December 8, 2015

The Beauty and Struggle of a Family Vacation to Cuba

For the last year people have started to flock to Cuba to see the island nation before tourism fully takes off. But don’t be fooled, tourism has already taken off. We’ve been offering family vacations to Cuba for the past year and we’ve seen first-hand the incredible and beautiful experience that it can be. But we’ve also seen the hurdles that come with visiting a country behind in infrastructure and overwhelmed with visitors. The growth of travel to Cuba has come about almost too quickly and while the country has been doing a great job in providing people with ways to visit, it won’t be your typical family vacation and you should be in the right mindset and prepared for this once in a lifetime experience. Traveling with your family to, and through, Cuba will never be as it is today.

 

group in havana

The Beauty

Cuba is inherently unique, yet also somewhat familiar.  The language is different, the culture is completely different, and the government is nothing like ours, yet a favorite past time in Cuba is baseball. They love to dance, enjoy a meal with family, and have an appreciation for art. It’s the difference in the similarities that can make a family vacation to Cuba so rewarding for you, and especially your kids. When your kids meet Cuban kids on a baseball field or at a dance school, it becomes clear to them that they can make friends no matter where they are and that’s a feeling and education that you can’t put a price on. There are several great cultural exchanges to have in Cuba and these exchanges will be the highlight of your vacation. Mix in a bit of culture with incredible ocean views, nature hikes, zip-lining, chances for wildlife viewing, and a ride in a classic Cadillac and you have yourself the perfect family vacation!

 

handshake after baseball

The Growing Pains

The average Cuban doesn’t have much in the terms of luxury and material goods. The average income is around $20 a month. That said, it’s important to understand that Cuba is still very much developing. As its infrastructure comes along, so does the ease of traveling. The hotels are busy and space is very limited. The hotels won’t be up to the “American Standard” and rooms will be basic, air conditioning may not be available, and Wi-Fi is nearly non-existent. But that’s ok. You go to Cuba for the people to people connection and to experience a country that is rapidly changing in real time. You’ll see everything that you want to see and have an amazing time doing so, but it may not happen in the order that the itinerary says. Isn’t this part of the adventure? Expect the unexpected. Going to Cuba is still a rare occurrence, so when you do visit go with an open mind and you will be truly amazed and touched at what you see and experience!

There’s no time like now to take your family to this top destination for a family vacation!



December 1, 2015

Best Festivals to Travel to in Thailand

As we come into our busiest holiday season here in the U.S from Thanksgiving to Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, and the New Year, we have family, friends, and celebration on our minds. Travel can get a little more hectic around these times, but a good way to get into the celebratory mood is to travel during other countries festivals and holidays.  One country at the top of our list to travel to for unique, wild, and enlightening festivals is Thailand. Some of these festivals focus on ancient culture and tradition, while others are just pure fun! From water gun fights and rockets to vegetarianism and floating lanterns, these celebrations in Thailand should not be missed!

Loy Krathong (Yi-Peng) 

When: November

Possibly one of the most beautiful festivals in the world is Loy Krathong. Tens of thousands of people descend on Thailand to release their worries and bad thoughts. People light candles and place them on tiny banana leaf floats and release them down nearby rivers. While this takes place all over the country, the best place to be is Chiang Mai. Here the main attraction is the lanterns that float into the sky. Watching a dark sky illuminate from thousands of lanterns being released at once is spectacular and mesmerizing.

yi ping 2

Vegetarian Festival

When: October

This is a highly religious festival that takes place on Phuket, where participants observe a 10-day vegetarian diet. This isn’t the most interesting part of the festival though. Things get interesting, and a bit graphic, when participants walk on hot coals or cut their faces to pass objects, such as umbrellas, through the newly made holes. It is believed that these actions will bring good luck to those who participate. Thailand is a top destination for older kids and this festival would be an enriching experience for them. It should be attended with an open mind and background knowledge on the customs of participants and the expectations of spectators.

