Tag Archives: family vacations

Brook posing above Lysefjord with snowy mountains in the background.

Live Answers to Your Travel Questions: Join Us on Zoom for WOW Week 2024, February 5–9

UPDATE: WOW Week 2024 is now over. Thank you all for joining us! We have posted the Zoom recordings below, in case you missed any talks or want to share them with your friends. Stay up to date by signing up for our newsletter



This year is shaping up to be another huge one for international travel.  We’re seeing more travelers booking trips farther in advance than in past years, as well as travelers taking more family and friends along.  Based on these bigger groups locking more trips in place earlier— especially to Western Europe—we’re predicting that Europe’s iconic locales, from Italy’s Amalfi Coast to the Greek island of Santorini, will be packed again this year, and that peak season will extend from May through early October.  Sadly, we’re not seeing any relief from the sticker shock that grew out of the post-pandemic demand for travel, what with Europe’s summer season coinciding with events such as the Olympics in France in July, the G7 Summit in Puglia, Italy, in June, and Taylor Swift concerts all over the U.K. and Europe from May through August.

Not to worry:  We’ve got solutions, and Brook (pictured above in Norway in November) and Hannah and I, plus special guests, will be sharing them during WOW Week, February 5-9, when we’ll host a Travel Talk every day at 7 pm EST.  Bring your burning questions!

NOTE: If you have trouble signing up for our Travel Talks, make sure you have a free Zoom account that is associated with the email address you are using. 



Where and When to Travel in 2024

Monday, February 5, at 7pm EST

Last year broke travel records, and you should expect—and prepare for—more records to fall in the year ahead. Wendy, Brook, and Hannah reveal what’s shaping up for 2024: opportunities to take advantage of, challenges to zap, and the coolest under-the-radar places, off-season values, foodie experiences, and more.



South America Now: Smart Choices and Good Value

Tuesday, February 6, at 7pm EST

Wendy and Brook explain why the continent should be on your list for 2024, and WOW List experts for South America share what’s new, what’s best, what you haven’t thought of, and how to ensure your trip goes smoothly.



Successful Family Travel in 2024

Wednesday, February 7, at 7pm EST

WOW List experts with the latest intel for maximizing your travels and minimizing stress—in Europe, North America, the Caribbean, and beyond—will share solutions. Learn how to keep everybody in your travel group happy, whatever their ages or conflicting needs and interests. Bring your questions!



Travel Insurance and Emergency Assistance: How to Protect Yourself

Thursday, February 8, at 7pm EST

Learn how to prepare for the unexpected, from surprise injuries to natural disasters to political unrest. Experts explain and simplify how to minimize your risk, both financial and medical, and they’ll take your questions live, so bring your list of what’s been perplexing you!



Take Better Travel Photos with Your Phone!

Friday, February 9, at 7pm EST

Photojournalist Tim Baker (a.k.a. Mr. Wendy Perrin) reveals simple tips to help you take much better travel photos with your smartphone–better action shots, group shots, food shots, night shots, video, and more. Tim’s advice is device-agnostic: Apple and Android users welcome!



A big thank-you to our WOW Week sponsor, Medjet:

Medjet is a global air medical transport and travel security membership program that can give travelers greater peace of mind. Their sponsorship enables me, Brook, Kristine, and the rest of our growing team to spend time answering your travel questions (via our Get a Personalized Trip Recommendation feature) and finding the smartest trip-planning specialists for you (see Wendy’s WOW List).

Don’t miss this special WOW Week discount:

Medjet is offering our WOW Week audience an exclusive discount of up to $50 off New Medjet Annual Memberships. The deal is available from Monday, February 5 at 9am EST till Monday, February 12 at 5 pm EST. You can learn more about Medjet and get the deal by clicking the red button below. 



Watch: How to Make Family Trips Fun

Dear fellow parents: I feel your pain. Traveling with kids is one of the biggest challenges of parenthood. My kids have been to 30 countries, and if I had a nickel for every meltdown in an airport line, every toy left in a hotel room, every time Charlie took a permanent marker and made a mural out of Doug in the back seat, every time a jet-lagged child woke me up at 2 a.m. announcing “I’m tired of sleeping now!”… I’d be rich enough to hire a nanny to watch the kids while I travel alone.

But that’s not the answer. Because even though taking the kids can mean inviting chaos, it also means carving out the time and space to reconnect as a family and create priceless memories. And it’s a great way to raise global citizens.

Plus, it can be fun. Honest. In this video, I show you how. Charlie and Doug even have cameos, as they were plane-spotting in the Caribbean with me when we shot this.

doug sint maarten airplane landing

For more hard-earned family travel tips, check out my 10 Keys to a Peaceful Family Vacation. And here’s advice from children themselves—because sometimes they come up with the most kid-friendly travel solutions:

What to Know Before Booking Your Family Cruise

How to Get Your Child to Try New Foods When Traveling

How to Save Time and Tantrums in Amusement Parks

How to Keep Your Kids Happy on a Cruise

Why You Should Sleep In a Museum

How to Have a Kid-Friendly River Cruise

doug charlie sint maarten airplane landing


Transparency disclosure: Our sponsor, MedjetAssist, provided the financial support that made it possible to bring you these travel tips.

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.

How to Avoid Long Airport Security Lines This Summer

Airport security lines have grown absurdly long of late, thanks to more people traveling and fewer TSA workers. With the busy summer travel season upon us, the situation is likely to get worse before it gets better. Here’s how to minimize your time stuck in a TSA line on your next trip:

If You’re Flying Soon

Find out if your airport terminal has more than one security checkpoint.

Many terminals do. Before leaving home, go to the airport’s website and pull up a map showing the security checkpoints. (This map, for instance, indicates where the three checkpoints are in Newark airport’s Terminal C; this one shows where they are for all five terminals at Dallas-Fort Worth.) At the airport, ask an official which checkpoint has the shortest line.

Download the MyTSA app.

Available for free for iPhones and Android, this app gives you current security wait times at your airport, as reported by your fellow travelers. You can also view them here; just type in your airport code.

Arrive early and hit the club lounge.

The bigger and busier your airport—e.g., J.F.K., Chicago (O’Hare), or Miami International—the earlier you’ll want to arrive, especially if you’re flying at a peak time.  At least two hours early for a domestic flight, and three hours early for international, may be a good rule of thumb for most airports. To keep your stress level down, you might consider arriving really early and buying a day pass to an airport lounge club (if the club is gate-side).

If You’re Flying Later

Don’t buy airline tickets for flights at peak times.

Avoid Friday late afternoon and early evening, for example, because that’s when business travelers returning from business trips are hitting the airport at the same time as leisure travelers leaving on vacation, creating security-line pile-ups. If you’re taking a long weekend, consider flying on a Saturday morning and returning Tuesday. (That’s also less expensive than a Thursday-to-Sunday long weekend.)

