Experiential Travel with kids

family vacations

The Indian travellers are quite evolved and thanks to the Internet are also very aware. Their expectations now match global needs in terms of service, deals and most importantly, experiences. They now want to experience the place rather than just visit them or tick them off their checklist. Their bucket list comprises of activities like canyoneering a la James Franco in the Grand Canyon, go wine tasting or truffle hunting in Italy or France. Stay at a local apartments or do a homestay rather than booking a hotel, attend world-renowned events like running with the bulls in Spain or take surfing lessons in Australia.

Most of these experiences are for adults and hence, the notion that families with young kids should stick to theme parks, holiday parks in the UK or the good old beach resorts with kids clubs. Places like Rome, Florence and Angkor Wat are not the first choices for Indian parents for family vacations. They normally choose cruises or destinations like Singapore, Hong Kong or cities, beach places or theme parks, aquariums and zoos while travelling abroad. This is because they feel kids are not ready to absorb the history and cultural aspects of a new country.

There are however tours available where even historic places like the Colosseum in Rome and art museums like Louvre in Paris can be fun & educational for the entire family. I specialize in Family Travel and conduct trips, which include treasure hunt at the Colosseum and Louvre so that kids learn about the places in a fun and interactive manner. Even places like Hong Kong which most families visit to take the kids to Disneyland, can be given an experiential twist with a dim sum making class, visiting old monasteries or temples or may be a Kung Fu lesson for the entire family!

When a survey was conducted with about 100 mothers of kids aged 7 – 12 years, most of them wanted some time off for them to have a quiet dinner with the spouse or just enjoy some drinks without the kids. Include activities and workshops like an art class in France, pizza making in Italy, gladiator combat skills workshop in Rome, so that the parent’s have some free time to shop or visit a museum of their choice. However, not many are aware of the off-the beaten-path options available for families to enjoy together.

When we took our 7-year-old daughter to Singapore last year, her most cherished memories are those at Chinatown and not at the Universal Studios or Jurong Bird Park. Was it because she had already visited Disneyland in Hong Kong and a very good zoo in Bangkok? Or was it because she was intrigued by the Chinese culture thanks to the Disney film Mulan? I think it was the latter. It does help if kids know a little bit about the place they are visiting, so that they can connect with it. I always advise watching a movie or reading a book on the country you are travelling to. The names won’t seem so foreign to the kids and they will be able to make an immediate connection.

Hence, if you are planning to visit the Parthenon in Athens and think the kids won’t enjoy the ruins… think again!

Feel free to write to me at: info@soltrips.com

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How to choose the perfect sightseeing tour when on a holiday?

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In my long career of planning customised holidays, I have seldom come across people being picky about the tours they want to include in the itinerary. Of course, that is because not many travel agents offer a bouquet of tours or an option of doing a particular tour in different ways. My clients now are often foxed when I ask them what they would like to do at a particular place, for example Paris. They would often come back saying see the popular places like Eiffel Tower, Louvre, etc. I am referring to people, who want to visit the place but have had no time to read up on or maybe their travel agent always gave them an itinerary they thought would be best, hence they don’t know what to say!

So how important are sightseeing tours? I would say, the most important, unless it’s a ‘doing nothing‘ holiday. Even more important than your hotel, as I know most people definitely do a lot of research by checking reviews online. I don’t know how many people would check reviews on their sightseeing tours, which will make them like or hate the city. To give you an example, if you were to join a regular coach tour in Paris or Rome for a city tour with kids, I can assure you the kids will be cranky & bored at the Louvre & Coliseum unless you make the effort to keep them engaged & entertained. If they are well behaved, they will just find something to gaze at, but not learn or get back anything interesting from the tour. To be honest, I got bored at the Louvre even when I went alone as our guide just kept rattling off words, which made no sense to me. Instead, how about hiring a qualified kid friendly guide for the family to explore the Coliseum & Louvre where the kids can learn history in a fun way and the visit is not wasted. Mind you, if you divide the number of hours by the amount you spend on your vacation abroad, each minute seems expensive and this is without putting a value on time & the unhappy faces! Yup, you guessed it, I am a Gujarati and know my numbers well!

