This is a really big question!
The number of variables here that would affect the price of your trip would closely equal your odds for winning powerball. I appreciate that's not the answer you're looking for so let's try to break it down and try to come up with a reality based ballpark figure. The good news is you don't have to be a powerball winner to travel to Europe, you just need to plan wisely.
First of all "Europe" is a big place. Imagine asking the question "how much would it cost to see the U.S. in a week?" Hopefully you can see the need to narrow your focus. Understandably any European destination is far for Americans to travel and parents want to get the most bang for your vacation buck and see as much as humanly possible. It's a very exciting proposition to travel far and explore someplace you've never been but to plan a proper, quality itinerary that gives you the most value for your hard earned dollars it's often important to curb enthusiasm just a bit.
To help gain a bit more clarity, start by asking yourself "WHY do you want to take the kids to Europe?"...answers like "exploring our family's heritage", "my son loves castles, knights and dragons" "We've always dreamed of visiting Venice" or "letting our daughter practice her French" . Understanding the goal of this particular trip will help your focus.
it's also very important to understand when it comes to travel there is a big difference between "quantity" and "quality". Maybe a better way to explain this is to ask where you want to spend your time "traveling" vs. "Experiencing". Most people who want to visit numerous European cities in one or two weeks fail to calculate the amount of time it takes to simply travel from one city to another. Getting from your hotel to the train/plane, waiting for your departure, transit time, getting from the train/plan to your new hotel, checking in/managing luggage...almost an entire day can be lost just getting from one city to another.
For example there is a huge difference between a "drive by" tour of Paris from the seat of a bus compared to having time to stroll the streets and take in all the charms of this amazing city. Sure, you can brag to friends that "you've been there, done that". You have that family photo under the Eiffel Tower to prove it..but have you really experienced Paris or did you just travel there?
This has to do with both the time of year that you plan to travel and how far in advance you book your reservations. Low season in Europe is the first quarter of the year. So for most US families, President's week or Spring break will afford you the best rates. What we call "Shoulder" or inbetween rates are found second and fourth quarter of the year. High season, meaning the highest rate for flights, hotels and cruises happen during the summer months and December holidays. It's all about supply and demand my friend. When kids summer and school holidays are the most expensive times of the year to visit Europe.
Whenever possible, start making your plans about a year in advance. There will be a lot of decisions you'll need to make about your itinerary. Be ready financially to book your flights and make tour or hotel deposits about 9 months out. This will afford you the best availability and pricing.
Again, depending on the time of year your family travel's, coach class airfare from the east coast will vary between $700 per person if you're really lucky upwards of $2000 per person for summer procrastinators. West coast departures will run about $300-$500 more. Because you'll be in the air a minimum of 7 hours, many people, especially families traveling with seniors, may prefer to upgrade to business or first class. Business class offers extra leg room. First class comes with full services, lounges and even seats that convert it beds. Figure $3000 to $5000 per ticket here. If possible, use frequent flyer miles or credit card reward points to help ease the budget here. it's also important to know our Vacationkids travel advisors have access to flights not available to the general public. Many times our rates can save parents substantial airfare costs.
As illustrated with flights, there is a big price point between first class and coach flyers. Travel style affects more than just airline comfort.
If you're an intrepid traveler, a road warrior nomad, no doubt it will be easy for you to acclimate and live like a local. We can help you book an apartment, offer suggestions on day trips, help you navigate public transport to see the sights and do your own thing.
A trip overseas can be stressful for inexperienced travelers. If this is your family's first trip to Europe, no doubt you will require a bit more hand holding during your stay like a hotel with 24 hour staff, a local guide that speaks the language and more to insure you won't get lost.
No one wants to look forward to a fun vacation and end up frustrated. It's very important to give yourself a realty check about your travel styles. Compromises between couples and traveling partners may need to be made but it's important for everyone to have the right expectations during the planning stages of their trip so that they can look forward to and enjoy a memory vacation. The good news is our Vacationkids team are experts at helping step you through all of this.
