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Family Holidays by Sarah McCulley

My guide to

Family Holidays

With many years of booking my own family holidays and countless adventures for clients, there's one thing I can guarantee - parents want their kids to be happy, then everyone has a fantastic time.

Family holidays are all about making memories and spending quality time together doing the things you love.

 

Whether this is thrilling theme parks, amazing wildlife encounters, tropical beach getaways or a secluded villa, I'll be able to recommend the best destinations that suit your requirements for that all important time away.

My mantra for travelling with kids is give it a go, you just never know!

My Three To See

Mexico

Mexico

Mexico is a perfect choice for families looking for adventure and paradise.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka

This beautiful island off the Southern tip of India is perfect for everyone.

California

California

California is so diverse, there's sure to be something the whole family will enjoy.

Mexico

Mexico

For families looking for adventure with the comfort of an all-inclusive resort, Mexico is a perfect choice, especially if it's your first time travelling long haul. With easy, direct flights from the UK taking around ten hours, a few films and a nap and you'll be arriving in paradise.

The Yucatan Peninsula is probably the best region for a family holiday in Mexico.

Spectacular Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza and Tulum are a fascinating introduction to past civilisations. Once the history box is ticked, water-based activities will be the highlight of your trip. Swim in underground caverns known as cenotes and take exhilarating waterfall showers. A visit to the Yucatan’s Xel-Ha Natural Park - with its water activities, zip-wires, caving and jungle hikes - is always a favourite for anyone visiting this area.

Seek out quieter stretches of paradise along the Caribbean coast where you can snorkel with dolphins or dive with turtles. For some of the best snorkelling and diving in the Caribbean, hop on the ferry to Isla Cozumel.

Although Mexico is a year-round destination, it's perfect for an Easter break - with warm days, comfortable nights, clear skies, and relatively low humidity. Water temperatures are warm in the ocean and comfortable in the cenotes. This is a great time to get in a good mix of activities, from ruins, to jungles, to beaches.

Cenotes in Mexico

There are so many hotels to choose from. Here are some of my top picks...

Grand Palladium - Costa Mujeres

Mexico

Grand Palladium - Costa Mujeres

For younger families, Family Selection Grand Palladium, Costa Mujeres is an ideal choice. Set on a private white beach just 30 minutes from Cancun, this large, village-style resort’s ethos is taking a holiday means you don't worry about a thing.

You'll have a family host to help you with anything you need during your stay and their unique 'Family Boss' programme puts the children at the centre of your holiday experience. Three kids clubs include a baby club (age 1-3), child friendly pools and an entertainment team providing fun and games throughout your stay. Lots of surprise extras for the little ones - I love the nightly turndown with milk and cookies.

If you've older children, there's an excellent choice of sporting activities and watersports, and the adults are definitely not forgotten either, with full access to the facilities and dining at TRS Coral, the adults-only section of the resort.

Family dining is easy with priority reservations in a choice of nine restaurants, four bars and a further six à la carte restaurants in TRS Coral; perfect for a romantic dinner under the stars.

Mexico

Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya - Hacienda

The whole family can holiday like rock stars - it’s all about living life large at this action-packed resort that brings the luxe factor to your family getaway. 

There are two lagoon-style pools with a splash park and waterslides, four adult-only pools and Rockaway Bay, a 23-slide waterpark with slides of all sizes, including six high speed slides for teenagers and adults.

 

Wrecktangle and Woodward is a 29,000 sq ft area offering a huge selection of sporting activities, from trampolines, a BMX park, gymnastic floor and indoor skate park, to a foam pit, cafe snack bar and DJ booth.

Teens are also in for a treat at the Cavern - a cool lounge complete with climbing wall, air hockey table, pool table, TV for movie screenings and selection of up-to-the-minute video and Xbox 360 games.

You'll be spoilt for choice with dining options from around world served in four à la carte restaurants offering Brazilian, Mexican, Italian and Japanese cuisine.

 

The Market provides a buffet selection for breakfast and dinner, and adults can dine in a further four restaurants in the Heaven adults-only section of the resort.

Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya - Hacienda
Tulum, Mexico

Mexico

Tulum

If you’re looking for something a little more low-key than Cancún and Playa del Carmen, then Tulum is laidback and cool, filled with fantastic restaurants, beautiful beaches and boutique hotels. Hire cycles for the best way to explore the town - with mainly flat roads, it's a fun, cheap and easy way to get around.

One of the best activities here for children is swimming in the cenotes. Meaning ‘natural well’ in Mayan, they are natural swimming holes formed by the collapse of porous limestone bedrock. Many of them opening up into vast subterranean worlds, filled with tunnels and lagoons and water so clear you can often see the bottom and the fish swimming among the plant life. Some of these cenotes are found in caves and others are open to the sky above. Either way, swimming in these pristine waters is quite a magical experience.

Akumal Bay is another top spot with kids, just 30 minutes up the coast from Tulum. Its sheltered bay is ideal for snorkelling and kayaking, and it's here you can swim with turtles either from the beach or with an organised boat trip. However you choose to see these wonderful creatures, please do so from a respectful distance and don't stand on the coral!

Tulum, Mexico

La Zebra Hotel Tulum

​La Zebra Hotel Tulum is a great family option with bright and airy suites all just steps from the beach. Choose from lush garden or stunning seaviews, and for the ultimate retreat, upgrade to a suite with your own private plunge pool.

 

This family-run hotel has a rustic, beach chic vibe with a vibrant dining room serving authentic Mexican cuisine and relaxing spa, that's if you can drag yourself out of your hammock...

La Zebra Hotel Tulum

Sri Lanka

This beautiful island off the Southern tip of India is perfect for everyone. Younger kids love the friendly locals, beaches, elephants and endless sunshine. For older children there are awe-inspiring temples and monuments, jaw dropping scenery, great street food, water sports and rugged outdoor activities.

Although a small island, there are only two highways, and with much of the interior covered by mountains and forests, getting around takes time, so a private car with driver is a must. It may sound extravagant but it's great value and essential when travelling with children.

Sri Lanka is a haven for wildlife and if you are travelling during the UK summer holidays be sure to visit Minneriya National Park for the annual elephant gathering. You'll see herds of up to 300 elephants making their way towards the Minneriya tank, a manmade water source essential for survival during the dry season.

 

Yala National Park in the south east is a hotspot for leopard sightings. Although not guaranteed, the dense population means they are a regular occurrence. With the opportunity to see elephants, wild boars, mongoose, crocodiles, spotted deer, crocodiles and lizards, a visit to Yala is a highlight for many visitors.

Sri Lanka Leopard
Sri Lanka
Cultural Triangle, Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka

A first stop for many is the Cultural Triangle...

This is where you'll find one of Sri Lanka's most iconic sights - Sigiriya - also known as Lion Rock.

 

This impressive sight is breathtaking from the ground and this only continues as you ascend to the palace ruins at the top - yes they built a palace up here! With over 1,200 steps, it's not an easy climb, so my advice is to take it slow and don't attempt it in the heat of the day. I recommend going in the evenings, as the main climb is shadier at this time of day and much quieter.

 

A less well known sight, but one my kids enjoyed more, is Pidurangala Rock. Although it's a more adventurous climb (less steps and more rock scrambling!), you are rewarded with the most spectacular views of Sigiriya and the endless views of the surrounding jungle.

Sri Lanka is famous for its tea, and taking a tea factory tour is really eye opening - there's a huge amount of work that goes into producing the humble cuppa!

 

The tea plantations make up some of the breathtaking scenery in the hill country and there's no better way to see this than sitting at the prestigious 'Insta' door spot on one of the local trains that meander across this part of the country. Choosing a shorter journey is better with kids as they are very slow, hot and you're not guaranteed a seat.

The perfect way to end your trip is of course at the beach and Sri Lanka has a fantastic choice so I can advise you on the best options for your family and the time of year you are travelling. The ocean can be rough at times, so many families choose to head to the Maldives, a short flight away where they can enjoy calmer waters and a super relaxing end to the holiday.

San Francisco, California

California

Often the hardest part of choosing a family holiday is keeping everyone happy, and California is so diverse, there's sure to be something the whole family will enjoy. It's the perfect choice to experience everything from world class theme parks, spectacular natural wonders, stunning beaches, shopping until you drop and to eat your way around the globe.

