessons into a family vacation? Take your kids out of their comfort zone. That could mean zip-lining through the forest canopy, canoeing down a river, or hiking across a glacier. You could spend a few days enjoying Vancouver’s cultural attractions, then immerse your children in wilderness at a remote lodge. Getting them ten feet from a breaching killer whale or a wrestling match between black bears just might make you the coolest parents around. Continue to engage the kids over dinner: Marc can arrange for your family to pull up crab traps with local fishermen and then help a chef prepare the haul for lunch, or to go behind-the-scenes at the Vancouver Aquarium with one of the beluga whale trainers.

canoeing at whistler british columbia

Whistler may be British Columbia’s most famous ski resort, but it’s also an ideal destination for summer activities too.

Multigenerational groups:

B.C’s ski resorts transform into ideal summer destinations for family members of all ages. As Wendy discovered when she took her family to Whistler last summer, the sheer variety of activities means there’s something for everyone. Grandparents can stroll around at their leisure, take vehicles to go bear-watching, or ride a gondola to the top of the mountain, while more active family members can try kayaking, canoeing, hiking, or mountain climbing. For family groups wanting more privacy, Marc has chartered a flotilla of seaplanes to the coast and taken over wilderness lodges. Talk to Marc to plan a trip that is guaranteed to make everyone in your wide-ranging group happy.

If you’re looking for a British Columbia specialist to design a custom-tailored once-in-a-lifetime adventure for you, read Marc’s Insider’s Guide to British Columbia, and reach out to him via this trip request form so you’re marked as a WendyPerrin.com VIP traveler.

Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

Fireworks over London's Tower Bridge on New Year's Eve

The Rewards of Spending the Winter Holidays in London

London is magical during the holiday season. There’s a festive atmosphere everywhere you go, and the city is lively and vibrant with seasonal events, cultural goings-on and, of course, world-class shopping.

And, when you’ve got family in tow, there’s no better way to experience the holidays in London than by renting the right apartment. You can simultaneously feel at home and on vacation. You get more space for your dollar (remember that most London hotel rooms are tiny), a communal living area for family gatherings, and even a kitchen for preparing your own holiday feast.

To help you pull together a London winter getaway, here are ideas for things to do and where to stay, whether you’re bringing the whole family or just escaping for a romantic weekend alone.

What to Do

• Take a twirl around the Natural History Museum’s ice rink and then warm up with a hot cocoa. There are ice rinks across London, but this one is popular, as it’s only a short stroll from South Kensington.

• Check off a few people on your holiday shopping list with a visit to the beautiful Victoria & Albert Museum gift shop. They have an excellent Christmas display for a bit of artistic gift-giving inspiration.

• Join the crowds for holiday shopping on Oxford Street and Regent Street. The hustle and bustle combined with the glittering Christmas lights makes this a classic London experience during the holidays. Covent Garden and Carnaby Street are also extremely festive for shopping leading up to Christmas.

• Don’t forget the department stores! Get into the holiday spirit by visiting the holiday displays at Fortnum & Mason, Selfridges, Liberty and Harrods.

• November through the end of December, take a stroll along the Thames at the Southbank Winter Market. Get a glass of mulled wine and explore the wooden chalets selling gifts, sweets, and festive food and drinks.

Where to Stay

South Kensington is a top choice during the winter holidays, thanks to central location, excellent transport options, and great sights and dining. Walk to the ice rink at the Natural History Museum and spend a day visiting the sights along Museum Row. Shopping and the West End are just a hop, skip and jump away on the Tube or a bus. It’s a wonderful area for feeling like a local and enjoying cozy evenings in a comfortable home setting.

To find the right travel specialist for London apartments, reach out to Ask Wendy.

Be a smarter traveler: Follow Wendy Perrin on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

Villa di Torno, Lake Como

Yes, It’s Possible: A Villa Vacation That Keeps Every Member of the Family Happy

You already know the benefits of choosing a rental villa over a hotel for your family vacation: More space, more privacy, more local flavor, and—if your group is large enough to fill every room in the house—significant savings. What you might not know though, is just how much the property itself—its layout, location, amenities—will affect the group dynamic. So will decisions ranging from which activities you pre-plan to which type of car you rent to whether the fridge is already stocked when you arrive on a Sunday and the grocery stores are closed. As someone who has rented homes for multiple generations of my own family in locales from Tuscany to Jamaica, I am here to tell you that renting through an expert who will level with you about the pros and cons of the neighborhoods and homes at your destination is a priceless advantage.

Mara Solomon, my Trusted Travel Expert for large Italian villas (read her Insider’s Guide to Italian Villa Vacations) does even more than that. Part magician, part psychologist, she can predict potential conflicts within your group…and make them disappear via smart planning. Mara, who specializes in properties that have four or more bedrooms, has compiled 11 tips for a successful villa vacation, and they’re a must-read as you start to plan your summer villa trip:

1. Manage everyone’s expectations. Travel might be the ultimate test of relationships (besides politics according to my mother). We all do it differently and spend time and money according to our own priorities. Manage everyone’s expectations for time together and time apart, for planned activities versus kicking back, very early on. Use Skype or a similar tool to bring the relevant decision-makers together, hash out the basic structure of the holiday and get everyone on the same playing field. A well-structured villa vacation ensures an elder is not over-taxed, a sporting parent gets the exercise they seek, and the kids are well engaged.

2. Divvy up the work and establish authority. Group travel—whether an extended family or group of long-standing friends (with or without children)—does take planning and it is essential for each group to decide who is making the decisions. Then make sure everyone gets behind them and sticks to the agreed upon plan. It’s also important to decide how the planning work is being shared. One person, maybe two if they work well together, is best for spearheading the choice of villa, but there are other tasks. The wine enthusiast can be put in charge of provisioning wine for the house and selecting wineries to visit, for instance.

3. Determine what really matters to your group. If your first conversations are less focused and people are less than candid, that is ok. Listen closely and you will have the keys to success. One person may need nothing so much as a fabulous bathroom. Be sure you have a plan for mornings out walking or taking coffee up to your own balcony or terrace if you need alone time. Maybe your nuclear family runs at a different speed and needs an excursion without the entourage of in-laws and cousins. Americans are used to enjoying their freedom. Be sure to rent enough cars so someone can make a quick get-away if tension mounts.