Enroll in TSA PreCheck or, even better, Global Entry.

TSA PreCheck admits you into a priority lane where you need not remove your shoes, liquids, or laptop. The $85 fee covers you for five years. For an extra $15, though, get Global Entry (the $100 fee also covers you for five years), which lets you skip the long customs line on your way back into the U.S. from an international trip, and which automatically gives you TSA PreCheck. Not every airport has PreCheck lanes or Global Entry kiosks, so check whether yours does.

Buy access to the priority security line.

Many travelers who have elite status with an airline can use the express lane at the security checkpoint. If you don’t have elite status, some airlines let you purchase access to the priority security lane on a one-time basis. United, for instance, lets you buy access at 68 airports worldwide (prices start at $15), and JetBlue lets you buy it at 62 airports.


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.

Enjoying a guided boat tour in Mekong River

How to Get the Best Private Guide For a Trip With Kids

When you’re planning a vacation with young kids, you might think that hiring a private guide is an unnecessary luxury, an expense that couldn’t add much to the experience or that might get in the way of all that family bonding. You’d be wrong.

A good kid-friendly guide—as I found out on a recent trip with my husband and four-year-old to Southeast Asia—can make a huge difference in your child’s experience of a place, and in yours, too. The best ones know how to make museums come alive, where to find engaging activities, and equally important, how to steer your day so that no one has a meltdown (adults included).

The same value that outstanding guides add to grown-up trips—fascinating history and context, behind-the-scenes access, instant entry into local culture—they can bring for kids too. We travel with our children because we want to create memorable experiences as a family; how memorable is it if you’re chasing after them all day and trying to figure out the next “fun” thing to do? A private guide will not only come up with exciting activities, but will also take care of the small, annoying details—leaving you free to accomplish your main objective: spending meaningful time together.

In the end, our Southeast Asia guides ensured that our trip ran as smoothly and efficiently as possible, given that we had a four-year-old in tow. Here’s what I learned families should look for when choosing and using a private guide:

Request a guide who’s also a parent. With perhaps a few exceptions, only a fellow parent can truly understand how a young kid will impact your trip. Ask your trip planner how he/she knows that a particular guide is great with kids; have they seen the guide interact with children?

Make clearly spoken English a priority. My son, Zeke, had a hard time understanding when some of our guides spoke; in these situations, either my husband or I would have to “translate” for him. In the future, I’ll make unaccented pronunciation the second-highest priority for any guide I hire for my family.

Kid-focused activities on Halong Bay

Kid-focused activities keep kids engaged throughout long tours. Photo: Ryan Damm.

Ask in advance for a treasure hunt or other kid-focused activities. Don’t expect your kid to simply tag along while you tromp through museums and monuments. Including your children in the day’s events is key to keeping them engaged. Treasure hunts are a great way to keep them interested throughout a day-long tour.

Invite your guide to bring his/her own kids along. Our guide in Saigon had two kids close in age to our own; when he brought them along, Zeke—who had up until then been shy around our guides—immediately warmed to the whole family. It was as if he saw our guide as a dad now, a figure he could trust. And he adored playing with the girls so much that my husband and I were able to leave him under the care of the girls’ mother or uncle while we did some sightseeing. (If you’d rather not pay for another adult who can act as babysitter, you can tag-team the sightseeing while your spouse watches the kids.)

Make the most of your time with a guide, wherever you are. When Zeke hijacked the city tour that had been planned for our only day in Hanoi (thanks to a tantrum so bad it left me in tears), our guide took us to an indoor play area instead. While we didn’t get to see much of Hanoi, I still learned a lot about contemporary Vietnamese culture by chatting with our guide while my son played in a ball pit.

Be vigilant about the schedule. Adding a four-year-old to the equation makes everything take twice as long, whether it’s a trip to the grocery store or a stroll through Hoi An’s Ancient Town. When any of our guides assumed that we could keep to a typical touring timetable, the schedule would invariably slide, and my son would end up missing his afternoon nap—which made all of us cranky. If I’d estimated for our guide how long my son would last in Angkor Wat at the outset, he could have properly paced our visit so that we saw all of the ruins’ highlights. As it was, my son melted down halfway through and we had to skip half of the temple. Next time, I’ll be explicit with guides about what time we have to eat lunch or be back at the hotel for an afternoon rest, so that they can plan accordingly.

Allot your time with guides thoughtfully. I found a private guide most helpful in large cities, where logistics are particularly tricky. I recommend hiring one for your first day in a new city, then using any additional time there to explore on your own. Elsewhere, use guides only where they can provide access to things you wouldn’t see otherwise: a local village, say, or an after-hours visit to a museum that’s normally crowded.

What’s the best thing that a private guide has done for your family on a trip?

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.

Disclosure: Journeys Within and their partners provided most elements of the writer’s trip (hotels, intra-Asia airfare, guides, ground transportation, and sightseeing entry fees) free of charge. In keeping with WendyPerrin.com standard practice, there was no request for coverage on Journeys Within’s part, nor was anything promised on ours. You can read our sponsored travel agreement with Journeys Within here

A Vietnamese family played their collection of traditional instruments for us in Saigon

Five Things You Didn’t Know You Could Do with Kids in Vietnam

When you think Vietnam, do you think kid-friendly? I sure didn’t. But while visiting with my four-year-old (you can read more about our trip here), I found five fun things that I never expected we’d be able to do there:

Eat Italian-grandmother-worthy pasta. An English menu and Western dishes are usually two things I steer clear of in Asia—except when I have a four-year-old in tow. Restaurants that serve both the local cuisine and tourist-friendly pizzas and pastas usually are mediocre at best. But at Good Morning Vietnam, in Hoi An’s old town, we were served pasta with delectably fresh pesto  sauce; unsalted bread just like you’d find in Tuscany; and a complimentary, housemade limoncello digestif. They have a second outpost in Nha Trang, likely just as good.

Play traditional Vietnamese musical instruments. Andrea Ross, our Trusted Travel Expert for Southeast Asia, arranged for us to visit the Truc Mai House, whose occupants have been granted special permission by the government to share their knowledge of traditional music with guests. Not only did they give us a private concert on the iconic monochord zither (whose   sound we all associate with Vietnam, unwittingly or not), as well as ancient instruments made of bamboo and stones, afterward they let my son pluck away at their prized instruments. This kind of interactive experience is exactly what keeps young kids engaged in a foreign land.

Ba Cay Choi Saigon with kids

Our fabulous Saigon guide, took us to one of his daughters’ favorite haunts: Ba Cay Choi (Three Broomsticks Town), a fantastical, spooky place full of fairy houses. Photo: Ryan Damm

Bake cupcakes that Harry Potter would love. Khoa Nguyen, our fabulous Saigon guide, took us to one of his daughters’ favorite haunts: Ba Cay Choi (Three Broomsticks Town), a fantastical, spooky place full of fairy houses, gnarled wood accents, a ceramic-painting studio, and a kitchen fit for a witch, where kids can mix ingredients such as “fatty bug oil” and “fly milk” to make their own sweets. It seemed completely out of place in the middle of an Asian metropolis, and yet we were the only foreigners in the joint, surrounded by frolicking kids and emo teens.

