August 24, 2016

Why Grandparents Make the Best Travel Companions

There is something to be said about grandparents. After all without them, family reunions and family dinners wouldn’t be possible; they were the beginning of it all! One thing at Thomson Family Adventures that we’ve all come to learn and love is exactly how great travelling with grandparents can be. Mulitgenerational vacations have become somewhat of a favorite around here for this reason. Grandparents can be the secret ingredient to having the best family vacation of all time.

a grandparent posing with an elephant while on a multigenerational vacationFirst, grandparents are wise. Much more wise than most. They know all kinds of things and this can translate well into travel. How did grandma know to take a right turn up ahead? It’s a mystery to us too, but we don’t ask questions because grandparents have super powers. They always have the best advice and this can come in handy when you forget what kind of clothes you need for safari in Tanzania or for a trek to Machu Picchu.

Grandparents also let loose more as the years go on. They are always good for a joke, no matter how corny it may be, or a laugh. When you’ve been on this earth long enough you stop sweating the small stuff and can focus on what’s really important. This is hands down the best quality to have in a travel companion. The people who don’t get flustered during an airport transfer or when the peanut butter doesn’t taste exactly the same in Costa Rica are the people that make traveling fun and relaxing.

Another reason grandparents are great to take vacation with are for their grand-kids. There’s nothing more special than watching your parents spend time with your kids. They know how vast the world is and how much it needs to be appreciated. Seeing them pass those sentiments on and sharing incredible experiences with your kids will be a memory worth more than any gift. Taking a multigenerational vacation also gets another set of adults on the trip you can trust to keep an eye on your kids if you want an afternoon or night of peace and quiet.

a girl with her grandmother on a family reunion vacation

Getting the entire family together for a vacation can sound like a lot of work. It can sound like details will be looked over and something will go wrong. But this isn’t the case! We love to plan these types of adventures because we know how gratifying and satisfying it is for the families that take them. There are never more laughs during vacation than a family reunion vacation. We can plan all of the details and make this a stress free and exciting time for everyone.



August 3, 2016

Eco-Friendly Family Vacation Tips

There are a lot of components to think about when planning to take a family vacation. One thing that should be at the top of the list is eco-friendly travel. Being mindful of the environment, local towns, people, and leaving as small of an impact as possible is part of our mission as a family travel company. There are some simple eco-friendly family vacation tips that you can keep in mind while you plan your next trip.

Planting Trees on an eco-friendly family vacation

One of our travelers helping to plant trees during a trip.

Flights

While airplanes are an incredible invention that makes travel way more accessible for everybody, carbon emissions from planes are not great for the environment. How can you lessen the impact? Buy direct flights, the largest percentage of emissions are during take-off and landing. Direct flights are also less of a pain for you! You can also choose to fly on fuel-efficient planes. Some of the planes that are best for this are the Boeing 777, Boeing 787 and the Airbus 345. Finally, you can purchase carbon offsets. This is when you pay a small amount of money to offset the environmental damage that your flight caused. This money often goes to clean energy projects or climate smart farms.

Packing

First, pack light. The heavier a plane is the more fuel it needs to use. You may think that the extra 5 pounds in your bag won’t make a difference, but if everyone could shave 5 pounds from their luggage that would be a total of over 2,600 pounds on a typical flight. A little bit can go a long way! Leave the one-off bottles of mini-shampoo, soap, hand sanitizer, and toiletries at home. Those will quickly be used and discarded only to end up in landfill to sit there till the end of time. Instead, buy FAA approved re-usable travel containers that you can fill up before you leave. Also, leave the products that contain micro-beads on the shelf at the store. The micro-beads are tiny enough to make their way through filters and drains and end up causing major problems in the ocean. These are toxic and shouldn’t be part of the diet for anything that lives in the sea. One more thing, use a refillable water bottle. No need to be buying and throwing away plastic bottles your entire trip!

Be a Local

It’s best to shop local, buy local, and travel local while on your family vacation. Buying locally produced foods and souvenirs is the best way to support the community that you are a guest in. We know it can be tempting to take a rock from one of your hikes or a sea shell from the beach, but it’s best to leave things where you found them. Take a photo instead! It’ll last longer and it won’t damage anything!

cleaning up the beach on an eco-friendly family vacation

Travelers with Thomson Family Adventures participating in a beach clean up!

