If you ready to plan the next big family adventure, here’s our short list of educational and family-oriented tour operators. Whether you’re interested in those led by an educational institution, or trips run by experienced tour operators who are committed to helping families see the world, there are several well reviewed, kid-friendly guided tours around the globe. Keep in mind that lodging, airport transfers, some meals, attractions, guides, and land transportation are all included in rates, so they can be very cost effective.
Educational Guided Tours for Families
Several family-specific, educational trips from major American museums and highly-recommended adult tour operators are on offer over the school holidays. Expect suberb guides and naturalists, quality accommodations and dining, and someone on staff to focus on the interests of young travelers. Children’s rates typically apply to ages 12 and under, with discounts for families who share a room. Contact these organizations by phone or website for up-to-date rates and schedules.
American Museum of Natural History Expeditions’ Family Programs
Central Park West at 79th Street
New York, NY 10024
These trips are run and guided by the experts at New York’s American Museum of Natural History, and family tours have a focus on environmental and wildlife issues. “Prehistoric Cave Art of Spain & France” and “History’s Lost Cities by Private Jet” are two upcoming family itineraries. While fees may seem high, a portion of the revenue goes to support the museum’s extraordinary work.
Lindblad Expeditions – National Geographic
96 Morton Street
New York, NY 10014
From the purveyor of the finest small-ship cruising experiences comes a variety of trips that welcome all ages. Each offers superb guides, energy-burning activities and myriad wildlife. Lindblad works with several conservation funds and societies, and partners with the National Geographic Society to provide extra enrichment on its trips. Adults will be delighted with the attention to gourmet meals prepared with sustainable foods, and the carefully trained and enthusiastic tour leaders. Children of any age are welcome on all of Lindblad’s deluxe trips, and travelers under 18-years benefit from a discount on rates. Some of the most popular family destinations include Alaska, the Galapagos of Ecuador (perhaps their signature cruise because it’s in an area where they support extensive environmental conservation efforts), and the Swiss Family Adenture. Extra family staff are on most family departures and family-together time is stressed.
P.O. Box 23182
Washington, DC 20077
These trips focus on culture and history, are guided by the experts at various branches of the Smithsonian Museums and are operated by the top tour companies. While the American Museum of Natural History trips often have an environmental, wildlife conservation, or biology focus, many of the Smithsonian Journeys highlight historical and cultural attractions. One of their most popular itineraries for families with older children include their “Old World Europe” tour with stops in places like Warsaw and Auschwitz.
Family-Oriented Active Adventure Tours
Some of the same family-friendly destinations can be seen with more active or recreation-oriented itineraries. Each has its unique features and guided sightseeing opportunities, as well as varying levels of luxury and roughing-it; contact the following tour operators for specific information.
1935 Lampman Drive
Billings, MT 59102
Austin Adventures, a frequent choice of Travel + Leisure readers as Best Tour Operator, offers an active and educational, luxurious and gourmet, personally tailored vacation. With more than 30 years of experience in the Americas, they aim to bring families together for hiking, biking, horseback riding, kayaking, rafting, boating, sailing and canoeing, in places such as Alaska, Montana, Costa Rica, Peru, South America, Europe and the Middle East. Austin Adventures, now a division of national parks’ concessionaire Xanterra, runs family trips with kid-oriented staff. These special departures travel in small groups with a 6:1 guest to guide ratio, so everyone has a chance to ask questions and get the most from a new experience.
801 Cedar Street
Berkeley, CA 94710
Backroads brings more than 30 years of experience in active multi-sport touring to its Family Trips. Parents are sure to appreciate the Kid Coordinator who accompanies each departure to organize children’s activities. During the summer months, as well as during winter and spring break, Backroads offers expertly led Walking, Hiking, Biking and Multisport trips — some using hotels, some camping — to a variety of destinations, with age-appropriate suggestions. Check out their itineraries in Europe, Morocco, South Africa, Alaska, Hawaii and the Grand Canyon. They pride themselves on balancing “quality time together and apart” so parents can pursue their own interests, too.
