We travel bloggers adore making lists of where our readers should go in the new year. But let’s face it, every list, whether it has destinations or groceries on it, is subjective. Which is why, to lend a veneer of objectivity to this list of top family vacation picks for 2012, I consulted the three best-traveled people I know.
2012 Family Vacation Pick #1: London
London will never find itself on a list of value destinations – the combined cost of a cheeseburger and Coke, for instance, will make you blanch as much today as it did 20 years ago. So while it’s not a frugal proposition – especially when you build in obligatory family pilgrimages to Harrods and the London Eye – one compelling reason to try London next year is the 2012 Summer Olympics, suggests John E. DiScala, aka Johnny Jet, who logs more than 150,000 air miles every year and will be lending his destination savvy to a Travel Channel special airing on New Year’s Day. You’ll be joining millions at the games, held from July 27 to August 12, but rest assured there are still plenty of event tickets available. And should your brood’s visit veer into autumn – sports for the Paralympic Games run August 29 to September 9 – DiScala says fall is a lovely time to wander around London and its environs.
2012 Family Vacation Pick #2: Bulgaria
Travelers have only begun to discover what expat families have known for years, which is that Eastern Europe is an intriguing, eminently accessible – and, relative to Western Europe – reasonably priced international choice for family travel. In 2012, you might want to consider Bulgaria, says tour guide and Trip Chicks co-owner Ann Lombardi, who has seen her share of happy and unhappy family travelers in the 91 countries she’s visited. Why Bulgaria? “Great skiing and hiking, excellent food – especially plentiful vegetables and wonderful fish, like trout – fabulous 9th-century monasteries, and other meaningful history you can see,” Lombardi says.
2012 Family Vacation Pick #3: Milwaukee
Milwaukee is the most joyous city you’ve never been to (if you have not yet been) and the possibilities on offer for families are nearly limitless, suggests aviation writer and longtime flight attendant Beth Blair, a mother of two who has lived in a dozen different cities and currently calls Minneapolis-St. Paul home. Milwaukee is her new favorite to visit, however, not only because of the city’s “constant stream of festivals over the summer, but also because of the abundant attractions catering to families, including the Harley-Davidson Museum, Palermo’s Pizza Tour, and Discovery World. Even the airport is marketing itself as family-friendly,” Blair says.
2012 Family Vacation Pick #4: Big Fork, Montana
If your family has done a Yellowstone National Park trip, you may know Montana as the state that hosts the northern entrance to the park. Another Montana factoid is that you will have the best prime rib of your life there (take that, Vegas). But if you’re in need of a delightful under-the-radar domestic destination for next year, Blair says to look at Big Fork. “Montana in general is a best-kept secret," she says. “Not only are the people some of the nicest in the country, the scenery is about as postcard-worthy as you can get. Flathead Lake – the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi – is a major draw with plenty of family-friendly water activities. And not far away is Glacier National Park, which makes for a nice day trip.”
2012 Family Vacation Pick #5: Matamata, New Zealand
After visiting Australia in February I suggested that the Great Barrier Reef would be a prime pick for a family vacation, but one point I didn’t make at the time is that unless you already live in the Southern Hemisphere, part of what your family must warmly embrace about this kind of trip is the long-haul plane ride to get there. In other words, your family should really, really love to fly and spend time in airports (as mine does) and if you’re good with that, one bucket-listy option for 2012 is New Zealand. DiScala recommends it as a “not-so-obvious” pick and says the country might pack appeal because “The Hobbit is being filmed there by Peter Jackson and his last movie there gave tourism a huge boost.” So if you have Bilbo Baggins fans in your midst, DiScala suggests one of the side trips he tried, a 3-hour back roads drive to see Middle Earth in Matamata, a location used in the Lord of the Rings movies where movie set tours are offered throughout the year.
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