The teenager slumps in the corner, in a fug of ennui.
All around, toddlers are throwing tantrums; babies are bawling.
It seems some misguided parents have deposited their 14-year-old daughter into her own private hell: a kids’ club.
Sure, there’s a PlayStation2 – from, like, last century – and sketchy Wi-Fi. But it ain’t the “cool teen hangout” promised on the website.
This is one of the more obvious examples of parents taking their kids to the wrong place, at the wrong time and not only can it ruin the experience, it’s also a terrible waste of money. The perfect family holiday can be summed up in one word: timing. What’s right for toddlers is oh-so-wrong for teens.
This is the definitive guide to the best destinations for every age: babies, toddlers, young kids, tweens, teens and young adults. From Marysville to Morocco, we reveal where to go, what to do, and things to bring.
BABIES AND TODDLERS
Yes, Samoa and the Cook Islands are divine, but the childcare isn’t as good. Most of the Fijian resorts have excellent kids’ clubs, which take children as young as three. You have to book a babysitter for younger kids, but the cost is minimal. I’ve watched the most feral toddlers be tamed by the transcendental Fijians.
What to do: Relax by the pool and read a book, knowing your little ones are in safe hands.
Things to bring: Swim nappies, steriliser, and glass bottle for storing cool boiled water. Cots, strollers and toys are supplied by the resorts.
Admittedly, the nine-hour flight can be challenging if your child is aged between 18 months and two-and-a-half-years. (This is the toughest time to fly, because all they want to do is tear up and down the aisles.) But it’s worth it, if you prefer Asia to the Pacific.
What to do: Splash in the shallows of the Andaman Sea, enjoy the colour and movement of the street stalls, or go to Khao Kheow Open Zoo.
Things to Bring: Baby formula (although you can get it at most major resorts and shops) and inflatable rings for the pools. You can rent anything else you need through thailandbabyrentals.com.
FAR NORTH QUEENSLAND
Hamilton Island, Palm Cove and Port Douglas are all designed with young families in mind, with accommodation within walking distance to warm, gentle waters. Try to go outside of summer, so it’s not too hot.
What to Do: The Clownfish Club on Hamilton takes kids from six weeks of age. The Cairns Zoo and Skyrail are worth a visit, if you stay in Palm Cove. Then, there’s the glorious Port Douglas Coastal Walk.
Things to bring: A Baby Bjorn or hiking backpack, and a stinger suit if you plan to go between November and May.
Hamilton Island; hamiltonisland.com.au; from $440 a night.
NSW CENTRAL COAST
Drive an hour north of Sydney to find the beautiful beaches, rivers and parklands of the NSW Central Coast. It’s a cheap, and easy, getaway with very small children in tow.
What to do: Spend the days exploring rock pools and making sandcastles. Check out the weekend markets for fresh produce, local crafts, and kids’ entertainment.
Things to bring: Sand toys and sun protective clothing for the little ones.
Where to stay: Crowne Plaza Terrigal crowneplazaterrigal.com.au $234 a night
YOUNG CHILDREN (4-8 years)
This is the best age to introduce kids to the Disney franchise: young enough to swept away by the magic of the Mouse; old enough to walk on their own two feet. At the younger end, they won’t be tall enough to go on all the rides, but Fantasyland and Mickey’s Toontown cater specifically to this age group.
What to Do: Spend two-to-four days at the Happiest Place on Earth.
Things to Bring: A mobile phone for photos, small snacks, and a refillable water bottle. There’s no need to lug a lot around.
Where to Stay: Choose any of the Disney hotels. The rooms are designed for families with young kids, and they’re close to the action. Disneyland Hotel, Anaheim disneyland.disney.go.com/hotels/disneyland-hotel From $732/night.
A road trip, to explore beach or bush, is excellent at this age. Marysville, two hours’ from Melbourne, is close to Lake Mountain, the best snow resort for small children. Crescent Head, about five hours from Sydney and six from Brisbane, is perfect for paddling, swimming and surfing.
What to do: Trout fishing, bushwalking, tobogganing. Explore the local towns, with their weekend markets, and sweet-smelling bakeries.
Things to Bring: There are remote camping spots right across this wide brown land, so pack a tent in the back. Bring plenty of books, games, and electronic devices for the drive.