Have a tea party. On the fourth floor of a shabby apartment building in the middle of Saigon—you have to walk through an entryway crammed with motorbikes to reach the dingy elevator—sits Partea, a darling tearoom of the English rather than Asian persuasion. Pick your cup and your tea (choosing among over 60 flavors, from earl gray to passion fruit to caramel popcorn), and the frilly-aproned staff will heat your leaves in a glass pot, kept warm at your table with a candle. It’s a welcome respite of white walls and flowery tablecloths amid the soot and chaos of this busy city. And just like Ba Cay Choi, it’s filled with locals, not foreigners.

Dingo Deli in Hoi An trampoline

Dingo Deli in Hoi An had a backyard with a bamboo-and-rope climbing structure, swings, and a trampoline. Photo: Ryan Damm

Find playgrounds in restaurants. Eating politely in public three times a day is tough for even the most well-mannered kids.  That’s why we were delighted to find the Dingo Deli in Hoi An and Snap Café in Saigon, both of which have sandy play areas for tykes to run around in while the adults linger over a meal. Dingo has a long menu of Australian and American favorites, from meat pies to safe-to-eat salads, and a backyard with a bamboo-and-rope climbing structure, swings, and a trampoline. Snap Café, which is located in an expat-heavy neighborhood, has a spiffier, more elaborate play area, and serves crowd-pleasers from a variety of cuisines—including surprisingly tasty Vietnamese choices.


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.

Disclosure: Journeys Within and their partners provided most elements of the writer’s trip (hotels, intra-Asia airfare, guides, ground transportation, and sightseeing entry fees) free of charge. In keeping with WendyPerrin.com standard practice, there was no request for coverage on Journeys Within’s part, nor was anything promised on ours. You can read our sponsored travel agreement with Journeys Within here

Where In the World Am I? Follow Along on My Surprise Birthday Trip

Last night my husband, Tim, bundled me and the kids off to the airport for a surprise trip. I was told to pack—hard to do when you don’t know where you’re going—and the only clues Tim gave me to work with were: I needed my passport, swimsuit, Gore-Tex parka, and hiking boots.

This isn’t my first surprise trip. Ten years ago, when the boys were toddlers, Tim whisked me away on a romantic ski trip to Andorra. That was our first vacation alone together after the kids were born, and the element of not knowing our destination added to the thrill, as it did this time.

But, this time, I figured it out as soon as we got to the airport. Can you tell from this clue?


Leaving #NYC. En route to…I bet you can guess from the clue.

A photo posted by Wendy Perrin (@wendyperrin) on


I’ve been wanting to go to Iceland for years now—to explore the otherworldly volcanic landscape, soak in the renowned geothermal pools, and eat my way through Reykjavik. I’ll be snapping photos the whole time, so follow me on Instagram (I’m @wendyperrin) to see what happens next. We can all be surprised together!


#Rusty #weathered #shed #Keflavik #iceland A photo posted by Wendy Perrin (@wendyperrin) on

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

Where #Iceland’s president lives.

A photo posted by Wendy Perrin (@wendyperrin) on

If you can pronounce it, they oughtta give it to you. #Iceland A photo posted by Wendy Perrin (@wendyperrin) on

At the Jardin d’Acclimatation in Paris France

How to Save Time and Tantrums in Amusement Parks: A 13-Year-Old’s Advice

Note from Wendy: The best way to beat lines, crowds, and meltdowns at amusement parks is, in my experience, to choose small, homespun ones and to go when the local children are in school. My family has done this everywhere from Paris to Sonoma, California, to Wildwood, New Jersey. But most families end up at gigantic theme parks—of the Disney, Universal, and Six Flags variety—on peak summer days. I’ve shared advice for how to save money at such places, but my 13-year-old, Charlie, has advice for how to manage your time:


The long lines and crowded pathways of large theme parks today mean you need to have a plan. With massive changes at major theme parks, such as the remodeling at Disney’s Magic Kingdom, Universal bringing in Nintendo, and Six Flags’ constant addition of new attractions, it’s important to be a step ahead of the game.


At Legoland in Florida when he was 11.

At Legoland in Florida when he was 11.


Start with a ride at the back of the amusement park.

When you enter the park, your child will want to run to the first attraction he sees. But the ride at the entrance to the park always has a much longer wait than it’s worth. At Universal Studios, the “Despicable Me Minion Mayhem” ride is the first one, resulting in a wait time of 80 minutes, when it should really only be 30. It’s better to start with a ride toward the back of the amusement park and work your way around in a circle or the closest you can get to one.


Sleep in and stay up late.

Most families have a strategy of waking up early to be at the park within an hour of opening time, and that gives them a parking advantage. But those families go home well before the park closes because the parents are tired, because it’s late, or because the parents say it’s too late as an excuse for being tired. When those families leave, the number of people in the park is cut by about 65%, leaving 35% to enjoy short waits during the last three or four hours the park is open. If you arrive at the park later and depart later, you’ll get more bang for your buck. (Here’s an example: When our family went on the Disney Dream cruise ship, there was a 45-minute wait for the Aquaduck water slide during the day but no wait at all at 11:30 pm; I managed about ten rides between 11:30 pm and midnight.) In addition, some theme parks can be very pretty at night, so try to stay almost until the park closes.


Make breakfast or dinner reservations, but not lunch.

Theme parks often consist of one to three fine-dining establishments, and the rest of them casual dining or just small stands. Unless you make plans at the fine-dining places for breakfast (before you explore the park) or dinner (when you’re done), you shouldn’t try to get to a certain restaurant at a certain time because it may require that you traverse the entire park to get there, or require you to leave the park and re-enter when you are done. This could reduce your time in the park by a lot more than you think, and it could also throw off your system of traveling through the park. At lunchtime it’s best to just go with the place that’s closest, especially since many of the places serve the same food anyway.


Give your kids a five- or ten-minute time limit in the gift shop.

Gift shops in theme parks contain tons and tons of kids’ favorite characters, so your kids likely will drag you into them. You can give them a dollar amount they’re allowed to spend, but they will take forever deciding what to buy, since they will want something that does not deliver too much change back to their parents. I recommend giving them a five- or ten-minute time limit, depending on the store size. If you see a gift shop with a line, you should just avoid it altogether.


Doug and Charlie loved The Great Nor’easter thrill ride at Morey’s Piers.

At Morey’s Piers in Wildwood, NJ, at the age of 13.


To avoid gift shops completely, make that a condition of going to the amusement park in the first place.

If you want to spend absolutely no time in gift shops, which is in no way a bad idea, tell your kids this at the same time that you announce that you’re going to the amusement park, to save them complaining when you get there.

