Excited Family Reaching Countryside Destination On Road Trip (Photo: Shutterstock)
Photo: Shutterstock

10 Bucket-List Family Vacation Ideas for After the Pandemic

Sometimes it takes a pandemic to make you realize which family vacation ideas are really at the top of your bucket list. Now that we can’t travel as freely as we used to because of COVID-19, you might be finding yourself daydreaming more than ever about where you want to take the kids when the world reopens. If so, you’re not alone. Surveys show that when travel resumes, people are more likely than ever to invest in all-inclusive family vacations and other big-ticket experiences. 

Bucket-List Family Vacation Ideas for 2021

First, let’s be honest: You’re probably not crossing off any of the best family vacation destinations from your travel bucket list in early 2021. You won’t be enjoying all-inclusive family vacations or splashing in the best cruise ship water parks in the very near future. For now, the best family vacations are going to be more focused on simple pleasures like road trips and backyard staycations

But in a few months? Once enough people get the vaccine, the sky will be the limit for family vacation ideas. And most of the world’s top family vacation spots and tour operators are already looking ahead to later in 2021, too. So, here are the best family vacation packages and ideas to help fuel your travel dreams until the pandemic is finally over.

Take a Family Riverboat Cruise on the Rhine

Bike along Rhine-Moselle, Germany (Photo: Tauk River Cruises)
Photo: Tauk River Cruises

One of the best family vacations you can ever give your kids is a journey through Europe by river boat, especially when it’s an all-inclusive family vacation geared toward kids with virtually every expense included in the up-front cost. That’s exactly what you get with the Castles on the Rhine: Family Riverboat Adventure from Tauck, whose family vacation packages include private shore excursions, all gratuities, port charges, and hotels (when staying on land). 

Beginning in Amsterdam and visiting the cities of Basel, Lucerne, Koblenz, Cologne, and Strasburg, Tauck’s eight-day European river cruise gets you on shore each day for family travel experiences like cycling along the Rhine riverside, sampling fondue in Switzerland, riding the world’s steepest cogwheel train in the Swiss Alps, exploring the medieval hilltop ruins of Heidelberg Castle, and enjoying a private dinner and tour at the historic moated castle of Burg Satzvey. On the river, there’s a “Carnival night” and “French for a Day” themed activities.

These all-inclusive family vacation packages start at $4,590 per person and depart on select dates in June and July 2021. 

Celebrate Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary

Walt Disney World Resort (Photo: Disney)
Photo: Disney

Walt Disney World in Orlando is one of the best family vacation destinations in the U.S., and there might never be a more exciting time to visit Disney than in 2021. The park will celebrate its 50th anniversary with major renovations and new rides at Epcot, including the Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind roller coaster, and Journey of Water, a water ride based on the animated film Moana. A totally reimagined Spaceship Earth will also be unveiled in 2021, as will the new Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure featuring everyone’s second-favorite Disney rodent. (Mickey is still number one, obviously.)

Over at Disney’s Magic Kingdom, the new Tron Lightcycle Power Run will debut in 2021. The semi-enclosed roller coaster, which previously made its debut at Shanghai Disneyland, features the two-wheeled lightcycles made famous in the Tron movies. And, the much anticipated Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway roller coaster will make its debut over at Hollywood Studios in early March. 

Book a stay at one of the Disney resorts for Extra Magic Hours and 60-day advance FastPass+ booking privileges to get in ahead of the crowds. Our favorite Disney hotel is Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort is also extremely family-friendly and comes with a (slightly) more modest price tag. 

Relax on a Family Beach Vacation on Hawaii’s Big Island

Young woman relaxing at spa pool. (Photo: Shutterstock)
Photo: Shutterstock

Hawaii is always one of the best family vacation destinations in the world, but booking a stay at the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai is a next-level family vacation idea for kids and parents alike. Ringed by glorious white-sand beaches and a rocky black lava landscape on the Big Island, this family-friendly resort has seven swimming pools, an incredible kids’ club, and a teen-only lounge for when your surly teen has had enough of you (or vice versa). Through March 30, 2021, you can save 20 percent off the regular room rate if you book a stay at least 60 days in advance. 

For families interested in snorkeling, the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai is a perfect place to learn from an expert at the resort’s 1.8 million-gallon lava-rock aquarium that’s stocked with more than 4,000 tropical fish. At the Ka’upulehu Cultural Center, kids and adults can learn everything from traditional star navigation to playing the ukulele. When you’re ready to leave the resort behind, head to the island’s many beaches for more swimming and snorkeling, take in a whale watch, or spend the day watching the lava flow at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Looking for fully all-inclusive family vacations on the Hawaiian islands? Check out the family vacation packages offered by Travaasa Hana on Maui, Royal Lahaina Resort on Maui, Royal Kona Resort on the Big Island, and Aulani, A Disney Resort and Spa, on Oahu. 

Explore the Mysteries of Egypt with Adventures by Disney

Egypt pyramids and camels (Photo: Shutterstock)
Photo: Shutterstock

Family vacations don’t get any better than an overseas trip with Adventures by Disney, the small-group tour operator known for its authentic experiences, attentive guides, and the kinds of kid-friendly activities you’ve come to expect from all things Disney. And family vacation ideas don’t get any more big-ticket than Adventures by Disney’s 10-day Egypt vacation.

