Children are a tough crowd to please, especially when it comes to keeping tweens and teens entertained on vacation. Tour operators, hotels and cruises have responded by creating customized programs and activities specifically catering to these age groups.
According to a recent study conducted by MMGY Global researching Americans’ travel habits, nearly 70 percent of parents reported their children were influential in choosing a vacation destination and almost half factored in their children’s opinion when selecting a hotel. Additionally, 77 percent of travelers stated their children were influential in planning daily holiday activities.
“We’ve noticed teens are playing a much larger role in the whole vacation-planning process,” said Beth O’Donnell, general manager of Thomson Family Adventures, a tour company based in Massachusetts. “Their academic studies tend to influence where they want to travel.”
Thomson offers a range of family trips that highlight tween and teen multisport adventures to Iceland, Peru, Southern Italy and Costa Rica. As part of the travel experience, children can participate in the Friends Across Borders program, where they are paired with pen pals in their vacation destinations. Once in-country, the outfitter arranges meetings, with activities from salsa dancing to cooking lessons, at no extra cost. (Prices begin at $4,090 for an eight-day Peru Trek that includes a pen-pal experience, accommodations, most meals, a private bilingual guide and excursions.)
The adventure outfitter Intrepid Travel offers a 10 percent discount for guests aged 17 and under, as well as a dedicated line of teenage-specific itineraries.
“Today’s youth has unfiltered access to people and places around the world with the touch of a button,” said Darshika Jones, regional director for North America. “We curate activities that will take them beyond their smartphone.”
Over the past year, the company has seen a 58 percent increase in bookings for families with teenagers; Vietnam, Botswana and the Pyrenees rank as top sellers for this demographic. (Prices start at $816 per adult and $714 per child in a twin share room for an eight-day Pyrenees family holiday that includes accommodations, breakfasts and dinners, transport by private bus and activities.)
Before a trip, the family-focused travel company Global Community sends its younger guests age-appropriate packages containing culturally specific music playlists, books and movies to familiarize them with destinations such as India, Jordan and Kenya, and tailors on-the-ground activities based on their interests.
“What makes travel come alive for kids is understanding what their respective passions are and providing them a cultural connection point to make the experience more personal,” said the co-founder Christie Holmes. (Weeklong trips start at $2,500 per person, based on a family of four including airport transfers, accommodations, privately guided tours and various activities.)
Hotels and resorts
Hotels are also introducing experiences expressly designed for tweens and teens. Peninsula Papagayo, a 1,400-acre private resort community on Costa Rica’s northwest coast, recently launched “Camp Jaguar” for the guests aged 12 to 16 staying at Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica, Andaz Costa Rica Resort at Peninsula Papagayo, and private homes on the peninsula.
“We wanted to create adventurous experiences for our younger guests that were educational, empowering and a fun way to make friends,” said Francesca Poddie, director of member services. The camp encompasses three full-day programs focusing on survival skills, water safety skills and mountain biking adventures centered on conservation ($100 per day for resident members; $120 per day for resort guests).
Travelers aged 6 to 14 staying at three of Resplendent Ceylon’s Sri Lankan hotels can take advantage of newly launched “Junior Explorers” program. Activities range from baking classes to tea-blending sessions and mask-painting workshops. The program also includes botany classes, nature walks and other ranger activities, including learning how to track and identify local animal species. (Rates from $977 for two-night stays based on a family of four at Cape Weligama on a full board basis; Junior Explorer activities start at $50 per person.)
It’s not only adults who like to be pampered. Painted Sky, a tween spa at Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa in Oahu, Hawaii, features a yogurt bar, computer stations and Moana-inspired styling services for both girls and boys. (Services start at $110, excluding fees, and hotel rooms from $589.) Similarly, the Adare Manor in Ireland launched a new “Tween Spa Pamper” package ($145) at its La Mer spa featuring a 25-minute aromatherapy face and scalp massage, plus a manicure and pedicure (Room rates from $370 including tax and breakfast).
On the water, clubs dedicated to both teens and tweens are nothing new for a number of cruise lines. Carnival Cruises hosts dance parties and outdoor movies at its Circle “C” tween club and organizes karaoke jam sessions for teens at its Club O2. Select Disney cruise ships offer Edge and Vibe, its tween- and teen-focused clubs, while Princess Cruises recently began new age-specific activities at its various kids’ clubs in partnership with the Discovery channel.
“Tweens want to make sense of their new surroundings, while teens are more interested in connecting with each other,” said Denise Saviss, vice president of entertainment experience at Princess Cruises, “so we make sure our activities serve these very different needs.” (Carnival Cruises start at $199 per person, per night inclusive of all meals, on-board activities and entertainment. Prices aboard Princess Cruises’ MedallionClass ships start from $279 per person, per night based on double occupancy and include some food and beverage and onboard entertainment.)
52 PLACES AND MUCH, MUCH MORE Follow our 52 Places traveler, Sebastian Modak, on Instagram as he travels the world, and discover more Travel coverage by following us on Twitter and Facebook. And sign up for our Travel Dispatch newsletter: Each week you’ll receive tips on traveling smarter, stories on hot destinations and access to photos from all over the world.