Dinos, Indians and Kings, Oh My! Family Adventures Abound
By Karen Rubin
Who said a family vacation has to be a stay-put, sand-and-sea variety? Digging for dinosaurs, living in tipis on an Indian reservation, following in the footsteps of King Arthur, trekking in Nepal, safariing in Africa, are all possible for families hankering for adventure. Of course, you need to temper the dream with a measure of realism and make sure the style of travel and the itinerary are age-appropriate. But many of the most respected adventure companies and special interest operators offer itineraries tailored for families; indeed, just having other kids to "hang" with, will make the experience more enjoyable for all. With proper planning, a world of adventure awaits. For example:
In Grand Junction, Colo. (where dinosaurs rule! and fossils are so plentiful, just about every citizen is an amateur paleontologist), even the children can join a dinosaur dig, literally helping paleontologists unearth bones 100 million years old, through Dinamation International Society. In fact, a few years ago, on a Dinosaur Discovery Expedition, 14-year old Stephanie Willen of Boulder, Colo., uncovered a 140 million year old egg from what is suspected to be a Nodosaur--only the third known egg from the Morrison Formation and possibly the first known from an armored dinosaur. In addition to dinosaur research programs geared to adults to such far-flung and exotic destinations as Mongolia and Mexico, each July and August in Grand Junction, Dinamation offers four-day/five night Family Dino Camps (adults and children 6-12). The program includes excavation and laboratory work, lodging and some meals. Grand Junction is a great venue because families can stay in relative comfort at the Holiday Inn (with indoor and outdoor swimming pools), and not have to travel too far to get to the site. Plus, Grand Junction sits at the base of the incredible Colorado National Monument. Family Dino Camp is limited to 12 people; prices start at $875/adult, $575/child. Dinamation also offers field courses in paleontology and geology for high school and college groups, plus scholarships and internships for graduate and undergraduates. Call 800-DIG-DINO (344-3466).
Long Islander Bob Vetter has been opening the door to Native Americans and Indian culture since 1987 through his company Journeys Into American Indian Territory. Each year, Vetter, who as a graduate student of anthropology at the University of Oklahoma was adopted as a grandson by a prominent Comanche medicine man, and later, also adopted as a brother by a Kiowa woman, brings families to live in tipis among the Indian tribes to share in their daily lives. A new program this year, "Cultures and Places of Power on the Northern Plains: The Trail to Lakota, Cheyenne, Arapahoe and Shoshone Peoples (Aug. 14-25), visits with tribes in Montana, South Dakota, and Wyoming (Aug. 14-25, $1,595 pp). Another new program is set at Kanatsiohareke, a Mohawk community in upstate New York (Oct. 30-Nov. 1, $285 pp). Journeys can also arrange homestays with Native American families in Arizona, New Mexico or Oklahoma. The week-long programs, costing $895 per person, have various themes, such as: arts and culture, spirituality and social relations, crafts, ancient beliefs meet the modern world, music and dance. A very special experience is the annual "Gathering of Peoples: A Celebration of Native Cultures, Traditions, Music and Dance," weekend, held in the Catskills (alas, this year's was June 27-29, but get a date for next year). Vetter can also arrange one to five-day programs for school groups from pre-K through high school. Journeys Into American Indian Territory, 800-458-2632, 516-878-8655, www.indianjourneys.com.
Trekking in Nepal, sailing and exploring Greece, following the footsteps of King Arthur in England, and in 1999 a new sailing/exploring in Turkey-are adventure itineraries designed for families and offered by a highly respected adventure operator, Guides for All Seasons, Calpine, Calif. The company, which has operated since 1976, for the past five years has tailored a few departures each year for families; with groups maxing out at 24, this usually means five or six families traveling together (children tend to be 5-14). The trips are designed to make eating as easy as possible (ie. buffet breakfast or picking up a picnic lunch at grocery store) and as independent as possible to facilitate hands-on discovery. The tour company does not offer babysitting, but the hotels can arrange supervision so adults can get out at night if they choose. For the Family Greece program (the July 18-26, 1998 departure is already booked, but July 17-25, 1999 is still available; priced from $1,197/land), a chartered boat sails families to historic islands with ancient ruins where there is time for exploration, hiking and swimming, plus stays in Athens and Crete. In 1999, the company will introduce its first sailing adventure on the Turquoise Coast of Turkey (June 13-30, 1999, $2,565/land). For the Family England trip (July 2-10, 1999, from $1080/land), the group stays at the classic Royal Clarence Hotel in Exeter (the first hotel in England), then at the quaint George Hotel in Haverleigh; there are day trips to King Arthur's Castle, the village of Penzance, St. Michael's Mount and Dartmoor. Another itinerary that proves well suited to families is Mexico's Copper Canyon (weekly departures on Wednesdays or Saturdays; from $1,125/land).