Songkran

When: April

Have you ever wanted to participate in a nationwide water gun fight? That’s what you’re getting with Songkran. Older kids, adults, grandparents, and younger kids will all love and have fun at this festival. What began as a splash of water to give good will and fortune to others for the New Year has evolved into a full-fledged water fight. Some towns celebrate only for a day while others celebrate for an entire week. Make sure you pack your super-soaker!

Monkey Buffet

When: Last Sunday in November

Lopburi is famous for its monkey population and to show the monkey’s their appreciation for being good neighbors and helping bring people to the area to visit. Once a year, the town sets out a buffet of fruits, lollipops, soda, and vegetables for the little animals to eat. This creates some incredible photo opportunities!

Bun Bangfai Rocket Festival

When: April

One of the stranger events in Thailand is the Rocket Festival in Yasothon. Celebrated in the Northeast region of the country, this festival is fully equipped with all the party essentials: music, concerts, parades, regional cuisine from pork salad to fried insects, and of course, rockets. The rockets are fired off during a special show and are then judged based on height reached, straightness of flight, and how attractive the smoke trail is. The winning team earns $1,000 USD as a prize. If your rocket fails to launch, you must spend the rest of the contest in a mud bath— the Thai people really know how to throw a proper festival!

Experiencing other cultures together is one of the best parts of taking a Thailand family vacation. Visiting any of these celebrations in Thailand will be a family vacation you’ll always remember!



November 24, 2015

Family Holiday Travel Trips

airplane

One of the best times to travel with the family is around the holidays. Everyone has some time free from work, school, sports, dance, and music lessons. Basically what we’re saying is that the kids can make some time for you!  It makes sense to use this time free of activities for a family vacation. The only issue is that everyone else knows this too, making the holidays one of the toughest times to travel to top destinations around the world. Here are a few holiday travel tips that can make family travel go as smooth as possible.

1: Give yourself plenty of time to get to the airport. With more cars on the road and more travelers at the airport, anything can happen. There is no worse way to start your vacation than by sitting in traffic and wondering if you’ll make it to your gate on time. Start the trip off on the right foot, leave earlier than normal for the airport.

2: Research the best airport to leave from. Sometimes it makes sense to fly out of a smaller airport, even if it’s a bit more out of the way. Major airport hubs are guaranteed to be busy and are susceptible to more hold-ups. No one wants that!

3: Pack light. This can make life easier in so many ways. Packing lighter allows you to avoid checking a bag and makes it easier to switch hotels as you go from city to city. The only thing to consider when only having a carry on is overhead space. Getting to your gate early and opting for early boarding can eliminate that concern for you.

4: Take advantage of the latest technology. A few travel apps can make not only holiday travel, but all travel much easier. Two good ones are Flight Status and Gate Guru. Flight Status is a great app to give you time updates on delays, baggage numbers, and much more. Gate Guru is an app that provides estimations on how long it’ll take to get through security.

5: Fly direct if you can. Direct flights lower the chances that you’ll run into a delay due to weather. If you must have a layover, do your best to layover in a warmer and drier climate to avoid any chance of snow and ice.

6: Most importantly, stay calm. Everyone will be high strung in route to their holidays. The staff at the airport and hotel may be missing out on time with their families and dealing with irritable customers all day. It’s the holidays— stay calm and try to help spread a little joy!

Whether you want to visit Peru, adventure in Baja, or enjoy all of the wonders of Thailand, these holiday travel tips will make your family vacation a bit more enjoyable!

 

 

 



November 17, 2015

10 Reasons to Take a Family Vacation in Baja

Baja, Mexico is one of our favorite spots to send families for fun-filled and unforgettable vacations. It’s a top destination for families to visit and once you go there you’ll know why. Many of the reasons to visit Baja are unique in their own right. The peninsula also has a storied and famous history of exploration that we love. Baja has an aura to it that can inspire any family to adventure in ways they never thought they would. Here are ten reasons that Baja is the perfect place for a family vacation.

Horseback Riding

Check out the whale blow in the background!

