Relaxation isn’t usually on the agenda when my family takes a vacation. Exploring, adventuring, experiencing something new and cool—that’s what we like to pack into our time off. We’ve scaled the Great Wall of China, swum with sting rays, learned to surf, played with dolphins, powered on through Disney World with the flu—and in a funnier-afterward moment, required rescuing after our kayak became stuck in a strong current that kept us from heading back to shore. (That wouldn’t have happened if I had been sucking down piña coladas on the beach, now, would it?)
When we’re picking travel destinations, they need to offer plenty of fun and adventure for the kids, of course, but still be just as intriguing for my husband and me. Those are the destinations that we’ll still be reminiscing about thirty years down the line.
So what insanely cool adventures are on our bucket list (or already crossed off of it)? Here’s the rundown of eleven destinations for cool family vacations for adventurous parents and the kids who love them.
11 Insanely Cool Family Vacations (That Parents Will Love, Too)
Disney Cruise Line
Disney Cruises may offer the most perfect balance for a family vacation—plenty of fun for the whole family, but also cool adults-only activities to keep you occupied while your kids are exploring the amazing adventures built for them. And with diverse destinations (like an incredible-looking Alaska itinerary), there’s probably one sailing where you’d like to go.
Why Kids Love It: If it’s Disney, you know it rocks for kids! Character meet-and-greets, dive-in movies (showing Disney favorites, of course), and cool kids-only clubs make even a day at sea action packed. And every destination along the way offers kid-friendly activities, such as exploring glaciers, panning for gold in the legendary Klondike area of Alaska, dog sledding, and checking out the bears, whales, and other wildlife along the way.
Why Parents Love It: In addition to quality time with the kids, adults get plenty of quality time to themselves. (Hello, spa!) Adults-only lounges, pools, and dining are the perfect place to unwind when your kids decide to head to their clubs.
Photo: Disney Cruise Lines
For beach-loving families, this is the ultimate destination, with gorgeous swaths of sand and surf to explore.
Why Kids Love It: Surfing, boogie-boarding, or simply dipping your toes in the Pacific feels amazing, and it's is at its prettiest along these beaches. And when you’re ready to dry off, you’ll find one of the world’s best zoos to enjoy—along with the only cute and cuddly koalas in the U.S.
Why Parents Love It: If you ever wanted to hang ten, this is the place to learn—and you’ll find surfing lessons on pretty much every beach. Pretty Hotel Coronado is located right on one of the best beaches for families, making it a perfect place to stay.
Photo: Getty/Corey Jenkins/Image Source
Arguably the most amazing piece of eye candy in the U.S., this natural wonder offers all kinds of ways to explore it.
Why Kids Love It: There are all kinds of daredevil ways to explore, whether you want to ride mules on the narrow paths down into it, stroll seventy feet out onto the glass Skywalk to take in the view from a whole new (and thrilling) vantage point, or even skydive or helicopter over the canyon.
Why Parents Love It: After all that adventuring, you can mosey on over to nearby Sedona, the legendary spa town, for a little R&R before heading home.
Photo: Getty/Stephen Yelverton Photography/Moment
You really can’t go wrong with any Hawaiian destination, but this island in particular boasts plenty of thrills for kids and their parents.
Why Kids Love It: You can pack your itinerary with a slew of amazing experiences: bike down a volcano, swim with the turtles and tropical fish in top snorkeling spot Molokini, catch a wave with surfing lessons, or learn the island’s history through its lovely hula.
Why Parents Love It: This top honeymoon destination can be romantic—even with the kids in tow. Let the kids enjoy a little downtime in your resort’s kids club while you indulge in a world-class spa treatment or chill with a couple of mai tais on a black sand beach.
Photo: Getty/M Swiet Productions/Moment
France has one of the world’s richest cultures—and you’ll get to experience it all in its capital, with masterpiece-packed museums, fine dining, and the Eiffel Tower to add to the wow factor.
Why Kids Love It: France has a surprisingly kid-friendly culture, with pretty parks and playgrounds spotted throughout the city to help kids blow off a little steam after they’ve behaved during your museum crawl. And then, there’s the fabulous food: hello, baguettes and croissants!