Imagine exploring the world-famous Valley of Kings, standing in awe before the Great Pyramid at Giza, visiting the Temple of Isis at Philae, snorkeling in the Red Sea, sailing the Nile on a felucca, shopping at a 700-year-old night market, and learning to cook traditional Egyptian dishes in a chef-led class. Now imagine it all without any of the hassles or hangups (or whining) you might expect on even the best family vacations. That’s part of the magic of traveling with Adventures by Disney. 

In 2021, the Egypt family vacation packages run weekly from June 1 through August 5; the last departure is July 27. This is a true bucket-list family vacation with a price tag to match: Adults rates are $10,199 per person and children cost $9,689. 

Discover Paris and Normandy with National Geographic and G Adventures

Panoramic view of famous Le Mont Saint-Michel tidal island in beautiful twilight during blue hour at dusk, Normandy, northern France (Photo: Shutterstock)
Photo: Shutterstock

Cross Paris and Normandy off your family vacation ideas bucket list with the nine-day France Family Journey small-group tour from G Adventures and National Geographic. Tailored to families looking for unique bonding experiences, this kid-friendly trip takes in the history, art, and culture of France with visits to iconic monuments in Paris, cave dwellings in the Loire Valley, the gardens of Versailles, and the UNESCO World Heritage site of Mont-Saint-Michel. Plus, you’ll learn about World War II  history and get an in-depth look at D-Day where it happened on the beaches of Normandy.

National Geographic Family Journeys from G Adventures are a new kind of trip meant to bring families together on active vacations in some of the most impressive family vacation spots in the world. Each family vacation package is designed with kids as young as seven years old in mind, and each itinerary is infused with National Geographic’s unique sense of appreciation for storytelling, wildlife, culture, and history. 

Other National Geographic Family Journeys from G Adventures include bucket-list family vacation destinations like Iceland, Japan, South Africa, Peru, Costa Rica, Morocco, and Vietnam. In the U.S., family vacation spots include Yellowstone and Alaska. 

Enjoy a Taste of Thailand with Intrepid Travel

Famous floating market in Thailand, Damnoen Saduak floating market, tourists visiting by boat, Ratchaburi, Thailand. (Photo: Shutterstock)
Photo: Shutterstock

If a long-tail boat trip through the canals of Bangkok sounds a great start to your family trip, the Thailand Family Holiday from Intrepid Travel might be the perfect family vacation idea for you. On this 12-day kid-friendly family vacation package, you’ll discover the markets of Bangkok, visit rescued elephants at a nature park, explore the history and ruins of Ayutthaya, and see up close how others live on an overnight homestay with a local family. 

One of the best parts of small-group travel on a family-focused trip like this is traveling with other families. With Intrepid, the typical group size is about 10 people made up of three to five families (defined as any group with at least one child under the age of 18). Often the kids will form their own groups during a trip, giving parents a chance to rest or socialize, too. 

Intrepid’s Thailand Family Holiday runs on select dates in April, June, July, August, September, and December 2021. Prices start at $1,670 per person. The minimum age for children is five years old, and there’s a 10 percent discount for children 17 years and under. A more active version of this family trip in Thailand (think trekking and kayaking) is available for families with teenagers; it starts at $1,370 for 2021 family vacations. 

Experience the Wonder of Alaska with Disney Cruise Line

Alaska Fjord (Photo: Matt Stroshane, Disney Cruise Line)
Photo: Matt Stroshane, Disney Cruise Line

Any cruise with Disney Cruise Line is automatically one of the best family vacations you’ll ever take, but when it’s a cruise is to Alaska—hands down one of the best family vacation destinations in the U.S.—you’re creating a true bucket-list experience the whole family will treasure. 

Sailing on the Disney Wonder, the five-, seven-, or nine-day Alaska voyages begin and end in Vancouver, British Columbia. Ports of call include Juneau, Alaska; Ketchikan, Alaska; Sitka, Alaska; and Victoria, British Columbia. Kid-friendly port excursions like dog sledding and panning for gold make this an especially great family vacation idea. Wildlife sightings on land and sea are common as well. 

The recently enhanced Disney Wonder is one of the best cruise ships for families with younger kids and typically our top recommendation for first-time cruisers. With a capacity of 2,400 passengers and 875 staterooms, it’s one of the smaller ships in the Disney fleet, yet still big enough to offer seemingly endless onboard entertainment options. 

In 2021, Disney’s Alaska cruises depart on select dates between May and September. Inside staterooms start at $3,128 per person. 

Go Hut-to-Hut Hiking in Glacier National Park 

Granite Park Chalet in Glacier National Park, Montana (Photo: Jeff Compton, Glacier Guides)
Photo: Glacier Guides and Montana Raft

One of the best-kept secrets of America’s national park system is the hut-to-hike hiking in Montana’s Glacier National Park. Consisting of two dramatic backcountry lodges, Sperry Chalet near Lake McDonald and Granite Park Chalet near Swiftcurrent Pass, hut-to-hut hiking offers family-friendly amenities like hot meals and comfortable beds without the need to carry heavy overnight gear like tents or sleeping bags on your day hikes. And in terms of spectacular mountain views, it rivals the Swiss Alps for sheer natural beauty. 