How to Keep the Peace on a Family Vacation

There’s the fantasy of a family vacation, and then there’s the reality. There are days—often a dozen times a day—when everybody wants to do something different, go somewhere different, eat someplace different. And then, just when agreement has been reached and everybody’s in a good mood and the weather is cooperating, a child gets an ear infection or a work crisis erupts or your flight is cancelled…and you’re back in meltdown land.  I’m no psychiatrist, and Lord knows every family is different, but I’ve now taken my kids (now 11 and 13) to more than two dozen countries and at least that many states, and I know how many of my fellow parents are in desperate need of a harmonious vacation, so I thought I’d be so bold as to offer up a few strategies that have worked for my own family when it comes to keeping the peace—not just with the kids but between the parents:

1. Before you and your spouse start the planning, determine your mutual trip goal.

What is your main shared goal for this vacation? Is it to do nothing on a beach? Explore a destination? Learn to surf?  See relatives? Avoid relatives? Sleep? Determine your mutual trip goal so that, whichever parent is making arrangements, you’re both shooting for the same result. Make a mission statement, and check it during the trip.

2. Give each family member ownership of a portion of the trip.

Put each parent and child (who’s old enough) in charge of one day of the vacation, or in charge of one activity each day. Or—at the very least—let each choose one activity during the trip that everybody does together. (If your child is very young, at least let him pick a lunch spot.) The more each family member is invested in the itinerary and has a say in the activities, the less family discord.

3. Set a trip budget, but one that allows for a few splurges.

You don’t want to argue during the trip about how much you’re spending, nor do you want to argue about it after the trip when you get the credit-card bill. When you’re doing a money-bleeding activity such as going to an amusement park, make your child C.F.O. of the trip that day. Seriously, when our 13-year-old is in charge of the budget, it’s remarkable how many strategies he’ll come up with to make us stick to it. (And we feel good because he’s learning a valuable lesson.)  Remember that every museum, monument, or aquarium exit is through the gift shop; set not only a budget for gift shops but also a time limit.

4. Choose accommodations that will ensure everyone gets enough sleep.

The last thing you need is a bed configuration that means one family member (parent or child) can’t sleep, putting him/her in a cranky mood that infects everyone. A suite such as the type you find in an extended-stay hotel—where you’ve got a door to the kids’ room that you can close at nap time or bedtime—allows you to have some space, light, and time to yourself, rather than having to tiptoe around in the dark. A house rental provides more space and beds, but be warned that if it comes with no housekeeper or other niceties that a hotel infrastructure provides, it can mean that one parent spends way too much time doing household chores.

5. Choose a soothing activity for shortly after you arrive.

On a trip, your mood tends to dip lowest during the first ten percent of the trip. That’s when you’re dealing with a lot of logistics—possibly including a long drive or flight, jet lag, and sleep deprivation—to get to your destination. Counteract the negative mood that will afflict the family by planning a soothing and reinvigorating activity upon arrival at your destination. A swim for the kids and a massage for the parents can make everyone feel better.

6. Exhaust the kids.

The earlier you can get them to bed at night, the more time you will have alone with your spouse. Tim and I exercise the boys every chance we get during the daytime. If it’s a city trip, that means walking miles each day; if a road trip, it means pit stops at fields where they can play Frisbee; if we’re stuck in a hotel room, it means 100 karate kicks. A simple tennis ball consumes little space in a carry-on and can be a lifesaver.

7. Plan for “couple time.”

In my experience, the best way to ensure you and your partner get a shot at romance — possibly even two or three date nights—is to have easy access to free child care that is your children’s idea of Nirvana. Many resorts and cruise ships offer complimentary supervised kids’ clubs; my children happen to love them. Or consider giving a relative a free trip in exchange for being the babysitter.

8. Carve out “me time” too.

Each parent needs time for himself on vacation, preferably to accomplish something tangible—say, reading an entire novel, or perfecting your golf swing. Having free time and proof of it (e.g., the finished novel) will put you in a better mood around your partner. Again, what I’ve found enables this to happen is built-in child care. On a cruise, for instance, everyone in the family gets “me time.”

9. Pack an outlet splitter.

Let’s face it: When you’re squeezed together like sardines on long car rides and flights, electronics are often the easiest and, for today’s teens, sometimes an essential way to keep the peace. Pack whatever you need to keep everyone’s devices charged in transit; that may include a power inverter for the car and an outlet splitter for the airport gate and hotel rooms.

10. If you must work, do it when it won’t detract from a family activity.

Sometimes you can’t avoid having to work on vacation. Do it while your kids are sleeping or productively occupied in the kids’ club, or while your spouse is in the shower or finishing up that novel.  When I’m on deadine I often skip activities that my kids can enjoy alone with Dad (e.g., mini-golf or fishing) in favor of activities that are unique to the destination or that we’ve never done as a family before.


I’d love to hear: What strategies do you have for keeping the peace on a family vacation?

Badlands, Alberta, Canada

In Search of the Extraordinary in British Columbia: Got Recommendations?

This summer I’m taking Tim and the kids to Canada. I know what some of you are thinking. Canada? A big yawn. The frozen north. So bland even its sports award is gray (get it? the Grey Cup). Why Canada when there are so many exotic places in the world?

Well, you can keep your preconceptions about Canada because while you’re scorching in the heat and fighting traffic to the beach, I’ll have all that wide-open space, natural air-conditioning, and dramatic nature to myself—not to mention melting-pot cities, scrumptious food, and an exchange rate that buys me 20% more for my U.S. dollar than it did last summer.

My trip goal is, of course, to find out how not boring Canada can be. I found the exotic, dramatic, and colorful in Newfoundland the summer before last, and this time I’m seeking it at the other end of the country: British Columbia. It’s been a while—ten years since I was last in Vancouver, five since I was last in Victoria—so I’d love suggestions from any of you who’ve been to B.C. lately: How should my family and I make this trip extraordinary? Better yet, give us things to test for you—and if we can squeeze it into our itinerary, we will. Can’t wait to hear your recommendations—and challenges!

An overwater bungalow in Doha.

Why Qatar Could Be Your Next Extraordinary Vacation

Last month I was in Qatar, checking out Anantara’s new Banana Island Resort. Ever since Doha was chosen to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Qatar’s capital city has been attempting to rival Dubai as the Gulf region’s It destination. It’s succeeded in some areas (creating a top-notch national air carrier, attracting high-end hotels from all the big names—St. Regis, Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton, Kempinski), and failed in others (the highly publicized FIFA bribery scandal related to the awarding of the World Cup to Qatar, and reports about the country’s human rights issues and the high number of migrant worker deaths).

I was in Doha in May, about two weeks before the FIFA arrests were made, and since I spent most of my time on the private Banana Island or at tourist sites in Doha, I didn’t see much about these issues first-hand. That doesn’t excuse them, however they pan out, but it does echo an experience that travelers have all over the world, no matter where we go: Unless we’re there specifically to explore difficult aspects of day-to-day local life, we don’t often get close enough to see them.