Where to stay: Vibe Hotel Marysville tfehotels.com/brands/vibe-hotels/vibe-hotel-marysville. From $147 a night. Rancho Relaxo, Crescent Head. crescentheadgetaways.com.au/accommodation/rancho_relaxo.php. Prices vary.
A two-and-a-half-hour flight from Australia, this special collectivity of France is great for those who are learning a second language. Most of the kids’ clubs teach French. Or stay with a local family through Bedycasa or New Caledonia Voyages, for an immersive experience.
What to do: French lessons, swimming, snorkelling, dining on cheese from Roquefort and red wine from Bordeaux.
Things to bring: A French-English dictionary, snorkelling sets, and clip-on koala toys to give to local kids.
Where to stay: Sheraton Deva sheratonnewcaledoniadeva.com From $255/night.
Active kids will love this place, with its vast, golden beaches and quirky theme parks. It’s only an hour-and-a-half drive from Brisbane, or you can fly into the airport at Marcoola.
What to do: Visit the Ginger Factory, Big Pineapple, Australia Zoo, Ettamogah Hotel and Table Manners restaurant; go fishing, surfing, and swimming.
Things to bring: Swimmers, and a relaxed attitude.
Where to stay: Novotel Twin Waters has a circus school and giant water trampoline. novoteltwinwatersresort.com.au. From $153/night.
During pre-school and kindergarten, kids start to learn about our rich Indigenous culture. A trip to the beating red heart is a gift, not only for their schooling: it’s for life.
What to do: Guided tour around the rock, Harley ride at sunset, boomerang and spear-throwing lessons, dot painting, traditional dancing, star-gazing.
Things to bring: Several pairs of runners, a set of binoculars, and an open mind.
Where to stay: There are many accommodation options, from budget to luxury, on ayersrockresort.com.au/accommodation. The kids’ favourite is Sails in the Desert, because of the chocolate fountain at the buffet!
This archipelago in the Indian Ocean has a reputation as being a couples’ retreat, but it’s terrific for families. Find an all-inclusive resort with activities everyone will love.
What to do: Laze on brilliant white beaches as the kids splash in turquoise waters. Try snorkelling, sailing, or playing sport on the beach.
Things to bring: A soccer ball for the beach. However, at the resorts, most of the beach toys, and sporting equipment, are included.
Where to stay: Club Med Kani www.clubmed.com.au/cm/resort-kani-maldives. From $967 a night for a family, all inclusive.
The kids’ clubs in Hawaii only take ages five to 12. With a wealth of adventure activities, Oahu and the Big Island are ideal for tweens.
What to do: Go to the crater of Kilauea on the Big Island, swim with dolphins off the west coast of Oahu, snorkel at Hanauma Bay, watch the turtles at Waimanalo, surf at Waikiki, visit Pearl Harbour, and shop in the outlet malls.
Things to bring: Snorkelling kits, a Go Pro, and a sense of humour: Waikiki can be a bit full on.
This is an excellent age to go to The Worlds, or surf the sensational waves at Burleigh Heads. Don’t forget to visit the hinterland, for some sublime bushwalking.
What to do: Dreamworld, Movie World, Wet ‘n’ Wild, Thunderbird Park, swimming and surfing.
Australia’s convict history is – literally – a bloody good topic for kids in this age group. A trip to Norfolk Island brings history to life.
What to do: Horse-riding, snorkelling at Emily Bay, watching the Sound & Light show (a spooky, night-time re-enactment), and Fletcher’s Mutiny Cyclorama.
Things to bring: History books, or the itravelNORFOLK app.
Where to Stay: Tintoela is ideal for multigenerational travellers. norfolkislaccommodation.com. From $425 a night.
Tweens will be transported by the World Heritage wilderness, and our wicked convict past. Hire a car to travel at your own pace.
What to Do: A tour at Port Arthur, bushwalking at Cradle Mountain, and a day at MONA.
Things to Bring: Give the kids a camera, iPod or tablet to document the trip, using still or moving images.
Where to Stay: The Old Woolstore Apartment Hotel in Hobart. oldwoolstore.com.au $367/night, 2-bedroom apartment.
It’s cheap, close and comfortable. Just make sure you get out of Kuta! Bali ticks all the boxes, if you want to expose your kids to a different culture, on Australia’s doorstep.
