Bucket list holidays your family will never forget
Light up in Lapland
Forget fireworks. When it comes to the greatest sky show on earth, you need the Northern Lights. Any foray to the top of the world to see this natural wonder ticks every child’s blockbuster boxes: it’s Santa meets Queen Elsa in a landscape straight from fairytales. For grown-ups, we’re talking visual indulgence, ethereal luxury – and saunas and vodka to wash it all down. Swedish Lapland is one of the best vantage points for the lights; on clear nights between October and March, the sky in this remote and pristine region can be bathed in green, blue, red and purple. The isolated village Jukkasjärvi, 200 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle, also contains a manmade marvel: Icehotel, a structure so stunning you’ll want to twirl around singing Let it Go beneath the ice crystal chandeliers and through its hand-carved, artist-conceived sub-zero suites. Icehotel is an enchanting base from which to sample an array of memory-making experiences: husky and reindeer sledding, moose-spotting on horseback, snowmobile trips, ice sculpting and of course the wondrous lights themselves.
Encounter the Big Five on safari
Once they’ve witnessed some of the planet’s most magnificent beasts roaming wild in their natural habitat, your children will never settle for a zoo again. Today’s African safaris are all geared up for younger explorers, with luxury lodges and glamping as well as rangers who tailor the experience to younger sensibilities, providing safe, luxe environments where you can go at your own pace. To maximise your encounters with lion, buffalo, leopard, elephant and rhino consider Tanzania’s vast and majestic Serengeti, where 1.5 million wildebeest and some 250,000 zebra annually migrate through and a 3,000-plus lion population. In Botswana’s Okavango Delta and Chobe National Park you can witness the mass migration of zebras to the region’s waterholes and in Kenya, the wildlife comes right into your room in Nairobi’s Giraffe Manor, a luxury lodge with resident giraffes who delight all ages by poking their heads in through the windows of the stately building.
Wish upon a star with Disney
When it comes to captivating children, nobody does it better than Disney – but the entertainment empire casts its irresistible spell upon even the most reluctant visitor. Whether in a theme park, resort or cruise ship operated by the Empire with the Ears, I’ve seen grumpy grandpas, belligerent teens and tantrum-prone toddlers all coaxed into that unmistakable full-face smile that’s as much a Disney hallmark as Mickey himself. The secret’s in the detail. ‘Imagineers’ painstakingly conceive every centimetre of a Disney property with two essentials in mind: your comfort, and the story. The result combines meticulous luxury – think spas where every surface you touch has been calibrated to soothe, and rooms where everything’s within easy reach– and layers of atmosphere. At Hawaii’s gorgeous Aulanai: a Disney Resort and Spa, for example, you can while away an afternoon just soaking up the Hawaiian art and mythology woven into the building and grounds, while your little ones are immersed in a world they already know and love. Disney theme parks are a miracle of efficiency and showbiz, and the best part is that every outpost, from Paris to Beijing, California to Japan, adheres to the same standards. For the very tiny, Disneyland Hong Kong is compact and accessible, while Walt Disney World’s beautiful Grand Floridian Hotel in Orlando is a dramatic backdrop for no less than six theme and water parks.
See Eloise’s New York
Both adults and kids the world over have adored Kay Thompson’s famous 1950s tales of Eloise, the little girl who lived in a room at the ‘tippytop’ of New York’s legendary Plaza Hotel. Today you can luxuriate in the Plaza’s Eloise Suite, a delightful confection of pink, black and white created by fashion designer Betsey Johnson, with Eloise’s toys and dolls in residence. Parents may decide to stay next door in the splendid Nanny Suite, where Louis XV–style furniture, a wet bar and bathroom with 24-karat-gold-plated fixtures add adult opulence. The Plaza has several Eloise-themed attractions including tea-time in the Palm Court, but wherever you roam in this grand building you’ll encounter stories and famous sights; the hotel has co-starred in movies with Cary Grant, Robert Redford, Woody Allen and Leonardo Di Caprio, and has welcomed just about every celebrity who’s set foot in NYC since its doors first opened 110 years ago.
Gaze at the Galapagos
The Galapagos Islands, off the coast of Ecuador, are a unique utopia. Thanks to a lack of natural predators on the Pacific archipelago you can see sea lions, giant tortoises, iguanas and blue-footed boobies peacefully coexisting. It’s the only place on earth where wild animals live without fear of man, and visitors are frequently moved to tears by the experience of gazing into the wise eyes of a 100-year-old giant tortoise or seeing a curious young penguin waddle right up to them with no reason to run. Choose a small luxury cruise for the best experience. The Charles Darwin Research Institute and incredible nature walks around volcanoes will add precious moments to an unforgettable adventure.
Camp in the Sahara
The vast Sahara Desert sounds like every parent’s dream: endless space for the kids to run and shout. But a trip into the earth’s largest hot desert is extraordinary in every way. Enter it via Morocco’s exotic, intoxicating Marrakesh and you’re in an Indiana Jones movie with snake charmers, kasbahs, bazaars and acrobats, then as you move out into the desert you’re in the landscape from the movie Gladiator, with surreal amber dunes, fortresses and Berber villages. A camel trek into the remote plains takes you into Laurence of Arabia territory with endless horizons and a tent under the stars. Although it may forever spoil your kids for the beach, you’ll be talking about this odyssey forever.