Baja is a great place to stroll around by horseback. One of the best reasons is that it makes you feel like a modern day cowboy or cowgirl. Ride through a desert landscape with dunes and cacti dotted plains that stretch as far as the eye can see until you reach the beach and the deep blue water of the Pacific Ocean. This is a great family fun adventure!

 

 

Culture

The culture of Baja is slightly different than that of the rest of Mexico. The peninsula is very laid back and has small towns that all have their own personality. The artistic town of Todos Santos has been a haven for artists, surfers, painters, and writers for years. It has even spawned the Todos Santos Music Festival put on each January by Peter Buck of R.E.M.

Food

Ceviche. Tacos. Guacamole. Tortillas. The list of food goes on. Baja is a haven for tasty treats that will leave you with a feeling of wanting to eat and do nothing else. The ingredients are fresh and flavorful; we promise you’ve never had Mexican cuisine like this before!

Sea Turtles

kinds playing with sea turtles while on a family vacation to Baja

During the months of October and November Baja is a hatching ground for baby sea turtles. This is an opportunity for your family to take part in the conservation effort of sea turtles that is not only fulfilling but a lot of fun! Staying up late to watch the turtles hatch and make their way to the water for the first time is unforgettable.

History

Baja has a different history than the rest of Mexico. After being settled by the Jesuits and operating separately from the rest of mainland Mexico, Baja was able to shape its own identity and stay out of major conflicts. Baja was cultivated on the foundation of kindness, honesty, and strong family values. These are still part of Baja’s personality and this is extended to and recognized by all that go to visit!

Whale Watching

Simply put, in the month of February there is no better place to be whale watching than in Baja. Thousands of whales arrive in Baja every year for mating and birthing. The whales are in a safe space from predators in the waters around Baja. The new babies are so curious they may swim right up to your boat to say hi!

Landscape

baja landscape

The landscape in Baja is reminiscent of times more simple than what we have now. Baja has always stayed Baja, not compromising some of its most scenic spots for development projects. This authenticity is one of the largest charms that Baja has.

Kayaking

This is a Thomson Family Adventure classic. We love to kayak and we love sharing this fun with families travelling with us. Some of the best kayaking in the world is in Baja simply because it takes place in the Sea of Cortez, one of the most biologically diverse and beautiful places in the world.

 

Weather

The sun is always kind to the Baja peninsula. More often than not, visitors are able to explore in comfortable and beautiful weather. Having the sun shine on your family vacation always gives it an extra pop to make sure your vacation a happy one!

 

 



November 10, 2015

Why Panama is Perfect for a Family Vacation

Of all of the places that we like to send our families to, Panama is at the top of the list! Panama is a top destination for kids, parents, and grandparents. While the most famous attraction in Panama is the canal, it isn’t the only thing to see. What many people don’t realize is everything else that Panama has to offer from an amazing tropical jungle to indigenous tribes and exhilarating adventures!

panama family vacation under a waterfall

Panama is Hassel-free

Being so close to the U.S., the flights to Panama aren’t too expensive or too long! Panama has also adopted the American dollar as an accepted form of currency. This means you don’t have to worry about losing out on the exchange rate, changing your cash, and makes budgeting much easier. Panama is also very flexible, making it the perfect destination for last minute travel!

Landscapes, Wildlife, and Adventure

Panama is a great place to discover incredible views of cloud forests, rainforest canopies, and rolling hills. You can see all of these during an exhilarating zip-line or rafting adventure. The jungles of Panama are filled with soaring frigate birds, lounging lizards, and capuchin monkeys. You can also find bright and colorful combinations of orchids as you explore the jungle by foot and boat. Panama also has beautiful white sand beaches on the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans that offer extraordinary locales for snorkeling and surfing.

rafting on a family vacation in panama

Cultural Connections

No trip to Panama is truly complete without taking a trip to visit the indigenous Embera tribe. This is one of six indigenous groups in the country that maintain their culture and tradition, much as they did centuries ago. Travel up the Chagres River in a dugout canoe deep into the rainforest to meet members of an Embera Village tribe. You’ll learn about the history of the tribe, traditional songs and dance, food, crafts, and even have the chance to get a traditional tattoo— it’s made from vegetable dye, completely safe, and only lasts for about a week! This is also the place where your kids will get to meet and play with Embera children, a fun experience you’ll never forget!

