We parents like to pretend we're in charge. But let's come clean already: Our kids rule the roost. If they're not whining and grumpy, we're not whiny and grumpy. In the spirit of pleasing them (er, us), here are 11 of the world's best ports to drag the kids to, in no particular order.
A straight 45-minute shot from the Port of Canaveral, the rides and attractions of Orlando's theme parks are guaranteed kid pleasers. Take your pick. At Walt Disney World, four theme parks vie for your attention: Magic Kingdom, the fantasy "lands" here are perfect for little kids; Epcot, for a fun dose of science and culture; Disney-MGM Studios, dishing out thrill rides and 3D movies; and Animal Kingdom. Ride addicts will also be happy about a day at Universal Orlando, which includes both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure, while the best bet for young kids and geeks is good old wholesome SeaWorld. Of course you can chuck the parks and head for the Kennedy Space Center, it's closer and will appeal to any kid obsessed with rockets and astronauts.
Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
Your kids will be so bowled over by the tame wildlife they won't realize how much they're learning about the animals and unspoiled natural environment that fascinated Darwin over a century ago. The few ships that explore the Galapagos Island chain, about 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, include the 94-passener Celebrity Xpedition and Linblad Expeditions' even smaller Polaris and Islander. You won't find ball pits and kiddy pools on these vessels, but adventurous older children and teens will love the thrill of walking and hiking among iguanas and blue-footed boobies, and canoodling with doe-eyed sea lion pups on the beach.
Great Barrier Reef, Australia
If your offspring are strong swimmers -- or better yet, Nemo fans -- Australia's Great Barrier Reef promises unforgettable adventure. No need to be a diver to see the amazing sea life, you can see plenty by snorkeling along the surface. From giant three-foot-wide purple and turquoise clams to the playful anemone, rainbow-hued butterfly fish and parrotfish, and many other fascinating creatures, you'll feel like an actor in an underwater movie. Full-day catamaran excursions out of Cairns take passengers out to the reef, where they're free to hop into the sea with their snorkels and start exploring.
Stingray City, Grand Cayman
No matter how jammed packed the place can get with other cruise passengers flailing around just like you, it's just incredibly fun to swim and snorkel with the stingrays off the coast of Grand Cayman. After about a 20 to 30-minute boat ride from the mainland to a patch of shallow water populated with dozens of tame stingrays, it's time to jump overboard. Kids who aren't grossed out easily and who can swim will be ecstatic to pet and feed chum to the creatures (with the aid of a guide of course). Whatever you do, don't forget an underwater camera.
Half Moon Cay, Bahamas
A nearly perfect band of powdery white sand stretches for some two and a half miles along the coast of Half Moon Cay, Bahamas. A port of call on most Holland America Caribbean itineraries, Half Moon is not only a prime piece of sunbathing real estate, it's a haven for water sports and excursions like horseback riding and snorkeling with the stingrays. For kids, though, the water park is tops. Called Half Moon Lagoon, giant water slides twist across the ultra-soft beach and squirting water canons keep kids giddy and wet. Just off shore in the shallow, calm surf float a family of giant plastic animals tethered to the seafloor and begging to be climbed on.
Singapore Zoo, Singapore
No typical zoo, strategically designed (and cleverly camouflaged) moats are all that stand between you and the open spaces where most of the 3,000-plus wild animals roam. It feels like you can practically touch the creatures, though luckily that's not actually possible. Kids of all ages are mesmerized when a preening male lion yawns or unleashes his powerful roar. Laid out and landscaped exceedingly well, the zoo is small enough to explore on foot, though you can also grab a ride on the trams that motor along the main pathways and spot giraffes, Asian elephants and orangutans without ever getting up from your seat. If you're in port over night, don't miss taking the family to the zoo's famous night safari.
Lord of the Rings film locations, Wellington, New Zealand
If your offspring is a dedicated Ringer, then they'll flip for a tour of the places in the South Island of New Zealand were the trilogy was shot. Though the sets are of course gone, in the Wellington area you can go to Mt. Victoria to see where the hobbits hid from the Nazgul; head to Kaitoke Regional Park to the place that served as Rivendell; and then on to Harcourt Park, which was transformed into Isengard. For a snack, head to the Logan Brown restaurant in Wellington and grab a bite where Elijah Wood, Liv Tyler and Cate Blanchett used to frequent during filming. Sign up for the ship's tour or hook up with a local operator like Wellington Rover (www.wellingtonrover.co.nz).
Wave-House, San Diego
For teen surfers and wannabes, hanging out at Wave House on Mission Beach in San Diego is beyond cool. Only the experts will have the chops to actually take a turn at Tom Lochtefeld's (aka the inventor of FlowRiderÂ® surfing simulator on Freedom and Liberty of the Seas) super duper wave machine Bruticus Maximus, but for kids addicted to the surfing lifestyle, a day here is nirvana. Opened in early 2005, the scene surrounding the restaurants, live music, shops and shaggy-haired surfer types is as irresistible as riding the big waves.
Universal Studios Hollywood
Does your kid like television? As if I have to ask Â? no doubting they'll dig the 45-minute Studio Tour that whizzes visitors via tram, past stars' dressing rooms and to famous back-lot television and movie sets. Afterwards, spend the rest of the day at Universal's theme park running from one movie-themed thrill ride to another, like Terminator 2 and Shrek, before heading back to the ship in Long Beach.
Leaning Tower of Pisa
The iconic tower is something to see in person; and you can if your ship is calling on Livorno, only about a 30-minute drive from medieval Pisa. Good chance kids will appreciate the Dr. Suess-esque leaning tower and maybe even learn something about history or engineering or soggy earth to boot. The most fun, though, is probably posing for goofy pictures of yourselves pretending to hold up the tower. Browsing the strip of souvenir stalls that line the edge of Pisa's main square is another highlight. What kid wouldn't want to pick up a Leaning Tower of Pisa night light?
Hong Kong Disney
If your little ones are between the ages of about 4 and 8, this compact park that's easy to navigative and light on the scary thrill rides is a dream come true. Better yet, if you're able to land up on a non-school-holiday week day, chances are you'll never wait longer than five minutes for anything. Top attractions include the 3-D Mickey and Donald Duck show, the Winnie the Pooh ride through the Hundred Acre Wood, the Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters ride and the battery-operated sports cars at Autopia. The daily afternoon character parade is a big hit too.
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