What to Do: Surfing, sliding at Waterbom Bali, Bali Bike Baik tour around Ubud, temples and pagodas, shopping. Things to Bring: Gastrolyte (in case of Bali belly) and a powerboard, to charge many devices at once.
Where to Stay: Club Med Bali, Nusa Dua $631 a night for a family, all-inclusive, with interconnecting rooms.
BROOME AND THE KIMBERLEY
The otherworldly landscape, fascinating history, and fierce crocodiles make this an exciting destination for tweens.
What to Do: Ride a camel, kick a footy, or fly a kite along Cable Beach, visit a pearl farm and the Malcolm Douglas Crocodile Park, and cruise along Chamberlain Gorge, past ancient Aboriginal rock paintings.
Where to Stay: Cable Beach Club Resort & Spa cablebeachclub.com From $460 a night.
SOUTH AFRICA AND KENYA
There are lots of safaris that welcome young children these days (the most awarded include &beyond’s WILDchild program) but I reckon it’s better to wait until they’re teenaged for an experience like this.
What to Do: Go on a wildlife safari, of course!
Things to bring: Quality binoculars for everyone, cameras and mosquito repellent.
Where to stay: In Kenya, at Angama Mara angama.com for $1100 a person a night, including all meals, drinks and safaris. Or check out Intrepid’s teenage safari intrepidtravel.com/au/south-africa/south-africa-teenage-safari-83999IN at $1921 a person for 12 days including meals, accommodation and transport.
You’ll be awarded parent-of-the-century status after a family trip to LA. The City of Angels has it all for restless teens. The only trouble is trying to bring them back home …
What to Do: Watch the LA Lakers, go to Universal Studios, Six Flags Magic Mountain and Disney California Adventure, window-shop in Beverley Hills, skateboard at Venice Beach, and brunch in Santa Monica.
Things to Bring: A portable recharger for all of your devices.
Where to Stay: SLS Hotel, Beverly Hills slshotels.com/beverlyhills/ $649 a night, with two queen-sized beds.
For sheer diversity of experiences, you can’t beat New Zealand. Teens will love the heart-pumping, jaw-dropping, eye-bulging extreme sports, especially around Queenstown.
What to Do: Skiing, Lord of the Rings tour, panning for gold, Skyline Luge and Gondola, bungy jumping, jet boating.
Things to Bring: Go Pro and selfie sticks.
Where to Stay: Heritage Hotel, Queenstown. heritagehotels.co.nz/hotels/heritage-queenstown From $121 a night.
Either stay in the centre of town, walking distance to the beach and shops, or hire a car to explore the hinterland. There’s so much to do, your teens will never become bored.
What to Do: Surfing, markets, festivals, hang gliding, yoga, meditating, Pighouse Flicks lounge cinema.
Things to Bring: Water bottles for bushwalks, skateboards and surfboards.
Where to Stay: Byron Luxury Beach Houses byronluxurybeachhouses.com.au. From $565 a night, up to eight guests.
From Anime to tea ceremonies, Japan’s unique culture is endlessly fascinating. Teens will be old enough to enjoy the temples and gardens, and adventurous enough to try the unusual cuisine.
What to Do: Find quirky vending machines, go skiing, check out the Tsukiji Fish Market, eat fresh sushi.
Things to bring: Japanese phrase books and translation apps, plus new socks for shoes-off establishments.
Where to Stay: A ryokan or minshuku, which is a traditional inn. japaneseguesthouses.com/ryokan-styles/. Prices vary.
Sure, Europe is good at any age. But, by the time they’re young adults, they can contribute to the cost of airfares, food and accommodation.
What to Do: See the sights, explore cafes in the back streets, and shop until you flop in London, Paris and Rome. In France, ski in Les Trois Vallees, surf at Biarritz, or go to the Monaco Grand Prix.
Things to Bring: Apps for translation and currency conversion, a universal travel plug, and MY WEBSPOT, which provides unlimited 4G internet access for 10 euros a day.
Where to Stay: Airbnb airbnb.com.au. Prices vary. Hotel Novotel London City South novotel.com/gb/hotel-3269-novotel-london-city-south/index.shtml. From $380 a night.