Certainly bribery, workers’ rights, and government abuse are not vices limited to the country of Qatar. Two weeks after my trip to Doha, I was in South Africa—and no one would ever say that that government always had the right idea about human rights. But it’s still an amazing place to visit and I would recommend it without hesitation (and I do in another article). A week after that, I came home to New York, where the wealth gap is almost as staggering as in Qatar and hunger still persists. And now there’s Charleston. And still, I would tell anyone that both of those cities are must-visit destinations (in fact, I’m a tour guide here in NYC). I don’t want to get too depressing, but my point is that no place is paradise. Even paradise. Sad stories of people being horrible to each other can be found everywhere—and that is part of the reason many of us travel: to find the good stories and the wonderful people and the amazing places and the eye-opening experiences.

When I came home, I felt that Doha was one of those eye-opening places worth visiting. It’s different (culturally, socially, in terms of gender roles, lifestyles, food, art and architecture)…and also so much the same (for example, brand names matter just like in any fashionable cosmopolitan city, and our group even stumbled on a Shake Shack and a Magnolia Cupcakes at a mall).

I greatly enjoyed my time in the city and at the Banana Island Resort Doha by Anantara, where I was hosted. I met good people there who had interesting stories and cool talents, and who are working hard to make a luxury vacation spot for anyone who’s interested. Right now, most of who’s interested are locals of the Gulf Corporation Council countries (BahrainKuwaitOmanQatarSaudi Arabia, and the UAE); but Europeans are starting to arrive and the hope is that Americans will too.

Here are five reasons that struck me as to why Doha is definitely worth a visit.

1. At this moment in time, Qatar is changing fast, and it’s fascinating.

View of the city from the Museum of Islamic Art

View of the city from the Museum of Islamic Art

A peninsula country that sticks out into the Persian Gulf and is land-bordered only by Saudi Arabia, Qatar is all but surrounded by almost-fluorescent turquoise water. It’s very safe (virtually no crime), very modern, and very wealthy.

The country is a Muslim monarchy run by Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani (who peacefully took over from his father in 2013). The whole peninsula is only 100 miles long, with a population around 2.3 million. What I found fascinating is that only something like 12% of the population is actually Qatari, and the wealth of local Qataris is staggering. They have one of the highest GDPs per capita in the world (about $100,000 per head) and citizens also get free food and healthcare, all funded by the country’s wealth from natural gas. The rest of Qatar’s population is made up of expat professionals and migrant workers, many who’ve arrived in the past few years to help build up Doha for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Thanks to all the eyes on Qatar now, along with the government’s own agenda to make the city very visitor-friendly, the city is likely to change a lot over the next few years. If you go now, you’ll see that transition take place. As always, a good guide will be able to explain more about the social context and lift the curtain on some of the cultural complexities you’re not likely to fully grasp on your own.

2. Qatar is an easy introduction to the Middle East, and it’s easy to get to.

Qatar Airways has just added nonstop flights from Boston to Doha and will start direct flights from LAX in January 2016, making the city more accessible than ever. Like its fellow mid-east airlines, QA has raised the bar in business-class travel. The lie-flat seats are very comfortable, the food is very good, and as a result the flight turns into its own enjoyable part of the trip.

The airline is also trying to promote the city as an ideal stopover location—a place to add on a few days of vacation before or after a business trip, or in conjunction with another trip to the Middle East. The airport alone is worth spending a few hours in; there’s a pool, squash courts, and a spa.

The pool at Doha’s Hamad International Airport

The pool at Doha’s Hamad International Airport

3. Anantara has created an ideal place to stay.

Banana Island Resort Doha by Anantara

Banana Island Resort Doha by Anantara

Many familiar luxury hotel brands have staked out spots in Doha, but Anantara has created a pretty special retreat, on the private Banana Island, a 20-minute water taxi ride from the mainland. The taxi plies the waters all day long, and the port—more like a luxe hotel lobby—is a short distance from all the city’s main sites. This means you can duck into Doha for the day, visit the stunning Museum of Islamic Art, the lesser-known but equally fascinating Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, and the bustling Souq Waqif, and then buzz back to the resort for a relaxing evening of good food and long views of the sea. What’s interesting is that locals are coming in droves to the island on the opposite schedule: Anantara sells weekday evening packages that include water-taxi tickets and a credit at one of the resort’s restaurants. The nearly 250 daily takers aren’t required to stay overnight; instead, they get to enjoy the island as a night out.

One of the Anantara corner suites, where I stayed

One of the Anantara corner suites, where I stayed

For guests, the food options are available anytime. And most of it is really good. Six restaurants cover a range of cuisines, including an “American” diner called Ted’s (I didn’t even try it). More interesting are the Arabian options at Al Nahham (camel shawarma, giant grilled shrimp) and 14 kinds of hummus at Q Lounge (beetroot and walnut, fig, artichoke, beef bacon).

Grilled shrimp on a sword

Grilled shrimp on a sword

A lot is likely to be made of the fact that this is a dry resort—meaning, no alcohol—in order to follow cultural norms. But this seeming “lack” is anything but. Personally, I am not a big drinker, and I’m often disappointed that friends get to indulge in bright, fruity and interesting cocktails while I sip seltzer or some supersweet mocktail. Here, the nonalcoholic creations blow away any boozy concoctions you can imagine; they are their own delicious category. The driving force behind the creativity is the resort’s mixology director, Alexandre Hersent, who gave us a behind-the-scenes demonstration of how he prepares some of the molecular-gastronomy-inspired beverages, like the “Z daiquiri” of smoked apple juice with spice-infused honey, or his science-experiment twist on the city’s ubiquitous traditional lemon and mint drink. Hersent’s version (pictured below) has a semi-frozen ball of lemon and mint that pops open in your mouth. As usual with creative types, the limits seem to have made the food and beverage programs all the better here.

Lemon and mint drink, Anantara-style

Lemon and mint drink, Anantara-style

4. Once you’re back from the city’s sites, there are activities galore.

The pool and the sea beyond

The pool and the sea beyond

The Persian Gulf is so turquoise blue here, it’s enough just to sit on a balcony or patio staring at it. But for more active types and those with kids in tow, this resort is full of family-friendly activities: You can kayak, snorkel, get scuba certified, go windsurfing, or hit the surf pool. There’s a kids’ club with a giant indoor climbing-obstacle-course thing; a teen center with foosball, air hockey tables, and PlayStation nooks; a bowling alley; tennis courts; and a movie theater complete with buckets of popcorn.

For adults, there’s both a spa and a wellness center. Guests at the wellness center first see a specialist who determines their needs and then helps them choose from a suggested menu of holistic-health treatments like lymphatic drainage massages, infrared detox, nutritional consultations, and time in a zero-gravity float pod. You get the idea.

