It’s time for my family to start thinking outside the box when it comes to my family vacations. We’ve been taking the same-old trips for years, and I think I’ve officially ridden Splash Mountain for the last time.
Now I’m ready for some adventure and experiences my kids will be still talking about when they’re adults.
So I’m setting up change jars across my house, and we’re going to start saving for one of these incredible bucket-list adventure vacations for kids that I’ve found.
Something tells me that sleeping underneath the ocean in an underwater hotel room or spending the night in a real Hobbit house would be an experience they’d remember forever. And hey, some of these rooms are as affordable as less than $200 per night, so they’re not all going to break the bank.
That helicopter safari ride, on the other hand, may take a while to save up for.
Think of it this way: we only have 18 summers (or fewer, sniff!) to travel together while they’re young, and to squeeze in a trip or two to one of the world’s coolest hotels for kids with our families would be just amazing.
Eat breakfast with giraffes
If a visit to see the giraffes at the zoo just isn’t cutting it for your animal lovers, you might want to save up for a stay at Giraffe Manor in Kenya. It’s a gorgeous 1930s estate near Nairobi, where giraffes literally come stick their heads through the windows to visit. Incredible.
The adventure experiences you can book while you’re here would be perfect for families with tweens and teens — trekking through national parks to seek out mountain gorillas and visit molten lava lakes, hunting for fossils at the cradle of mankind, or even getting a helicopter escort from the airport to the estate, which will carry you over massive herds of rhino and buffalo, packs of lions, and flocks of flamingo while you channel your inner Out of Africa persona. Can you imagine? These are the kind of once-in-a-lifetime experiences you want your kids to be old enough to remember.
Explore a rainforest treehouse
For families who enjoy active outdoor adventures but still like plush, spa-like surroundings at night, check out the Montaña Mágica Lodge in the heart of the Patagonian rain forest in the Chilean Andes. During the day you can go horseback riding, mountain biking, rafting, take a wildlife safari. I’d plan to get my kids up early to ride a 4 x 4 out to the volcanoes, where we can eat breakfast and watch the sunrise. (Or, if you’re more of a night owl, you can do the same trek for the sunset.)
That said, I’d also absolutely find some time to visit the spa — or just relax in bed and check out the floor-to-ceiling view of the rainforest — while my kids were having fun playing and learning about the rainforest at the Magic Corner kids’ space.
Sleep in an underwater hotel room
If you’re craving a trip that will seriously wow your wannabe marine biologists (or just Nemo fans), book the ocean suite at Resort World Santosa in Singapore. If you’re afraid you’ll feel too claustrophobic with the stingrays smiling at you while you sleep, don’t worry — the upper level of these two-story rooms has an open-air balcony and jacuzzi tub to enjoy. Plus, you can close the screen to the aquarium if you need a break from the fish. Still need arm twisting? Each room includes personalized butler service. My kind of vacation.
If you can pull yourself away from the room — which also has a jacuzzi tub right in front of the fish tank (see those lines where the flooring breaks?) you can visit their massive aquarium (of course), water park, and Universal Studios theme park, which are all a short ferry ride from your room.
Or you can set sail on a tall ship, eat breakfast with Sesame Street characters, visit the Trick Eye Museum (an import from Korea, which you could also visit if you stay at the Hanbok below), or learn to train dolphins. So yeah, plenty to do with the kids.
Watch the Aurora Borealis from bed
It’s always been a dream of mine to see the Aurora Borealis, and I can’t imagine a more enchanting way to watch than lying in bed in one of the glass igloo-cabin hybrids at Kakslauttanen in Finland — the beds are in the glass enclosed space, you guys! How cool is that?
While you’re there, you can also go on safaris by reindeer-drawn sled, learn to ski or snowboard, pan for gold, go canoeing, and even take your kids to visit Santa’s house — the real one! This spot is at the top of my to-visit list, because it seems like a magical winter destination.
Hide out in an (almost) invisible tree house
The architecture of every unique tree house — from mirrored cubes hanging from the trees to a giant bird’s nest to a life-like UFO pod — at the Tree Hotel resort in Sweden is stunning. I can only imagine what my imaginative, nature-loving 7-year-old would think of these modern, minimalist cabins in the Lapland forest.
But sitting around the cabin isn’t all you’ll do here. You can spend your days hiking, rafting, kayaking, zip-lining, biking and other typical outdoor adventure activities, or you can also try totally unusual activities like horseback mounted archery (hello, Brave fans!) and snowmobile safaris.
There are also activities you can only do in Sweden — like visiting a forest Sami on the Arctic Circle or having a 3-course dinner in a heated tipi on an ice-covered lake while you take in the Northern Lights. Whoa.
Run free at a 19th-century ranch, modern style
If you want to stay closer to home, but still crave a very cool experience for your kids, The Ranch at Rock Creek in Montana is an amazing choice. You will be living on a 19th century ranch that’s been completely restored…with cool half-canvas tent, half-cabins for your family to relax comfortably in while still getting the camping-out feel.
Your kids can attend their kids club while you spend time at the spa, or you can all take yoga classes together. There are barn dances and family sports options, as well as cool themed vacations like foodie weeks or an Old West Thanksgiving package. I have a feeling my kids would be found at their restored saloon–with bowling, billiards, etc.–when they’re not out hiking, ice skating, skiing, biking or ice fishing.
Stay in a traditional Korean Hanok
My husband and I had the chance to explore Seoul, Korea, with our 3-year-old daughter last year, and even though it’s a massive urban city, it’s still a manageable city to happily explore with kids. From playing at the huge Lotte World amusement and water park to shopping in the Myeong-Dong district (with amazing street food, BTW) to exploring the historic palaces and temples that are all over the city, there’s a ton here to keep kids entertained.
We stayed at a hotel on our trip, but next time we go I’ll definitely book a traditional Korean Hanok home in the middle of downtown to get the flavor of Old Korea while we’re there. In fact, my sister did just that with her own two kids earlier this year, and they’re still talking about how cool the experience was.
Live like a Hobbit
Now that we’ve read the Lord of the Rings series to our kids at bedtime — whew, it’s long — my kids would freak about the opportunity to live a hobbit for a few days at this amazing Hobbit-like house we found on Airbnb in Washington state. It’s near the Columbia River Gorge, so you can explore the area with hiking and biking with the kids.
Or, if you want to see the real houses where Frodo and Bilbo lived, book a tour with Hobbiton Tours in New Zealand to see the actual movie set. The lodging there is more like a traditional motel in the rural countryside, but you can book private tours of the movie set and even eat one of a hobbit’s 6 daily meals at the Green Dragon Inn. It’s the total Shire experience.