Butterfield & Robinson
70 Bond Street, St. 300
Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5B 1X3
866/551-9090 or 416/864-1354
This Canada-based, super deluxe tour operator has been leading lucky adults around the world for years, and has really refined its approach to kid clients. Classic “With the Kids” tours, such as the popular France’s Loire Valley Family Biking, are 6 days/5 nights of biking through the garden regions of France. Other B&R With the Kids destinations include both Eastern and Western Europe, New Zealand, Latin America, Asia Pacific, and South Africa. Each trip is graded by activity level and age appropriateness, and should be considered a family investment.
Thomson Family Adventures
14 Mount Auburn Street
Watertown, MA 02472
This company started in the safari business, and now focuses only on family adventures almost anywhere but Europe. Thomson’s terrific staff encourage your children to make new friends, both on the tours, and in the destinations they visit. With the “Pen Pal” Program, kids are matched by age and write letters to each other before they actually meet. To enhance the experience, Thomson suggests children’s books and activities so that you can prepare for the trip. They also have trips specifically designed for families with teens, like the trek up Mount Kilimanjaro. These are active vacations suited to curious, school-age children.
3516 NE 155th St
Seattle, WA 98155-7412
The owners of this company take pride in immersing their guests in a truly personal encounter by providing an “authentic, in-depth and meaningful life-enhancing experience.” Using local guides who are often teachers, the company’s owners have been known to bring their own children along to enhance fun and cross-cultural opportunities. The Wildland focus is on ‘travel’ not sightseeing; in addition to indigenous guides, guests spend nights in locally-operated hotels and lodges, and sample local cuisine. Special family trips cover a huge swath of Africa, Central America and South America, and truly exotic itineraries extend to India, the Mediterranean and the Middle East.
Guided & Fully Escorted Traditional Tours for Families
Several of the top tour operators in the adult and/or cruise arenas have dedicated departures for families. Parents can take advantage of the savings realized when traveling in a group, and rest easy knowing that all the logistics are taken care of.
Adventures by Disney
P.O. Box 61010
Anaheim, CA 92803-6110
Disney’s pre-arranged day-by-day itineraries –well suited to grandparents — take all the pressure off guardians, making for a stress-free, fun-filled vacation. Among the destinations offered worldwide, families can take off to Peru to visit the ancient grounds of the Incan Empire or enjoy the “China Family Vacation,” far from home. Other favorites include pretzel twisting and castle visiting in Germany, Tuscan pasta-making lessons and gondola rides in Italy, and zip-lining and whitewater rafting in Costa Rica. Upon arrival, in typical Disney Magic style, families take part in a reception to bienvenue or wilkommen kids to the destination. Disney is all about having an immersive experience, yet they recognize that having Disney characters everywhere may be too much for those on a big ticket, escorted tour.
10 Norden Place
Norwalk, CT 06855
Tauck Bridges tours benefit from the Tauck company’s decades of experience leading adult clients to America’s top attractions. They do lead escorted group tours to Africa, Europe, Canada and Central America but Tauck Bridges is unique for it American family trips: American history lessons are learned through “Patriots of America,” a tour beginning in Philadelphia and going to the battlefield at Gettysburg. Or “Red Rocks and Painted Canyons,” the tour to see the geological fantasyland of Arizona and the natural wonders of the Grand Canyon. Tauck Bridges’ trips use skilled local guides and focus on history and culture, making them ideal for less active kids, reunion groups, and senior family members.
With over 60-years of experience and 200 worldwide destinations to choose from, the big Trafalgar Tours company offers hassle-free, well-priced group travel for large groups or solo adventurers. They’re also one of the few tour operators that can boast a 98% satisfaction rate from previous guests, 50% of who return year after year. Trafalgar entices family and reunion travel with a value “Young Traveler” discount for ages 5-17, and quad-bedded hotel rooms where available, even on the fall and winter departures of Europe and Great Britain trips. Options abound: “Hidden Journeys” trips are limited to just 26 participants and are more off the beaten path; Brendan Vacations has private, chauffeured tours to Ireland and Scotland that allow you to get much closer to the local culture and people. Try Western Europe Discovery tour for an in-depth exploration: see the ruins of Rome, the canals of Venice, and learn about Florence’s artistic heritage. Or take the kids on a tour of the Cowboy and Wild West culture of the American West to learn about America’s rich history.
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