Travel with Companies Dedicated to Eco-tourism

It can be very easy to just travel with the company that is offering the best deal. Traveling with a company committed to eco-travel can greatly reduce your impact. We happen to know one that fits the bill!



June 24, 2016

5 Must Do Things in China

China is one of the oldest and most ancient cultures in the world. For nearly 5,000 years, since the Xia Dynasty, China has been a major player on the international scale. It has influenced the world in numerous ways and will continue to do so. What this means for us as travelers, is that is a place with tremendous sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and excitement!  With so much to see and a lot of ground to cover it’s hard to prioritize what to see on your family vacation. China can be a great place for multigenerational families with a great mix of culture and excitement. Families with teens can also have an age appropriate adventure in China. This is a great culture for teens to embed themselves in. They will undoubtedly begin comparing their life growing up to what they see in China. We promise this will be fascinating for them and for you to watch! Cultivating this experience for teens, younger kids, or yourself, can be overwhelming when looking at all that China has to offer. Here are five things that you shouldn’t miss.

Acrobat Show

This form of entertainment is almost as old as China itself. It dates back to 4,000 years ago and its popularity exploded around 2,500 years ago. The acrobatic shows in Beijing will look similar to Cirque du Soleil, but will be much different. You’ll experience traditional lion dancing, stunning cycling acts, fire stunts, and contortionists among much more amazing feats that will leave your family in awe.

Tiananmen Square

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This is the largest public square in the world. Now four times its original size, Tiananmen Square was originally constructed in the 15th Century. Since then, it has been a place for celebration and expression. In the square you can find the Monument to the People’s House, the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong, the Tiananmen Tower, the National Museum and the gate to the Forbidden City.

T’ai Chi Class

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This ancient Chinese martial art is known for teaching graceful movements that have major health benefits for its practitioners. Take a T’ai Chi lesson in its most basic form, focusing on spiritual and mental strength. Your family will find it calming and peaceful while learning this meditative martial art from a T’ai Chi master.

Shanghai

This is one of the most fascinating cities in China. Shanghai has one of the most distinct and recognized skylines in the world. It has fully embraced architectural advancement and creativity. Walking around this economic epicenter gives unlimited people watching opportunities, lessons in culture, and a window into a futuristic city within an ancient country. Walk around the city, take a boat ride down the main river, and explore the many international neighborhoods in the Huangpu waterfront area.

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Cormorant Fishing

The cormorant is a type of bird that has traditionally been trained to catch fish. Li River fisherman will start to train these birds at just six months old. In the evening they will take the grown birds out onto the river to help them catch fish to sell the next day. It’s unique to watch man and bird work together to catch fish. This traditional fishing technique is definitely something to see!



June 17, 2016

5 Airport Security Tips

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Make getting here that much easier. Photo taken in Turkey.

One of the most stressful and annoying parts of traveling is going through security. Is it necessary? Yes. Are we happy that it’s part of the drill? Yes. But that doesn’t mean we have to enjoy it. There is nothing worse than hitting traffic and running through the airport with your multi-generational family to make your flight only to find yourself stuck in what seems to be a never ending line that won’t move. Well, the good news is that there are a few things that you and your family can do to make sure that your family vacation starts off right with a no hassle and speedy trip from the car to the airplane. Here are 5 airport security tips to get you started.

Have Things you need on Hand

We all know too well how easy it is to misplace something— like a passport or a boarding pass. Don’t be the person searching through a hand bag, back pack, or every jacket pocket to get the documents you need to proceed. Make sure that your kids have theirs ready too, if you’re holding them, place each person’s boarding pass within the pages of their passport so that everything matches up for the TSA agent.

Dress for the Part

You know exactly what you need to do to get through security. You’ll have to pass all metals and electronics through the x-ray machine and take off your shoes. Make sure everyone is wearing shoes that are easy enough to slip on and slip off (also wear socks, no one wants to walk barefoot in an airport!). Here’s a pro tip, place jewelry, belts, watches, and the like in a jacket pocket so it all goes through the x-ray machine together and you won’t have to scramble after you get your bin back.