Why Parents Love It: Two words: shop. ping. And when you’re not breaking the bank at the amazing boutiques, you can stroll along the Seine, museum hop through the world’s finest art collections, take in the splendor of historic cathedrals and palaces, and relax over a cafe au lait or a little champagne.
Photo: Getty/Yuki Cheung/EyeEm
One of the coolest and kookiest kid-friendly destinations on the planet, the Japanese capital is teeming with fantastical elements that will delight your child (and your inner child).
Why Kids Love It: If it’s cute and cuddly, kitschy, or made of metal, odds are you’ll find something cool built in homage to it. We’re talking Godzilla or Hello Kitty themed hotels, Alice in Wonderland restaurants, and awesome museums featuring anime classics from Hayao Miyazaki or the latest in robotics. The city is also teeming with animal cafes, where kids can spend quality time with bunnies, cats, owls, or pretty much any other animal they adore.
Why Parents Love It: First timers may worry that the language barrier may make this trip difficult, but Tokyo’s surprisingly easy to navigate, even if “arigato” is the only bit of Japanese you know. (That’s “thank you,” by the way.) And you’ll never want to eat another California roll again after enjoying sushi in its birthplace.
Photo: Getty/Chris McGrath
The Galapagos are a set of volcanic islands off the coast of Ecuador, teeming with some of the world’s most incredible, only-on-this-island wildlife. (That’s why Charles Darwin did so much of his seminal work here.)
Why Kids Love It: Animal lovers will thrill to get up close and personal with some amazing creatures, including the giant Galapagos tortoises, sea lions, and the oddly named blue-footed booby.
Why Parents Love It: In addition to the amazing wildlife adventures, the Galapagos brings you right into the rich Ecuadorian culture—home of ceviche and some of the world’s most delicious chocolate.
This classic vacation destination has beautiful beaches, rich history, and plenty of wildlife to explore.
Why Kids Love It: Picturesque beaches make perfect spots for swimming and sailing—and a network of scenic bike trails take you through woods and along the shore. See if you can spot some of the whales that make this area of the ocean their home on a whale-watching tour.
Why Parents Love It: You can make learning history a lot more fun by stepping back in time at the living museum at Plimouth Plantation. And the lobster rolls are insanely good!
Photo: Getty/Kenneth Weidmann/E+
This cool capital gives beginner world travelers a taste of life outside the U.S., without language barriers or out-there cuisine.
Why Kids Love It: Two words: Harry. Potter. Take a photo-op at Platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross Station, and head out on a tour at Warner Brothers Studio in London, where the sets, costumes, and props are preserved and displayed for Potterheads to visit.
Why Parents Love It: History buffs have plenty to keep them occupied: Take in a little Shakespeare at the lovingly rebuilt Globe Theatre, review the gory details of life in the Tower, and see where many of English history’s legends are buried in Westminster Abbey.
Photo: Getty/TangMan Photography/Moment
New York City
You can’t get much more glamorous than the Big Apple, with its star-studded Broadway shows and classic movie and TV locales on virtually every corner.
Why Kids Love It: Kids can relive Night at the Museum while exploring the treasures at the Natural History Museum—and you can even sleep over on certain nights. Climb skyscrapers to check out amazing views, or get a glimpse of Lady Liberty presiding over the harbor.
Why Parents Love It: You can grab a big dose of culture at the Met (the museum or the opera house), or any of the slew of amazing theater options presented every night on (and off) Broadway—even if you can’t score Hamilton tickets. And in this melting pot of a city, no matter what kind of food you crave, you’ll find a restaurant that caters to it. (Even if it’s just chicken fingers for the kids.)
Photo: Getty/Andras Poloniy/EyeEm
This majestic, thousand-mile park in California features breathtaking waterfalls, massive sequoias, and tons of opportunities to adventure in the great outdoors.
Why Kids Love It: Outdoors-loving kids can choose their own adventure—hiking, biking, fishing, rafting, zip lining, and more.
Why Parents Love It: There’s something awe-inspiring around every bend: some of the largest and oldest trees on the planet, breathtaking waterfalls, and meteor showers in the wide open (light pollution--free) skies.