 The next time you prepare an itinerary, be very picky about the tours included for you. Read the description and see if there are any places you are not interested in visiting. For example, if you visit Italy and are not interested in museums and history but would still like to see the famous monuments like Coliseum and Vatican, then ensure you do not waste your money on a guided tour where you get stuck for 4 hours visiting other attractions. Instead, it makes sense hiring an expert guide to just visit these places and will save you time to do other activities. If you love biking and have older kids, most cities offer biking tours. If you are a foodie, do a culinary walk and small workshop at a local’s place. There are some brilliant workshops offered at museums, depending on your kid’s interests, you can sign up for these workshops.

Please ensure free time at any place to just soak up the place by wandering around or sitting at a cafe and observe the locals. Take the kids to a park, this is where they will get to mingle with other kids and make new friends for a complete culture immersion. Often the most memorable moments are the ones, which are not on a planned itinerary. For me it was at a tiny village in France where we had gone for a stroll post dinner and we listened to a children’s choir practice in a small chapel, sitting on a bench near a canal! Do share your impromptu memorable moment with me from your trip abroad.

 

Feel free to contact me on info@soltrips.com

Top Sights for Kids in Macau

family vacations

When we went to Hong Kong with our daughter in 2012, my husband was very keen to go to Macau. Though he & I had both visited Macau individually before, we thought we would come back feeling dejected as we would not be able to enjoy the nightlife and also because we didn’t think there would be anything for our daughter. Now that I am dedicating so much time researching on Family Vacations, I just could not accept that Macau was just a gambling paradise with glitzy hotels.

I recently met up with a representative from Macau Government Tourist Office and popped the question “what is there for kids to do in Macau”? She seemed foxed at first, but when she opened the map, she started counting many sights. As a mother I immediately knew which ones would work and were worth visiting, here is the list:

1. Grand Prix Museum

Definitely not for my ‘girlie girl’, but I do know many boys and their fathers who would love this place. Don’t expect too much as it is not very big, however they do have some really cool sports cars & bikes on display.

2. Old Taipa Village

Macau is one of the unique places where you will find the confluence of Portuguese and Chinese cultures. While you must’ve gotten your dose of Chinese culture in Hong Kong, Macause offers an insight on the Portuguese culture at the Old Taipa Village. It houses old restored colonial houses and the life of Portuguese when they arrived in 1900.

3. Macau Tower

Lead by example! Show your kids how to be brave adventurers and bungy jump from the tower. The kids would also have fun walking across the Sky Walk with a harness securely buckled around them for safery. There is no age limit, as long as they fit into the harness.

4. Try local food

Not just dim sums, but the goodies from the local bakeries like flaky Egg Tarts and pork buns and wash it off with some vino. Peanut candies and almond cookies are other delicacies to bring back home.

5. Panda Pavilion

If you missed the Pandas at Ocean Park in Hong Kong, you can visit the Panda Pavilion in Macau. Nothing great to rave about except that you can see the black eyed beasts.

6. House of Dancing Fountain show

This multi million-dollar show on the lines of Cirque de Soleil is definitely worth every penny and one of the major highlights in Macau. The theatre is at the Grand Hyatt hotel and lasts for 85 minutes without any break. There are no dialogues just a super combination sound, light and acrobatics. You be the judge if your kids would sit through the entire show as it is quite expensive.
7. Trinket shopping:

Indulge in some retail therapy! I always give my daughter some money and ask her to buy her own goodies. She loves the responsibility of handling money and often the shopkeepers find it cute and give her a discount! The Senado Square is also a good place to shop for the Barcelos Rooster. I’ve had one in my kitchen for 3 years now and I can vouch for it; all my cupcakes have risen well, the icing has been perfect and no mishaps! Thank you Rooster or should I thank Nigella & Rachel Allen?