4. Make the most of the intelligence and insight of the people who have seen the house and know the area. Villa travel is, by definition, different from any other form of travel. The point is to have space as well as time and experiences together. The house matters greatly, even if you are a get-up-and-go group. Sooner or later your paths will return you home. Get this figured out in the early stages. How? Talk to the person or people who have been there and know the house. The accumulated wisdom of their experience can mean you avoid any nasty surprises. We greatly appreciate a chance to share our knowledge and our talents with our clients. This is what we are paid to do and besides the villas themselves, it is what our clients most appreciate.

5. Build into the structure of your holiday as much service as you can afford. You may think you don’t want a full-time cook but we can say from 20 years travel experience cooking services in the house are the amenity our guests appreciate the most and derive the most value. Inevitably people cancel restaurant meals and stay home because the food is so good. And enjoying it all in the privacy of your own Villa in black tie or pajamas (as you prefer) is a priceless gift to share with people you love. Meal organizing, shopping, preparation and clean up is an every-day responsibility for most of us. It becomes a true vacation when you can be at home without the everyday responsibilities.

6. Plan organized group-wide events or activities. Creating joy-filled moments elevates a get-together to the status of life-long shared memory. An excursion of interest to everyone, a special meal with a well-chosen menu or some fun and easy activity local to your destination generates enthusiasm and excitement. But don’t overdo the planning. In Italy, as with so many destinations, the most transcendent moments are often unplanned, so you want to leave room for those as well.

7. Consider seriously the layout and amenities of the property you are selecting. Quality time for relaxing and playing together in various combinations is essential for successful villa travel. The point is to come together in different times and different ways. Where will you gather for apperitivi before dinner? Are there enough chairs? A friendly bocce competition makes great fun all week long and you can end with a tournament complete with prizes.

8. Staying in one place longer makes for a richer, more rewarding experience. One week is most always not quite enough. Ten days is much better but two weeks is really recommended. I know, you may be thinking people will be bored, but I encourage you to give it consideration. A two-week stay means you sink in and get to know the place, find yourself unwinding in ways you may have forgotten. Your group of teenage boys will be transforming a mound of potatoes into that night’s gnocchi. Maybe you find yourself deep in a long conversation that is years overdue. You will have more flexibility in group configuration and size, as not everyone has to be together the whole time. And a well-located villa will have more to do than you think. We hear this quite often when our guests return: “I wish I pushed for that second week in the villa…”

9. It is Your Vacation too. We do not believe in ‘musts’ and ‘shoulds’. A visit to the Leaning Tower of Pisa could be a highlight or the worst day of the holiday. It depends. It depends both on things you control and those you don’t. Make sure you work with people who are listening closely to what matters to you and are facilitating that experience for you. If you are working with someone who really understands your group, the necessary insights, contacts and arrangements can be deployed in a way that meets your needs. And, that travel consultant will have you prepared for the variables beyond your control that are an essential part of the villa experience. Yes, the Blue Grotto is special, but we think having your own boat and exploring the other relatively deserted grottos around Capri is much more rewarding. And if you want to skip Capri altogether, that is fine too.

10. Success is in the details. Location, location, location counts when planning villa travel. With villa travel you might not know what questions to ask, so we suggest you work with people who know the house, setting and local area well enough to tell you what you need to consider. The Amalfi Coast is not well suited to those who cannot manage steps. Do you need running room for rambunctious children with soccer balls? Do you have shoppers or fitness buffs or serious scholars? What about food allergies? Can the staff find gluten-free pasta and almond milk easily if needed?

11. Plan on enjoying yourselves and having fun together. We invite our guests to plan on enjoying themselves and doing things differently. Use your phone or tablet for photos, not for email with the office. Eat gelato at least once every day. Have fun getting lost –you will be rewarded with at least a great story to share over apperitivi back at the house. You are sure to encounter an awe-inspiring moment, great memento or new friend for life. Remember what it is to have a day to fill as you like, without an agenda. This is what we strive for at Homebase Abroad–a well-structured trip whose cadence best matches the needs and preferences of your family and friends. We promise you will be rewarded with an exceptional experience. Maybe even the best vacation of your life.

Thanks, Mara, for letting me share your tips with WendyPerrin.com travelers!


Be a smarter traveler: Follow Wendy Perrin on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

Norwegian Breakaway

Cruise Hacks: 14 Tips for Acing Your Family Cruise

Many of us prefer small ships, but sometimes a large one is your best option. Maybe it’s what your children need (only large ships have water slides and mini-golf), or it’s what your group can afford, or it’s the itinerary that best suits your schedule. Last month my family ended up on the biggest ship we’ve ever sailed on, Norwegian Cruise Line’s 4,000-passenger Norwegian Breakaway, because it’s one of the few ships that sails from New York to somewhere warm in the dead of winter. While a large ship can be a smart vacation option for busy kids and their exhausted parents, it can also feel crowded and chaotic, especially when chilly weather keeps everyone indoors for half the cruise. Since it was my husband’s and my tenth cruise with our kids, now 11 and 12 years old, I thought I’d share our hard-earned tips for maximizing the advantages, and minimizing the drawbacks, of a giant ship.

1. Choose a cabin suited to your children’s ages.
The larger the ship, the more confusing the cabin choices. A family of four can feel very cramped in one stateroom, but it can be hard to find connecting cabins or an alternative configuration that works. One thing to be wary of is cabins with upper berths. When we’ve had such rooms, we’ve been so concerned that the boys would roll out of their beds in the middle of the night that Tim slept in the first upper berth, the second went empty, and the kids slept with me below. When the boys were younger than eight, we were comfortable in a “mini-suite” where they could share a double sofa bed. Since then we’ve needed two connecting cabins. My strong recommendation is to book your cruise through a highly knowledgeable cruise specialist such as Tom Baker of Cruise Center: Tom knows the pros and cons of all the cabins on all the ships and has the clout with the cruise lines to get you the one you want.

En route out of NY Harbor. In 19-degree weather. Can anyone guess what ship we’re on?