The wellness center’s zen garden

The wellness center’s zen garden

In a totally different part of the island, you’ll find the spa, where indulgences and pampering are the focus. Here, men and women divide into separate areas, and all have access to the usual high-quality Anantara menu of massages, facials, etc. The standout experience is definitely the hammam, where you’ll be soaked, steamed, covered in mud, massaged, exfoliated, and at the end doused with icy water. Invigorating to say the least.

The hammam

The hammam

5. Doha is safe and family-friendly.

Overall, Doha felt very safe. We saw families almost everywhere we visited, and observed a range of dress codes (though all conservative and covered). Shopkeepers were friendly, used to tourists, and just as ready to take our money as anywhere I’ve traveled.

Personally, I would recommend hiring a guide to take you through the city, not necessarily for safety reasons but more because, as with so many travel experiences, you will get more out of it if you have a plugged-in guide to talk you through the context and point out things you might not otherwise notice or understand.

The I.M. Pei–designed Museum of Islamic Art

The I.M. Pei–designed Museum of Islamic Art

The resort itself feels comfortable and secure. Everything you need is onsite, and the staff (who speak English and come from 60+ countries) are constantly interacting with the guests. You can’t pass anyone who works here without them saying hello to you; buggies regularly traverse the grounds to take you wherever you need to go; and I noticed good-service indicators like guest names and arrival dates listed on a whiteboard in one of the restaurant kitchens. What’s more, the lack of alcohol means you won’t run into any rowdy nightlife seekers, though the scene here is still lively; on weekends, guests stayed out late socializing and smoking scented shisha pipes at one of the restaurants overlooking the water.

Camels outside Souq Waqif; we were told they were the police department’s camels

Camels outside Souq Waqif; we were told they were the police department’s camels


* Full disclosure: I was hosted by Anantara and my flights, on Qatar Airways, were paid for. That said, Wendy and I don’t accept any travel experience we don’t believe will be up to our readers’ standards, and as Anantara properties have long been favorites of luxury travelers, and as the brand is quickly ramping up its presence in the Middle East, we agreed it was an ideal time to explore the tourism options here.

In keeping with WendyPerrin.com standard practice, there was no expectation of coverage on our hosts’ part, nor was anything promised on ours. You can read our signed agreements with Qatar Airways here and with Anantara Hotels & Resorts here

A surfer in Wildwood Crest, New Jersey

Is America’s Most Up-and-Coming Retro Summer Vacation Spot on the Jersey Shore?

How does a town that’s barely changed in 60 years become the #1 destination on the rise in the U.S.? I’ve been wondering this ever since the tiny beach town of Wildwood, New Jersey, topped TripAdvisor’s list of destinations on the rise for 2015. Wildwood had its heyday back in the 1950s and 60s, and its best hotels have no more than three stars, so how could it be the spot that’s seen the greatest increase in positive feedback and interest on TripAdvisor?

I wanted to find out. I live just 150 miles from Wildwood so, last weekend, I made a little trip there with the family. What I found is a slice of Americana that may be close to the population centers of the northeast but feels very far away. I also found a quintessential retro summer vacation spot. Here are six reasons for the buzz about Wildwood—just in case you’re interested in checking it out for yourself.


Wildwood is like a time capsule from the 1950s and ‘60s. It’s a return to the seaside resort of yesteryear, complete with two-mile Boardwalk, dozens of small motels with names like Sea Kist and Pink Champagne Motel, and seemingly a hundred places selling hot dogs, frozen custard, and salt water taffy. What with Mad Men, Universal’s new 50s-themed Cabana Bay Beach Resort in Orlando, and America’s current obsession with mid-century art and design, the 50s and 60s have been making a comeback, so that probably plays into the town’s popularity. Wildwood also has the largest seaside amusement park in the Western Hemisphere, so there are plenty of classic rides that Mom and Dad will remember from their childhood and can now enjoy with their kids.

On the Wildwood Boardwalk you’ll find rides that remind you of your childhood.

On the Wildwood Boardwalk you’ll find rides that remind you of your childhood.

You can see salt water taffy being made—and fed into a 62-year-old taffy-wrapping machine.

You can see salt water taffy being made—and fed into a 62-year-old taffy-wrapping machine.

You’ll spot all sorts of small-town Americana. We stumbled upon this Veterans of Foreign Wars parade.

You’ll spot all sorts of small-town Americana. We stumbled upon this Veterans of Foreign Wars parade.


Part of the reason Wildwood—or, more accurately, the Wildwoods, as the town blends together with its neighbors Wildwood Crest and North Wildwood—feels like a time capsule is that it’s undiluted by the chain stores and strip-mall fixtures that have invaded so many places in America. The Boardwalk is lined with local mom-and-pop shops and eateries—not a Starbucks or Pizza Hut in sight. “How many places have you been to in America where, if you didn’t know where you were, you could be anywhere?” points out Will Morey, CEO of the aforementioned amusement park, Morey’s Piers and Beachfront Waterparks, itself a local family-owned business. “Many places start to look and feel the same. But Wildwood is unique.” It’s not some Disneyfied version of an American beach town either: There’s plenty that’s edgy and tacky on the Boardwalk—from eyesore dollar stores to body piercing and tattoo parlors—and there’s a ton of kitsch (think motels with fake palm trees by the pool). But all that makes Wildwood the real thing.

A typical Wildwood motel, complete with fake palm trees

A typical Wildwood motel, complete with fake palm trees

A small slice of Wildwood’s two-mile Boardwalk

A small slice of Wildwood’s two-mile Boardwalk

Lifeguards grabbing a bite on the Boardwalk

Lifeguards grabbing a bite on the Boardwalk


The amusement “park” is actually three enormous piers packed with more than 100 rides and games, plus two of the “world’s largest oceanfront waterparks.” This makes Wildwood a bit like Orlando, only without the logistics or the waits for rides—and with real Americana, as opposed to fake Americana. Wildwood is easier to navigate than Orlando: Accommodations are small motels, not giant resort complexes, and you can get around by bike rather than car.

The biggest seaside amusement park in the Western Hemisphere: Morey’s Piers and Beachfront Waterparks.

The biggest seaside amusement park in the Western Hemisphere: Morey’s Piers and Beachfront Waterparks.

Biking in Wildwood Crest

Biking in Wildwood Crest. This was the view from our balcony at the Port Royal Hotel. 

Bikes for rent in Wildwood

Bikes for rent in Wildwood

Comfort food

On the Boardwalk you’ll find endless supplies of carnival-style and soda-fountain food, from funnel cakes and corn dogs and Philly cheese steaks to fresh-squeezed lemonade and root beer floats to fried just-about-anything-you-can-think-of (fried Oreos, fried Snickers, fried Twinkies, fried Pop-Tarts, fried ice cream….) You could spend hours just sampling the different types of whipped cream fudge on offer. My kids did.