8. Surprise, surprise…. a good science Museum in the city known for its Casinos!

An interactive science museum catering to kids of all ages and adults too. I haven’t visited this one yet, but definitely plan a visit to Macau to visit it. The planetarium (at the same venue) has been accredited by Guinness World Records for having the highest resolution 3D in the world!

9. Chimelong Ocean Kingdom (1.5 hours from Macau by road)

With an impressive selection of aquatic species like the Beluga Whales and Dolphins, it also has rare Polar Bears, Brown Bears, Arctic Foxes and Penguins. The giant water slides are sure to be a hit with older kids and teens. Chimelong also boasts of stunning resort style hotels. Though one does require a Chinese visa to visit (a day visa can be arranged to do a day trip from Macau). This is sure to become a big draw for Indians in the coming years.

10. Themed hotels

Personally I feel Venetian is the best hotel for families with its huge indoor play area, the Venetian canals and gondolas! However, it does draw a lot of casino goers, but unlike Vegas they do not serve liquor on the Casino floors, hence the public areas are much decent compared to Venetian in Las Vegas. If you think your kids haven’t got their fill of animated characters after Disney World, stay at the Cotai Central and enjoy a ‘Shrekfast’.

Hope this blog makes you look at Macau beyond just casinos and party place. I certainly want to visit the new Ocean Kingdom and will also check out the Science Centre for your guys soon.

 

 Feel free to contact me on info@soltrips.com

Why I love walking tours

Maybe it is my age (only in my 40’s, but still!), I have now reached a point whereby ticking off a list of places and things to do are not on my priority list on my holiday. I do my research before I travel and figure out things I would like to see / do and spend time doing them well. I do not like wasting my precious holiday time on things I know I would not enjoy. It certainly has something to do with my profession too. I am in the travel business and to give honest feedback to clients I do have to try out all the sightseeing tours. My friends often comment sarcastically “things you HAVE to do for a living”. Don’t mean to sound pompous, but I do find it cumbersome and needless to say quite tiring.

The one good thing that has come out of these endless inspections, is that I have realised how much I love walking tours. They are quite common these days and they do seem expensive when compared to the regular ‘seat in coach’ city tours, however I have become a big fan of these tours. I particularly like them for the following reasons:

  1. I can decide the area I am most interested in. For example in Paris, I can decide between Marais, Montmartre, Saint Germain and so on. I can do multiple walks over a number of days and just chill after the 2 or 3 hour of walk to soak up the atmosphere in that area. Also, one doesn’t waste their time in Latin Quarter if they are not into Roman history and architecture.
  2. I can also pick the walking tour based on my interests, like in Athens one can pick from food walks, political / historical walks, street art, daily life of the Athenians and more.
  3. You get to walk with an educated and aware local. As per me, the best experience. My husband and I had done a food walk in Athens, he being a vegetarian got hardly anything to eat. But he loved it as he kept asking the guide a lot of non-food questions, which the gracious guide patiently replied. Of course, the organic 99cents olive oil soap bar from a local store was the bonus too.
  4. You burn calories….. he he!

 

As I mentioned above, some people find them expensive, not me. I find them absolutely value for money. Of course, it all depends on the guide. Like in Toulouse I tried the same walking tour from 2 different companies and realised the stark difference. My travel colleagues thought I was stupid to go for the second walk the very next day, but I wanted to know the difference. I was so glad I did. The second guide, though not a native from the region, was way better. She did not rattle off facts, was smart enough to gauge my response and divert the conversation accordingly. That is what smart guides are supposed to do, gauge the response and be crafty enough to change the spiel. She was brilliant, she knew that and hence charged more. I would pay EUR 10 more to her rather than get bored after 30 mins of the walk and lose my money paid for 2 hours of the walk.