A photo posted by Wendy Perrin (@wendyperrin) on

2. Insist on a balcony. A balcony gives you breathing room, fresh air, great views, lots of sunlight, and private outdoor space. When the boys were small, we opted against one because they could have climbed over the railing. By the time they were four and six, we felt we could risk it, and today it’s non-negotiable. (A balcony isn’t nearly as necessary on a small ship…but that’s a different article.)

3. Pinpoint the most convenient cabin location.
A great location for families is on an upper deck near the aft: It’s a quick walk to the places you need to get to most often—the pool deck, the sports deck, the kids’ club, the buffet—and you can avoid elevator waits and crowds.

4. Bring Post-It Notes, a European plug adapter, and highlighters. Post-It Notes are handy for your cabin door: When your kids are old enough to check themselves in and out of the kids’ club (which means they’re old enough to wander the ship on their own), they can leave you messages as to their whereabouts. If your family needs to charge an array of electronic devices daily (and whose family doesn’t?), bring a European plug adapter because your cabin might have only one or two U.S. outlets; don’t let European outlets go to waste. As for highlighters, the daily shipboard program delivered to each cabin door lists so many activities and events that each child will want a highlighter to mark his or her favorites.

5. Throw your kids’ swimsuits in your carry-on.
On embarkation day, it can take some time for your luggage to be delivered to your cabin. If you’re embarking in warm weather and you’ve got the kids’ swimsuits with you, they can jump in the pool and use the waterslides right away. One parent can watch the kids while the other walks around the ship doing recon and making spa and dinner reservations.

6. Switch your child’s cell phone (and yours) to airplane mode.
If your child will be using his smartphone as a camera, switch it to airplane mode immediately after leaving your U.S. port for international waters, so that international text messages can’t be sent or received. Otherwise you could get socked with charges. Keep your own phone on airplane mode so you don’t fall prey to roaming charges. (Keep it on airplane mode when accessing the ship’s Wi-Fi too. The great news is that cruise-ship Wi-Fi has improved a lot recently in terms of speed, reliability, and cost.)

7. When everybody else on the ship is zigging, zag.
My family avoids crowds by doing the opposite of what everybody else is doing. Between 6 and 7 pm, for instance, when everybody else is getting ready for dinner or already dining, that’s when we take advantage of the empty sports courts, Ping Pong tables, or hot tub.

8. Find your own serene shipboard hideaway.
In addition to a balcony, you’ll want space to stretch out in tranquility somewhere on deck. There’s almost always an empty area with lounge chairs somewhere. Sometimes it’s the Promenade Deck; sometimes it’s an area up top that people just haven’t discovered.

When the weather is too cold to be outdoors, you may crave an indoor pool or hot tub. Often the spa has a heated indoor pool you can access for a fee. On the Breakaway, access to the spa’s Thermal Suite for $199 for the entire seven-day cruise turned out to be a good value.

The spa’s hydrotherapy pool. #NorwegianBreakaway A photo posted by Wendy Perrin (@wendyperrin) on

9. Study the children’s weekly program schedule before making dinner reservations.
If your kids are like mine, certain scheduled evening activities will appeal to them and others won’t. Pirate Night is a must, Hollywood Night is not. If you’re making dinner reservations for the family, choose nights when the kids won’t complain about being with you rather than with their friends.

10. Ace the buffet.
It’s usually the most casual way to grab a bite on the ship (except for room service), and it can be jam-packed. Four tips: (1) Avoid the buffet on embarkation day, when it’s at its most chaotic. (2) When you do eat at the buffet, make a beeline for the Asian and Indian food. The kitchen staff is frequently Asian and Indian, so what you get is their home cooking, and it’s delicious. (3) Often one side of the buffet is open and the other is closed; if you can’t find empty seats, go to the closed side. (4) Feed your kids at the buffet, then go elsewhere for a proper adult meal. Like this:

This is the first raw bar I’ve seen on a cruise ship. How about you? #NorwegianBreakaway

A photo posted by Wendy Perrin (@wendyperrin) on

#yummy A photo posted by Wendy Perrin (@wendyperrin) on

11. Have your child wear a watch.
There are few, if any, clocks on the ship. If you’ve instructed children to meet you in a certain place at a certain time, the only way they’ll know is if they’re wearing watches.

12. Ensure room keys don’t get lost.
Bring a lanyard, or punch a hole into your child’s key card, so it can be worn around the neck.

13. Don’t activate your kid’s room key for purchases.
On ships you use your room key card for purchases, and kids lose room keys. They accidentally leave them in the games arcade—where other kids may find them and swipe them in the machines—or by the pool, where adults may find them and use them to buy a round of drinks. I’m not kidding; this happens with surprising frequency. When you check in for your cruise, the check-in agent will ask whether your kid’s key should be enabled for shipboard purchases. Just say no, unless you’re certain your child won’t lose the key. And if you’re certain your child won’t lose the key, please share your secret with me!

14. Read my 12-year-old’s advice that parents should know before booking a family cruise.


If anyone else has tips for sailing on megaships, I’d love to hear them. Chime in below!


Disclosure: This was my family’s fourth cruise on Norwegian Cruise Line. We’ve always paid our own way in the past; this time the cruise line provided us with complimentary accommodations. In keeping with my standard practice, there was no request for or expectation of coverage on Norwegian’s part, nor was anything promised on mine.

Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

8 Secrets to a Stress-Free Flight With Toddlers

There’s nothing like flying with a toddler to make a solo trip in coach feel downright luxurious. Nevertheless, bringing the kids onboard doesn’t have to be torture. Here are my road-…er, air-tested tips for surviving a flight with young kids. (At the end of my most recent trip with my three-year-old, two nearby passengers paid the ultimate compliment, declaring me the best-prepared mom onboard.)

Don’t fly during nap times.

Whenever possible, choose flights that don’t coincide with your toddler’s periods of sleep. You might think that flying during a nap will give you a little time off. That might work with an infant, but toddlers are different: They have a much harder time falling asleep on a plane, and it typically involves lots of tears. When I fly cross-country with my son, I book a 6:00 a.m. departure: It’s much easier to wake him up a few hours early than to try to get him down for a nap on the plane.

Avoid bulkhead seats.