Doug and Charlie tried funnel cakes—and loved them.

Doug and Charlie tried funnel cakes—and loved them.

Did you know fudge comes in hundreds of flavors?

Did you know fudge comes in hundreds of flavors?


From its free beaches to its carousels, Wildwood is kid-friendly in the extreme. “Our target market is kids ages 3 to 17,” says Morey, whose family owns not only the amusement piers but also five of the area’s better retro-style hotels, including the StarLux and the Pan American. “Those kids tell their parents where they want to go for vacation.”

A tot on the beach in Wildwood Crest

A tot on the beach in Wildwood Crest

Many large family groups seeking a budget-friendly vacation choose Wildwood—including this group posing at one of the beachfront landmarks.

Many large family groups seeking a budget-friendly vacation choose Wildwood—including this group posing at one of the beachfront landmarks.

Doug and Charlie loved The Great Nor’easter thrill ride at Morey’s Piers.

Doug and Charlie loved The Great Nor’easter thrill ride at Morey’s Piers.


The Wildwoods are just quirky enough to be interesting. You’ll find surprises each time you walk up and down the waterfront. There’s a 25-foot-tall fire hydrant on Dog Beach, for instance, and there’s an artBOX on one of the amusement piers where you can drop in spontaneously and take an art class (jewelry making, painting, screen printing). Every summer weekend brings events galore. Last weekend we stumbled upon the Hawthorne Caballeros Drum & Bugle Corps having an informal jam session by the beach, a Veterans of Foreign Wars parade, the 2015 New Jersey Jeep Invasion (which brought to the beach about 500 jeeps of every size, color, and off-roading option), and a group of Life Rolls On volunteer surfers taking paraplegics out of their wheelchairs and putting them on surfboards so they could surf. You just never know what you’re going to find in the Wildwoods. That might be one reason people keep coming back.

Public art in Wildwood: This 25-foot-tall fire hydrant sits on Dog Beach.

Public art in Wildwood: This 25-foot-tall fire hydrant sits on Dog Beach.

artBOX, an “artists’ village” made from shipping containers, sits on one of the amusement piers and offers art classes.

artBOX, an “artists’ village” made from shipping containers, sits on one of the amusement piers and offers art classes. Photo courtesy Morey’s Piers.

Local artist David Macomber teaches origami at artBOX.

Local artist David Macomber teaches origami at artBOX.

Veterans of the Hawthorne Caballeros Drum and Bugle Corps having an informal jam session by the beach.

Veterans of the Hawthorne Caballeros Drum and Bugle Corps having an informal jam session by the beach.

Volunteer surfers enabling paraplegics to surf as part of the nonprofit Life Rolls On program.

Volunteer surfers enabling paraplegics to surf as part of the nonprofit Life Rolls On program.

You just never know who or what you’ll see in the Wildwoods.

You just never know who or what you’ll see in the Wildwoods.

But wait. Stop. Before you book a trip to Wildwood, know that Cape May, its far more picturesque and charming neighbor on the Jersey shore, is—with its Victorian architecture, fine restaurants, and art scene—much better suited to sophisticates. The two towns are like yin and yang, and an optimal family trip would combine the two: a dose of Cape May for the grownups, a dose of Wildwood for the kids.

9/11 September 11 Memorial’s South Pool

5 Free Things to Do in America’s Cities

You know who loves free stuff? Everybody. Especially when you’re traveling. So whether you’re taking a summer vacation across America or enjoying a staycation in your hometown, you’ll be happy to know that some of the coolest and most iconic attractions are no-cost.

So put your wallets away and bookmark this list of free worldly pursuits from New York City to Los Angeles and many cities in between. You can see my full list over on the TripAdvisor blog, but here’s a sneak peek so you can start checking these American must-do’s off your travel bucket list asap. After all, it’s not like you’ve got anything to lose.


The Freedom Trail, Boston
Many Boston neighborhoods feel like outdoor museums, but the Freedom Trail is the ultimate. Follow the red line and you’re on a 2.5-mile historic trail that leads you past unique historic sites from the American Revolution. The Freedom Trail app isn’t free, but the $4.99 price tag goes to preserve the buildings you’ll see.

The Getty Center, Los Angeles
This complex of art, architecture, and gardens is rated the #1 thing to do in L.A. by the TripAdvisor community. In summertime on Fridays and Saturdays it’s open till 9:00 pm so you can enjoy the sunset and twilight views. The Getty Villa, the collection of Greek and Roman antiquities, is free too. There’s a parking fee of $15 per car, but that fee covers parking at both sites, and the sites are also accessible by public transit.

The National September 11 Memorial, New York City
Entry to the September 11 Museum costs $24, but you can take in the Memorial for free. #4 on TripAdvisor’s list of the most popular landmarks in America, it’s an eight-acre park with twin reflecting pools that sit within the footprints where the Twin Towers once stood and feature the largest manmade waterfalls in North America.

New Orleans Jazz National Historic Park, New Orleans
This is the place for free live educational jazz performances, presented both at the Old U.S. Mint and at the Park’s French Market Visitor Center. Even the park rangers perform! Concerts are live streamed; listen in here and you’ll be itching to book a trip to NOLA.

The Smithsonian Museums, Washington, D.C.
Is there any U.S. city that’s a better bargain for museum lovers than Washington, D.C.? The National Gallery of Art (rated the #1 thing to do in D.C. by TripAdvisor travelers), the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (rated #5), the National Air and Space Museum (#10), and all the other favorites on the National Mall are free, as are top landmarks such as the Lincoln Memorial (rated #2), the Washington Monument, and much more.

Read Wendy’s full list of outstanding free things to do over on her blog at TripAdvisor.

Two lions at the Smithsonian National Zoo.

Sleep With the Fishes (and Lions) at These Zoo and Aquarium Sleepovers

Note from Wendy: When my sons got the chance to spend the night at New York’s American Museum of Natural History my youngest, Doug, was so impressed that he wrote a blog post detailing the reasons why everyone should sign up for a museum sleepover. So when I saw that our friends at Yahoo! Travel had rounded up zoos that offer similar slumber-party programs, I immediately wanted to share the info. See their article below. For help planning memorable family vacations, take a look at my WOW List of Trusted Travel Experts. For more specific recommendations, email me at questions@wendyperrin.com and I can connect you with the right travel specialist for your family.

This article originally ran on Yahoo! Travel


By Jordi Lippe of Yahoo! Travel

Going to the zoo and aquarium can be a magical experience. You get to see animals you’ve only ever read about in real life—monkeys, penguins, sharks, whales, etc.—up close. But have you ever wondered what happens at these parks after all the tourists leave and the lights go out? Now kids of all ages can find out. Some of your favorite attractions offer overnight stays, so you can literally sleep with the fishes—and other wild animals. Here are 10 zoos and aquariums where you can actually spend the night.

