Are We There?

Can parents bring their kids on a luxurious family adventure—where everyone has fun?  The answer is a resounding “Yes.”

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In Tahiti, the real gems—besides black-pearls—are the unmatched, jaw-dropping jaunts for kids of all ages. Tahiti Nui Travel (www.tahitinuitravel.pf), whose travel desks are open seven days a week, offers every excursion imaginable, including parasailing in tandem to glass-bottom-boat rides. Families will be thrilled by a day-long Bora Bora trip that includes a shark feeding. The completely safe adventure (which doesn’t require a signed release form) lets you watch, up-close-and-personal, even under water without a cage, while Polynesians feed non-aggressive, black-tipped reef sharks.
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Next, there’s a Tahitian lunch on a private motu (islet). After, in the warm, Windex-blue waters of the Lagoonarium, everyone can swim and snorkel in three idyllic pools amidst sharks, rays, jackfish and turtles. Request Xavier—this delightful, French guide (clad in a loincloth) charmed everyone on our trip with his gentle, kind demeanor. In Huahine, I suggest the inimitable Must-See-Jet-Ski for a lagoon adventure that includes an encounter with wild sting rays. (Kids 4-12 must be accompanied by their parents.)  Prices vary, based on vendor. For VIP bookings, contact Vaiata Noel (689 54 06 72; vaiata.noel@tahitinuitravel.pf).

An upscale entourage can also charter Bora Bora Cruises (www.boraboracruises.com) for about $276,000 for visits to Raiatea, Huahine, Tahaa and Bora Bora. The 226-foot Ti’a Moana and Tu Moana yachts only have 30 guest cabins, and because they only have a seven-foot draft, they can navigate the shallow lagoons and offer unparalleled access to the motus. The company claims theirs is the only true inter-lagoon cruise for smooth sailing in gentle waters. Excursions include visits to a pearl farm and fruit-picking on a private estate, where children will have a field day. The highlight? Champagne breakfast at tables set up in the turquoise waters. Travel agents should contact Luxury Sales Manager Valerie Ottofaro (718-921-2990 or 800-780-4014;  valerie.ottofaro@orientexpress.com).

Need a birthday party enroute? Special food for a finicky eater? Abercrombie & Kent (www.abercrombiekent.com) makes it a piece of cake. Literally. In India last year, for instance, A&K arranged a surprise birthday party for an 11-year-old boy, complete with dinner on the Maharana’s private barge, fireworks and a Donald Duck cake. Check out its 2005 Family Digest of adventures, with 23 odysseys for offspring and parents. Most have three-night minimums, for minimal unpacking.

One of Abercrombie & Kent’s suppliers is the Eclipse (www.oceanadventures.com.ec.), an elite, 48-passenger boutique ship in the Galapagos. Cruises include a children’s activity coordinator (certified by Galapagos National Park) to serve as guides and organize handicrafts, drawing competitions and more, so parents can stay stress-free. Cabin suites 19 and 20 are triples that ideally accommodate families. Contact Francesco Zugaro, vice president of marketing and sales (877-262-3496).

Even going Down Under can be over-the-top. Betty Jo Currie from Sterling Travel in Atlanta, and a Travel + Leisure A-list agent who specializes in adventure travel, favors the entire country of New Zealand. “It’s all about being outside,” Currie says. “Helicoptering the fjords, going to the national parks, staying in luxury lodges and taking RV trips with a private cook.”
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Currie also recommends African safaris, which cost at least $8,000 per adult for an elite itinerary in southern Africa. It might include overnights in Johannesburg and six nights at luxurious lodges in Botswana’s Okavango Delta. In this 6,000-mile maze of lagoons and islands, “You might see a lion swim by,” Currie says. “I book these trips all the time;  teenage boys and girls love it,” exclaims Currie. “You see different cultures and ecological environments. You fly in little planes. Elephants come to drink while you’re in your canoe. Kids love seeing that the world is larger than they initially realized.”  She suggests trips down one of the Zambezi-Sapi Rivers in a tented mobile camp. “The animals essentially come to you; the trip is limited in terms of numbers of passengers, and it’s an ultimate experience,” Currie explains. “Another must-do excursion is ‘The Flight of the Angels,’” a plane ride over Victoria Falls (www.sterlingtvl.com).

Paul Largay, owner of Largay Travel in Waterbury, CT, and another Travel + Leisure A-list agent, concurs. “People are going on safaris in droves. Africa is off the charts,” Largay says. He recommends Micato Safaris (www.micatosafaris.com). In Nairobi, owners Jane and Felix Pinto (fpinto@micato.com) personally greet travelers at the airport, take them to their home for dinner, and even escort them to Nairobi’s best tanzanite shops and safari outfitters. Request Charles Mwangoma, the gold standard of tour guides and a walking encyclopedia of all-things-African, who is one of Micato’s—and the country’s—greatest treasures. One not-to-be-missed adventure, says Largay, is horseback riding at the Aberdare Country Club, whe herds of zebras and giraffes ride the plains next to you. “My nine-year-old and thirteen-year-olds thought they were in Jurassic Park,” he says. Contact Patti Buffolano, who handles high-end clients for Micato.

Currie also favors India for travels with aunts, parents, and everyone else. “The Oberoi properties are some of the best designed in the world,” she says. Oberoi’s Wildflower Hall (www.oberoiwildflower-hall.com) in Shimla, India, in the Himalayas, offers river rafting, hiking, horseback riding, archery, mountain biking and more. Activities Manager Manoj Biswas (mbiswas@wildflowerhall.com) tailor-makes all VIP programs. For families, book the two-bedroom Lord Kitchener Suite, priced at $840 per night, which sleeps four. General Manager David Matthew can be reached at david@wildflowerhall.com.

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The resort also offers arts-and-crafts workshops for kids and all-day camping experiences (with gourmet picnics) in the extensive forests that lie within hotel property. Parents can pamper themselves at the Oberoi Spa by Banyan Tree with a deep-pressure Balinese massage, an Essence-of-Rice exfoliation (request Ms. Diki), and custom yoga classes from Mr. Karam, who is known for his sunrise sessions on the open terraces overlooking the Himalayas. Contact Spa Director Gopal Kumar at Gopal@wildflowerhall.com.