San Francisco is often a starting point for families as it's more laid back and less overwhelming than other US cities. To blow away the jetlag and see one of the city’s most iconic sights, hire a cycle and head over the Golden Gate Bridge. As you ride along a mostly flat bike path,  you’re completely away from traffic most of the time, so this ride is very safe and suitable for the whole family.

If you've got older children, then San Francisco's most famous sight, Alcatraz, has to be on your list. You'll need to pre-book well in advance and tickets include the 20-minute ferry and a self-guided audio tour.

Almost half the visitors to San Fran come here to eat! The city is known for its global cuisine which, in recent years, has taken to the streets in some of the USA's most popular food trucks. Sourdough has a big following here and if you love your baked goods, a visit to Bourdin or Tartine is an absolute must.

 

Chinatown is where fortune cookies were invented and you can visit the factory where 10,000 are made by hand every day. Love seafood? Then head to Fisherman’s Wharf and sample the famous clam chowder. The kids will love the resident sea lions but maybe not the smell!

California

California

Pacific Coast Highway

Take a few days to explore over 600 miles of this stunning coastline between San Francisco and San Diego. First stop is Monterey and Carmel, and the kids will love the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Cannery Row is home to shops and restaurants and if you're feeling energetic you can hire cycles or kayaks and paddle boards to explore the bay.

Further south for around 90 miles, you hit the most famous stretch of the route, Big Sur. Take your time here as there's plenty of places to pull over to admire the views or spot migrating whales.

Pismo Beach is a popular, relaxing spot to spend a couple of nights. The oceanfront boardwalk and stunning beaches are perfect for a sunset stroll and laid-back beach dining. During the day, maybe try your hand at fishing, horse riding or rent a 'dune buggy' in the nearby state park. The spacious family suites at the SeaCrest Oceanfront Hotel are a perfect place to recharge for your onward journey.

Of course, no one can go to California without visiting Los Angeles. First stop will no doubt be Disneyland and Universal Studios, and you'll need at least a day for each park. LA is notorious for traffic, so drop the car for a day and take a hop-on, hop-off bus tour - a stress-free way to see all the famous sights such as Rodeo Drive, Sunset Strip, Hollywood Walk of Fame, Beverly Hills and Santa Monica.

San Diego is another city easy with a family. Don't miss Balboa Park. In the heart of downtown this green space has 16 museums, 65 miles of trails and is home to the world famous San Diego Zoo with over 3,700 animals.

 

If you still need your theme park fix, head to the northern suburbs for Legoland California. With a great choice of beaches and year-round sunshine, San Diego makes a perfect end to your California family road trip.

10. Bixby Bridge - Pacific Coast Highway near Big Sur in California 1500.jpg
Yosemite National Park

California

Yosemite National Park

Famous for its plunging waterfalls and massive granite faces, this unparalleled parkland was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1984.

Yosemite National Park is home to thousands of waterfalls—from towering spectacles with a half-mile of cascading water, to tiny streams of white that drop only a few feet. Spring is the best time to experience these when the winter’s massive snowfall melts away and heads toward the Pacific Ocean. El Capitan, the park's most iconic rock, towers over 3,590 feet skyward. An impressive sight, this can be seen year-round with the view constantly changing with the seasons.

There's so much to do in Yosemite, from taking an easy guided tram tour, to cycling and hiking the trails. It's even a great winter destination with skiing, snowboarding and ice skating. Be sure to book early if you want to stay in the park, but there are many options available in the surrounding towns and villages.

Tenaya Lodge is great for families, just two miles from the south gate so you can maximise your time here. The new Explorer Cabins offer two bedrooms with private decks and views of a creek and alpine meadows. Quiet and peaceful but just ten minutes’ walk from the main lodge, so you can easily use all the resort facilities.

California

Sequoia National Park

Yosemite is home to three sequoia groves but to see these vast, ancient trees at their best, a trip here is an absolute must. Earth's largest living thing, their massive, cinnamon-hued trunks and stout limbs soar skyward only here, on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada range, between 5,000 and 8,200 feet.

Kings Canyon is the adjacent park, named for the deepest canyon in North America, surpassing even the Grand Canyon. If you prefer to avoid the crowds at Yosemite then add these awe-inspiring parks to your list.

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