5 family-friendly vacation spots

Author: Canadian Living


5 family-friendly vacation spots

When planning a family vacation, aim for memorable locations that bring home not just a pleasurable experience but one that is emotionally, mentally and spiritually enriching too. Here are five great spots to enjoy with your family.

Rome, Italy
All roads lead to Rome and the impact of the Roman Empire endures. Airfare from Canadian cities to Rome may be expensive but Rome offers a range of accommodations -- giving you cost-saving options. Once in the city, costs can be further pared down by using public transit, shopping at grocery stores and picnicking in gorgeous parks. Most accommodations provide a free continental breakfast.

History oozes from every section. The city's buildings are a treat to the eye with a range of architectural styles and art such as the Trevi Fountain and the Sistine Chapel to inspire and amaze visitors of all ages. It is also home to the Vatican. Rome is great a city to walk around and explore in so bring comfortable shoes. The city is a heartland to fashion and some of the world's leading designers, and even off-the-rack stores showcase great clothing.

Recommendations: Pre-book a tour of Rome for the first day of arrival. Then, alternate days of exploring with half-day trips or walking tours.

For more on Rome:

Catalina Island
There's a bustle and energy to Catalina island that excites and invigorates children and adults alike. Avalon city, where the water taxi from Long Beach, California arrives, is a colorful band of artisan shops and restaurants fringed along the beach, where children can splash or enjoy water sports.

The city -- one square mile in size -- also housed writer Zane Grey. During the 1920s, buffalo were brought to film one of his Westerns and the animals remain as a herd on the island today. Catalina was the playground for California's rich and famous in a bygone era. Wonderful stories of Hollywood legends abound. The island's best feature, though, is its isolation. It's located off the California coast, and has preservations of many unique plants and animals. These can be seen in various conservation areas and tours to the island's center. The Wrigley family (of chewing gum fame) helped make preservation possible -- they once owned the island and reserved a large portion of it to be used as an eco-sanctuary.

Recommendations: Explore this island from many different angles. Spend time in Avalon, camp out on the other side at designated areas, and take a Jeep tour to see unique plants and animals. Combine your trip to Catalina with a tour of Disneyland at Anaheim and a visit to Long Beach to see the Spruce Goose and the Queen Mary.

For more on Catalina Island:

Long Beach, B.C.
The west side of Vancouver Island offers some of the most spectacular beaches in Canada -- virtually untouched. You'll also find wilderness trails (some are wheelchair accessible), rainforests with 600-year-old trees and a natural hot spring to soak in. The fishing is great, and Long Beach is considered one of two hotspots for windsurfing year round.

During summer months there are surfing schools, with one catering to women. They supply instruction, long and short boards, and wet suits. Two small towns bound Long Beach, Ucluelet and Tofino, which offer accommodations as do a range of other facilities between the two areas. The seafood is wonderful, ranging from crunchy slabs of cod served with chips, take-out style, to grilled salmon delivered on cedar slabs in many of the fine dining areas. Upscale facilities such as the Wickaninnish Inn offer a spa plus a massage hut nudged onto the ocean so clients can enjoy the sights and sounds of ocean breakers while being kneaded to bliss.

This area is home to the Pacific Rim National Park and you can participate in a grey whale observation tour led by park officials.

Recommendations: Rent a car and enjoy each day, being as free as the wilderness around you.

For more on Long Beach: (search "Long Beach")

Havana, Cuba
This city is a treasure as it provides a glimpse back in time. The U.S. embargo on trade with Cuba means you won't find American cars built any later than the middle of the last century. Some have called it the largest old car museum in the world. Here, recent history merges with old as the city boasts ancient architecture such as an old fort and stone buildings. The city provides a glimpse of how politics can affect social and economic standards of living. The image of Ernesto "Che" Guevara is commonly seen around Havana and is a favourite subject of many artists.

With Hollywood's release of The Motorcycle Dairies film, rebel Guevara has become a soul mate to that teen voice that brands everything "lame." For laboring parents with teens going through that phase, Havana provides a chance to explore Guevara's role in the country's revolution, but the experience also underscores the price of social change. The flea market by the harbour is famous, there are cigar factories to visit and rum is almost the price of a bottle of water.

Recommendations: Havana is a lifetime experience but it should be combined (three days in and fours day out) with a stay at one of Cuba's all-inclusive resorts that feature beaches and water sports so the kids don't get bored. Many of the all-inclusive packages just outside Havana have a European flair and sugary sand beaches.

For more on Cuba:

Bandera County, Texas
For every child who wanted a horse, or to be a cowboy, here's the perfect opportunity to play fantasy. Bandera County in Texas is a rustic western-style town known as the "Cowboy Capital of the World" and it features dude ranches, rodeos, and old west culture. The county seat, Bandera, has a population of under 1,000 but the area's population is approximately 20,000. Its seat is located 45 minutes outside San Antonio, a good place to rent a car. Rent a camper or take a tent along as the area offers camping opportunities. Visit some of the 100 dude ranches, some are working ranches such as the Mayan Dude Ranch. Most ranches offer horseback riding, hayrides, fishing, swimming and golf courses.

Rodeos are popular throughout the region and on most weekends it is possible to find one at a nearby ranch or small town. There are parks in the area that lend themselves to hiking. At nearby Houston, the George Ranch Historical Park, 484 acres of living history, allows visitors to see a stock farm reminiscent of the 1820s, a 1890s Victorian mansion and cowboys working cattle as they did in the 1930s.

Recommendations: Start at either Houston or San Antonio and take a road trip. Enjoy the ranches, unique bed and breakfasts, the scenery, and explore the major cities at each end of the trip.

For more on Bandera County: (click on "visitor information" for a list of dude ranches and other conveniences)

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5 family-friendly vacation spots