Before Zeke turned two (when we had to start buying him his own seat), my husband and I would book aisle and window seats toward the back of the plane, where we had the best chance of getting a row to ourselves. This gives your kid more room to spread out playthings, and it relieves you of the stress of shielding a stranger from your child’s noise and energy. Whatever you do, avoid bulkheads: The armrests don’t move, so you can’t easily share space with your kid, and you won’t always have access to your bags, which must be stowed in the overhead compartments.

Arrive early.

Give yourself a cushion for security—in my experience, bags full of small objects have a knack for requiring secondary screening—and allow plenty of time to walk through the airport to your gate. I turn this part of the journey into a game, telling my son what number to look for and having him guide me at his own pace. Letting Zeke burn off some energy also makes him more agreeable about staying in his seat onboard (translation: fewer trips up and down the aisle).

Don’t eat just before takeoff or landing.

Those first and last moments of a flight are often the toughest, when the change in cabin pressure hurts your kid’s ears. Eating and drinking can help, and your child is more likely to chew and swallow if he or she hasn’t just had a meal. I like to bring lollipops for these moments; it’s a special treat with some lasting power. (Don’t starve the kid, though: Mid-flight snacks are essential in preventing the low-blood-sugar grumps.)

Have new toys on hand.

In the weeks before a trip, scour the library book sales and Target $1 bins for inexpensive options; extra credit for play things that encourage open-ended, imaginary play. Some of my favorites: play dough, pipe cleaners, magnetic playsets, and reusable sticker pads. On one flight, a pack of small monster trucks entertained Zeke for a good 30 minutes. Just make sure that you liberate toys from their plastic clamshell packaging at home, while you still have access to scissors! Too busy to shop? Order a Busy Kit.

Wrap everything.

Not just the new toys, but old reliable ones, snacks, even a cube of Post-It notes for small drawings. Opening each package helps small tots with their fine motor skills and makes each new event last a little longer; use old newspapers to cut down on waste. This works better with the younger set, though: My three-year-old now tears through the wrapping quickly.

Know your kid.

Whatever appeals to him or her at home will be a good bet in the air. For Zeke, that’s playing trucks and drawing. We never fly without a generous helping of small vehicles, Crayola washable crayons (the best I’ve found), and scrap paper.

When all else fails, treat your kid to some screen time.

I like to leave this as an option of last resort—we’ve gone through entire flights without pulling out the iPad. Many parents swear by them, but if you limit screen time at home, your kid (like mine) might not have the attention span to sit through more than a few minutes of it on a plane. Don’t forget to load some new apps and videos onto your device before the flight, while you still have a fast Internet connection.


What strategies work for you and your kids?

Be a smarter traveler: Follow Wendy Perrin on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

My first cruise, when I was four and Doug was three.

Things to Know Before Booking Your Family Cruise: Tips From a 12-Year-Old

Hi. I’m Charlie. I’m 12 years old, and I’ve taken nine cruises on five different cruise lines. You might think cruise ships are pretty much the same, but they’re not. If you want your kids and yourself to enjoy a family cruise as much as possible, here’s my advice.

1. Get a cabin that’s on a higher deck toward the stern.

Everything that’s interesting for kids and families is always at the back of the ship. So get a cabin that’s very close to the aft staircase and no more than three or four decks below the pool, buffet, and kids’ club. If your room is at the front of the ship, you’ll spend most of the day walking back and forth across the ship, and if your room is on a low deck, you’ll have to wait for the elevator.

Disney cruise ship cabin

This was a good cabin because it had a sofa bed.


2. Get a sofa bed rather than high-up beds that fold out of the wall.

A sofa that turns into a double bed, even if you have to share it with your brother, is better than two single upper berths. It’s easy to fall out of an upper berth, especially kids like my brother Doug who move around a lot when they’re sleeping.

upper berth

Dad ended up sleeping in this upper berth.


3. Always get a balcony. 

Without a balcony, rooms are crowded with four people in them. And you need a balcony so you can always see the sunrise and sunset and have nice light in your cabin, and so you can go out and get fresh air and enjoy the smell, and so you can see the place you’re visiting when you come into port.


cruise kids balcony

Everyone who doesn’t have a balcony always wishes they had one.


4. Get a large pool with a water slide.

Some cruise ship pools are salty, so bring swim goggles.  If the pool has a water slide, check the height limit because your kid might be disappointed if he’s too short.

Norwegian Gem water slide

We waited till Doug was tall enough for the water slide before we went on the Norwegian Gem.


5. Do not sign up for the early dinner seating.

A lot of parents make this mistake. The early seating means your kids will have to leave the pool at 5:00 so you can get to dinner by 5:30, and your kids will be stuck eating in the restaurant, which is boring and takes forever. Every kid would rather eat in the buffet because they can get food they know they like. (A possible exception to the rule is Disney ships because the restaurants are awesome.) Always sign up for the late seating because you can take your kids to the buffet at 6:30 and take them back to the kids’ club at 7:00, and then eat on your own at the late seating.


Disney ship Animator's Palate

Doug in Animator’s Palate, which is the best restaurant on Disney ships because Nemo characters come to life and talk to you.


6. Make sure there’s food by the pool.

Sometimes you don’t even need to go to the buffet for dinner because you can get food by the pool at dinnertime. On Holland America we could eat hot dogs, hamburgers, and ice cream for dinner by the pool. But Disney was great because they had themed food stands with different types of food, like Flo’s V8 Cafe or Pinocchio’s Pizzeria, where we could eat in a beach chair in our swimsuits.


7. Get a kids’ club that’s open all day long.

Some kids’ clubs close for two hours at lunchtime and dinnertime, even though your children don’t need two hours to eat lunch or dinner.

cruise kids club jumping

My first kids’ club on my first cruise, which was on Celebrity Cruises.

Some cruise lines have much better kids’ clubs than others do. Norwegian Cruise Line’s and Disney Cruise Line’s are especially good, and if you’d like to find out why, you can read this about the Norwegian Star and this about the Disney Dream that I wrote when I was nine.

A kids’ club is always better when your kid can check himself in and out of the club. This makes life easier for both of you:  Your child doesn’t have to be stuck doing something in the kids’ club that he doesn’t want to do or missing something he’d rather be doing somewhere else on the ship, and you don’t have to interrupt what you’re doing to pick him up at a certain time.

cruise ship shuffleboard

If you can check yourself out of the kids’ club, you can always go play shuffleboard.