Pay Attention

Sometimes the shortest line isn’t always the fastest line. Look ahead to find any travelers you think may take a long time. If you see a family, try for another line (unless they’ve read this article and breeze through security like you will) because unfortunately, families do tend to take a bit longer to make their way through.

Look into Security Programs

There are airlines that offer First Class passengers the opportunity to go through a fast line in security. This could be worth it if you’re traveling around the holiday season when airport traffic is busiest.  There is also the TSA Pre Check program which is available in over 160 airports with 16 airlines participating. Another program that is great for international travel is the Global Entry Program. Participants that join this program get to skip an extra step going through customs.  Finally, CLEAR is a program that will let you skip security all together in participating airports in the US.

Be Patient and Polite

We can’t stress this enough. Being polite, not complaining, and having a smile on your face will work wonders for your family. Remember, TSA can screen upwards of a million people a day, many of which won’t be polite, and they’ll be a bit stressed. Try not to add to it!



June 3, 2016

Why Kids Should Plan Family Vacations

Planning a family vacation can be a lot of work, a lot of hassle, and let’s face it— a lot of stress. Family vacations are a tremendous amount of fun and deciding where to go and what to do with that vacation should be fun too. One of the things that we’ve found is a great exercise and can get kids excited about vacation and take a little bit of stress off of you is to let your kids have an active role in planning the next family vacation.

Responsibility

The best way to teach kids about responsibility is to give them a specific task to be responsible for. Giving kids the reigns over the family vacation is one way to do this. First, it won’t be the same kind of responsibility that their friends have and it also is not an everyday responsibility. These two factors alone make it an exciting and different kind of challenge for them. Playing only an advisory role and lending a helping hand when needed will free up time for you to focus on other things, like who is driving the kids to practice later?

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Communication

Planning a vacation for the whole family is a good practice in communication. Your kids will have to talk with parents, grandparents, siblings, maybe even cousins, aunts, and uncles. If there are differences in opinion, it’ll be their job to come up with a compromise. You can even let them speak with one of our family travel advisers to communicate to us what your family needs. Who has dietary restrictions? How many people are interested in kayaking versus hiking? Communication is key when planning a multi-generational vacation or family reunion vacation because everyone will have different interests. Learning how to effectively communicate and make the best decisions for the group is a trait and skill that will always be helpful!

Financial Planning

It is never too early for kids to start learning about financial responsibility and understanding a budget. Funny enough, planning a family vacation requires those skills! Let the kids know exactly what the budget is. They’ll have to start deciding if they want to spend a little extra money on plane tickets at the sacrifice of an extra activity while on vacation. Budget could also affect what time of year you choose to travel. When real money is involved and certain concessions need to be made because of it, kids will start to understand how real their role is and gain a new sense of importance and confidence.

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Real Interest

The one way to ensure that your kids, whether teens, pre-teens, or kids in their 20s, giving them control over the outcome of the family vacation will be the best way to ensure they’re interested in the place you go! If they weren’t interested they wouldn’t have chosen the place to begin with. After choosing a place, your kids will be much more likely to research that place and learn about it on their own.

This is a great exercise for family teen travel and travel with younger kids. Have your kids look into our different group tour options or take it a step further and let them plan a custom or private trip. Have one of your kids give us a call and let the planning begin!



May 25, 2016

When is it Time for a Custom or Private Family Vacation?

Planning group family tours is how we got started in the family travel business. We love pairing similar families together to have the adventure of a lifetime. We’ve paired together families with young kids, families for teen travel, and multigenerational family travel. While we always love to set this type of adventure up, for ourselves and the families that travel with us, we know that sometimes a different style of trip is needed. That’s why we’ve set up custom travel and private travel options. So when should your family take a custom or private vacation?

You Have Something to Celebrate

Custom and private vacations can work best when there is something special to celebrate. This could be anything from family reunions to Grandma and Grandpa’s 50th year anniversary. It’s no issue for us to get the whole family to a villa. We’ll handle the transportation, restaurant reservations, and all of the details to make sure everybody is on time and well fed! Spend your days on new and exciting adventures and spend your nights celebrating your wonderful family.