Jungle Boat Ride Through the Canal

Monkeys-along-the-Panama-Ca

One of the best ways to get fully immersed in a Panama family vacation is to take a boat ride through the canal and into the jungle. It’s one thing to watch the canal as boats pass through, it’s another to be on a boat as it passes through the canal. It may sound trivial, but this is an eye-opening experience. You’ll be alongside massive cargo and passenger ships that are guaranteed to make you marvel at their size. This is only part of the adventure; continue on into the jungle for an incredible wildlife viewing experience.



October 27, 2015

Unique Baja Family Vacations

Baja is a fantastic place to visit on a family vacation. This top destination offers endless amounts of adventure, delicious food, rare wildlife sightings, and plenty of opportunities to create long-lasting and special memories. The best part about vacationing in Baja is the unique opportunities that only it can present throughout the year. Choosing what time of year to visit Baja is one of the most important decisions to make when deciding to go there. It all depends on how your family wants to have fun! Baja is full of activities you can only do in Baja and also things you can find in other places, but they’ll be better in Baja.

Horseback Riding

a family on horseback vacationing in Baja

You can horseback ride in many places across the world and where you horseback ride adds a lot to the experience. Your kids will feel like real life cowboys and cowgirls. Baja is the place where desert sands and cacti dotted plains meets the beautiful blue hues of the Pacific Ocean. This is a great scene to share with your kids via horseback.

Kayaking

Another activity that can be done almost anywhere that there’s a body of water large enough, kayaking is always fun to incorporate into a family vacation. What makes kayaking so great in Baja is the Sea of Cortez (more on this a bit further down). The amount of marine life you’ll be surrounded by in the Sea of Cortez is remarkable, breathtaking, and truly memorable.

The Sea of Cortez

You can search the entire world and you won’t ever find an ecosystem like the Sea of Cortez. This UNESCO World Heritage Site has been explored by the likes of Steinbeck and Cousteau and for very good reason. Cousteau actually called the Sea of Cortez the “aquarium of the world” because of the vast amounts of endemic marine life that inhabits the waters.

Magdalena Bay

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During February, Baja becomes the best place in the world for whale watching. About 1/3 of the world’s whale species can be found in Baja. If whale watching will excite your children, and trust us it will, then Magdalena Bay is the place to go in the winter. This is where the gray whales migrate to for mating season. There are so many whales that it isn’t uncommon to see them jump out of the water or swim right up to your boat to say hello!

Todos Santos

This charming little town in Baja is a great place to spend time with your family. The cuisine is delicious, we love the tacos and ceviche, and the culture is uniquely artistic and wonderful. Every January Peter Buck of R.E.M hosts the Todos Santos Music Festival. The profits of the festival go towards the Palapa Society, a local children’s social benefit organization. There are several other festivals in the town also, a great trip to take with older kids that want a more cultural and mature vacation!



October 20, 2015

Top 4 Islands in Italy for a Family Vacation

Italy is a top destination in the world for people to travel to when going on a family vacation. For centuries Italy has played a major role in shaping the world from the Roman Empire to the Renaissance. With this history, many people dream of visiting famous Italian cities like Rome and Florence. Although beautiful, there is much more to Italy than the mainland. Italy has incredibly gorgeous islands just off of its shores and they make for great stops on a family vacation.

Capri

capri family vacation

One of the most picturesque islands in the region, glamorous Capri is a great place to visit. Not only will your camera get a full workload, but your family will also see some pretty amazing sites. On a walking tour you can visit old ruins, beautiful villas, and famous sites like the Natural Arch. Walk down to secluded beach caves and find a magical grotto. You can even take the opportunity to see the Blue Grotto!