Location, location, location
Again, this goes back to the idea of "traveling" vs "experiencing". If you're spending all this money to cross a ocean, is it really wise to save a few dollars by staying way outside the city and spend your precious vacation time commuting in the suburbs? Folks eyeball the bottom line price and fail to calculate the cost of travel time and commuting. Usually the cost savings are negligible. Calculate in the cost of your time and it's usually a loss....not to mention stress and frustration. Once again, spend money wisely for your own sanity sake and enjoyment.
Type of trip
There are a few different ways your family can experience Europe. Each of these different types of trips all come with their own price tag which is often based on the level of service you require...
Independent Trip - This can be described as a hotel or apartment stay. it can be in the city or on a farm in the country. Your room can be basic or extravagant depending your your vacation budget and needs. You're set up with a daily itinerary and sightseeing plan that you do on your own. Some of your day trips may be group day trips but generally you're on your own. Often this means navigating your way through public transport or driving your own vehicle. This makes your vacation is completely flexible. This type of trip is often preferable for families with younger children or required if their children who do not meet the age requirements of guided tours.
Guided or Escorted Tour - A tour guide meets you and "escorts" you for your entire trip. Guided European itineraries are very popular options for many families. Bear in mind you'll be vacationing with other people who are taking the same tour. Not all itineraries are created equally. Some tours may offer much more independent free time for exploring or additional guides for separate adult & kids activities.
Guided tours do come with age restrictions for children. Company requirements vary but generally children need to be older than 5 or 6 to participate. The reason for this is simply in place for the health and enjoyment of ALL passengers. Let's be real, do you really want to spend your long awaited tour of Rome on a bus with a screaming toddlers? No doubt the toddler would much rather be doing something else too. Often for the same price, private tours can be arranged for small groups of families and friends traveling together. In this situation, age restrictions for kids wouldn't apply.
The cost of having a professional guide is divided among the price everyone on the tour. Some people would argue that this makes for higher prices. Often people fail to appreciate that having the assistance and professional insight these tour guides offer really does enhance your vacation experience. In many cases, a detail that normally would go unrecognized leads to a fascinating discovery thanks to the narration and training of a tour guide. Often these extra cost of a tour is offset by the special contracts tour companies have thanks to the volume of passengers they bring to a particular attraction. Not only are the admission costs to "must see" attractions included at a much lower price but tour companies can "skip the lines". This may not seem like a big deal but consider if you'll ever get the 3 hours of your life back waiting in line to see David in Florence or the Queen's jewels at the tower of London.
Some folks would argue this type of vacation is too structured. Others would rave how they enjoy being participants on their own vacation being worry free from logistics. As mentioned above, this all depends on your family's travel experience, expectations and travel style.
The one word of caution I would offer with guided tours is the earlier warning of quality vs quantity. Guided tours that offer 7 cities in 10 days tend to be exhausting. Guided tours offer the best experience with limited geography...a focus on one or two major cities or perhaps one or two countries.
Cruises - Many of the greatest sights in Europe are on or close to water. Whether a Mediterranean cruise or an interior River Cruise, these are fantastic options for those who insist on covering a great deal of territory in a short amount of time. You'll get a taste of many different ports and take in many different cultures. It's a great overview to see what you like best in order to return for a more in depth vacation in the future.
Cruises offer an additional caveats for families traveling with younger children. All of the family friendly lines offer complimentary child care. This means mom and dad are free to experience the Acropolis in Athens without having to worry about their three year old climbing over a sky high pile of rocks. Cruise prices start at @ $100 USD per person per day and are also inclusive of all your meals. If you'll be traveling with teen age boys I do not have to remind you how much of a savings this will be for you.
Hopefully now you have a better understanding of why it's difficult to give one set answer this seemingly innocent question. If you're still feeling overwhelmed, it's probably a good idea that you've found us. Over the past 20 years our team has created thousands of amazing European vacations. While this may be a new adventure for your family, it's something we're very familiar with doing. We enjoy sharing all our tips, secrets and insights with our clients. So talk with our Vacationkids travel advisors and let us help create an amazing and memorable European adventure for your family.