Best Tour Groups for Families
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Traveling with kids can sometimes make you insecure about your ability to manage grand-scale trips, whether you are a fearless adventurer who once backpacked across Europe during your college years or your travels are relegated to a few transcontinental business trips a year. Even the best of us can be intimidated by the logistics of bringing young kids and/or unimpressed teens on what is meant to be an adventure of a lifetime.
Just how does one manage to find all modes of transport between multiple destinations; the right attractions and activities to appease every family member, regardless of age; and hotels and restaurants that are kid-friendly — on top of all the other pieces we need to put into place?
Enter tour groups. Before you grumble that these are meant for an older set and are guaranteed to include more bus rides than activity time, we’re here to inform you that family tour operators have really gotten it right with a great array of travel options, services and family fun.
To date, a Danube River cruise with Adventures by Disney is one of my family’s favorite trips. The kids adored the Adventure Guides, who felt like part of the family before the cruise ended, and they met other children their age to play with during the nonactive periods along the river. Outings were included and set up by age groups. We had choices of what we wanted to do, and with multigenerational trips including kids as young as 6 up to grandparents, this 10-day adventure through various countries was enjoyable and, actually, a piece of cake. Disney did all of the heavy lifting!
Can I Use Points to Pay for a Group Tour?
While tour companies aren’t as connected to the points world as hotel chains and airlines, there are ways to both earn and use points to pay for a group tour. To apply points to a group tour, you’ll want to dip into fixed-value points from programs that allow you to “erase” a travel purchase from your credit card statement: Think Capital One miles that you earn with the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, or Barclaycard Arrival miles that you earn with the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard.
In the case of Capital One, you can use its Purchase Eraser tool to “wipe out” any travel-coded purchase that’s hit your statement in the past 90 days. Redeem your points at a fixed rate: 1 mile equals 1 penny. You can redeem for a partial credit but need to redeem at least 2,500 miles.
Barclaycard Arrival miles work in a similar fashion with 1 mile equaling 1 penny in redemption. You can erase any travel-coded purchase you’ve made in the last 120 days. The downside in this case is that you need to have all of the miles in your account to erase the entire charge; Barclaycard doesn’t offer partial redemptions. But you will get 5% of your redeemed miles refunded, so that’s a nice bonus after the fact.
If you don’t have fixed-value points to help reduce the cost of your group tour, make sure to use a credit card that rewards for travel purchases when you book. The Chase Sapphire Reserve, for example, offers 3x the points for every dollar you spend on travel (excluding $300 travel credit). Considering tours can be a bit pricy (you are paying for convenience, after all), you could easily earn enough points for a cheaper future getaway.
Family-Friendly Group Tour Companies
Looking for tour operators that cater to families? Here’s a look at the companies TPG has its eye on. All tour prices are per person without airfare.
Thomson Family Adventures
Since 1998, the Thomson family has offered small-group tours geared toward families like them who want to travel deeper by connecting to a country and its culture. Tours include a “Rafiki,” or a friend, who will break the ice with the group and help keep things entertaining for the kids, while local expert guides show you around at a pace comfortable for everyone.
Thomson creates family itineraries that will take your brood back to ancient civilizations for tours that are not only family-friendly and fun but also educational. (Shh, the kids won’t know they are learning on this vacation!) Trips are organized by activity level, so parents can select those best-suited to their children’s needs. Multigenerational trips scheduled for 2019 can whisk your family off to exotic destinations like China, Egypt and Tanzania, as well as swings through the Caribbean and Europe.
Not only does your child get to explore faraway lands but he or she will also get to cultivate new friendships. Through the company’s Friends Across Borders program, kids are paired with a child of similar age in the country you will be visiting so they can write to each other before and after the trip, and meet up at some point during your tour to potentially kick off a lifetime of friendship. We don’t know of any other tour group that provides this.
Best Ages: 6 and up
Sample Starting Price: Thomson’s popular seven-day Costa Rica Multi-Sport Adventure starts at $3,130 per person as of press time. On this trek, your clan will visit a sea turtle conservancy, learn to make chocolate and leave no stone unturned in Tortuguero National Park.
The outdoor-lovers’ go-to shop began uniting its customers with adventure tours more than 30 years ago, with many accommodations of the canvas tent or ecolodge variety. REI Adventures features 150 different trips across every continent (although the family junkets won’t get you to Antarctica).
Family forays can be all-out exotic with rambles to Thailand and Machu Picchu, or within the national parks of the US, such as the Great Smoky Mountains or Zion and Bryce Canyon national park tours that will have the entire family enjoying the great outdoors. (Here are some tips for visiting national parks with kids.) You’ll find three- and seven-day weekend getaway options, as well as seven- to 15-day adventures. REI has been committed to the environment since its founding in 1938. Every trek organized by the company practices green initiatives: using recyclable and reusable materials, minimizing environmental impact and following high ethical standards. The company also works in conjunction with host countries by offering meaningful cultural exchanges and patronizing local businesses.
Best Ages: Due to the tours’ physical activities, REI Adventures is best-suited for active teens who can keep up with the hiking, kayaking, river rafting and biking that are often at the forefront of the tours.
Sample Starting Price: A three-day hiking weekend is $1,599 per person (with REI member discounts bringing the price down to $1,449), while a 10-day Thailand trip starts at $3,309 ($2,999 for members).
