Once you"re on vacation -- which only happens once a year for most families -- you want to spend plenty of quality time together. Tour companies provide an excellent means to do so, with outdoor activities, such as biking and rafting, as well as cultural offerings for every age group and interest. Plus, there"s little to no planning involved!

Here are some of the best tour companies in the business:

Written by Andrea Guthmann

Adventures by Disney

No, Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck won"t join you in Europe, Asia, Africa, South America or any of the more than two dozen global excursions offered by Adventures by Disney. However, guided, land-based tours do an expert job of entertaining the entire family. Plus, they take the stress out of traveling to far-flung places, where you don"t speak the language or know the customs (they"ll even greet you the second you clear customs at the airport).

Unique to Adventures by Disney are destinations that have inspired blockbuster movies. Norway, for example, was added in 2014, due to the immense popularity of Frozen. During the trip, guests explore fjords, glaciers and architecture, similar to those seen in the film. The company"s newest adventure includes a visit to the Amazon River, along with shorter, more convenient “Long Weekends” in New York and San Francisco.

While you"ll spend much of your trip with other families, including meal times (most meals are included in rates), Adventures by Disney sets aside a few afternoons and evenings to explore on your own. Most meals are included, but on select nights, families can make their own dinner plans, allowing time away from the larger group. One popular perk is Junior Adventure Night, when guides supervise the kids in their own activities on one night during each trip, allowing adults to have a quiet dinner and time alone.

Austin Adventures

Answer the call of the wild without schlepping and setting up camping equipment. Tour outfitter Austin Adventures removes stress and danger, ensuring only fun remains; you"ll never have to roll up a sleeping bag, whether it"s in the Austrian Alps or South Africa. Instead, luxurious sheets are the standard at carefully selected lodging.

On the company"s signature Yellowstone National Parktrip, for example, families overnight in majestic national park lodges while experienced naturalist guides arrange activities for different ability levels. Most tours have 12 to 18 participants and two to three guides, who lead various activities -- such as fly fishing, zip-lining and rafting – at any given time.

For the bike portion of the adventure, a younger child who uses training wheels can be given a tag-along bike (hooks on to mom or dad"s), and an older family member can choose a shorter ride, with a van transporting them the rest of the way. Kids can also participate in the National Parks Junior Ranger Program, where they can earn a Junior Ranger Certificate upon completion of fun tasks. Austin Adventures also provides excursions in Europe, Australia, Central America, Africa, and the Galapagos, where you can snorkel alongside penguins.

Thomson Family Adventures

Thomson Family Adventures takes families just about everywhere, from the Inca ruins in Machu Picchu to a local family"s home in Morocco. Small groups -- no more than 12 to 15 travelers -- guarantee an intimate, hands-on adventure. All guides are native to the country and groups of eight or more travel with a rafiki -- Swahili for “friend.” The rafiki"s job is to engage the kids in fun games and activities, make sure they all get along and give the adults a chance to relax, as well.

“We see quite a few grandparents choosing to take each one of their grandchildren individually on a special trip when they turn a certain age,” says Grace Posluszny, Family Travel Advisor for Thomson Family Adventures. “It seems like the sweet spot for that is when the grandchild turns 12, 13 or 14.”

Thomson also organizes custom trips for large families, family reunions and muti-generational vacations. The most popular destinations include Peru, Costa Rica and the Galapagos, with Thomson"s newest adventure bringing families to Cuba. “The trip was created specifically for families,” says Posluzny. “In accordance with U.S. State Department guidelines, each day there must be three person-to-person activities and everyone must attend them. We"ve made sure they"re kid-friendly activities, like visiting a chocolate museum, attending a baseball game or watching a dance recital.”


Looking to truly unplug? Experience digital detox as you descend into the Grand Canyon and navigate the Colorado River on an O.A.R.S. non-motorized rafting trip. Families have the opportunity to hike Native American ruins, roar through rapids and camp on sandy beaches, surrounded by towering cliffs.

There are dozens of Grand Canyon outfitters to choose from, but O.A.R.S. is one of the most respected, offering family rafting trips around the world since 1969, specializing in the Grand Canyon and Pacific Northwest. The minimum age for weeklong Grand Canyon trips is 12, but there is one shorter trip for ages 7 and up. Families can paddle the Grand Canyon in non-motorized rafts or a simple wooden dory. Meals are also included.

Western River Expeditions

Western River Expeditions offers Grand Canyon trips for ages 12 and up on larger motorized rafts, which can hold up to 18 guests. They also offer a shorter 3- to 4-day trip for ages 9 and up.

Unlike O.A.R.S., Western River Expeditions operates only in the U.S., primarily in the Southwest. Children as young as 5 can participate in their “Family Magic Adventures” to Utah"s Green River and Idaho"s Salmon River Canyon. These Family Magic Adventures include a “river jester,” who entertains the kids with games and other wilderness activities.


Mindy Fauntleroy of Chicago lived la dolce vita with her 18-year-old daughter during their biking tour of Tuscany with Backroads, one of the largest and most-established bike touring companies. “Every possible comfort was met and then some,” says Fauntleroy. “I refer to that Backroads trip as the ‘don"t make me think" vacation.”

“Each day our guides would prepare a map and multiple biking options for seeing the country,” says Fauntleroy. “Day one was Florence, then off to Vivaldo for warm-up rides in the countryside through quaint towns. We rode every day to a different town and stayed in beautiful 16th-century historic villas. Backroads moved all of our luggage each day and basically catered to our every need.”

Not a pedal pusher or worried grandma won"t be able to keep up? Put the brakes on those thoughts, Fauntleroy says. “Anyone can do the trip in any shape. The guides are so accommodating. Even if you only want to ride a few miles, all you have to do is put your arm out and they pick you up. The van has lots of drinks and snacks so you can refresh and get back on at any point. It"s so easy and no one gives anyone a hard time."

Bicycle Adventures

Bike trips were once just for serious, spandex-wearing athletes, interested in careening long distances at 30 miles per hour. Today"s bike trips are more easy-rider than road-warrior, and can be a great option for families with teens and ‘tweens. Hundreds of companies now offer outings that include transporting your luggage in a van and arranging your meals and lodging. Accompanying guides also make sure the route is safe.

For families with young and old travelers, Bicycle Adventures describes itself as “fun-loving” and “über-organized,” and has no age limit. Best known for tours in California and the Pacific Northwest, its family trips to Hawaii and other locations allow kids to ride in trailers and tag along bikes.
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