Also, get a kids’ club where your kid isn’t the oldest in his age group.  If your child is in the 6-to-8 group and he’s turning 9 soon, he might be bored with the little kids.


8. Choose a ship that has scheduled activities for parents and kids to do together.

On Norwegian Cruise Line there’s at least one family activity on the program every day that parents and kids do together—like a scavenger hunt or “Family Challenge.” It was great because our family competed against my cruise-ship friends’ families. On Royal Caribbean there was only one family competition the entire cruise. There were things like 3-on-3 basketball tournaments and mini-golf contests, but for adults only, even though kids would enjoy those things much more than adults.

cruise ship basketball court

Royal Caribbean has the most elaborate sports deck.


9. Don’t worry about what sports are onboard.

If you want a giant sports deck, choose Royal Caribbean, but you don’t really need one because every big ship has some good sports to choose from. They all have basketball, shuffleboard, and Ping-Pong, and most have mini golf.

Disney Wonder Ping Pong

Schooling my mom in Ping-Pong on the Disney Wonder


10. Don’t get stuck wasting time on embarkation day.

Embarkation day sucks because the kids’ club isn’t open till nighttime, and there are no activities on the ship. Embarkation day is a good time to explore the ship with your kids and find all the places they’ll be at a lot, so your kids learn where they’ll want to go later and how to get there. Also, it can take a few hours for your suitcases to be delivered to your cabin, so make sure your kids pack their swimsuits in their carry-on luggage so they’ll have them for the pool.

Holland America's Ryndam docked

On embarkation day, have a swim suit in your carry-on.


11. Collect a souvenir from each port.

When you’re back home, whenever your kid sees each souvenir, he’ll remember the place where he got it. But don’t buy something like a teddy bear that says “Mexico” on in it. Instead buy something that was handcrafted by locals or is unique and you can find only in that place. For instance, in Honduras I got a metal fish made from an oil drum and an old ship’s hull. And in Belize I got a marble turtle that you wouldn’t find anywhere in America.

Jamaica souvenir

In Jamaica we watched this man carve my name into the wooden bird statue I bought from him.


If you’d like my advice about which cruise line is best for your family, you can ask me below.  Also here’s my advice for the Disney Wonder from my own travel blog.


Charlie Baker is Wendy’s 12-year-old son. He has traveled to 23 countries and has kept his own blog, NotAnotherTrip.com, since he was eight.


Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

Rosewood Mayakoba

The Resort I Chose for My Working Vacation: Rosewood Mayakoba

We’d all like to spend our vacations blissfully unplugged, but the reality is that most of us can’t. TripAdvisor’s just-released Working on Vacation Survey found that 77% of U.S. respondents have worked on vacation in the past year, with 91% checking email and 42% creating and editing documents while on vacation.  I’m one of that overworked group, and that’s why I’m forever on the look-out for that holy grail of the 21st century:  An exotic yet close-to-home escape where I can accomplish two conflicting goals—work and vacation—simultaneously. When every second with your loved ones counts, you want a resort that enables you to be so efficient that your work cuts into your precious bonding time as little as possible. And, so that you don’t resent being tied to email, you need a desk with a view and a beach with Wi-Fi.

That’s why I chose Rosewood Mayakoba—on Mexico’s Riviera Maya, a 40-minute drive from the Cancun airport—for my family vacation this summer.  We just got back and, in fact, this was my third trip to Rosewood Mayakoba.  I’d gone twice alone on business for Condé Nast Traveler—see My New Favorite Tropical Beach Resort and 7 Special Touches That Every Hotel Should Have—and each time I could tell that the resort would fit my family’s needs perfectly. I finally made it back with Tim and the kids, and I was right: The combination of tropical jungle setting, wildlife, water sports, and a complimentary supervised kids’ club–all just a four-hour non-stop flight from home—meant that they could get a vacation they loved while I got what I needed as well.

Rosewood Mayakoba Beach Club pool

My 10-year-old playing (while I was working) at one of Rosewood Mayakoba’s three pools.

Here’s why Rosewood Mayakoba is a resort to consider when you’ve got no choice but to work on vacation:

* You’ll find free, fast Wi-Fi on the beach, at the pool, and everywhere else.

Cocktail while working

Deadlines go down better with fruity cocktails.

I’ve been to a lot of tropical resorts and have spent untold hours wrestling with tech hassles.  But at Rosewood Mayakoba there’s Wi-Fi throughout the property, indoors and out. You need log in only once, upon arrival, and you need never enter a password. It just works, wherever you go. (The resort’s butlers carry iPads and use the Wi-Fi system too.)


* There’s even Wi-Fi in the car that picks you up at the airport.

This means that upon landing in Mexico, during that dead time between airport and hotel, you can use your phone to check email without worrying about expensive roaming charges. (To avoid such charges throughout your stay at Rosewood Mayakoba, keep your phone in airplane mode and keep your Wi-Fi turned on.)


* When you’re too busy to leave your room, you can still enjoy a pool.

plunge pool laptop

Each room is a freestanding suite-style bungalow that comes with a private plunge pool.

Need a quiet space for a conference call?  You can seal yourself off from noisy kids by closing the door to the living room or bedroom, or you can move to your terrace or even your plunge pool.


* You get a desk with a view.

Should you opt for working in the air-conditioned indoors, the only thing separating you from a water-and-palms view is floor-to-ceiling glass.


* There’s a never-ending supply of complimentary coffee and fruit to sustain you.

Rosewood Mayakoba fruit

Every room comes with a bowl of fruit that is replenished daily.

Each room has a Nespresso machine too—and unlimited complimentary bottles of water.


* The supervised kids’ club is free and open every day from 9 to 5.

Rose Buds

My boys loved the counselors in the Rose Buds kids’ club.

Yes, there’s someone to watch your kids so your spouse can get a well-deserved break. My boys are now 10 and 12 and, even though the Rose Buds children’s program is used mainly by younger children, they enjoyed it enough to spend quite a bit of time with the group, taking ecotours in the lagoon, painting ceramics in the clubhouse, etc.  After signing them in to Rose Buds once—at the start of our stay—I never had to leave my desk to sign them in or out again. They could come and go as they pleased—and, of course, they were old enough to wander around the resort on their own.