Points Perks: REI loyalty begins with $20 for a lifetime membership. As a member, you’ll get discounted tours, as well as discounted classes, events, services and merchandise at REI locations around the world. Sign up for the REI Co-op World Mastercard and you’ll get an additional 5% back on purchases at REI, as well as 1% back on everyday purchases with no annual fee. Plus, every purchase means a donation to the National Forest Foundation.
By pairing three to five families with like-minded individuals, especially matching children of similar interests and ages, Intrepid Travel works to create lasting friendships along with its tours. Keeping the groups to no more than 10 people means more focus on you, and kids 17 and younger receive 10% off trip prices.
Family voyages are uber-exotic with Intrepid. You can explore the desert landscape of Morocco, the African valleys of Kenya and the opulent palaces of India. Any one of the action-packed journeys will combine activities that coincide with your child’s school curriculum or hobbies.
Intrepid doesn’t just show you the world, it gives back as well. Through the nonprofit Intrepid Foundation, funds have been distributed to support local and grassroots projects, including sustainable development, environmental conservation and wildlife protection.
Best Ages: Age minimums vary but start at 5 and up, depending on the location. Most children on these trips fall between 8 and 18 years of age.
Sample Starting Price: Imagine Morocco with the kiddos for eight days starting as low as $675 per person, not including airfare. Cross wind-swept dunes, ride a camel in the desert and get lost in the alleyways of bustling markets. (Single parents will love Intrepid, as well, because of its solo parent options with other solo moms and dads.)
Points Perks: Intrepid has its own loyalty program: After nine trips, you’ll earn $1,800 toward a 10th tour when you become an Intrepid Legend.
Adventures By Disney
If you think creating “The Happiest Place on Earth” is all Disney can do, you haven’t tried Adventures by Disney, the high-end, “we take care of everything” family travel company. You’ll pay a pretty penny to join these tours, offered since 2005, but your entire family is guaranteed to have a blast with tours that include Disney-trained local guides who stay with you for the entire journey.
Immersing your family into the cultures you visit, ABD (as it is known by its fans) offers more than 30 adventures across six continents. Go deep into China with a visit to the Forbidden City, Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong, or traverse across Australia, from the Great Barrier Reef to Ayers Rock to the Gold Coast to Sydney. (Here are the best ways to use points and miles to fly from the US to Australia.) Disney goes big when it creates its cruising adventures and has partnered with AMAWaterways for ABD cruises throughout Europe. Trips range from three-day weekends to two-week adventures.
With backstage, one-of-a-kind tours, you’ll skip lines and do things you wouldn’t do on other tours like visit the Good Morning America studios in New York City or take an after-hours tour of the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel in Rome. From the moment you step off the plane, you’ll have Adventure Guides with you so you feel like a VIP from start to finish.
Best Ages: Minimum ages start at 4 or 6 years of age, depending on the destination.
Sample Starting Price: Disney’s tours are so great that its pricing falls under the “if you have to ask” category. They are expensive. A 12-day/11-night tour of China starts at $8,949 per person while a four-day/three-night tour of New York City starts at $2,929 per person.
Points Perks: The Chase Disney Visa returns 1–2% back in the form of Disney dollars, which can be used on Adventures by Disney tours. Or, put your ABD vacay on your Disney card, and use your rewards for a future Disney outing.
Launched in Sweden by the explorer Lars-Eric Lindblad, the Lindblad family combines a National Geographic partnership with highly engaging expeditions that kids not only learn from but also will enjoy. With this program, certified field educators serve as tour directors and guides, helping your children connect with nature
Family and multigenerational expeditions make it easy for ages 8 to 80 to enjoy explorative travel together, all aboard adventurous small ship cruises that allow you to get up close to the wildlife of the Galapagos, Alaska, the Amazon River basin and even Antarctica. Kids under 18 get $500 off, and specials often include free airfare for everyone and bar tabs for parents. (Yes, it’s a family affair, but it doesn’t deprive parents on the journey.)
Best Ages: All trips designated Family Travel do not have any age minimums, although these explorations often require children to be old enough to handle active adventures.
Sample Starting Price: Spend 10 days touring the Galapagos starting at $7,290. 2019 is the 50th year Lindblad has been conducting expedition cruises to the land of Darwin, where kids will encounter giant tortoises and sea lions.
Tauck has provided tours around the world for more than 90 years, but it is the Bridges arm of the company that was developed specifically for families, with tour directors who love kids and aim to please.
Tauck Bridges offers 20 different family experiences to choose from in 2019 and 2020. You’ll find river cruises down the Danube, rafts through the Grand Canyon, wildlife safaris in Tanzania or horseback riding in America’s cowboy country, and everything in between, including trips to Europe’s most charming cities.
Tauck’s commitment to the environment extends to its partnerships with esteemed National Geographic filmmaker Ken Burns on its Ken Burns American Journeys, while Earth Journeys is a partnership with BBC Earth.
Best Ages: Children must be a minimum of 4 years old for river cruises, 5 years old for safaris and 6 years old for its Galapagos cruise.
Sample Starting Price: Cross the border to the Canadian Rockies for a seven-day tour through Western Canada’s famed national parks, Banff and Jasper. Your family will ride the river rapids, climb glaciers and hike in the beautiful hills starting at $3,640 per person.
Let someone else do all of the planning and work so you can truly enjoy a vacation by taking a group tour that was specifically designed for families. The best way to lessen the cost of a big trip like this is by using your miles to get your family to the tour’s embarkation point, and then focus on fixed-value points that can help “erase” all or part of the tour cost.
Have you booked a group tour for your family? Which company did you use and would you do it again?
Here are some more trip-planning resources:
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