My 13-year-old twins are very outgoing and have done the best in a resort setting where there are lots of activities and other kids. Horseback riding and snorkeling have been favorite pastimes, but the presence of peers is essential.
They loved Paradise Guest Ranch (307/684-7876) in Wyoming, renting a houseboat on Lake Powell (800/528-2433) with their parents and grandparents, Beaches Turks and Caicos (888/Beaches), The Tyler Place (802/868-4000) in Vermont, the Westin St. John (340/693-8000) and Disney World (407/939-6242).
They loved our trip to Belize that combined a stay at Francis Ford Coppola’s mountain resort with a stay on Ambergris Caye. We all loved snorkeling with nurse sharks, sea turtles and manta rays (which our boat operator hand-fed, turning the rays so they were perpendicular to the surface of the water and we could see their mouths) in the marine reserve and finding lobsters hidden in the rocks. (I was less happy to see the moray eel emerge from its home in the rocks, barring its teeth at me!) We also tried snorkeling at night, when the barracuda and squid came out to feed.
Our vacations with my parents have been terrific, because they’re upbeat and fun. They were great sports when the cooling on the houseboat on Lake Powell had to be turned off at night, due to the noise and proximity other boats, forcing us to drag our mattresses up on deck so we could sleep — and the bats flew right past our faces on their way to their caves. (Nothing like experiencing the wonders of sonar firsthand!)
And, they were the ones who discovered the junior rodeo in Utah (800/200-1160) where small children were placed on top of sheep and desperately tried to stay on top while the sheep ran toward the feeding pens and other sheep at the other end of the corral, and where my daughter joined in the competition to grab a squealing piglet. (She lost, thank goodness: the prize was to keep the piglet!)
Our one disaster was the trip to London and Greece last summer. They loved the sights of London, but the 10 days in Greece (+30 210 870 7000) where they were deprived of English-speaking pals their age was more than my daughter could tolerate.
In her view, gorgeous beaches and swimming pools didn’t count, ancient ruins and spectacular scenery meant nothing, and being stuck with two adults for two weeks was sheer torture. She decided she didn’t want to get her hair wet and therefore our efforts to please the kids by visiting Naxos (with its beautiful beaches) and Santorini (where we stayed in a spectacular cliffside hotel with swimming pools) got us nowhere with her.
In all fairness, my son wasn’t as bad. He was at least intrigued by the topless beaches and interested in cooling off in the hotel pools. He was also willing to study the architectural renderings of ancient temples and envision their scale.
My daughter glanced at the scattered pedestals spared by the earthquakes and headed for the exit. The theatre held more interest; stone seats built into the hillside survive earthquakes in a way that temple pillars can’t.
We tried to cut back on the museums, to make the trip more kid-friendly, but my daughter wanted friends her age and we couldn’t find them. Most of the vacationing tourists were couples, not families, and the vacationing families we did see had younger children and were German. And we were touring, rather than simply staying in one place for a week.
I guess an internet cafe would have helped. As it was, my daughter only wanted to watch music videos in the hotel room at night. Maybe it was just adolescence, but I will be very reluctant to take them to a non-English speaking country again unless they specifically beg to go.
London was a different story. My daughter was intrigued by the lives of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I (16th century gossip) and plied me with questions. The kids loved The Tower of London, our “London Walks” tour of Hampton Court, the tube, the Indian and Italian restaurants, the “Jack the Ripper” walk, our night at the theatre, the War Rooms, Windsor Castle … everything.
And it may seem like a small thing, but being able to ask a stranger directions in English, chat easily with young waiters or hear a tour guide rattle on in English prevented them from feeling lonely.
This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.