Looking for a way to make family vacation planning faster, easier, and dare we say it, hassle free? Then what you need are these family-friendly tour operators. These travel planning companies specialize in curated itineraries that travelers can simply step in to as easily as a favorite pair of travel pants. It’s one-stop shopping for vacations with everything from hotels to sightseeing preplanned, and unlike a travel agent, you’ll be able to choose from established journeys instead of having to make dozens of decisions. If your family loves to meet new people, choose a group itinerary; if you’d prefer to circle up with your fam and not make small talk, then focus on a company that offers individual itineraries. Best of all, these travel planning companies all focus on being kid-friendly and ensuring that you’re making memories instead of worrying about travel details. Read on for the best tour operators for families.
When it comes to family-friendly entertainment, it’s hard to beat Disney, and the company’s trip planning arm excels equally excels at creating adventures for families that span the globe and take all the guesswork out of traveling with kids. What you’re getting isn’t a tour bus driven by Mickey Mouse, but a focus instead on attention to detail, luxurious accommodations, and VIP treatment and surprises that you can’t get on your own, like a private tour of the Sistine Chapel in Rome on their popular Viva Italia tour. And Disney’s guides are the top echelon of the industry (they only hire about 3% of applicants who come from an international pool of 1,500 candidates every year). Select from 35 amazing itineraries across six continents including favorites like Yellowstone National Park, London and Paris, Japan, South Africa, Galapagos, and their newest addition, Egypt; they even offer luxe river cruises on the Danube, Rhine, and Seine. You’ll pay a premium, but tours start the second you step off the plane and continue until you’re safely delivered on your way back home, and include everything from tips to the bellman to gelato on walking tours to commemorative pins presented every day of your trip.
Perfect for families looking for a stress-free and affordable getaway, Trafalgar’s guided vacations make it easy to travel the world with kids in tow with more than 100 itineraries to choose from throughout 44 countries. For example, adventurous families can head to one of the most biodiverse destinations on the planet on Trafalgar’s Monkeys, Jungles & Volcanoes itinerary in Costa Rica to spot colorful toucans and adorable sloths in the lush canopy of the rainforests. For a historic vacation, parents can take a step back in time with their kids on the Wild West Cowboys and Buffalos itinerary that includes the Oregon Trail, Yellowstone National Park, and Mount Rushmore. All Trafalgar itineraries include expert guides, accommodations, transportation and multiple meals and also include authentic “Be My Guest” experiences with locals.
Intrepid offers a full range of experiences for families in their Family Holidays line, which are specifically designed to make adventure travel accessible for children by authentically introducing them to different cultures. Itineraries for these trips are appropriate for ages 5 and up (one of the youngest minimums for group trips) and include kid-friendly accommodations and activities lots of opportunities for kids to make friends with their fellow travelers, or even with local kids they meet along the way. One thing we especially love, special itineraries just for solo parents or for those traveling with teens (a rarity), including two great trips: Egypt for Solo Parents and a Turkey Family Holiday with Teenagers.
Courtesy of Thomson Family Adventures
With 90 itineraries around the globe, Thomson excels at offering something for everyone in their wide range of family-focused group adventures. Some top trip picks include: an outdoor adventure to Iceland where families can ride Icelandic horses; a Vietnam culinary immersion including a Vespa street food tour of Ho Chi Minh City and visits to organic farms along the Mekong Delta; a safari in Tanzania; and a Southern Italy sojourn that includes island hopping in the Aeolian Islands and a hike on Mt. Etna.
This tour operator, which started in Kenya as a safari specialist more than 40 years ago, now offers customized, luxury adventure travel to more than 45 destinations worldwide. To appeal to families, they created a “Kids Kouncil” consists of children ages 6 to 15 to help them create family travel itineraries that are especially appealing to kids. The result? The company’s first Kids Kouncil-approved tour launched in February 2019, a journey to India that includes experiences ranging from exploring the natural habitat of tigers in Panna National Park, to visiting the one-of-a-kind Sulabh International Museum of Toilets, to a fun and thrilling family Segway tour through New Delhi. Up next: Japan and Peru.