Nepal family treks are customized for individual families so there are no scheduled dates. "Nepal is not for everybody and this goes for families as well. It is expensive to get there and it is not up to the health and safety standards that we expect in the western world. However, we feel it has left some of the most significant impressions on our children of any place we have visited. Our children have trekked to altitudes of 13,000 feet (at seven years old) with less trouble than most adults. Small children are also easily carried in baskets, the local method of porterage," notes Stephanie Atwood, owner and president. Itineraries are tailored for families based on specific ages of all family members (which could include a grandparent) and level of exertion and comfort desired. "The spirit of the Nepalese people is incredible and children sense this immediately. They make friends quickly and allow interaction and spontaneity which doesn't happen with adults. I feel Nepal has left some of the most significant impressions on our children of any place we have visited." (Guides For All Seasons, 800-457-4574, www.atlastthebest.com.)
Journeys International, Ann Arbor, MI, a serious adventure and cultural tourism operator, invites children 10 and over on its Grade I and II trips, plus offers some special Family tours (where children can be as young as 5), such as the "Annapurna Family Trek", a 16-day program geared to families with school-age children, that affords spectacular views of the Himalayan Mountains and village cultural experiences (children under 60 pounds can ride in porter baskets); adult cost is $1595, child (under 12) is $990 (land rate); Dec. 18, 1998-Jan. 2, 1999 is the next departure. Australia, Costa Rica and Belize are the most popular family destinations: "Costa Rica Natural Wonders Week" is geared for families; Aug. 22-29 in the next departure; $1525 for adults, $1,240 for 12-15; $990 for children under 12. Another is "Rain Forest Discovery for Families," affords an opportunity to boat on a jungle river, swim in the river and in the Pacific, hike with a nature guide, visit a volcano (next departures, Dec. 21-27, 1998; Mar. 27-Apr. 3, 1999); $1390 adult, $1140 (12-15), $890 for under 12. A trip goes to the Amazon Rainforest and to a macaw research station, departs July 24-Aug. 1, 1999 ($1975 adults, $1490 kids for 13 days). Journeys publishes a huge list of family-group trips, with dates through the Millenium (China, India, Kilimanjaro, Indonesia, Galapagos, Peru). Special departures can also be arranged for families. The tours are designed to be cross-cultural experiences so opportunities to meet with local people are an integral part. Call 800-255-8735; www.journeys-intl.com.
The incredibly upscale Abercrombie & Kent, Oak Brook, IL, publishes an entire Family Holiday brochure brimming with global adventures. New this year is Self-Skippered Cruising in Europe, with the Crown Blue Line, where you actually charter your own barge in Burgundy or on the Canal du Midi. Flexible itineraries fit the whim of the moment-to moor or not to moor is the toughest decision. Barges hold from four to eight passengers; weekly rates are from $2,130 to $4,620. The family can also take crewed cruises on the Alouette, Hirondelle, Actief or Marjorie II (reserved for one family), or hotel barges (larger, less expensive), such as the Lorraine, Chanterelle and Rembrandt, traveling in the company of other families. These operate in France, England and Belgium; prices start at $1,690/adult, $1,014/child.
Other options: South Africa Family Safari, a 12-day tour that starts in Cape Town and visits Kruger National Park, Sun City resort, Pilansberg Reserve. July and August departures start at $2,940/adult, $2,585/child. A 15-day Kenya Family Safari includes visiting an animal orphanage, traditional Samburu tribal dances, a Maasai village and primary school, the Giraffe Centre, an ostrich farm, participation in the Rhino Surveillance Program, camel riding, Sweetwaters Game Sanctuary, and visiting Amboseli National Park, Aberdare National Park, Samburu National Reserve and the Maasai Mara National Reserve. Departures are scheduled to coincide with school vacations. Land prices begin at $4,240/adult, $2,740/child.