Sicily

The largest of all the Italian Islands is Sicily. Sicily has its own distinct and proud culture from mainland Italy and it’s just as charming and wonderful! There are plenty of towns dotted around the coast to visit to make for a memorable trip. Catania is a quaint little town that visitors routinely fall in love with. The tallest active volcano in Italy (and all of Europe), Mount Etna, sits just on the border of Catania and more active families will love hiking up to the top!

Lipari

There is a set of islands off of Italy’s Western coast in the Tyrrhenian Sea. Of those, Lipari is the largest. Although it is the largest, the population of the island is just about 11,000 people. There are ruins across the island from the different periods of history when ownership of the island traded hands. This is a great island to relax on and visit the Archaeological Museum to learn about maritime history and volcanology, among other things.

Stromboli

stromboli (Ph. M. Tomasello2)

Not to be confused with the cylindrical pastry filled with cheeses, Italian meats, and vegetables, the Island Stromboli is filled with fun activities and adventure. The most exciting feature of Stromboli is the main volcano on the island, Mount Stromboli. The volcano has been in continuous eruption for 2,000 years which means your family will have a good chance to see a splash of lava spurt out of the top. Another exciting feature of the volcano is to hike out to Sciara del Fuoco to see two active streams of lava flows.

There isn’t a bad trip to be had when taking a family vacation in Italy, but you can make it a great one by getting out to these islands!



October 13, 2015

Four Incredible Things to See While on a China Family Vacation

China is an ever evolving country trying, and often succeeding, to stay ahead of the curve in design and innovation. Some of the places where this is most prominent are Beijing and Shanghai. These global cities are nothing short of imaginative and ambitious. But China is also a place filled with natural wonder and a deep and long history. It’s the natural and the historic that will capture your heart on your China family vacation!

Gumdrop Mountains

Gumdrop Mountains as seen from our China Family Vacations

This has routinely been called one of the most beautiful and picturesque places in the whole world. This is a bold claim, but the second you see the landscape of Yangshuo and the karst formations that make up the Gumdrop Mountains you’ll understand why. There are plenty of ways to see the mountains to get an exceptional view. We like to take float trips down the Yulong River and go for bike rides through the winding hills to see the mountains from every angle.

Terracotta Warriors

Well over 6,000 hand crafted clay warriors protect the tomb and afterlife of Qin Shi Huang, the First Emperor of the Qin Dynasty. The army was crafted in the late 3rd century BCE and discovered in the modern age by farmers in 1974. Archaeologists have determined that the tallest sculptures of the warriors were probably generals and that the smaller the figures got, the less important a role they played in the army. You can also see clay sculptures of horses, chariots, acrobats, and musicians. This display is fascinating and will definitely inspire your kids to ask questions about the Qin Dynasty!

Great Wall of China

Not much need to be said about this site. The Great Wall of China is one of the most recognizable and famous places in the world. Its popularity is no reason to pass it over if on a family vacation in China. The wall stretches thousands of miles and is the largest man made structure in the world. Standing on top of the wall can really put the size of things into perspective; you’ll realize how small people actually are!

Giant Pandas

see giant pandas on a china family vacation

Maybe the cutest and most cuddly things to see in China are the giant pandas. The giant panda is the rarest member of the bear family and is highly endangered. There are only an estimated 1,800 pandas left in the world and they are all in China. While visiting Chengdu, stopping in at the giant panda breeding center is a must. This is a safe and responsible way to see the beautiful animals up close and for great photo ops!

China is an incredible country with an endless amount of chances for adventure and excitement. This is without a doubt at great place to take your family on your next vacation!



October 9, 2015

What to See and Do on a Thailand Family Vacation

Thailand is a country that has gained a lot of popularity and press because it’s a beautiful country with amazing people and an incredible culture. With so much information on the internet about Thailand, how can you what to do when you get there? Don’t worry, we have you covered! There are a few things to keep an eye out for when traveling through Thailand on your family vacation.