Resident Camp at SeaWorld, various U.S. locations

SeaWorld in Orlando

SeaWorld in Orlando. (Photo: SeaWorld/Facebook)

What do dolphins look like when they sleep? That’s a question you can have answered by attending one of SeaWorld’s Summer Resident Camps, where students grades four through college can spend a few nights sleeping next to beluga whales, manatees, and dolphins. When the sun comes up, participants also get to do cool stuff like follow zoological professionals as they handle penguins, take a swim in the dolphin stadium show pool, and prepare educational presentations to share with park guests. Bonus: This program is offered at SeaWorlds across the country.

Snore and Roar at Smithsonian’s National Zoo, Washington, D.C.

Two lions at the Smithsonian National Zoo.

Two lions at the Smithsonian National Zoo. (Photo: Smithsonian’s National Zoo/Facebook)

Typically, when spending the night in D.C., you hear city sounds like cars honking and people yelling. How about trading those in for wolves howling and sea lions barking? Just head to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo for its overnight program. You can pitch a tent on Lion/Tiger Hill before taking an exclusive animal-keeper-led tour through the exhibits and animal territories. With both family and adult-only versions available from June through September, it will be the wildest experience you’ve never had in our nation’s capital.

 Also from Yahoo! Travel: Nearly-Extinct Turtle Is Coming Back With Help From Zoo

Overnight Safari at the Bronx Zoo, Bronx, New York

Two sea lions at sunrise at the Bronx Zoo. (Photo: Joey/Flickr)

Two sea lions at sunrise at the Bronx Zoo. (Photo: Joey/Flickr)

Trade your zebra-print skirt for an actual zebra on your next night out in New York City. The Bronx Zoo hosts Family Overnight Safaris to which you can bring a tent, sleeping bags, and a picnic dinner and enjoy an evening of animal-themed activities and classic camping rituals like roasting marshmallows. Be sure to stay up late to hear the wild calls from the various species on the grounds. But no need for an alarm clock—zoo officials say the sea lions provide a natural wake-up call.

Sleepover With the Sharks at National Aquarium, Baltimore

Blacktip shark at the National Aquarium.

Blacktip shark at the National Aquarium. (Photo: JJ Jackson/Flickr)

Total darkness + sharks isn’t usually an equation you want to find yourself in the middle of. But when you participate in Sleepover With the Sharks at the National Aquarium, you get to see these beautiful creatures sans the sheer terror. Overnight guests set up sleeping bags in the underwater viewing area as the kings of fish swim overhead. Included in the program is a behind-the-scenes tour, reserved seating in the dolphin amphitheater, a 4D immersion film, dinner, and breakfast.

Big Cat-Nap Campout at Zoo Miami

A leopard at the Miami Zoo.

A leopard at the Miami Zoo. (Photo: Zoo Miami/Facebook)

Each year during the Big Cat-Nap Campout, families are invited to pitch their own tents for the night in the zoo’s “grasslands” before heading off on a behind-the-scenes tour and enjoying a campfire complete with s’mores. Participants also get breakfast and free admission to the park the next day and, of course, a T-shirt to commemorate the totally awesome experience.

 Also from Yahoo! Travel: You Have to See It to Believe It — Lion Shocks Tourists by Opening Car Door on Safari

Adult Overnights at the Philadelphia Zoo

A red panda at the Philadelphia Zoo.

A red panda at the Philadelphia Zoo. (Photo: National Geographic Image Collection/Alamy)

While there are overnight programs for children and teens throughout the year, the Philadelphia Zoo sometimes lets adults in on the fun, too. Go behind the scenes at the attractions, have up-close encounters with live animals, tour the park after dark, and have a light dinner. And what’s a night out without some cocktails? Enjoy a happy hour surrounded by exotic species.

Harbor Discoveries Camps at the New England Aquarium, Boston

Flame jellies at the New England Aquarium.

Flame jellies at the New England Aquarium. (Photo: New England Aquarium/Facebook)

This Boston aquarium is already pretty cool, what with animals like penguins and jellyfish. So why not take it up a notch and slumber alongside some of these sea creatures? Families sleep in the west wing and get a tour of the main aquarium, admission to an IMAX movie, and breakfast, all while learning about life in the ocean.

 Also from Yahoo! Travel: With its Aquarium and Miniature Forest, Vancouver Is Canada’s Coolest Airport

Zzzoofari Slumber at the Nashville Zoo

Two barn owls at the Nashville Zoo.

Two barn owls at the Nashville Zoo. (Photo: Art Directors & TRIP/Alamy)

It’s as if you’re going on a camping trip, only this one has giraffes, red pandas, and kangaroos. During a night under the stars at the Nashville Zoo, families are treated to a tour of the zoo, play games and do crafts, have a marshmallow roast, and enjoy hayrides before falling asleep to the sounds of apes and exotic birdcalls. Plus, there’s breakfast the next morning.

Seashore Sleepovers at Monterey Bay Aquarium, Monterey Bay, California

Photo: Monterey Bay Aquarium

Photo: Monterey Bay Aquarium

Enjoy an evening with live music, a wine tasting, and … stingrays. Guests participating in one of the aquarium’s Summer Nights Seashore Sleepovers get to explore the property after the doors close to the public at 8 p.m. There’s also a bedtime snack and a late-night nature movie before you go to bed in front of your favorite exhibit. Wake up with the fishes and enjoy a continental breakfast in the café.

Zookeeping 101 at Busch Gardens Tampa

Busch Gardens Tampa

Busch Gardens Tampa

If exotic land animals are your thing, you’ll love the Zookeeping 101 overnight summer program at Busch Gardens Tampa. Created for high school and college kids, campers assist zookeepers with their daily routines, including preparing diets, training animals, and providing veterinary care for a variety of animals from giraffes to hippos to lemurs. Of course, they also get to try out all the fun rides after the crowds leave. Camper lodging is in dormitories inside the park.

American Museum of Natural History sleepover

5 Reasons to Sleep in a Museum: A 10-Year-Old’s Opinion

Hi.  I’m Doug, and I’m 10 years old.  My brother Charlie and I got to spend the night at the American Museum of Natural History.  My mom asked me whether the sleepover made the museum truly memorable. It did because the museum is a lot different at night than it is during the day. Here are five reasons why I remember my night at the museum so well:

AMNH dinosaur skeleton

Cool dinosaur skeletons

1. You get to go around the museum with a flashlight.

AMNH reptile exhibit

Reptile exhibit

2. There’s nobody blocking your view.

AMNH museum scavenger hnt

Scavenger hunt

3. You get to have a scavenger hunt where you answer questions in a book.

AMNH tiger exhibit

Tiger exhibit

4. You can see a lot more of the museum because it’s not crowded at night.

AMNH Hall of Ocean Life

Hall of Ocean Life, at the American Museum of Natural History

5. You get to sleep under a giant blue whale.

Those are the reasons why my night at the museum was truly memorable.