The Best Vacations to Take with Grandkids
One of the hottest travel trends is grandparents vacationing with their grandkids and leaving the middle generation—the parents—at home. About one-third of grandparents have taken such trips, according to recent AARP research. Ditching the middleman offers a unique bonding opportunity, especially for family members who live far apart from one another. Plus, it gives parents some welcome time off. Far from staid notions of Grandma sitting around waiting for kids to schlep over the river and through the woods to reach her, this new type of travel lets both generations hit the road, creating memories of a lifetime along the way. Here are some grand ideas for a “skip-generation” trip with your grandchildren.
The nonprofit Road Scholar, the world’s largest educational travel organization for adults, was a pioneer in grandparent-specific tours. Today it offers nearly 200 trips in the “grandparent” category, with something for nearly every interest and age group—from rafting in the Grand Canyon to safaris in Africa, as well as indoor adventures such as cooking in Santa Fe and seeing Broadway shows in New York City. These immersive learning experiences include activities, ground transportation, meals, accommodations, and expert instruction. Plus, the other participants are grandparents with grandchildren so there’s plenty of peer interaction for both groups.
Since a cruise is all-inclusive and self-contained, the logistics—from where to go for dinner to how to fill each day—are effortless, which comes in handy for grandparents who might be out of practice when it comes to kid-wrangling. As the gold standard in family sea voyages, Disney Cruise Line is ideal because it’s designed to appeal to all ages. With multiple pools, counselor-led activity areas, Broadway-quality shows, kid-friendly dining, and crowd-pleasing Disney characters all on board, everybody should be able to find something to enjoy. And let’s not forget the wildly popular AquaDuck, Disney’s signature water coaster at sea, which my own 9-year-old granddaughter proclaimed her favorite activity on our cruise.
If you and your grandchild prefer an outdoor vacation, America’s national parks are both rewarding and affordable. You can go camping—“gramping” as the case may be—or stay in reasonably priced lodges. Plus, fourth graders are admitted free of charge. Parks such as Yosemite, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon (pictured), and the Great Smoky Mountains are popular choices. Grand Canyon National Park, to take one example, could be America’s largest classroom, with its historic sights, walking trails, museums, exhibits, and the canyon itself. The free Junior Ranger program offers lessons in nature, history, the environment, and geology. You and your youngster can ride mules along the rim or into the canyon for a signature adventure, raft down the Colorado River, hike or bike along trails with stunning vistas, and ride the historic Grand Canyon Railway into the park for an entertaining Wild West experience. Animal lovers, meanwhile, can feast their eyes on elk, deer, coyotes, bobcats, foxes, badgers, mountain lions, bears, and the magnificent California condor.
Like a cruise or an organized tour, an all-inclusive resort supplies a low-stress getaway with lots of activities within a self-contained area and no need to ever reach for your wallet. The oceanfront Grand Velas Riviera Maya in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, has the best family program, according to Virtuoso luxury travel advisers. The resort has family-friendly suites; supervised kids’ and teen clubs; snorkel, kayak, and cycling tours; Mexican toy and piñata workshops; cooking classes; three pools; and a teens’ summer camp with bungee jumping, zip lining, and wall climbing. In addition, a pair of skip-generation experiences will have you flying to Chichen Itza for a private tour of the famous Mayan ruins or to Mérida for some colonial history and a carriage ride through the city.
Corral the kids and head to a dude ranch for lots of outdoor fun and laid-back hospitality—not to mention old-fashioned campfire sing-alongs. You can be home on the range in a variety of guest ranches across North America, whether you’ve got a hankering for rustic, no-frills working ranches, upscale resort-like spots, or something in between. The Dude Ranchers' Association lists scores of vetted options. A good one is Marble Mountain Ranch (pictured) in Northern California, where both generations can disconnect from electronic media and reconnect with each other. Limited Wi-Fi leaves plenty of time for horseback riding, whitewater rafting, kayaking, fly fishing, and maybe even learning what "get along little dogies" means. Lodgings are in woodsy cottages with kitchens or kitchenettes, and meals feature produce from the ranch’s own gardens and orchards. Just think of how cute everybody will look in cowboy hats.
Grade schoolers as well as teens love theme parks, but keep in mind that you may have to contend with long lines and high expenses. If that doesn’t scare you, you might as well hit Orlando, the undisputed theme park capital of the world. You have about a dozen major parks to choose from, including Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando Resort, SeaWorld Orlando, and Legoland Florida, among others. With more than 450 hotels and 20,000 vacation home rentals, Orlando has accommodations to fit every style and budget. Stay right on park grounds for easy access, or go off site for better savings. Whatever you do, don't forget to pace yourself. Although Orlando has endless rewards for those in pursuit of fun, visitors to Disney World alone walk an average of 10–15 miles per day.