How to Transform a Family Vacation from Ordinary to Extraordinary

The destination is booked. Your hotel is set. Now, how do you transform a trip from ordinary to extraordinary?

You can always wait until you arrive and ask the concierge, a fine option for many trips, or you can take advantage of Internet to try and find those few unique experiences that will ensure your are creating a trip your family will remember a trip for a lifetime.

This is the part of trip planning that I love, the customization. The Internet has opened up so many options. No longer do you have to wait to get to a destination only to discover you’ve arrived the day before an amazing event or festival. I always recommend researching and booking fun activities before you arrive. I plan one really special experience on each of our trips.

planning family tours, whale watching family boat tour in Maui Hawaii

Highlights from our family vacations for inspiration:

Private Whale Watching & Luau in Maui: Looking at the pictures brings me right back to the rich blue waters off of Maui. When the Zodiak turned off the engines and all you heard was the breathing of the whales as they rolled and played along the surface of the ocean.  They were so close that it had our hearts racing.  We followed this outing with a private Luau by CJ’s that was perfectly balanced- culturally rich and very entertaining. Our whole family was in stiches!

Moose Safari in New Hampshire: My 7-year old son wanted to see moose and catch fish. That was the basis of our trip. Everything that I had looked at was at least six hours north of us, certainly too far for a weekend getaway. Then, I stumbled upon MWV Moose Bus Tours, in Conway, NH.  For two hours we drove around in a comfortable bus, outfitted with spotlights to shine on the moose and disco lights to entertain the kids. While listening to silly moose songs, we were able to find four moose. These huge animals were a fast favorite of both my 7 and 2- year old. For more fun Activities in New Hampshire check out my post-trip debrief.

special family tours, photos of gladiator school in rome italy

Gladiator School & Soccer Game in Rome: I love this activity for Rome because so many of the sites in Rome are ruins, which can be hard for the kids to conceptualize. During gladiator school, kids will have the opposite experience as they try on gladiator gear and “train” in the sand pit. The session is finalized by a simulated fight. While it may sound violent, it’s really quite tame and all in good fun.

Food Tour in London: This was a surprise favorite for us. London and great food are not always synonymous, however, leave it to Context Tours to plan a great tour. We booked a private two-three hour tour and discovered spots we most definitely would not have found on our own. It was also a perfect way to start our stay in London because it helped us learn our way around while someone else was leading.

family tours, medieval games including archery school in ireland

Medieval Games in Athenry, Ireland: Kids learn best when they have a hands on experience. At Athenry Castle is was an afternoon of medieval games, including relay races, archery and tug-of-war. This was all outdoors before stepping inside to dress up in medieval costumes complete with weapons. Along the way we were taught about life in the castle. To compliment this, another must-do castle experience is falconry at Ashford Castle.

Surf Camp in San Diego: A personal favorite. There’s no better way to get in touch with your inner Californian that to “Hang Ten,” (aka surfing).  You can also ride the everlasting wave at the Wave House in Mission Beach.

Ice Hotel in Quebec: A hotel built completely of ice and sculpted into an artistic masterpiece. Truly stunning with a long ice slide that was a huge hit and a spectacular ice cathedral, but be prepared for arctic temperatures, it was only 5 degrees while we were there. That’s fine for a visit but too cold for a sleepover.

Tour planning tips

Let’s be honest here … you don’t always score a home run. Although the pictures from the our Dungaire castle banquet look charming, it was an evening where we were looking for any way to exit gracefully. The small venue — and hilarious entertainment (the busload of senior citizens took very seriously) — made for a very long evening. Also, the ice hotel was amazing, but way too adventurous for our crew. A visit would have been fine but the overnight was risking hypothermia (for real). Instead stay at the lovely hotel 100 yards away.

Some sites to help you find some starting points. I like to see what types of tours are offered and then search using some of the key words. Also, look at what some tour operators offer and then recreate it for your group. For example, while planning for Ireland, I reviewed the Disney Adventure Tours and then booked similar things like scone making, falconry, a visit to a sheep farm and a Irish step dance show. Having a private itinerary gives us the flexibility we need with our kids and take away the worry that we will disturb others.

Trip Advisor has a “To Do” section that has a few good ideas. Viator has many different tours to look at for ideas. Abercrombie & Kent Family Holidays and Classic Journeys Family Trips also offer amazing itineraries that can inspire wonderful trips.

Photos courtesy of Nancy Solomon

Relevant Links:

Directory of kid-friendly guides and walking tours

Using movies to make trip planning and preparation more fun

Multigenerational family trip planning tips

Volunteer family travel

Start a Discussion

  • Excellent list and great tips! We like to plan everything in advance as well. Takes the stress off when you arrive.
    I’ve wanted to visit the Ice Hotel for some time now. Hoping to make the trip next year!

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