Spring break is right around the corner! If you haven’t started planning, now’s the time. Gone are the days when this annual sojourn just meant lying on a beach — today’s families want a richer, more fulfilling experience. Here’s what’s trending for family spring break ideas this year.
What do we mean by second-level? Families are ready to go deeper and venture beyond their comfort zone — they want far-flung destinations that feel novel and exotic and that offer opportunities for adventure. Southeast Asia is a huge draw, especially Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand, and Japan and China remain twin titans. Costa Rica and Belize have been family vacation mainstays for years; now, Central American neighbors such as Panama and Nicaragua are stealing the spotlight. And thanks to the relaxed travel restrictions for U.S. citizens, Cuba is fast becoming the new Caribbean hot spot.
South America’s star is also rising, though not all countries are created equal in terms of development and tourist-friendliness. Peru, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador/the Galapagos Islands, and Argentina are all in high demand, relatively easy to reach, and all have a solid infrastructure for family travel. Someone recently surprised us by saying that Colombia — once considered a danger zone — is poised to take off. We haven’t seen significant interest yet from our readers, but we’re keeping close watch.
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TIP: While basic precautions and common sense are typically all that’s needed to stay safe abroad, the reality is that disasters can and do happen from time to time. Consider joining the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, which lets the American embassy in your host country know that you’re there and gives them a way to reach you in a crisis.
It’s no secret that we’re big fans of volunteer travel, ecotourism and other opportunities to incorporate service or sustainability into a family vacation. Not only do these types of experiences benefit communities around the world, they also help kids understand social environmental issues in a concrete way and plant the seeds for a lifelong commitment to positive change.
In practice, this takes any number of forms, from helping schoolchildren learn English to working on an organic farm. The Volunteer Family website is a great starting point to find a program that suits your own family well and, equally important, is vetted and reputable. Even traditional resort brands such as Beaches have gotten in on the action through programs like the Sandals Foundation, which leads educational, environmental and community improvements on its host islands.
In a similar vein, ecolodges and other hotels and resorts that incorporate sustainable practices are attracting more and more families. On Ciao Bambino, many of our Costa Rica properties in particular fall into this category, including Lapa Rios Ecolodge, Monteverde Lodge & Gardens, and Si Como No.
Lesser-visited U.S. cities are having their moment. While New York, San Francisco, Chicago and other big-ticket destinations are as popular as ever, families have begun digging deeper. Small to midsize towns like Austin, Texas; Annapolis; San Antonio; Nashville; Memphis; and Asheville, North Carolina are emerging in a way that would have been unimaginable 10 years ago. The result is a sense of discovery that’s not always present in a well-trodden locale.
Other pluses in these destinations are many: booming restaurant scenes, new boutique hotels, revitalized cultural and kids’ attractions, and affordable pricing. And because the list of must-dos in more compace cities isn’t as exhaustive as it is in most major capitals, you can easily string two or even three of them together in that time-honored tradition: the family road trip.
TIP: It’s no coincidence that many of our favorite smaller spring break cities are in the Southeast, which combines generally pleasant spring weather with distinctive culture and a strong sense of place. Just be aware that spring is storm season in the region —you may contend with a few thundershowers or a tornado warning.
The U.S. National Park Service turns 100 this year — what better way to celebrate than with a visit to one of the nearly 60 parks across the nation? Yosemite, Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon tend to get much of the love, but take the opportunity to check out a park that’s a little more off the beaten path. Marvel at the spectacular rock formations in Utah‘s Arches, Canyonlands and Capitol Reef; paddle through the Everglades in Florida; or walk through three different ecosystems at Olympic National Park in Washington. National parks also offer a prime opportunity for adventures such as river rafting, kayaking, backcountry hiking, rock and ice climbing, and more.
Beach lovers, take heart: Virgin Islands National Park, on St. John in the Caribbean, is included on this list as well. Heading to Hawaii? Make a stop at Volcanoes National Park to explore the lava fields around Mauna Loa and Kilauea. See the complete list of national parks here.
Family cruising looks different these days. Smaller, more tailored ships and bespoke experiences are becoming more common and more in demand. Companies like Lindblad Expeditions and Aqua Expeditions truly live up to the “expedition” part of their names — their trips, from the Amazon to the Galapagos to Asia’s Mekong River, combine adventure and education with luxurious amenities and relaxation.
New lines such as Fathom, an offshoot of Carnival, blend traditional cruise amenities with on-shore volunteer opportunities in destinations including Cuba and the Dominican Republic. And European river cruising, associated more with retirees than with young families, is gaining ground thanks to an Adventures by Disney partnership with AmaWaterways.
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