For a child, there’s nothing quite like a first-time trip to Disney World or a hike through the natural wonder that is the Grand Canyon — they just see things differently. Your children will be amazed by these sites, and will look back and appreciate the opportunity to see them at such a young age. Perhaps they will even be inspired to take their own kids there, too.
A Disney Theme Park
During your trip, be sure to enjoy a character breakfast experience, garner a photo with Cinderella in front of her castle, watch the parades and fireworks spectacular, ride all-time favorites like Splash Mountain and take home a pair of mouse ears as a souvenir. Another must -- Pandora: The World of Avatar at Disney's Animal Kingdom!
Visit Disney Family Vacations for everything you need to know about planning a trip to a Disney theme park.
NASA Kennedy Space Center
Recommended Hotel: Hampton Inn Titusville /I-95 Kennedy Space Center
Mount Rushmore National Monument
While visiting Mount Rushmore, take the 30-minute guided daytime tour along the beautiful Presidential Trail, learning more about the natural and cultural history, the American Indians and the Black Hills. There is also a stirring patriotic evening program in the park's outdoor amphitheater, a short Sculptor's Studio Talk and an audio tour available for a fee. Older kids can earn their Junior Ranger badge, learning why the four presidents were chosen. While in this remote area, don't miss the nearby Crazy Horse Monument and Badlands National Park. Head 2 miles from Mount Rushmore to also see the National Presidential Wax Museum.
Recommended Hotel: K Bar S Lodge
For tweens and teens, don't miss a free, guided tour of the U.S. Capitol. Younger children will enjoy whirling around on the 60-horse vintage carousel on the green, too. Once your children have visited the National Mall, they'll remember the history they learned and various historic buildings that make up our nation's capital. Before heading home, be sure to stop at the National Zoo and the International Spy Museum -- both a nice change of pace and a favorite of kids of all ages.
Recommended Hotel: JW Marriott Washington DC
To fully experience the falls, take the Cave of the Winds tour, where you'll ride an elevator down 175 feet to the Hurricane Deck and get within 20 feet of the Bridal Falls, or take a ride on the double-decker ferry boat, the Maid of the Mist, for a wild excursion deep into the waters right below the falls. On either tour, you'll don cloaks for protection from the spraying waters, but still expect to get soaked!
For an even more memorable experience, take an evening tour when the falls are spectacularly illuminated by colorful neon lights. After taking in the falls through all of your senses, head for more family fun at the kitschy museums in Clifton Hill, visit the nearby Buffalo Zoo, and get wet again at the Fallsview Indoor Waterpark.
Recommended Hotel: Country Inn & Suites Niagara Falls
For a different perspective, take a hike into the canyon -- even if only for a short distance. Even better, for older children, take a classic mule-ride deeper into the canyon (for several hours or staying overnight at Phantom Ranch); reservations can be made up to 13 months in advance and fill up quickly. Or go all out with a helicopter tour and hold your breath as you fly over the canyon and the ground drops out from beneath you! If you have an extra day, head to the western end of the canyon (250 miles from the South Rim) and walk on the glass floor of the Skywalk, 4,000 feet above the canyon floor; kids won't forget the experience! And if that's not enough for teens, take a whitewater-rafting trip through the Canyon on the Colorado River.
Recommended Hotel: Phantom Ranch
Statue of Liberty
On Statue Cruises, your tour also includes a stop at Ellis Island, the entry point of our nation"s ancestors. At Ellis Island, kids can take an audio tour of the immigration museum and search on an interactive database for information on their relatives. At the end of the tour, take older children to the National September 11 Memorial and Museum.
While in New York, kids may also particularly enjoy the dinosaur exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History, the Central Park Zoo, Dylan's Candy Bar and even sitting still at a family-friendly Broadway show like "The Lion King."
Recommended Hotel: The Ritz-Carlton New York, Battery Park
Better yet, purchase a money-saving combo ticket and also take a ride up the 630-foot Gateway Arch, the nation's tallest monument offering 10-mile panoramic views at the top. Below the Arch, visit the Museum of Westward Expansion, where kids will learn about the shaping of the American West and the Lewis and Clark expedition, as well as see an authentic American-Indian tepee. When hunger strikes, fuel up at the Arch View Cafe, located on the Gateway Arch Riverboats dock.
Recommended Hotel: Drury Plaza Hotel at the Arch
Boston Freedom Trail
You can pick up a map and guide at the visitor center on Tremont Street at Boston Common or at the Bostix Booth at Faneuil Hall; it's fine to start the trail at any point. Try to plan so you can stop for lunch at Quincy Market, the largest food hall in New England, and for a relaxed pace, allow three or more hours for your exploration. Admission to the sites on the trail is free except for the Paul Revere House, the Old South Meeting House and the Old State House. Guided tours are offered by the National Park Service from mid-April to early September, and private tours are available year-round, many with guides in costume.
Recommended Hotel: Hotel Commonwealth
Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Whichever you choose, all kids should leave knowing the meaning of the words "stalactites" and "stalagmites" -- the stone formations they'll see and learn about; the Junior Ranger program will ensure it. And if visiting during the summer, don't leave the caverns without seeing nearly a half-million Mexican free-tail bats soar out over the desert at sunset to dine on tons of insects; it's a one-of-a-kind experience. Then enjoy the evening darkness at a Star Party where kids can view the wonders of the night sky. Note that while the outside temperature may be 100 degrees Fahrenheit, the average temperature in the cave is a cool 56 degrees.
Recommended Hotel: Hampton Inn & Suites Carlsbad New Mexico
San Diego Zoo
Alternatively, take the Skyfari aerial tram and enjoy a bird's-eye view of the animal exhibits. Whichever way you choose to tour, don't leave the zoo without seeing the famous panda family and taking in a show featuring the natural behaviors of animals like sea lions at the Wegeforth Bowl. The zoo and Balboa Park can easily keep you busy for several days (there are 15 museums and more to see in the park), but if you are on a longer vacation, you're in the perfect spot for even more family fun nearby at the zoo's Safari Park, Disneyland, SeaWorld, LEGOLAND, gorgeous beaches, cultural sites and more!
Recommended Hotel: Lafayette Hotel
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Start at the visitor's center where you can pick up Junior Ranger badge materials, watch a short film and inquire on guided tours. To explore the summit of Kilauea on your own, head to Crater Rim Drive, an 11-mile road with scenic stops, short walks and additional sites for kids including the massive pit, Kilauea Caldera; superb views from the interesting Jaggar Museum; and a 20-minute walk through the forest and underground Thurston Lava Tube. For older children, stay for a nighttime hike when Kilauea's oozing lava turns a brilliant red and casts an eerie glow to the sky.
Recommended Hotel: Volcano Village Lodge