What an exotic place to take your 20-somethings. The circus performers, bards and soothsayers, snakes and monkeys in the Jemaa el-Fnaa, in the heart of Marrakech, will blow their minds.
What to Do: Get lost in the souks, buy rainbow-coloured spices, ride a camel, go kite-surfing, take part in a Berber tea ceremony.
Things to Bring: A couple of scarves to throw over your heads, if necessary. Long, loose clothing is appropriate.
Where to Stay: Boutique accommodation can be arranged through the lovely Carol at bypriorarrangement.com. Or, stay at Club Med, just outside Marrakech. clubmed.com.au/cm/resort-marrakech-la-palmeraie-morocco_p-14-l-AE-v-MPAC-r-14-ac-vh.html. $727 a night for a family, all-inclusive.
There’s adventure aplenty across this vast continent, plus an interesting array of cultural experiences.
What to do: Discover the ancient Incan city of Machu Picchu in Peru, or indulge in the nightlife of Buenos Aires in Argentina.
What to bring: Pack a Spanish or Portuguese phrasebook, and make sure your vaccinations are up to date.
Where to stay: Immerse yourselves in the Amazon at an ecological abode, such as Tariri Amazon Lodge taririamazonlodge.com.br.
This is the trip of a lifetime for a young adult. Choose a different neighbourhood to explore each day. You won’t run out of things to do and see in the city that never sleeps.
What to do: Get the big picture by ascending a skyscraper (Top of the Rock has shorter queues than the Empire State Building, while the World Trade Centre has just opened its doors). Visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and see a Broadway musical.
Things to bring: Comfortable walking shoes are a must, as this city is best explored on foot. Leave space in the suitcase for shopping.
Where to Stay: A small hotel room is all you’ll need, because you’ll be out and about most of the time. Try The Pod Hotel in Midtown thepodhotel.com. You’ll need two pods, totaling $580/night.
Some destinations are better than others, if you’re travelling with kids, parents, nan and pop. Here are the top five:
Norfolk Island: Older travellers will find the history fascinating. This has also become a foodie destination, with paddock-to-plate restaurants aplenty. Perhaps nan and pop can look after the kids one night, so mum and dad can go out for dinner? There are plenty of homesteads, which sleep up 14 people. norfolkisland.com.au.
New York: The boutique Pod Hotels are ideal for an extended family: everyone has their own space. Young adults will love the clubs and sporting events; the rest of the family, the performing arts, galleries and museums. And the shopping? Well, that’s good for everyone. nycgo.com.
Uluru: The Sounds of Silence dinner, Harley sunset tour, Indigenous dance performances, dot painting, and spear and boomerang-throwing, classes, are appropriate for all ages. Different types of accommodation are within the precinct, so you can stay wherever suits you, and meet up for meals. travelnt.com.
Hawaii: It’s easy to get around, with regular trolleys and buses in Waikiki. For baby boomers, it’s a flashback to the swingin’ ’60s. Younger travellers will love the surfing, snorkelling and shopping. There’s a wide variety of accommodation options within walking distance of the strip. gohawaii.com.au.
Gold Coast: The surf clubs and RSLs clubs are always good for a cheap family meal. If you stay at Broadbeach, Jupiters Casino, Pacific Fair Shopping Centre and the beach are close by. Everyone, whatever their age, has childhood memories of the “Goldie”. visitgoldcoast.com.
Combos from hell
Toddler+newborn: This is perhaps, the most exhausting parenting phase: you put one down to sleep and the other one wakes up. That’s why you need to go somewhere with good childcare.
Teen+tween: The former wants space and independence; the latter craves his/her attention. Best to let teenagers wander off to do their own thing. The tween will enjoy quality time with the parents.
Young adult+teen: You guessed it. The adult can go to nightclubs; the under-18 wants to tag along. Make sure the teenager gets plenty of other holiday privileges to make up for this affront, like unlimited access to electronic devices and fast food.
Toddler+toddler: I’m tempted to say, “Just don’t travel with them, at this age!” You’ll need to be sedated, to survive a long flight/drive. Choose a resort with affordable quality childcare, so you don’t lose your mind.
Teen+teen: This is OK if they get on well. You can send them off on an adventure, while you relax. However, if they’re both going through the grunting stage, nothing will satisfy them. Best to stay at home.