You Have a Large Family

Some families are bigger, much bigger, than others. You shouldn’t be stressed trying to find things that can accommodate all of you. We already know where to look. Invite all of the Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, Cousins and even some friends! If you’re traveling with a large group, then a private vacation may be just what you need.

The Howe family on the beach in Costa Rica

The Howe family on the beach in Costa Rica

You Want to Travel at a Time We Don’t Have a Scheduled Trip

Again, no problem! We can run one of our trips on a different date for you. We know that not everyone has the same school vacation weeks, so we’re flexible. It helps everyone out.

You Want to Travel Somewhere We Don’t Have a Scheduled Trip For

Just because a country isn’t listed with a scheduled trip does not mean we can’t get you there. Our staff is comprised of world travelers that have seen almost every corner of the globe— chances are we know a thing or two about where you want to go! All you need to do is call and let us know.

Rimer family in Belize

Rimer family in Belize

 

If You Want to Do Anything Extra

There are a lot of times that families just want to extend their vacations a little bit longer or maybe take a detour from what we have scheduled. We understand wanting to explore and see as much as possible when in a new place. We don’t want to suppress that feeling, but encourage it! If it will make your family vacation better to steer off course— we want you to do just that.

If You Just Feel Like It

One of the best reasons to take a custom or private family vacation is because you want to. It is your vacation after all!



May 18, 2016

The Galapagos Alphabet

Every family has some kind of tradition that works its way into every adventure that they go on. One family that just traveled to the Galapagos for a family vacation has shared with us one of their traditions! This alphabet is not only a list that is fun to put together, it helps create a list of memories that you will always be able to look back on. We’ll be incorporating this into our next family vacations! What kind of fun traditions does your family have for when on vacation?

 

A – AWESOME ADVENTURE! Albatross Hotel, a’a’ lava, ani (invasive black bird), airplanes that were big and very small

 

B – Blue-footed booby (yes, Eric, their feet are really blue), big bees, brown pelicans, Bartoleme Island, brackish pools on Isabela, Baltra (an island with only an airport), biking twice (Eric thrice), brachycereus (lava) cactus

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C – Caipirinha drink (lime, sugar cane and rum), cows, carpenter bees, Cheryl looking for her glasses when they were on her head, Charles Darwin traveled here, candlebra cactus, coffee (the good stuff is exported), cilantro (not for Susan and Cheryl), Cuenca! (Wilson’s hometown)

 

D – “Daco pull your shade!” diving boobies, “don’t drink the water!”, dolphins jumping, Daphne Major (site of Beak of the Finch book), delicious fish dishes

 

E- Ecuador, equator nearby, El Nino weather (we had no rain), egrets, endemic (only found in one place), El Garrapatero Bay (we biked there, swam, and rambled among the rocks), EARTHQUAKE (7.8) which we felt during dinner in Quito

 

F – Fabio our fabulous Santa Cruz guide, frigate birds, finches (13 kinds), ferry to Santa Cruz, fantastically colored flamingos, flying fish, Favian and Maria’s house for dinner, flan frequently for dessert, friendly people

 

G – GALAPAGOS, geckos, Guayaquil (largest city in Ecuador), Gabe rolling off the boat seat and staying asleep, green sea turtles slowly swimming, ghost crabs

 

H – Hermit crab, HOT and HOTTER (the two seasons), high humidity, hibiscus flowers, hiking on marked trails, Himalayan blackberry (invasive on Santa Cruz – very sad!)

 

I – Isabela- our favorite island, Iguana Crossing Hotel, internet access sometimes, iguanas of all sizes, iguana crossing sign where the iguanas really crossed – can they read?