An 11-day A&K "Family Holiday in Egypt" includes a five-day Sun Boat cruise on the Nile from Luxor to Aswan, with visits to Esna, Edfu, Kom Ombo and Abu Simbel. Land prices begin at $2,430/adult and $2,065/child.
Other A&K family destinations include Alaska, Costa Rica, the Galapagos and Ecuador, and Australia, and expeditions on A&K's Explorer, to Antarctica and the Falkland Islands and the River Sea. There are also barge trips in Europe aboard either a charter barge or a hotel barge (on charter barges, the entire vessel is reserved for the exclusive use of a single family, and meals, sightseeing and activities tailored to fit specific interests and tastes). Abercrombie & Kent, 800-323-7308, Abercrombie & Kent
Park East Tours, a specialist in nature tours to Africa for the past 30 years, is offering a 14-day "Kenya Family Safari"-"Nature's original theme park," said CEO Eric Gordon. In the Maasai Mara, visitors witness the summer migration of 2.5 million wildebeest thundering across the plains; youngsters can eyeball 18-foot tall giraffes at the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife Giraffe Manor; at Sweetwaters Tented Camp, they can pet Morani, the tame rhino, and adopt a champanzee at Jane Goodall's Chimp Orphanage. From the private verandahs of the Samburu Serena Lodge, guests can observe the hippo and crocodile activity in the Uaso Nyiro River and at the lakeside Baringo Island Camp, more than 460 species of birds make for sensational bird-watching-and for a lively wake-up call. Families can view thousands of flamingoes taking flight at Lake Naivasha; at the Kongoni Game Ranch at the lake, familes can explore by horseback. The Siana Springs Camp is home base in the Maasai Mara, home to prides of lion, as well as cheetah, topi antelope, zebra and giraffe. Visits to villages and a Maasai school can also be arranged. The all-inclusive price starts at $4,695/adult, $4,295 for 12-18 year olds, and $2,895 for children under 12 sharing a room with two adults. The price includes roundtrip air fare between New York and Nairobi, all flights in Africa, all meals, wildlife viewing, park entrance fees and gratuities. Departure dates are July 10 and 24, Aug. 7 and 21, and Dec. 18. Call 800-223-6078, www.africaparkeast.com.
Micato Safaris is offering several departures this summer of a 14-day "Family Safari," designed especially for parents and/or grandparents to share with their children (ideally, age nine and up). The itinerary provides for visits to The Giraffe Center and Railway Museum in Nairobi, the Sweetwaters Tented Camp in the Ol Pejeta Ranch and Rhino Reserve, the Shaba Game Reserve, the Island Tented Camp in Lake Baringo where families join the Njemps tribesman in a canoe ride, Lake Nakuru National Park, and the Maasai Mara Reserve. Land rates are $3,495/pp/dbl, $2,695 for 13-18 year olds, and $2,495 for children 12 and under (212-545-7111).
Outdoor Adventure River Specialists conducts family-friendly trips April through October to Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Wyoming and California. Even young children (4 and up) can do the Grand Teton Float on the Snake River in Wyoming, a good introduction to river travel and camping; slightly older children can try the San Juan River in Utah, with its Indian rock paintings and ruins. Other easy family trips for kids 7 and up include the five-day Rogue River trip in Oregon, the Gates of Lodore section on the Green River in Colorado and Utah and the Main or Lower Salmon River runs in Idaho (from $300 and up). For teens big enough for whitewater, OARS suggests the Class IV rivers such as Tuolumne in California's Sierra, or the Middle Fork of the Salmon in Idaho's Sawtooth Range. There are also "Family Friendly" programs--certain launches are specially discounted and lead by a "fun director" and kids get a "fun bag" of amusements--on the San Juan, the Rogue, lower Salmon, main Salmon, lower Klamath, and the Tuolomne. (OARS, 800-346-6277, 209-736-4677, www.oars.com).
In fact, many prominent adventure companies today offer certain departure dates that are geared to families. Just ask. One of the best resources to find adventure and special interest travel companies which offer special departures geared for families is the Specialty Travel Index (on line at http://www.spectrav.com).
This story was previously published on FTN in 1998.