Courtesy of Melissa Klurman
Brendan is a regional specialist with a focus solely on Ireland and Scotland; if you’re looking to discover your family roots on the Emerald Isle or explore the green hills of these two family-friendly islands, this is your perfect option. Plus, Brendan offers a unique personalized touring option: Private chauffer tours where a personal driver whisks your family around the Irish countryside on a personalized itinerary that includes everything from a lesson in hurling in Kilkenny to kayaking in the Dingle Bay. Plus you can sleep in a real castle and make chocolate with a master confectioner, all without having to navigate the roads or make a hotel or dinner reservation on your own; a true treasure at the end of your vacation rainbow.
For ultra-high end luxury trips with completely unique itineraries, consider this London-based boutique company that focuses on experiential travel with custom trips in far-flung corners of the globe. We appreciate Niquesa’s mix of whimsy and adventure that make these private journeys as much fun for adults as they are for kids. Two that stand out are “X Marks the Spot,” an island-hopping Caribbean escape that includes stops in glamorous Mustique and comes Canouan complete with a fun-filled family treasure hunt sailing around the Tobago Cays. And the “X Box Detox,” perfect for teens, a creative film-making adventure to Kenya to explore the Maasai Mara on a safari that even includes a helicopter flight to track elephants with the Mara Elephant Project.
Tauck is known not only for its international group itineraries, but also for its special focus on multigenerational family travel, with nearly a third of guests on its Bridges itineraries comprised of grandparents and grandchildren traveling together, or “skip-generation” travel. The Bridges itineraries, designed specifically for families, explore destinations around the globe ranging from European odysseys to African safaris, expeditions in Latin America to adventures in North America’s national parks. Tauck also offers family river cruises that includes a Family Host aboard every ship to facilitate special activities. Tauck also created a “Just For Kids” Bridges brochure to help get kids involved in the vacation planning process.
Although all of the tour operators on our list offer immersive trips in global locales, A&K focuses on some of the most adventurous options, while also focusing on luxury and comfort. For anyone who’s tried to plan an exotic or remote vacation, you know how overwhelming the planning process may seem, which is why we especially like A&K’s Luxury Family Journeys. Itineraries explore destinations ranging from Egypt to the Galápagos Islands, making sure your kids are unplugged and immersing themselves in one-of-a-kind destinations. The one trip we think might take the cake for memorable family adventures: An expedition to Antarctica, which the company promises will be a family fun voyage to the sprawling white continent thanks to its special expedition team and special family programming that includes workshops and special excursions to see penguins, seals, and whales.
These immersive luxury international trips offer small group departures that focus on specific age ranges, which is especially helpful for getting kids to bond with other kids on their vacation. A few highlights of their group departures include a December adventure to Vietnam and Cambodia for ages 12 and up that delves into the lush Vietnamese countryside and visits Cambodia's most famous temple, Angkor Wat, and June departures for Puglia, Italy’s most bambini-friendly region, where kids 8 and up can snorkel in the Adriatic, get a first-hand archery lesson, and learn how to make pasta by hand. There are also private family trip options including a far-flung family safari to Botswana and a kayaking trip in New Zealand as well as easier to reach options, like biking in Quebec City or visiting the national parks in Utah.
Courtesy of Pelorus
There’s a special personal touch to every Pelorus tailored luxury journey. Before you commit to one of their itineraries, a representative will even set up a Skype call or meet face-to-face with all clients first to make sure every destination, activity, hotel, and stop is tailored to ALL ages and interests for every member of your family. They frequently set up totally different activities for different family members so that everyone on the trip is getting to do what most interests them. One particularly unique experience: Allowing travelers to safely climb the Redwoods in California and sleep in the canopies overnight (while also taking tree samples to help scientists on the ground). They've also arranged for a child to get PADI certified prior to a big diving trip—that’s right, before the journey began—so that the whole family could dive together.
By Melissa Klurman