* Each guest gets a bike.

bike path

My 12-year-old heading to breakfast.

Each bungalow on the sprawling property is connected by winding “roads” designed for walking, biking, or riding in golf carts. This means you live in serene seclusion, yet there’s no long walk to wherever you need to go (e.g., the beach club, the spa, the sushi restaurant) because you can zip there by bike. Even when I had to work all day, I still got precious family time during our morning family bike rides to and from breakfast.


* The resort’s app saves you time. 

Wherever you are on the property, you can use it to check the menus in the restaurants, order room service to be delivered at a particular time, or ask your butler (yes, butler) for help with whatever you need.


Now, I’m the first to acknowledge that Rosewood Mayakoba is a splurge. The price of an entry-level “room” (again, a freestanding bungalow with a view of water and palms) ranges from $465 in low season (July–September) to $675 in high season (approx. December 15–April 15).  My family went in low season—specifically, August, when the weather was surprisingly lovely (breezy, with little rain, and not much hotter or more humid than New York City). The resort was kind enough to provide complimentary accommodations to my family; I paid our airfare, meals, activities, and other expenses.  In keeping with my standard practice, there was no request for or expectation of coverage on Rosewood’s part, nor was anything promised on mine. This truly is one of my favorite resorts—for either a family or a romantic couple (it works equally well for either)—which is why I’m writing about it: I want to make sure you’re in the know.  As mentioned, this was my third trip to the resort, so I feel confident I can give you a fair evaluation of the experience.

I have a lot more advice to share based on my trip, including why going in August is a smart idea (hint: it’s the perfect moment to swim and snorkel with whale sharks), so stay tuned, but meanwhile, if you have any questions, feel free to ask below.


Jelly Belly jellybean flavors of toothpaste rotten egg and skunk spray

Family Trip Pit Stop: Jelly Belly Factory

It’s August—which means families are hitting the road for a final summertime fling before school starts. Over on TripAdvisor Wendy’s been sharing her tips for taking the kids to amusement parks and to zoos and aquariums, but here’s another idea for your family trip activities list: food factory tours. Many candy, ice cream, and food companies offer kid-friendly tours of their facilities. There are the well-known ones like Hershey’s Chocolate World in Pennsylvania and Ben & Jerry’s in Vermont, but you can find more unusual ones like Tabasco Pepper Sauce in Louisiana and the Celestial Seasonings Tea factory in Colorado. When Wendy’s husband, Tim, was in California last month with the boys, they visited the home of Jelly Belly jellybeans. Most food factory tours let you see a little of the behind-the-scenes manufacturing process, learn a bit of history, and taste the final product. Here Tim tells us—and shows us—what it’s really like inside Jelly Belly HQ.

Jelly Belly factory lobby

Photo: Tim Baker

The Jelly Belly factory is just off I-80 in Fairfield, CA. Free, 40-minute tours leave from the lobby (pictured here) about every 15 to 20 minutes. Sadly no candy was being made the day we were there, but we still found the tour interesting and informative. The production of the sweet little gems was much more complex than I had imagined.

Jelly Belly jellybean samples

Photo: Tim Baker

Charlie was, well, like a kid in a candy shop. They give you a nice little sampler after the tour, but it never hurts to supplement it with your favorite flavors.


Jelly Belly factory tour sampling station

Photo: Tim Baker

There’s a free sampling station where you can try three choices.


Jelly Belly factory seconds are called Belly Flops

Photo: Tim Baker

Many tours sell factory seconds at a deep discount, and Jelly Belly is no different. The perfectly named Belly Flops taste great but are weirdly shaped, stuck together or too small, and just don’t measure up to the high Jelly Belly standards.


Jelly Belly jellybean flavors of toothpaste rotten egg and skunk spray

Photo: Tim Baker

Beware! Not all Jelly Bellys are delicious. These flavors are exactly what they claim to be! Many are used in a game sold here, called BeanBoozled, in which tasty jellybeans and downright disgusting ones are the same color. Pick wrong and you’ll regret it. If you’re feeling adventurous, try the special assortment of Harry Potter Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans, with a mix of vomit, sausage, earwax, dirt and soap among others. You may never enjoy a licorice jellybean again for fear it might be skunk spray. You are warned!


Jelly Belly factory

Photo: Tim Baker

You’ll find plenty of parking at the main entrance at One Jelly Belly Lane in Fairfield, California. ATTENTION, DADS: Anheuser-Busch is about a mile from Jelly Belly and offers tours of its own. Must be 21.


Jelly Belly factory

Photo: Tim Baker

A chocolate shop in the lobby makes chocolate-covered bacon.


Jelly Belly factory with boys tasting bacon chocolate

Photo: Tim Baker

Charlie and Doug love bacon and they love chocolate, so this should be a no-brainer.



Jelly Belly factory with boys who didn't like bacon chocolate

Photo: Tim Baker

Turns out, just because you love bacon and chocolate doesn’t necessarily mean you love chocolate-covered bacon. The verdict? “Yuck.”


What great family activities have you found on your own trips?

Costa Rica white faced capuchin monkey

Best Activities for Children in Costa Rica



My siblings and I are considering a family vacation to Costa Rica during spring break next April. There may be 8 to 12 children, ranging in age from 6 to 18, and we’d probably go for 7 to 8 nights.

There seems to be so much to do in Costa Rica. Do you have any suggestions that won’t break the bank for this animal- and nature-loving group?

—Priscilla O.



Costa Rica is a popular destination for families, packed as it is with outdoor adventures that work for a variety of ages. Sadly, I haven’t made it there with my own kids yet. So, to get an answer for you, I turned to the Costa Rica experts from my WOW List, who have plenty of advice for large family groups. A first and foremost tip for this family in particular, but that will ring true for many travelers: Go to fewer places and spend more time in each place. Travel within Costa Rica is expensive—unless you take public transportation, which most Americans find too challenging. Furthermore, packing up and moving is a hassle. Twelve kids and, say, 6 to 8 adults: That’s 18 to 20 chances to leave something important in the last place you stayed. Also, the longer you stay in one place, the more you can get to know the locals.

