Once you’re on vacation — which only happens once a year for many 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!
These are the most unforgettable tour group vacations for families.
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.
On the company's signature Yellowstone National Park trip, 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, ziplining 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 Park Service's 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
"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 multi-generational tour group vacations. The most popular destinations include Peru, Costa Rica, the Galapagos and 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."
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.
Launched in 2017, Global CommUnity is the brainchild of Christie Holmes and Keith Waldon. It was born out of the desire for their own children have more a engaged experience when traveling. Global CommUnity offers international tours to exotic destinations including the Galapagos, Peru, Morocco and Patagonia. In every destination, families have unique opportunities to interact with locals and learn about culture and traditions. "Our purpose is provide the tools that enable families to travel to places they might not go out of fear or lack of exposure -- our passion is introducing the concept of engaging with mutual respect and reciprocity that will guide each family as they interact with other cultures learning that while we can celebrate our differences, there are many ways we are the same," says Holmes. "We want to introduce the concept of engaging travelers with other cultures until 'No One Is Foreign.'"
Global CommUnity vacations are sold through travel advisors and offer customizable itineraries that include excursions, breakfast and accommodations and transportation with different price points available. Bonus: The Galapagos itinerary doesn't require any payment upfront when securing space more than 6 months out. The ability to hold a spot 12-24 months out with no down payment allows for planning and budgeting flexibility.
Our favorite part about Global CommUnity? Tours are divided by age groups -- young children, teens, and adults only -- to accommodate the unique needs and interests of all travelers. We also love the company's Life Travel Map, an interactive digital map that details the recommended key trips for you, based on an interview with you and your family members.
While everyone is welcome, it's recommended that children be at least 5 years of age to appreciate and enjoy the tours. For more information, visit NoOneIsForeign.com.
Western River Expeditions
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.
"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."
For families with young and old travelers, Bicycle Adventures describes itself as "fun-loving and 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.