Licensed tour operator Glacier Guides offers three- to six-day hut-to-hut hikes through Glacier National Park that are geared toward families with kids ages 10 and up. For outdoorsy families looking for a significant upgrade from tent camping, this hut-to-hut experience is one of the best family vacation ideas for 2021. Glacier Guides’ backcountry family vacation packages range from $1,290 per person for a three-day Granite Chalet trek to $3,137 for a six-day hut-to-hut adventure that includes horseback riding and an optional half-day whitewater rafting trip. (These are 2020 prices; rates and dates for 2021 have not been announced yet, but will likely be in the same ballpark and available on select dates in July and August.) 

You can also book accommodations directly with the chalets on your own without a guided trip for significantly less if you’re looking for a more independent family vacation. 

Go All-Inclusive at a Caribbean Resort and Water Park

Coconut Bay Beach Resort & Spa, Saint Lucia (Photo: Coconut Bay Beach Resort)
Photo: Coconut Bay Beach Resort & Spa

If we’re being honest, the idea of a relaxing all-inclusive resort is sounding especially good right about now. If it’s one of your top post-pandemic family vacation ideas as well, then it might be time to familiarize yourself with St. Lucia’s Coconut Bay Beach Resort & Spa, our top pick for all-inclusive family vacations in 2021. 

Home to Splash Waterpark, St. Lucia’s largest water park with two giant water slides and a lazy river, there’s no shortage of fun in the sun for kids at this Caribbean resort. But what makes it truly special, particularly for a multigenerational family vacation with grandparents, are the separate family (“Splash”) and adults-only (“Harmony”) accommodations areas and pools. And when you get tired of swimming at any of the five resort pools (two for adults only), there’s an on-site paintball facility, a kitesurfing and windsurfing center, a kids’ club, nine restaurants, and seven bars. The all-inclusive resort features 85 oceanfront acres, including a mile-long private beach.

Coconut Bay Beach Resort & Spa is currently offering discounts of up to 60 percent on 2021 all-inclusive vacations when you book in advance. Rates start at $176 per person per night based on double occupancy for stays of five nights or more when you travel between April 5 and December 20, 2021. The price includes airport transfers from Hewanorra International Airport and all government taxes and gratuities. Kids under three stay for free, while kids ages three to 17 are just $59 per night. Bookings for a future stay made directly with the resort between now and August 31, 2020, can be changed or cancelled at no charge. 

Uncover the Secrets of the Incas at Machu Picchu with Austin Adventures

Machu Picchu is one of the best once-in-a-lifetime family vacation ideas (Photo: Willian Justen on Unsplash)
Photo: Willian Justen on Unsplash

It doesn’t matter how many pictures you’ve seen of it before you arrive. Nothing in the world can prepare you for the moment you first glimpse Machu Picchu in real life. This is real bucket-list material and the ultimate in family vacation ideas for a big-ticket, once-in-a-lifetime trip that your kids will never forget.

And if you’re going to do it, do it right. Austin Adventures’ nine-day Machu Picchu family adventure goes light on the physical exertion (there’s no high-altitude trekking) and all-in on the cultural immersion, with private guided tours of ancient ruins, chocolate making classes, local market shopping, and class II and III whitewater rafting on a trip designed with the needs of families in mind. The minimum age is 10 years old, and the trip features stays at upscale family-friendly hotels like Casa Andina Private Collection Valle Sagrado and the sensational Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel.

When you finally reach Machu Picchu on day seven of what might be your best family vacation ever, it’s not the rushed experience you get with many other family tour operators. Instead, you have an entire day to explore the sacred mountain-top city with a private guide. (Believe us, you’ll want the whole day.) Austin Adventures’ Machu Picchu family adventure will run on select dates in June, August, and December 2021. The company sometimes offers teen-only versions of this family vacation package as well. The cost is $3,698 per adult and $3,498 for kids.

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Josh Roberts
Josh Roberts is a parent, a traveler, a journalist, a novelist, and the former Senior Executive Editor of Tripadvisor's SmarterTravel, Airfarewatchdog, and FamilyVacationCritic websites. Recognized with multiple awards for excellence in travel journalism from the North American Travel Journalists Association (NATJA) and the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW), Josh has more than two decades of experience helping travelers discover where to go and what to do when they get there. His writing has appeared in The Boston Sunday Globe, USA Today, Business Insider, and the Huffington Post. His travel photography can be seen in Britain and Ireland's Best Wild Places (Penguin UK, January 2008). When Josh isn't traveling or wrangling his two children, he's busy writing novels like The Witches of Willow Cove (Owl Hollow Press, May 2020) and its forthcoming sequel. He co-founded FamilyVacationist in April 2020 with Christine Sarkis. Email him at josh [at] familyvacationist [dot] com.