Here are suggested activities for large family groups:


Costa Rica kids getting ready for white water rafting

Courtesy Costa Rica Expeditions

Whitewater rafting

Costa Rica is a narrow country just 10 degrees north of the equator, with a spine of mountains down the middle. This makes for world-class rivers for all ages and levels of difficulty, with dramatic tropical scenery and warm water. Rafting in general is a wonderful activity for kids. You learn teamwork, and how to overcome obstacles and challenges, yet there is very little danger. Costa Rica’s ideal conditions make it even better.


Looking for monkeys in the rainforest

Monkeys are hard enough to find in the forest that everyone will be excited when you see your first ones. There are four species of monkeys in Costa Rica: howler, spider, squirrel, and white-faced capuchin. Visitors who want to see monkeys and are willing to keep looking almost always see at least one species, though few visitors see all four. No matter how many species you see, learn about them all. What are the differences in their personalities, their families, their diets?



Advances in surfboard design have made learning to surf much easier and safer than it used to be. Costa Rica has ideal waves for learning and good instructors all along the Pacific Coast. My favorite surf spots for kids are Nosara and Playa Grande. Another reason that Costa Rica is a great place to learn to surf is, as with rafting, warm water. There is something about friendly water that makes learning swift water sports a lot more pleasant.


Watching turtles nesting on the beaches of Tortuguero National Park

Visitors can actually stand a few feet from a 300-pound Green Sea Turtle while she lays 80 to 100 eggs, covers up her nest, perhaps digs a false nest to throw off predators, and, finally, after more than an hour, returns to the sea. No one ever forgets the experience. The season is June through October. During the peak months of July and August you have about an 85% chance of observing such nesting.


Helping local kids learn English

For children on vacation, nothing is as potentially valuable for them as consciously contributing to the places they visit. We have a program at Tortuga Lodge called the Word Adventure, in which guests help local kids learn English.



Almost without fail, parents who are planning a family vacation want to include a zip line in their itinerary. There are a few things to keep in mind:

  • When determining which children can go, it’s more about weight than age. We use the guideline of minimum 70lbs but that is not always right, because the harness has to fit properly on the child. So if the harness doesn’t fit, they can’t do the zip line.
  • When kids are small and light, even when the harness fits properly, they usually will have to go in tandem with a guide. Parents often insist that they want to be the ones to zip with their child, but that’s not a good idea; their child is much safer with a guide.
  • As with any adventure sport, it’s a good idea to check a company’s safety record or their recommendations beforehand. (Neither is easy to do). Of the hundreds of zip lines available in Costa Rica, we only work with a handful. They were approved because they were built correctly and they are operated to safety standards by their guides.


Have a travel question for Wendy? Send it to her here.



Lake Burton Georgia

July 4th Weekend Getaway Ideas: Small Towns that Are Big on Charm

Wow, July 4th weekend is already upon us, and we want to know where you’re headed for Independence Day. To help you make a quick getaway, Wendy has already revealed (to her husband’s dismay) her family’s favorite 4th of July small-town escape. Which made us wonder which small towns are calling to you. We asked friends and fans on Facebook (many of whom are in the travel business themselves) to share their picks for great small-town July 4th weekend getaways, and here’s what they had to say. Be sure to share your own picks in the comments below.


Lake Burton, Georgia

Reader Chris McGinnis, who’s also the expert behind TravelSkills, is off to Lake Burton, in Georgia’s lake-dotted Rabun County. “There’s a fun boozy flotilla of boats at sunset, then fireworks!” he says. The sparklers, shot off Billy Goat Island, have been a tradition here for more than 25 years.


Laurel, Montana

Laurel Montana July 4th parade

Laurel puts on a popular July 4th parade and the largest fireworks display in Montana.  Photo: Courtesy Laurel Chamber of Commerce

Facebook fan Lisa Orr says, “I’m headed home to Laurel, MT, where they go all out for the 4th. There is a street dance on the 3rd, a parade, and the best fireworks in the state!” Those fireworks are the largest display in the state, in fact, and according to the city government, 5,000 to 10,000 people travel to Laurel every year to see them. The Independence Day festivities aren’t the only attraction in the area: Billings is just 13 miles away, the Lewis and Clark landmark Pompeys Pillar is 40 miles away (Clark himself was the reason the town was created in the first place), the site of Custer’s last stand is 77 miles away, and four of Yellowstone National Park’s entrances are within a one- to three-hour drive. But Lisa probably knows all of this already—she’s a Montana vacation rental specialist with Mountain Home.


Langhorne Borough, Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania's Langhorne Borough

Pennsylvania’s Langhorne Borough is on the National Register of Historic Places.  Photo: Kari C. Thomas

This tiny historic village is home to just 1,600 people and spans only one square mile, but it packs in more than 300 years of history: George Washington’s soldiers occupied four buildings in town after crossing the Delaware, and many Revolutionary War soldiers were buried in a now-protected site. The borough is on the National Historic Register of Places and makes a fitting destination for Independence Day: “As our town was part of the American war for independence,” says reader Donna Thomas, “it is the perfect place to be.”


South Padre Island, Texas

South Padre Island Texas

South Padre Island is in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Texas.  Photo: Courtesy City of South Padre Island Convention & Visitors Bureau

For beach time, Facebook fan Darlene Fiske hightails it to this barrier island off the southeastern tip of Texas. Fireworks go off every summer weekend, including July 4th, of course, when you’ll also spot a procession of revelers parading down the beach. The rest of the holiday weekend can be spent taking in the island’s usual offerings: surfing, fishing, kiteboarding, sandcastle workshops and contests, swimming in the Gulf of Mexico, or just soaking up the sun.


Bar Harbor, Maine

Bar Harbor Maine July 4th Parade

Bagpipers play in the annual July 4th parade in Bar Harbor, Maine.  Photo: Courtesy Mount Desert Islander

Where else but Maine would you celebrate Independence Day with lobster races? As Janet K. Keeler, food and travel editor of The Tampa Bay Times, told us on Facebook, the crustacean competitions are one of her favorite reasons to spend the holiday in this small town on Mount Desert Island. But Bar Harbor’s July 4th activities include much more: a blueberry pancake breakfast, a seafood festival, a concert series, and of course a float-filled parade and fireworks extravaganza. The town’s island location means there is plenty of water and beach fun to keep you busy between events, and a large part of Acadia National Park is right on the island too, so you can escape for some peaceful hiking and biking when you want to be reminded first-hand of America’s natural beauty.