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J – Jon eating four large servings of paella, Junior teaching everyone how to surf (lie down, paddle, paddle, paddle, stand up. Easy)

 

K – Kayaking on Academy Bay (Wilson and Susan, Gabe and Fabio, Tony and Jon, Eric and Cheryl), king angelfish

 

L – Lighted lava tunnel, lava gull, land iguana (only seen at the Darwin Research Center), lava lizards doing pushups, lichens, the lobster, Lava Java coffee

 

M – MULTI SPORT ADVENTURE, marine iguanas, mockingbirds, mangroves, magma, moss (hanging from the trees), monarch butterfly, matrimonial rooms in the hotel,

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N – Nazca Booby (the black and white one), night sky with tons of stars, noddy (brown), no shadow at noon (since the sun is right overhead)

 

O – Omelets, opuntia (prickly-pear) cactus, orange Fanta, overweight luggage

 

P – Perfect Paella, panga with a sleeping sea lion, Puerto Ayora, potato soup (sopa de pata – good for hangovers), puffer fish who didn’t puff, pens of baby tortoises, penguinos at the equator, pahoehoe lava, Pablo (Eric’s snorkel helper)

 

Q – Quito, questions for our guides, constantly!

 

R – Reef sharks (white and black tipped which nap during the day and hunt at night – we hope), red-billed tropicbird

 

S – Stingrays, storm petrols, snorkeling three times! Speedboat, sunburn, Sacajewa one dollar coins, Santa Cruz Island, Susan and Gabe’s ocean walk, stargazing with Wilson, Southern Cross constellation, swimming with sea lions, no seasickness, swallow tailed gull that flies at night, swimming in the hotel pools

 

T – Tortugas (tortoises)! Texas t-shirt, Tintoreras Island, tiny 10 seater plane with earmuffs, Tortoise Breeding Center

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U – Underwater camera, used TP goes in wastebasket, use USA money everywhere

 

V – Very, very humid! vast ocean views

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W – WILSON– our wonderful guide, wahoo (delicious fish), Wall of Tears (built by convicts), Whale Bay walk and snorkel, wading in the ocean

 

X – eXtra biking by Eric

 

Y – Yellow warbler, yellow-tailed surgeon fish, yellow-crowned night heron.

 

Z – Zandoli (word for lizard in Creole)

 

So there are at least 26 memories that come with going to the Galapagos on a family vacation!



April 21, 2016

An Update on Ecuador

On April 18 a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Ecuador. Many communities were affected by the earthquake and the places that were hit the hardest were the coastal provinces of Esmeraldas and Manabi.

We have been in contact with our friends and partners in Ecuador and while they are all safe it is clear that this is a serious disaster affecting much of the country and we are saddened by the destruction that has been caused. We will keep the country in our thoughts as the search for people continues. We hope that you do the same.

Here is an update from one of our partners:

“Our spirit is touched so deeply and we keep seeing so much pain and misery. On the other hand, it is sooooo amazing the support we have received from other countries, but mostly the compassion, resilience and solidarity that we Ecuadorians have shown this week. People have come through in such a great way it brings everybody tears and emotions of how these terrible events bring the best in people!”

We appreciate people reaching out to check on how our partners in Ecuador are doing. We’re happy that they are ok, but humanitarian efforts are still needed.

We checked with our friends to see who was doing good work to help out and here is a list that you could contribute to:

Ecuadorian Red Cross – Emergency Fund:

http://www.cruzroja.org.ec

Support UNICEF’s Earthquake Relief Efforts in Ecuador:

https://www.unicefusa.org/

World Vision – Disaster Relief Fund:

http://donate.worldvision.org

OXFAM – Emergency Appeal Ecuador Earthquake:

https://donate.oxfam.org.uk/emergency/ecuador



March 15, 2016

The Best Way to Travel with Teens

One of the most difficult things to do as a parent is getting your teen excited about something that doesn’t show up on a digital screen. Teens want to be treated like adults. They want to have a say in the family’s vacation plans, they want experiences that give them some freedom, activities that challenge them, and they want to do things that they can go home and tell their friends about. This sounds like a tall order, but we’ve got it down. While there is no exact science that guarantees your teen will have fun (all teens are different) we have come across a few best practices that have proved to work time and time again.