Go to Islands

One thing that Thailand is known for is its islands. Thailand has some of the most beautiful islands in the world and they have a lot of them— Phang Nga Bay alone is home to 67! A few islands that we like, all in Phang Nga Bay, are Phuket, Koh Yao Noi, and Koh Yao Yai. One reason we like islands in Phang Nga Bay is because of their sheer beauty. The emerald and turquoise waters are mesmerizing, the soft white sand shores are pristine, and the tall limestone rock islands spotted throughout the bay are magical. It’s a site you won’t ever forget.

Explore Buddhism

alms with monks as seen on a Thailand family vacation

While you may know that many Thai people practice Buddhism, you may not know that 90% of the country is Buddhist. Buddhism plays a major role in the country and that can be seen in its architecture and its people. When traveling to Thailand it is important to get a feel and taste for Buddhism. One good way to do this is to visit temples all over the country from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. Another great way to get a feel for Buddhist culture is to offer alms to Buddhist monks. This experience is a great opportunity for you and your kids to have a unique cultural connection.

Meet Elephants

The elephant is the national animal of Thailand and there are great and responsible ways to interact with them while on vacation. Going to an elephant conservation farm is a great way to get up close to and meet one of these majestic creatures. You can have the chance to bathe elephants, play in the water with them, feed them, and learn all about Thai efforts to keep the animals safe from poaching. It’s also a great way to make a lifelong friend!

Do a Jungle Trek

thailand_tfa_eblast

Thailand has several jungle and mountain ranges that are perfect for the active family who loves to be outdoors and hiking! In the north, outside of Chiang Mai, is Doi Inthanon National Park. This park is home to Thailand’s highest peak and the jungle trek to the top is nothing short of stunning. The jungles in Phuket are just as exciting, especially after a visit to the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project!

Thailand is a country that is great to visit if you have older kids, but just as great for curious young ones too! This country has a little bit of everything to make for a fun, diverse, and exciting family vacation!



October 6, 2015

Five Great Reasons to go on a Family River Cruise

While river cruising isn’t the typical family vacation we’re used to here at Thomson Family Adventures, we have grown to love them. We made sure we picked the right operator to team up with and we’re happy that we chose Uniworld, the best family cruise operator out there! Since European river cruising is new to our family, here are five reasons why we find it so great.

uniworld family river cruise ship

 

All Inclusive

First, European river cruises with Uniworld are all inclusive. Everything is included from airport transfers and onboard entertainment to all onboard meals and unlimited drinks. There are also several choices for personalized excursions in every city that you stop in and options to take a bicycle to explore on your own. The entire experience is luxurious and relaxing.

See Several Cities/Countries on One Trip

uniworld's river cruise lounde

A feature we love about European river cruises is the multiple locations that you see during a short amount of time. The rivers you cruise down (like the Danube and the Rhine) pass along some of the most famous and well known cities in the world. You can see Budapest and Prague or Paris and Normandy all in one hassle free and relaxing trip. Many of these cruises offer the chance to see more than one country in a short span of days. That is truly some efficient travel!

No Need to Pack and Unpack as you Travel

Being able to see multiple countries and cities on one trip is great. What’s great about doing it on a river cruise? There is no packing and un-packing as you travel. You’ll have a space and a room throughout the entire trip. The ease of being able to lay out all of your clothes and belongings in one personal space takes a lot of pressure off of travel days.

Small Ship Size

One of our favorite features of Uniworld, and why we’ve decided to team up with them, is their small ship sizes. Small ships have several benefits to them.  First, and most importantly, small ships can go places that bigger ships can’t. This gives you the chance to see things and places that traditional ocean cruising can’t. Small ships also create a communal environment that larger ships can’t. With only 100-200 people on the ship it’s likely you’ll see the same families at meals and in the recreation areas. This is a great way for you and your kids to make new friends!

Different Point of View

family cruise ship

Maybe the most underrated part of a European river cruise is the point of view that you get. Many people have seen Vienna and Bucharest, but not from the water. Seeing Europe from the water is incredible. Skylines and cityscapes take on a bit of a different shape and personality from sea level. The photo opportunities are something you won’t want to miss!

Give us a call today and let us help you plan your family vacation on European river cruise!