Whenever hard working parent plan a vacation, they want to be certain they are getting the best vacation possible for every penny they spend. Often from the outside looking in, people think vacation planning is an easy DIY project that if they invest the work, they will save some coin. This is especially true when deciding to hire a tour guide.
Before I worked in the travel business, I’d research our family vacation for months – hoping to uncover the places that locals loved. I would crowdsource vacation ideas and try to connect with locals that could offer up some secret intel.
I’ll be honest with you, back then I was on a very tight budget and was trying to scrimp every penny so that my family could take a vacation. I didn’t see the value of hiring a guide or working with a destination specialist. I was convinced I could do it all on my own - without the help of a trained professional.
I was a single mom with 3 kids at the time. The first trip where I acted as a tour guide was our summer road trip to New England. It began as a disaster on several levels.
With the best of intentions, I was trying to prepare my kids for their American history classes the following September. I tried cramming my U.S. history facts into their sweet little brains with engaging car conversations that fell upon deaf ears accompanied by sarcastic eye rolls. The Freedom Trail in Boston instantly deteriorated into a bickering fest that was only interrupted by the trauma of a pigeon pooping on the head of my youngest. By day two of our 7 day historical odyssey, I was out numbered, overwhelmed and exhausted. This wasn't fun for any of us.
As a parent, it's hard enough to get your kids to listen to you on any given day so why did I think they would want to listen to me playing tour guide?
By day 3 I surrendered and bought us guided tour tickets in Salem, Massachusetts. I really didn't want to spend the money but I was defeated. To everyone's delight, our guide was incredible! He walked us through town, told us stories about folks buried in the cemetery and pointed out fascinating facts in the witch museum that would have otherwise gone unnoticed. He took us to Nathaniel Hawthorne's "House of the Seven Gables" and showed us hidden bookcases and rooms where people hid during the witch trials. My kids were so engaged, hanging on his every word.
My kids loved listening to him and guess what? They didn't have to listen to me for a couple of hours. Instantly I became a participant in my own vacation. I could relax and enjoy my kids learning what I had intended from the very beginning. They could enjoy me having fun with them!
I immediately booked us into guided tours for our next three stops of Plimoth Plantation, Martha's Vineyard and a mansion tours of Newport, Rhode Island. I spent more than I had originally budgeted for this vacation but the result was the vacation that far exceeded what I had originally envisioned.
As our children grow up, we delight in taking them for big and little trips - whether it's a weekend at the shore, a week at the mountains, or big family trip to a theme park. When children get to middle and high school, planning family vacation becomes much more difficult - extra curricular activities, sports, dating, after school jobs and teenage angst all create hurdles to enjoying family time longer than dinner together on Sunday evening.
Your family is on the search for a warm and wonderful vacation spot. You've visited the Caribbean before and loved it. Mexico...been there and done that. You're craving a new adventure but don't want to spend hours on a plane or drain your bank account.
Back in 2001 I had one of my first travel agency meeting with one of the national sales directors for Royal Caribbean Cruise lines. She mentioned that she had visited almost all of the 250 ports that her ships call upon. Of course my natural next question was..."So which port of call was your absolute favorite?" Her answer was immediate, enthusiastic and a bit surprising..."Dubrovnik, Croatia!"
With an experienced recommendation like that, Dubrovnik was immediately put high atop my own personal "to-do" list.
Thankfully interest in families visiting Croatia has been gaining more popularity recently thanks to a little TV show called "Game of Thrones". A stroll around the walled city of Dubrovnik will reveal many familiar film scenes fans of the show will recognize as "King's Landing".
Dubrovnik is actually located in southern Croatia along the Dalmatian Coast. The Adriatic seas provides some spectacular beaches to enjoy. Here your family will swim in crystal clear aquamarine waters. The coastline is spotted with 1000 islands, one more beautiful than the next. In addition the Biokovo mountain range is just a few miles from the sea providing the backdrop for spectacular scenery.
Besides glorious beaches, mountain trails and island hopping, adventurers will love exploring the 8 national parks. Plitvice National park with its waterfalls is one of 10 UNESCO World Heritage sights found in Croatia. It's no wonder Hollywood loves filming the history and beauty here. Foodies may be surprised by the farm to table freshness of the food here, not to mention the wines and coffee.