Age Appropriate Fellow Travelers

There is nothing worse as a teenager than going away on vacation and not being able to meet anyone your age and make new friends. We make this as easy as we can. We have special trips and departures for families traveling with teens. By placing families with teens together, your teens will automatically be introduced to other kids their age that they can bond with. This is one of the best ways to jump-start their vacation and experiences.

a family with Teens Rock Climbing in Ecuador

Teens Rock Climbing in Ecuador

Have a Guide that knows How to Relate to Teens

We choose our guides carefully. We want to make sure that your guide will not only be an expert in the field and handle all of the logistics; we make sure that he or she will also mesh well with the group. Our guides do a great job of engaging with and relating to teens. They can spark conversations with them that go deeper than what kind of bird is that, or what event took place at this site. They delve into cultural differences and challenge teen travelers to look at their own cultures in relation to the new place that they are in. They will learn more about themselves and the world than they will in any classroom. The best part is they won’t even realize they’re learning!

Keep Things Active and Mellow

It’s important to keep teens busy while also giving them time to chill and relax on their own. By having fellow travelers that they can spend down time with, they can be given their own space and a sense of independence. During activities, teens can feel free to march ahead and proceed at their own pace with their new friends. This isn’t only great for the kids but for parents too. You don’t need to rush and you don’t need to make sure your child is having fun— after all it is your vacation too!

One of our traveling families with teens visiting an orphanage in Thailand.

One of our traveling teens visiting an orphanage in Thailand.

Offer Challenging Experiences

Our most successful teen trips are challenging in two ways, culturally and physically. We don’t make the mistake of planning too many museums or city tours. We’ve found that parents can have fun doing “teen things” but teens don’t always enjoy doing things that parents alone typically enjoy. In Peru, we have a family trek that involves longer periods of hiking to more remote locations in the countryside. In Thailand, we highlight cross cultural experiences with hill tribe villagers or Buddhist monks where teens can have meaningful conversations about philosophy and culture.

Family Trek in Peru!

Family Trek in Peru!

Why are family vacations with teens so important? They create a new and shared experience between them and their parents or grandparents. These are experiences that they will forever remember, make a few new friends along the way, and definitely take some great photos to share on Instagram and Snapchat when they get home!



March 8, 2016

Four Reasons for a Family Vacation in the Southwest

For the first time, we here at Thomson Family Adventures have begun offering a scheduled tour at home, inside of the continental U.S. The Southwest U.S is home to incredible geological formations, vast desert landscapes, winding canyon hikes, and some of the best National Parks in the country. There is a lot to see and learn in the Southwest. Here are four of our favorite reasons to take a family vacation to the Southwest.

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Close to Home

There is nothing like having an adventure that feels like a world away but is actually just in your backyard! Planning and logistics are easy when staying in-country. No one needs to worry about having an up-to-date passport, conversion rates, exchanging currency, or getting any immunizations. Also, if you need to stay connected to grandma or a family member who isn’t traveling, you won’t need to get an international phone plan. On the flip side, the kids will also have access to all of their devices; make sure to take them before going on any hikes!

Plenty of Adventure

There is a lot to do in the Southwest. The red sand deserts are rich with outdoor activities that are sure to pull anyone away from their screen. Any kind of activity from hiking and mountain biking to swimming and rafting can be found here. The unaltered landscape is great for exploring and the best part is that there are plenty of options to accommodate different skill levels.

A Live History Lesson

The first sign of human life in parts of the Southwest date back to 6000 B.C. To say the least, the history here is ancient! At famous sites like Newspaper Rock, your family can get a glimpse into the way stories were told and how life was recorded over 1,500 years ago. These subtle educational activities during a family vacation are the best ways to learn new things together. It’s amazing how much more interesting kids find history when they see it up close and not in a classroom!

Great National Parks

hiking SW USThe main highlight of the Southwest US is its National Parks. Two parks in particular that we happen to love are Bryce Canyon National Park and Zion National Park. Bryce Canyon National Park is home to the “hoodoos.” Hoodoos are orange, pink, and purple sandstone spires that protrude out from the ground creating a landscape that belongs in a book or a movie. It is astounding and will get your kids curious and excited! Zion is a 299-square mile park that houses a wide array of plants and animals. It’s also the place where the Great basin, the Mojave Desert, and the Colorado Plateau meet. There are endless opportunities for exploration and adventure!

We’re excited about this new group adventure and its first departure this summer. Spots are limited, be one of the first families to explore the National Parks, red rocks, and painted caves of the Southwest with Thomson Family Adventures!