Duck, North Carolina

Duck North Carolina Outer Banks July 4th parade

Even canines show off their patriotism during the July 4th parade in Duck, North Carolina.  Photo: Courtesy Outer Banks Visitors Bureau

Outer Banks fans are closely watching the weather forecast this year to see if Tropical Storm Arthur is going to ruin their 4th of July plans. If it stays dry, this North Carolina stretch of beaches will be packed come the weekend. And while there are many popular destinations in this area, our Facebook friend Vivian Deuschl says the charming small-town beach resort of Duck is where she’ll be spending the holiday. “It has a great old-fashioned mini parade [with] wagons full of kids; dogs in red, white, and blue collars; and a real feel.”

What’s your favorite small town for July 4th, or for any weekend getaway?


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Disney Wonder cruise ship

Why My Most Relaxing Vacation Was a Disney Cruise

I needed a vacation. A real one where I didn’t spend the entire trip checking email or racing around with a giant sightseeing to-do list.  I needed to relax. Clear my mind. Soothe my soul. Do nothing but stare at the sea and read novels for a week.

Disney Wonder

A docked Disney Wonder

When your occupation is travel journalist, there’s really no such thing as vacation unless you stay home. So the fact that I managed to achieve my goal of relaxation surprises everyone who knows me. Even more surprising is where I achieved it: on a Disney cruise. Yes, I admit it: I chose a 2,700-passenger floating Romper Room plying a pedestrian itinerary from Los Angeles to Mexico as the setting for the restoration of my soul. And I chose it precisely because I had zero interest in any of the ports or anything Disney. This ensured nothing would tempt me from my cabin balcony. Nothing. I could hide from the world for a week with an endless expanse of ocean and sky and a stack of books by my side.

Disney Wonder cruise ship cabin

Our cabin for four

Relaxing Disney Cruise 4

The view from my balcony

Key to the attainment of my goal was the fact that my travel companions were obsessed with everything Disney. This guaranteed me plenty of alone time on my balcony with no pangs of parental remorse: My kids (then seven and nine) would be kept occupied by the supervised children’s programs all day long. Disney counselors would even feed them lunch and dinner in the kids’ club. I wouldn’t even have to leave my balcony for my own meals; I could order room service. The only thing that might pry me from my veranda? The opportunity for moonlit deck strolls with my husband. We could have seven “date nights” if we wanted—one for every night of the cruise. All for $3,335 for my family of four (including the aforementioned room service and supervised kids’ club).

For the first few days of the cruise, all went according to plan. I sank into my deck chair, allowing the vast emptiness of the landscape to seep into the thicket of my mind and start clearing a path toward that hard-to-reach place called Relaxation. It helps that the ocean as viewed from a moving ship tends to mesmerize. The sea stretching to the horizon line is always the same yet always changing: You never know where the next white cap, leaping dolphin, or passing ship is going to pop up. The continual forward movement through the water aids the flow and fruitfulness of my internal reflections. Whatever work-related anxieties I’ve brought with me on vacation, the sheer overpowering force of the ocean makes them seem small by comparison. Yes, the ocean tends to push my worries away. Okay, the ocean and the kids’ club.

Disney Wonder

Kids collect characters’ signatures

I managed to read four books on my balcony and achieve more serenity than I had in years. But then on Day 5 something happened that I hadn’t planned on: My kids, jazzed from all the excitement whipped up by the giant floating Disney infomercial outside our cabin door, wanted to share their favorite finds with me. How could I say no? And that’s how I was suddenly yanked off my balcony and sucked into the shipboard vortex of at least one hundred daily activities—from Ratatouille Cooking School to Glitter Mania to Marshmallow Olympics—that, to my mind, negated the entire purpose of being on the ocean but, for my kids, constituted Nirvana. I was dragged to a “character breakfast” where we posed for photos with Mickey, Minnie, et al. I was pulled into Goofy’s Pool for outdoor movies like Swiss Family Robinson shown on a jumbotron the size of our house. Pretty soon I found myself succumbing to the Disney spell in spite of myself. Once I’d seen one of the technologically astonishing stage shows—namely, “The Golden Mickeys,” perhaps best described as an Oscars ceremony for six-year-olds—it became impossible to skip the rest. By the end of the cruise, I was cheering on my older son in the “Who Wants To Be A Mouseketeer?” game show and scouring the ship on a mission to snag Daisy Duck’s autograph for my youngest.

Disney Wonder cruise ship shuffleboard

Kids get to play shuffleboard.

Disney Wonder cruise ship kids activities

Kids get to be in performances.

Disney Wonder

Kids get to be in game shows.

Disney Wonder cruise ship party

The “Pirates in the Caribbean Night” was a deafening pool-deck dance party.

Disney Wonder cruise ship party

Pandemonium in the atrium

Disney Wonder cruise ship party

It was like New Year’s Eve in Times Square—for six-year-olds.

The insanity culminated in “Pirates in the Caribbean Night,” a deafening pool-deck dance party—this time it was New Year’s Eve in Times Square for six-year-olds—where the emcee whipped the crowd into a frenzy with shouts of “Make some noise!” and “Let’s go crazy!” The multitude attempted to boogie with giant chipmunks Chip and Dale while Mickey zip-lined from one smokestack to another to rescue the ship from the clutches of Captain Hook. A colossal fireworks display (leave it to Disney to land permission to launch fireworks from a ship) was then followed by a buffet featuring 27 different types of dessert. At 10:30 pm. For a thousand kids under age 12. Insanity.

Any time I needed to escape the vortex, though, all I had to do was return to my cabin balcony for instant serenity and solitude. In the end, my vacation was more high-energy than I had planned but, given my need to balance the conflicting desires of a family of four, it was about as therapeutic as I could have hoped for. I might just do it again.


Seeking the right family cruise?

Other cruise ships that I have road-tested with my family include:

Disney Cruise Line’s Disney Dream

Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Star

Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas

Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.