Croatia is very family friendly. Because it's so popular with European families, there are many easy flight connections to Croatian airports from most major European airport hubs.
So what are the best vacation options for American families?...it all depends on what is best for your children's ages and the particular wants, needs and wishes of your family....
Family Cruises to Croatia
Most of the major family friendly cruise lines offer cruises that visit ports in Croatia and other stops along the Dalmatian coast. Many leave from Venice, Italy and go on to visit Greek ports of call too. A family cruise means your family unpacks once and your cruise ship conveniently sails at night while you're asleep. It's a great option for families with younger kids or for larger families of all different ages traveling together.
Family All Inclusive Resorts in Croatia
American families are familiar with all inclusive resorts in the Caribbean and Mexico. Did you know that Croatia offers plenty of family friendly all inclusive resorts in their most popular tourist areas? This means all of your family's food, drinks, daily activities and even kids camps are included in the price of your hotel room. Just like in the Caribbean, resort options run the gamut from actual kid-themed hotel rooms to luxury accommodations. Of course local sightseeing to "must see" sights can be arranged as additional day trips.
Guided Family Tours of Croatia
For families with older children who enjoy a more active style vacation this is a great choice. You'll have a professional guide that will be with you every step of the way. Your guide enhances your experience by pointing out local history, cultural points of interest and facts you may not know. In addition, having a guide takes worry off the shoulder of parents so they can enjoy their own vacation. Generally these tours offer activities like hiking, biking and kayaking. Pricing usually includes the services of your guide, hotels certain meals, activities and sightseeing. Escorted tours likes this usually come minimum age requirement so again, guided tours are a good fit for families with school age children, tweens and teens.
Private Guided Tours and Ship Charters
This is a great choice for groups traveling together. Private land tours can be arranged and organized so that you can do and visit the exact places you want to go. You'll have a private tour guide just for your group. If budget is not an issue then no worries. Private tours generally become comparable in price to regular tours when there is a minimum of around 10 people traveling together (but every company is different). With a private guided tour there is no age limit for children. This is a wonderful experience for when Grandparents, Parents and Grandchildren want to create family memories together.
Croatia offers so many islands and gorgeous beaches to explore. Private, small ship charters can also be arranged for families and friends traveling together. This is a really fun option for families who love to explore and love the water. Pricing is determined by the size of the ship and the size of the group. It's recommended to make your plans far in advance, especially for popular family travel times and school holidays.
Private Villas Rentals
Another great option, especially for families and friends who like to vacation together. Not only are city apartment stays available, Croatia offers many small private island rentals. This is a wonderful options for traveling families looking for fun, sun and plenty of togetherness.
Remember, your travel agent can help you combine options to create the perfect vacation experience for your family. Perhaps it's a short cruise combined with an all inclusive resort stay? Maybe it's a guided tour followed by an apartment city stay for a few extra days? There are so many great vacation options to choose!
Over the years, Vacationkids has built our list of contacts in Croatia. Whether you're headed to Dubrovnik, Zagreb, Split or a private island paradise, we look forward to helping your family discover one of the most beautiful and fascinating spots on the planet.
EDITED Jan 2023- Taking the family to Europe is the dream of many parents. Of course, when you’re talking about a family vacation, budget is always a top consideration.
Parents googling this question are trying to plan and budget. You’re looking for a “ball park” to see if a trip to Europe is affordable for your family.
An International family vacation is the dream of many parents. If you're trolling the internet searching for the "Best" international vacation spots for kids or the "Top" international destinations for families let me help you out. There is no one BEST international family vacation spot. There is no "one size fits all" family vacation overseas. What you're really searching for is the best vacation for YOUR family. You're looking for an international vacation experience that meets your family's specific wish lists and needs.
Updated June 2019
A family tour vacation is known by several different names. Travel agents call these types of vacations guided or escorted tours that are especially designed for families. Your family will be traveling along in the company of other families while a tour guide takes care of every detail along the way. Family tours come in every size, shape and flavor imaginable...your family can dogsled through the Alaska Wilderness, ride a gondola in Venice, Get up close and personal with a Kangaroo or enjoy an African Safari together.