Little people can be the harshest critics of travel. They are easily bored by museums and religious architecture. Transport is never fast enough for them. And yet they are also easily pleased by hotel breakfast fare, and endlessly amused by animals and ghoulish history. Here are ten options to consider for your next family vacation.
Wildlife Safari, Africa
Africa’s animal kingdom is the benchmark of wildlife. Seeing an elephant, giraffe or big cat in its own environment is a wild experience for children (and adults). Kid-friendly safaris, which provide a separate vehicle for the family, bring the Lion King and Jungle Book to life. And the dung beetle’s perpetual pursuit of pooh can provide hours of humorous musing. It’s worth remembering that Africa’s mozzies and heat can turn your angels into animals – of the grizzly variety.
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Every day in this colossal country is a sensory overload, with cows wandering the tiny twisted streets and swirls of cartoon-coloured saris. Travelling children are lavished with attention – like or it or not. Families love the Taj Mahal: its shiny white marble floors make a great skidding surface for shoeless feet (a requirement upon entering). And the intricately carved buildings clinging to the edge of the Great Thar Desert look like giant sand castles from atop a camel.
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Over 35 million little coloured bricks were painstakingly snapped together to build a little London Bridge, London Eye and other familiar sights at Miniland in Windsor’s Legoland. Look out for traffic, which consists of Lego cars, boats and a balloon that kids can drive. My Town harbour and lighthouse is the domain of Johnny Thunder who fends off crocodiles, snakes and dragons – all in a day’s work for a Lego action man. Legolands around the world can be found in Carlsbad (California, USA), Günzburg (Germany) and Billund (Denmark).
Disney Resort, Japan
This purpose-built Tokyo theme park has ‘suburbs’ such as Critter Country, Western Land, Toon Town and Tomorrow Land, with celebrity residents such as Goofy, Donald, Minnie and Mickey. Disbelief is easily suspended when you’re hanging from a giant blowfish gondola or sitting in a swirling kelp cup surrounded by mermaids. And this self-contained land has loads of restaurants, shops and accommodation so you can make believe for days on end.
Sentosa Island, Singapore
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Travelling to this themepark island by cable car should curb any arewe- there-yets. Though the promise of seeing pink dolphins in the Underwater World Dolphin Lagoon makes the trip about more than just the journey. Also in the water park is an enormous see-through tunnel; enter it to be surrounded by giant gropers, brown stingrays and sharks. Visit the butterfly park with thousands of pairs of coloured blinking wings, or play in a giant sand pit on the island’s imported sand beach.
Universal Studios, USA
Kids can cast themselves in a blockbuster at the world’s largest movie studio and theme park in Hollywood. Metaphorically carpeted red, wandering characters like Spiderman, Shrek and Donkey happily pose for photos. Stunt shows and a special-effects stage take visitors behind the scenes, and there are movie-themed rides and games aimed squarely at starry-eyed kids.
Madame Tussaud's, England
Life-size likenesses of monsters, megastars, presidents and sporty sorts made from wax have a larger-than-life wow factor for children. Cosy up to Kylie without being slapped away by bodyguards or get the scoop on Spiderman firsthand. Kiddies can also mix it up with the adults by taking Air Guitar Star lessons, where they learn to scissor jump and wheel their arms with abandon. Nowhere near London? Tussaud’s wax museums are also located in New York (USA), Las Vegas (Nevada, USA), Amsterdam (the Netherlands) and Hong Kong.
Mayan Ruins, Mexico
Image by archer10 (Dennis)
The Maya’s monumental ceremonial spaces make it easy to imagine gods of fire and water, as well as the dirt-eating goddess worshipped by this ancient civilisation. These hidden cities, often anatomically aligned, provide rare opportunities to clamber in the shadows of pyramids. It’s also possible to stumble upon sacrificial altars and Days of the Dead celebrations – when the dead return from the Netherworld to reunite with their relations on earth. Mythical Mayan sites are also located in Guatemala and Belize.
San Diego Zoo, USA
This famous zoo in San Diego has an enlightened management approach – re-creating an animal’s natural habitat as much as possible. Meet Miss Houdini the spectacled bear, so named for escaping from her enclosure as a cub. And 100-year-old Galápagos tortoises who eat fruit. Zoo programmes especially for kids include games and recipes, such as for Flamingo Fruit: watermelon, strawberries, pink grapefruit and sherbet – which must be eaten while standing on one leg.
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The hula capital of the world, Oahu is a kid magnet, with a huge range of purpose-built attractions, as well as some natural wonders. If you can get them out of the grass skirts and into some pint-sized hibiscusprint boardshorts there are surfing lessons on offer, or horse rides for land lovers. You could lose them for hours in the colossal pineapple garden maze or water theme park, and teach them some Polynesian life lessons at the cultural centre, with child-friendly programmes.
See more family-friendly destinations.