If you don’t know what Bulgaria, London, Milwaukee, Montana, and New Zealand have in common, it’s my pleasure to remind you that they’re all places some of my well-traveled colleagues identified as worthy family vacation destinations for 2012.
Given that a new year is upon us and my friends are still well traveled, I called on them again to identify destinations that family travelers might want to add to their short lists in 2013.
Kangaroo Island: Yes, Things Are Hopping There
If Hobbit tourism catches on the way John E. DiScala (aka the very frequent flier better known as Johnny Jet) predicted last year, the New Zealand town of Matamata will still be a destination to watch for 2013. If Tolkien travel is not your family’s thing, but you’re still intrigued by the Southern Hemisphere, DiScala has another nomination for you: Kangaroo Island. “It’s in south Australia, just a 15 minute flight from Adelaide,” he points out, “and it’s known as Australia’s ‘zoo without fences.’” As you might expect, you’ll get an eyeful of kangaroos and wallabies there, as well as koalas, seals, and the whimsical-looking echidnas (spiny anteaters). DiScala also says the island’s Southern Ocean Lodge is one of the world’s best places to stay.
Perhaps the best news is that Kangaroo Island is not yet on the radar of U.S. family travelers. “I was there in October, so no U.S. families were traveling,” DiScala says, “but they will be there, as it’s just now getting known. It’s the new Tasmania.”
Minneapolis-St. Paul: Active Families Wanted
While she has logged countless miles as a flight attendant, aviation writer and mother of two, Beth Blair remains an unabashed fan of her current hometown, Minneapolis-St. Paul. For starters, she notes that activities in the Twin Cities are “truly year-round. In the winter there are indoor and outdoor skating rinks, sledding and tubing hills, and just south of the cities, in the suburb of Burnsville, is Buck Hill. There’s a ski hill with a huge tubing hill and snowboard park. Plus, Lindsey Vonn got her start here.”
Summertime is no slouch either, Blair says, when both towns “are constantly voted as top biking cities with hundreds of miles of biking trails.”
If you’ve got animal lovers in your brood, Blair points to the area’s two zoos, the Minnesota Zoo, where her family particularly enjoys the springtime Wells Fargo Family Farm. “What’s cuter than a baby pig?” she observes accurately. The Como Zoo in St. Paul is lesser-known, she says, and is also free, plus “adjacent to the zoo is Como Town, open during the summer, which is a small theme park ideal for young children.”
Blair adds that she can’t offer her recommendation “without mentioning my local mall, the Mall of America. The Nickelodeon Theme Park in the center is the ultimate family friendly attraction, but there’s also an aquarium, mini-golf, movie theater, and every Tuesday is Toddler Tuesday, with Nickelodeon character meet and greets.”
Turks and Caicos: A Strand of Paradise, and a Smart Value
Trekking the world with her four children, travel writer Kim-Marie Evans has a keen eye for luxury as well as smart value, observing that “if you think the Turks and Caicos islands are just for the rich and famous, you’ll be thrilled to know that paradise is within your reach. You can drop $30,000 per night to rent Donna Karan’s pad at Parrot Cay or score a budget room for $300 per night.”
Understanding the islands’ appeal is not hard, Evans suggests. “Most of the hotels there sit on the blissfully uncrowded Grace Bay Beach, voted “World’s Best Beach” for good reason. It’s a vision of sugar soft white sand and crystal aqua waters. It’s like vacationing in a postcard.”
“As a bonus,” she adds, “there are no hawkers selling random wares or offering to braid your hair every ten minutes.” Plus, “English is the native language, business is done in the American dollar, and it’s a 3.5 hour flight from New York…but you get your passport stamped.”
Good lodgings abound in Turks and Caicos across all price ranges, Evans says. For families on a budget, she recommends searching Beaches for deals and “for the posh family, The Somerset offers gorgeous condos, free kids camp, and a coddling staff. For the super posh family or romantic couple, nothing but Parrot Cay will do.”
And for those parents looking to get away without the kids, Evans suggests “booking the Gansevoort and hanging with the hip crowd poolside sipping cocktails.”